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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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How to write stronger letters of recommendation for students (essay)

Faculty members often seem to lack insight into how to write strong letters on their students’ behalf, writes Manya Whitaker, who offers 10 guidelines for improvement.

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Scholar complains of how long it can take to publish interdisciplinary science

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Researcher sees his experience as emblematic of challenges of publishing interdisciplinary science.

Q&A with authors of new book on balancing home and work life as an academic scientist

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New book about balancing work and home life as an academic scientist warns that failure to address the challenge will cost institutions and science as a whole.

Salem State reopens exhibit closed due to criticism of art about KKK, with drapes around the piece

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Salem State reopens exhibit that was shuttered based on student criticisms but places most controversial piece behind drapes. Maryland Institute College of Art involves students in displaying piece on the KKK.

Why students should write leaner, meaner dissertation proposals (essay)

Students should be encouraged to think in terms of hypotheses rather than theses, and research questions or problems rather than their putative solutions when it comes to dissertation proposals, argues Heather Dubrow.

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Sanctuary campuses won't provide real sanctuary for immigrant students (essay)

I do not live in a bubble, and one of the ways I work things out is to write. So I have put this piece together as a means of expiating my own grief over the results of the recent presidential election.

At first, I wanted to keep my mourning private, especially as my current role as a college president requires me to tread carefully and not give an institutional patina to my personal thoughts. I have also not wanted to invite the various trolls who consider my views like catnip. But I have come to the view that silence will probably cause greater harm to our country's immigrant students, particularly those "DREAMers" -- the hundreds of thousands of students in the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, who were brought to this country as children and have been allowed to attend college. The 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe allowed them to stay in school, while DACA gave them employment authorization, lawful presence and Social Security numbers. It is by no means legalization, but it has been a transformative program while Congress has fiddled over immigration reform.

Indeed, I have dedicated my entire life to many ideals, but the ones that matter the most were repudiated on election night. Since then, I have arranged over a dozen conference calls with DREAMers, immigration lawyers, college presidents and reporters. Many know I helped write the Texas statutes that give many of the DREAMers resident Texas tuition and financial aid. Inasmuch as I have taught higher education law and also immigration law for 35 years, these are my fields. I have won many more contests in this terrain than I have lost, but this one hurts, and I feel as if we all let down my students, a dereliction of duty that I feel deeply. I fear for the DACA students, many of them in my own institution, who placed their lives and hopes in higher education and the polity. I urged them to trust we would do the right thing if they took responsibility for their own lives by studying and coming forward. They have done so, but now we have not held up our part of the bargain.

In the wake of the election, a number of colleges and universities are declaring themselves "sanctuary campuses," saying they will limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities. However, the various proposals for carving out sanctuary campuses have occasioned even more vexation for me, and this viral-fed option is what finally moved me to write this article.

These well-intentioned efforts to establish a sanctuary use the term in its root ecclesiastic meanings, such as providing safe harbor. But from whom?

"Sanctuary" is also a contronym -- an example of a single word that has opposite meanings. ("Sanction" is another.) To many folks, the term depicts a defiance of law and serves as a trope for unauthorized immigration and liberal pieties. That it has become tinged with racist and anti-Mexican sentiment renders the term even more poisonous. One person's safe harbor is another person's harboring, in the dueling metaphors, if not the actual immigration law.

My view on these proposals is that they provide a chimerical outlet for people who are frustrated and have no other pathways to ameliorate the situation. But the term "sanctuary" is a term that is too fraught with restrictionist meanings or misunderstandings about the difference between "defying the law" or choosing not to implement discretionary practices, for policy, efficacy or other reasons. Worse, it has no legal meaning and the admonitions are vague and impossible to implement, which will only frustrate people more.

I have urged all those people who have called me to be very cautious in suggesting that a legal cocoon is possible or even needed for students -- who, after all, are not lawbreakers. Of course, institutions should provide support and services, as they would for all their students, especially vulnerable ones. But exacting pledges that cannot be kept will do no one any good.

And there are longstanding rules of engagement, or, in this context, nonengagement in higher education, such as the current Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy on such enforcement. As it notes, schools and colleges are exceedingly low priorities, and forms of this policy have been in place for many years. Virtually no campus has ever been raided for students in unauthorized status or undocumented campus workers, and they are unlikely to be.

But just as I cannot tell you how to react to any rollbacks of the Affordable Care Act, I cannot tell people what could happen and what the alternatives are. I know it will not be good, if for no other reason than it has already exposed vulnerable populations -- who are not "criminal," and who actually may be lawfully present (such as DACA holders) or in legal status (such as F-1 students from Muslim countries).

And I cannot promise these students that positive results will come of all this. I have urged them to be careful in expressing themselves in ways that might give rise to thermodynamic reactions, as have begun to surface. Getting arrested and convicted of any transgressions would give real rise to possibilities of deportation. And they should be careful about using social media in a way that might expose their parents to possible harm. I will not urge them to march into the valley of death or to put themselves at risk, although I will agree that the peaceful marchas galvanized public attention in 2006. American citizens who urge this option for DREAMers should examine their consciences and not encourage these students to put themselves in harm's way. At the very least, we should do no harm.

Feel-good actions and solidarity are fine and have an important place in the civil-rights narrative. But I do not hold out hope that the sanctuary proposals will make any genuine change or provide actual sanctuary -- whatever that empty vessel means to anyone on either side of the issue. And so I prefer more meaningful actions, such as working with student groups and their supporters: advocacy groups, bar associations, social service agencies, philanthropies and the usual support infrastructures for colleges and communities. The University of Houston Law Center, where I have spent most of my professional life, has stepped up, and my colleagues and law students are providing technical assistance and advice, as have many of my immigration law professor colleagues.

We will know more closer to the change of administrations, and all of us should keep perspective so as not to frighten or to give false hope to these students, who have kept their part of the bargain. And we should work to support those who do this over the long haul, such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Immigration Law Center, which have posted useful FAQs.

I ride with my students in the university's elevators every day, and it always is a life-affirming experience, as so many are first-generation students, immigrants and students of color. When they recognize me, they relate their experiences and their triumphs and concerns. In the last two weeks, they have actually cheered me up -- not for the first time. I have dedicated my entire life to them, and they have reciprocated. One of them sensed my own dread and said to me, "Llegamos tan cerca (We came very close)."

What can we do? We still have more than 20 states in this country that provide resident tuition for the undocumented. But the students' trajectory would clearly be altered if DACA were abolished or allowed to expire. It would be a foolish and tragic policy to demonize and deport these DREAMers, even as their parents have been criminalized in the narrative. We need these students, and they surely need us now. Can't we all agree that comprehensive immigration reform is overdue 30 years since the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986? If we want to do something constructive, such advocacy has never been more necessary.

That will be a tremendous fight, under the circumstances. But these students in whom we have invested should be at the front of that line, when Congress recognizes its responsibilities. That is where we should all focus our efforts.

Many community groups work to assist immigrants; two of them are directed by formers students of mine, and two others employ former students. All are 501(c)3 organizations, and donations to them are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Michael A. Olivas is the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center and is serving as acting president of UH Downtown. These remarks are his own.

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Teaching students how to write with soul (essay)

Teaching Today

Irina Eremia Bragin describes why and how she encourages student to write essays that entertain, engage and elevate.

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Heterodox Academy, PEN America Condemn Professor Watchlist

The executive committee of Heterodox Academy, a group of scholars dedicated to viewpoint diversity, is taking a stand against Professor Watchlist. The watch list, which seeks to “to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom,” could chill free speech, the committee said in a statement. The list poses problems similar to those posed by campus bias response teams, which investigate various report of bias, and which have been heavily criticized by those on the political right and free speech purists.

“Whether the reporting is done to a campus authority, setting in motion weeks of time-draining bureaucratic procedure that is often far removed from common sense, or whether the reporting is done to the internet at large, triggering public shaming campaigns and a cascade of threatening tweets and emails, such reporting systems encourage everyone to walk on eggshells,” the committee said. “This kind of fearful climate deprives everyone of the vigorous debate and disagreement that is essential for learning and scholarship.”

Rather than seeking to discourage certain voices on campus, it said, “we think the better approach is to encourage a variety of voices -- heterodox voices -- so that bad arguments can be answered with good ones and scholarly ideas can be tested by the strongest minds on both sides.” This is the committee’s first public statement. Heterodox Academy is a group of scholars who advocate for a more intellectually diverse professoriate and who reject various orthodoxies that “forestall scholarly inquiry.”

PEN America, which works to advance literature and free expression, on Monday also criticized Professor Watchlist.

"While no credible university administrator will take seriously a website so clearly intended to bait and sow divisions on college campuses," Suzanne Nossel, the group's executive director, said in a statement, "PEN America condemns the so-called Professor Watchlist. While claiming to stand up against bias, this list is a noxious purveyor of precisely what it claims to deride: the intimidation and ostracization of those who express controversial views on campus."

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