Mizzou protests are a pro-democracy movement (essay)

This past Friday morning on Facebook, an English professor at the University of Missouri and former doctoral student of mine, John Evelev, made what he says will be his last post about the protests against racism at the University of Missouri. Those protests culminated in the resignation of the system president and the Columbia campus chancellor -- and then led to a horrible number of overtly racist counterprotests and threats of violence against black students, faculty members and even ROTC members.

Evelev has written before about the climate of racism that the students detected and that now pervades the campus. In this post, he extrapolates from their concerns and their protests about racism to the very idea of protest itself, to the concept of participation and civic action in a democracy.

What Evelev wrote is so important to the future of democracy and of higher education that everyone needs to take it in. He has given me permission to quote him here: “While most people see this as simply or exclusively a protest against racism, the proper way to see this is as a pro-democracy movement. Universities and public universities in particular used to be democratic spaces, spaces of civic representation in American life. Faced with decreased public funding, they are being run more like businesses with leaders who are unresponsive or downright dismissive of students and faculty. The student protesters, along with the faculty and administrators who worked to remove Tim Wolfe, UM system president, and R. Bowen Loftin, the chancellor of the Columbia campus, were not just fighting racism, but fighting for university leadership that was democratic, responsive to the community, that recognized the university is not just an institution with a really bad profit stream. It is easy enough for the right-wing to dismiss the goals of the students as ‘getting rid of racism,’ but what they really don't want is an American population that actually seeks representation in their institutions, whether education or political. If faculty want shared governance, they are ‘living in an ivory tower.’ We should all want more involvement, more stake-ownership in the important public institutions of our society, not less.”

The students were protesting against racism, a climate of racism, and specific racist acts. They were also protesting against being silenced, being rendered invisible -- which, of course, is one of the most devastating, debilitating and definitional features of racism. The students were also advocating for the ability to have a voice, to make oneself heard. If anyone is silenced in a democracy, we no longer have democracy. That is true particularly of race, especially at this historical moment, as these students have shown us.

It is also true about democracy in general. What I believe John Evelev is saying here is that, in their protest, these students represent the highest aspirations of all education, higher education and public education. Indeed, they represent, as he so beautifully states it, the aspirations of a public in democracy itself.

We have seen so many attempts to suppress democracy and participation in public life -- from voting rights being curtailed to Supreme Court rulings making corporations into “people,” thus allowing businesses and the vastly wealthy to have inordinate power in shaping democracy. President Jimmy Carter has said we are no longer a democracy but an oligarchy, and many social scientists have said that, by definition, he is correct. Is this the society we want?

We cannot, as a nation, allow this to happen. We must reverse this terrible tendency. And the university is the place where this re-energizing of an idea of a “public” must begin. The university is where young people who are minors learn to become full active adults. If universities were only about vocational training, learning how to participate in a democracy would be a secondary factor. And for the vast numbers of full adults returning for skills redevelopment, this certainly may be true.

But we in America have opted to make higher education the place where we send those who are just reaching their majority: these are our children, our nation's future. And we hope that, when they graduate, they will not only know more about a subject, field, discipline and vocation. We also hope and believe that they will be ready to be fully responsible adults, productive members of a society.

In a democracy, that means participation. That means standing up for one's beliefs -- in a way that is civil, responsible, meaningful and true. That means learning to think clearly and articulate one's ideas. It means being able to write eloquently and express one's opinions persuasively. It means knowing not just a subject matter but why that subject matters in the world.

And sometimes it means protests -- especially when an open car, in which the president of your university rides, drives into a stadium in an official capacity and moves forward into a group of protesters, possibly even, according to one accusation, clipping one. Throughout this, the president sits in the car silently. These are his students, at his university. And they are black students. In Missouri, a state already riven by the racial incidents in Ferguson.

There is a lot of talk about whether or not the president should have resigned. It is his prerogative to resign. No one forced that decision. I don't know enough to comment.

What I do know for sure, about any university president, is that he or she must set the moral compass of the institution. Silence, in the car and in the aftermath, is not setting an example, is not modeling public discourse, is not addressing a problem. In view of that, it is not a surprise that Wolfe resigned. Not because of protesters, but because their protest threw into such vivid light what he himself had not addressed for over a month of a silence.

He isn't just anyone. He is the president, the leader. His actions and his words represent the university. He embodies, in actual and symbolic power, what higher education and democracy are for.

Was he afraid to speak? We don't know.

In some ways, the resignation is as baffling as the silence leading up to it. Open, public, intelligent discourse -- from the beginning and with wise and attentive and concerned leadership of the president -- might have been far better for everyone. Now two senior leaders will be replaced with two other senior leaders. What does that solve? Replacing one president with another does not change the conditions of the university. Replacing one administrator with another does not redress the problem of racism.

Leadership change changes leadership. Period. Open, strategic, participatory democratic attention is required to identify, address and solve a systemic problem. Change will only happen if whoever comes into the positions is committed to a better way. Such commitment is hardly a foregone conclusion.

That leads to a larger issue, one that Evelev is pointing to because it is a condition of higher education throughout the United States now. University presidents everywhere are under tremendous pressures these days, especially at public universities, to speak certain kinds of carefully guarded and protective and screened truths or be faced with trustees who want their resignation. More and more presidents are being chosen by such boards, sometimes without real support from the faculty members, students, staff, alumni or other administrators. The case of the University of Iowa is especially pertinent here.

But it is a pattern, an alarming one. President after president is being pressured to respond to politics, not to the mission and the calling of higher education. And I don't mean the small-p politics of student protests but the larger party politics of governors, trustees and funders who have ideological motivations and corporate ones, too.

Higher education must be about the free circulation of ideas, about genuine and responsible expression of ideas, about public discourse at its highest and its most urgent, about debate and dissent conducted in public as well. If there is no room for democratic discourse at a university, then our society is, quite simply, sunk.

Indeed, since John Evelev’s original Facebook posting, the terrible violence in Paris has given new meaning to the call for sane, rational, informed discourse in a democratic society. Innocent people have been murdered. And one reason they have been murdered is because terrorists do not want sane, democratic discourse. They seek to feed blind, uninformed panic. Such panic can lead to retribution not just against the guilty (who deserve it) but also against innocent people who can seem (to outsiders) to share characteristics of ethnicity, race or immigrant status with the perpetrators of violence.

Feeding a cycle of unthinking blame laid against the innocent is exactly what terrorists want. We are hearing far too much of this xenophobia already in the tragic response to a terrible tragedy.

And that brings us back, again, to the issue of racism. Attributing guilt to an entire group is, of course, one attribute of racism.

We have bequeathed to this generation the legacy of a frightening, complex world where the solutions are as difficult to understand as the problems. It will be their job, in the future, to solve these problems. There is no more profound mission of the university than to help prepare them for a future where informed democratic discourse and deep and substantive critical thinking are in constant danger of being drowned out by the forces of ignorance, prejudice and violence. It is a formidable challenge. The least we can do is respect the seriousness of the struggle.

Cathy N. Davidson is a distinguished professor and director of the Futures Initiative at the City University of New York's Graduate Center.

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Mitch Daniels draws praise and criticism for his comments on Yale and U of Missouri

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Mitch Daniels criticizes two universities that have struggled with racial tensions and free speech issues. Some are praising him, but many are angry -- and he'll face a demonstration on campus today.

A Mizzou president in the 1930s and '40s may have set the tone for today's crises (essay)

Watch the video of former University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe sitting in the red convertible, stopped by Concerned Student 1950 protesters a month ago in a homecoming parade. Wolfe and his wife appear to deliberately not make eye contact with protesters who were his students, his constituents. The students also say his driver tapped them with the bumper of his car. Wolfe’s bungled definition of “systematic oppression” a week ago finally spoke what his silence had already communicated. He didn’t get it.

Media-created timelines allow us to grasp how several months of problems on the Missouri campus led up to this historic moment of administrative resignations and sparked so many other campus protests. But these timelines could stretch back for years, as the Concerned Students’ invocation of the year 1950 suggests. The students could have dated their struggles back to 1839, the year of the university’s founding (the campus built, as protesting students’ T-shirts put it, on their b[l]acks), or to the 1860s, when Missouri as a state found itself on both sides of the Civil War. Instead, the group chose to honor 1950, the first year African-American students were admitted to Mizzou after a court ruling desegregated the university.

One of them was Gus T. Ridgel, who became the first black student to graduate with a master’s degree, in economics, in 1951. I met Ridgel one night in 2012. He was in his 86th year, and I had the privilege to serve as his driver. I was then an English professor at Mizzou, married to a university administrator. My husband hosted Ridgel’s visit, accompanying him to the football stadium and eventually to the field, where Ridgel would serve as honorary coach. My less glamorous job was to drop them off as close to the stadium as possible.

This may sound easier than it was. An endless series of roadblocks and checkpoints exists near the stadium. I had to persuade officer after officer to allow me beyond the supposed last point possible for cars to travel, explaining to each that the elderly black man in the front seat was a VIP of the university, wanted on the 50-yard line.

Most of these officers were white, and I am white. I was keenly aware how much my race and his age worked in our favor, as I successfully persuaded each man to let me pass and get Ridgel to the stadium. It’s not hard to imagine situations in which we could have been stopped or turned back rather than waved through. I cried as I told my young sons about it later -- the privilege I had of driving this important, brave man, as well as the privilege I enjoyed that allowed me to breeze though security checkpoints.

Ridgel has spoken publicly about how, when he moved to Columbia in 1950, he was denied service at local restaurants and coffee shops, as well as how the university first wanted to charge him double for his room when no one would agree to be his roommate. (The student body president who initially volunteered to do so backed out after fellow students threatened to ruin his father’s business, according to Ridgel.)

Ridgel’s return to Mizzou’s campus in 2012, the night I met him, was not only to serve as honorary coach but also to speak to the dozens of minority graduate students who today hold scholarships awarded in his name, the Gus T. Ridgel Fellowships. Mizzou has succeeded in getting some things right since 1950.

Yet the people whom Ridgel faced down in 1950 are the ones most often memorialized on the Mizzou campus. They include Frederick Middlebush (1890-1971), who enjoyed Mizzou’s longest-running presidency, of nearly 20 years. A prominent campus building is named after him. The university grew eight times its size under his leadership, combined with the good fortune of the GI Bill. Public relations materials claim that Middlebush “wanted to expand the university and create more opportunities for all students.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much digging in Middlebush’s voluminous papers in the university archives to see that that statement is partial at best.

Middlebush was a powerful man not only on Mizzou’s campus but also on the national scene. A member of President Truman’s anti-Soviet-expansion Committee on the Present Danger in the 1950s, Middlebush served alongside Edward R. Murrow, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Arthur Goldberg and Samuel Goldwyn. He flew first-class and was photographed with his arm around fur coat-wearing Hollywood starlets. He died a hero to the university.

He no longer deserves to be seen solely in those terms. Middlebush played a key role in continuing segregation on the University of Missouri campus prior to 1950. It has long been known that he was instrumental in working to try to deny African-American applicant Lloyd Gaines admission to Mizzou’s law school in the mid-1930s. There are documents showing that Middlebush and administrator Thomas Brady even worked to prevent black students from other schools from coming to Mizzou to participate in a United Nations conference held on the campus in 1947.

Let me repeat that: black students from other campuses were denied admission to a United Nations conference at Mizzou. Brady apparently believed that in doing so he and Middlebush were upholding state law. Then there is a “confidential” letter from Brady to Middlebush, listing the names, hometowns and majors of those who encouraged students or “pressed the issue of negro participation” in the UN conference. The handwritten memo lists four students, three faculty members and two ministers. It’s hard to imagine that Brady and Middlebush drew up this confidential list of people who “pressed” the issue in order to write them thank-you notes.

Once Ridgel and other black students matriculated to Mizzou, Middlebush, to his credit, made changes, at least nominally. Brady wrote to Middlebush that he expected they’d treat “negro students” in all respects as they did other students. Mizzou, like many college campuses and our nation as a whole, is still working to transform such tepid statements from 1950 into unflinching pledges in 2015.

Frederick Middlebush certainly spent time with African-Americans in Columbia, Mo. He must have spent a significant amount in the company of at least one black man: his driver. Columbia’s African-American community has recognized as one of its elders and heroes the late Anderson Logan (1911-2008). One of the many university and community contributions on Logan’s résumé is having served as Middlebush’s driver during the years his boss was working to prevent Gaines’s admission to Mizzou Law.

Learning this makes me feel honored to have once been able to serve as Ridgel’s driver. There is much to be undone, as well as to be done, at our nation’s universities where race relations are concerned. The symbolic issues go far beyond Confederate flags. The names of men like Middlebush remain on many of our campus buildings, although Mizzou’s are by no means all named after white male university administrators who now seem on the wrong side of history. (One building, Arvarh E. Strickland Hall, is named after its first black faculty member.)

It’s true that few people are aware of Middlebush’s antiblack activities -- or have seen fit to investigate and publicize such things. It’s questionable how much of this history former president Wolfe knew, for instance. But the newly named interim president, Michael Middleton, certainly knows it well. He was a campus activist at Mizzou during his student years in the 1960s, having founded the university’s Legion of Black Collegians. He went on to have a distinguished career in law and an enormous impact at Mizzou thereafter. His lists of firsts and organizations founded will no doubt be widely reported in the news media in the coming days and deserve to be.

The resignation of Tim Wolfe this week, and the naming of Middleton as his interim successor, may not bring change as soon as many would like. But it at least seems to close off the likelihood of a future filled with more Middlebush Halls and Wolfe Halls and to open up the possibility for a greater number of Strickland Halls and, one could hope, Ridgel and Middleton Halls. We rightly ought to reserve such honors for those we can embrace wholeheartedly as honorable.

Devoney Looser is a professor of English at Arizona State University.

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Lessons for administrators who are starting over (essay)

Administrators who are teachers and learners at heart need new environments to learn and grow, says Jim Hunt.

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How technology needs the right kind of leadership to create transformative change (essay)

Higher education is increasingly looking to technology as a means of tackling persistent equity challenges and improving student outcomes. Yet technology in and of itself is not a solution -- unless people use technology to create new systems, behaviors and student experiences.

Encouraging various individuals across an entire institution to use technology in this way is no simple task. It requires thoughtful leaders who understand how to leverage technology to spur deep cultural shifts, those that fundamentally reorient the way an institution meets its students’ needs and engages its faculty and staff members in that challenge.

Many colleges are particularly interested in applying technology to student support services, which have traditionally been underresourced and overburdened. Technology-mediated advising systems are commonly used to plan educational programming, identify and intervene with students who may be at risk, and monitor student progress. They have the potential to clarify program pathways and connect students to vital support services, thereby increasing student retention and completion.

But how does a college move from putting an electronic advising tool in place to creating large-scale technology-mediated change? My colleagues and I at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, studied colleges engaged in this work, and we have learned a great deal from their experiences.

One of the most intriguing findings is the role of leadership -- and not just high-level leadership. Both senior and midlevel project leaders must share a commitment to the same actionable vision of technology as a tool for change. Although it is often assumed that presidents and senior leaders are the key to success, our research supports James Jacobs’s assertion in Inside Higher Ed, which said midlevel leaders are “the real change agents.”

Colleges often consider the implementation of a technological tool as simply a technical problem -- a set of solutions to address inefficiencies. But technology-mediated advising tools ideally provide the gateway to a much larger discussion about a college’s entire approach to advising, moving from a shallow service model focused on course registration to a holistic model that provides individualized support throughout a student’s time in college and that actively intervenes to keep students on track. As other scholars in education leadership have noted, such a major realignment requires transformative change across three levels of a higher education institution: structural, process and attitudinal. Without change at all three levels, opportunities to better serve students through improved systems will be missed.

This kind of transformative change qualifies as what change experts refer to as an adaptive challenge -- one that requires each institution to develop new ways of problem solving because there are no obvious or clearly “correct” answers. For a college or university to undertake such change, it must have leaders in place across all levels of the institution who are capable of motivating people to have difficult, honest conversations and of encouraging them to think and act differently. As opposed to the authority conferred through a title or an organization chart, leadership for transformative change is a complex, dynamic process.

Four Key Approaches

Through our research, we identified four different leadership approaches:

  • Presidential. Senior leaders have a clear vision for change, but have not fully articulated their vision to project leaders.
  • Visionary. Senior leaders and project leaders collaborate to develop a shared vision of change, and senior leaders grant project leaders the authority for carrying out that vision.
  • Technologically focused. Neither senior nor project leaders have a clear vision for using technology to drive change; both are focused on the mechanics of implementing the technology.
  • Divided. Project leaders understand the potential for change, but they lack support from senior leaders. For these deeply rooted changes to occur, support from both levels of leadership is crucial.

At the institutions we studied, senior leaders controlled financial resources, shaped the institutional culture to encourage receptiveness to new technologies and had the authority to mandate use when necessary. Perhaps counterintuitively, the colleges with a presidential leadership approach were unsuccessful in achieving change, even though they had strong senior leaders. It was only when both senior and project leaders were aligned around an adaptive vision of change (a visionary leadership approach) that structures, processes and attitudes were altered.

For example, at one college, the introduction of an education planning tool sparked several major changes. The senior leadership team championed technology-mediated advising as a crucial component of the institution’s student success agenda. Meanwhile, the project leaders were deeply committed to improving advising services through a greater emphasis on multisemester education planning.

As a result, change occurred in the three key areas. The college lengthened advising appointments to allow more time for using the planning tool and also made the creation of an education plan a requirement for a student success course -- a mandatory course for most first-year students covering a range of topics related to acclimating to college and making use of college resources (structural change). Advisers began interacting with students differently, focusing on mapping out courses for an entire degree, rather than just selecting courses for the upcoming semester (process change). They also started to view themselves as professional counselors supporting institutional goals for improving student success rather than administrative clerks (attitudinal change).

Together, all of these changes transformed the way the college approached education planning. Prior to the introduction of the digital planning tool, the only tool available for long-term planning was a paper worksheet that was used randomly and inconsistently. Describing the switch, one adviser explained:

"When you just have a piece of paper that somebody handed you, it has very little meaning. But if you get to drag and drop and move things around and read course descriptions… it’s a little bit richer. It’s more interactive …. The interactive piece, both with the digital materials and with the adviser, I think, allows for an experience that improves their ability to internalize their plan."

For these deeply rooted changes to occur, support from both levels of leadership was crucial. Senior leaders controlled financial resources, shaped the institutional culture to encourage receptiveness to new technologies and had the authority to mandate use when necessary. However, midlevel project leaders were the ones who ultimately drove change on the ground. Placed in the difficult position of serving as a communication channel between frontline staff, such as advisers, and senior leaders, they were responsible for translating the vision for technology-driven change into action, integrating technological tools into existing systems and processes, and encouraging both advisers and students to use the tools.

Without the support of senior leaders, project leaders did not have enough legitimacy or institutional backing to create the change that was needed. And without the support of project leaders, senior leaders did not have enough knowledge of day-to-day advising functions to create that change, either.

What was the impact on the students? Even though we were only studying the early stages of rolling out these technologies, at the colleges with visionary leadership, significant numbers of students were using the education plans to begin more long-term thinking about their educational and career goals. They were also responding to early alert messages received through risk-targeting systems, and following up with their instructors and advisers to get help when needed

Interestingly, we also found through our research that it is not necessary for senior and project leaders to begin with a shared adaptive vision. Only one of the three colleges that was beginning to demonstrate signs of change started off with aligned leadership. At the other two colleges, the technology implementation itself served as a learning process for both senior and project-level leaders. In both cases, at least one leader recognized the technology’s potential and was able to convey that vision to leaders at the other level.

Thus, based on our findings, we recommend that colleges considering engaging in technology-meditated reform consider three key steps. First, they should assemble implementation teams that include both strong senior and project leaders. Second, they should provide adequate support for project leaders so that they have the authority to be seen as credible by advisers and other frontline staff, as well as have the legitimacy to convey staff needs to institutional leaders. And finally, they should focus on an adaptive, reform-oriented vision for change occurring at multiple levels -- structural, process and attitudinal -- a vision that connects technological tools to larger advising reforms.

Transformative change is challenging work requiring a great deal of collaboration. Implementation of new technologies and processes usually takes longer than anticipated. Identifying the right combination of senior and midlevel project leaders will not be easy. Supporting project leaders so that they have the authority to enact changes and the credibility to convey staff needs to senior leaders may be even harder still.

But investing in the careful selection and support of midlevel leaders is critical for visionary change to take root. Once aligned, the right kind of leadership supporting both the project implementation and the larger institution can make technology adoption a powerful tool for institutional transformation.

Serena Klempin is a research associate with the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.

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Senate investigative panel opens inquiry about college accreditors

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Lawmakers are looking at how accreditors judge the quality and financial stability of colleges.

Colleges that shortchange adjuncts are ultimately compromising students (essay)

My first adjunct job interview was at a local technical college. When the dean told me that he and his assistant would evaluate my interview and teaching demo, I found it unusual, since neither had a background that qualified them to assess my ability to teach in my subject area. I was surprised to learn that the dean’s assistant is a current student at the technical college, but a student perspective can be valuable. And although I had chaired and served on hiring committees as a tenured associate professor at my previous university, I hadn’t been on the job market in more than a decade. Maybe this is the way they do things at technical colleges, I thought, and I tentatively set my reservations aside.

I was offered the job shortly after I left campus. I didn’t receive an orientation or a resource packet, and though I’d asked about learning outcomes and whether or not there was a standard syllabus and course text, I was told I could do whatever I wanted. This, too, struck me as irregular, since learning outcomes and outcomes assessment are crucial issues on most college campuses today.

In the week after I was hired, which was the week before classes started, I tried repeatedly to obtain exam copies of the texts I was considering for my course. But the publisher refused to give me access -- perhaps because I’m now an adjunct or perhaps because I have no history with the technical college where I’m teaching.

In either case, my course prep became even more time-consuming. I could read the table of contents of the texts. I could, in some cases, even download a sample chapter. But I couldn’t carefully assess a text’s fitness for the students I’d be teaching. And I knew -- because I had studied the demographic data of the technical college -- that my students needed a very, very good text. I also needed to find one they could reasonably afford.

I emailed the dean and his assistant for help with procuring exam copies, thinking surely they would contact the publisher and assist with access to digital copies of the books. Nothing. I asked the publisher to contact the dean or his assistant directly. Still nothing. I phoned the publisher’s customer service specialist. Nothing. I was running out of time.

Finally, after looking up, one by one, many of the articles listed in the tables of contents of the texts I was considering, and after checking the student costs at sources such as Amazon and eBay, I selected a text. I purchased it myself and had it shipped to my home via express mail.

On the third day of class I received an email from the dean. “Oops” was one of the words in the subject line. That I could not use that text was the gist of the message. Apparently, they didn’t have the text on campus. Apparently, some students were eligible for free access. Apparently, I was the last to be informed. And apparently, I should just use the text they did have on campus.

Maybe some administrators at this institution were overworked and didn’t get the support they need. Maybe some were incompetent. It doesn’t matter. That kind of mistake doesn’t just make teaching more difficult; it compromises students.

I was not a welcome messenger on the third day of class when I told students that if they had already ordered the text listed on my syllabus -- the syllabus we’d discussed in detail the day before -- they’d have to return it. I was so mortified that I offered personally to refund students’ costs if they were unable to return their texts. On my adjunct salary, that would have been a much harder offer to make if my partner didn’t have a job that paid a living wage.

But it wasn’t just that. It was messy and unprofessional. I learned from my students that similar mistakes happen all the time, and I was humbled by how bad they felt for me.

I confess that when I received the email about the book, I momentarily considered quitting. A good administrator would have purchased the books and had them delivered ASAP. A better administrator would never have put a teacher or students in that situation. But I felt a tug of guilt about quitting. For lots of reasons, especially when I thought about the students in my class, it seemed to be the wrong thing to do.

So I began to draw on my experience with copyright and creative commons to assemble course materials that I could provide my students for free. I love doing it. Among the most important decisions an educator can make is choosing materials that meet the needs of his or her students. It’s just really, really time-consuming to start from scratch on the third day of class, not to mention that I’ll never be able to account to the environment for the number of paper copies this requires.

My adjunct contract pays me for the five hours of instructional time that I’m in the classroom each week and for one hour of course prep each week. Before I even walked into the classroom on the third day of class, I’d already dedicated more than 15 hours to course prep. I’m teaching a developmental-level course with 20 students. I knew when I accepted the position that I’d never be paid for all the time the course would require. It embarrasses me to admit that I treated teaching for such low pay as a privilege that, thanks to my partner’s job, I could afford. As long I had the opportunity to teach well, I wasn’t concerned about how much time I’d need to spend. I just hadn’t anticipated how rapidly the hours would accumulate.

A quiet series of thoughts began to grow louder: This is not sustainable. The college is compromising the students it exists to serve.

After my sixth day in the classroom, I was hopeful I’d have access to the college’s online course management system. After inquiring at the dean’s office about the CMS during the week before classes started, and again during the first week of classes, and after repeatedly getting no answer, I contacted the technology office that manages it. When I didn’t get a response via email, I searched the college website for the contact information of anyone who might be able to help. For the past 10 years, I’d relied on a CMS to manage grades and to make links, course resources and other supplementary materials available to students. For me, it was an accessible class list as well as a tool for communicating with students.

I realized how much I had taken that tool for granted when I contemplated how to develop an alternate system for recording grades and for calculating each grade’s weight as it figured into the overall course grade. My course still isn’t on the CMS, and I just gave a quiz. It will take more time, but I will be developing a spreadsheet of grades soon, and I can use my personal web space or a free wiki to publish course materials. But students are paying for the CMS, and I can’t answer why our class does not have access to it.

I’m not required to hold office hours. For anyone who has been in a tenured or tenure-line position, this might even sound great. But I don’t think it occurred to me before what it meant to be entirely inaccessible to students outside of class. I don’t have an office. I don’t have a campus phone number. And I am not paid to meet with students or to support their learning outside of class. What this suggests to me is that the possibility that students may have questions or concerns outside of class isn’t a consideration when hiring adjuncts here.

It’s fortunate that I have my own laptop and my own adapter. Although the room I’m teaching in does not have a computer station, it does have a projector, and sometimes the Wi-Fi even works. I’d love to say that I can teach without technology. That sounds incredibly romantic. I even feel a little wistful for those bygone days that existed long before I entered higher ed. But I’m preparing students to live and work in the 21st century. I can cover a lot without a screen. I could use exclusively print materials. But at what cost to my students’ education? I’m still trying to find someone who will reply to my request to teach my class in a computer lab from time to time. A lot of my students don’t have computers at home.

Yesterday, I printed an article published in Newsweek on Campus in the late 1980s. It was written by a college student attending a prestigious West Coast school. He came from an impoverished background and felt as if he were “Living in Two Worlds.” I included a large copyright notice at the bottom as required for fair use, and my students and I read the article in class together. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen students read with such intensity and deep understanding. They recognized the unemployment, poverty and struggle of the author’s hometown. “Just look out the window,” one student commented. “I saw three homeless people on my way to class today.”

I thought back to a homeless woman I’d met and fed when I visited campus for the first time for my job interview. On the adjunct pay at this institution, there’s a very good chance that instructors can’t afford decent housing. Like many of the students in my class, they may need to share a room and scrimp for grocery money -- as well as book fees -- just to get by.

But the greatest cost, it seems to me, is borne by the students. The veterans in my class who enlisted for the sole purpose of earning money for college through the GI Bill. The high-school student hoping to get a head start. The gutsy ex-con who is starting over. They’re paying to be here. They have very real goals, and they are working very hard. Why, I wonder, isn’t this college giving them what they deserve?


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'The Good Wife' tackles for-profit colleges and student debt

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A fictional Corinthian-like institution and a debt strike get very close to nonfiction on the CBS show.

We need a simplified, two-tiered admissions process (essay)

It has been clear for some time that the American college admissions system is fundamentally flawed. Between the Common App’s monopoly over the admissions process and U.S. News & World Report's rankings -- which give institutions points for selectivity and higher test scores -- it has been nearly impossible for individual colleges to change the way they recruit and admit students who are a good fit for their specific programs.

The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success -- a group of more than 80 higher education institutions that includes the Ivies, Stanford University, top liberal arts colleges and major state universities -- represents bold steps in a new direction. One hopes that the range of colleges and universities included in the coalition will allow each of its members to keep up pressure in three key ways: shifting from tests and transcripts to a more robust, portfolio-based admissions process; ensuring financial-aid transparency; and providing not only admissions advice about the institution itself but also helping the widest group of students in its community to navigate, as they say at the KIPP network of charter schools, “to and through college.”

The shift from a college admissions system that serves colleges to one that serves students and families is a national imperative if we wish to train young people for the jobs they will discover and the lives they will lead in the 21st century -- most of which do not even exist today.

To cut through the current logjam, however, we need structural changes across thousands of colleges, not just the good intentions of and coordination among the most privileged few. Individual colleges can’t make systemic change. And the coalition has received considerable resistance, as New York Times columnist Frank Bruni has described, since it presented its plan at the annual conference of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.

If we want to change fundamentally the things that are broken with the current system, we need to go further, instituting a new framework that improves outcomes for colleges, parents and, most of all, students. We must tackle the tough questions: How can we steer the most students to colleges where they will thrive? How can we make the admissions process both challenging and a level playing field? How can we make financial aid fair and transparent?

I recommend a two-step process similar to medical school admissions. It requires colleges and universities to:

1. Establish a simple and consistent across-the-board threshold. It includes the student’s transcript, standardized test scores, activities résumé, school writing sample and a short personal essay. Students can apply to a limited number of schools -- say, 15 -- for one price. Students who receive free or reduced lunch receive 100 percent fee waivers. Colleges read the folders and decide who is academically qualified. They rank all students likely, possible or no. And they provide information about how much financial aid the student will receive if admitted later.

All financial aid is based on need (in relation to that institution’s ability to provide aid). If a college is “gapping” (admitting a student but not providing sufficient aid), the amount of debt the student will be required to assume is clear to the student and parent. There are no early admissions and no exceptions, not even for athletes.

This step provides a sanity check for students: they must apply to colleges where they are academically qualified, or they’ll end up with nothing. It also makes the first step more helpful for parents, who can see how likely their children are to get admitted and to receive financial aid at different colleges. This first, fact-based round enables colleges to select a smaller group of students to review more intensively and explore who the best candidates are for their particular programs and priorities.

2. Explore in some depth the fit between each student and the institution. Colleges identify those students who have the intellectual, personal and moral characteristics to be good citizens in their communities. And students determine which colleges will nurture their particular intellectual and personal ambitions, their sense of who they want to become in college and in life. Colleges can be innovative here: they might consider assessment centers, as suggested by Adam Grant, professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. (Such activities can be done online or in person, with the assumption that every aspect of this second phase will be paid by the college for all students.) Colleges can also try different types of writing assignments (as at Bard College), videos (like Goucher College), inventions, op-eds, interviews -- whatever they like, and in whatever combination they like, in order to get to know each student better. This should be fun and empowering for students, who should be encouraged to reveal who they think they would become at each college that they are considering.

At the end of this second round, students and colleges rank their preferences, and a computer optimizes the outcomes -- like the internship match in medicine.

This is actually how the core admissions work is done now for many state universities’ selective honors programs: a computer accepts the top tier and rejects the bottom. In a second round, students submit additional essays, videos and other projects, and the college then decides who is admitted to premier programs -- which include financial aid packages as well as smaller, more selective classes.

You could argue that transforming the tangled and misaligned assumptions of the current jury-rigged system into something this clean and simple will be extremely difficult. Indeed, it will take significant collective will to achieve something equitable and empowering for students of all backgrounds. But this two-step process is fair, transparent and fun -- three things that the current system is not and that the coalition’s ambitious opening gambit, by itself, cannot ensure.

Carol Barash is the founder and CEO of Story2, the company that expands writing fluency and self-advocacy through storytelling.

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