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Image of the number 2023 and top headlines from Inside Higher Ed

Illustration by Justin Morrison/Inside Higher Ed

This was a year many of us might like to forget, given the wars (literal and figurative), the overheating climate (literal and figurative), and the economic woes (mostly literal).

But before we sweep 2023 into the dustbin of history, here is a look at the Inside Higher Ed news articles that you, our readers, consumed the most, in reverse order from the 20th-most read to the best read. We’ve annotated each with a bit of context.

Thanks to all for the time you spent with our stories and the news tips and insights you provided to our reporters and editors. We wish you all a happy, healthy and peaceful holiday season and start to 2024.

  1. A Harbinger for 2023? Presentation College to Close

This South Dakota college shut its doors in January, the first to do so in a year marked by a not-insignificant uptick in the number of institutions overtaken by the increasingly toxic mix of enrollment declines, inflationary pressures and inability to pivot fast enough in a changing environment.

  1. U.S. Bans Most Withholding of Transcripts

The Biden administration included in a packet of new regulations released in October a policy change that would significantly restrict colleges from withholding transcripts unless a student pays any balance on their account. Critics have complained that such withholding—which some states have barred—stops students from continuing their educations elsewhere or applying for certain jobs.

  1. Slimming Down to Stay Afloat

The first of several articles we published this year about West Virginia University’s controversial plan to pare academic programs and faculty positions in response to long-term structural deficits. The decisions made by the flagship university and its president, E. Gordon Gee, stunned many people in higher education and became one of the year’s dominant news stories (see below).

  1. Game On, Again, for Gainful Employment

President Biden’s Education Department in September finalized new regulations requiring programs at for-profit institutions and nondegree programs in any sector to show that graduates can afford their yearly debt payments and are making more than an adult in their state who didn’t go to college. The rules also, for the first time, imposed financial value transparency measures on programs in any sector.

  1. Academic Freedom vs. Rights of Muslim Students

The year began with a controversy that had exploded at the end of 2022. Hamline University’s president caused a stir when she dismissed an adjunct instructor who had shown students images of the Prophet Muhammad in class. The decision sparked debate about academic freedom and Islamophobia and spurred criticism from national faculty groups.

  1. Berkeley Professor Admits That She’s White

They’ve come to be known as “pretendians”—professors who pass themselves off professionally as members of an underrepresented racial or ethnic group (often Native American or Black) when they are not. This story focused on Elizabeth M. Hoover, an associate professor of environmental science at the University of California, Berkeley, who claimed to be of Mohawk and Mi’kmaq descent but wasn’t. At least two other such cases also unfolded in 2023, and a group emerged to try to identify such fraud.

  1. Jewish Student Enrollment Is Down at Many Ivies

This might seem like a headline more expected at the end of 2023 (in the wake of furor over the Israel-Hamas war and the escalation of antisemitism and Islamophobia on some college campuses), but this article appeared in May. It explored why the enrollment of Jewish students has trended downward at many highly selective institutions in recent decades and what the declines mean.

  1. University of Arizona Miscalculated by Millions

Months after the West Virginia University budget crisis dominated the headlines, another flagship university revealed in November that it had much less cash on hand than officials in its state require. The stunning revelation has reverberated through the state of Arizona in the final weeks of 2023, costing the university’s chief financial officer her job and leading to stricter financial oversight for Arizona’s public universities.

  1. Professor’s Job Endangered for Teaching About Race

As a private institution, Palm Beach Atlantic University, which discontinued an adjunct English professor’s teaching contract in February because it said he was indoctrinating students, isn’t directly accountable to state officials in Florida who’ve sought to limit diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. But the crackdown on DEI in Florida almost certainly drove interest in this article nonetheless. The professor, Sam Joecke, was fired in March.

  1. West Virginia’s Unprecedented Proposed Cuts Become Clear

Fallout from West Virginia’s financial situation reverberated throughout the year, as the university shared details of its plan to cut 9 percent of majors and 7 percent of full-time faculty. The university’s board approved most of the cuts in September.

  1. University of California System Bans Fully Online Degrees

No student had ever earned a fully online degree from a University of California campus, but the February decision by the university’s Academic Senate to make sure no one ever could do so stoked debate about the role of technology in learning.

  1. The Slow, Then Sudden Downfall of a University Leader

An exploration of the missteps, tensions and miscommunication that led to the ouster of Kathy Banks as president of Texas A&M University’s flagship campus in July.

  1. Professor Leaving University After Being Dubbed ‘Pretendian’ for Years

Another professor lost her job in August, after nearly 15 years of scrutiny, for fraudulently claiming Native American heritage.

  1. Amid Backlash, Stanford Pulls ‘Harmful Language’ List

An internal effort by Stanford’s technology office to remove racist, violent and biased language from the university’s websites and technical code turned into a PR disaster when its list of potentially harmful words became public. It contained words and phrases such as “brave,” “seminal,” “American,” “take a shot at,” “no can do” and “submit,” opening the university to criticism that it was excessively squelching free expression.

  1. Arizona State Instructor Followed, Injured by Turning Point USA Crew

It’s hard to fathom a more combustible mix of factors to create a viral story about higher education: a physical confrontation on a university campus between a queer instructor and representatives of a conservative organization with a history of taking aim at “radical professors”—with the incident caught on camera from various angles.

  1. Tenured and Making $0?

The headline tells it all: a documented situation in which Purdue University steadily reduced a professor’s salary down to nothing in response to what a chain of emails show was dissatisfaction over purportedly inadequate teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. ChatGPT Advice Academics Can Use Now

The release more than a year ago of OpenAI’s generative artificial intelligence bot unleashed a flood of conversation (and coverage in Inside Higher Ed and elsewhere) about whether and how academics might use ChatGPT themselves and encourage or try to deter students from using such tools. This particular article synthesized the best guidance from a group of experts, and tens of thousands of faculty members and other readers gobbled it up.

  1. Chaos at New College of Florida

Governor Ron DeSantis’s effort to reshape public higher education in Florida in his image was one of the dominant themes of Inside Higher Ed’s news coverage in 2023; he opposed the College Board’s AP exam in African American Studies, vowed to defund diversity initiatives and sued to challenge the federal government’s accreditation oversight of his state’s universities. His plan to turn New College of Florida into a conservative institution, launched early in the year, resulted in a messy autumn at the public liberal arts college, as documented in this article about canceled classes, housing snafus and other administrative and problems.

  1. The Aftershocks of the Asbury Revival

Last spring, tens of thousands of students flocked to Asbury University in Kentucky to participate in what appeared to be a spontaneous, round-the-clock prayer session that lasted for two full weeks. This article explored what unfolded and what it said about the intersection of faith and academics on religious campuses.

  1. Does the Supreme Court Order Apply to Financial Aid?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision restricting the consideration of race in college admissions did not make our top stories list—perhaps because the outcome was widely anticipated by legal experts, even if many higher ed leaders hoped against hope that the ruling would go the other way. But the revelation days later that Missouri’s attorney general had unilaterally declared that the ruling extended to financial aid awarded by public institutions in the state, and that the University of Missouri was complying with that order, reinforced the worst fears of many campus leaders that the court’s ruling could have sweeping implications. Missouri has remained an outlier in the months since, though.

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