faculty

Social science groups condemn new U.S. Census question about citizenship

Social science groups say Trump administration is endangering the reliability of the Census -- and research that uses Census data -- by adding question on citizenship.

Facebook is using academic pedigrees to whitewash unethical practices (opinion)

There are plenty of reasons to be upset at the news that a voter-profiling firm secretly harvested private information from 50 million Facebook profiles. Beyond the big-picture questions about Facebook’s nonstop surveillance of our daily activities and the use of this information to influence U.S. elections, another part of this story should cause particular disquiet for academics: Facebook is using academic pedigrees to whitewash unethical corporate behavior.

In 2014, Facebook let Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor at Cambridge University, use its platform to collect information. Kogan enlisted Facebook users to take a personality quiz and download an app that collected information from not only the users but their Facebook friends. Participants in this study were paid a small fee. From this information, Kogan developed “psychographic profiles” on millions of Facebook users. The information collected supposedly revealed whether someone was shy or extroverted, liberal or conservative, and a host of other personality traits that could be used to deliver targeted political ads.

This isn’t the first time researchers have used Facebook to survey the emotions and behavioral quirks of its users. In June 2014, it came to light that the social networking site had allowed researchers to manipulate the news feeds of nearly 700,000 users to see if they could be made to feel more happy or more sad. (They could.) Last summer, a leaked memo showed Facebook executives boasting that they could monitor the posts and photos of teenagers in real time to determine if they were in midst of vulnerable mental states like “stressed,” “defeated” and “insecure.”

The difference here is that Kogan turned over all of his psychological data to a private business built for the purpose of swaying voters. Facebook contends Kogan never revealed that he was sharing this data with Cambridge Analytica. In high dudgeon, Facebook now labels Kogan and Cambridge Analytica’s experiment a “scam” and a “fraud.”

Facebook appears to be shocked to find that gambling is going on in Casablanca. It apparently did nothing to verify Kogan’s research project was actually for the “academic purposes” he claimed. No safeguards were imposed to ensure that the private information Kogan collected remained with him alone and did not fall into other hands.

Nor did Facebook take steps to prevent Kogan or Cambridge Analytica from collecting information on the friends of the users who took Kogan’s personality quiz. In fact, Facebook’s terms of service appear to have permitted just this kind of hijacking of personal information. Facebook was not a dupe; it was an enabler.

Other parties have been complicit in Facebook’s use of scholars to justify abuses of its users’ trust. The 2014 study that tweaked user news feeds to see if they could make users post more happy or more sad content was conducted by researchers from Cornell University. Normally, academic-run experiments on human subjects require approval from a university institutional review board. But Cornell contended that IRB review was unnecessary because the Cornell researchers were working with Facebook’s private data.

Facebook benefits from this less-than-rigorous relationship with academe. The Cornell experiment may have probed an interesting scientific question about human psychology. Yet the study also offered impressive evidence of Facebook’s value to advertisers. You can bet that corporate CEOs took note that a study of over half a million Facebook users proved that the social media platform can change how people feel with just a couple small algorithmic tweaks.

Likewise, the Cambridge Analytica revelations may be a public relations nightmare for Facebook, but they may also be a corporate relations dream. What better proof of Facebook’s power to persuade shoppers than steering the results of an election?

This is not to say that academics should be excluded from using Facebook for research. There has long been a tension between purely academic study and applied market research. It is unrealistic to call for a complete separation of one from the other. A blanket ban on academic participation would make Facebook even more of a black box than it is already. Done the right way, academic experiments using the social media giant’s enormous data set can make its influence on us more transparent, not less. And Facebook deserves some credit for finally starting to develop a more rigorous review process for in-house research.

But the best practices of academia need to find more purchase at Facebook. For studies on humans, it is necessary in the university setting to obtain informed consent. As a private business, Facebook is not obligated to comply with this standard, and it doesn’t. Instead, it need only make sure that the terms of any potential human experimentation are covered under its capacious and unreadable terms of service.

By contrast, in the realm of academic research, scientists cannot wave a bunch of impenetrable legalese under a test subject’s nose and receive a blank check to do what they want. Moreover, university internal review boards act as a safeguard, making sure that even when consent is informed, the benefits of any proposed research outweigh their costs to the participants. University IRBs need to make sure they fulfill their responsibilities when it comes to experimenting on social media users.

More importantly, it is time that Facebook starts following academics’ best practices instead of using them for cover.

Mark Bartholomew is a professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law and the author of Adcreep: The Case Against Modern Marketing (Stanford University Press).

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Expert on virtual reality believes its higher ed impacts are still developing

Jeremy Bailenson, a Stanford professor who's dedicated his career to developing and studying virtual reality, thinks the tool is slowly but surely asserting itself in the higher ed classroom.

Tips for a top-notch teaching demo (opinion)

Teaching Today

Josh DeSantis and Nicole Hesson give tips to job seekers for preparing a top-notch teaching demo.

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Teach Like You Mean It

Group seeks to set standards for flipping the classroom

Finding many educators are using outdated flipped learning techniques, a new group proposes global training standards to keep them up to date.

New policies are needed to recruit racially and ethnically diverse faculties (opinion)

The national movement to increase the proportion of Americans who have postsecondary credentials is quite visible and laudable. As Lumina Foundation, the foremost champion of this idea, argues, learning beyond high school increases American talent and is essential for reducing inequality in our society.

But I worry that the steps that states and institutions are now taking -- such as setting ambitious goals for attainment, reforming the focus on remediation in higher education and creating clear pathways for postsecondary students to earn a certificate or degree -- aren’t enough. Too often, they’re datacentric approaches that focus on structures, not people, to achieve more equitable outcomes. It’s hard to see how a predominantly white faculty that isn’t prepared to teach students from a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds can achieve equity with these practices alone.

What’s noticeably missing from postsecondary attainment goals, now set by 40 states, is an effort to change the racial culture of colleges and universities generally -- and classrooms more specifically. These gaps make it unlikely that our state’s postsecondary system can reach the goal of 60 percent of our residents age 25 to 44 earning high-quality credentials by 2025.

The only way we will successfully close the racial equity gaps produced by our higher education system when it comes to black, Latino, Native American and marginalized Asian-American students is to address racial imbalance on our faculties. Many such minority students are poor and the first in their families to attend college, and they are too often blamed for their own difficulties navigating our complex systems. We need to reform faculty hiring systems to elevate candidates of color who also show the qualities of “equity-mindedness.”

The racial imbalances between students and faculty members are extremely troubling. In California community colleges, Latinos represent approximately 45 percent of students, but only 15 percent of full-time faculty members are Latino. Meanwhile, only 26 percent of students, but 60 percent of full-time faculty members, are white.

Recognizing that the California Community College system has made a commitment to close equity gaps by 2027 in “Vision for Success: Strengthening the California Community Colleges to Meet California’s Needs,” we recently hosted an Institute for Equity in Faculty Hiring at Community Colleges. The two-day institute, which will be repeated this month, convened more than 200 community college representatives from 20 campuses around the state to develop a set of practices and processes to embed equity-mindedness into their campuses’ faculty hiring processes and policies.

The Center for Urban Education surveyed summit participants on their faculty hiring processes and found that 84 percent of respondents said their institution faces challenges when hiring faculty of color and their hiring processes are not designed to yield a diverse faculty.

In response to those problems, the center created a set of tools and practices to achieve racial equity in faculty hiring. Our goal is to help institutions identify candidates who reflect the racial and ethnic backgrounds of students and who are committed to closing racial equity gaps and have the knowledge and expertise to do so.

Too often, people throw up their hands at the idea of hiring faculty members who are black, Latino, Native American and Asian, saying things like “none apply” or “they get better jobs.” Another frequent complaint is that there are no such candidates in the pipeline. Some public institutions are convinced they can’t compete for talent against better-resourced private ones. They rarely view the problem as having to do with how they go about hiring or how their racial beliefs about quality, competence and fit are the root cause of the whiteness of the faculty.

But we put inquiry tools into the hands of practitioners so they can study how they do things and see for themselves that whiteness in hiring is being produced by their practices, as well as their implicit bias. Among the barriers to such hiring is a culture of collegiality that makes honest discussions of the racial gaps on the faculty difficult to have.

We found this at California Lutheran University, a private, Hispanic-serving four-year institution, where the center supported efforts to change faculty hiring practices. Faculty members complained that a “culture of niceness” was a major obstacle to confronting practices and language that create a negative environment for minority faculty members. Black and Latino faculty who experienced discrimination and microaggressions were reluctant to confront their colleagues or administrators because they were aware that conflict avoidance was highly valued. The “culture of niceness” made it very difficult for them to speak up and call out practices that undermined the college’s espoused diversity values. Those who dared risked being viewed as troublemakers. One of the consequences was that black and Latino faculty engaged in self-imposed silence about racialization in how things were done at the university, making it all the harder to bring about change.

Cal Lutheran’s situation is pervasive in higher education. What’s unusual was its leaders’ response. An interdisciplinary group of 18 faculty members, as well as the provost and a dean, engaged in a yearlong transformational process. They were trained by staff and doctoral students led by Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux, the Center for Urban Education’s associate director of research and policy, to fill new roles on search committees as “equity agents” with voting power. This core group of change agents was also taught about the ways in which racial bias is manifested in hiring procedures and language.

For example, a deep assessment of the hiring guidelines conducted by the center uncovered many obstacles. Job announcements were written in conventional language that did not mention that Cal Lutheran is a Hispanic-serving institution. There was no mention of valuing faculty members who engaged in culturally relevant approaches or those who could teach and mentor first-generation college students and students of color. Now, it’s routine for job announcements to require applicants to demonstrate commitment and success working in a diverse and multicultural community; to ask them to submit statements about mentoring underrepresented students with a special focus on black, Latino and Native American students; and to require them to submit a teaching philosophy that explains how they plan to engage and interact with such students.

The results were remarkable. During the 2016-17 academic year, Cal Lutheran filled 11 new faculty appointments and one deanship. Two-thirds of the hires were people of color, including two Latinos, two blacks and three Asian-Americans, in addition to a Latina who was hired as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Institutions should establish programs to train and certify faculty equity agents and distribute two for each search committee. Equity agents can review position announcements and draft questions that focus on candidates’ cultural competence and knowledge of strategies to provide direct support to underrepresented students. They can monitor the conduct of interviews and identify practices and expectations that disadvantage nonwhite candidates.

Institutions can also require that all search committee members go through a training to learn how to do equity-focused hiring; provide all search committee members with evidence-based information about the educational benefits that students derive from having same-race/ethnicity professors; and document the search process by keeping data by race and ethnicity of applicants, short-list candidates and offers.

As Cal Lutheran’s results demonstrate, this problem can be solved. Indeed, if we’re to reach our goals for postsecondary attainment, it must be.

Estela Mara Bensimon is Dean’s Professor in Educational Equity and the director of the Center for Urban Education at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.

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Creating Racially and Ethnically Diverse Faculties

MassArt Professor Retires Amid Title IX Investigation

Nicholas Nixon, a well-known professor of photography at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, retired this month amid allegations of inappropriate behavior, The Boston Globe reported. President David Nelson announced Nixon's departure in an email to students and faculty members last week, saying, “We take reports of any form of sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior or misconduct seriously” and that was Nixon was no longer in the classroom.

Nixon reportedly referred requests for comment to his attorney, Bruce A. Singal, who said in a statement that Nixon received notice of a college investigation “into reports that he allegedly made inappropriate comments in the presence of students and staff members.” Singal said Nixon is “widely known for a provocative teaching style in a creative art school environment that he believed was inspiring to his students” and that “we hope the investigation can be completed before any conclusions are drawn.”

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Advice for how to become a diversity, equity and inclusion leader (opinion)

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Deborah S. Willis gives advice for how to become a diversity, equity and inclusion leader.

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Colleges award tenure

College of the Holy Cross

  • Daina Cheyenne Harvey, sociology
  • André Isaacs, chemistry
  • Justin McAlister, biology
  • K. J. Rawson, English
  • Aaron Seider, classics
  • Kevin Walsh, computer science

Georgia Institute of Technology

SUNY Binghamton engineering professor offends by asking about "white" engineering society in response to email from black students' group

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SUNY Binghamton engineering professor offends many by asking about a “white” engineering society in response to an email from a black students’ group.

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