The American Physical Society scrapped plans to hold an upcoming conference in North Carolina, due to a new state law mandating that people use public restrooms matching the gender they were assigned at birth. The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender physicists are an increasing area of focus for the society, and the Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics decided that holding its 2018 annual meeting in Charlotte was no longer safe or appropriate.
“The situation in North Carolina is untenable for trans physicists who would not only be at risk when making use of restroom facilities in conference venues but also at airports, hotel lobbies, restaurants and other establishments in the course of their visit to North Carolina,” Michael Falk, a professor of engineering and physics at Johns Hopkins University who chaired a recent society climate report concerning LGBT physicists, said in a statement. The society estimates the move will cost the Charlotte economy $5 million.
The U.S. Justice Department has warned North Carolina that the bathroom law, adopted in March, puts it out compliance with federal laws governing access to education. Some state lawmakers have since said they’ll fight federal intervention.
A professor is suing the College of Charleston, saying that its requirement that he include learning outcomes on his syllabus violates his academic freedom and right to due process, The Post and Courierreported. The college has maintained that the requirement is linked to accreditation requirements.
The professor, Robert Dillon, responded to the demands that he add the learning outcomes by instead including a quote from Woodrow Wilson: “It is the business of a university to impart to the rank and file of the men whom it trains the right thought of the world.” Dillon was removed from his course in the spring and told he needed to follow the requirement to return to class -- something he said he was not willing to do.
If you’re teaching at a four-year college or university, you may have had some training in the needs of your first-generation college students, many of whom have probably transferred to your institution from a community college. You probably haven't been asked to think about first-gen status in relation to what happens after graduation, though. Students whose families don't know much about college need more help acculturating to the expectations of college. Likewise, many students, perhaps even most students, need help from faculty members to think about what happens after college.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, graduate degrees bring higher wages to their holders, but their value varies by field. Some occupations demand graduate degrees at the entry level, and others, such as the master’s in social work, want you to have some experience first. Most first-generation college students don’t know how to begin to think about graduate study, however.
At my public regional university, we offer quite a few master's-level programs, mostly geared toward professional qualifications: teaching degrees such as the M.A.T.; professional programs such as the M.S.W., M.P.A. or M.B.A. Those programs can complement all sorts of undergrad social science degrees or humanities degrees, building on the critical thinking, writing, speaking, synthesis, project management and data analysis skills of a liberal arts degree. Other graduate programs aim to give students skills and credentials that make them better qualified for particular kinds of careers: public history or criminal justice programs, or library and information systems degrees.
Whatever the graduate program, however, its very graduateness might make it intimidating to students whose families are unfamiliar with graduate education. Most of our students don't have parents who have professional positions; most don’t have advanced-degree holders in the family. If students are to get advice about graduate school, it’s probably going to come from their faculty members.
Faculty members don't have to become career counselors, but if we're at master's-granting universities, we can start by learning about the graduate degree programs at our own institutions. Perhaps faculty in foreign languages can encourage their students to take their training and enthusiasm into public health programs. Maybe sociology B.A.s could move into clinical psychology master's programs. At my university, we have a criminal justice master's program that can help any undergraduate move into many different kinds of work in and around the justice system, and our master's in public administration helps students into jobs in local government.
With the increasing importance of graduate degrees in the workplace, and the decreasing likelihood that employers will pay for workers to pursue graduate degrees, it falls to undergraduate faculty to think about how we can become better advisers for students who would benefit from graduate degrees. We can help them to learn what programs are worth the investment, both of tuition dollars and of delayed entry into the labor market, as well as to choose undergraduate courses that will move them to the next step.
It can be a tough sell for first-generation students to talk to their families about spending more years in the classroom. The more we can help students to sort out the advantages and disadvantages of various degree and certificate programs and of delayed entry into grad programs vs. moving straight from undergraduate, the better they’ll be able to talk with the folks at home about their plans.
Should they take out more loans to get a master’s degree? Should they work first and pursue a grad certificate at night or on weekends? Will they be eligible for aid or assistantships in grad school? We can help our students figure out the right questions to ask.
We can also start talking to students about postgraduation options sooner in their undergrad careers. If a student wonders aloud about topping her art degree with an M.B.A., we can encourage her to take some basic business courses while she's still an undergraduate. If a student thinks he might want to teach, but he doesn’t want to get an undergrad education degree, we can look up the requirements for postbaccalaureate teaching certification to see how he can get a head start right away.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do in undergrad programs is to demystify graduate study for all our students, so the people who don’t know much about it can feel free to ask questions. Familiarize yourself with the graduate options at your own institution and the financial aid possibilities for each one. Put yourself in your students’ shoes: If you were a junior and had never thought about graduate school, what would you need to be told? What mistakes might you make?
If you work at an institution that has graduate programs, ask your dean to set up an opportunity for faculty members to learn about the requirements for graduate admissions and the expectations of grad students at your school. Invite the graduate dean to a department meeting. He or she is looking to boost enrollments and so will be thrilled to come and tout the advantages of the various degree and certificate programs.
If you don’t have grad programs, look around your area to see what programs are within driving distance (for your commuting students), check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics link above and look into the resources about master’s programs at the Council of Graduate Schools. Find out from your alumni office what kinds of degrees and certificates your grads are pursuing after graduation. Talk to alumni.
If you understand the various postbachelor’s options available for your students, you can make a big difference in how they are able to use what you’ve given them in the undergrad classroom. There’s room for a lot more connection between undergraduate education in one discipline and graduate education in another. It’s the undergrad faculty who’ll have to help students to see those connections.
I’m not recommending sending more of our students to research Ph.D.s -- the degrees most of us have and understand. That’s a whole different topic and raises a whole different set of questions about access, social class, diversity, time to degree and other issues widely discussed in the higher ed literature. What I’m advocating here is keeping the option of graduate study -- the kind that can result in career advancement and increased earnings -- in front of all of our students, not just the privileged ones.
Paula M. Krebs is dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Bridgewater State University, in Massachusetts. On Twitter, she is @PaulaKrebs.
Faculty members are critical agents in student success but are surprisingly underemployed in that effort, according to a new paper from the Education Advisory Board, a best practices firm advising college and university administrators. “The Evolving Role of Faculty in Student Success” is based on interviews with 120 higher education leaders. (An infographic is available here.) It says that without engagement among faculty, “most top-down student success initiatives are doomed to fail, either through outright opposition or because of a limited reach.” Sometimes administrators don’t communicate their expectations about supporting students to faculty members, according to the report, and best practices -- where they are being employed -- often remain within pockets of an institution.
“Critical reforms that pertain to curricular requirements, academic policies, advising practices and transfer articulation all rely on the willingness of faculty to redesign the institutional approach and carry out a new set of procedures, but many academic administrators have neglected to involve faculty from the outset,” the paper says.
The most important responsibility of individual faculty members is to enhance the student learning experience, according to EAB. Pedagogical innovations may be plentiful on campuses, but training and support in those practices may be lacking, the paper says. So faculty leaders should be empowered to expand the use of known, effective techniques across departments.
Early-warning systems to identify at-risk students have been purchased or developed by three-quarters of colleges and universities, according to EAB, but they’re not all being used. Faculty members should be able to customize the threshold for academic risk and intervention protocols in these systems to maximize participation. And the provost and academic deans “must reinforce the importance of early alerts among faculty, and demonstrate their impact on getting help to students in a timely matter,” the report says.
Student support efforts tend to target the most and least at-risk students, the report says, while “faculty-student mentoring should address those in between.” Failing to establish a meaningful connection to campus in the first year means student is more likely to struggle as he or she progresses. But targeting mentoring practices to students who are on track but not engaged in a learning community or student organization can help ensure their success, according to EAB.
Scientists in Canada are demanding immediate changes to the way grant proposals are reviewed by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, STAT reported. A record percentage of proposals are being rejected, but scientists say that this isn't about rigor but the new review system. In a bid to save money, a computer algorithm was used to assign reviewers to grant applications, and many report that the algorithm didn't work, and many proposals have been reviewed by people who don't understand them. The president of the institutes has pledged to make improvements.
I was recently having dinner with my dissertation adviser, Scott @shershow, catching up after many years, and at one point during the meal our conversation predictably drifted to something someone said on Twitter. Scott paused and said, “I must admit I don’t really get Twitter.”
He had joined Twitter maybe a year ago, had a couple dozen followers and was trying to become more familiar with it. But his admission suggested a murkiness and mysteriousness around the medium -- qualities we tend to forget after several years of obsessive tweeting and accumulating thousands of followers, retweets and likes.
My mentor may be near a tipping point: either ready to abandon Twitter, or just on the verge of getting it, to use his word. Without wanting to sound like a hyped-up social media evangelist, let me see if I can help. What can Twitter be for academics?
A way to write! Twitter can help make your prose stronger, clearer and, most important, shorter. We often get into bad habits when we write for narrow disciplinary audiences, and Twitter can help jostle you out of wordy discursive patterns that have become unconscious.
An archive. Twitter is a place to keep research findings: insights, startling juxtapositions and oddities are all at home on your Twitter feed. Use Twitter as a living archive, one that you can quite easily download to your hard drive every once in a while and comprehensively search. If you search for keywords or proper names, you may find threads and thoughts that can be expanded into larger investigations or arguments.
A venue in which to be cited. When you tweet your scholarship, you shouldn’t worry about someone scooping you. Realize instead that people can now reference you on Twitter and you can later integrate such points and rapid dialogues into papers, articles or books. Likewise, keep track of poignant remarks that you spot on Twitter so you can recall them later and weave them into something you are working on.
A great teaching tool. Create a Twitter assignment, like the one my colleague @twel in the English Department at Loyola University at New Orleans taught me, where students keep reading notes on Twitter, using a hashtag to create a live, interactive dialogue about your weekly reading. It’s also a way for you to interact with students. That can be risky, of course -- there are some things you’d rather not know about students’ late-night habits or existential crises. But the benefits outweigh such risks. Basically, it is a way to model to students not only how academic interests intersect with everyday life but also good interactive etiquette. Again, that can get dicey on Twitter, but even the worst-case examples of Twitter spats lend themselves to object lessons concerning written communication, the viral potential of the digital, the need to take time for reflection and how to be respectful within the strange realm of social media (and beyond).
A mode of communication. This may sound all too obvious, but once you fully embrace the wide reach of Twitter, it becomes a way to get the attention of all sorts of people and entities, including popular stars, politicians and airline officials during a flight cancellation. They may not always seem to hear or reply, but when they do, it can be quite satisfying. Look at how essayist and novelist @rgay engages readers, celebrities, critics and ordinary people of all stripes on Twitter -- talk about writing for an audience.
A way to promote your work. This isn’t just about becoming a shill or rampant capitalist. This is about using the tools at hand to help get your work out there to a real, reading audience. When your book is published, tweet about it. Look what philosopher @michael_marder did when his @objectsobjects book Dust came out this past January: he tweeted “dust specks” or little insights that came from and piled up around the book. You too can tweet little snippets from or aphorisms about your book when it is published, and even just one each day will help your book actually sell. And more important, this can help your book find readers. When I talk to editors about this issue (for instance, @mxmcadam at Johns Hopkins University Press and I have discussed this many times), they invariably tell me they prefer it if their authors are active on Twitter -- and for good reason. It is not only aiding the struggling and overwhelmed marketing efforts of publishers but it is also a way to do your work justice, to dare to be public about your intellectual work.
A critical platform. There is nothing like seeing the sharp television criticism of New Yorker journalist @emilynussbaum, the everyday analysis of sociologist @tressiemcphd or the home appliance criticism of media theorist @ibogost unfold in real time on Twitter. Twitter is a way to engage in lively critique: it is a vibrant medium for pithy reviews, trenchant commentary and subtle demystification. Of course you always set yourself up to be lampooned by a withering GIF or deflated by an ironic reply, but isn’t this a healthy thing for critics to keep in mind?
A community. The environmental policy scholar @raulpacheco started his #scholarsunday hashtag as a way to bring scholars together on Twitter, and it has been so successful that now it seems like every day of the week is Sunday. I’ve gone on to meet in person so many of the people I originally connected with on Twitter (including Raul himself), and that experience then reflexively rejuvenates the Twitter community. So if you feel like posing a question to a scholar you admire -- or just placing a question out in the seeming void -- there is a good chance that you will get a response, and usually it will be smart and useful. And then you may end up having a drink with your virtual respondent at a conference in the future, and possibly forming an ongoing friendship, professional collaboration or both
It is worth repeating No. 1: it is a way to write. You can actually draft entire essays, book chapters and conference papers on Twitter and then get live feedback as you go. It is scary sometimes, of course, to write in public -- to reveal your research before a legitimate outlet like a university press or a well-regarded journal has vetted or published it. But, in the end, this is a leap of faith that will almost always make the work better -- the end being publication elsewhere, like here. This piece started as a handful of tweets about how I use Twitter as an academic.
Christopher Schaberg (@airplanereading) is an associate professor of English at Loyola University New Orleans.