In every generation since 1862, America has innovated on the form of the university. Until ours.
From the land-grant universities to Clark Kerr’s seminal work, America’s higher education landscape has faced almost continuous “innovator’s dilemma.” Competition in its purest sense reigned as new forms of institutions continuously forced America’s universities to be the best in the world or be overtaken by upstarts.
America’s higher education institutions have a history of embracing change because the ecosystem is very different from other industries. While each new institutional form was extremely controversial in its time, new providers in higher education tend to expand access (or the definition of what higher education is) rather than replace existing institutions.
For example, community colleges became feeders to four-year schools while research universities brought a research agenda to almost every university. It’s the equivalent of cars complementing rather than replacing the horse-drawn carriage or AltaVista retaining its market after the rise of Google.
This period of stagnation in higher education innovation is tied to an anniversary we just celebrated -- the 50th year of the Higher Education Act. The Higher Education Act began the Title IV financial aid program that provided government-guaranteed loans and Pell Grants to students at colleges that follow the strict, input-based metrics of success effectively required by the Higher Education Act.
The impact is clear. Only colleges willing to follow the government’s strict guidelines could access “free” government money. Without new entrants, prices for college rose inexorably for the last 50 years and, especially in the last decade, policy makers, parents and students started asking serious questions about the efficacy of the university system.
The Department of Education is finally offering the catalyst for our generation of education innovators to continue the tradition of new institutional forms. The source of hope is the awkwardly named Education Quality Through Innovative Partnerships (or EQUIP). At its heart is a refreshing challenge to innovators: How would you reimagine the university of the future without the strictures imposed by the Higher Education Act and Title IV? If you didn’t have regulations driving an antiquated system of input-driven variables, what postsecondary experience would you design?
There are many concerns about the EQUIP program. As with any new program, the first participants and how they are overseen will define the success of EQUIP. The Department of Education, accreditors and university partners face a compelling challenge: ensuring that the programs approved are high quality.
There appear to be two mechanisms. First, the department is limiting the initial program in scope and number. Second, the department and quality-assurance bodies must closely scrutinize the new models to ensure the academic integrity of the higher education ecosystem and protect government funds and students from undue risk. History will decide if these guardrails are sufficient.
The department is not taking the risk to launch EQUIP in a vacuum. New entrants have emerged that fill specific massive workforce demands or highly disruptive models. MOOCs with tens of millions of viewers are reaching a whole generation of potential college goers. Galvanize and General Assembly will train more technology workers than traditional universities will grant computer science degrees by 2017. Udacity is selling nanodegrees tied to employment in high-demand areas.
These new providers have all realized a fundamental disconnect: while 96 percent of provosts feel they are preparing students for work, only 11 percent of business leaders think colleges are effectively preparing graduates for work. Into this gap, students have been willing to pay out of pocket -- without federal financial aid -- for these services.
In effect, students are willing to pay out of pocket tens of thousands of dollars more for coding schools than traditional computer science classes by forgoing federal government subsidies. The results are clear: the average student who starts at Galvanize has an average salary of $45,435; after a six-month immersive experience, the average graduate makes approximately $76,821.
While the MOOCs and boot camps are front-page news, other new models are emerging -- for example, experiential providers like UnCollege creating gap year opportunities. Universities are not left out of the new models -- in fact, some of the most promising examples of new models involve partnerships between traditional universities and Silicon Valley like the Minerva Project.
The boot camps, MOOCs and nontraditional providers are only the start of what will likely be one of the greatest periods of revolution in higher education. A thank-you to the Department of Education for recognizing this trend and creating EQUIP.
The entrepreneurial spirit of American higher education innovators has been stifled for too long and is now ready to bloom.
A Bit of History
Below is a brief list of the types of revolutions/evolutions of the higher education form over the past generation. While historians of higher education may differ on certain trends, the overall scope of change and innovation in higher education is clear.
Sample Universities Formed
State University System, 1862
Railroads and the Civil War made clear that industrialization of economy was coming. New technology drivers of old industries (e.g., farming) portended massive shift from rural economy to urban.
Michigan State University, University of Maryland
Research University, 1880s
American industrialists saw the need for combining teaching and research into one institution, and made large philanthropic gifts to create the modern research university.
Johns Hopkins University, Stanford
Community Colleges, 1920s/1930s
“New economy” workers realized that a BA degree was not required for numerous jobs and skills in the 20th century.
Pima Community College, LaGuardia Community College
California Plan, 1960s
Mission creep among the public university systems required a new rule book for higher education systems.
University of California System
Technology portends change in teaching methodologies and rise of new disciplines (like coding).
To be determined
Daniel Pianko is a co-founder and managing director of University Ventures, a higher education-focused investment fund.
Oklahoma Wesleyan University President Everett Piper posted a message on his college’s website titled “This Is Not a Day Care. It’s a University!” in response to a student who was offended during a sermon and feeling victimized. He declared that his university is not a “safe place” and excoriated the student for being self-absorbed and narcissistic. With a tough-love stance, he recommended that the sensitive student consider going elsewhere for his education.
Students in higher education are becoming increasingly vocal and powerful with requests for more sensitivity to their needs. Some professors, viewing their students as thin-skinned, are condemning that trend, and Piper’s voice is but one of many exasperated educators. Earlier this year, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote a piece in the Atlantic, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” concluding that student requests for trigger warnings and increased protections are a disaster for education and mental health. More even-tempered than Piper’s rant, the article is no less harsh when it comes to castigating students for creating an atmosphere of what the authors call “vindictive protectiveness.”
I agree that shielding students from difficult material and discussion is a mistake. But Piper publicly humiliated a student as a means to remind everyone that higher education must be challenging. I question the need to berate a student for asking for more sensitivity. If we perceive that some of our students are hypersensitive, we should teach them how to gain strength rather than scold them for being weak.
In the recent film Whiplash, J. K. Simmons plays Fletcher, a music professor who uses drill-sergeant tactics -- including humiliation, intimidation, degradation, physical torture and mind games -- with an aim to push students beyond their comfort zones and force their potential. This professor drives some students to greatness, but the collateral damage includes suicide and violence. Although a work of fiction, Whiplash highlights a real situation: educators have the potential to push vulnerable students over the edge.
Several years ago, I lost one of my students to suicide. I had not known that she was struggling with mental-health issues. The loss was devastating. If she had told me that she required a heightened sensitivity from me in the classroom, I hope I would have been receptive. I hope I would not have castigated her for not being strong enough to handle her problems.
There is not much value in education if students are taught to hate themselves. Removing a student’s self-esteem is not necessary to challenge him or her. Can we, as educators, be positive without coddling? Is it possible to increase a student’s self-worth while simultaneously challenging that student’s comfort zone?
Focusing on Talents
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Piper, Lukianoff and Haidt, is Chris Ulmer, a Florida special education teacher who recently posted a video on his “Special Books by Special Kids” Facebook page showing his distinct way of complimenting his elementary school students before the start of every class. He writes that “instead of focusing on deficits, I focus on talents.” Ulmer reports that, over time, practicing overt positive reinforcement creates better results in his students’ schoolwork. In addition, the positive environment develops support among the students.
Ulmer’s practices for elementary special ed students may not be the answer for higher education, but there is something to be learned from him here. Being positive allows students to accept teaching more readily. Rather than condemning his students for being self-absorbed, Ulmer raises their self-worth before introducing the day’s lesson plan. If he teaches challenging material one day, he has built strength in his students and they are better equipped to handle it.
As a theater professor and stage director, I have adopted similar techniques in my acting classes and play rehearsals. In his 1984 book A Sense of Direction: Some Observations on the Art of Directing, William Ball writes that actors (and, by extension here, students) carry with them a “starvation for approbation.” Ball says that we, as mentors, must discipline ourselves to “praise ceaselessly” and to “praise whatever is there.” Since “habitual admiration is not usually a natural tendency,” Ball recommends that we become “purveyors of praise.” If we want the best out of our students, he says that “fear has to be superseded.”
That is not unrealistic, overly optimistic advice. It is a reminder that we tend to overlook the positives because critiquing and criticizing come much more naturally. We must strike a balance. We must work at learning how to recognize the positive stuff in front of us. Pushing a fledgling out of the nest is not the only way to promote strength. Building self-esteem has its merits and should not be ignored.
Whiplash’s Fletcher tells his students, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.’” I disagree. We are not coddling our students if we compliment, affirm and recognize their strengths.
I am not advocating for trigger warnings or easing up on provocative course work in order to make students’ lives less stressful. But we should look more carefully at those students who are demanding these protections. If a student struggles with personal issues and asks for help, public shaming will not teach the student to cope. It is a cruel world out there. Must we model that cruelty in order to “toughen up” our students?
Domenick Scudera is a professor of theater at Ursinus College.
A union was not available to me as an adjunct lecturer at St. John’s University, but I immediately joined when I was hired full time. Years later, I led faculty union negotiations on behalf of the administration at Niagara University. In both cases, the Catholic universities for which I worked voluntarily cooperated with unions as a way to give the faculty a structured, formal voice for its concerns. Today, the nation’s largest Catholic higher education institution, DePaul University -- where I am president -- enjoys productive relations with unions representing catering and facility services as well as numerous construction trades.
It is ironic, then, that as the national movement to organize part-time faculty now targets DePaul, I will oppose it for a reason having nothing to do with unions or part-time faculty.
Recent rulings of the National Labor Relations Board have put several of our Catholic institutions in the unenviable position of having to oppose organizing efforts of part-time faculty at our institutions. In December 2014, the NLRB asserted that it will take jurisdiction over faculty members at religious universities unless the institution holds them out “as performing a religious function in furtherance of its religious mission.” In the past few months, several NLRB regional offices have accepted this new legal standard and asserted jurisdiction over local Catholic institutions.
The NLRB is attempting to extend its authority over faith-based institutions, something Supreme Court and appellate court precedent has repeatedly rejected. That in itself is not surprising. Their specific approach, however, is deeply problematic, for it requires government functionaries to judge the manner in which we implement our faith in a university context, the very thing the Supreme Court and U.S. district courts found troubling.
Nor is it working in practice. Just within the past three weeks, one regional NLRB concluded that it could not exercise jurisdiction over Carroll College because of the college’s religious identity, while another regional NLRB concluded it could exercise jurisdiction over Loyola University of Chicago. It is exactly this kind of result, where a government agency decides that one Catholic institution is sufficiently religious, but another Catholic institution somehow is not, that the court hoped to avoid.
To understand, it’s valuable to start by recalling the history of Catholic institutions in America.
In the 19th century, when public anti-Catholicism was the unfortunate norm, it was common for nativists to condemn Catholics for failing to divide the world into rigidly separate spheres of religion and secular politics. Catholics, it was said, couldn’t be good American citizens unless they rejected any role for religious faith in their civic lives.
In that environment of persistent prejudice, Catholic educational institutions were singled out for combining faith and reason, religious mission and worldly goals. Catholic colleges and universities became the targets of virulent legal campaigns, including a movement for a national constitutional amendment to bar any form of government support for them.
In the modern era, the Supreme Court gradually took steps to remedy this unfortunate history of anti-Catholic bias. It did so by recognizing a right for religious institutions to reach their own determinations about the relationship between their religious and worldly affairs.
A linchpin of this epochal process was the court’s decision in a 1979 case, NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago. In that landmark case, a unanimous court squarely rejected the NLRB's attempt to expand its jurisdiction to include religious educational institutions.
Chief Justice Warren Burger held that the goal of the First Amendment was to protect the “religious mission” of the educational institution -- in particular, teaching. If the NLRB were to exercise jurisdiction over faculty-related labor matters, Burger explained, that would “necessarily involve inquiry into the good faith of the position asserted by the clergy-administrators and its relationship to the school's religious mission.”
And the court added a further protection: “It is not only the conclusions that may be reached by the Board which may impinge on rights guaranteed by the Religion Clauses, but also the very process of inquiry leading to findings and conclusions.” Chief Justice Burger and his colleagues were concerned that, once the NLRB took jurisdiction, its role in governing the institution and its norms could become far-reaching and in direct violation of the constitutional protection of religious freedom.
The importance of the Catholic Bishop case lay in its explicit recognition that “the church-teacher relationship in a church-operated school differs from the employment relationship in a public or other nonreligious school.” Repudiating past history of anti-Catholic discrimination, the court acknowledged that it was for the college or university and its clergy-administrators to define the nature of the institution’s religious mission and its core element of education.
The Integration of Faith and Reason
Crucially, for any Catholic institution, there can be no sharp division of the educational process or that institution’s mission into mutually exclusive realms of religious and secular. The church’s teaching, developed most powerfully by St. Thomas Aquinas and carried to the present, has always emphasized the integration of faith and reason. For a Catholic institution, as for individual Catholics, elements such as science, mathematics, service, charity, history and faith form an integrated whole that infuses all aspects of university life.
Yet, in practice, the NLRB proposes to decide which of our faculty are contributing to the religious mission of the institution, with a narrowness we reject, thereby ignoring Catholic universities’ explanation of the integrated function of faculty across the university.
In so doing, the NLRB -- perhaps unwittingly -- has reasserted the 19th-century bias that the Supreme Court repudiated in 1979. The court’s precedent recognizes that it is up to the institution to determine and govern its mission. The NLRB claims, to the contrary, that it will divide education into mutually exclusive secular and religious spheres and be the judge of whether a particular teacher’s function is “religious.”
Effectively, the NLRB is asserting that the teaching of science or history or international finance is inherently secular and cannot be part of an integrated, unified religious mission. The NLRB -- a branch of the government -- is substituting its binary understanding of the relationship between faith and reason for the judgment of the Catholic University and indeed of the church herself.
Yet as a matter of religion, a Catholic institution must insist on the unified integrity of its teaching faculty into a single overarching mission. The faculty cannot be divided into “religious” and “secular” faculty by government fiat without impugning the Catholic mission itself.
Religion is on the table in Catholic colleges and universities. From nursing to political science, from religious studies to art history, from psychology to ethics, professors may choose to inflect their teaching with religious content. Almost any topic can be taught in a pervasively religious way, if the instructor designs the course with religious objectives and values in mind.
Ideally, the overall ethical-religious mission of a Catholic institution infuses all classes, and indeed all contact between faculty members and students. Shaping that mission is a matter of faith that deserves protection as a matter of religious liberty under the Constitution. Regardless of whether or not a particular faculty member chooses to incorporate religion in his or her classroom overtly, the point is that it is up to the university, not the government, to decide what counts as religious perspective.
Church teaching has long recognized that unions can be an important part of a worker’s right to organize and control his labor. Far from being antipathetic to unions, many Catholic institutions, including my own university, work with unions and respect their role.
What’s at stake in the current situation is something completely different: the hard-won fundamental First Amendment right of Catholic universities to apply our own conception of our religious-educational mission. That mission depends on the rich, meaningful and ancient integration of faith and reason in education and ultimately in the self.
Several Catholic universities now find themselves in the positions of deciding whether to oppose the attempt of the NLRB to assert jurisdiction on this new legal basis. The freedom to determine what is or what is not religious activity inside our church is at stake.
Doubtlessly, some will argue that Catholic colleges and universities are merely hiding behind these arguments in order to resist the unionization of their faculties. Yet it is crucial for Catholic institutions to resist the NLRB’s assertion of authority in its attempt to get the power that the Supreme Court denied it in 1979. If the NLRB is able to subvert or reverse the court’s binding precedent, the consequences will be grave -- not only for Catholics but also for all Americans.
Today, thankfully, Americans of all faiths and of none deeply and broadly respect our country’s heritage of religious liberty. Catholic educational institutions, targeted and victimized in the American past, bear a special responsibility to stand up for constitutional freedom and equality.
Reverend Dennis H. Holtschneider is president of DePaul University and past chair of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.
After each college shooting, we are left wondering, “How could have this tragedy been prevented?” Unfortunately, that is not an easy question to answer.
Each college shooting is distinct when it comes to the shooter’s motivation, the identities of victims and the readiness of the institution to respond to the attack. However, according to research by the U.S. Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Education, someone often is aware that a person is planning an attack before it occurs yet does not effectively intervene. If all threats of violence were taken seriously and reported, preventing attacks on campuses would be much more possible.
As a salient example of this, Hartnell College in Salinas, Calif., recently averted a probable tragedy when someone reported to the police that a student was talking about shooting up the institution. In that case, police and mental-health professionals worked together to evaluate the student and found him to be a credible threat to campus safety, with both the means and the desire to cause harm. They subsequently detained him and placed him under psychiatric care.
The reality is that we always hear about the tragedies and hardly ever hear about the campus officer who de-escalates a dangerous situation, the psychologist who prevents a murder or suicide, or the student who reports a rancorous roommate to the dean of students because of safety concerns. How many people have heard about the averted shooting at Hartnell College compared to the tragedy that occurred several months ago at Umpqua Community College, where nine students were killed?
In the aftermath of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, colleges have improved their information-sharing procedures and put in place better violence-prevention safeguards. Campus police, mental-health professionals and student affairs officers now work together to mitigate threats of violence. Such professionals are trained to identify potentially violent students, and they employ research-based threat-assessment protocols.
They are better prepared than ever to protect college communities. But they still need something more. They need people who hear about a potential violent act to come forward and say something about it.
It takes courage to come forward and report a potentially violent student. However, not doing so literally can cost lives.
Common barriers that keep people from reporting threats of violence include:
not trusting authority figures
worrying about being perceived as a “snitch”
being afraid of being personally targeted by a perpetrator
worrying that the person being reported will get in serious trouble, and
expecting that college administrators will not take the threat seriously.
Research that I reported in the Journal of School Violence and Psychology of Violence discusses ways to reduce these barriers. What I found was that ensuring a healthy climate is the core of effective violence prevention on college campuses. Essentially, people’s willingness to report threats of violence increases when they feel connected to the campus community, have confidence in college administrators and trust campus police officers. If every person on the campus community feels engaged and connected, they will work to protect each other’s safety and well-being.
Colleges can do a lot to make students feel connected and engaged. Some obvious and relatively easy actions include hosting frequent social events that encourage student, faculty and staff members to mingle; supporting a diverse array of clubs and recreational opportunities; and openly celebrating diversity. Also, while colleges are good at sponsoring events that resonate with involved students, such as members of fraternities and sororities, they need to think creatively about how they can support and engage all students -- even and especially those not affiliated with a formal campus organization. Nobody should feel isolated or like a loner at college.
In addition, colleges can encourage people to report threats by having anonymous telephone tip lines and maintaining the confidentiality of those who call or write in. In this regard, as early as at freshman orientation, colleges should proffer the message that students should report a threatening peer and provide them with information on the tip line. Furthermore, colleges should also send the clear message that reporting a threat does not necessarily mean that the person being reported will get in trouble. They can emphasize that, instead, professionals who also have in mind the interests and rights of the person being reported, as well as the safety of the campus community, will evaluate him or her carefully and make thoughtful decisions.
The take-home message is that although it is not possible to prevent all college shootings, many of these tragedies can be prevented if people are willing to report potential and actual threats of violence. Working to create a campus culture of trust and accountability, one that promotes individual investment in the good of the community, will help. We’re all in this together.
Michael L. Sulkowski is an assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Education in the School Psychology Program. He also is the chair of the Early Career Workgroup of the National Association of School Psychologists.
There’s a special rung of hell where the serious and the damned writhe in agony, gnashing their teeth and cursing their fate, as they watch an endless marathon of historical documentaries from basic cable networks. Their lidless eyes behold Ancient Aliens, now in its tenth season, and High Hitler, which reveals that the Führer was a dope fiend. The lineup includes at least one program about the career of each and every single condemned soul in the serial-killer department, which is a few rungs down.
In the part of the inferno where I presumably have reservations, a lot of the programming concerns the history of rock music. With each cliché, a devil pokes you, just to rub it in. The monotonous predictability of each band’s narrative arc (struggle, stardom, rehab, Hall of Fame) is just part of it, since there are also the talking-head commentaries, interspersed every few minutes, by people unable to assess any aspect of the music except through hyperbole. Each singer was the voice of the era. Every notable guitarist revolutionized the way the instrument was played -- forever. No stylistic innovation failed to change the way we think about music, influencing all that followed.
Even the devils must weary of it, after a while. It probably just makes them meaner.
Here on earth, of course, such programming can be avoided. Choose to watch Nazi UFOs -- an actual program my TiVo box insists on recording every time it runs -- and you have really no one to blame but yourself.
But David Bowie’s death earlier this month left me vulnerable to the recent rerun of a program covering most of his life and work. Viewing it felt almost obligatory: I quit keeping track of Bowie’s work in the early 1980s (a pretty common tendency among early devotees, the near-consensus opinion being that he entered a long downturn in creativity around that time) so that catching up on Bowie’s last three decades, however sketchily, seemed like a matter of paying respects. It sounds like his last few albums would be worth a chance, so no regrets for watching.
Beyond that, however, the program offered only the usual insight-free superlatives -- echoes of the hype that Bowie spent much of his career both inciting and dismantling. Bowie had a precocious and intensely self-conscious relationship to mass media and spectacle. He was, in a way, Andy Warhol’s most attentive student. That could easily have led Bowie down a dead end of cynicism and stranded him there, but instead it fed a body of creative activity -- in film and theater as well as music -- that fleshed out any number of Oscar Wilde’s more challenging paradoxes. (A few that especially apply to Bowie’s career: “To be premature is to be perfect.” “One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art.” “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”) There must be a whole cohort of people who lived through early theoretical discussions of postmodernism and performativity while biting our tongues, thinking that an awful lot of it was just David Bowie, minus the genius.
“Genius” can be a hype word, of course, but the biggest problem with superlatives in Bowie’s case isn’t that they are clichéd but that they’re too blunt. Claim that Bowie invented rock stardom, as somebody on TV did, for example, and the statement is historically obtuse while also somehow underestimating just how catalytic an impact he had.
As noted here in a column some months ago, Bowie is not among the artists David Shumway wrote about in Rock Star: The Making of Musical Icons from Elvis to Springsteen (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014). And yet one aspect of Bowie’s career often taken as quintessential, his tendency to change appearances and styles, actually proves to be one of the basic characteristics of the rock star’s cultural role, well before his Thin White Duke persona rose from the ashes of Ziggy Stardust. Context undercuts the hype.
Elsewhere, in an essay for the edited collectionGoth: Undead Subculture (Duke, 2007), Shumway acknowledges that Bowie did practice a kind of theatricalization that created a distinctive relationship between star and fan: the “explicit use of character, costume and makeup … moved the center of gravity from the person to the performance” in a way that seemed to abandon the rock mystique of authenticity and self-expression in favor of “disguising the self” while also reimagining it.
“His performances taught us about the constructedness of the rock star and the crafting of the rock performance,” Shumway writes. “His use of the mask revealed what Dylan’s insistence on his own authenticity and Elvis’s swagger hid.”
At the same time, Bowie’s decentered/concealed self became something audiences could and did take as a model. But rather than this being some radical innovation that transformed the way we think about rock forever (etc.), Shumway suggests that Bowie and his audience were revisiting one of the primary scenes of instruction for 20th-century culture as a whole: the cinema.
Bowie “did not appear to claim authenticity for his characters,” Shumway writes. “But screen actors do not claim authenticity for the fictional roles they play either. Because he inhabits characters, Bowie is more like a movie star than are most popular music celebrities. In both cases the issue of the star’s authenticity is not erased by the role playing, but made more complex and perhaps more intense.”
That aptly describes Bowie’s effect. He made life “more complex and perhaps more intense” -- with the sound of shattering clichés mixed into the audio track at unexpected moments. And a personal note of thanks to Shumway for breaking some, too.