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Call for Due Process for Accused Berkeley Professor

A group of University of California, Berkeley, current and former students is asking administrators, including Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, and members of the Academic Senate’s Committee on Privilege and Tenure to “withhold judgment” regarding a professor accused of sexual harassment. Some members of the group are now faculty members elsewhere, and their request comes after an on-campus protest by graduate students who criticized the campus's response to the allegations against Nezar AlSayyad, who teaches architecture, planning and urban design. A five-month investigation by Berkeley found that he spent months becoming close to, or "grooming," a graduate student before placing his hand on her upper thigh and proposing that they travel together to Las Vegas. The disciplinary process is ongoing, but some students said they wish they’d known earlier the results of the investigation and, in some cases, the nature of the allegations. AlSayyad denies wrongdoing. The case against him was first made public by the San Francisco Chronicle.

A university spokesperson confirmed that the new letter sent to administrators includes 23 names and nine unnamed signers. But all signatories wish to remain anonymous to the broader public due to what they described as “potential risks of retaliation from activists.” Describing themselves as those who have worked or studied closely with AlSayyad, they wrote that “we have never experienced any forms of harassment or inappropriate actions in our interactions with him throughout the years. On the contrary, he as always been a genuine mentor who cares deeply for his students’ well-being, has supported their careers and encouraged them to become professionals that interact with colleagues in a mutually respectful way.” They questioned circulating accounts of AlSayyad’s behavior towards students and colleagues, for example, saying that meeting with them outside of campus or socially is not unusual in the collaborative studio culture of design.

“We understand the very legitimate concerns of students and will strive with the campus community to fight any misconduct or unacceptable behavior,” the letter says. “We are simply making a request that one should wait until the investigation is over before making a judgment on the case.”

Members of the group added via email, "Given the times provoking increased conflicts and racist sentiments, it is particularly easy to jump into quick judgment, especially when the subject is being identified in the news as Middle East scholar."

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Colleges start new academic programs

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Berkeley Finds Professor Guilty of Harassment

Another professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has been found guilty of sexually harassing a student in violation of institutional rules, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. A five-month investigation by Berkeley found that Nezar AlSayyad, a professor of architecture, planning and urban design, spent months becoming close to, or "grooming," a graduate student before placing his hand on her upper thigh and proposing that they travel together to Las Vegas. The Chronicle found two additional allegations of harassment against the professor. In an alleged incident that happened more than 20 years ago and was never investigated, a student complained that she felt taken advantage of after she and AlSayyad had sex; a third student accused him of sexual misconduct this spring, and an investigation is pending. He is reportedly barred from teaching next semester.

AlSayyad denied all allegations of misconduct in an interview and told the Chronicle that he'd fight any suspension from teaching. He said administrators are overreacting to his case for fear of being perceived as soft on sexual harassment. Berkeley was criticized last year for not firing a professor of astronomy found to have sexually harassed a series of graduate students over many years; he eventually resigned. Another assistant professor of South and Southeast Asian studies at Berkeley is currently suing several students for defamation and “intentional infliction of emotional distress” after they spoke publicly about a university investigation that determined he had violated Berkeley's policies against sexual harassment. That professor is on paid leave as a review of the case is pending. A former law school dean who stepped down after Berkeley found that he harassed his assistant is suing the university, saying that he was treated more harshly that white colleagues accused of harassment because he is of South Asian descent and not a U.S. citizen. The university has said it will fight the suit.

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Developing metrics and models that are vital to student learning and retention (essay)

Is English 101 really just English 101? What about that first lab? Is a B or C in either of those lower-division courses a bellwether of a student’s likelihood to graduate? Until recently, we didn’t think so, but more and more, the data are telling us yes. In fact, insights from our advanced analytics have helped us identify a new segment of at-risk students hiding in plain sight.

It wasn’t until recently that the University of Arizona discovered this problem. As we combed through volumes of academic data and metrics with our partner, Civitas Learning, it became evident that students who seemed poised to graduate were actually leaving at higher rates than we could have foreseen. Why were good students -- students with solid grades in their lower-division foundational courses -- leaving after their first, second or even third year? And what could we do to help them stay and graduate from UA?

There’s a reason it’s hard to identify which students fall into this group; they simply don’t exhibit the traditional warning signs as defined by the retention experts. These students persist into the higher years but never graduate despite the fact that they’re strong students. They persist past their first two years and over 40 percent have GPAs above 3.0 -- so how does one diagnose them as at risk when all metrics indicate that they’re succeeding? Now we’re taking a deeper look at the data from the entire curriculum to find clues about what these students really need and even redefine our notion of what “at risk” really means.

Lower-division foundational courses are a natural starting point for us. These are the courses where basic mastery -- of a skill like writing or the scientific process -- begins, and mastery of these basics increases in necessity over the years. Writing, for instance, becomes more, not less, important over students’ academic careers. A 2015 National Survey of Student Engagement at UA indicated that the number of pages of writing assigned in the academic year to freshmen is 55, compared to 76 pages for seniors. As a freshman or sophomore, falling behind even by a few fractions can hurt you later on.

To wit, when a freshman gets a C in English 101, it doesn’t seem like a big deal -- why would it? She’s not at risk; she still has a 3.0, after all. But this student has unintentionally stepped into an institutional blind spot, because she’s a strong student by all measures. Our data analysis now shows that this student may persist until she hits a wall, usually during her major and upper-division courses, which is oftentimes difficult to overcome.

Let’s fast forward two years, then, when that same freshman is a junior enrolled in demanding upper-level classes. Her problem, a lack of writing command, has compounded into a series of C’s or D’s on research papers. A seemingly strong student is now at risk to persist, and her academic life becomes much less clear. We all thought she was on track to graduate, but now what? From that point, she may change her major, transfer to another institution or even exit college altogether. In the past, we would never have considered wraparound support services for students who earned a C in an intro writing course or a B in an intro lab course, but today we understand that we have to be ready and have to think about a deeper level of academic support across the entire life cycle of an undergrad.

Nationally, institutions like ours have developed many approaches to addressing the classic challenges of student success, developing an infrastructure of broad institutional interventions like centralized tutoring, highly specialized support staff, supplemental classes and more. Likewise, professors and advisers have become more attuned to responding to the one-on-one needs of students who may find themselves in trouble. There’s no doubt that this high/low approach has made an impact and our students have measurably benefited from it. But to assist students caught in the middle, those that by all measurement are already “succeeding,” we have to develop a more comprehensive institutional approach that works at the intersections of curricular innovation and wider student support.

Today, we at UA are adding a new layer to the institutional and one-to-one approaches already in place. In our courses, we are pushing to ensure that mastery matters more than a final grade by developing metrics and models that are vital to student learning. This, we believe, will lead to increases in graduation rates. We are working hand in hand with college faculty members, administrators and curriculum committees, arming those partners with the data necessary to develop revisions and supplementary support for the courses identified as critical to graduation rather than term-over-term persistence. We are modeling new classroom practices through the expansion of student-centered active classrooms and adaptive learning to better meet the diverse needs of our students.

When mastery is what matters most, the customary objections to at-risk student intervention matter less. Grade inflation by the instructor and performance for grade by the student become irrelevant. A foundational course surrounded by the support that a student often finds in lower-division courses is not an additional burden to the student, but an essential experience. Although the approach is added pressure on the faculty and staff, it has to be leavened with the resources that help both the instructor and the students succeed.

This is a true universitywide partnership to help a population of students who have found themselves unintentionally stuck in the middle. We must be data informed, not data driven, in supporting our students, because when our data are mapped with a human touch, we can help students unlock their potential in ways even they couldn’t have imagined.

Angela Baldasare is assistant provost for institutional research. Melissa Vito is senior vice president for student affairs and enrollment management and senior vice provost for academic initiatives and student success. Vincent J. Del Casino Jr. is provost of digital learning and student engagement and associate vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at the University of Arizona.

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Advice to academics for creating and selling online courses (essay)

Kirsten Drickey provides some concrete advice for leveraging your teaching experience and subject matter expertise by teaching online courses beyond the academy.

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Research paper suggests liberal arts colleges are offering more courses outside the liberal arts

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Research suggests that new courses at liberal arts colleges these days may increasingly be coming from practical fields.

Bennington College's experiment with short-term, pop-up courses

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Bennington College’s pop-up courses allow professors and students to tackle world events as they happen.

The aftermath of the 2016 national election on student affairs (essay)

The past 18 months leading to the election of Donald Trump last night have been incredibly challenging for us as a nation and certainly for all of us who work in higher education.

The angry and hostile dialogue has left many in our communities feeling unsafe, devalued and marginalized. For many of our students and staff members, the results of the election will magnify those feelings of outrage, despair, hopelessness and genuine fear for their future. It is important to note that after the rhetoric expressed during the election, our Muslim, Jewish, African-American, Latinx, undocumented and LGBTQ students and staff, as well as students and staff members who are sexual assault survivors, will likely have strong emotional reactions to this election outcome.

How do we move forward? First, we need to acknowledge what just happened. About 47 to 48 percent of voters, more than 59 million Americans, sent a clear message that they wanted something different and wanted someone who spoke to their concerns. We live in a fractured and divided country with two very different visions about our future path.

This division and the politics of hate that have surrounded this election make the work we do in student affairs even more important today than it was before the election.

This will not be easy, and it never is. Those of us who work in student affairs will need to take some time to absorb the results of this election, tend to the self-care necessary, support those who are hurting or angry and afraid, and then quickly get back to the work we do: providing support to our students who themselves will be struggling with a range of emotions following the election.

This election does not stop the work we must do to address racial injustice on our campuses and in our communities. It makes it more important.

This election does not stop the crucial work we are doing to increase degree progress and completion for first-generation students, low-income students and students of color. It makes it more important.

This election does not stop the need to support the hundreds of thousands of undocumented students who are on our campuses. It makes it more important.

This election does not stop the work we are doing to engage students in difficult conversations around race, gender identity, religion and sexual orientation. It makes it more important.

This election, and its results, creates an urgency for a new generation of leaders -- leaders who are on our campuses. The work we do to encourage active discourse, protest and activism is core to our democracy and to our need to engage a new generation committed to ideals of inclusion and social justice. This is more important than ever.

The next few months will be critical for our country and our colleges and universities. It is unknown how President-elect Trump will view the higher education sector. NASPA will continue to monitor, teach and provide opportunities for dialogue about these issues within the next few months.

I remain optimistic about the work we are doing in higher education and the role each student affairs professional plays in the lives of our students. Our work has never been more important.

Kevin Kruger is president of NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

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Boulder Revamps Ph.D. Study in Languages, Literature

The University of Colorado at Boulder is revamping doctoral studies in  languages and literature, it announced Tuesday. The change -- in an effort to recruit top talent -- entails restructuring support for six Ph.D. programs into a new Consortium of Doctoral Studies in Literature and Cultures. Programs involved are those in French/Italian, Spanish/Portuguese, German, classics, English and Japanese/Chinese. Accepted consortium students will be guaranteed five years of funding, with the first and fifth years including cost-of-living stipends and zero teaching obligations. Middle years carry a reduced teaching load and a summer stipend.

“With a fifth year dedicated to writing their dissertations, less teaching in the intervening years and support during the summers, students will be able to complete their degrees and enter the job market much earlier than they are able to do now,” Helmut Muller-Sievers, director of Boulder’s Center for Humanities and the Arts, said in a statement. Students also will be encouraged to choose mentors from outside their departments, emphasizing a more cross-disciplinary approach, according to information from the university.

Proponents of the consortium also stressed its inclusion of English, classics and Asian literatures. “Often, universities try to streamline their literature offerings into a generic program in modern European languages, or such,” said Muller-Sievers. “Having Chinese and Japanese in the mix gives students an understanding of non-European traditions and cultures. Also, the inclusion of classics -- of ancient Greek, Latin and classical archaeology -- deepens our students’ understanding of our literary heritage, as well as of the materiality of texts and artifacts. The presence of English gives students access to faculty who are working on today’s most hotly debated topics.”

The Modern Language Association suggested in a 2014 report that humanities graduate programs do what they can to cut time to degree to five years. Stanford University already has moved forward with the idea.

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New Report Examines Election's Potential Effects on Ed Policy

A new report from the University of Alabama's Education Policy Center examines how state-level education leaders view the education policies of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The report is based on the first 36 responses received from the 2016 National Survey of Access and Finance Issues conducted by the EPC. That survey found that most higher education leaders disagreed with the "skin in the game" idea that federal loans should be a partnership between students, local banks and colleges. The idea has been supported by Trump.

While about half of the survey respondents agreed with Clinton that maintenance of effort provisions to incentivize states to maintain their higher education budgets should be included in the next Higher Education Act reauthorization.

The report also detailed that 11 of 36 respondents indicated their institutions don't have the capacity to serve the number of students a tuition-free community college plan would bring.

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