The news media is awash with the question of the future of the humanities in higher education. Are the humanities dead? Do they have value? Do they pay off? Do today’s students have an interest in the liberal arts? Does it matter?
Right or wrong, the easy assumption is that economic forces play out in university funding, job opportunities in STEM fields, and economic calculations of students and families. Those economic forces combine with public perceptions about the limited financial returns of areas of study that seemingly lack direct vocational resonance -- notably, the humanities.
That common view attracts some criticism. Professors and pundits defend the worth of the humanities -- from building character to thinking critically to valuing tradition. They attack philistinism, and they cite estimates of rising enrollments in the humanities and lifetime versus starting salaries. A few voices speak to preparing for multiple or sequential careers and lifelong learning. Fewer still point to the exaggerated numbers of high-paying, high-tech STEM jobs.
In my view as a university professor, too many of our defenses are weak ones. We should be able to mount a much stronger case and demonstrate more vigorously and convincingly our advantages, which are very real. Meanwhile, not recognized are the ways in which universities themselves have actively attacked and even crippled the humanities, the arts, and also the sciences -- the so-called foundations of higher education.
My own large public university does this through a series of policies and then a supposed ignorance of the combined impact of those policies. Not only do they actively damage the institution’s ability to conduct its business and to meet the needs of its students, faculty and component colleges but together they also constitute administrative malpractice.
The fact is that the university has chosen to admit and enroll increasingly more students in professional and preprofessional areas, especially engineering and business. Among the consequences has been the decline of about 40 percent over the past four years in both numbers of majors and course enrollments in the humanities. But the university did not take this path through any public discussion, explicit decision making or consideration of the major effects.
The principal weapon is a policy called the One University Enrollment Plan. Officially, one of its stated goals is to raise the average ACT scores of the entering first-year class. And this it did -- by 1.1 points in the last five years, from 27.8 to 28.9 at the main campus in Columbus, Ohio. That allows the university to claim that the incoming class is the “smartest” in its history. In addition, it counts in U.S. News & World Report rankings.
Less publicized is the goal of increasing the proportion of entering students from outside the state. Why? Well, other state universities do it. It also brings in more revenue from higher tuition rates. Access for in-state students can wait, despite the fact that access is part of the university’s vision. The percentage of African-American students at the Columbus campus has continued to fall, as it has since 2000.
That is one set of issues. Another is how this policy is enacted. In that enactment, the university reveals the assumptions of how it defines itself. Focusing on the rate of increase in applications to the campus’s colleges, the university achieves the goal by admitting a larger percent of the engineering and business students who apply and admitting fewer of the humanities, arts and science students who do. In other words, that seemingly simple arithmetic operation is not a matter of mathematics or science but rather a statement about the nature, purpose and shape of higher education.
For example, and surprising to many people today, the number of applicants in the humanities increases steadily and is approaching historically high levels -- up 25 percent since 2012 and 52 percent since 2004 at the Columbus campus. But numbers admitted have declined by 37 percent since 2010, the year before the enrollment plan began, and by 18 percent since 2012. Similarly, since the enrollment plan started in 2011, the proportion of admitted students enrolling (the yield rate) in the humanities (only 30.5 percent of admits in 2014) has declined at a faster rate than in the university as a whole.
The arts show the same trends. The fact that the rate of increase in applicants has been less in the humanities and the arts and sciences than in engineering and business has been allowed to obscure the fact that the total number of applications and therefore interest in the former areas is increasing. Admissions and enrollment in the sciences, perhaps surprisingly, have also declined but not as steeply. It is more than ironic that science is left out of STEM when it comes to admissions and enrollment efforts.
The results? I have been told that the College of Engineering has more students than it needs. Meanwhile, the Arts and Science College, the largest, cannot pay its bills and is declining in all dimensions.
What’s more, the enrollment plan interacts with other policies that also have a detrimental effect on the arts, humanities and sciences. Those include lowering and redistributing general education program requirements and basing unit budgets overwhelmingly on student course enrollments (semester credit hours) -- so-called responsibility-centered management. Under the combined impact, the dean of Arts and Sciences declared a crisis, which the news media reported last May.
The originators of the enrollment plan never considered its impact on the balance of students across the colleges or its effect on the operations of individual colleges. When asked about this, university officials told me honestly that they’d never looked at that. Nor was the simple fact that the average ACT scores could have been raised without unbalancing the university and weakening its central areas. In the current economic climate, many talented high school students interested in all fields of study have heightened interest in public universities. Of course, they need to be recruited, admitted and enrolled.
A university cannot construct its student body by blindly pursuing percentage increases in applications to the neglect of the undergraduate population over all or the impact on its academic components. A university is not determined by a popularity contest. In fact, its reason to exist is just the opposite.
Apart from overloading disproportionately some parts of the university and underserving (and underfunding) others, such actions ignore, for example, that the College of Engineering reportedly graduates a lower proportion of its entering students than other colleges (and is also marked by a gender imbalance).
Without a larger discussion and declared institutionwide policies about the present and future of higher education, such actions cripple the contemporary university’s core, compromise its declared mission and move from a balanced university to a vocational and technical institute. Indeed, such actions answer crucial and challenging questions about the future and the value of the liberal arts and sciences without ever asking them.
Harvey J. Graff is Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies and professor of English and history at Ohio State University. His most recent book is Undisciplining Knowledge: Interdisciplinarity in the Twentieth Century (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015).
The American Association for the Advancement of Science has been asked to review the nomination of Patrick Harran, a chemistry professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, to become an AAAS fellow. The association announced that it was asked to reconsider the nomination by its chemistry section, which made the request "after it became apparent that an initial review of Dr. Harran’s nomination materials had not included all relevant information." The Los Angeles Times reported that the objections concerned Harran's lab safety, which was the subject of much scrutiny after the death of one of his assistants in a lab fire in 2008. 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 AAAS said it would announce any decision in the matter.
Wheaton College, a Christian institution in Illinois, has suspended Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor of political science who has attracted considerable attention for saying she would wear a hijab throughout Advent to express solidarity with Muslims. A statement from the college said the suspension was not for her wearing the hijab, but because of "significant questions regarding the theological implications of statements" she has made. "Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution's faith foundations with integrity, compassion and theological clarity. As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college's evangelical statement of faith," said the college's statement on the suspension.
The college did not specify the statements Hawkins made that were of concern. But Christianity Today reported that many evangelicals were distressed by statements from Hawkins that Christians and Muslims "worship the same God." Some Christians share that view; many others do not.
Hawkins posted on her Facebook page a brief explanation of her views and links to other sources to defend her belief that Christians and Muslims do worship the same god. "My wearing of the hijab as an act of Advent devotion has certainly caused some to question the sincerity of my devotion. To those who question the authenticity of my faith, I love you," she wrote.
Today on the Academic Minute: Pia Steensland, associate professor of clinical neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet, details her research into a new treatment option. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
As they have gained momentum over the past decade, the open access (OA) movement and its cousin, the Creative Commons licensing platform, have together done a tremendous amount of good in the world of scholarship and education, by making high-quality, peer-reviewed publications widely available both for reading and for reuse.
But they have also raised some uncomfortable issues, most notably related to academic freedom, particularly when OA is made a requirement rather than an option and when the Creative Commons attribution license (CC BY) is treated as an essential component of OA.
In recent years, major American and European funding bodies such as the National Institutes of Health, the Wellcome Trust, the Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Research Councils UK have all instituted OA mandates of various types, requiring those whose research depends on their funding to make the resulting articles available on some kind of OA basis. A large number of institutions of higher education have adopted OA policies as well, though most of these (especially in the United States) only encourage their faculty to make their work openly accessible rather than requiring them to do so.
At the same time, Creative Commons licensing has emerged as a convenient way for authors to make their work not only publicly readable, but also reusable under far more liberal terms than copyright law would otherwise provide. When an author makes her work available under a CC-BY-NC-ND license, for example, this signals that the public is allowed to copy, redistribute, and republish that work for noncommercial purposes, though not to create derivative works without permission.
The most liberal of these is the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY), which effectively assigns all of the exclusive prerogatives of the copyright holder to the general public, allowing anyone who so desires to copy, distribute, translate, create derivate works, etc., even for commercial purposes, as long as the author is given credit as creator of the original work.
Along with the great and undeniable benefits offered to the world of scholarship by the emergence of both OA and Creative Commons licensing, these programs and tools (like all programs and tools) also entail costs and unintended consequences, and have raised some uncomfortable issues.
One such issue has to do with academic freedom. More and more publishers, funding agencies and academic institutions have begun not only requiring OA of their authors, but also adopting a definition of OA that requires CC BY licensing. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) which is easily the world's largest and most powerful OA publisher (producing more than 30,000 articles per year), does not permit its authors to use any license except CC BY, nor does BioMed Central.
In late 2014 both the Gates and the Ford Foundations announced that articles published as the result of research they underwrite must be published on an OA basis, to include a CC BY license granted to the public. The Research Councils UK -- which controls about $4.5 billion in research funding in the United Kingdom -- also requires OA/CC-BY whenever its block grants are used to fund article processing charges. Obviously, the more funding agencies and publishing venues require CC BY, the less choice is available to authors who rely on those funds or those venues.
What do authors think of this? When they are asked, the answer seems clear: many of them don't like it. When the publisher Taylor & Francis surveyed its authors in 2014 and asked them to give their opinions on a variety of licensing options, three times more respondents rated CC BY “least preferred” than rated it “most preferred” or “second preferred,” combined. When Nature left it to authors to choose a license for their OA work, 74 percent of them selected licenses more restrictive than CC BY. (Since making CC BY the default license earlier this year, however, Nature has found that authors leave the CC BY license in place 96 percent of the time.) Authors who have published under CC BY licenses have, in a couple of recently documented cases, been dismayed to find their work being repackaged and sold by commercial publishers with whom they would not have chosen to associate.
The issue in such cases is not a loss of revenue, which the authors surely never expected to realize in the first place, but rather being forced into a publishing relationship not of their choosing -- as well, in some cases, as an objection to the commercial reappropriation of their work in principle. In some disciplines, particularly in the humanities, authors worry about translations of their work appearing under their names (in accordance with CC BY's attribution requirements) but without their vetting and approval. Sometimes authors who are anxious to see their work made as freely available to readers as possible balk at granting the world carte blanche to repurpose, alter, or resell their work without permission.
Those who advocate for OA with CC BY argue that there is no reason for authors to object to it: scholars and scientists (the argument goes) have already been paid for the work they're writing up, and since they have little if any expectation that their writings will generate additional revenue for them, why not make their work freely available to those who may be able to find ways to add value to them through reuse and “remixing,” and maybe even to profit from doing so? In any case (the argument continues), authors retain their copyright under a CC license, so what's the problem?
The problem, for many authors, is that their copyright becomes effectively meaningless when they have given away all of the prerogatives over their work that copyright provides. The right to make copies, to publish, to create derivative works, etc., are not the meaningful rights that the law gives to copyright holders -- after all, these are rights that the general public has in relation to works in the public domain. The meaningful right that the law provides the copyright holder is the exclusive (though limited) right to say how, whether, and by whom these things may be done with his work by others.
So the question is not whether I can, for example, republish or sell copies of my work under CC BY -- of course I can. The question is whether I have any say in whether someone else republishes or sells copies of my work -- and under CC BY, I don't.
This is where it becomes clear that requiring authors to adopt CC BY has a bearing on academic freedom, if we assume that academic freedom includes the right to have some say as to how, where, whether, and by whom one's work is published. This right is precisely what is lost under CC BY. To respond to the question "should authors be compelled to choose CC BY?" with the answer "authors have nothing to fear from CC BY" or "authors benefit from CC BY" is to avoid answering it. The question is not about whether CC BY does good things; the question is whether authors ought to have the right to choose something other than CC BY.
In other words, the issue here that has a bearing on academic freedom is the issue of coercion. CC licenses that are freely chosen by authors are one thing, but when those licenses are imposed on authors by those who have power over their careers, we begin talking about a different set of issues. Such coercion exists on a spectrum, of course: when a powerful publisher says "We won't accept your work, regardless of its quality, unless you adopt CC BY," that represents one kind of coercion; when a funder says "We won't fund your research unless you promise to make the published results available under a CC BY license," that's a somewhat different kind. Both have emerged relatively recently.
To say that authors ought to be able to choose for themselves whether or not to adopt CC BY is not to oppose CC BY or to deny the very real benefits it offers. It is, rather, to suggest that retaining some say in how one's work may be reused is an important aspect of academic freedom, and that academic feedom matters. And one might go a step further and suggest that by refusing to fund a research proposal on the basis of its author's publishing plans (rather than on the proposal's intrinsic merits), or by refusing to publish an article based on its author's unwillingness to adopt CC BY (rather than on the article's intrinsic merits) we do a potentially serious disservice to the advancement of science and scholarship.
Openness and reuse certainly do contribute importantly, even crucially, to the advancement of knowledge -- but they are not the only things that do, and when authors are denied funding or excluded from important publishing venues based not on the quality or significance of their work but rather on their willingness to comply with a particular model of dissemination and reuse, we introduce distortions into the system that have the potential to do damage even as they attempt to do good.
Perhaps those in the OA community who are confident in the attractiveness of CC BY, and in its lack of real costs and downsides to authors, should demonstrate that confidence by endorsing policies and programs that allow authors to choose for themselves. Educate them as to the issues, certainly; make the strongest possible case in favor of CC BY, absolutely. But then stand back and let authors decide for themselves whether or not they agree.
Arguments backed up by coercion are always suspect; if they are as strong as those making them seem to believe, then coercion should not be necessary. Where coercion is shown to be necessary for widespread adoption, then perhaps that suggests the need for a more rigorous examination of costs and benefits.
Rick Anderson is associate dean for collections and scholarly communication at the University of Utah's J. Willard Marriott Library.
Faculty members on two campuses voted no confidence in administrators in recent days. Saying it opposed President Tom Rochon’s “autocratic” leadership style, the Ithaca College Faculty Council released the results of its faculty vote on Monday. Some 78 percent of voting, full-time continuing faculty expressed no confidence in their leader. The turnout rate was 87 percent.
“The number of faculty voters and the strength of its mandate are the culmination of months of deeply reflective, highly intellectual dialogue and organizing,” Mary Bentley, associate professor of health promotion and physical education, said in a statement. The vote is a “clear call to action for the college’s Board of Trustees to remove this president.”
Asma Barlas, a professor of politics at Ithaca, said Rochon’s troubles have been exacerbated by the recent student protests on campus regarding the racial climate. The president’s “so-called solutions to the current crisis have been too little, too late and hence, hopelessly ineffectual,” she said.
In a statement, Rochon said the faculty message and one sent by students in their own vote of no confidence last month “has been a difficult one to hear, but I am listening. I understand that many people on our campus are frustrated with the pace of change and with my own role in effecting it.”
Rochon said he remains “determined to improve Ithaca College's culture for the better, and that includes improving my own approach to collaborating with our faculty, staff and students. l am committed to working with every faculty member, every staff member and every student who desires to make Ithaca College a more welcoming and inclusive community. That is how I can best serve the college, and it will continue to be the focus of my efforts and attention.”
Tom Grape, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said the votes are “one way, along with the many interactions we’ve had on campus and by phone and email, for students and faculty to make their views known to us. We will brief the full Board of Trustees on everything we have learned, and we intend to share an update with the [Ithaca] community early in the spring semester.”
The Academic Senate at California State University at Chico also passed a resolution of no confidence regarding President Paul Zingg; Susan Elrod, interim vice provost; and Lori Hoffman, vice president for business and finance. “The executive leadership has failed to effectively manage the development and implementation of policies and personnel processes that concern the faculty and staff,” the resolution said.
Paula Selvester, a professor of education and member of the senate, said the resolution stems from a history of “instability and a dismissal of shared governance,” the Enterprise-Recordreported. “Over the years campuswide trust in our ability to share governing together has declined. … A widely held perception is that decisions are made without adequate consultation here on campus and therefore the quality of decision making has suffered.”
Ahead of the vote, administrators including Zingg emailed members of the faculty to express concern that the resolution lacked specificity, among other issues. Some faculty leaders at the meeting said they wanted more time to review the resolution, but it passed 24-8.
Via email, Joe Willis, a university spokesman, said that while “one senator said during debate that the vote was symbolic in nature, senior leadership at the university looks forward to discussing with the senate what the aims of the resolution are and what consequences are expected from it. In the new year, our provost will be working closely with deans, chairs, faculty and others on a budget allocation model that is responsive to our priorities and represents a commitment to shared governance.”
Part-time faculty members at Emerson College’s Los Angeles campus voted 16-0 to form a union affiliated with the American Association of University Professors, they announced Monday. The new bargaining unit has 22 members. Part-time faculty members at the college’s main campus in Boston already are represented by AAUP.
Citing state budget cuts and declining enrollment, officials at Western Illinois University said last week that they plan to eliminate 50 faculty positions, Northern Public Radio reported. Other cuts are planned as well. The faculty union is pledging to study the plans when they are released to be sure they are consistent with contracts.