Politics (national)

Tens of thousands of college students and professors march in Washington

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Tens of thousands of students and academics join Women’s March on Washington.

College Republicans react to Trump inauguration

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College Republicans split over Trump, but many are now coming around and pledging to support the new president.

Conservatives are actually quite happy in academe (essay)

Given the well-known ideological imbalance of professors on our nation’s college and university campuses, quite a bit has been written about how conservative faculty members are a “beleaguered minority,” the rare “campus unicorns” and even “a minority [which] is being systematically repressed in America’s elite institutions.” Those claims have been bolstered by research that has revealed that some faculty members overtly discriminate against others based on their political dispositions and that many professors are “forced into passing” to hide any ideological leanings that could have serious professional and social consequences.

Given this narrative, conservatives in the academe should be miserable. But my own research shows that we are not. Let me tell you why.

I should first mention that, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, conservative faculty are just as happy as their liberal counterparts, if not more so. In fact, in 2014, two-thirds of conservative faculty on a nationwide survey responded “Definitely yes,” the most positive on a five-point scale, to the question “If you were to begin your career again, would you still want to be a college professor?” Nationally, an average of 58 percent of all faculty members said they would, while 56 percent of liberal faculty responded in such a positive way -- 10 points lower than right-leaning faculty.

Interestingly, tenure does not play a role in levels of satisfaction, either. Tenured and nontenured conservative faculty members are both highly satisfied, at 65 percent and 61 percent respectively. The numbers look different for faculty members who identify as liberal: of those, 62 percent of tenured faculty would remain a professor compared to only 49 percent of those who aren’t tenured -- a nontrivial difference.

That asks a question: Why are conservatives not miserable?

I think social-identification theory plays a huge role here. The theory argues, in its simplest form, that groups such as families, classes and teams are sources of esteem and pride, and that can lead to a sense of belonging in a complex and often divisive world. Scores of experimental works have shown that being in a small, particular in-group feels quite different and more personally meaningful when one compares oneself to the larger, other dominant out-group. Thus, it is wholly reasonable to think that conservative faculty members see themselves as minorities in opposition to a growing and more powerful liberal majority. Being part of this smaller and nondominant group helps shape career goals and personal outlooks, and it informs a worldview that may lead to quite a bit of personal happiness and comfort for any faculty members with an us vs. them perspective. Ironically, this feeling of being part of a small group can be empowering, given the right circumstances.

In fact, this in-group and out-group structure was certainly empowering for me personally. Even before tenure, I relished being in the ideological minority at Sarah Lawrence College. As a moderate, I stood out like a sore thumb relative to many of my fellow faculty members. In the campus popularity contest, I was a noncontender. My lack of outwardly left-leaning political leanings meant that I was not in competition for the hearts and minds of so many varied constituencies on the campus. I was not included in many of the informal social gatherings and meetings, but rather than being offended at not being invited, I relished the flexibility that being “unpopular” gave me in my schedule.

While that exclusion might upset some people, I found that being in this position gave me the freedom to teach political history and social movements in a balanced, multifocal way. I could talk about the enduring positive and negative impacts, for instance, that the Reagan-Thatcher era has had on the socioeconomic and political climate that exists today without heavy scrutiny or protest, since everyone already knew I was “different.”

Moreover, not being part of the campus “power elite” gave me the chance to really think about where I was intellectually situated within the larger academic community. I realized that viewpoint diversity is increasingly absent on college campuses and, despite pushback from faculty members and students, I took great comfort in seeing it as a personal and professional mission to present my students with a greater variety of ideas and frameworks for thinking about the world. Conflicts about ideas, as well as debates over the merits of various philosophies and approaches to problem solving, should be the bedrock of a college experience. It is how we progress as a civilization.

Accordingly, I taught my classes with the desire to correct this troubling intellectual imbalance in mind. To my surprise, swimming against the current and being part of the out-group made my teaching and work with students an unexpected joy. For instance, seeing a freshman’s eyes light up when he discovers a new way of looking at a public policy issue, or listening to three seniors debate farm subsidies from a multitude of political viewpoints -- those are the intrinsic benefits of teaching with ideological diversity at the forefront.

Thanks to social media and the ease of staying connected, I know that many other conservative-leaning academics feel the same way, and many of them have similar stories to my own.

This feeling that our teaching is instrumental in bringing balance back to campuses may explain why there are ideological differences in satisfaction based on tenure between conservative and liberal professors. For those professors who feel they are in an ideological minority, and therefore see their teaching as an important part of diversifying the campus pedagogy, the pretenure “publish or perish” paradigm is not the singular goal.

The idea of balance may also help explain why survey work reveals that conservative faculty members place far more emphasis on teaching relative to research, while liberal-identifying faculty members prioritize the latter. Although circumstantial, the survey work does lend credence to the idea that conservative faculty members may be reacting to the progressive echo chambers and increasingly prevalent liberal bubbles on their campuses, and therefore they view teaching, rather than publishing research, as a more important part of their mission as faculty.

While the data and narrative I’ve presented here are certainly not conclusive, it certainly is the case that I and my conservative colleagues are far more professionally fulfilled than many accounts would suggest. Samuel Adams wrote, “It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” Being an increasingly small minority has lit such a fire under many of us.

Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

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Universities must confront a fossil fuels apparatus that seeks to rival legitimate science (essay)

America’s universities are home, more than any place else in our country, to the enterprise of science. That has been an important and proud role for our great universities, and it has produced wonderful discoveries. Besides providing technical progress, science gives our society its headlights, warning us of oncoming hazards. As the pace of change accelerates, we need those headlights brighter than ever. So when a threat looms over the enterprise of science, the universities that are its home need to help address the threat.

The threat is simple. The fossil fuel industry has adopted and powered up infrastructure and methods originally built by the tobacco industry and others to attack and deny science. That effort has coalesced into a large, adaptive and well-camouflaged apparatus that aspires to mimic and rival legitimate science. The science that universities support now has an unprecedented and unprincipled new adversary.

Researchers who study that adversary report that it consists of dozens of front organizations. Those organizations hire stables of paid-for scientists who recite messages that have been honed by public relations experts. The organizations often have common funding, staffing and messaging: the beast is a Hydra. One of the reasons we know about this science-denial machinery is from research conducted at universities by professors like Aaron McCright at Michigan State, Riley Dunlap at Oklahoma State, Michael Mann at Penn State, Robert Brulle at Drexel, Justin Farrell at Yale and Naomi Oreskes at Harvard. We owe them and their colleagues all a debt of gratitude.

The science-denial machinery is an industrial-strength adversary, and it has big advantages over real science. First, it does not need to win its disputes with real science; it just needs to create a public illusion of a dispute. Then industry’s political forces can be put into play to stop any efforts to address whatever problem science had disclosed, since now it is “disputed science.” Hence the infamous phrase from the tobacco-era science denial operation -- “Doubt is our product.”

Second, the science-denial operatives don’t waste much time in peer-reviewed forums. They head straight to Fox News and talk radio, to committee hearings and editorial pages. Their work is, at its heart, PR dressed up as science but not actual science. So they go directly to their audience -- and the more uninformed the audience, the better.

Our universities and other organizations engaged in the enterprise of science struggle for funding. Not so for the science-denial forces. You may think maintaining this complex science-denial apparatus sounds like a lot of effort. So consider the stakes for the fossil fuel industry. The International Monetary Fund -- made up of smart people, with no apparent conflict of interest -- has calculated the subsidy fossil fuels receive in the United States to be $700 billion annually. That subsidy is mostly what economists call “externalities” -- costs the public has to bear from the product’s harm that should be, under market theory, in the price of the product. These $700-billion-per-year stakes mean that the funding available to the science-denial enterprise is virtually unlimited.

And it’s your adversary. Those of you who either are scientists, or value and want to defend scientists, should beware. You have a powerful, invasive new alien in your ecosystem: it is a rival assuredly, a mimic at best, and an outright predator at worst. Make no mistake: in every dispute that this denial machinery manufactures with real science, it is determined to see real science fail. That is its purpose.

Given the connections between the fossil fuel industry and the new administration, we can’t count on government any longer to resist this predator. Regrettably, that science denial machinery is now probably hardwired into the incoming administration, as shown by the appointment of the fossil-fuel-funded climate denier Myron Ebell to lead the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. This considerably increases the denial machinery’s threat to the enterprise of legitimate science. The hand of industry now works not just behind the science-denial front groups but in the halls of political power.

That makes it all the more important for entities outside government -- notably universities as well as other scientific organizations -- to join together and step up a common defense. It is neither fair nor strategically sensible for universities and scientific associations to expect individual scientists to defend our nation against the science-denial apparatus. Individual scientists are ordinarily not trained in the dark arts of calculated misinformation. Individual scientists are ordinarily not equipped to deal with attacks and harassment on multiple fronts. Individual scientists don’t often have squadrons of spin doctors and public relations experts at their disposal. And they have no institutions devoted to ferreting out the falsehoods or conflicts of interest behind their antagonists.

Individual scientists are trained in the pursuit of truth through the tested methods of science. The science-denial machinery has truth as its enemy, and propaganda and obfuscation -- even outright falsity -- as its method. So the enterprise of science generally, and universities specifically, will need a common strategy to resist this potent and encroaching adversary.

In the Senate, I see the work of this apparatus, and its associated political operation, every day. Do not underestimate its power and ambition. Again, make no mistake: in every dispute that this denial machinery manufactures with real science, it is determined to see real science fail.

Sheldon Whitehouse is a United States senator, a Democrat, representing Rhode Island.

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Campaign aims to bring college student voices and issues into presidential debates

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Initiative led by Dominican University of California brings students from scores of campuses together to craft questions for the presidential debates. Now they're focused on encouraging their peers to vote.

On campus, voting behavior varies widely across college majors, regions

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On college campuses, voter turnout is low. But voting behavior varies widely across disciplines and regions, a new study finds.

Can a college president remain neutral about candidate Donald Trump? (essay)

Donald Trump, as the likely nominee of a major political party for the presidency of the United States, raises questions heretofore unimagined. Among them is the question of how and to what degree a college or university president should react to his candidacy.

If any doubt exists about the fact that the Trump situation is unusual, consider that some students viewed the recent chalkings of “Trump 2016” on the Emory University campus -- absent any other language -- as an act of intimidation. And the university’s president, James W. Wagner, observed that “the students with whom I spoke heard a message, not about political process or candidate choice, but instead about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.” That is, some people considered Trump’s mere name as equivalent to an offensive epithet.

While such sensitivity might in part be a sign of the times in which we live, it is nonetheless true that Trump is more or less a walking violation of the mission statements and codes of conduct at most American colleges. Were he a student at Emory who engaged in some of his characteristic behaviors in a classroom or residence hall, he would likely face severe criticism and even disciplinary action. Few college presidents would hesitate to condemn a member of their community who, for example, clearly appeared to mock a person with a physical disability, insulted more than one religious and ethnic group en masse, and habitually belittled women.

The question, then, is whether Trump’s status as a leading presidential candidate inoculates him against such condemnation. How does an academic leader balance the responsibility to remain “neutral” against the duty to speak in defense of the values that are most central to a place of learning?

Nonprofit colleges and universities are prohibited by law from officially endorsing or opposing particular political candidates; they are compelled by mission to be places where a wide range of views, even those that are unpopular and provocative, can be expressed. For those reasons, college presidents typically, and wisely, steer clear of politics. Although they are, of course, free to speak and act as individual citizens, their leadership roles can blur the line between personal and institutional agency.

The exception, however, is when political matters bear directly upon the work of higher education. Thus, presidents will not hesitate to speak out on such issues as the funding of Pell Grants or the importance of affirmative action, despite the fact that such issues have clear political dimensions. Typically college presidents will be careful to support or oppose a policy and not a person, though it would be disingenuous to insist that their positions have no implications for the candidates and political parties they do or do not endorse.

Trump presents a special challenge because the policies and the personality seem so deeply interwoven and because both the policies and the manner in which they are expressed represent such a clear challenge to the work of higher education. Banning the entry of all Muslims into the United States, for instance, would have a direct impact on many international students and faculty members on campuses across the country. Forced deportation of undocumented residents would remove many students from those same campuses. I might go further and argue that the incitement to violence and the encouragement of fear and anger also undermine the academy’s commitment to civility and rational discourse. Trump is far from the first politician to engage in such tactics, but he is the first, I would argue, to stand so close to the highest office in the republic.

So what, if anything, is a college leader to say about a candidate like Trump? While speaking out about a presidential election can be difficult, for me remaining silent in the face of so much behavior and proposed policy that is antithetical to the mission of higher education is infinitely more difficult and ultimately more dangerous. A higher education president who opposes some of the offensive behavior that Trump engages in or the policies he promotes might run the risk of being too outspoken. But passively observing Trump creates a risk that is in my view much greater: that of failing to speak when the values most important to the institution within one’s care are imperiled.

Brian Rosenberg is president of Macalester College.

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New round of chalkings at Emory and new debate on pro-Trump message at Scripps

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Emory students draw images related to all the presidential candidates, seeking to promote free speech; Scripps student government leader sets off debate by condemning "Trump 2016" note written on student's whiteboard.

Tips for dealing with political candidates when they visit campuses (essay)

The college campus phase of the presidential race of 2016 has kicked off as scores of state primaries fill the nation’s calendar. Already you can hear in the background the alumni anger, charges of policy violations and a rush of disgruntled donors for the doors.

Candidates have visited college campuses for decades, but I don’t think we have seen anything like the vitriol, name-calling, physical shoving and fighting, and controversial candidate stances that now consume the news each day. And it’s not even the general election yet.

A few rallies occurred on campuses in the early part of this crowded campaign, with both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump appearing at the religious institution Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. But it was Trump’s visit with football and wrestling team members at the University of Iowa that officially stands as the starting line for such campus visits. As the world news media watched, the players gave the leading GOP candidate an Iowa-style football jersey with the number one printed on the back.

One University of Iowa alum quickly responded on social media: “I don’t even know how to react to this. I am disappointed and offended this bigot is associated with my alma mater. What’s the story, University of Iowa? How are you going to unring this embarrassing bell?”

The student newspaper jumped into the fray, raising the question of whether the institution violated National Collegiate Athletic Association rules and citing a passage that states “student athletes are not allowed to appear in any advertisement that endorses a political candidate or party …” A day later, university officials disagreed with the paper and praised student athletes for getting involved in national politics “as individuals” (albeit in school clothes and in a university athletic facility).

With the election now in full gear, the candidates have begun a wild spring road trip crisscrossing the nation, often appearing on multiple college campuses in different states every day of the week. That road trip will continue right up until election day in November.

The appeal to candidates of visiting higher education institutions is pretty clear. Colleges and universities often have some of the largest venues available in many cities and may charge nothing or little to use them, and young people are traditionally politically active. Institutions are often eager to oblige, as they like the image of dozens, if not hundreds, of reporters rushing onto the campus and providing a nice publicity bump.

But while such events can be a brief boost in national publicity, you need to balance carefully many competing interests, or you will run the risk of generating bad news for your institution.

For example, if the Trump campaign plans to visit, are you ready to address the complaints of minority and international students, religious groups, women, and others who have been offended by his comments? If Senator Ted Cruz denies climate change while speaking from a university-branded lectern, how will your world-class climate scientists react?

What is going to be the institution’s response when Trump supporters shout at your students, “Go back to Africa!” like the situation at the University of Illinois at Chicago last Friday? Silence may not be the best PR plan.

Trump is saying he might pay legal fees for supporters who get in trouble with the law when physically attacking protestors at his rallies. Is your institution going to provide bail money for students who thought they were just exercising First Amendment rights when police arrest them at their own college or university?

This is the new reality of presidential candidate rallies.

Better to have tough conversations about such hypothetical -- yet certainly possible -- scenarios now rather than before the motorcade pulls through the elephant doors for your campus arena.

Tips for Surviving Campus Campaign Season

For two decades, I helped coordinate many candidate visits to Penn State. During the 2008 campaign alone, our university relations staff managed visits from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin and others. One day we shuffled between buildings across campus for meetings with advance team members from both the Obama campaign and the Clinton team, not telling either of them that the other candidate was also coming to campus the same week.

Based on these and many other election-year experiences, here are some lessons I have learned.

  • Treat all candidates the same. Don’t pick and choose which ones you will allow on campus.
  • Put a policy in place. Designate an administrator who will be in charge of hosting such events. At many colleges, it will be the university relations or communications vice president.
  • Establish ground rules about who pays for what. First and foremost, student tuition should never be used to pay for a candidate’s political rally. In addition, you should make sure campaign teams do not run up huge bills and then skip town without paying for anything. That can be a real danger when a campaign goes belly-up before it has paid for the rent of an auditorium or athletic center, campus catering, sound and lighting systems, security, and a lot more. Bills can easily top $20,000 for a quick candidate visit.
  • Always put the best interests of your institution ahead of those of the candidate. When candidates and their supporters leave town a few minutes after the event, campus officials will need to explain what they did and why they did it. Nobody from the campaign is going to stick up for any bad, embarrassing or illegal decisions that were made.
  • Don’t forget it’s your campus. The arena, auditorium, field house or campus quad belongs to your university. Always defer to Secret Service needs, but never let campaign staff members push you around. They are two different entities. Nor should you kowtow to the governor or U.S. senator who’s arrived to show support for the candidate -- or to the big donor whom the building is named after.
  • Remind people at the institution that you are in charge. After you meet with campaign officials and outline how you will help them have a successful event, they will typically begin to work around you every moment they can. The campaign staff will dodge you and go directly to your athletics department -- probably a specific coach or team -- as well as the marching band, cheerleaders, dance team and, of course, the school mascot. You should tell your campus colleagues now and remind them regularly through the rest of the campaign season that you and your office manage such events. The band should not march with Marco Rubio to the podium, and the football team should not make Bernie Sanders an honorary quarterback for the spring intersquad scrimmage.
  • Consider the needs of campus constituencies first. If a campaign worker demands you keep 5,000 students and faculty standing out in the rain for two hours because Bill Clinton is late, ignore him or her if the Secret Service has no security concerns. Open the doors and invite everyone inside.
  • Make sure your university police officers don’t get pushed into playing the heavies. Sometimes, a candidate perceives students, visitors or others to be disruptive simply because they don’t agree with him or her. Every campus police officer in the room needs to understand exactly under what circumstances they are permitted to put their hands on a protestor and lead, or drag, them out of the building in front of dozens of video cameras.
  • Set aside a clear space for demonstrators. Protest is a rich part of the American democratic process. Your campus police and the Secret Service will need to provide a space reasonably close to the event for protesters to gather, hold signs, chant and do interviews with the news media. The university should welcome that group but make sure they and anyone they are hell-bent on insulting remain safely apart.
  • Plan for media coverage. During the campus rally, keep in mind that thousands of people stand ready at a moment’s notice to point their smartphone camera at you, your students, your mascot and your police and help your institution become the next viral sensation on worldwide social media. If that’s not a role you want to star in, plan now. There have been scores of rallies across the country by close to two dozen Democratic and Republican candidates over the past half year. Review news and social media comments to see what students, donors and faculty have most complained about at other institutions. If one of those candidates schedules a visit to your campus, make sure that staff, police and administrators review those complaints in advance and agree how to address similar situations at your institution.
  • Monitor social media in advance. By following messages on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms you can get a pretty good sense of how your students and the public feel about an upcoming event. You can see what their plans are, the location and the number of likely participants
  • Always be prepared for surprises. After several days working smoothly with the advance team for Sarah Palin, we thought everything was proceeding as it should. But then the day of the visit, her campaign staff informed me the university president was not invited to welcome the candidate to Penn State as he normally did with such dignitaries. “The reason?” I asked. “Because he is a known liberal.”

This is a harsh presidential election. The candidates and a lot of the public are angry. Candidates regularly shout at one another, launch personal attacks that are thin on accurate information and take strong stances against Muslims, gays and Mexican immigrants. Challenges aside, however, a visit by a presidential candidate can be a great opportunity for your students, faculty members and staff members to watch democracy in action. Make sure you make the moment work for your institution.

Bill Mahon is senior lecturer in Penn State’s College of Communications, where he previously served as vice president for university relations.

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Colleges wrestle with federal laws in order to stay politically engaged

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Campaign season poses unique challenges at colleges where students want to take sides but the college itself cannot.

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