Struggling HBCUs must consider new options for survival (opinion)

For years, historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, as they are commonly known, have occupied a special space in the pantheon of American higher education. Founded during a period of hostile, entrenched and legally enforced segregation, these extraordinary institutions have exceeded expectations in unforeseen ways. From the start, black colleges depended upon white philanthropy and later state government for financial support. They enjoyed a pure monopoly on African-American students and faculty members. And almost single-handedly, they created the nation’s black middle class, comprising teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs.

Today, black colleges are iconic institutions, considerably more than centers of higher learning. Whether rural or urban, public or independent, they are repositories of history, art, culture and politics. Their campuses feature buildings with distinctive architecture housing priceless works by African-American artists, muralists, writers, composers and sculptors. Their libraries contain volumes of books, journals, monographs and myriad products of research by African-American scholars. Every black college has a story to tell: Hampton University’s Emancipation Oak; the monument to the United States Colored Troops who founded Lincoln University in Missouri; Jubilee Hall at Fisk University, named in honor of its renowned choral group that traveled the world raising money to support the school. The list goes on.

Yet desegregation of higher education has devastated black colleges. About 90 percent of African-American students are enrolled in majority colleges and universities. As result, notwithstanding their historic significance and their past and current contributions to higher education and American society, many black colleges are imperiled -- and have been for quite some time. In fact, whether they care to admit it or not, for a variety of reasons, some beyond their control, many HBCUs are in a death spiral and may not be salvageable.

Now is the time for candor and self-assessment. Many people, even ardent HBCU supporters, including the author, find it difficult to face the hard truth: some HBCUs need to seriously explore options that include pruning or culling. And for others, it may be time for an exit strategy that could include merging or closing.

A Quest for Sustainability

In 1986, Hugh Gloster, then president of Morehouse College offered this sobering assessment: “History has shown that the private black college experiences a very slow death … you will have an increasing number of weak private colleges lose accreditation, and they will lose enrollment, and then they will lose financial stability. Now, whether they will die is another question.”

Gloster’s prescience is remarkable. Since 1986, five private HBCUs have lost accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges: Bishop College, Knoxville College, Mary Holmes College, Morristown College and St. Paul’s College, which considered merging with St. Augustine’s University before closing in 2013.

Wikipedia lists at least 15 black colleges that have closed, including Leland College, Natchez College and Roger Williams College. Also, following the Flexner Report in 1910, five black medical schools closed -- leaving two, Howard University Medical School and Meharry Medical College, until 1975, when the Morehouse School of Medicine was established. In short, closing HBCUs, often private ones, has happened before.

Black colleges are not monolithic. Some are strong academically and financially; others struggle to stay afloat. Some are research oriented and doctoral granting, while many are noteworthy for outstanding professional degree programs in nursing, business, social work and the production of graduates in STEM areas. Nonetheless, declining enrollments and small endowments are rendering many black colleges vulnerable.

A Hard Look at Reality

Kent John Chabotar, president emeritus of Guilford College and a college finance expert, has found that colleges with 1,000 or fewer students, in rural areas, without large endowments and without market niches, are on the path to closure. A number of independent HBCUs fit this profile. Within the last two years, SACS has put eight HBCUs on warning or probation. Each institution must take a hard look at itself and determine if it has the resources and momentum to go on.

And the objective must be more than mere survival. As Benjamin Mays reminds us, “Not failure but low aim is sin.” Sustainability must be the ultimate goal for each institution. A struggling HBCU should carefully assess its overall condition to determine what, if anything can or should be done to achieve such sustainability. In that evaluation, here are several options it might consider.

Adopting a new business model. Black colleges desperately need a new business model that is intentional, innovative and committed to change. That will probably require confronting an organizational culture rooted in obsolete business practices or identifying a niche or center of excellence that distinguishes it from the competition. But fundamentally it means exploring options to increase revenue, contain or reduce costs, and restructuring to achieve strategic goals.

Creating a new vision. It has been said that “without vision the people perish.” Higher education is no longer the exclusive preserve of traditional colleges and universities. In addition to majority institutions, online universities, for-profit institutions and two-year colleges aggressively compete with HBCUs for students and faculty members. A new vision might lead to eliminating programs and subsequent redeployment or reduction of faculty. It could also entail establishing mutually beneficial strategic partnerships and alliances with four-year and two-year institutions to contain costs, eliminate duplication of effort, and create joint-degree programs that respond to new or emergent market demand.

A handful of HBCUs are currently pursuing some of the aforementioned strategies, a development that augurs well. The new vision should also recognize that being an HBCU and embracing diversity are not mutually exclusive. This concern should be addressed, as some HBCU alumni have expressed reservations about recruiting students from other races. Yet since their inception, HBCUs have been open to white students. In a few states, white students enjoy a majority at formerly all-black institutions, such as Bluefield State University, West Virginia State University and Gadsden State Community College in Alabama. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Minority-Serving Institutions, at a quarter of HBCUs in the country, at least 20 percent of the students enrolled are non-African-American -- underscoring the fact some of those institutions are actively recruiting white, Asian and Latino students to increase diversity and raise revenues.

Committing to recruiting the best talent for the presidency and governing boards. Recent reports on the American college presidency point to the increasing challenges of the role and the difficulty in recruiting top talent. There is a dearth of future institutional leadership generally and at HBCUs in particular. Yet more can be done to recruit and prepare leaders for the presidency and to serve on governing boards.

HBCU boards must also be intentional about the type of leader required to achieve predetermined or anticipated goals. They can do a better job of performing due diligence and properly vetting applicants for president. Often there are instances of recycling former presidents who have failed previously. Trustees and presidents also must work to create a harmonious relationship and commit to an annual assessment of the president and the board toward improved performance. At the same time, boards must be willing to listen to the president and give that person time to make necessary but difficult changes.

While the most important decision a board makes is hiring a president, the board, too, must be equal to the task. That means recruiting strong leaders with specific skills --- finance, technology, knowledge of the academy, marketing and branding, etc. -- that will enhance board effectiveness.

Fostering meaningful engagement among key stakeholders. Shared governance is essential to fulfilling the mission and potential of colleges and universities and should be encouraged within the context of institutional culture. Faculty, staff, students and alumni must enjoy meaningful and appropriate roles in leadership and governance, and they must feel that they have a voice. In addition, friend raising is antecedent to fund-raising. Creating positive experiences for students when they first enroll and throughout their time in college increases the likelihood they will financially support the institution after they graduate.

Money is necessary but not sufficient to remedy the ailments of HBCUs. Any substantial investment in black colleges should be intentional. This can be accomplished with specific inducements toward innovation and a commitment to incentivizing HBCUs to develop bold and creative solutions to the daunting challenges they face. Creating and responding to incentives may prove to be the most consequential action possible under the circumstances.

This conversation must begin with the governing board. Indeed, the future of black colleges is absolutely dependent on effective board governance. Boards have a sacred duty and responsibility to the institution and its various stakeholders -- they must, as Richard D. Legon, president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, reminds us, “get governance right.” The president and the board chair must act as thought leaders and partners, and boards should work diligently to become capable of guiding the institution during an era of enormous change and an uncertain future.

An effective governing board does not shrink from confronting harsh realities and making difficult decisions. The board of General Motors reluctantly eliminated Pontiac and Oldsmobile, but it helped save the company. Print publications that successfully adapted to new technologies are still operating, while competitors that failed to change their business model are not.

Whether the boardroom is corporate or campus, governance matters as never before. Governing boards can be reluctant to change, but it is always better to be on the vanguard of change in order to manage it advantageously. Now is the time for boards at black colleges to take stock and act decisively. Doing so could result in actions designed to achieve sustainability.

Alvin J. Schexnider is a former chancellor of Winston-Salem State University. He is a senior fellow at the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges and the author of Saving Black Colleges: Leading Change in a Complex Organization (Palgrave McMillan, 2013).

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Applying behavioral science techniques to improve student graduation rates (opinion)

In 2001, more than a quarter of American teenagers smoked. Smoking-related illness was the leading cause of preventable death in America, yet the public health community remained unable to achieve a large-scale reduction in teen smoking. Even explicit warnings about the deadly consequences of lighting up seemed to have only a negligible impact.

It wasn’t until a team of social marketers, working with the American Legacy Foundation, tried an unorthodox approach that real progress was made to combat this seemingly intractable challenge. Instead of threatening teens, they used a social call to action, encouraging youth to reject manipulation by tobacco corporations. Teens, research found, craved a feeling of social acceptance mixed with rebellion -- and the anticorporate message fulfilled that desire. Thanks in part to efforts like the truth campaign and the application of behavioral science, public health leaders have been able to significantly reduce teen smoking.

Behavioral science has gone mainstream across all sectors and represents a powerful underlying force in consumer life, from browsing music to planning travel online. Improving social outcomes sometimes requires counterintuitive tactics. Higher education professionals, too, have an opportunity to deploy behavior science principles and techniques to help solve the seminal challenges in postsecondary education: increasing completion and closing achievement gaps.

Here are a few simple strategies for applying those principles and techniques to improve student support and nurture stronger outcomes.

Flip the script on stigma and peer pressure. Students who don’t succeed in college and graduate might have done so if they’d only received the proper support. Colleges and universities usually offer that support, but one of the challenges facing student affairs professionals is that a stigma is often attached to such services. Students feel that taking advantage of support is a sign of weakness or defeat -- or that support is something to seek out only if you’re in significant trouble.

Yet the reality is that all students, even the most high-performing ones, can benefit from a helping hand, and that it’s typical and beneficial to engage with these services. To alleviate stigma and promote the use of support services, student affairs professionals can use data and information about student peer groups to make support-seeking behavior the norm, not an exception.

For example, one institution texts incoming students a graphic showing why current students reach out to student affairs staff. The reasons included needing a sounding board for an important decision, wanting to explore career options before selecting a major and desiring to celebrate an important academic milestone. Students have also received texts with factoids, such as the percentage of peers who already contacted their advisers.

In addition, the college shares the results of a survey showing that students who had at least one meeting with their success coach were less stressed and had higher grade point averages. By pre-empting concerns of students who might look at campus services as a crutch, institutions can promote higher overall engagement across a broader range of students.

Use nudges to stimulate contingency planning. The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies as strongly to student success as it does in health and wellness. That is especially true for the growing majority of post-traditional students who are either first-generation college-goers or are balancing their studies with busy lives full of work, family and other commitments. A simple invitation to do a little contingency planning can make all the difference before life events threaten to derail a student’s progress.

One student services team approaches this challenge by providing simple planning tools: short videos combined with a worksheet or checklist. Those resources support students in developing plans for common issues, such as unplanned expenses, loss of child care services or a work-related emergency that might derail their participation in classes, campus activities or homework. To encourage students to engage with those resources, they send text messages along the lines of, “Want to be less stressed and avoid life getting in the way of your studies? Students who spent five minutes with this simple planning tool say it made a big difference.”

Make motivation and reflection a daily part of the student experience. One thing is certain: every student’s academic journey has its ups and downs, and quitting becomes an easy way out when goals are abstract, unclear or distant. Staying connected to one’s core motivation for pursuing education and taking time to reflect on the wins and lessons is vital for success.

One student success coach we know has some handy tips for keeping students motivated and connected to their purpose. She asks incoming students to find an image that represents how their life will be better with a credential -- maybe a photo related to their dream job or a picture of the kids they’ll be offering a better life. She then has them make it the home screen image on their phone, so they are reminded every day of why the struggle matters. To encourage reflection during the year, she often sends her students a text such as, “Did you know that Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school varsity basketball team until his junior year? Think of a time you didn’t hit your goal. How did it make you stronger?”

When a student’s goals are clearly grounded in their own interests and passions, overcoming challenges becomes its own reward.

These are just a few examples of the many innovative ways that student affairs professionals around the country are applying behavioral science to college access, retention and completion efforts. Slowly but surely, student success experts and researchers are beginning to see these efforts pay off. For example, economists Caroline Hoxby from Stanford University and Sarah Turner from the University of Virginia and Stanford University are showing how behavioral science principles can improve student enrollment decisions. Similarly, former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Up Next initiative is entering its third year of using the same mobile messaging tactics used by successful tech companies to streamline the financial aid and enrollment process and reduce summer melt.

To be sure, achieving social change on a large scale starts with individual behavior. If there were ever a challenge that called out for such an approach, improving college completion would be it. By embracing the surprising insights and sometimes counterintuitive choices that behavioral science has to offer, higher education practitioners are tackling education’s biggest challenges at their roots -- and beginning to show real progress.

Kevin Kruger is president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. Catherine Parkay is research programs director at InsideTrack.

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New calls for clear, easily accessible data on Ph.D. program outcomes in life sciences

Calls for clear, easily accessible data on Ph.D. program outcomes have failed to produce results at any kind of scale. A new coalition of 10 life sciences institutions hopes to change that.

Why it's important to focus on gaining influence in your career (essay)

In academe, we’re uncomfortable talking about how to gain influence, yet we spend much of our career learning the hard way that we can’t be very effective without it, argue Marie A. Cini and Craig Weidemann.

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Thursday, January 4, 2018
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Gaining Influence in Your Career

Professor won't teach required courses due to anti-Semitic posts on social media


Rutgers professor who was prolifically anti-Semitic on social media is removed from teaching required courses and from a campus leadership post.

Administrators should support various types of student activism (opinion)

As we approach the midpoint of the academic year, surges of campus activism will continue to unfold. Some of the issues that will pique students' interest will be obvious, while others will surprise us. No matter the issue or side of the political or philosophical spectrum, it is the commonly understood role of administrators to work with students to support activism in a way that students get their message heard and also optimizes safety and civility.

As the year unfolds, I ask fellow administrators to take this role a step further. It is crucial for us to question the roles students are playing in activist movements and broaden the definitions of activism that don’t propagate a sort of “activism Olympics” that has plagued many of our student leaders. This means we must support students who are doing the vital work, whether they demonstrate what I call “builder” or “burner” activism.

“Burner” activism (figurative in nature, of course) is activism that disrupts existing power structures and norms. It has been a tried and true way for students to draw attention and ignite action from the administration. Taking over the offices of campus leaders, shutting down streets, holding sit-ins -- burner activism seeks to “burn down” oppressive structures and policies.

“Builder” activism, in contrast, often done in the aftermath of burner activism, seeks to build new structures that work differently (often more inclusively) for one particular group of students or all students on the campus. Founding a new student group around an emergent campus identity or working with an administrative office to expand their mission to be more equitable are examples of such work.

From over a decade of observation of campus movements, I now believe that both burning and building strategies are essential for forward progress. One seems incomplete without the other, even if they exist at different times, with different groups of students, on entirely different parts of the campus.

It is important to note that by building and burning, I do not meet formal versus informal forms of activism. Too often, some administrators privilege particular forms of activism (those students who go through formal channels and play nice) over others (students who use more informal channels or tactics of supposed disruption). These preferences are often tied to identity, as more often than not, students with more privilege have access to formal campus leadership positions -- particularly elected positions like those in student government. In my definitions of activism, a student of privileged identities who filibusters a student government meeting is using a burning strategy, while a queer student of color who starts an affinity space for community healing and support is using a building strategy.

Again, I assert each form has value and should be celebrated and supported. Some student activists engage seamlessly with both building and burning strategies. Many of the student groups stemming from the Black Lives Matter movement used burner strategies to march on administrative offices to draw attention to racial unrest, while also following their actions with thoughtful lists of demands. Indeed, many of them laid the foundation for building work.

What I ask of my fellow administrators is to examine their own privileging of particular campus activism and consider if they are consciously or unconsciously narrowing the definition of effective activism on their campuses. I have anecdotally seen students and administrators who specialize in one strategy judge or diminish those who engage in the other strategy or different forms of activism.

Administrators may fall into this due to their position on the campus. Upper-level administrators often champion and reward builders who organize coalitions and more quiet ways of pushing change forward, often shunning burners who laid the foundation for such work to take place. In contrast, entry- and midlevel administrators, particularly those from marginalized groups, may fear engaging in burning strategies will have negative consequences for their jobs. Therefore, when oppressive structures stand in the way of creating equitable campus environments, it may be useful to solely encourage burning strategies for students to get the job done. That way, such administrators can be ready to pursue building strategies when the figurative ashes are clear. Admittedly, I have been guilty of this myself in the past.

In any case, it is wrong to narrowly reward and uplift activism that makes administration most comfortable or serves solely their needs. Such a narrowing of activism for our students stifles their creativity and inhibits their ability to imagine a campus and indeed a world that is more inclusive and equitable. Students are drawing upon historical movements and infusing their own energy and passions toward creating a more just society. It is our job to encourage this quest for justice, even if it challenges our power and our comfort.

Chris Purcell is the director of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex life at Vanderbilt University.

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Balancing free speech with quality speech (opinion)

In an era of information overload, we face the problem that too much information is equivalent to too little. But we also face a more serious problem: a Gresham’s law of information in which bad information is driving out good information. Gresham’s law also holds for speech and is thus relevant to the many speech-related upheavals occurring on college and university campuses that we’ve read about repeatedly (and, by now, ad nauseam).

What makes the situation particularly challenging is that a worthy and important concern for free speech can overshadow the concern for quality speech. But, given the business that institutions of higher education are in -- that of teaching and learning, scholarship and science -- it would seem entirely fitting and proper for them to have certain standards of speech. To be sure, the way in which we go about our business changes over time; we learn new things and do our work in different ways. But if we simply do not believe in our basic goals and the rules for achieving them, we should consider some other line of work.

The most ultramontane free speech advocates adopt a kind of domino theory according to which recognizing such distinctions can never be principled or even possible. To use a mélange of comparable metaphors, it is the thin edge of the camel’s nose sliding down the slippery slope under the tent. How can you possibly turn Richard Spencer down while accepting Charles Murray? But domino theories should be viewed with suspicion, as they depend on an inability to make reasoned judgments based on principles that can be understood and values that can be shared. To give one example of a problematic and widely unaccepted domino theory: abortion is murder, and women who would terminate a pregnancy are on a slippery slope to drowning their toddlers in a bathtub.

And then there is the metaphor of a “marketplace of ideas.” But is that the most appropriate way to think about colleges and universities? Presumably, in a marketplace, you get to sell whatever someone else wants to buy. Order comes from a phantom yet efficacious metaphorical body part: the invisible hand. In a college or university, however, order presumably comes from the interaction of various segments of a community: faculty members, administrators, staff members, board members -- and, yes, students as well. Not that such order is always easily achieved.

There may be a place on a campus that functions like that marketplace of ideas, a kind of Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner. The most familiar example is Sproul Plaza on the Berkeley campus of the University of California -- a site with a lively and storied past. But as we have seen, outside parties with private funding who clearly do not have the interest of the university at heart can exploit such supposedly free market spaces. Dealing with such situations presents its own challenges to those responsible for the institutions, challenges that Berkeley in particular has dealt with quite well.

So, what is a different way of thinking about significant speech events on campuses?

First of all, we might replace the metaphor of the market with the metaphor -- or more than a metaphor -- of representative democracy. Representatives of different sectors of the community might come together to commune and prioritize. They might agree that diversity of viewpoint is a major desideratum. They might also consider that the term “conservative” is thrown around promiscuously these days and that it might be good for students to learn what it actually means when taken seriously.

Thought might also be given to event formats. Would it be especially desirable to have two speakers at once, representing different views, for at least some events? Might it be desirable to require a question-and-answer session?

Different segments of an academic community have their respective roles to play as they come together to consider the goals and standards for campus speech. Faculty members, who are the ones getting paid -- as opposed to students, who are the ones paying -- might remember that theirs is the role of relative grown-ups, especially in institutions populated by traditional college-age students. They are the ones who can themselves set a standard as speakers, through a regular respect for facts, reason and rhetorical skills. They cannot play such a role if they are given to online trolling, for example -- or if they fail to take seriously their responsibilities as teachers.

Students, for their part, should see the responsibilities they themselves take on as preparation for life after college -- their working life, their life as citizens in a democracy and a life of using their college years as a springboard for continuing to learn.

Administrators generally share the grown-up role with faculty members, and the more the two coordinate their efforts, the better. Senior administrators -- presidents in particular -- have a special role. The president is not simply a chief executive officer but also a chief interpretive officer, the one who must comment effectively and powerfully. It can be a challenge for the institutional leader to avoid innocuous, pablum-like utterances while taking the high road -- particularly since true and relevant statements morph into clichés all too quickly (e.g., “This does not reflect the values of X college”). But presumably, that is why presidents are paid those big bucks. Perhaps they can get help from the humanists and communications specialists on their faculty.

And perhaps institutions of higher education can contribute as much as possible to the kind of quality speech we all need more of in these times.

Judith Shapiro is president of the Teagle Foundation and president and professor of anthropology emerita at Barnard College.

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Review of Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden's 'Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby'

Even in a year when shame went AWOL from public life, Alabama state auditor Jim Ziegler merits special recognition for his defense of the great interest senatorial candidate Roy Moore takes in very young women (barely legal and otherwise): “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

As rationalizations for bad behavior go, this shows ambition, with the added fillip of seeming in accord with what Moore’s supporters like to call his “biblical worldview.” The man is known for his piety; he has made a career of it. His understanding of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state amounts to a certainty that the Founding Fathers were godly men and couldn’t have been too serious about it. (A whole new approach to constitutional interpretation beckons: originalist irony.) And for a significant share of the Alabama electorate, it scarcely matters if Moore used his position as district attorney to dazzle junior-high girls. If he did, there must have been biblical grounds for it.

Still … Joseph and Mary? As the veteran of many a vacation Bible school in my fundamentalist youth, I’d hold up pretty well against most of Moore’s supporters in one of those high-speed Scripture-location competitions we used to hold, but to the best of my recollection, none of the gospels reference Joseph hanging around the Galilee Galleria looking for dates. Mary’s virginity is a major element of the narratives attributed to Matthew and Luke (Mark and John skip this part of the backstory entirely) with Matthew underscoring the point’s importance as fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. For that matter, Ziegler would be hard-pressed to locate the verse indicating that Mary was a teenager. There isn’t one. However dubious the notion of a unitary “biblical worldview” may be, it ought to compel from its advocates a certain minimum of biblical literacy.

Evidently not. Whatever the outcome of the Alabama race, believers in the literal, historical, obedience-compelling truth of the Bible now have a landmark presence in Washington, where the Museum of the Bible opened its doors downtown on the weekend before Thanksgiving. I have not visited it yet but expect to do so soon, and in the meantime, I have been reading Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden’s Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby (Princeton University Press), a book about the museum that is unlikely to be featured in its gift shop.

The authors are, respectively, professors of theology at the University of Birmingham and of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School. In early 2016 they published a feature article in The Atlantic bringing word of the planned museum to a wider public than the project had received until then. By the first half of this decade, the Green family of Oklahoma City had quietly assembled an enormous collection of biblical manuscripts and artifacts. The Greens established and own Hobby Lobby, a very successful chain of arts-and-crafts stores -- also known for winning a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act's requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for contraception. The family has been generous in its support for evangelical Christian organizations and causes. In 2008, it bailed out Oral Roberts University, then plagued with scandals and prodigiously in debt, with a donation of $70 million.

Two years later, the Greens began accumulating biblical artifacts on a huge scale. They were building on a previous attempt to establish a Bible museum in Dallas (a project involving some colorful characters) but brought to the table a grander vision and considerably deeper pockets. The economic downturn had created a providential buyer's market by compelling cash-strapped institutions and collectors to sell off holdings. For a while, it sounds like, the Greens were just buying up antiquities by the metric ton and storing them in warehouses -- and meanwhile learning about such issues as provenance and forgery on a need-to-know basis.

Under the circumstances, the probability of stolen or fabricated goods ending up in the collection was roughly 100 percent. This summer, Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million for importing thousands of cuneiform tablets and other artifacts looted from Iraq. In The Atlantic, the authors reported that a Coptic New Testament fragment in the collection was first offered for sale on eBay by an untraceable vendor. In Bible Nation, they examine the documentation concerning its history now available and find it raising too many red flags to be taken as legitimate.

Nothing in the book impugns the Greens' motives; while donating their collection to the nonprofit museum has undeniable tax benefits, that is secondary to the real mission of celebrating the Bible and promoting the belief that it is historically accurate and literally true. The good faith of the effort is not in question. But "lacking among the members of the Green organization," the authors write, "is any sense of due diligence."

More problematic than that is the museum's claim to advance a nonsectarian and interpretation-free view of the book it memorializes. The orientation is evangelical Protestant and literalist from start to finish. Bible Nation's chapter on the Scholars Initiative -- described by the museum's website as its "academic research wing" -- makes clear that all scholarship conducted under the Greens’ auspices will both presuppose and conclude that one canon exists and that it has been transmitted, intact and unchanging, down through the centuries. A genuinely nonsectarian approach would point out that the original sequence of the Jewish scriptures was rearranged by the Christians, and that the Catholic and Orthodox churches accept a number of texts excluded from the Protestant canon.

The existence of an array of Scriptures accepted by Jewish and Christian sects later deemed heretical goes unacknowledged -- with the partial exception of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby, treats them as confirming that Hebrew Scriptures have been preserved intact: "Let's spend 90 percent [of our time] on the 90 percent [of the scrolls that are consistent with modern Bibles] and realize that's incredible." The authors point out that the variants "include a very different book of Samuel from the traditional Hebrew text, a book of Jeremiah that is approximately one-eighth shorter than the traditional text and a number of Psalms that are not part of our Bible today."

Like the gnostic Scriptures presenting teachings by Jesus not found in the canonical gospels, these variants are excluded from the Museum of the Bible's purview. But the Dead Sea Scrolls do have a place, of sorts, in the museum's collection: it owns a number of scrolls that are said to have been discovered in recent years, though the circumstances are vague. Their authenticity seems questionable, but no doubt they are religiously correct.

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Professors push back on Republican state lawmakers' allegations about English department and entire University of Nebraska

University of Nebraska professors want board to defend them against Republican politicians who, after incident with lecturer, have launched a series of salvos against English faculty members and the entire institution.

Will the merger help or hurt the University of Wisconsin System? (essay)

On Oct. 11, 2017, University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross proposed that the UW Colleges, a system of two-year liberal arts institutions, merge with seven of the state’s four-year universities. Just under a month later, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents voted to approve this merger.

UW Green Bay, a four-year institution where I teach English composition and creative writing, will merge with three of the two-year colleges: UW Marinette, an hour to our north, and UW Manitowoc and UW Sheboygan, 45 and 60 minutes to the south. Our chancellor has dubbed this “Project Coastal,” because each city resides along Wisconsin’s eastern coast, bordering Lake Michigan or the bay of Green Bay, Lake Michigan’s largest inlet.

Many faculty and staff members across the system were blindsided by the announcement and worry about what this merger means for our departments, our curricula, our institutional missions, our jobs. At the four-year universities, what some are calling the “parent” campuses, some are concerned their new stepchildren will sink us with their budgets in the red. Those at the two-year colleges worry their jobs will be at risk and their autonomy subsumed by the new “partner.” Are they now colonies at the mercy of a more powerful institution? What will this new university system look like? And what influence can the two-year campuses have in its creation?

I have been teaching at UW Green Bay for nine years; for five of those years, I also taught in the UW Colleges. I am an adjunct, a nomad, one who takes work where I can get it, spreading myself thin between teaching online and in the classroom -- freshman comp in the English composition department and creative writing in the English department. I have spent most of my teaching years saying yes to every scrap of work that’s offered, as I can lose classes due to enrollment issues or the whims of my bosses at any moment (or at least up to seven days before the semester begins, according to my contracts, which are always semester to semester and pending funds).

But this hardscrabble teaching life has been incredibly instructive. I have seen how both institutions function and what each does well. I can see how this merger could strengthen the UW system or how it could hasten its decline.

The whys of the merger are known and unknown. Wisconsin is faced with a decline in college-age students, though some people dispute the urgency -- and accuracy -- of this claim. More to the point, the budget pressures have been intensified by the $250 million cut to the system’s budget in 2015-17, courtesy of Republican Governor Scott Walker and a Republican-controlled Legislature. This translates to an average 11 percent reduction in state support, which hit the UW Colleges, with their smaller campuses, lower student tuition and fewer alternative revenue streams, especially hard. The University of Wisconsin System has a budget of $6 billion, and today only $1 billion comes from state funding.

The UW Colleges function as points of access for students scattered across Wisconsin, offering a guaranteed transfer agreement with the comprehensive four-year universities. They are open-access institutions that serve students who want to get their start close to home and in the intimacy of a small campus, but for roughly half the price tag.

In his press release announcing the proposed merger, Cross argued, “The proposed restructuring will allow the UW system to better address current and projected enrollment and financial challenges at the two-year institutions, while maintaining the important UW presence in local communities.” What he didn’t say is that closing one or more of the two-year campuses, an idea that’s been floated over the past couple of years, would be political suicide for whoever represents that district. In an Oct. 27 governance group meeting, Cross reportedly said, “It's critically important that we don't lose our access portals. Without the university presence, all you have left is a bar and a convenience store.”

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the system estimates 2,500 fewer students have enrolled this year compared to last. And yet, according to a local news report, this fall UW Green Bay has 7,158 students enrolled, “up nearly 400 from 6,779 students in fall 2015.” That’s an increase of nearly 6 percent. How can this be? The report goes on to credit the increase to “new courses being offered and success UW Green Bay students have finding a job after graduation.”

Such growth appears to be most likely the result of institutions trying to put more butts in seats. Following the decline in state support, coupled with an ongoing tuition freeze, institutions in the system have become heavily dependent on bringing in more tuition-paying students to cover operating expenses. In doing so, at least some of the four-years are, for all intents and purposes, becoming open-enrollment institutions, thereby appropriating the mission of the two-year campuses. The system is cannibalizing itself.

The comprehensives have the advantage of bigger campuses, shinier facilities and more prestigious faculty, so of course they seem more attractive to students than their local two-year extension. As a result, the two-year colleges are hemorrhaging students, with declines in enrollment ranging from 29 to 52 percent when measured (rather unfairly) against the 2010 recession-era peak. But any way you slice it, insolvency is in the air. And so Cross’s plan is clever in one respect: by combining the systems, the four-years have to take responsibility for this problem. They can no longer simply poach students from two-year campuses. They will soon be married into them.

A Question of Direction

But can the four-years provide students with the support they need? Do they even know what that support should look like? In a letter to the Board of Regents, published in the Wausau Pilot and Review, members of the UW Colleges Faculty Council lamented, “The curriculum and support programs we offer [at the UW Colleges] for underprepared students who come to college with prior educational experiences that may not be aligned with college expectations -- but who have the potential and capacity to develop those skills -- simply are not offered at the comprehensives. If we hope to increase retention and graduation rates of students -- wide ranges of students from wide ranges of backgrounds -- these programs must be increased, not decreased, if the stated goal of increasing student success and attainment of degrees is to be achieved.”

The two-year colleges aren’t simply open-enrollment institutions in name -- they put the mission of support to first-generation and at-risk college students in the forefront of every decision they make. And they have success in doing so. The UW System Office of Policy Analysis and Research reports that students who transfer from the two-year to the four-year institutions are more likely to graduate than students who transfer among the four-years.

Given the demographic shifts and the decline in state support, the four-year institutions have been awakened to the concept of retention -- finding ways to support the students they enroll, to remove roadblocks to graduation. At UW Green Bay, we’ve seen some nods in this direction: we now have a director of the Center for Students in Transition, Denise Bartell, who works to increase student success and engagement. She’s implemented an “early-alert” grade report so that struggling students can be helped early in the semester. Bartell has also established an emergency grant fund so that students with a financial emergency aren’t forced to drop out of college to pay for a car repair or unexpected medical bill.

Chancellor Gary Miller has previously proposed “re-missioning” UW Green Bay to put more focus on research and STEM and to align us with the needs of local businesses. Not surprisingly, that did not sit well with many liberal arts faculty who are passionate about the university’s interdisciplinary focus. But then, in his Project Coastal memo after the merger announcement, he wrote that the institution “will become a four-campus university. The university will operate under a single vision and mission.” What will that mission be? What will take precedent? Can a university focused on research also care significantly about teaching and student retention?

The two-year colleges, with their tradition of serving first-generation college students, many of whom are underprepared and simply don’t feel they belong, are old hats at student support. The English department, in particular, has been on the cutting edge of developmental education reform: they’ve implemented placement measures to provide students with a more accurate and focused foundation for their first year of college, created tutorial-style support courses, and have received a Gates Foundation grant to gather data on these innovations, with the goal of accelerating student progress toward their degrees. What will become of this curriculum, this leadership, this research, all of which has the potential to shape course design and retention rates at universities across the country?

My first years of teaching at UW Green Bay were brutal. I worked constantly. I second-guessed every decision I made and constantly felt like I was failing. In the eyes of my boss, teaching evaluations were the only judge of my abilities. They brought me such anxiety that I could hardly bring myself to read them. There were -- and are -- many good teachers at this university, but the institutional administrative support for those practices is patchwork -- strong in some departments, nonexistent in others.

Then I began teaching at UW Marinette, a rural outpost with a shipping and manufacturing history at the edge of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The challenge of working with underprepared, first-generation college students, students with shaky confidence who didn’t understand the conventions of college life, who didn’t know how to ask questions, who didn’t feel they were “college material,” taught me so much about careful course design and transparency, and prompted me to simply rethink my own biases and assumptions about what college teaching is. If you want to learn how to teach, teach developmental writing in a two-year institution. The UW Colleges made me the teacher I am today.

But I couldn’t have succeeded in such a challenging environment without the support and wisdom of so many amazing colleagues, who mentored me, supported me and, above all, created paths for my success. The English department in the UW Colleges gave adjunct instructors like me the same kinds of assistance that they provided for tenure-track faculty -- and for students. I wasn’t just an adjunct, someone to be cast aside if my teaching evaluations weren’t good enough, just as students weren’t just butts in seats left to sink or swim. Instead, I was someone worth training and investing in. Likewise, faculty members know their students can succeed, provided they’re given the right support, in the form of appropriate placement, small class sizes and well-trained instructors -- even the adjuncts. It also helps that those adjuncts have a path to promotion with title increases, pay raises and benefits. Teachers who are supported can in turn support their students.

Ultimately, the UW Colleges will cease to exist. In a letter to the editor in Madison’s The Cap Times, Cassandra Phillips, UW Colleges writing program coordinator, warns that “the curriculum and support system the UW Colleges provide the state’s most vulnerable students will be lost with this merger.” It’s my deepest hope that it won’t -- that, rather, the UW Colleges can transform their four-year “parent” institutions for the better. We will see what the future holds.

Tara DaPra, who teaches English composition and creative writing, is an associate lecturer at UW Green Bay and formerly a senior lecturer at UW Marinette. Her writing has appeared in such places as Creative Nonfiction, Sheepshead Review and The Rake.

Image Caption: 
Students at UW Marinette
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