faculty

Carefully consider next steps after gaining tenure (essay)

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Life after gaining tenure is new and unfamiliar territory, so it can be easy to overcommit yourself, warns Kerry Ann Rockquemore.

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LIU Faculty Union Files Unfair Labor Practice Claim

Long Island University’s American Federation of Teachers-affiliated faculty union filed an unfair labor charge against the university with the National Labor Relations Board over the ongoing faculty lockout there. Regular instructors have been blocked from campus over protracted contract negotiations since classes started last week, even as students complain on social media and elsewhere. Unfair labor practice charges include repudiation of contract, refusal to bargain/bad faith bargaining, changes in terms and conditions of employment, and lockout. The university could not immediately be reached for comment, but it has blamed the union for making contract demands that LIU says it cannot afford and said that the lockout is intended to promote stability for students.

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Making college work for students with autism (essay)

For graduating high school seniors who are entering college this fall, it is an exciting time. Possibilities have been opened! Yet now new concerns arise: Have they chosen the right college? Will they thrive?

These are hard questions for any young adult, but for those with autism, the stakes are especially high. A 2015 Autism Speaks report found that only 30 percent of high school graduates with autism ever attend a two- or four-year college, and those that do fare poorly. Research suggests that 80 percent of them never graduate. Furthermore, only 32 percent of high school graduates with autism find paying work within two years of graduating high school. This need not be. Half of all individuals with autism have average or above-average intelligence. They can do the work. The problem is not the students. It’s the colleges.

We come to this issue from an unusual perspective. One of us, Elizabeth, studies at Pasadena City College and has autism. The other, Margaret, teaches at California State University at Los Angeles, and -- in addition to being Elizabeth’s mother -- has worked with students on and off the spectrum. Together, we have seen the many ways that colleges fail students with autism.

Federal legislation, including the Americans With Disabilities Act, mandates that colleges provide reasonable accommodations for disabled students. But common accommodations, such as providing a quiet exam setting, don’t adequately address the problems faced by many students with autism.

As autism scholars Ernst VanBergeijk, Ami Klin and Fred Volkmar note, autism is a social disability. The inherent qualities of autism -- resistance to change, sensitive sensory systems, weakness at reading social cues and a tendency to take language literally -- interfere with communication and social engagement. A quiet exam room will not help students overcome those barriers. The problems students with autism face are more insidious.

Elizabeth, for example, struggles with understanding if professors are being sarcastic or rhetorical. Uncertain, she often responds too much or too little. When one professor expressed frustration at her eager hand raising, she asked privately if he would signal her when he wasn’t being serious or didn’t require a response. “No,” he said. “I don’t need to change my teaching for you, and you need to learn sarcasm.”

It would be easy to regard Elizabeth’s experience as exceptional, the product of one unsympathetic professor. Yet research out of Australia by Ru Ying Cai and Amanda L. Richdale confirms how common such experiences are. In focus groups, autistic college students told story after story about metaphorical or abstract language leading to confusion, as well as loud, active classrooms challenging their abilities to focus on learning. For many, the frustrations became too great, leading to stress, anxiety and regrettable outcomes. However, when students felt their social needs were met -- in particular when faculty members proved willing to modify their teaching style -- students had much more positive experiences.

But American professors are not required to modify their teaching style for disabled students, and colleges are not required to think about the social, communicative needs of any students, let alone those with autism. Those things are not considered reasonable accommodations. But if autism is indeed a social disability, then denying the social needs of autistic students is inherently unreasonable.

It would help if faculty members understood how autism affects learning. But professors are busy. They juggle many demands, and professional development is often low on their to-do lists. At Margaret’s university -- which houses an outstanding center for teaching and learning development -- professional development seminars are often poorly attended, especially those focused on helping students with special needs. At one seminar on working with hearing-impaired students, Margaret was one of three instructors to show up, and if our conversations with colleagues and peers are indicative, then Margaret’s experience is a common one. Even when given the opportunity to learn more about the needs of disabled students, professors turn those choices down.

Some positive changes are underway. More than 100 colleges now offer programs for students with autism, but most of them are private, expensive, residential programs. Meanwhile, research suggests that up to 80 percent of college students with autism at one point filter through community colleges, where students, often still highly dependent on family support, can live at home. Those institutions generally offer fewer resources for students with autism. If we are to meet the needs of neurodiverse students, public community colleges will need to lead the way.

In these days when most community college disability offices are underfunded -- Elizabeth’s community college does not even provide note takers -- meeting the needs of students with autism may seem daunting. But meaningful institutional changes do not need to strain budgets. For Elizabeth, the greatest support has often come from students who have chosen to act as social interpreters. A whispered word or two is often all she needs to better and more appropriately engage with her curriculum. Colleges like California State University at Fullerton already have mentorship programs that pair neurotypical and neuroatypical classmates.

We recommend expanding such programs so that peer mentors -- perhaps those offered the coveted privilege of priority registration -- work side by side with autistic students in the classroom. Of course, that brings us back to the privacy concerns voiced earlier. Peer mentors can only work with students who are willing to self-identify in the classroom as having autism, which is why autistic students themselves must also be involved in making campuses more responsive to their needs -- and that will only happen when students with autism bring neurodiversity into conversations about campus diversity.

Until that happens, faculty can do a lot to foster feelings of safety and inclusion for all students -- both with autism and without. Elizabeth advocates for simple kindness, acceptance and the understanding that some disabilities are invisible. In Margaret’s classes, she announces on day one that students registered with the school’s disability office should feel free to talk to her about not just the accommodations they may legally require but also about other things she can do to make her courses work for them. She shares -- with Elizabeth’s permission -- the struggles Elizabeth has faced in education, and she urges students to see her as someone who really wants to help them succeed.

Work by Nicholas Gelbar, Isaac Smith and Brian Reichow offers faculty members other suggestions for helping students on the spectrum: incorporate universal design into curriculum and assignments. As much as possible, use concrete language in both lectures and the syllabus. Break tasks down into more steps, provide greater organizational support, realize that group work, public speaking and active classrooms (such popular buzzwords in today’s curricular development) may offer particular challenges for students who struggle socially and who do not thrive in environments demanding rapid transitions. In other words, when dealing with students whose disability makes flexibility extremely difficult, faculty members must be the flexible ones. They must also take responsibility for educating themselves about neurodiversity, and if that seems too hard, they can do one last thing. They can defer to autistic students who do understand their own needs, and they can give those students the support they ask for.

One thing is undeniable: without significant changes, the traditional gateway to greater community inclusion and financial security will remain closed to people with autism. And that’s a tragedy, because those with autism have a lot to offer -- not just to our colleges, but also to our nation’s economy. We all win when everyone can compete and contribute.

Elizabeth Finnegan is a student at Pasadena City College. Margaret Finnegan teaches at California State University at Los Angeles. She is the author of Selling Suffrage: Consumer Culture and Votes for Women (Columbia University Press, 1999), and her work has appeared in College Communication and Composition, American Quarterly and other publications.

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Suggestions for ways that Ph.D. students should think about their finances (essay)

Ray Sin provides a few suggestions for effectively managing your finances in graduate school.

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New book on advice for college instructors is based on thousands of student comments

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A new book by undergraduates at Michigan State offers teaching advice based on thousands of comments from students starting with the prompt, 'To my professor...'

UCLA Settles Suit by Grad Students on Harassment Case

The University of California, Los Angeles, said Sunday that it settled with two graduate students who sued over its handling of a sexual harassment case against a professor of history. One graduate student will receive $350,000 and the other is owed $110,000 and a dissertation year fellowship, according to a statement from the university.

“UCLA is committed to maintaining an atmosphere where all students can live and learn free of discrimination, harassment, exploitation or intimidation,” reads the statement. “All members of the UCLA community are encouraged to report any incident of sexual harassment or sexual violence.”

Nefertiti Takla and Kristen Glasgow, both graduate students who have been public about their case, last year filed a complaint against the university, alleging that it took insufficient action against Gabriel Piterberg, the professor in question. The students say he repeatedly sexually harassed them and tried to touch them, and that the university was out of compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in education, in its response. Piterberg was fined $3,000 and told not to meet with his students in his office with the door closed, among other consequences. After a suspension lasting one academic quarter, he was allowed to return to teaching this semester, prompting student protests and faculty outcry. He has not responded publicly to the complaints about him.

UCLA said in its most recent statement that it’s taken steps since the time of the alleged violations, including creating its Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and establishing peer review committees to review proposed sanctions for any senior leader or faculty member found to have committed sexual harassment.

 

West Florida Faculty Senate Opposes Lawmaker as Potential President

The University of West Florida Faculty Senate on Friday voted, 12 to 5, to oppose the presidential bid of a state senator with no higher education background who helped design a controversial performance-based funding system.

The Faculty Senate “is resolved that statements made by candidate Don Gaetz in his initial interview, combined with his past political and professional positions and actions, are incompatible with the academic mission and educational initiatives” of the university, reads the faculty resolution. It urges the presidential search committee and Board of Trustees to choose among the remaining pool of “highly qualified finalists.”

Daniel Pace, a professor of finance and president of the university’s union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, called performance measures “so flawed,” Politico reported. “They show a fundamental lack of understanding of how a university functions and what the role of a university is, particularly for a regional comprehensive university like [West Florida]. There is no place for a regional comprehensive university under these performance metrics.”

All finalists beyond Gaetz, including Martha Saunders, the university's provost, have significant higher education experience. Gaetz told Politico, “Everyone has a right to express themselves, and I certainly respect the members of the faculty who organized this effort. It is their right to express themselves.” The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trustees are expected to name a new president on Thursday.

Florida State University in 2014 hired John Thrasher, a Republican state lawmaker with no higher education experience, as president, despite a similar plea by faculty members to their Board of Trustees not to do so.

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Seattle U Adjuncts Vote to Form Union

Non-tenure-track faculty members at Seattle University voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, 73 to 63, they announced Friday. Adjuncts had to wait two years to count their votes, after the university challenged their right to form a union based on its religious affiliation. But the National Labor Relations Board said last month that the votes should be counted, save those from adjuncts who teach theology and religious studies, and those specifically teaching in the School of Theology and Ministry.

"This has been a challenging issue for our campus community," the university said in a statement. "The two overriding, yet competing rights -- the right to organize and the First Amendment right of the university to carry forward its core Jesuit Catholic educational mission on its own terms free from government interference -- require thoughtful consideration." The university said it respects the right of workers to organize, but that faculty members in particular play "a central role" in its religious mission. The university may release another statement on the vote within a month.

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Effectively using data to gauge success (essay)

Around this time every year, as colleges and universities begin to spring back to life, I am reminded of my years working within central administration and the excitement in watching the sea of people full of promise come spilling back onto the campus. I remember the familiar faces of returning students, beaming with the fresh potential of a new year, who dropped by just to declare themselves back again or share goals for the year hatched over the summer.

But I also remember just as clearly the faces of the students who didn’t return. Those we lost somewhere along the way to graduation.

Many of those students still haunt me today. I remember one freshman I met when I was working as vice chancellor and chief of staff at UNC Greensboro. She came into my office at the end of the spring semester in tears. A straight-A student through high school, she arrived on our campus full of confidence. But that confidence was shattered when her professors told her that she was a terrible writer. She struggled through the year in silence, determined to improve. But she never got the help she needed. The tears rolled down that young woman’s face as she learned that she’d been placed on academic probation and would lose her scholarship. It was too late. We were too late.

There are thousands more stories like this young woman’s -- of students from low-income families who could have made it farther than their parents did but whom we somehow failed along the way.

We used to blame our students: their poverty, their underpreparation, the extra burdens they carry. It turns out, though, that it’s a lot about us. Yes, poverty and preparation matter. But the choices we make matter, too. Some institutions are simply doing a much better job of graduating their students than other institutions serving exactly the same kinds of students.

As we begin a new academic year, this can be a moment for improvement-minded institutional leaders to engage campus communities in honest, data-driven conversations about what we might do better. How can we more fully understand the journeys our students take on the way to the degree, noting where those journeys are speeded and guided, and where they derail? How can we renew our collective commitment to expand what's working and to confront -- and address -- what’s not?

To assist institutional leaders in their reflection and planning, The Education Trust has sought to identify and broadly share the high-impact practices of institutional leaders who have driven impressive improvement in completion rates, particularly for students who have gone historically underrepresented -- and underserved -- on our campuses: low-income and first-generation students and students of color. Most recently we’ve examined practices at Florida State University, San Diego State University, the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire and Georgia State University.

While each of these institutions is distinct in their mission, and each set of leaders distinct in their style, at the core of their improvement efforts are common practices and qualities -- many of them steeped in honest analysis of data. Those practices and qualities are:

Courage. When then San Diego State President Stephen Weber addressed his Faculty Senate, applauding the many ways in which the faculty had worked toward -- and attained -- excellence over the years, he went on to issue a challenge that would spark a decade-long improvement effort: “But a great university doesn’t lose almost two-thirds of its Latino freshmen along the road toward graduation.” Like Weber, all of the leaders at the campuses we’ve been learning from are clear-eyed, intentional and dogged in their approaches to institutional improvement. They roll up their sleeves alongside staff and faculty and ask hard questions of the data on student matriculation and success. They zero in on areas of strength and weakness to draw out promising practices and needed interventions.

Shared commitment. These leaders are keenly aware that, while they have a strong role to play in leading change, staff and faculty members operating closest to their students are the ones who enact that change. Using data, leaders at University of Wisconsin Eau Claire engaged departments as partners and problem solvers. Said one senior leader on campus, “We give them the data … we’re not telling them where the problem is; they identify the problem and we encourage them to solve the problem.”

In examining their data, they found that, while their six-year graduation rate was relatively high, the four-year graduation rate was extremely low at just 18 percent. To address that pattern, faculty and staff members identified course bottlenecks and acted to remove them.

At each of the institutions we’ve studied, leaders draw together partners at every level -- senior administrators, department heads, faculty members, student-affairs professionals -- to engage in data analysis and problem solving. And they arrive not with answers, but with questions, trusting that those assembled in the room have much to contribute to improvement efforts.

Timely data for targeted interventions. These leaders understand that their students struggle in real time -- and that those working closest to them need information to intervene in real time. Further, they know from disaggregating data that all students don’t struggle at the same time with the same obstacles or need the same supports. They take time to parse data to understand the needs of all their students -- first generation, transfer, black, Latino, immigrant and many others. They identify benchmarks and warning indicators to ensure that no student is left to languish and disappear at any point in their educational journey without real supports to turn the situation around.

For example, practitioners at Georgia State University noted, “Four or five years ago, we had nothing consistent in our system that would help us track students.” Today, an impressive online data repository gives faculty and staff members immediate access to 130 screens of the most requested data on student progression and success. Through their Graduation and Progression Success advising system, which tracks more than 700 markers of student success, nightly feeds generate lists of which students have missed which markers. That information enables advisers to reach out immediately with targeted support for students who stumble.

Continuing evaluation of the data. Leaders at these institutions always come back to the data. A longtime campus leader at Florida State University described the cultural change ushered in by former provost Lawrence G. Abele: “When he came in, there was a huge shift in culture. It was no longer OK to just do things you thought were right; you needed data to support new ideas and also to assess, evaluate and improve current programs.”

For instance, when campus leaders analyzed their dropout patterns, they found that while white students were most at risk of dropping out in their first year, black male students were more likely to leave after the second, third or even fifth year. They realized that their retention efforts needed to stretch beyond freshman year to guide students through the entire undergraduate trajectory. Like Abele, leaders at these fast-improving institutions convene their teams regularly to monitor and review the data and to make midcourse corrections to ensure that their efforts, energies and resources are directed where they are most needed.

The lessons these leaders offer provide real insight from within successful college and university change efforts. They remind all of us in higher education that “success for some” is no great institution’s epitaph -- that institutional success will be measured not by how well some students are served but by how well all groups of students are served. If institutional leaders and those of us working alongside them don’t have the courage to confront the reality of what’s happening on our campuses in the narratives of all students, whether on commencement lists or dropout rolls, we are merely comforting ourselves with a half-true story that plays on repeat each year.

Bonita J. Brown is director of higher education practice at The Education Trust. She most recently served as vice chancellor and chief of staff at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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The pros and cons of backup career plans (essay)

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Most Ph.D.s harbor some hope of getting a tenure-track job, but, Natalie Lundsteen asks, should they have -- or not have -- a backup career plan?

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