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Rutgers faculty union urges faculty members to boycott new email system

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Faculty union at Rutgers urges members to avoid the university’s new email system in the name of academic freedom.

The benefits of stepping outside the regular habits of the classroom (essay)

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When we as professors step outside the regular habits of the classroom, we can make a difference in how students see themselves and approach their own learning, writes Esteban Loustaunau.

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Why it's a problem that professors are to their campuses as commuters are to cities (essay)

As long as universities have been around, people have debated the purposes for which they are intended and what they actually might be. One way that has played out is in the myriad metaphors that have attached themselves to higher education.

We are all aware of the central metaphors of campus life: the ivory tower, the college community and the recent earnest demand that we see college as a business. Metaphors do their work by a sort of cognitive mapping, illuminating the complex and unknown by reference to things we think we understand. What we would like to offer as a provocation is a metaphor that maps the relationship between modern educators and the institutions that they serve as being similar to that between cities and suburbanites. This metaphor can illuminate some of the cultural problems on many campuses, including the general mistrust between faculty members and administrators as well as the concerns over the corporatization of the university.

The single most immediately recognizable -- indeed clichéd -- feature of American middle-class cultural life is the suburb. In the ideal, suburbanites divide their political and personal allegiances between where they work and where they live. In the stereotypical idealization, suburbanites are middle-class owners of detached single-family homes who live a physical and psychic distance from the cities where their jobs are located. Commuting to their places of work by automobile or, more rarely, by public transportation, suburbanites have a different relationship to the cities in which they work than do the residents of those cities.

Is there anything in this cliché that does not map the relationship of most academics to the institutions they serve? As much as we faculty members may be devoted to our jobs and, perhaps by extension to our institutions, we have much the same relationship with our colleges as suburban commuters do with the cities where they work. Our college, a midsize residential comprehensive college, is by no means unique. About 5,000 undergraduates inhabit the campus 24/7. We faculty arrive en masse, mostly in single-occupant automobiles, between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., Monday through Friday, and leave like an ebb tide by around 5 p.m. After that time and on weekends, the only people on campus over the age of 22 are the campus police, a skeleton maintenance staff and the heroic librarians -- except for when we show up for the occasional performance, sporting event or lecture.

A walk through the halls of most colleges in the evening and at night can be quite unnerving. The campus does throb with life after we have left it, but it is a culture in which we do not participate, about which we are almost entirely ignorant and which we often publicly disdain. The people who inhabit our campuses live in a different polity than we do. Their behavior often appalls us. They stay up late. They carouse. We pontificate among ourselves about their lack of work ethic and impulse control.

Most of all, they are not like us, and we rarely have contact with them in what we think of as their cultural space. Ultimately, the campus is designed for the students who live there.

Our academic facilities have been imagined as suburban destinations. A typical faculty building has no common areas, no places for collaboration or socialization, nothing but a row of “houses” in which we keep our office hours. The layout of most of our offices is side by side and uncommunicating on a hallway, and while we may talk to our neighbors in the hall, the next floor up or down is often too far away to result in casual conversation. We all know that if you want to meet other faculty members, you should join a committee.

Classrooms are typically shaped entirely to serve a single purpose. Victims of the brutalist nostrum that form follows function, we can do little with our buildings other than teach classes, and they stand unused at virtually all other times. Only the most profligate enterprise would pay the enormous capital expense of erecting a staggering numbers of buildings to be used only for a few hours a day, five days a week, for less than eight months out of a year.

Unlike a city, however, we have little public space. Typically, there are few if any restaurants or coffeehouses that provide a place for accidental meetings, conversations or general sociability. Faculty members often eat lunch in their offices or not at all, because they don’t have any other place to go. The dining halls are for students, too crowded and seldom worth the cost. Although our hometown is often cited as one of the best coffee towns in America, the campus coffee bars are of poor quality and close at 4 p.m. At the end of the workday when one might like to carry on a conversation or just chat with whoever might be around and have a drink, we have to leave campus. Just as there is no coffeehouse to spend some time in during the day, there is no pub in which to unwind at the end of it.

The net result of all of this is that faculty members and administrators rarely interact without great effort or an unusual circumstance. Administrators commute just as we do. But like commuters to a separate company, they are mostly housed in their own building. We might converse with someone before a meeting or at the occasional event such as a retirement or celebration of newly tenured faculty. But that’s about it.

When put in this light, it is easy to see why faculty members don’t trust administrators or often even other faculty members. Fundamentally, we don’t know each other as people. We get electronic memos from administrators regularly, and they give us speeches a few times a year, but generally speaking, that is the extent of our communication. This is not a healthy campus culture, as it fosters distrust and misunderstandings. In fact, it makes it harder to move the campus forward, and the time saved by not fostering relationships is wasted in confrontation at every initiative.

Is there a solution to this situation? The campus functions well as a city for students, yet it also needs to function, at least to some extent, as a city for faculty members and administrators. We suggest that an architectural commitment to, if not full citizenship, then, at the least, simple sociability might be a starting place.

Of course, changes in architecture would require resources, which, in turn, would require commitment by administrators and collaboration with faculty members. So, where are the places where such conversations might begin? Perhaps those most humble and common toadstools in the academic garden: the Facilities Planning Committee, the Space Committee or whatever they call it at your institution, where faculty members, administrators, staff members and students meet the bright-eyed designers of our various campuses. We say flood the zone with communitarian activists who envision our campuses as something other than mere workplaces.

The stakes here are high and not merely aesthetic. If we continue to design campuses like cities in which the faculty have no stake in citizenship, then we will remain commuters into a city with no place for us and behaving like suburbanites. We will continue to lack shared values and generally mistrust each other. For colleges to evolve in a healthy manner -- and we do need to evolve -- it will take a collaborative effort and increased interaction among all campus constituents.

Thomas J. Pfaff is a professor of mathematics and Robert Sullivan is an associate professor of communication studies at Ithaca College.

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The importance of choosing an adviser with care (essay)

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That person will have an outsized influence on your professionalization and career preparation, so you should chose them wisely, advises James M. Van Wyck.

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How higher education can help workers displaced by globalism (essay)

The national discussion over the need for colleges and universities to produce better outcomes and be more inclusive is largely focused on the young people who enter the system. Yet we often ignore older workers whose skills are outmoded or no longer in high demand due to the changing economy -- and who are being displaced by technological shifts and the free flow of goods and services among countries.

While hardly anyone argues that improvements in technology should be slowed down, the same cannot be said for a greater integration of the global economy through freer trade. In particular, globalization and its impact on high-wage manufacturing jobs has become a key political issue in Western economies. It is evident that our country as a whole, as well as the higher education system, is doing a poor job of helping displaced workers reintegrate themselves into the economy. Given adequate funding, the system of higher education is capable of playing a greater role in helping them retain their dignity and contribute to the future.

Economists are in near-unanimous agreement that both free trade and technological change have raised the average income in the United States by shifting resources, including labor, from low-productivity industries into higher-productivity -- and therefore higher-wage -- industries and jobs. History shows that, over the long run, this movement of resources from agriculture to manufacturing and then to services has resulted in the gains in productivity that have led to higher living standards.

Writing for The New York Times, Javier Solana and Strobe Talbott also argue that international trade has been a major force in stabilizing world political systems since the end of World War II. To preserve this stability, they call for a restoration of “public support for free and fair trade … through better safety nets as well as ambitious and effective retraining opportunities.”

But the transition toward a more efficient use of world resources has seldom been a smooth one. It is certainly easier to divert steel from the production of tanks to the production of bridges than it is to convert coal miners into computer programmers. From the riots of the Luddites in 19th-century England to Brexit and the American election, it is clear that the increases in income and efficiency have produced both winners and losers. Those left behind are moving the political climate in Europe, and especially in the United States, into an antiglobalism environment.

In a special report on the declining support for internationalism, The Economist provides a spirited defense for the benefits of free trade but it also admits that globalism is on the run “because too little effort and money has been expended on taking care of those who have been hurt by the opening up of markets,” especially in America.

The Compensation Principle

If mainstream economics provides an argument for free trade, it also provides an argument for shifting some of the gains from trade from the winners to the losers. This argument is imbedded in the compensation principle.

That principle is drawn from the theoretical literature in economics that is concerned with advancing the overall well-being of society. It recognizes that the gains from any transaction can have both winners and losers. Improving societal well-being requires the winners to compensate the losers in some mutually agreeable way. The winners can have their gains, or at least most of them, as long as they are willing to support the losers in a way that leaves them the feeling that they are no worse off than when they started. These are people with dreams for their children and mortgages to pay, who have given up their jobs to market forces beyond their control.

That does not necessarily mean that all displaced workers would be restored to their former level of income. Some will not reach that level. Others might be willing to substitute leisure for income or take a less stressful job. And, yes, a few might even welcome the chance to study philosophy or art as they near retirement. For most, however, returning to the labor market will be of prime importance.

The principles laid down by the compensation theory only work if the winners and the losers have equal bargaining power. Since the winners would come out on top if bargaining were left to private markets or the courts, only the government has the ability to insist on a package of compensation that will adequately satisfy the losers. Using its power to tax and regulate, it can, and does, develop policies that transfer income from the winners to the losers.

That said, however, the volume of this transfer is inadequate in the United States, and a more equitable policy would involve a greater use of the higher education system. Not doing more to compensate those left on the sidelines by international trade risks a backlash that threatens our open economic and political systems.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently produced a comparative analysis of the “active labor market policies” of 31 mostly rich countries in its group. Analysis of the impact of these policies showed some success, particularly with younger and more recently unemployed workers. Examples of active policies included job-search assistance, education and training, public sector job creation, relocation allowances, and subsidized employment in the private sector. Each country was ranked according to the percentage of its GDP spent on policies that were designed to get people off benefits and back to work.

At the top of the list was Denmark, which spent 1.8 percent of its GDP in 2013 on active labor market policies, followed by Sweden and Finland. America was third from the bottom with 0.1 percent, ahead of only Chile and Mexico. Getting the United States to the middle of the pack would require us to make six times our current effort. That would place us equal to the effort found in Spain, a much poorer country.

Reaching the middle of the OECD pack, let alone the leaders, would come up against impossible political resistance in the United States. But if benefits were concentrated among those displaced by trade, there might be wider support. America took a stab at this with the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program enacted in 2002 and amended in 2009. But compared with the European effort, it was a small program with a limited reach. It should be expanded and more generously funded with a greater emphasis on education and training -- and involve a greater use of the higher education system.

Needed: Increased Education and Training

We have learned a lot from TAA and have found that workers benefited more when they sought out the education and training paid for by the program. Community colleges were the biggest providers of this education, and dislocated workers who participated in their programs achieved better employment outcomes than did those participating in other programs.

If America were to invest more in education and training, community colleges might be expected to carry a good deal of this load. But other possibilities exist. The range of possible training sites could be enlarged to include private and public employers. Wage insurance and other income subsidies to both private and public employers could help compensate displaced workers. Displaced workers could be given vouchers, much like Pell Grants, to use at approved training sites. Private employers might pick these up and develop on-site training and apprenticeship programs.

Including the private sector would contribute to the political support for such a program. For workers, the grants would allow a larger range of possibilities and could be used for an extended period to compensate for the gap between the higher-wage jobs lost in manufacturing and the lower wages common in many service jobs. In any program, particular attention needs to be paid to the participation of men in retraining, lest the social and monetary costs of incarceration, drug addiction, poor health and the deterioration of skills drag them and the society down.

None of this need increase the national deficit if we have the political will to transfer more of the gains of free trade from the winners to the losers. Doing anything less will threaten the gains already made and tear at our economic and political fabric.

Richard M. Romano is an economist and director of the Institute for Community College Research at SUNY Broome. He is also an affiliated faculty member at the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute at Cornell University.

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Southern California professor stabbed to death by student

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Bosco Tjan, a noted psychology researcher, was killed in the building where he worked.

UNLV Instructor Under Fire for Comments

Some students are calling on the University of Nevada at Las Vegas to fire George Buch, a part-time math instructor, who said in Facebook post that he would report to immigration officials any students in his classes who lack the legal right to be in the country, The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. He has since apologized and said he was only joking. The university did not respond to a request for comment.

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Advice for students on how to approach faculty members for recommendations (essay)

Shannon Craigo-Snell suggests ways that scholars, especially marginalized ones, can solicit strong letters of recommendation.

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Anti-Semitism Awareness Bill Passes Senate

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which seeks to adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism so that the Education Department may consider it in investigating reports of religiously motivated campus crimes. The State Department defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The bill was proposed by Senators Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, to “ensure the Education Department has the necessary statutory tools at their disposal to investigate anti-Jewish incidents,” according to a news release. The senators say the act is not meant to infringe on any individual right protected under the First Amendment, but rather to address a recent uptick in hate crimes against Jewish students. The bill is supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Casey listed the following examples of anti-Semitism in his explanation of the bill:

  • Calling for, aiding or justifying the killing or harming of Jews
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust
  • Demonizing Israel by blaming it for all interreligious or political tensions
  • Judge Israel by a double standard that one would not apply to any other democratic nation

The bill has attracted criticism from groups including Palestine Legal and Jewish Voice for Peace, who say the proposed definition of anti-Semitism wrongly conflates any criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish sentiments. The definition was rejected by the University of California earlier this year after similar complaints from free speech advocates, faculty and students. Kenneth Stern, who helped write the European Monitoring Center’s “working definition on anti-Semitism” on which the State Department definition is based, at that time argued that it would do “more harm than good” on college campuses.

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Concrete advice on teaching in the wake of the presidential election (essay)

America is still feeling the aftershocks of Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election. The protests and unrest that have swelled across the nation have especially surged on college campuses. That is not surprising, given that millennials (people aged 18 to 35 in 2015) largely voted for Hillary Clinton. (Had only millennials, America’s largest generation, voted, Clinton would have received 473 electoral votes and Trump would have received 32.)

But there’s more to campus climate right now than millennials perceiving they have simply lost, or won, an election. A deeper upheaval has been unleashed, and college campuses, populated with large groups of young people, are experiencing the same high levels of racial and religious frustrations and tensions that are playing out on other national stages.

Faculty members on the front lines of interacting with students face some difficult questions. What role should we play in working through all of this? How do we fulfill our responsibilities to teach students while also finding ways to support them in a divisive and sometimes even dangerous climate?

Some students may feel compelled to dampen or publicly quell their conservative viewpoints. Others may be fearful, anxious or angry about what a Trump presidency means for their future. Still others perceive themselves as wholly excluded from the current bipartisan system. If these are points along a spectrum of the climate of our campuses, we know students are experiencing even greater pressures in the many spaces where they spend their time outside faculty purview.

Given all of this, our role as educators on college campuses today is as crucially important as it is complex. So how should we respond? We have outlined five action items that faculty members can contemplate in the coming days, weeks and months.

Define and exemplify what it means to be political. We must begin by helping our students understand different meanings of the word “political.”

Many faculty members have a long practice of carefully navigating politics in our teaching. That is particularly true if we define “politics” as encouraging discourse about legitimate, differing views people hold on what policies best address the collective, common good of our nation. Faculty members regularly make diverse and reasonable decisions about educating students to engage those issues without taking a side. Legitimate, even divisive, policy disagreements are OK, healthy even, and can foster greater understanding for our students and ourselves.

But racial hostility and violence are unacceptable on college campuses. We must help our students understand that. A political climate in which rhetoric has been used in and after an election to instigate racial harassment on our campuses is not good for anyone, regardless of party affiliations.

We can offer opportunities to talk about the issues without succumbing to being partisan. We can facilitate conversations without targeting individuals. Talking about candidates, or even specific issues, may create more fissures, but talking about shared questions and concerns about the common good can open the door for deeper reflections.

Listen to, but do not lie to, students. We must allow people to vent without interruption when they share their experiences with hostility and violent rhetoric. Many students are literally facing affronts to their lives and personhoods. Some have been attacked and threatened -- receiving group text messages calling for a “daily lynching” and being attacked while expressing political viewpoints. Others may lose their health care. Still others may have their families torn apart. By some estimates, there are more than 200,000 undocumented students are enrolled in American colleges and universities. They face a very real and present threat of deportation in the near future.

We cannot predict what will happen to our students, but we must provide them support systems. Support means resisting the desire to assure them that “everything will be OK” or that we will “get through this together.” We do not know if this will be the case, and we must not lie. Those of us who are white, male or non-Muslim must not tell our students who are people of color, Muslim or female, “I know exactly how you feel.” Our students need us to join them in the space of not knowing what is going to happen and validate that their vulnerabilities are legitimate.

Encourage students to actively engage in their communities and with one another. All of our students, whether they are members of historically marginalized groups or part of dominant racial and gender ones, need to be encouraged to stay engaged in their communities. Students may not have yet developed the understanding that our political system works, in part, through various kinds of organizations and that they can get involved at the local level. This is critical information for them relative to the risk of their becoming hopeless or immobilized with the despair of “what can I do?”

Whether they have an affinity for grassroots organizing, participation in state and local government, or national politics, we can help them direct their frustrations and interests in productive ways. With all of its imperfections, democracy is something we participate in to shape and mold. Sitting on the sidelines will only ensure that nothing changes, and connecting helps work against isolation. We, as faculty, can help students find and express their own political and moral agency.

Assess your own classroom. Consider your own pedagogical approach to the classroom. As one teaching and learning expert has asked, what strategies are we using to ensure that we "include all of our students in the class space and collective endeavor of our courses" at our institutions? We should reflect on the interactions that take place in our classes, both between ourselves and our students and among the students themselves.

Regarding specific assignments, consider integrating reading and other material that crosses social, cultural and political boundaries. Do you provide students with the opportunity to share different viewpoints? If not, are there constructive ways to do so?

We can use the classroom to teach students how to respectfully engage with each other. We can allow them to practice having discourse that is simultaneously civil and disagreeable. In fact, we must do that, because we become what we practice. We do not have to insist on getting to common ground on a matter too quickly, if at all. We do, however, have to create new spaces and new methods for having difficult discussions.

Hold the university accountable. It is too early to know exactly how the president-elect’s campaign promises will play out in terms of actual policy implementation. We can be sure, however, that higher education will be impacted if any of the proposed immigration, law enforcement, federal financial aid or health care policies are realized. Students who are part of the most marginalized groups may be vulnerable to significant disruptions in their daily lives. We must begin to ready our institutions to protect intellectual freedom, student well-being and civil liberties.

Faculty members need to start having these -- probably difficult -- dialogues now among ourselves as well as with university administrations. Those of us with tenure should be particularly attuned to the specific impact the campus climate has not only on students but also on untenured faculty members -- especially those from groups most marginalized by the rhetoric, harassment and unrest unfolding across the country.

How we show public solidarity and support may vary by institution. But we must engage in public recommitments to a discourse of inclusion based on the institutional policies, charters and statements that govern us.

It is not too early to push our institutions to create structures that will respond to impending campus challenges, including having clear reporting mechanisms for harassment and public positions on both Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students and undocumented students without DACA status.

We are not trying to toll an alarmist bell within the academy. We are simply highlighting the shared questions that faculty members around the United States must begin to answer on their campuses. In the days since the presidential election, hundreds of incidents of violence and harassment have occurred on college campuses. Regardless of political ideology, we cannot ignore that campus climates are in a state of unrest.

To that end, we who are committed to the well-being of students and to insisting on the contribution education makes to democracy must begin responding to these many challenges today.

Shontavia Johnson is the Kern Family Chair in Intellectual Property Law and directs the Intellectual Property Law Center at Drake University Law School. She curates content related to law and policy at www.shontavia.com and can be found @ShontaviaJEsq. Jennifer Harvey is a professor of religion and currently serves as the Baum Chair of Ethics and the Professions at Drake University. She is the author of Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation (Eerdmans, 2014).

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