EXECUTIVE POSITIONS

UVa president's ouster centers on disagreement in pace of change

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In a day of unusual protests at UVa, a board holds its ground, an ousted president defends her philosophy -- and differences illustrate debate about how speedily a great university should change, and who should decide how it does so. Divided board picks interim president after meeting of almost 12 hours.

U. of Virginia president to leave over 'philosophical differences'

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Teresa Sullivan, president for only two years, will leave position due to "philosophical differences" with board.

MIT's quick president search is a lesson in how to shorten selection timeline

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MIT's three-month presidential search suggests that with all the change going on in higher education, universities don't have the time or appetite for drawn-out selection processes.

Columbia trustee's column challenges notion that trustees should speak with one voice

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A trustee's critical column in Columbia's student paper challenges the notion that private university trustees should speak with a unified voice.

Essay calls for sustained effort by colleges to focus on economic inequality

Income and wealth inequality in the United States, which has become even more pronounced since 1967, continues to interfere with the national need for an increasingly sophisticated and skilled workforce and citizenry. Federal financial assistance to financially needy college students is a rational response to this recognized social and economic inequality.  About 30 years ago, in ways clearly demonstrated by Tom Mortenson in ”How to Limit Opportunity for Higher Education 1980 – 2011,” federal and state policy shifts placed an increasing share of the cost of higher education on students and their families, turning higher education into a commodity provided to those who could pay. Primarily as a consequence of these policies and the associated spiraling costs of attending college, the growth in the portion of our population with a college degree has been slow, increasing from 17 to 30 percent over the past 30 years.  Strikingly, the gains were made primarily by those from the wealthiest backgrounds (18 percent increase) in contrast to a small 4 percent growth, over the same 30 years, for those in the lowest socioeconomic quartile.

Globally, as various analyses show, while many countries are making solid progress in educating their populations, the United States is losing ground, slipping from first to 12th among 36 developed countries in percent of the population with a degree. Although American students from the upper quartile of the national income distribution can continue to have high expectations of completing college, their success alone is not enough for our economy and society to thrive.

If we are to educate the nation to meet the current challenges of the global economy, our democratic society, and our planet, we need to use all means possible to educate the largest number of people possible. This will require increased financial assistance for low- and moderate-income students.  Federal and state support for education is the single most rational investment we can make in our future. Yet we continue to face threats even to the inadequate support that remains today. Some current candidates for president of the United States oppose any federal role in supporting college students.

The return on investment (tax dollars) in Pell Grants and other forms of federal assistance is currently being measured by the number of degrees produced for the number of grants given.  Since data are not systematically collected, it is estimated that 30 to 50 percent of Pell recipients graduate with a bachelor’s degree in six years or an associate degree in three years.

Whatever the exact number, for some observers it is easy to conclude simplistically that the "return" is not worth the investment of tax dollars -- even at a 50 percent degree completion rate -- because those who receive Pell Grants aren’t measuring up and therefore Pell funds must be reduced. Interestingly, there is no national discussion about the effectiveness (or not) of tax credits for college tuition, which benefit those with higher incomes. And merit aid by institutions of course helps the wealthier and leaves less need-based aid.

Although finances are often among the primary reasons for student dropouts or stopouts before degree completion, higher education cannot avoid its share of the responsibility. We cannot evade blame for our own inability to innovate and respond to the students in our colleges and universities by simply pointing to their lack of financing and lack of academic preparation for higher education. We college and university administrators and faculty need to own this issue. We need to own the overall 56 percent graduation rate for all those who enroll in college -- keeping in mind that graduation rates correlate perfectly with family income level.  In 2009, the bachelor’s degree completion rates for those who enrolled in a college or university were 19.9 percent for those from the lowest income quartile, 28.2 percent for the second quartile, 51.4 percent for those from the third quartile and 97.9 percent for those from the top quartile. (Mortenson “Family Income and Educational Attainment 1970 to 2009”).

These data make clear that the crisis in higher education completion rates in the United States is really a crisis of completion for this who are not wealthy.

Copious data, like Mortenson’s cited above, indicate that a caste-like education system exists in America.  The economic group you are born into is the best predictor of your access to and completion of a college degree.  This should be unacceptable to a democracy.  It should be unacceptable to higher education.  How can we feel good about being part of an enterprise in human development that solidly succeeds only with wealthy people?

Instead of asking what’s wrong with the students who don’t complete a college education, we need to admit that something is wrong with the educational experience offered to almost half of the students who actually enroll. What is the matter with the way we are educating in the 21st century that results in these low success rates for those that we enroll?  Only if you come from the highest income quartile (over $100,000) can we feel comfortable that you will be a “good fit” and continue on the path of intellectual and social development that will lead to the awarding of a college degree.  

Is it not the responsibility of educators to address this caste-like education system and not leave the statistics for policy makers to use as justification for eliminating financial support for those who need it?  Pell Grants are currently being defined as a failure based on the graduation rates of those who receive them.  Implicit in the condemnation is a suggestion that the recipients of Pell Grants are not “college material” and so they fail to complete college.  But while Pell Grants are necessary, they are not sufficient:  Pell Grants are the means to assist in access and persistence; they are not sufficient on their own to get to the desired ends.

If Pell Grants are to succeed, then institutions must recognize their responsibility to craft learning environments for the 21st century --- collaborative learning environments that engage the whole student as well as the whole campus in learning. If we are serious about changing graduation outcomes, all current systems and processes, that constitute the way we do business, need to be reexamined putting at the center a student who may not have been on a path to college since birth and who must integrate financial and perhaps familial responsibilities into their life as a student. Rather than having this reality be the cause of attrition, how can higher education be reshaped to be inclusive of these full lives?  How do recruitment, student life, financial aid, the president’s office, advising, the athletic program, learning inside and outside of the classroom reshape themselves to better meet students where they are rather than where they might be if they came from more privileged backgrounds? Those in higher education are often called upon to apply their wisdom and creativity to finding solutions and improving outcomes that benefit all of us.  Educational inequality, particularly as it resides right within the academy, is such a challenge.

The question of financing students and financing the institutions who serve them should be addressed collectively as well: How can costs be reduced by more institutional collaboration and less duplication of services?  The demographics of those who earn their living in the academy and are responsible for the values and processes of higher education differ from those who we most need to increase their success in the academy. Yet it is exactly those who are now underrepresented in higher education -- those from low-income backgrounds, who are likely to be the first in their families to attend college, and who are likely to be from communities of color and from rural America; those who may well be the recipients of state and federal assistance -- who are the 21st-century Americans who must take their rightful places in higher education, in our economy and our civil society.

Without them, America will continue to lag behind on the global economic, political and cultural stage. All of these areas are dependent on an educated population that can create far less inequality than we seem willing to accept today. Without them, we are giving up on the power of our country to further evolve the reality of democracy as an inclusive model of how people can progress.  Instead, we are accepting increasing inequality and division among people on all measures that matter.

What is the purpose of the 3000+ institutions of higher education in our country if not to meet these students where they are and engage with them in the process of their intellectual growth?  And yes, I’ve been in the classroom and know how hard it is.  It is extra hard if you can’t take learning outside of the classroom; if you can’t shed the mantle of your own Ph.D. and admit there is much you can learn from your students and from other educators on campus; if you can’t penetrate the elitist boundary between “student life” and “academics”; if the future of your job depends on enrolling “full pay” students and achieving high rankings in U.S. News & World Report; if you see other colleges as competitors for those students and those rankings; if you are forced to function narrowly within the hierarchy of your university and the hierarchy of higher education.

Educators have the capacity as well as the responsibility to discuss, imagine and ask for the changes that are necessary for education in the 21st century. Instead of measuring the “return on Pell,” we should be measuring the success of individual colleges and universities in adding value to our society by producing graduates from among those who have been and remain underrepresented.  It’s a challenge that has been addressed by conferences, studies, books, and reports. But where are the regional and national standards to hold colleges and universities accountable for helping the country meet a critical need --  more college- educated citizens from all income backgrounds?

Those of us who have made both education and increasing social justice our life's work have a responsibility to do the work that needs to be done. It starts with being willing to change in order to help transform.
 

Gloria Nemerowicz, formerly the president of Pine Manor College, is founder and president of the Yes We Must Coalition.

Gatekeeper or rubber stamp? Recent tenure denial raises questions about a president's role in tenure decisions

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Gatekeeper or rubber stamp? Recent tenure denial raises questions about a president's role in tenure decisions.

Study finds major access gaps in higher education in developing countries

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As higher education expands, enrollment of female and low-income students may not grow much at all.

GOP muted in response to for-profit crackdown

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As the Obama administration pushes tougher regulation, the sector is receiving little public backing from traditional allies.

Union announces end of faculty lockout at Long Island U

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Union announces agreement to extend old contract, use mediator and reimburse professors for health costs they faced while out of a job.

Boards at HBCUs should not micromanage their presidents (essay)

I have been researching and writing about both the history and current trends of historically black colleges and universities since 1994. When I first started, very few black women were leading these important institutions. Now, in 2016, roughly 30 percent of HBCU presidents are black women.

At the end of August, the board of trustees of Florida A&M University told one of those women -- Elmira Mangum -- that her contract would not be renewed. Mangum came to the university after a distinguished career at several majority-white institutions. She had served as vice president for planning and budgeting at Cornell University as well as in leadership positions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Buffalo. By all accounts, Mangum had a very successful and uneventful career in higher education until becoming president of FAMU.

I have been watching the controversies surrounding Mangum’s presidency since she was hired and have noticed two things: sexism and board interference.

First, let’s deal with the sexism. Mangum is a strong and talented black woman and that fact seems to be threatening to many members of her board, some former leaders of the institution and some alumni. She has faced scrutiny and micromanagement by her board that most presidents would never have to endure. For example, her day-to-day actions are micromanaged. Research on women and leadership demonstrates that women leaders are much more likely to be micromanaged by their boards and supervisors.

When I have brought this sexism to the surface over the past year, I am often greeted with, “There can’t be sexism; FAMU hired a woman.” Wrong. In fact, more sexism is likely to surface because she is a woman. If you don’t believe me, think about the election of President Obama. One could say, “There can’t be racism because we elected a black president.” Wrong again. We know that racism has increased in the public eye as a result of people being angry because we elected a black president -- twice.

Second, from the beginning of Mangum’s tenure, the FAMU board has been interfering with her leadership and drumming up anything and everything to discredit her. In reality, she has had many successes as president. She has garnered much respect and attention for the institution, been masterful at fund-raising, inspired campus spirit among students and young alumni, and worked to give FAMU more of a global presence. Unfortunately, those efforts and nearly anything she has done have been criticized by the board, former leaders and a subset of alumni.

Most recently, she was critiqued by the board and local media for spending too much money on travel. Anyone who knows anything about higher education is aware that a university president has to travel in order to raise money and visibility for the college or university. Presidents in the 21st century often spend the majority of their time talking to people outside their institution, while provosts are more focused on the day-to-day academics of the campus. If an institution’s president isn’t traveling, it’s a problem. Moreover, compared to most presidents, Mangum’s travel expenses have been relatively low.

I am deeply concerned about the treatment of Mangum. However, I am even more worried about the sexism felt by black women in the role of the presidency at HBCUs (and elsewhere) and the meddling of board members in the day-to-day activities of the institutions. Having served on many boards of trustees, including two HBCU boards, I know that my role is to examine big-picture policy, to raise money, to support the president (regardless of gender) and hold that person accountable for negotiated goals, and to promote the institution. My role is not to meddle, nitpick or interfere with the president’s ability to do the job.

In recent years, HBCUs have experienced rapid turnover and controversy in the presidency; they have struggled in many cases to find leaders. These facts beg the question: How will HBCUs attract highly qualified aspiring leaders to head their institutions when those leaders are likely to encounter meddling boards and a lack of support from various constituencies? The FAMU board’s relationship with Elmira Mangum is not an aberration and, in fact, is becoming all too common on HBCU campuses. How will HBCUs, where the majority of students enrolled are women, attract black women to lead these institutions when such sexism exists? How can HBCUs recruit innovative leaders when board members and some HBCU community members fear innovation and change?

Rather than beating down such new, energetic, highly talented presidents committed to leading HBCUs, boards and disgruntled alumni should donate more funds, promote their institutions, spend some time reading about higher education and the specific roles of the president and the board, and focus on the needs of students over their own egos. FAMU has all the makings of a leading university, but it will not reach its potential until it embraces and empowers its leaders.

Marybeth Gasman is professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

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Florida A&M President Elmira Mangum at the President's Convocation

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