Following the success of its scholarly communication platform, MLA Commons, the Modern Language Association has launched the beta version of Humanities Commons, a nonprofit, open-access network. The new commons is designed to provide scholars, teachers, librarians and other humanists with a way to share their work and teaching materials and to network. Humanities Commons features a library-quality digital repository, the Commons Open Repository Exchange, or CORE, where users can share and archive conference papers, syllabi, peer-reviewed articles and other documents and media.
“CORE offers Humanities Commons members the opportunity to increase the reach of their work -- as soon as it’s produced,” Kathleen Fitzpatrick, the MLA’s associate executive director and director of scholarly communication, said in a statement. “We hope that the platform can also be a hub for teachers looking for resources, writers looking for potential collaborators or conference organizers seeking a way to share materials.” The project is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The current public assumption that safe spaces and trigger warnings conflict with academic freedom and are the result of political correctness gone mad is a false dichotomy. If students today are indeed more fragile, then it is vital that we in higher education understand: (1) the specific nature of this sensitivity and (2) what colleges can do to help.
After this divisive election, we will need more capacity for talking about controversial issues. While the anonymity of social media may have escalated invective, it has not made for more ease with difficult conversations. Technology has allowed a generation to end relationships by text message, or even by “ghosting” an ex -- deleting a relationship from your life without any conflict or effort.
Avoiding conflict, of course, also sacrifices an opportunity to learn. Our campuses and world, meanwhile, are increasingly more religiously, culturally and ethnically diverse and now more politically divided. So at the very moment when we have more varied ideas, thoughts and opinions on our campuses, we also have students who are less equipped and perhaps less eager to have challenging discussions.
The U.S. Department of Education recently issued a Dear Colleague letter to college presidents asking that we help students learn to disagree in a “respectful manner.” But what it means to be “disrespected” is highly contested, so we are indeed having difficult conversations about trigger warnings and safe spaces. Ultimately, college is about helping students think critically. That requires learning how to interrogate complexity while withholding judgment and trying to feel safe in precisely those uncomfortable spaces where our ideas and attitudes are being challenged.
But this is a process. The first stage of college is finding a safe home. We learn much more when we explore from a place of safety, have the rights tools and feel accepted as equal partners in the discourse. The news media has greatly exaggerated the very few students who want “protection” from ideas they find uncomfortable. Safe spaces are mostly simply places of congregation, and assembly with other people who share your ideas, history and culture is a basic human impulse. With a safe home base established, we can then encourage students to venture into discussions in which they may have greater discomfort.
Pedagogy is about moving from comfort to discomfort and eventually finding comfort in discomfort. The measure of a college, then, has nothing to do with the sensitivity of its first-year students or if their professors use trigger warnings, but rather with the outcomes. Can we teach students to embrace ambiguity and discomfort? And, if so, how?
A Path Forward
First, colleges must assemble a diverse community of learners. Employers say they want graduates who can solve complex problems with people who are not like them. This year, for example, the first-year class at Goucher College is 35 percent students of color and 25 percent Pell-eligible students. We also have students from 60 countries on our campus, and we require 100 percent of our undergraduates to study abroad, as travel can be a great way to encounter differences and discover that not everyone speaks or thinks as you do.
But bringing diverse students together is just the beginning. To have open, meaningful and difficult conversations, young people also need to learn to live with a higher tolerance for ambiguity -- or “the tendency to perceive ambiguous situations as desirable.” It is essential for democracy, and it is being used in research on global leadership because it is related to cross-cultural communication and performance in diverse work environments. At Goucher College, we use a Tolerance for Ambiguity scale that asks students to respond to statements like:
An expert who doesn’t come up with a definite answer probably doesn’t know too much.
A good teacher is one who makes you wonder about your way of looking at things.
The sooner we all acquire similar values and ideals the better.
We are using that tool and other existing psychological constructs to measure where our students are when they first arrive on our campus in terms of dealing with ambiguity, and then we follow up every year to see if and when they have progressed. All of this is confidential and analyzed by researchers only in the aggregate. We will, however, look for patterns and connect trends with pedagogy and activities. (Are juniors willing to take more cognitive risk? Did our required study abroad experience increase cultural sensitivity?)
This work is at an early stage, but our hope is that we will come to understand better how college and various interventions can have an impact. We have begun by actively doing everything we can as college administrators and faculty members to demonstrate that there are multiple good answers, that knowledge is complex and that we can change our minds.
We must also be intellectual and ethical role models, so on our campus, we are responsive and transparent about student concerns. We routinely engage students in open meetings and alter policy as a result of their input. It is certainly more work, but it has the dual benefit of building community while modeling that smart people have open minds.
We must also create a campus culture that invites and supports the most difficult conversations. On a night of unrest in Baltimore, I joined a spontaneous gathering of dozens of faculty members and students watching the news. Late into the night, students continued to share their responses, fears, anxieties, hurts and pains. It was profoundly uncomfortable -- and we all learned. In the weeks that followed, we decided we need to be even more uncomfortable, and a group of faculty members created a seven-week seminar, Back to School on Race. More than 150 faculty and staff members signed up and participated -- and we all learned more about the deep structures of racial inequity as seen through the lenses of multiple disciplines, as well as the ongoing pain and discomfort that such topics bring to many members of our own community. This became a springboard to further conversations about curriculum, pedagogy, support and campus culture.
Thus, to help our students embrace discomfort, we must first establish a home for them. Later we encourage them to encounter discomfort, allow them the time to reintegrate that new information and then send them back out to embrace more discomfort.
Next fall, we will also introduce a new curriculum that begins with a first-year seminar designed to welcome students to the world of inquiry through faculty members who model their own passionate exploration of a topic of their choosing, with the focus more on how faculty are thinking about their topic rather than what they are thinking. Students will then take three exploration courses that are based in our new interdisciplinary academic centers. Over four years, and not in a single course, students will also need to demonstrate that they are racially and culturally literate.
We encapsulate all these efforts in our new version of the three R’s of learning: relationships, resilience and reflection. We start by getting to know our students. We emphasize to them the importance of building relationships that will prepare them for more discomfort. We focus on resilience (and also measure this in our students) because we have found that, in general, those who see failure as an opportunity learn more, grow personally and succeed professionally. Conflict and failure allow us to test boundaries and open us up to new ideas and new perspectives.
Reflection is what ties it all together and feeds our compassion and social conscience, so we will soon require all graduating students to develop a reflection portfolio. Recognizing there are a multiplicity of accents, experiences, histories and values living all around us is a first step, but we must then also reconsider our own values, frameworks and prejudices, and then confront our differences honestly.
Technology and globalization have increased our exposure to difference, but that alone has not opened hearts and minds. The internet offers us increasing access to new ideas and knowledge, and most of what students will need to know for the jobs of the future, they will need to learn as they go along after they graduate. That means that colleges should focus less on making sure we cover the content and more on teaching students how to become self-regulated learners. New knowledge is only really useful if you know how to let it in and allow it to change your mind. We need to rethink the pedagogical processes by which we get students to truly embrace difference.
Without critical thinking, discernment and reflection, democracy retreats from the sound of the loudest voice. The value of the liberal arts will only increase as knowledge and ideas proliferate. We need graduates who are not only capable of difficult conversations but also eager to listen and reflect. Perhaps we should restrict degrees to those who realize the answer to most difficult questions is almost always “It depends.”
José Antonio Bowen is president of Goucher College.
As long as universities have been around, people have debated the purposes for which they are intended and what they actually might be. One way that has played out is in the myriad metaphors that have attached themselves to higher education.
We are all aware of the central metaphors of campus life: the ivory tower, the college community and the recent earnest demand that we see college as a business. Metaphors do their work by a sort of cognitive mapping, illuminating the complex and unknown by reference to things we think we understand. What we would like to offer as a provocation is a metaphor that maps the relationship between modern educators and the institutions that they serve as being similar to that between cities and suburbanites. This metaphor can illuminate some of the cultural problems on many campuses, including the general mistrust between faculty members and administrators as well as the concerns over the corporatization of the university.
The single most immediately recognizable -- indeed clichéd -- feature of American middle-class cultural life is the suburb. In the ideal, suburbanites divide their political and personal allegiances between where they work and where they live. In the stereotypical idealization, suburbanites are middle-class owners of detached single-family homes who live a physical and psychic distance from the cities where their jobs are located. Commuting to their places of work by automobile or, more rarely, by public transportation, suburbanites have a different relationship to the cities in which they work than do the residents of those cities.
Is there anything in this cliché that does not map the relationship of most academics to the institutions they serve? As much as we faculty members may be devoted to our jobs and, perhaps by extension to our institutions, we have much the same relationship with our colleges as suburban commuters do with the cities where they work. Our college, a midsize residential comprehensive college, is by no means unique. About 5,000 undergraduates inhabit the campus 24/7. We faculty arrive en masse, mostly in single-occupant automobiles, between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., Monday through Friday, and leave like an ebb tide by around 5 p.m. After that time and on weekends, the only people on campus over the age of 22 are the campus police, a skeleton maintenance staff and the heroic librarians -- except for when we show up for the occasional performance, sporting event or lecture.
A walk through the halls of most colleges in the evening and at night can be quite unnerving. The campus does throb with life after we have left it, but it is a culture in which we do not participate, about which we are almost entirely ignorant and which we often publicly disdain. The people who inhabit our campuses live in a different polity than we do. Their behavior often appalls us. They stay up late. They carouse. We pontificate among ourselves about their lack of work ethic and impulse control.
Most of all, they are not like us, and we rarely have contact with them in what we think of as their cultural space. Ultimately, the campus is designed for the students who live there.
Our academic facilities have been imagined as suburban destinations. A typical faculty building has no common areas, no places for collaboration or socialization, nothing but a row of “houses” in which we keep our office hours. The layout of most of our offices is side by side and uncommunicating on a hallway, and while we may talk to our neighbors in the hall, the next floor up or down is often too far away to result in casual conversation. We all know that if you want to meet other faculty members, you should join a committee.
Classrooms are typically shaped entirely to serve a single purpose. Victims of the brutalist nostrum that form follows function, we can do little with our buildings other than teach classes, and they stand unused at virtually all other times. Only the most profligate enterprise would pay the enormous capital expense of erecting a staggering numbers of buildings to be used only for a few hours a day, five days a week, for less than eight months out of a year.
Unlike a city, however, we have little public space. Typically, there are few if any restaurants or coffeehouses that provide a place for accidental meetings, conversations or general sociability. Faculty members often eat lunch in their offices or not at all, because they don’t have any other place to go. The dining halls are for students, too crowded and seldom worth the cost. Although our hometown is often cited as one of the best coffee towns in America, the campus coffee bars are of poor quality and close at 4 p.m. At the end of the workday when one might like to carry on a conversation or just chat with whoever might be around and have a drink, we have to leave campus. Just as there is no coffeehouse to spend some time in during the day, there is no pub in which to unwind at the end of it.
The net result of all of this is that faculty members and administrators rarely interact without great effort or an unusual circumstance. Administrators commute just as we do. But like commuters to a separate company, they are mostly housed in their own building. We might converse with someone before a meeting or at the occasional event such as a retirement or celebration of newly tenured faculty. But that’s about it.
When put in this light, it is easy to see why faculty members don’t trust administrators or often even other faculty members. Fundamentally, we don’t know each other as people. We get electronic memos from administrators regularly, and they give us speeches a few times a year, but generally speaking, that is the extent of our communication. This is not a healthy campus culture, as it fosters distrust and misunderstandings. In fact, it makes it harder to move the campus forward, and the time saved by not fostering relationships is wasted in confrontation at every initiative.
Is there a solution to this situation? The campus functions well as a city for students, yet it also needs to function, at least to some extent, as a city for faculty members and administrators. We suggest that an architectural commitment to, if not full citizenship, then, at the least, simple sociability might be a starting place.
Of course, changes in architecture would require resources, which, in turn, would require commitment by administrators and collaboration with faculty members. So, where are the places where such conversations might begin? Perhaps those most humble and common toadstools in the academic garden: the Facilities Planning Committee, the Space Committee or whatever they call it at your institution, where faculty members, administrators, staff members and students meet the bright-eyed designers of our various campuses. We say flood the zone with communitarian activists who envision our campuses as something other than mere workplaces.
The stakes here are high and not merely aesthetic. If we continue to design campuses like cities in which the faculty have no stake in citizenship, then we will remain commuters into a city with no place for us and behaving like suburbanites. We will continue to lack shared values and generally mistrust each other. For colleges to evolve in a healthy manner -- and we do need to evolve -- it will take a collaborative effort and increased interaction among all campus constituents.
Thomas J. Pfaff is a professor of mathematics and Robert Sullivan is an associate professor of communication studies at Ithaca College.
The national discussion over the need for colleges and universities to produce better outcomes and be more inclusive is largely focused on the young people who enter the system. Yet we often ignore older workers whose skills are outmoded or no longer in high demand due to the changing economy -- and who are being displaced by technological shifts and the free flow of goods and services among countries.
While hardly anyone argues that improvements in technology should be slowed down, the same cannot be said for a greater integration of the global economy through freer trade. In particular, globalization and its impact on high-wage manufacturing jobs has become a key political issue in Western economies. It is evident that our country as a whole, as well as the higher education system, is doing a poor job of helping displaced workers reintegrate themselves into the economy. Given adequate funding, the system of higher education is capable of playing a greater role in helping them retain their dignity and contribute to the future.
Economists are in near-unanimous agreement that both free trade and technological change have raised the average income in the United States by shifting resources, including labor, from low-productivity industries into higher-productivity -- and therefore higher-wage -- industries and jobs. History shows that, over the long run, this movement of resources from agriculture to manufacturing and then to services has resulted in the gains in productivity that have led to higher living standards.
Writing forThe New York Times, Javier Solana and Strobe Talbott also argue that international trade has been a major force in stabilizing world political systems since the end of World War II. To preserve this stability, they call for a restoration of “public support for free and fair trade … through better safety nets as well as ambitious and effective retraining opportunities.”
But the transition toward a more efficient use of world resources has seldom been a smooth one. It is certainly easier to divert steel from the production of tanks to the production of bridges than it is to convert coal miners into computer programmers. From the riots of the Luddites in 19th-century England to Brexit and the American election, it is clear that the increases in income and efficiency have produced both winners and losers. Those left behind are moving the political climate in Europe, and especially in the United States, into an antiglobalism environment.
In a special report on the declining support for internationalism, The Economist provides a spirited defense for the benefits of free trade but it also admits that globalism is on the run “because too little effort and money has been expended on taking care of those who have been hurt by the opening up of markets,” especially in America.
The Compensation Principle
If mainstream economics provides an argument for free trade, it also provides an argument for shifting some of the gains from trade from the winners to the losers. This argument is imbedded in the compensation principle.
That principle is drawn from the theoretical literature in economics that is concerned with advancing the overall well-being of society. It recognizes that the gains from any transaction can have both winners and losers. Improving societal well-being requires the winners to compensate the losers in some mutually agreeable way. The winners can have their gains, or at least most of them, as long as they are willing to support the losers in a way that leaves them the feeling that they are no worse off than when they started. These are people with dreams for their children and mortgages to pay, who have given up their jobs to market forces beyond their control.
That does not necessarily mean that all displaced workers would be restored to their former level of income. Some will not reach that level. Others might be willing to substitute leisure for income or take a less stressful job. And, yes, a few might even welcome the chance to study philosophy or art as they near retirement. For most, however, returning to the labor market will be of prime importance.
The principles laid down by the compensation theory only work if the winners and the losers have equal bargaining power. Since the winners would come out on top if bargaining were left to private markets or the courts, only the government has the ability to insist on a package of compensation that will adequately satisfy the losers. Using its power to tax and regulate, it can, and does, develop policies that transfer income from the winners to the losers.
That said, however, the volume of this transfer is inadequate in the United States, and a more equitable policy would involve a greater use of the higher education system. Not doing more to compensate those left on the sidelines by international trade risks a backlash that threatens our open economic and political systems.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently produced a comparative analysis of the “active labor market policies” of 31 mostly rich countries in its group. Analysis of the impact of these policies showed some success, particularly with younger and more recently unemployed workers. Examples of active policies included job-search assistance, education and training, public sector job creation, relocation allowances, and subsidized employment in the private sector. Each country was ranked according to the percentage of its GDP spent on policies that were designed to get people off benefits and back to work.
At the top of the list was Denmark, which spent 1.8 percent of its GDP in 2013 on active labor market policies, followed by Sweden and Finland. America was third from the bottom with 0.1 percent, ahead of only Chile and Mexico. Getting the United States to the middle of the pack would require us to make six times our current effort. That would place us equal to the effort found in Spain, a much poorer country.
Reaching the middle of the OECD pack, let alone the leaders, would come up against impossible political resistance in the United States. But if benefits were concentrated among those displaced by trade, there might be wider support. America took a stab at this with the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program enacted in 2002 and amended in 2009. But compared with the European effort, it was a small program with a limited reach. It should be expanded and more generously funded with a greater emphasis on education and training -- and involve a greater use of the higher education system.
Needed: Increased Education and Training
We have learned a lot from TAA and have found that workers benefited more when they sought out the education and training paid for by the program. Community colleges were the biggest providers of this education, and dislocated workers who participated in their programs achieved better employment outcomes than did those participating in other programs.
If America were to invest more in education and training, community colleges might be expected to carry a good deal of this load. But other possibilities exist. The range of possible training sites could be enlarged to include private and public employers. Wage insurance and other income subsidies to both private and public employers could help compensate displaced workers. Displaced workers could be given vouchers, much like Pell Grants, to use at approved training sites. Private employers might pick these up and develop on-site training and apprenticeship programs.
Including the private sector would contribute to the political support for such a program. For workers, the grants would allow a larger range of possibilities and could be used for an extended period to compensate for the gap between the higher-wage jobs lost in manufacturing and the lower wages common in many service jobs. In any program, particular attention needs to be paid to the participation of men in retraining, lest the social and monetary costs of incarceration, drug addiction, poor health and the deterioration of skills drag them and the society down.
None of this need increase the national deficit if we have the political will to transfer more of the gains of free trade from the winners to the losers. Doing anything less will threaten the gains already made and tear at our economic and political fabric.
Richard M. Romano is an economist and director of the Institute for Community College Research at SUNY Broome. He is also an affiliated faculty member at the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute at Cornell University.