faculty

Indiana State Professor Accused of Fake Threats

An assistant professor of aviation technology at Indiana State University in Terre Haute was arrested Monday on charges of obstruction of justice and harassment, RTV 6-ABC reported. Azhar Hussain is accused of sending emails containing anti-Muslim messages and threats to members of the campus community -- and naming himself as a target. Campus police say that Hussain, who recently learned that he would not be reappointed to his position beyond 2018, also reported an alleged assault on his person last month. "Based upon the investigation, it is our belief that Hussain was trying to gain sympathy by becoming a victim of anti-Muslim threats, which he had created," Joseph Newport, chief of campus police, said in a statement. Hussain has been suspended from teaching, according to the university.

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Higher ed needs to destigmatize suicide (essay)

I was saddened last week to read about the suicide of Professor Will Moore at Arizona State University. Everyone’s path is different, but mine led me to attempt suicide last semester. Like Moore, I wrote a series of notes on social media and then did not expect to wake up. Waking up from a suicide attempt, the first thing I learned was that there is a latent social stigma around it that, in fact, protects suicide and helps it survive.

It struck me that Moore’s last note called out this “taboo” around suicide. He’s right. It is not to be talked about, especially in print. I experienced this in the first draft of this article, which was rejected by another publication that responded, “We receive dozens of manuscripts each week on all sorts of topics and have to make some tough choices.” Tough choices. Yes. Well, talking about suicide can even be difficult in therapy. I remember my therapist referring to it as “the overdose” with a bit of Southern charm -- suggesting that the issue wasn’t mental health, the norms of academe or a social system that has failed me but rather an unfortunate accident. My overdose was not an accident. And it had no charm.

I was teaching last semester, and halfway through I took pills. Specifically, a lot of pills. I took them on the weekend and woke up unexpectedly a day or so later. At some point early on, in the haze of consciousness and aliveness, I realized that I needed to prepare my lectures for the week. And so I did. I tried to kill myself on Saturday night, woke up on Sunday night and taught on Tuesday and Wednesday. In academe, that is part of the dysfunctional routine we normalize. We research and we teach, even when we have tried very hard to kill ourselves two days before. I think this is, dare I say, a fatal flaw in academe. So I wanted to note three things I have learned.

First, people might not understand the side effects from surviving trying to kill yourself. They are really terrible. If you go to the hospital, you might have a different experience because it is possible to pump your stomach, but I did not go to the hospital. I was worried about losing my job at the university if I did. What if they committed me? Who would teach my courses that week? Would this get out and be a mark against me in looking for future jobs?

So I stayed home and drank water. The results were physically devastating. I had difficulty walking and seeing for two weeks. I now have asthma and high blood pressure. Somehow I taught -- the way we all do when our friends tell us, “Whatever you do, don’t go in to work.” I stayed out of my colleagues’ way that week, got through my classes and went home to bed.

Second, there is no easy way to talk about mental-health events in the workplace. This truth was also echoed in the recent piece on Moore. How do you have a conversation that you have been systematically trained not to have? In our academic departments, we celebrate the arrival of new babies, we commemorate deaths, we bring cake for birthdays and we go out for drinks for promotions. We celebrate the positive but avoid confronting the often sad reality. Where does attempted suicide fit into this? Maybe it isn’t something to share. Maybe it is “too much information,” like domestic violence. Maybe this is another sad thing that is something to be silenced, hidden away -- assuming that next time, next time, it’ll be “successful.” That’s a much easier goal to have: death. It works for those who are suicidal and those who don’t want to have the conversation. Yet this uncomfortable situation betrays a truth that, in academe, this is a conversation literally dying to be had.

And, last, our students get it, yet we perpetuate a double standard. Our students experience mental-health issues, and we encourage them to talk and seek help. Our students attempt suicide and we give them support in class. It would never sink their future careers. When it is us, however, we shut down.

So we (the academy) should ask why we are tiptoeing around an issue that is part of the lived experience of our faculty and that, if unacknowledged, could lead to death. As many of us can attest, good mental health for all staff and faculty members is not a reality in most departments. I have written this piece using a pseudonym. As the Inside Higher Ed article on Moore noted, where you are in your career dramatically influences what you feel safe talking about. I am in the early part of my career, so I’m terrified of losing my employability.

Indeed, the real task falls to colleges and universities to step up on behalf of adjuncts, untenured professors and all other faculty and staff members. They should consider 2017 as an opportunity to engage not simply in suicide prevention but also suicide destigmatization. This is an affirmative step that should not wait for the death of another Moore or situations like mine. Because you cannot ask people who are suicidal to solve this problem -- that’s the whole point, we need help, and here we are, asking for it.

So I would leave you with this: very good people can have very bad days, and those people should not do what I did. They should go to the hospital, feel free to tell their colleagues and speak up about it before it is too late. Stigma is something we all reproduce or disrupt. Universities can be leaders here. Today.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, confidential 24-7 service that can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with support, information and local resources. 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The author works at a large public research university.

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Harvard Sees Gains in Faculty Diversity

Harvard University released data Monday illustrating gains in the diversity of its faculty over the last decade.

During that time the total number of tenured and tenure-track positions did not change much at all, although the proportion who were tenured went up. Among the other changes in the makeup of the tenured faculty:

  • The percentage who are white men dropped from 69.0 percent to 60.8 percent.
  • The percentage who are white women increased from 18.2 percent to 20.4 percent.
  • The percentage of Asian women more than doubled, from 1.4 percent to 2.9 percent, while the percentage of Asian men grew from 6.2 percent to 8.2 percent.
  • The percentages also went up for those in underrepresented minority groups -- for women from 0.9 percent to 2.5 percent, and for men from 4.1 percent to 5.2 percent.

Gains for those who were not white males also were evident in the tenure-track, nontenured category, where white males dropped from 47.8 percent to 42.3 percent.

The data show that the percentage of the Harvard faculty (tenured and tenure track) who are white men is now at an all-time low for the institution.

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How professors can improve the engagement of students in the classroom (essay)

Teaching Today

J. Mark McFadden offers advice on how you can change the temperature in your classroom without touching the thermostat.

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How to make the most out of brief immersions in possible careers (essay)

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Short, intense interactions with organizations where you might want to work can provide career insights, but how do you make the most of those experiences? Laura N. Schram shares four best practices.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017
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Thursday, April 27, 2017
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Nontenured faculty should not be assessed by student evaluations in this politically charged era (essay)

Now that more that 75 percent of the instructors teaching in higher education in the United States do not have tenure, it is important to think about how the current political climate might affect those vulnerable teachers. Although we should pay attention to how all faculty are being threatened, nontenured faculty are in an especially vulnerable position because they often lack any type of academic freedom or shared governance rights. In other words, they are a class without representation, and they usually can be let go at any time for any reason. That type of precarious employment, which is spreading all over the world to all types of occupations, creates a high level of professional insecurity and helps to feed the power of the growing managerial class.

In the case of higher education, we need to recognize that this new faculty majority often relies on getting high student evaluations in order to keep their jobs or earn pay increases. The emphasis on pleasing students not only can result in grade inflation and defensive teaching, but it also places the teacher in an impossible situation when dealing with political issues in a polarized environment. While some students want teachers to talk about political issues, many students will turn against an instructor who does not share their own ideological perspective. Sometimes that type of political disagreement is transformed in student evaluations into vague complaints about the teacher’s attitude or personality.

In this fraught cultural environment, practically everyone feels that they are being censored or silenced or ignored. For example, some of my conservative students have told me that they feel like they are the real minorities on campus, and even though Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency, they still think they cannot express their true opinions. On the other side, some of my self-identified progressive activist students believe that political correctness makes it hard to have an open discussion: from their perspective, since anything can be perceived as a microaggression, people tend to silence themselves. Moreover, the themes of political correctness, safe spaces, trigger warnings and free speech have become contentious issues on both the right and the left.

What I am describing is an educational environment where almost everyone is afraid to speak. The nontenured faculty members are fearful of losing their jobs, the conservative students see themselves as a censored minority and the progressive students are afraid of being called out for their privilege or lack of political correctness. Making matters worse is that students are often socialized by their large lecture classes to simply remain passive and silent.

It appears that we are facing a perfect storm where free speech and real debate are no longer possible. One way of countering this culture is to stop relying on student evaluations to assess nontenured faculty. If we want teachers to promote open dialogue in their classes, they should not have to be afraid that they will lose their jobs for promoting the free exchange of ideas. Therefore, we need to rely more on the peer review of instruction, and we have to stop using the easy way out. In short, we have to change how nontenured faculty members are evaluated.

Non-tenure-track faculty should be empowered to observe and review one another’s courses using established review criteria. It is also helpful to have experienced faculty with expertise in pedagogy involved in the peer-review process of teaching. By examining and discussing effective instructional methods, all faculty members can participate in improving the quality of education.

It is also essential that to protect free speech and open academic dialogue, we should realize that the majority of faculty members no longer have academic freedom or the right to vote in their departments and faculty senates. In order to change this undemocratic situation, tenured professors should understand that it is to their advantage to extend academic freedom and shared governance to all faculty members, regardless of their tenure status. If we do not work together to fight back against the current political climate, we will all suffer together.

Robert Samuels teaches writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is the president of UC-AFT. His forthcoming book is The Politics of Writing Studies.

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Court: UT Austin Can't Revoke Chemistry Ph.D.

A Texas appeals court last week granted an injunction to a 2008 chemistry Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin who’s fighting to keep her doctorate after accusations of scientific misconduct. Suvi Orr’s dissertation paper was retracted for unreproducible data in 2012, but she’s since argued that she misread data and didn’t falsify anything. Austin has twice taken the rare step of trying to revoke Orr’s degree, and she’s sued the university each time, arguing that she wasn’t given an opportunity to defend herself and that she’s the “sacrificial lamb” for an ultimately culpable professor, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The injunction says Austin can’t proceed with actions that could result in the revocation of Orr’s Ph.D. -- specifically a disciplinary process that Orr has called a "kangaroo court" -- until a court of law rules on her full complaint.

A university spokesperson said via email that the institution “respects our students' privacy and, as a policy, will not publicly discuss an individual student's academic performance or issues related to it. We will continue to respond to this lawsuit through the appropriate legal channels.”

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FAMU Faculty Members Air Concerns Over Pharmacy Dean

Over a dozen Florida A&M University faculty members detailed their concerns about the dean of the pharmacy college in a letter sent to administrators and the Board of Trustees last week, The Tallahassee Democrat reported.

At an informal discussion in March, faculty members pointed out many issues they had with Michael Thompson, dean of the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at FAMU. However, in the letter sent to the interim provost, interim president and Faculty Senate president, the 15 faculty members wrote that those issues had not been addressed.

The letter was written and sent days after one employee at COPPS broke a colleague’s nose during an argument in the lobby of the pharmacy college building, according to The Democrat.

It also comes after FAMU learned its most recent graduates posted a 59.9 percent first-time passing rate on the national licensure exam for pharmacy. With that pass rate, FAMU is last among 129 colleges whose students take the same exam.

The faculty members who penned the letter told The Democrat that it was written as a call for action -- they want to address the low test scores and internal struggles at COPPS and propel the program forward. FAMU’s pharmacy college accounts for 60 percent of the country’s black graduates in pharmaceutical sciences.

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Saint Rose Faculty Call for President's Ouster

Faculty at the College of Saint Rose voted last week to request that its president, Carolyn Stefanco, be removed from her position, The Times Union reported.

After calling for her ouster by a more than two-to-one margin, the faculty asked the Board of Trustees to dismiss the president. In response, however, the trustees announced their “unwavering support” for Stefanco.

The faculty said it had lost confidence in Stefanco’s leadership because she created an “atmosphere filled with fear of retaliation” at the private New York college.

Since filling the position in summer 2014, the president has overseen dramatic cuts to academic programs and faculty member positions. When the college was facing a $9 million deficit in December 2015, Stefanco suggested slashing 23 faculty positions and 27 academic programs.

At the same time, many faculty and administrators have left the university of their own accord, according to The Times Union. Three of the four deans at the college have said they are leaving.

“Morale is low among everyone at the college,” said Kathleen Crowley, a professor who voted for Stefanco’s ouster.

From the trustees’ perspective, Stefanco has navigated many difficult situations in her three years with Saint Rose. She oversaw the largest first-year class in the college’s history last fall as well as new master’s and bachelor’s programs.

"President Stefanco is leading this institution through a changing environment impacting higher education institutions throughout the nation," the trustees said in a letter to the faculty after last week’s 63-29 vote for Stefanco’s removal.

"Change is difficult, but this is the time for the administration and the faculty to get together behind the strategic plan we have charted to help our college succeed."

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Arcadia Adjuncts Form Union

Adjunct faculty members at Arcadia University voted to form a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, they announced Thursday. Elsewhere in Philadelphia, AFT represents adjuncts at Temple University. A spokesperson for Arcadia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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