Politics (national)

Spelman president tells students to confirm their votes counted


Amid contentious battle over alleged voter suppression, college's president urges students to be sure their votes are counted.

Student affairs administrators aren't socializing students into a leftist ideology (opinion)

In an essay in The New York Times, Samuel J. Abrams, a professor of political science at Sarah Lawrence College, recently discussed the findings from a survey he conducted on the political leanings of student affairs administrators. In that essay, Abrams wrote that his survey was motivated by his desire to discover what other “disconcerting” programs were being promoted by student affairs administrators after receiving an email about a progressive program at his institution.

Putting aside the thinly veiled polemical bent of Abrams’ discussion of his “findings,” I find much to question about his comments. Abrams posits these data to be inherently indicative that college students are being socialized into leftist ideology. That sentiment is not new, and the ground beneath it remains shaky. In fact, I offer three counterpoints that challenge Abrams’s assumptions about the supposed uniformity of liberalism and the nature of student affairs work. My observations are informed by nearly 18 years of teaching in graduate programs meant to prepare people for work and leadership in student affairs areas.

First, to note that a group is “liberal leaning,” as Abrams does in his survey analysis, says little about the actual attitudes and behaviors of the individuals in that group relative to social issues. “Liberal” and “progressive” are actually not synonyms, as would be evident to anyone -- especially a political scientist taking a serious look at the current contests within the Democratic Party. To be called a liberal says nothing substantive about the methods and means one views as necessary to achieve a certain kind of society. Despite Abrams’s anecdotes about a few programs that seek to educate students about the realities of the structural and systemic biases toward certain social groups, merely being liberal does not mean one is out there recruiting students to one’s viewpoints. Abrams, notably, presents no evidence of that, either -- because there isn’t any to gather. Programs that student affairs units host are usually optional; not to worry, anyone who disagrees with the title of a program without knowing its content is free to pass on by.

Samuel Abrams Doubles Down
Elsewhere on Inside Higher Ed
, Abrams expands his
critique of the liberalism
of student affairs officials
to college administrators
generally. Read more here.

Second, and perhaps the most important, educating people about respect for human dignity is not owned by any political or social ideology. Abrams makes it a point to call out college orientation sessions in his polemic. It is chilling to confront someone who thinks providing orientation sessions that aim to prevent incidents of bias, harassment, sexual assault and incivility are: 1) liberal and 2) therefore inherently “disconcerting.” Such sessions are often, in fact, mandatory, and should be. I didn’t realize that educating students not to hang nooses in front of black students’ residence hall rooms, paint neo-Nazi symbols around campus or post signs telling duly admitted students to “go home” were the sole terrain of a liberal elite that must be reined in. Yet that is what Abrams would have us believe.

Perhaps conservatives as a whole -- to paint with the same broad brush as Abrams did -- believe such things are OK and would tolerate the converse happening to their college students in the name of … what, free speech? Perhaps educating about sexual consent is inappropriate, since that’s liberal ideology.

The history of higher education is one of exclusion that is based on social identities, including race, indigeneity, gender, sexuality, disability, social class and religion. The vestiges of those exclusionary policies and practices remain within higher education today. Therefore, on residential college campuses, in community college classrooms and through distance education courses, it is essential to create conditions where everyone can learn about themselves, each other and their subjects of study without concerns about becoming targets because of who they are. As a matter of fact, these orientation sessions and other campus programming throughout the year support the learning of all students, regardless of their political leaning. Student affairs professionals help to create and sustain campus communities where students, faculty and staff are capable of robust dialogue across differences. Our society has a serious problem when some people see efforts to do that as just politically ideological.

Third, a decade ago, I wrote an article, “Confronting the Politics of Multicultural Competence,” in About Campus, a publication read by student affairs professionals and other college administrators. In that essay, I critiqued the claim -- advanced even at that time within and outside the field of student affairs -- that educating for multicultural competence was liberal and excluded conservative student affairs professionals. I drew on my direct experience of my students’ class discussions on multicultural competence, a concept that Raechele Pope, Amy Reynolds and John Mueller advanced in Multicultural Competence in Student Affairs, first published in 2004 and just being released again in a second edition. I noted that my students, including conservative ones, were able to recognize that their conservative political beliefs were not inherently opposed to the characteristics of multicultural competence. They saw for themselves that they could accept and support students of all stripes as individuals worthy of human dignity, regardless of their political leanings.

Treating students with dignity and respect and educating them to do the same for each other is not about being a liberal. It is about the responsibility of being a human being living in community with other human beings.

Dafina-Lazarus (D-L) Stewart is professor in the School of Education, co-coordinator of Student Affairs in Higher Education and core faculty in the Racial and Intersectional Studies in Educational Equity (RISE) Center at Colorado State University. They can be reached by email at [email protected].

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Report: Students prefer issue-based groups rather than political parties

A new report shows college students are more interested in joining groups that are issue based rather than those only aligned to Democrats or Republicans.

The Supreme Court confirmation hearings showed that yearbooks can be documents for research as well as nostalgia (opinion)

Campus yearbooks are in the news. This unlikely attention came about with recent media coverage of Senate confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court nomination. For several days, The New York Times provided readers with front-page articles featuring clinical dissections of the biographical profiles of graduating seniors. Reporters analyzed yearbook inscriptions with the care usually reserved for decoding the Dead Sea scrolls.

The spotlight was surprising because higher education usually relies on databases such as the National Center for Education Statistics’ IPEDS, which lead to projections on enrollments, percentage returns on endowments, scorecards on institutional compliance or rankings of federal research funding. One of my colleagues, who is a statistician, exclaimed, “Yearbooks? Is this some kind of a joke?”

It was no joke. Yearbooks from high school and college are an American tradition, familiar to alumni whose photographs and captions lead them to say, “Thanks for the memories!” They also are documents that can go beyond casual nostalgia. Yearbooks have potential for serious research, but only if handled with care in analyzing their scripts of stilted, ritualized images and selective coverage of student life. Reliability, consistency, validity and significance -- the concepts that shape statistical analysis -- are equally pertinent in the content analysis of yearbooks.

These dusty, heavy bound volumes that end up in used bookstores, garage sales and library storage centers can be thoughtfully mined to reconstruct campus life and student cultures. They are simultaneously a source about the biography of an individual as well as a key to understanding the statistics of group patterns and dynamics of a college or high school class.

From Personal History to Prosopography and Social Network Analysis

Yearbooks kindle a temptation to look first at your own profile. The challenge is to go beyond reminiscing about your autobiography and ask others -- classmates, friends, colleagues -- for their varied impressions as you leaf through the pages of activities and accolades that were part of a college’s record.

A second temptation is to scour yearbooks for pictures and profiles of famous figures, to see how they looked and what they did in high school and college. A counter to is to figure out who were big men (and women) on campus whose achievements in adult life did not match their being voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” Many colleges used to publish 25th-reunion albums in which alumni updated their yearbook profiles, providing an excellent source of comparative biography over time.

Although a yearbook’s photographs may be idealized depictions, they gain analytic energy when connected to detailed student memoirs. The late Philip Roth’s memorable early novella Goodbye, Columbus had little to do with explorations of 1492. Rather, he used the record album packaged with Ohio State University’s yearbook to trigger the protagonist’s response to the intense events of his own senior year that endures for its insights on social class tracking and dating within campus life.

The records that constitute an individual’s biography or autobiography (a category called “personal history” by archivists) often were presented with a head-and-shoulders photograph in a student’s profile. You can collate the individual entries to create a collective profile of, for example, college teammates or even an entire graduating class -- what historians call “prosopography.” An added touch ultimately is to subject the various biographical profiles to systematic coding and social network analysis. This algorithm gains in credibility if you make estimates on the “context of the text” -- in other words, track down what you can find out about the publisher, the editors, the faculty adviser and the administrative censors.

Yearbooks have been a staple in academic life, both at high schools and colleges, for over a century. In the early 1900s, yearbook publication surged as a lucrative industry in which a handful of commercial publishers dominated the national market. That consolidation led to standardization of yearbooks across colleges and over time. The publisher’s representative would provide the campus editor a template of formats. A further influence on the standardization and conformity was the tradition and inertia of school-year events, all of which had been staked out in previous editions. Certain activities and groups were routinely included, whereas new, upstart or rebellious activities were ignored or censored.

That led to a predictable, enduring formula used by schools and colleges nationwide over decades. Perhaps the best interpretation of a yearbook appeared in 1975, when the editors of The National Lampoon published a detailed parody of a fictional school: the 1964 yearbook for Estes Kefauver High School of Dacron, Ohio (home of the “Fightin’ Kangaroos”). Some of the same staff members later collaborated to create fictional Faber University and write the script for the classic campus movie Animal House.

Yearbooks can be a source of what social scientists call “unobtrusive measures.” Whereas in the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings, the demand was for information that provided “corroboration,” sociologists refer to “triangulation,” in which multiple sources confirm information presented in the yearbook. Sometime that involves internal consistency. If Gretchen Scott has listed “varsity volleyball 1,2,3,4” by her senior picture and profile, then you can check that out by going to the sports section of the yearbook and looking at the volleyball team picture to see if, in fact, Gretchen Scott is featured alongside teammates.

Editors often played pranks on readers, including their classmates. In looking through a Rice University yearbook from the early 1960s one finds under “sports” a page for the swimming team, featuring athletes in swimsuits by the campus indoor pool. But the caption tells a different story, as the editor notes, “The university really did not have a swim team this year, but the yearbook staff decided to pose for a team picture …” At another college, the swimming team’s losing season led yearbook editors to comment, “At least nobody drowned.”

Calendar constraints limited what a yearbook was able to document for posterity. Since publication deadlines were in February or March, leading to publication and distribution in early June, spring activities were not completed when the yearbook went to press. The result is that you never know how the baseball team did for the full season, including the conference championship tournament. The best that yearbook editors could present was a preview: “Coach Armstrong’s horsehiders look forward to a great season on the diamond.” Early publication deadlines also meant that senior biographical profiles often could not include awards and honors presented at the end of the academic year -- including senior election to honor societies such as Phi Beta Kappa.

“Triangulation” encouraged extending the information in a single yearbook to its predecessors. An appealing feature of the yearbooks was that their standardization lent itself to a “run over time.” If you can tally information for a single student in one year, you then can tally comparable data for classmates. You can also compare those to the compilations of graduating seniors in past years. And then you can examine the success or shortfalls of a college’s programs and innovations at access and affordability. Consider assessing a college’s public relations claim that its admissions office is committed to diversity. You might test this through a systematic compilation. Were most classmates from prep schools? What are their geographical origins? The same can be asked about gender, race, ethnicity and religion to gauge changes over time.

In looking at the yearbook of the Harvard College Class of 1924, I found that the entry for each student includes a photograph and then vital statistics of birthplace, college address, home address, secondary school (or, rather, “prepared at …”), activities, concentration and plans after college. By chance, I came across future luminaries such as Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. But what was most significant was to look for patterns and clusters. Today, the affirmative action case at the university involving allegations of discrimination against Asian Americans has led to proposed restrictions on photographs that might reveal nonmeritocratic factors of a student or applicant’s identity. Not so in the old yearbooks. You can make a reasonable estimate to categorize the demographic makeup of a class from photographs in conjunction with the profile texts.

Content analysis also allows you to gauge the relative presence of some activities. In the 1946 edition of the University of Illinois yearbook, The Illio, fraternities and sororities received 64 pages of coverage. It also illustrated that within the American state university of the immediate post-World War II era, racial diversity was characterized by inclusion without integration: that yearbook included group photographs of one black sorority and two black fraternities among the total 57 Greek chapters on campus.

Elsewhere in the yearbook, eight pages were devoted to  photographs portraying “The Illio Beauties,” including group and individual portraits of the campus queen and her court. For the judging competition, the yearbook editors had arranged for legendary Hollywood movie producer Cecil B. DeMille to select “her majesty” from among 26 finalists. Gender representation in intercollegiate sports was markedly different. Typically, the men’s teams were covered in 45 pages of photographs, scoreboards and season summaries. Women as athletes, if represented at all, usually were confined to a page or two describing intramurals and “field days.”

New tools of social network analysis provide prospects for systematic research based on campus yearbooks. In the yearbooks from the early 1960s for the University of Mississippi, one finds a young Trent Lott as a cheerleader and a member of and then president and field representative for Sigma Nu fraternity. Here were the building blocks of affiliations that shaped his path to a career in Congress. The extracurricular life of American colleges and universities was not always academic in emphasis, but it was a powerful force in the socialization of future leaders. You can find, for example, that a particular fraternity at the flagship state university was the incubator for students who were being groomed to be governors and state legislators two decades after graduation.

Yearbooks are, of course, superficial and limited. But once you take those characteristics into account, they provide a lens into the world that students have created for themselves.

John R. Thelin is a historian who is professor of educational policy studies at the University of Kentucky. His new book, Going to College in the Sixties, is scheduled for publication by Johns Hopkins University Press in November.

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Campaign spending by for-profit colleges mostly absent from midterm elections

Sector's spending on political campaigns has fallen off sharply during the 2018 midterm campaign cycle.

Conservative group cancels tickets for students from some campus groups

Young Americans for Freedom at University of Southern California canceled tickets to an event, fearful that students who disagreed with the speaker's views would disrupt him.

Student affairs administrators even more liberal than professors, survey shows

A new survey shows that administrators are overwhelmingly progressive -- is more ideological diversity needed in the field?

Colleges should use the recent U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings as a teachable moment (opinion)

As I watched all the events surrounding the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, I kept reflecting on how this entire episode would be affecting campuses -- students (those who had been sexually abused or accused of abuse most especially), faculty members, staff members and coaches, among others. And I was pondering how to help educational communities process all that happened in ways that do not fracture them, create resentments and exacerbate incivility.

That is obviously not easy. Emotions are running high, whatever one’s political persuasion. With the upcoming elections, along with memories retained by some of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas showdown decades ago, it is hard to picture how we navigate forward.

There is also no single step campuses can take that will enable healing. And healing will surely not be immediate. But some concrete steps can be taken that will produce positive outcomes. Let me offer one here.

Have you heard of pop-up courses? A growing number of campuses, including Bennington College and Pomona College, are offering such courses, where hot topics become an intensive weekend class for students. They literally pop up, like pop-up stores in malls; they are not on the list of courses for which one can preregister. The offerings change all the time and can provide course credit -- usually one or two credits depending on the seat time.

Current faculty members volunteer to teach these pop-ups, as commonly structured, recognizing that they will not necessarily have deep expertise in the subject. In fact, now is not the time to bring in outsiders to teach these pop-ups, however skilled or knowledgeable they may be. Students and teachers will all be learners, but in a way that is somewhat structured -- with readings, discussions and activities.

The whole idea of pop-ups makes sense to me. We need to make all education responsive to current trends and events and use the opportunities that present themselves -- good and bad -- to foster understanding in our students. After all, we want to educate students who will be the leaders of the future -- in their homes, their workplaces, their communities.

Sure, professors can adapt current semester-long courses to respond to a current event, but not all professors will do that, and not all who do it will do it well. The point of a pop-up is not to close out other institutional opportunities to examine particular issues but rather to serve as a vehicle for reflection.

Many themes would emerge, and many issues would bubble to the top of the top of students’ hearts and minds, if an institution were to flesh out a pop-up course on the Kavanaugh confirmation process. Emotions already are high, and this would not be a risk-free course for obvious reasons. But that’s one of the key reasons for a pop-up approach: to capture energy and guide that power to good ends, not destruction or hate. And one of the benefits of such a course is that it will be short -- which motivates openness without the fear of creating lasting negative impressions.

Suppose a college or university offered a pop-up course titled “The Lessons We Can Learn from the Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings.” The idea here is to provide a pathway toward hope. Isn’t that at least one of the purposes of education -- to not allow students to wallow in despair with no tools with which to move forward but to make a difference and help them find a personal comfort zone? Moreover, here’s an important observation: the pop-ups I am suggesting are overtly nonpartisan, geared to developing facts, probing issues and exploring ideas and themes raised by the Kavanaugh hearings.

The lessons are many, including many that are not political. And there might be ways to think about prioritizing the lessons, both big and small.

Consider the lesson about how we ferret out truth, and, even more profoundly, does such a thing as truth exist? No small issue there. Here’s another possible set of lessons:

  • How well do we listen to the stories and experiences of others, whether related to sexual abuse or views on the environment?
  • In our tripartite government of checks and balances, how significant is the Supreme Court in actuality?
  • How have we used rhetorical devices to further our positions in government, in industry, within the academy, within the public sphere?
  • What are the roles of facial expression, tone and gestures on the perceptions of listeners?
  • What psychologically motivates us to diminish the views of others?
  • How does memory work in terms of brain science (that all-important hippocampus), and how does trauma impact memory and attachment?
  • How do we create dialogue on emotionally charged issues -- not just in the context of a Supreme Court appointment but more generally as well, assuming the skills are transportable?

Need I go on?

When it comes to relevant readings, anyone interested in developing a pop-up course can certainly find articles in newspapers of all sorts from different parts of the country as well as op-eds, including one by Anita Hill. They could also show videos of speeches and protests from the actual events. They could refer to the opening statements of Christine Blasey Ford and then Judge (now Justice) Kavanaugh and compare them to opening statements of other Supreme Court nominees. They could look into “Borking” and what occurred with Merrick Garland during his Supreme Court nomination in 2016. Poems and art could be shared, whether created recently or in the past about justice, freedom and trust.

I’m sure readers can picture their own version of a pop-up course. There can be several on a single campus can organize several different ones. Or they could develop courses that combine students and faculty members from neighboring campuses.

My point is that the moment for these courses is now -- while the fires are still burning and the embers still hot. Time is a-wastin’. A teachable moment is a-wastin’. We have hardly a better opportunity than now to help our students, faculty members, staff members, coaches and others in our community to reflect on the world in which we live -- and the world in which we want to our children and children’s children to live.

Karen Gross is a former college president and senior policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Education. Currently, she is senior counsel at Finn Partners and the author of both adult and children’s books, including Breakaway Learners, published by Columbia Teachers College Press and Lady Lucy’s Quest series, published by Shires Press.

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President Trump's use of social media and why we can't ignore it (opinion)

President Trump’s use of social media has been criticized for being destructive to his stated political goals and objectives, and confusing for his political allies at home and abroad. Most of this commentary has appeared in major broadcast and cable networks as well as major print outlets such as The New York Times.

Essentially, the argument has been that the president should stop tweeting and relegate himself to using the expected outlets for presidential communication -- his press office, carefully selected traditional media outlets and writers/historians who will construct more orthodox and multilayered narratives of his presidency and his decision making.

Like much of what we have observed during Trump’s tenure, this accepted wisdom has been turned on its head by his behavior.

Rather than take the accepted view of his tweeting, as is often presented in the traditional media, I would like to suggest that Trump’s use of social media can be examined productively through the lens of what we have come to understand about effective leader communication over the past 50 or so years. Trump will cause scholars in communication and management and some anthropologists, among those in other academic disciplines, to rethink our understanding of leader communication.

More recent academic research that has focused on the study of leader communication (under the broad scholarly banner of transformational leadership) has argued that leaders are at their most transcendent and, therefore, at their most effective when they are able to persuade their followers to buy into a grand, collective vision, a positive values-based expectation for the future.

Academics such as James McGregor Burns ask us to think about leader influence, as expressed through their communication, as being at its most effective when based on motivational principles that encourage followers to buy in to a vision of the future that is high-minded and that taps into these followers’ best instincts. In a similar vein, management scholar Robert House helped us think about charisma as an important construct in understanding this type of leadership. Put simply, the research on charisma in leaders links its manifestation to behaviors associated with strong role modeling, strong self-confidence and the ability to communicate high expectations to their followers. Think Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech or John Kennedy’s “Ask Not What Your County Can Do for You.”

Arguably, leader communication usually has been understood by some scholars as being most effective when the leader’s message is perceived as collectively positive.

Trump has flipped this concept on its head. His rise to influence and power derived from his ability to use highly polarizing language and phrasing to define his perspective of the world for his followers. Trump has rejected our understanding of leadership as thriving on popular support and, instead, has exemplified a type of leadership that is anchored in a very narrow but passionately intense base of support and a model of governing that uses policy primarily to reward loyalty in his followers. His public communication as a leader has often been received as divisive and destructive to any vision of a pluralistic, multicultural society.

What is more, Trump has complicated how the traditional media pursues its agenda. Instead of the media coverage being dictated largely by newsroom editors in print and broadcast outlets across the country, Trump’s tweeting has ensured that the media agenda is often set -- and is just as often disrupted -- by responding to what the president tweets on a daily basis. He is controlling the news cycle in a way we have never seen before. Not only does the collective media wait on his tweets, but Trump, through his use of social media, has been able to get his viewpoints broadcast to the world while being able to avoid having to sit through interviews with respected, tough media interrogators.

How does he do this?

Trump, in his use of social media, engages very effectively in what communication scholar Gail Fairhurst describes as “framing.” This is a very specific leader communication tool that is highly strategic and is used to narrow the interpretation of an issue to suit the leader’s larger strategic purposes. An example of framing is the president’s reinterpretation of negative media coverage as “fake news.” He has used the term regularly to divert attention away from the substance of the issue being covered and has his followers focus instead on how he feels -- and therefore how they are supposed to feel -- about the very fact that the issue is being covered in the first place.

The president also uses this technique of framing to amplify the voice of a cultural minority, while also positioning opposing opinions as a threat to his supporters’ “values.” He routinely uses repetition (“fake news”), idiosyncratic language (“the swamp”), strategic phrasing (“witch hunt”) and punctuation (abundant exclamation points) to speak directly and viscerally to his base on Twitter. Because his use of framing is so highly affective, it is very difficult to challenge his public communication through reasoned, rational analysis that focuses on factual rebuttals.

Why is this important?

It is not enough to decry or moralize publicly about the president’s social media habits. His model of leader communication and the intersection of his behavior with the prevalence of a variety of social media platforms provides a great opportunity -- indeed an obligation -- for undergrads, graduate students and faculty members in disciplines such as communication, media studies, political science and anthropology to study both the advantages and the potential dangers of this kind of interaction by the president with the body politic.

Of particular interest is his ability to demonize groups or individuals with a catchphrase (“Crooked Hillary”). The power of the presidency in the hands of someone who views the use of epithets as a form of brand marketing is deeply disconcerting. Leader communication does not merely describe reality; rather, leader communication calls into being the reality with which it engages. It is powerful because, used judiciously, leader communication can change the course of history (think Winston Churchill). It is also worth studying Trump’s ability to set the media’s agenda rather than the other way around. We have seen the president use the media to frame his agenda and influence the news cycle to fit his proposed policies. Our current debate about immigration, for example, has as much to do with the president’s communication about the issues as it has to do with the actual issue itself.

In an intentionally pluralistic democracy such as ours, we should be rightfully skeptical about the accumulation of so much potential power in the hands of one individual, or in one office -- even if or, perhaps, especially because -- that office is president of the United States.

Maurice L. Hall is dean of the School of Arts and Communication at the College of New Jersey.

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Advocacy groups expect uptick in college student voter turnout

Some lawmakers are making it more difficult for students to vote, but advocacy groups and colleges are pressing ahead with registration campaigns.


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