With faculty anger surrounding several presidential searches, some point to search firms as the cause

In recent years one of the greatest points of contention between faculty members and their institutions’ governing boards has been over the board’s arguably most important function: the search for and the selection of a president to lead the institution.

Throughout higher education, campus stakeholders are increasingly disapproving of and speaking publicly about searches conducted by their institution. One of the more frequent complaints is the growing tendency of governing boards to conduct a “secret search.” In these cases, those involved in the process keep the names of any potential candidates under wraps until an appointee is announced, or in other, similar cases, boards announce a sole finalist who will meet with campus leaders and get to know the institution before being officially appointed.

However, as these instances and the faculty outrage that often comes with them become more frequent, some more recent searches where multiple candidates have been announced before the board votes have not been without significant controversy.

Judith Wilde, chief operating officer and professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, has conducted research on executive searches at universities. She points to the increasing inclination of governing boards to hire an executive search firm as the cause for the uptick in secret searches. Research conducted by Wilde found that in 51 percent of the instances studied, confidentiality was the search firm’s policy.

“We think these have appeared within the last 10 years, and most especially in the past five years. Much of the cause is the search firms themselves,” Wilde said. “They tell universities that the only way to get ‘the best’ president is to have a confidential or secret search. Along with this, those who serve on boards have little experience in conducting searches. So, having a search firm step in to tell them exactly how this should be done, and that they’ll lead the efforts, is very appealing.”

Oftentimes, representatives of executive search firms argue that the only way to recruit talented candidates for the presidency is by holding a secret search, due to the fact that many candidates wouldn’t allow themselves to face public scrutiny before a selection. Wilde said there has been no research supporting that claim.

“The secret search is a recent phenomenon, really seen only in the past five to 10 years — at most — so we weren’t looking for them,” Wilde said. “I will say that what little we’ve seen, we see no reason to believe that this leads to better presidents. Think of this — until just recently, all presidential searches were open. To state that secret searches yield better presidents is to imply that all previous presidents were not good. That just doesn’t make sense.”

Jan Greenwood is a veteran search consultant and partner and president of Greenwood/Asher & Associates Inc. She said the practice of keeping private the names of finalists in presidential searches began in the early ’90s, when a president of a research university lost his job after he advised his alma mater about an open presidency.

“He was fired for looking at the other position, which technically he wasn’t pursuing,” Greenwood said. “He was doing his alma mater a favor.”

Other similar outings and firings have occurred, she said, including to provosts and deans. In addition to making job candidates nervous, she said publicizing the names of finalists can jeopardize gifts to colleges, as donors have pulled back on a pledge when they hear the president is looking for another job. Likewise, if a public university president is up for another job, it can be harder for the institution to secure state funding.

“That hurts the university. And presidents don’t want to hurt the university,” said Greenwood.

Campuses Left With Questions

Frank LoMonte, the director of the University of Florida’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, said that in many cases where states have legal requirements to reveal finalists before selecting a president, the selection of a sole finalist meets the letter of the law but not the spirit.

“Unfortunately it seems that the prevailing structure these days is that the law specifies up to three or up to four finalists,” LoMonte said. “The growing practice has been to default to one finalist. Even though you would certainly read the intent of legislation like that to suggest that the public should see multiple finalists, that’s not the way trustees and search firms are applying it. They’re gaming those laws to achieve the maximum secrecy.”

In Colorado, conservative former congressman Mark Kennedy was chosen as the sole finalist in the state system’s presidential search. Kennedy’s voting record on issues such as gay marriage became a contentious issue with many students and faculty, who called upon the Board of Regents to consider another candidate. The regents ended up selecting Kennedy, who had formerly served as president at the University of North Dakota, despite the outrage.

LoMonte said instances like this in which boards leave only one option often make stakeholders feel as though they were left out of the process, and they can sow distrust.

“If the community believes that your presidency was foisted on them by a bunch of remote business executives and headhunters, they are going to start off with skepticism and distrust,” LoMonte said. “Surely it’s better to find out early that the person you’ve identified was a mismatch with the campus culture.”

Other searches have ended with secrecy recently — at Georgia Tech, the former president of George Mason University was announced as the sole finalist. At the University of Texas El Paso, the sole finalist to replace the esteemed president drew sharp criticisms from stakeholders.

Michael Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said secrecy often benefits the potential candidates for the search and the search firm but is not beneficial to the institution itself.

“A process like this is very often going to be toxic for campus morale,” Poliakoff said. “It can also be rather toxic for board morale. Boards are too often distancing themselves from the engagement and the accountability for the choice. I think the utilization of search firms — practices that come out of the corporate world — has influenced the way boards think. They have tended to defer to the professionals rather than being integrally involved in every step of the search process. I think there has been a cultural shift that is not serving higher education well.”

Greenwood, however, said search firms themselves benefit from a search being open. A known candidate is vetted in a more public manner, by the news media and people on campus. And that scrutiny can help protect a search firm by preventing a bad hire or from not getting necessary background information on a job candidate to the hiring committee.

Open Search, Same Outrage

So far in 2019, there have been some high-profile examples of searches in which multiple finalists were revealed to the public that have ended in similarly divisive situations.

Most notably at the University of South Carolina, a candidate was chosen out of a group of four despite the fact there was highly public condemnation of the candidate from the students and the faculty. However, LoMonte said that the protests and outrage are exactly what an open search gives community members an opportunity to do.

“I mean, that’s democracy — that’s exactly what democracy is supposed to look like,” LoMonte said. “You pick somebody unacceptable and the community loudly tells you to go pick somebody else. That’s exactly how the process ought to be working.”

However, South Carolina statistics professor Bethany Bell — a critic of the South Carolina search process — said even their open search left much to be desired. Each candidate was on campus for only one day, and the times of the Q&A sessions with candidates were announced very late and during a time frame when many students would be preparing for finals.

“Yes, there was an open forum for each candidate,” Bell said. “But was it as open as it could have been? Absolutely not.”

Bell also said it was rumored there was an unnamed female semifinalist for the position who had said she would withdraw if her name was made public. The final four candidates were all male.

Another open search, at Miami Dade College, led to faculty feeling like they had the rug pulled out from under them, as the college’s Board of Trustees opted to open a new search after already publicly announcing four candidates.

Wilde pointed to both the searches at Colorado and at South Carolina as examples of why it’s vital that faculty feel bought in to the process — or else the process can quickly unravel.

“Probably the most important is lack of trust/support on the part of faculty, staff, students and the larger community,” Wilde said. “[Secret] searches also go against the most basic tenet of the university: shared governance.”

— Paul Fain contributed to this article.

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In recent years one of the greatest points of contention between faculty members and their institutions’ governing boards has been over the board’s arguably most important function: the search for and the selection of a president to lead the institution.

Throughout higher education, campus stakeholders are increasingly disapproving of and speaking publicly about searches conducted by their institution. One of the more frequent complaints is the growing tendency of governing boards to conduct a “secret search.” In these cases, those involved in the process keep the names of any potential candidates under wraps until an appointee is announced, or in other, similar cases, boards announce a sole finalist who will meet with campus leaders and get to know the institution before being officially appointed.

However, as these instances and the faculty outrage that often comes with them become more frequent, some more recent searches where multiple candidates have been announced before the board votes have not been without significant controversy.

Judith Wilde, chief operating officer and professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, has conducted research on executive searches at universities. She points to the increasing inclination of governing boards to hire an executive search firm as the cause for the uptick in secret searches. Research conducted by Wilde found that in 51 percent of the instances studied, confidentiality was the search firm's policy.

“We think these have appeared within the last 10 years, and most especially in the past five years. Much of the cause is the search firms themselves,” Wilde said. “They tell universities that the only way to get ‘the best’ president is to have a confidential or secret search. Along with this, those who serve on boards have little experience in conducting searches. So, having a search firm step in to tell them exactly how this should be done, and that they'll lead the efforts, is very appealing.”

Oftentimes, representatives of executive search firms argue that the only way to recruit talented candidates for the presidency is by holding a secret search, due to the fact that many candidates wouldn’t allow themselves to face public scrutiny before a selection. Wilde said there has been no research supporting that claim.

“The secret search is a recent phenomenon, really seen only in the past five to 10 years -- at most -- so we weren't looking for them,” Wilde said. “I will say that what little we've seen, we see no reason to believe that this leads to better presidents. Think of this -- until just recently, all presidential searches were open. To state that secret searches yield better presidents is to imply that all previous presidents were not good. That just doesn't make sense.”

Jan Greenwood is a veteran search consultant and partner and president of Greenwood/Asher & Associates Inc. She said the practice of keeping private the names of finalists in presidential searches began in the early '90s, when a president of a research university lost his job after he advised his alma mater about an open presidency.

"He was fired for looking at the other position, which technically he wasn't pursuing," Greenwood said. "He was doing his alma mater a favor."

Other similar outings and firings have occurred, she said, including to provosts and deans. In addition to making job candidates nervous, she said publicizing the names of finalists can jeopardize gifts to colleges, as donors have pulled back on a pledge when they hear the president is looking for another job. Likewise, if a public university president is up for another job, it can be harder for the institution to secure state funding.

"That hurts the university. And presidents don't want to hurt the university," said Greenwood.

Campuses Left With Questions

Frank LoMonte, the director of the University of Florida’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, said that in many cases where states have legal requirements to reveal finalists before selecting a president, the selection of a sole finalist meets the letter of the law but not the spirit.

“Unfortunately it seems that the prevailing structure these days is that the law specifies up to three or up to four finalists,” LoMonte said. “The growing practice has been to default to one finalist. Even though you would certainly read the intent of legislation like that to suggest that the public should see multiple finalists, that's not the way trustees and search firms are applying it. They’re gaming those laws to achieve the maximum secrecy.”

In Colorado, conservative former congressman Mark Kennedy was chosen as the sole finalist in the state system’s presidential search. Kennedy’s voting record on issues such as gay marriage became a contentious issue with many students and faculty, who called upon the Board of Regents to consider another candidate. The regents ended up selecting Kennedy, who had formerly served as president at the University of North Dakota, despite the outrage.

LoMonte said instances like this in which boards leave only one option often make stakeholders feel as though they were left out of the process, and they can sow distrust.

“If the community believes that your presidency was foisted on them by a bunch of remote business executives and headhunters, they are going to start off with skepticism and distrust,” LoMonte said. “Surely it’s better to find out early that the person you’ve identified was a mismatch with the campus culture.”

Other searches have ended with secrecy recently -- at Georgia Tech, the former president of George Mason University was announced as the sole finalist. At the University of Texas El Paso, the sole finalist to replace the esteemed president drew sharp criticisms from stakeholders.

Michael Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said secrecy often benefits the potential candidates for the search and the search firm but is not beneficial to the institution itself.

“A process like this is very often going to be toxic for campus morale,” Poliakoff said. “It can also be rather toxic for board morale. Boards are too often distancing themselves from the engagement and the accountability for the choice. I think the utilization of search firms -- practices that come out of the corporate world -- has influenced the way boards think. They have tended to defer to the professionals rather than being integrally involved in every step of the search process. I think there has been a cultural shift that is not serving higher education well.”

Greenwood, however, said search firms themselves benefit from a search being open. A known candidate is vetted in a more public manner, by the news media and people on campus. And that scrutiny can help protect a search firm by preventing a bad hire or from not getting necessary background information on a job candidate to the hiring committee.

Open Search, Same Outrage

So far in 2019, there have been some high-profile examples of searches in which multiple finalists were revealed to the public that have ended in similarly divisive situations.

Most notably at the University of South Carolina, a candidate was chosen out of a group of four despite the fact there was highly public condemnation of the candidate from the students and the faculty. However, LoMonte said that the protests and outrage are exactly what an open search gives community members an opportunity to do.

“I mean, that’s democracy -- that’s exactly what democracy is supposed to look like,” LoMonte said. “You pick somebody unacceptable and the community loudly tells you to go pick somebody else. That’s exactly how the process ought to be working.”

However, South Carolina statistics professor Bethany Bell -- a critic of the South Carolina search process -- said even their open search left much to be desired. Each candidate was on campus for only one day, and the times of the Q&A sessions with candidates were announced very late and during a time frame when many students would be preparing for finals.

“Yes, there was an open forum for each candidate,” Bell said. “But was it as open as it could have been? Absolutely not.”

Bell also said it was rumored there was an unnamed female semifinalist for the position who had said she would withdraw if her name was made public. The final four candidates were all male.

Another open search, at Miami Dade College, led to faculty feeling like they had the rug pulled out from under them, as the college’s Board of Trustees opted to open a new search after already publicly announcing four candidates.

Wilde pointed to both the searches at Colorado and at South Carolina as examples of why it’s vital that faculty feel bought in to the process -- or else the process can quickly unravel.

“Probably the most important is lack of trust/support on the part of faculty, staff, students and the larger community,” Wilde said. “[Secret] searches also go against the most basic tenet of the university: shared governance.”

-- Paul Fain contributed to this article.

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Kansas professor indicted for allegedly failing to disclose appointment at Chinese university

A professor at the University of Kansas was indicted Wednesday on federal fraud charges for allegedly failing to disclose a full-time employment contract he held with a Chinese university while conducting research at Kansas funded by federal research contracts.

Feng (Franklin) Tao, a chemist and associate professor at Kansas’s Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis, is charged with one count of wire fraud and three counts of program fraud. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000 on the wire fraud count, and up to 10 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000 on each of the counts of program fraud.

The indictment against Tao comes amid increasing concerns among federal research agencies and national security officials about alleged efforts by China to steal the fruits of U.S. taxpayer-funded scientific research. Federal scientific agencies have also raised concerns about undisclosed conflicts of commitment in which researchers hold a position with an overseas institution while they are receiving federal grants.

“Tao is alleged to have defrauded the U.S. government by unlawfully receiving federal grant money at the same time that he was employed and paid by a Chinese research university — a fact that he hid from his university and federal agencies,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a news release announcing the charges. “Any potential conflicts of commitment by a researcher must be disclosed as required by law and university policies.”

The indictment alleges that Tao failed to disclose that he signed a five-year contract in 2018 with China’s Fuzhou University to be a Changjiang Scholar Distinguished Professor, a position that the contract describes as full-time. The Changjiang Scholar program is sponsored by the Chinese government to attract and recruit scientific talent.

The indictment alleges that Tao, who studies a surface chemical analysis technique known as ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, failed to disclose the Changjiang contract to Kansas and that he falsely certified to the university that he did not have any conflicts of interest.

“By not disclosing his position at Fuzhou, and certifying an absence of conflict, Tao was able to continue his employment with KU. His employment with KU allowed Tao to have continued access to U.S. government grant or contract funds, which included funds not only for research but also for Tao’s salary,” the indictment states.

Tao’s research at KU was funded through two Department of Energy contracts and four National Science Foundation contracts. Tao is accused of fraudulently receiving more than $37,000 in salary paid for by DOE and NSF.

Court papers did not list a lawyer for Tao, and his published KU office number was not working Thursday. Messages sent Thursday to his KU email account, a LinkedIn account in his name and a phone number located via a public records search were not returned.

The University’s Response

Douglas A. Girod, the university’s chancellor, said in a statement about the fraud charges that Kansas “learned of this potential criminal activity this spring” and reported it to authorities. Tao has been placed on paid administrative leave.

In his statement, Girod cited a recent op-ed published in Inside Higher Ed by the presidents of the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities affirming the vital role Chinese and other international scholars play in America’s research enterprise.

“At the same time, we also have been reminded of the importance of collaborating with federal law enforcement agencies,” Girod said. “We remain vigilant in our own internal efforts to maintain the integrity and security of our research, including the research we undertake on behalf of federal research-granting agencies and, ultimately, U.S. taxpayers,” Girod said. “Our Office of Global Operations and Security serves as an important resource for faculty and staff to help them conduct international work in a safe and secure way. The office works to manage and mitigate risk and protect intellectual property while synchronizing efforts related to international work, export compliance and security operations.”

“After the formation of that office in summer 2018, we looked at our policies and procedures that regulate how we conduct research and exchange information in an increasingly interconnected world and considered ways they could be improved,” Girod added.

Many if not most major research universities have recently begun revisiting their policies and protocols governing federal research grants and protection of intellectual property in response to the increased attention from federal law enforcement officials to academic espionage-related issues and the threat posed by China in particular.

The increased scrutiny has raised concerns in academe about whether ethnically Chinese scholars are being racially profiled and targeted for additional scrutiny. In a June statement, Massachusetts Institute of Technology president L. Rafael Reif reported that “faculty members, postdocs, research staff and students tell me that, in their dealings with government agencies, they now feel unfairly scrutinized, stigmatized and on edge — because of their Chinese ethnicity alone.”

As U.S.-China relations worsen, some have also raised concerns about whether scholars stand to be penalized for forms of scientific collaboration with China — such as participation in the Chinese government’s talent programs — that were previously considered by many to be within the bounds of normal academic collaboration.

The former assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counterintelligence Division, Bill Priestap, told a congressional panel last December that the talent programs “encourage theft of intellectual property from U.S. institutions.”

Such programs, Priestap said, “offer competitive salaries, state-of-the-art research facilities and honorific titles, luring both Chinese overseas talent and foreign experts alike to bring their knowledge and experience to China, even if that means stealing proprietary information or violating export controls to do so.”

“I have no firsthand knowledge of the case and no opinion about Franklin Tao’s innocence or guilt,” said Robert Daly, an analyst who has been tracking these issues and is the director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. “I do know that Washington’s concern with China’s talent re-recruitment programs emerged only recently and that the new security issues involved are not fully understood by many American universities. One result of this disconnect is that American faculty of Chinese origin who ‘didn’t get the memo’ and continue to behave as they did before the issue appeared — especially by taking undisclosed dual appointments at Chinese institutions — may now be cast as criminals when they are merely guilty of moonlighting and careless paperwork.”

“To protect faculty from unfounded accusations, it is essential that American universities orient their scholars about the FBI’s concerns and the need for full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest,” Daly said. “To date, public reports don’t make clear that KU gave this vital information to Professor Tao. If he was not informed of these issues by his employer, 50 years in prison and a million-dollar fine seem like heavy penalties for a case in which no espionage or intellectual property theft is alleged.”

KU’s policies governing conflicts of interest can be found here, and the policy relating to conflict of time commitment appears to have last been updated in 2017.

“All KU employees are informed of their disclosure obligations during onboarding, and they are reminded each year during the annual reporting period,” a university spokesman said. “Additionally, researchers are required to certify that their compliance reporting is up to date before submitting every proposal. Research integrity staff who facilitate conflict of interest reporting deliver in-person training to departments and centers upon request and through the annual research administration training program.”

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A professor at the University of Kansas was indicted Wednesday on federal fraud charges for allegedly failing to disclose a full-time employment contract he held with a Chinese university while conducting research at Kansas funded by federal research contracts.

Feng (Franklin) Tao, a chemist and associate professor at Kansas's Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis, is charged with one count of wire fraud and three counts of program fraud. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000 on the wire fraud count, and up to 10 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000 on each of the counts of program fraud.

The indictment against Tao comes amid increasing concerns among federal research agencies and national security officials about alleged efforts by China to steal the fruits of U.S. taxpayer-funded scientific research. Federal scientific agencies have also raised concerns about undisclosed conflicts of commitment in which researchers hold a position with an overseas institution while they are receiving federal grants.

“Tao is alleged to have defrauded the U.S. government by unlawfully receiving federal grant money at the same time that he was employed and paid by a Chinese research university -- a fact that he hid from his university and federal agencies,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a news release announcing the charges. “Any potential conflicts of commitment by a researcher must be disclosed as required by law and university policies.”

The indictment alleges that Tao failed to disclose that he signed a five-year contract in 2018 with China's Fuzhou University to be a Changjiang Scholar Distinguished Professor, a position that the contract describes as full-time. The Changjiang Scholar program is sponsored by the Chinese government to attract and recruit scientific talent.

The indictment alleges that Tao, who studies a surface chemical analysis technique known as ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, failed to disclose the Changjiang contract to Kansas and that he falsely certified to the university that he did not have any conflicts of interest.

"By not disclosing his position at Fuzhou, and certifying an absence of conflict, Tao was able to continue his employment with KU. His employment with KU allowed Tao to have continued access to U.S. government grant or contract funds, which included funds not only for research but also for Tao's salary," the indictment states.

Tao's research at KU was funded through two Department of Energy contracts and four National Science Foundation contracts. Tao is accused of fraudulently receiving more than $37,000 in salary paid for by DOE and NSF.

Court papers did not list a lawyer for Tao, and his published KU office number was not working Thursday. Messages sent Thursday to his KU email account, a LinkedIn account in his name and a phone number located via a public records search were not returned.

The University's Response

Douglas A. Girod, the university's chancellor, said in a statement about the fraud charges that Kansas "learned of this potential criminal activity this spring" and reported it to authorities. Tao has been placed on paid administrative leave.

In his statement, Girod cited a recent op-ed published in Inside Higher Ed by the presidents of the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities affirming the vital role Chinese and other international scholars play in America's research enterprise.

"At the same time, we also have been reminded of the importance of collaborating with federal law enforcement agencies," Girod said. "We remain vigilant in our own internal efforts to maintain the integrity and security of our research, including the research we undertake on behalf of federal research-granting agencies and, ultimately, U.S. taxpayers," Girod said. "Our Office of Global Operations and Security serves as an important resource for faculty and staff to help them conduct international work in a safe and secure way. The office works to manage and mitigate risk and protect intellectual property while synchronizing efforts related to international work, export compliance and security operations."

"After the formation of that office in summer 2018, we looked at our policies and procedures that regulate how we conduct research and exchange information in an increasingly interconnected world and considered ways they could be improved," Girod added.

Many if not most major research universities have recently begun revisiting their policies and protocols governing federal research grants and protection of intellectual property in response to the increased attention from federal law enforcement officials to academic espionage-related issues and the threat posed by China in particular.

The increased scrutiny has raised concerns in academe about whether ethnically Chinese scholars are being racially profiled and targeted for additional scrutiny. In a June statement, Massachusetts Institute of Technology president L. Rafael Reif reported that "faculty members, postdocs, research staff and students tell me that, in their dealings with government agencies, they now feel unfairly scrutinized, stigmatized and on edge -- because of their Chinese ethnicity alone."

As U.S.-China relations worsen, some have also raised concerns about whether scholars stand to be penalized for forms of scientific collaboration with China -- such as participation in the Chinese government's talent programs -- that were previously considered by many to be within the bounds of normal academic collaboration.

The former assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Counterintelligence Division, Bill Priestap, told a congressional panel last December that the talent programs "encourage theft of intellectual property from U.S. institutions."

Such programs, Priestap said, "offer competitive salaries, state-of-the-art research facilities and honorific titles, luring both Chinese overseas talent and foreign experts alike to bring their knowledge and experience to China, even if that means stealing proprietary information or violating export controls to do so."

"I have no firsthand knowledge of the case and no opinion about Franklin Tao’s innocence or guilt," said Robert Daly, an analyst who has been tracking these issues and is the director of the Wilson Center's Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. "I do know that Washington’s concern with China’s talent re-recruitment programs emerged only recently and that the new security issues involved are not fully understood by many American universities. One result of this disconnect is that American faculty of Chinese origin who 'didn’t get the memo' and continue to behave as they did before the issue appeared -- especially by taking undisclosed dual appointments at Chinese institutions -- may now be cast as criminals when they are merely guilty of moonlighting and careless paperwork."

"To protect faculty from unfounded accusations, it is essential that American universities orient their scholars about the FBI’s concerns and the need for full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest," Daly said. "To date, public reports don’t make clear that KU gave this vital information to Professor Tao. If he was not informed of these issues by his employer, 50 years in prison and a million-dollar fine seem like heavy penalties for a case in which no espionage or intellectual property theft is alleged."

KU's policies governing conflicts of interest can be found here, and the policy relating to conflict of time commitment appears to have last been updated in 2017.

"All KU employees are informed of their disclosure obligations during onboarding, and they are reminded each year during the annual reporting period," a university spokesman said. "Additionally, researchers are required to certify that their compliance reporting is up to date before submitting every proposal. Research integrity staff who facilitate conflict of interest reporting deliver in-person training to departments and centers upon request and through the annual research administration training program."

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New research alliance cements split on AI ethics

Germany, France and Japan have joined forces to fund research into “human-centered” artificial intelligence that aims to respect privacy and transparency, in the latest sign of a global split with the U.S. and China over the ethics of AI.

Germany, France and Japan have joined forces to fund research into “human-centered” artificial intelligence that aims to respect privacy and transparency, in the latest sign of a global split with the U.S. and China over the ethics of AI.

The three countries’ funding agencies have put out a joint call for research proposals, backed by an initial 7.4 million euros ($8.2 million). They stressed that they “share the same values” and warned that the technology has the potential to “violate individual privacy and right to informational self-determination.”

Observers see the move as part of a wider divergence in AI research priorities, with Europe, plus Japan and potentially Canada, taking the lead on its ethical development.

“We share the same beliefs and the same standards,” said Susanne Sangenstedt, a program officer at the German Research Foundation who is helping to oversee the collaboration.

The joint call has been under development since last year, she explained. Last November, the German Centers for Research and Innovation, a global network of universities and companies, organized an AI symposium in Japan involving ethicists and social scientists as well as more technically minded academics.

Results should, if possible, be released on an open-access basis, said Sangenstedt. The funding call asks academics to pitch projects on the “democratization” of AI, the “integrity of data for fairness” and “AI ethics to avoid gender/age segmentation,” as well as in areas such as machine learning, computer vision and data mining.

Germany, France and Japan are more concerned than some of their rivals that “if you let this [AI] go wild, it can cause profound damage to society,” said Holger Hoos, professor of machine learning at Leiden University. He said that he expected Canada to join the trio soon.

“AI is a game of critical mass. Japan can’t compete with China on AI, so they need allies. And the same goes for Canada,” he said.

China’s approach to AI was to put its development under the control of the “government-state,” he said. Meanwhile, the U.S. -- which has less of a developed national AI strategy than most other major economies -- has allowed AI development to be dominated by private technology companies, argued Hoos, one of the founders of the Confederation of Laboratories for Artificial Intelligence Research in Europe, which is pushing for the continent to remain competitive in AI research while leading on ethical, legal and social issues.

The “European way” was an attempt to find a “balance” between “government, industry and individual,” he said, an approach Japan supported, too.

Countries from Finland to India, plus the European Union, have devised AI strategies in the past few years, responding to predictions that the technology will upend the economy and society, for example displacing jobs, allowing algorithm-based sentencing for criminals and even unleashing “killer robots.”

This new alliance between Germany, France and Japan was “quite a logical and natural expansion of the E.U.’s position on AI,” explained Sophie-Charlotte Fischer, a researcher on AI and international relations at ETH Zurich.

By establishing itself as a world leader in “ethical” AI, the E.U. hoped to set standards for the rest of the world. “They have selected this as their niche,” she explained.

France’s AI strategy has called for the creation of interdisciplinary institutes involving social scientists and philosophers. The German strategy, released last year, established a plethora of observatories, dialogues and councils to make sure AI “serves the good of society.”

Japan has also used its presidency of the G20 group of nations to push for a common, global body to oversee the development of AI, Fischer added.

It was “unfair,” however, to say that China -- which in 2017 launched its own strategy, aiming to lead the world by 2030 -- was not thinking about ethics, she argued. In May, universities and companies signed up to the Beijing AI principles, which commit to “privacy, dignity, freedom, independence and rights.”

Whether China’s authoritarian government would heed these principles was “hard to tell,” she acknowledged, but “as a signal it’s quite noteworthy” and may indicate that Beijing was “open to dialogue about how AI is used.”

Still, “one advantage the E.U. has is that it’s a credible actor. It’s harder to believe when China puts these principles forward,” Fischer added.

For now, the joint funding from Germany, France and Japan is a pilot, explained Sangenstedt, “but possibly it will be the starting point for a discussion about regular calls.”

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Virginia Tech outpaces George Mason in plans for Amazon’s HQ2

Virginia Tech and George Mason University both pledged to significantly expand their computer science programs following Amazon’s announcement last year that it would build a second headquarters in Arlington, Va.

The institutions planned not only to produce thousands more computer science graduates to fill Amazon’s need for highly skilled employees, but also to build state-of-the-art facilities close to Amazon’s chosen 105-acre site near Reagan National Airport. The plans hinged on hundreds of millions of dollars in investment from the state, philanthropic grants and industry partnerships.

But the two universities do not appear to have made equal progress with their plans. While Virginia Tech has already secured a substantial amount of funding from the state, George Mason is still far from meeting its fundraising goals, making the institution’s original five-year timeline seem increasingly infeasible. 

The state this year appropriated $275 million for Virginia Tech to build a new Innovation Campus, whereas just $7.5 million has been allocated so far to George Mason — far short of the $125 million the university is seeking from the state. The $7.5 million will be used to knock down an old building on George Mason’s existing Arlington Campus and make room for new construction. 

Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Democratic governor, said last November that the state would make performance-based investments of up to $375 million available to the two institutions to build new facilities and dramatically increase the number of computer science graduates they produce. The funds would be made available over the next twenty years, subject to a one-to-one match from the universities. Virginia Tech initially requested $250 million and George Mason $125 million. Northam said additional funding will be available to boost undergraduate enrollment in technology degrees at all Virginia public universities and community colleges. 

Anne Holton, George Mason’s interim president, said she’s confident the state will honor its $125 million commitment. She said the university has so far identified around $20 million from philanthropic sources and is working to secure more.

“I’m on a rigorous schedule of meetings with current donors and potential new donors,” she said. “All the major tech businesses in Northern Virginia are eager to see us succeed and several of them have already stepped up to host events to help us raise those dollars. I am confident we will meet our match. It may be a couple of years, but that’s ok. We don’t have to have it all right away.” 

Holton said the university is “still on track for ambitious growth.” She noted that unlike Virginia Tech, George Mason already owns the land that it is planning to build on. “We will move forward expeditiously,” she said. 

Big Plans, Big Price Tags

Tim Sands, Virginia Tech’s president, last year shared plans to build a $1 billion Tech Innovation Campus near Amazon’s new headquarters that would accommodate 750 new computer science master’s students and hundreds more doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. Sands proposed that the campus would be built with $250 million from the state, $250 million from the institution and a further $500 million from a mix of philanthropic grants and industry partnerships.

George Mason’s former president, Ángel Cabrera, who will start his new role as president of the Georgia Institute of Technology in September, announced last year that George Mason would invest $250 million to build a 400,000-square-foot Institute for Digital InnovAtion (IDIA) on its Arlington campus and prepare to significantly expand its computer science enrollment. The planned $250 million investment would include $125 million from philanthropic giving and $125 million in matched funding from the state. He planned to more than double enrollment in undergraduate and graduate computer science programs to 15,000 students by 2024. The current level is around 6,500 students.  

Quickly raising $125 million to support the expansion of its computing programs and fund the new institute could prove challenging. The George Mason University Foundation reported that it received around $68 million in total contributions in 2018, up from $62.5 million in 2017. The largest ever single donation to the university was a $50 million gift for the law school in April this year. The university has also been the subject of criticism in recent years over a perceived lack of donor transparency, particularly regarding financial ties to the conservative Charles Koch Foundation.

Enrollment at George Mason has grown by 17.5 percent over the past decade, from 32,067 students in 2009 to 37,677 in 2018. But increasing tech enrollment by around 8500 students in five years would be a significant feat. The Volgenau School of Engineering, which teaches computer science among other tech subjects, gained 462 students between Fall 2018 and Fall 2019. 

Michael Sandler, a spokesman for George Mason, said Mason is already playing an important role with Amazon and other tech companies because it produces the state’s largest number of graduates in highly sought tech majors. “The number of tech talent graduates is a primary reason cited by Amazon in its decision to build here in Northern Virginia, and we plan to triple the number of graduates in tech talent fields over the next decade to meet Amazon’s demand.”

Sandler said Mason has a strong track record of providing access to education for students from a broad range of socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds — answering “an important demand from Amazon and other employers across the region and state.”

For example, the university recently announced a partnership with Amazon Web Services and Northern Virginia Community College that “offers students a seamless transfer pathway and provides a clear path to high-demand careers in cloud computing.”

Unequal State Support?

Writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in July, Cabrera hinted at his frustration with Virginia lawmakers in a “presidential farewell,” which celebrated the university’s achievements in spite of limited state support compared with neighboring institutions.

“The university today is a powerful engine of innovation, social mobility and economic growth for Northern Virginia and, by extension, for the entire commonwealth,” wrote Cabrera. “Quite notably, the university achieves all this while charging about 28 percent lower in-state tuition than the other three R-1s in Virginia (University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University), with a fraction of their endowment, and, sadly, with about one-quarter less state support per student. While private philanthropy has more than doubled in recent years, it alone cannot compensate for the weakness in public support.”

For the university to continue to grow, Cabrera wrote it is “essential that Virginia lawmakers reassess current funding levels as well as the university’s treatment from an overall policy standpoint.”

After talking about the university’s planned computer science program expansion and its commitment to diversity, Cabrera said he was concerned that the path ahead “is precarious and likely unsustainable without funding structures that invest in this growth on par with peer institutions.”

University insiders hope Holton, who is a former Virginia education secretary and current member of the state Board of Education, will be able to foster a better relationship with state lawmakers. Holton’s connections in Richmond and Washington, D.C., are significant. Her husband is Tim Kaine, a Democratic U.S. senator from Virginia, and her father is A. Linwood Holton Jr., Republican former governor of Virginia.

Holton said state support for Mason’s ambitions is strong, citing many positive interactions with lawmakers in the first few weeks in her new job.

Although George Mason has yet to secure all of the funding it set out to, Holton said she does not view this as an issue. The university doesn’t need to secure all $250 million in one hit, instead requesting funding from the state “as and when it is needed” over the next few years.

Stephen Moret, the president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the economic development agency that led the state’s Amazon bid, refuted the suggestion that the state may be favoring Virginia Tech over George Mason.

The Tech Talent Investment Program (TTIP), which is the mechanism through which the state will award funding to grow both undergraduate and graduate tech programs, has not yet finalized any funding decisions or institutional memorandums of understanding — this work is expected to be completed by the end of October, he said.

“The $375 million total amount in the HQ2 press release for graduate-level computer science education was the combined total of what Virginia Tech and George Mason respectively proposed for state support in exchange for a one-to-one philanthropic match from each institution,” said Moret. “Accordingly, it would be misleading to suggest that Virginia Tech secured the lion’s share of master’s-level funding ‘over’ George Mason, when the reality is that those tentative amounts actually are what the institutions themselves proposed to the state.”

Moret said “it definitely is possible” that George Mason will receive the amount it requested, contingent on the final funding allocation decisions of the designated reviewer group for TTIP, and subject to George Mason securing one-to-one matching philanthropic commitments.

“This is a 20-year initiative, so only some of the new state commitments show up in the [fiscal year] 2020 budget,” said Moret. “Most of the state funding will be provided in future budget years as all the participating schools ramp up their programs. Some of the capital projects for Virginia Tech were included in the FY20 budget because they have been underway for quite some time.”

Bethany Letiecq, an associate professor in human development and family at George Mason and president of the local advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the university’s faculty members have received little communication about the expansion plans.

“We just don’t know very much. There are a lot of questions,” said Letiecq. “As the university chases the promise of Amazon, we’re left wondering what will happen to the university’s resources. Will there be funding to uplift other components of the university system? Which programs or departments might get hit? How does this growth fundamentally change the institution?”

There have already been “really troubling” suggestions that George Mason’s humanities departments may be downsized to focus on computer science and “push toward where the jobs are,” said Letiecq. “I’m not sure that faculty have been given much voice in this matter.”

She’s also concerned about a lack of guarantees that Amazon will hire the thousands of computer scientists George Mason plans to graduate. The state’s promise to grow computer science programs across institutions in Virginia by 25,000 to 35,000 students over the next 20 years has been reported as a significant factor in Amazon’s decision to pick the region. But it’s unclear whether the tech giant will actually hire a significant proportion of these students, when it could have its pick of national and international candidates. And Amazon recently announced plans to invest $700 million in postsecondary job training for 100,000 of its largely entry-level workers — most of which will be offered outside of traditional colleges and universities.

Letiecq said she hopes Holton might actually slow down the expansion at George Mason, rather than speed it up. “Faculty are very concerned about the pace of growth. There is a lack of infrastructure available to accommodate the number of students that the institution is pushing toward.”

Holton said she understood that some faculty members may feel anxious about the planned computer science expansion, but stressed the university’s “very strong commitment to the humanities and social sciences.”

“I am confident that it’s going to be a win for everybody,” she said. 

Full Steam Ahead for Virginia Tech

Stephen Fuller, professor of public policy and regional development at George Mason, has researched Amazon’s potential economic impact on Northern Virginia. He believes Virginia Tech’s new Innovation Campus will have a “major beneficial impact” on the region. Comparatively, George Mason’s plans are not so ambitious or advanced, he said. 

“Mason is still in spring training. They don’t have much support from Richmond, and they should have been in the forefront,” said Fuller. “George Mason didn’t talk to the right people early on. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech had a plan in the drawer, ready to go.”

Brandy Salmon, associate vice president for innovation and partnerships at Virginia Tech, said plans for the $1 billion Innovation Campus were catalyzed by the prospect of Amazon’s expansion in the region but not driven by it. The campus had been in development for a number of years, she said.

Virginia Tech will partner with Lionstone Investments to build the campus on a mixed-use development close to a planned Metro station less than two miles from Amazon’s HQ.

The campus will include academic classrooms, incubator space for start-up companies and research and development, offices, and an events space, said Salmon. The first master’s degree students will enroll in fall 2020 and will study in an existing building that is currently being used for retail. The design of the campus is yet to be finalized but is expected to be fully completed in about 10 years’ time.

Cal Ribbens, professor and head of the department of computer science at Virginia Tech, said development of a new master’s of engineering in computer applications is already well underway. The degree is planned to begin in the spring of 2020, pending approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

The degree program will be hands-on and will feature courses in software development, communication skills, ethical issues and applied research and development, said Ribbens. It is designed to turn out graduates faster than a traditional research-based program. For example, full-time students will be able complete the program in about a year.

The road map for expansion of the program, which will be the first degree offered from the Innovation Campus, is “pretty aggressive,” said Ribbens. And working from a new location may throw up some logistical challenges, particularly for faculty who will need to commute to Northern Virginia. But Ribbens points out that Virginia Tech already offers programs outside its main campus in Blacksburg.

Informal conversations with Amazon and other tech employers have informed the curriculum of the new degree program, but there is no formal partnership with the company, said Ribbens. It is possible, however, that the program may use “a small number of adjunct faculty from Amazon or other companies.”

Leaders at both George Mason and Virginia Tech said their plans are not contingent on Amazon’s needs.

“We’re not just growing tech talent for Amazon, but for Northern Virginia,” said Holton. 

Image Caption: 
Rendering of future site of Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus in Alexandria, Va.
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Virginia Tech and George Mason University both pledged to significantly expand their computer science programs following Amazon’s announcement last year that it would build a second headquarters in Arlington, Va.

The institutions planned not only to produce thousands more computer science graduates to fill Amazon’s need for highly skilled employees, but also to build state-of-the-art facilities close to Amazon’s chosen 105-acre site near Reagan National Airport. The plans hinged on hundreds of millions of dollars in investment from the state, philanthropic grants and industry partnerships.

But the two universities do not appear to have made equal progress with their plans. While Virginia Tech has already secured a substantial amount of funding from the state, George Mason is still far from meeting its fundraising goals, making the institution's original five-year timeline seem increasingly infeasible. 

The state this year appropriated $275 million for Virginia Tech to build a new Innovation Campus, whereas just $7.5 million has been allocated so far to George Mason -- far short of the $125 million the university is seeking from the state. The $7.5 million will be used to knock down an old building on George Mason's existing Arlington Campus and make room for new construction. 

Ralph Northam, Virginia's Democratic governor, said last November that the state would make performance-based investments of up to $375 million available to the two institutions to build new facilities and dramatically increase the number of computer science graduates they produce. The funds would be made available over the next twenty years, subject to a one-to-one match from the universities. Virginia Tech initially requested $250 million and George Mason $125 million. Northam said additional funding will be available to boost undergraduate enrollment in technology degrees at all Virginia public universities and community colleges. 

Anne Holton, George Mason's interim president, said she's confident the state will honor its $125 million commitment. She said the university has so far identified around $20 million from philanthropic sources and is working to secure more.

"I'm on a rigorous schedule of meetings with current donors and potential new donors," she said. "All the major tech businesses in Northern Virginia are eager to see us succeed and several of them have already stepped up to host events to help us raise those dollars. I am confident we will meet our match. It may be a couple of years, but that's ok. We don't have to have it all right away." 

Holton said the university is "still on track for ambitious growth." She noted that unlike Virginia Tech, George Mason already owns the land that it is planning to build on. "We will move forward expeditiously," she said. 

Big Plans, Big Price Tags

Tim Sands, Virginia Tech's president, last year shared plans to build a $1 billion Tech Innovation Campus near Amazon’s new headquarters that would accommodate 750 new computer science master’s students and hundreds more doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. Sands proposed that the campus would be built with $250 million from the state, $250 million from the institution and a further $500 million from a mix of philanthropic grants and industry partnerships.

George Mason’s former president, Ángel Cabrera, who will start his new role as president of the Georgia Institute of Technology in September, announced last year that George Mason would invest $250 million to build a 400,000-square-foot Institute for Digital InnovAtion (IDIA) on its Arlington campus and prepare to significantly expand its computer science enrollment. The planned $250 million investment would include $125 million from philanthropic giving and $125 million in matched funding from the state. He planned to more than double enrollment in undergraduate and graduate computer science programs to 15,000 students by 2024. The current level is around 6,500 students.  

Quickly raising $125 million to support the expansion of its computing programs and fund the new institute could prove challenging. The George Mason University Foundation reported that it received around $68 million in total contributions in 2018, up from $62.5 million in 2017. The largest ever single donation to the university was a $50 million gift for the law school in April this year. The university has also been the subject of criticism in recent years over a perceived lack of donor transparency, particularly regarding financial ties to the conservative Charles Koch Foundation.

Enrollment at George Mason has grown by 17.5 percent over the past decade, from 32,067 students in 2009 to 37,677 in 2018. But increasing tech enrollment by around 8500 students in five years would be a significant feat. The Volgenau School of Engineering, which teaches computer science among other tech subjects, gained 462 students between Fall 2018 and Fall 2019. 

Michael Sandler, a spokesman for George Mason, said Mason is already playing an important role with Amazon and other tech companies because it produces the state's largest number of graduates in highly sought tech majors. “The number of tech talent graduates is a primary reason cited by Amazon in its decision to build here in Northern Virginia, and we plan to triple the number of graduates in tech talent fields over the next decade to meet Amazon’s demand.”

Sandler said Mason has a strong track record of providing access to education for students from a broad range of socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds -- answering “an important demand from Amazon and other employers across the region and state.”

For example, the university recently announced a partnership with Amazon Web Services and Northern Virginia Community College that “offers students a seamless transfer pathway and provides a clear path to high-demand careers in cloud computing.”

Unequal State Support?

Writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in July, Cabrera hinted at his frustration with Virginia lawmakers in a “presidential farewell,” which celebrated the university’s achievements in spite of limited state support compared with neighboring institutions.

“The university today is a powerful engine of innovation, social mobility and economic growth for Northern Virginia and, by extension, for the entire commonwealth,” wrote Cabrera. “Quite notably, the university achieves all this while charging about 28 percent lower in-state tuition than the other three R-1s in Virginia (University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University), with a fraction of their endowment, and, sadly, with about one-quarter less state support per student. While private philanthropy has more than doubled in recent years, it alone cannot compensate for the weakness in public support.”

For the university to continue to grow, Cabrera wrote it is “essential that Virginia lawmakers reassess current funding levels as well as the university’s treatment from an overall policy standpoint.”

After talking about the university’s planned computer science program expansion and its commitment to diversity, Cabrera said he was concerned that the path ahead “is precarious and likely unsustainable without funding structures that invest in this growth on par with peer institutions.”

University insiders hope Holton, who is a former Virginia education secretary and current member of the state Board of Education, will be able to foster a better relationship with state lawmakers. Holton’s connections in Richmond and Washington, D.C., are significant. Her husband is Tim Kaine, a Democratic U.S. senator from Virginia, and her father is A. Linwood Holton Jr., Republican former governor of Virginia.

Holton said state support for Mason's ambitions is strong, citing many positive interactions with lawmakers in the first few weeks in her new job.

Although George Mason has yet to secure all of the funding it set out to, Holton said she does not view this as an issue. The university doesn't need to secure all $250 million in one hit, instead requesting funding from the state "as and when it is needed" over the next few years.

Stephen Moret, the president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the economic development agency that led the state’s Amazon bid, refuted the suggestion that the state may be favoring Virginia Tech over George Mason.

The Tech Talent Investment Program (TTIP), which is the mechanism through which the state will award funding to grow both undergraduate and graduate tech programs, has not yet finalized any funding decisions or institutional memorandums of understanding -- this work is expected to be completed by the end of October, he said.

“The $375 million total amount in the HQ2 press release for graduate-level computer science education was the combined total of what Virginia Tech and George Mason respectively proposed for state support in exchange for a one-to-one philanthropic match from each institution,'' said Moret. “Accordingly, it would be misleading to suggest that Virginia Tech secured the lion’s share of master’s-level funding ‘over’ George Mason, when the reality is that those tentative amounts actually are what the institutions themselves proposed to the state.”

Moret said "it definitely is possible" that George Mason will receive the amount it requested, contingent on the final funding allocation decisions of the designated reviewer group for TTIP, and subject to George Mason securing one-to-one matching philanthropic commitments.

"This is a 20-year initiative, so only some of the new state commitments show up in the [fiscal year] 2020 budget," said Moret. "Most of the state funding will be provided in future budget years as all the participating schools ramp up their programs. Some of the capital projects for Virginia Tech were included in the FY20 budget because they have been underway for quite some time."

Bethany Letiecq, an associate professor in human development and family at George Mason and president of the local advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the university's faculty members have received little communication about the expansion plans.

“We just don’t know very much. There are a lot of questions,” said Letiecq. “As the university chases the promise of Amazon, we’re left wondering what will happen to the university’s resources. Will there be funding to uplift other components of the university system? Which programs or departments might get hit? How does this growth fundamentally change the institution?”

There have already been “really troubling” suggestions that George Mason’s humanities departments may be downsized to focus on computer science and “push toward where the jobs are,” said Letiecq. “I’m not sure that faculty have been given much voice in this matter.”

She's also concerned about a lack of guarantees that Amazon will hire the thousands of computer scientists George Mason plans to graduate. The state’s promise to grow computer science programs across institutions in Virginia by 25,000 to 35,000 students over the next 20 years has been reported as a significant factor in Amazon’s decision to pick the region. But it's unclear whether the tech giant will actually hire a significant proportion of these students, when it could have its pick of national and international candidates. And Amazon recently announced plans to invest $700 million in postsecondary job training for 100,000 of its largely entry-level workers -- most of which will be offered outside of traditional colleges and universities.

Letiecq said she hopes Holton might actually slow down the expansion at George Mason, rather than speed it up. “Faculty are very concerned about the pace of growth. There is a lack of infrastructure available to accommodate the number of students that the institution is pushing toward.”

Holton said she understood that some faculty members may feel anxious about the planned computer science expansion, but stressed the university's "very strong commitment to the humanities and social sciences."

"I am confident that it's going to be a win for everybody," she said. 

Full Steam Ahead for Virginia Tech

Stephen Fuller, professor of public policy and regional development at George Mason, has researched Amazon’s potential economic impact on Northern Virginia. He believes Virginia Tech’s new Innovation Campus will have a “major beneficial impact” on the region. Comparatively, George Mason's plans are not so ambitious or advanced, he said. 

“Mason is still in spring training. They don’t have much support from Richmond, and they should have been in the forefront,” said Fuller. “George Mason didn’t talk to the right people early on. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech had a plan in the drawer, ready to go.”

Brandy Salmon, associate vice president for innovation and partnerships at Virginia Tech, said plans for the $1 billion Innovation Campus were catalyzed by the prospect of Amazon’s expansion in the region but not driven by it. The campus had been in development for a number of years, she said.

Virginia Tech will partner with Lionstone Investments to build the campus on a mixed-use development close to a planned Metro station less than two miles from Amazon’s HQ.

The campus will include academic classrooms, incubator space for start-up companies and research and development, offices, and an events space, said Salmon. The first master’s degree students will enroll in fall 2020 and will study in an existing building that is currently being used for retail. The design of the campus is yet to be finalized but is expected to be fully completed in about 10 years’ time.

Cal Ribbens, professor and head of the department of computer science at Virginia Tech, said development of a new master’s of engineering in computer applications is already well underway. The degree is planned to begin in the spring of 2020, pending approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

The degree program will be hands-on and will feature courses in software development, communication skills, ethical issues and applied research and development, said Ribbens. It is designed to turn out graduates faster than a traditional research-based program. For example, full-time students will be able complete the program in about a year.

The road map for expansion of the program, which will be the first degree offered from the Innovation Campus, is “pretty aggressive,” said Ribbens. And working from a new location may throw up some logistical challenges, particularly for faculty who will need to commute to Northern Virginia. But Ribbens points out that Virginia Tech already offers programs outside its main campus in Blacksburg.

Informal conversations with Amazon and other tech employers have informed the curriculum of the new degree program, but there is no formal partnership with the company, said Ribbens. It is possible, however, that the program may use “a small number of adjunct faculty from Amazon or other companies.”

Leaders at both George Mason and Virginia Tech said their plans are not contingent on Amazon's needs.

"We're not just growing tech talent for Amazon, but for Northern Virginia," said Holton. 

Image Caption: 
Rendering of future site of Virginia Tech's Innovation Campus in Alexandria, Va.
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Students with some college and no credential still benefit in the labor market

Much of the attention around rising college costs and loan debt has focused on students who never earn a credential, with conventional wisdom holding that they wasted time and money in the process.

But a new study found that attending college typically isn’t a waste of time, even for students who fail to graduate.

The research found “very substantial increases in employability and income” for this group of former students, who attended community college or a four-year institution, said Paul Attewell, a professor of sociology at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, who co-wrote the paper with Matt Giani, a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin’s Office of Strategy and Policy, and David Walling, a software developer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at UT.

These benefits extend across various student groups. But the paper said low-income students, women and students of color generally experienced the biggest labor-market bump from college attendance.

Previous studies have been mixed on the payoff for students who hold some college credits but no credential.

Several reached conclusions like this one from a prominent 2017 paper: “Many students leave school without any certificate of degree. They have lost valuable time and frequently have student debt to repay, but they have not managed to measurably improve their prospects.”

The most likely explanation for the ambiguity in previous research, according to the new paper, is the broad range of samples, data sets and methods those studies used.

The new research, however, was based on a statewide cohort of 207,332 students who graduated high school in Texas in 2000. The data allowed researchers to compare college completers and noncompleters, to control for selection bias, and to use unemployment insurance information to examine labor market outcomes for the group 15 years after they completed high school. The Journal of Higher Education published the study.

“The Texas data set is huge. It’s like using a different microscope,” Attewell said, adding that the growing numbers of solid data sets featuring labor-market returns from Texas and other states “are really revolutionizing our understanding of the place of college in the long-term economic prospects of students.”

‘A Stepping-Stone and a Signal’

The study found that students who attended college but did not earn a degree — including those who earned certificates — were much more likely to be employed than were members of the cohort who did not go to college. And if they were employed, they tended to have higher earnings (see graphic).

For students who attended college but did not earn a credential, the likelihood of employment increases with greater numbers of college credits earned. (However, students who earned 12 or fewer credits had slightly higher wages than those who earned more credits.)

“Students who do not go beyond high school are considerably less likely to be employed 15 years later than their ‘some college’ counterparts, even after controlling for their academic preparation and socio-demographic characteristics,” the study found.

The one-to-12-credits-earned group, for example, had mean annual earnings of $43,732 compared to $37,675 for people with no college credits. Just over half were employed in this group, while 35 percent of those without college credits were employed.

Not surprisingly, college graduates did even better. For example, people who held a bachelor’s degree (arts or science) had a median wage of $64,727, according to the study, with 65 percent being employed.

“What’s most desirable is that people who go to college earn a credential,” Attewell said.

But even a small number of credits appears to have a positive impact on employability and wages, according to the study. “It’s a stepping-stone and a signal,” he said.

Attewell speculated that employers are considering both job applicants who didn’t go beyond high school and those with some college credits, and they seem to prefer the some-college group.

A growing number of colleges and reformers in higher education are calling for the addition of credentials that can serve as “momentum points” for students on their way to earning a degree. This could be a short-term certificate or an associate degree that students earn halfway to a bachelor’s.

Such an approach can have psychological benefits for students, Attewell said, encouraging them to continue in their academic programs.

Likewise, students who work while they attend college tend to do better in the labor market, he said. That’s the majority of students, with roughly 60 percent holding a job while they’re enrolled.

“They’re not doing this in order,” said Attewell, meaning go to college then find a job. “They’re doing this simultaneously.”

The study was not able to estimate whether the benefits of college attendance were driven by the knowledge and skills students acquired when enrolled or by the signaling effect of having some college on their résumé. But the economic benefits were clear, either way.

“Our results imply that excluding students from higher education might do greater harm than benefit to both students and society, even if admitted students are not very likely to graduate,” the study concluded. “Similarly, our results oppose the notion that college noncompleters have simply wasted their time and resources, as well as the resources of the public sector.”

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Much of the attention around rising college costs and loan debt has focused on students who never earn a credential, with conventional wisdom holding that they wasted time and money in the process.

But a new study found that attending college typically isn’t a waste of time, even for students who fail to graduate.

The research found “very substantial increases in employability and income” for this group of former students, who attended community college or a four-year institution, said Paul Attewell, a professor of sociology at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, who co-wrote the paper with Matt Giani, a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin’s Office of Strategy and Policy, and David Walling, a software developer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at UT.

These benefits extend across various student groups. But the paper said low-income students, women and students of color generally experienced the biggest labor-market bump from college attendance.

Previous studies have been mixed on the payoff for students who hold some college credits but no credential.

Several reached conclusions like this one from a prominent 2017 paper: “Many students leave school without any certificate of degree. They have lost valuable time and frequently have student debt to repay, but they have not managed to measurably improve their prospects.”

The most likely explanation for the ambiguity in previous research, according to the new paper, is the broad range of samples, data sets and methods those studies used.

The new research, however, was based on a statewide cohort of 207,332 students who graduated high school in Texas in 2000. The data allowed researchers to compare college completers and noncompleters, to control for selection bias, and to use unemployment insurance information to examine labor market outcomes for the group 15 years after they completed high school. The Journal of Higher Education published the study.

“The Texas data set is huge. It’s like using a different microscope,” Attewell said, adding that the growing numbers of solid data sets featuring labor-market returns from Texas and other states “are really revolutionizing our understanding of the place of college in the long-term economic prospects of students.”

‘A Stepping-Stone and a Signal’

The study found that students who attended college but did not earn a degree -- including those who earned certificates -- were much more likely to be employed than were members of the cohort who did not go to college. And if they were employed, they tended to have higher earnings (see graphic).

For students who attended college but did not earn a credential, the likelihood of employment increases with greater numbers of college credits earned. (However, students who earned 12 or fewer credits had slightly higher wages than those who earned more credits.)

“Students who do not go beyond high school are considerably less likely to be employed 15 years later than their ‘some college’ counterparts, even after controlling for their academic preparation and socio-demographic characteristics,” the study found.

The one-to-12-credits-earned group, for example, had mean annual earnings of $43,732 compared to $37,675 for people with no college credits. Just over half were employed in this group, while 35 percent of those without college credits were employed.

Not surprisingly, college graduates did even better. For example, people who held a bachelor's degree (arts or science) had a median wage of $64,727, according to the study, with 65 percent being employed.

“What’s most desirable is that people who go to college earn a credential,” Attewell said.

But even a small number of credits appears to have a positive impact on employability and wages, according to the study. “It’s a stepping-stone and a signal,” he said.

Attewell speculated that employers are considering both job applicants who didn’t go beyond high school and those with some college credits, and they seem to prefer the some-college group.

A growing number of colleges and reformers in higher education are calling for the addition of credentials that can serve as “momentum points” for students on their way to earning a degree. This could be a short-term certificate or an associate degree that students earn halfway to a bachelor’s.

Such an approach can have psychological benefits for students, Attewell said, encouraging them to continue in their academic programs.

Likewise, students who work while they attend college tend to do better in the labor market, he said. That’s the majority of students, with roughly 60 percent holding a job while they’re enrolled.

“They’re not doing this in order,” said Attewell, meaning go to college then find a job. “They’re doing this simultaneously.”

The study was not able to estimate whether the benefits of college attendance were driven by the knowledge and skills students acquired when enrolled or by the signaling effect of having some college on their résumé. But the economic benefits were clear, either way.

“Our results imply that excluding students from higher education might do greater harm than benefit to both students and society, even if admitted students are not very likely to graduate,” the study concluded. “Similarly, our results oppose the notion that college noncompleters have simply wasted their time and resources, as well as the resources of the public sector.”

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Two MIT researchers resign from the Media Lab over its ties to Jeffrey Epstein

Accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who died in federal custody this month, allegedly took a predatory interest in teenage girls. But his involvement with thought leaders — and academics, in particular — was apparently more symbiotic: Epstein got to feed his ego and maybe even launder his character by chatting up great minds. And those great minds, or at least their institutions, got his money. Harvard University, in particular, got millions.

Some of those who associated with Epstein have publicly expressed regret about it since Epstein’s case came under new renewed scrutiny this year. Science writer Carl Zimmer, for example, said recently that he asked the Epstein-funded thought salon Edge to remove him from its website (Edge also scrubbed the site of references to Epstein). Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker — who also is affiliated with Edge — explained why he interpreted the wording of a law for Epstein’s defense team in 2007, when he was first charged with sex crimes. And Harvard geneticist George Church, who continued to meet with Epstein even after his 2008 conviction, attributed the mistake to “nerd tunnel vision.”

But beyond words, there’s been little action regarding Epstein’s entanglement with academe — until this week. That’s when two faculty members at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s esteemed Media Lab said they would step down from their positions over the lab’s ties to Epstein.

In a public post on Medium, Ethan Zuckerman, an associate professor of the practice, said he’d recently learned that the lab’s director, Joi Ito, had had a business relationship with Epstein and that Epstein invested in companies Ito personally supported. There were also “gifts and visits by Epstein to the Media Lab and by Joi to Epstein’s properties,” Zuckerman said. And so, as “the scale of Joi’s involvement with Epstein became clear to me, I began to understand that I had to end my relationship with the MIT Media Lab.” 

His logic, he said, “was simple: the work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view.” And it’s “hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship.”

Zuckerman plans to leave the lab — or maybe even MIT altogether — by the end of the coming academic year. 

Zuckerman declined an interview request Wednesday, saying that he did not intend to go public with his resignation. He’d only done so when The Globe obtained a letter he wrote to past recipients of the lab’s Disobedience Award for rabble-rousers. Last year, those recipients were Me Too leaders.

“I am ashamed of my institution today and starting the hard work of figuring out how to leave the lab while taking care of my students and staff,” he said in the letter, according to the Globe. 

Ito did not respond to a request for comment. He apologized in an open letter last week on the Media Lab website, promising to raise as much money as Epstein gave to the lab and donate it to victims of sex trafficking.

In “all of my interactions with Epstein, I was never involved in, never heard him talk about, and never saw any evidence of the horrific acts that he was accused of,” Ito wrote. “That said, I take full responsibility for my error in judgment. I am deeply sorry to the survivors, to the Media Lab and to the MIT community for bringing such a person into our network.”

Matias said in his own Medium post that he’d heard last week for the first time about Joi’s business relationship with Epstein and the ties between Epstein and the MIT Media Lab. He also said he’d learned about a deposition that names Media Lab co-founder Marvin Minsky in relation to further crimes. Specifically, one of Epstein’s accusers said in 2016 that Epstein forced her to have sex with Minsky, who died later that year. 

Describing his work as “protecting women and other vulnerable people online from abuse and harassment,” Matias said he can’t do that with integrity from a “place with the kind of relationship that the Media Lab has had with Epstein. It’s that simple.”

MIT has not disclosed how much Epstein donated. It told The Globe that an orb-shaped trophy the Media Lab gave to Epstein and other donors in 2017 was not a Disobedience Award, even though it looked similar to the orbs the Me Too activists received last year.

Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor in Media Studies at the University of Virginia, said via email that colleges and universities — especially private ones — have “become too reliant on the whims of millionaires and billionaires. Too often they set our agendas. Too often we pander to their interests and idiosyncrasies. And too often millionaires and billionaires are terrible people.”

Vaidhyanathan said that Zuckerman is a “moral person,” but that shouldn’t “make him special.” Sadly, he said, “it does.”

In a “fairer world,” Zuckerman would lead labs like the one he’s leaving, Vaidhyanathan continued. And if he did, the Media Lab “would never have suffered this embarrassment.” So moral standing in leadership appointments matters, he said, as does appointing women to “high-profile units” such as the Media Lab.

More generally, Vaidhyanathan said that every college and university should audit its donors — and include “morals clauses” in gift agreements. Donors, should, for example, agree to give up building and program naming rights if they’re credibly accused, charged or convicted of “some moral malfeasance,” like sexual harassment or racism.

Jessica Cantlon, Ronald J. and Mary Ann Zdrojkowski Professor of Developmental Neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University, was involved in the sexual misconduct case against her former colleague at the University of Rochester T. Florian Jaeger. Jaeger was found by an independent investigation not to have harassed students and co-workers but rather exercised poor judgment in a number of instances. Many on campus disagreed with that conclusion.

At Rochester, Cantlon said, she observed the “difference between men of conscience and others who would toe the company line at a moral cost.” Several of her male former colleagues stood up for women to support their sexual harassment complaints, faced retaliation and ultimately resigned their jobs, she said. In other words, they “took risks and suffered costs to help make things right for women students and faculty.”

Similarly, at MIT and Harvard, Cantlon said, some “men like Zuckerman refused to meet with Epstein even in 2014 because Epstein is a sex offender who preys on girls and women.” And Harvard and MIT, like all universities, are “supposed to be nourishing to young people,” she said. 

Other male academics, meanwhile, have accepted rides on Epstein’s private plane, performed science for him, attended his events, helped with his legal defense and more.

Why the divide? Cantlon said that some academic “men get confused about whether their job is to enrich and educate people,” or whether it’s to “amass money, power and create an empire out of their expertise.”

Men who “bowed to Epstein’s power and money” despite knowing who he was pay a price, she said. But that price is really a “debt they pass on to young people who will be hurt by the misogynistic culture they enabled.”

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Accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who died in federal custody this month, allegedly took a predatory interest in teenage girls. But his involvement with thought leaders -- and academics, in particular -- was apparently more symbiotic: Epstein got to feed his ego and maybe even launder his character by chatting up great minds. And those great minds, or at least their institutions, got his money. Harvard University, in particular, got millions.

Some of those who associated with Epstein have publicly expressed regret about it since Epstein's case came under new renewed scrutiny this year. Science writer Carl Zimmer, for example, said recently that he asked the Epstein-funded thought salon Edge to remove him from its website (Edge also scrubbed the site of references to Epstein). Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker -- who also is affiliated with Edge -- explained why he interpreted the wording of a law for Epstein’s defense team in 2007, when he was first charged with sex crimes. And Harvard geneticist George Church, who continued to meet with Epstein even after his 2008 conviction, attributed the mistake to “nerd tunnel vision.”

But beyond words, there’s been little action regarding Epstein’s entanglement with academe -- until this week. That’s when two faculty members at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s esteemed Media Lab said they would step down from their positions over the lab’s ties to Epstein.

In a public post on Medium, Ethan Zuckerman, an associate professor of the practice, said he'd recently learned that the lab’s director, Joi Ito, had had a business relationship with Epstein and that Epstein invested in companies Ito personally supported. There were also "gifts and visits by Epstein to the Media Lab and by Joi to Epstein’s properties," Zuckerman said. And so, as "the scale of Joi’s involvement with Epstein became clear to me, I began to understand that I had to end my relationship with the MIT Media Lab." 

His logic, he said, "was simple: the work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view." And it's "hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship."

Zuckerman plans to leave the lab -- or maybe even MIT altogether -- by the end of the coming academic year. 

Zuckerman declined an interview request Wednesday, saying that he did not intend to go public with his resignation. He'd only done so when The Globe obtained a letter he wrote to past recipients of the lab’s Disobedience Award for rabble-rousers. Last year, those recipients were Me Too leaders.

“I am ashamed of my institution today and starting the hard work of figuring out how to leave the lab while taking care of my students and staff,” he said in the letter, according to the Globe. 

Ito did not respond to a request for comment. He apologized in an open letter last week on the Media Lab website, promising to raise as much money as Epstein gave to the lab and donate it to victims of sex trafficking.

In "all of my interactions with Epstein, I was never involved in, never heard him talk about, and never saw any evidence of the horrific acts that he was accused of," Ito wrote. "That said, I take full responsibility for my error in judgment. I am deeply sorry to the survivors, to the Media Lab and to the MIT community for bringing such a person into our network."

Matias said in his own Medium post that he’d heard last week for the first time about Joi's business relationship with Epstein and the ties between Epstein and the MIT Media Lab. He also said he'd learned about a deposition that names Media Lab co-founder Marvin Minsky in relation to further crimes. Specifically, one of Epstein's accusers said in 2016 that Epstein forced her to have sex with Minsky, who died later that year. 

Describing his work as "protecting women and other vulnerable people online from abuse and harassment," Matias said he can't do that with integrity from a "place with the kind of relationship that the Media Lab has had with Epstein. It’s that simple.”

MIT has not disclosed how much Epstein donated. It told The Globe that an orb-shaped trophy the Media Lab gave to Epstein and other donors in 2017 was not a Disobedience Award, even though it looked similar to the orbs the Me Too activists received last year.

Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor in Media Studies at the University of Virginia, said via email that colleges and universities -- especially private ones -- have “become too reliant on the whims of millionaires and billionaires. Too often they set our agendas. Too often we pander to their interests and idiosyncrasies. And too often millionaires and billionaires are terrible people.”

Vaidhyanathan said that Zuckerman is a “moral person,” but that shouldn’t “make him special." Sadly, he said, "it does.”

In a “fairer world,” Zuckerman would lead labs like the one he’s leaving, Vaidhyanathan continued. And if he did, the Media Lab “would never have suffered this embarrassment.” So moral standing in leadership appointments matters, he said, as does appointing women to “high-profile units” such as the Media Lab.

More generally, Vaidhyanathan said that every college and university should audit its donors -- and include “morals clauses” in gift agreements. Donors, should, for example, agree to give up building and program naming rights if they’re credibly accused, charged or convicted of “some moral malfeasance,” like sexual harassment or racism.

Jessica Cantlon, Ronald J. and Mary Ann Zdrojkowski Professor of Developmental Neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University, was involved in the sexual misconduct case against her former colleague at the University of Rochester T. Florian Jaeger. Jaeger was found by an independent investigation not to have harassed students and co-workers but rather exercised poor judgment in a number of instances. Many on campus disagreed with that conclusion.

At Rochester, Cantlon said, she observed the “difference between men of conscience and others who would toe the company line at a moral cost.” Several of her male former colleagues stood up for women to support their sexual harassment complaints, faced retaliation and ultimately resigned their jobs, she said. In other words, they “took risks and suffered costs to help make things right for women students and faculty.”

Similarly, at MIT and Harvard, Cantlon said, some “men like Zuckerman refused to meet with Epstein even in 2014 because Epstein is a sex offender who preys on girls and women.” And Harvard and MIT, like all universities, are “supposed to be nourishing to young people,” she said. 

Other male academics, meanwhile, have accepted rides on Epstein's private plane, performed science for him, attended his events, helped with his legal defense and more.

Why the divide? Cantlon said that some academic "men get confused about whether their job is to enrich and educate people,” or whether it’s to “amass money, power and create an empire out of their expertise.”

Men who “bowed to Epstein's power and money" despite knowing who he was pay a price, she said. But that price is really a “debt they pass on to young people who will be hurt by the misogynistic culture they enabled.”

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Author talks free speech on college campuses in new book

College campuses have grappled with extraordinary free speech challenges in the last several years. Students have shouted down speakers whose views they disagree with or find offensive, and outsiders have demanded the students be punished. White supremacists have increased their presence on campuses both to speak and to spread their literature. P. E. Moskowitz, formerly a staff writer with Al Jazeera America, has documented many of those cases in their new book, The Case Against Free Speech: The First Amendment, Fascism and the Future of Dissent (Hachette Book Group). Moskowitz discusses how they believe conservatives have abused the concept of free speech and walks through the forces behind the 2017 riots in Charlottesville, Va., and elsewhere.

Moskowitz answered some questions about their book via email.

Q: What do you anticipate the biggest battles related to free speech will be on college campuses?

A: I think, thankfully, we’ve kind of seen beyond the ruse of free speech fights on college campuses and begun to recognize there are deeper issues at play. For years, there were dozens of op-eds, think pieces and some reported pieces framing college students as rabble-rousers who just wanted to shut people down. Now we’re starting to see that these students aren’t after a purified and politically correct campus, but one that is more challenging — one that includes different points of view and is more welcoming to people of color and trans students. Does that mean the fights on campus are over? Absolutely not. If anything, we’ll see more of these fights on college campuses as students take professors and administrators to task for teaching staid curricula that don’t relate to their lived experiences. But I think that’s a positive sign: Isn’t it great that students are passionate about what they’re learning, passionate enough to demand that it be changed to more accurately reflect the world we live in today? They’re asking for more, not less.

But what I do [think] is mostly over is the era of conservative provocateurs claiming that their free speech has been violated because students simply don’t want to hear them speak. Colleges, after all, are some of the most highly curated environments out there, and faculty, administrators and many others are realizing there’s nothing wrong with limiting some speech. After all, that’s their literal jobs — to create syllabi, classroom discussions, etc. that teach students some things, but not everything. Is not including a book on a syllabus a violation of free speech? Of course not. Why is the logic of not inviting racist speakers to campus different?

Unfortunately I do think there will be more legal battles over this. You’re seeing conservative legislators trying to block students from protesting on campus in several states, something that’s sure to only anger students further.

Q: When it comes to incidents related to free speech, i.e. controversial speakers, shout-downs, protests and more, what do you think administrators get wrong in their response?

A: I think administrators have kind of had the wool pulled over their eyes when it comes to free speech and inviting controversial speakers. They think they have some duty to present conflictual viewpoints even if those viewpoints are racist, anti-intellectual and simply not factual. As one Middlebury student pointed out to me, the administrators don’t invite people who [don’t] want to present evolution or global warming as a truth, because that would conflict with the college’s academic values. Why is inviting someone who believes in an outdated concept such as race science, like Charles Murray, held to a less stringent standard?

The job of colleges and universities has always been to limit some forms of information while promoting others. A conservative Christian university would likely not invite someone to talk about the benefits of communism and atheism, and we do not expect them to. You don’t go to history class to learn to bake a cake. Classrooms are generally led by professors, and students are not allowed to speak out of turn. In other words, colleges have always been some of the most limited speaking environments in the world, so why is inviting or not inviting a conservative provocateur different? I think administrators are simply scared of angering some very powerful forces. That’s especially true of public universities, where their budgets might be cut if they piss off the wrong legislators.

Q: You argue in the book that you believe conservatives have hijacked the concept of free speech for their own purposes. Do you think conservatives truly believe in the notion of free speech at all, and if not, why?

A: I think many conservatives believe in free speech but don’t really question what it means. We’ve been taught a very specific definition of free speech that promotes certain speech while quashing other speech. If I voice my opinion in my house, that’s free speech; if I voice it, uninvited, at my neighbor’s house, that’s a home invasion and I could be legally shot in many states! If you enter a Walmart, you’re not allowed to photograph anything. If you yell in a government building about a grievance, you can be arrested for protesting.

This is where we get into the conservatives that I believe see free speech as nothing more than a tool to push their agenda. In the 1980s, the Koch brothers and their policy advisers got together and put together a plan to infiltrate college campuses with free-market ideology. They knew that people wouldn’t simply accept lower tax rates and deregulation of the economy, so they purposefully invested in what they called “raw materials” — professorships, literature and student groups — that would push for conservative beliefs under the guise of free speech.

Q: White nationalist speakers such as Richard Spencer and others have largely ceased college tours. Do you anticipate a time where they, or others like them, will resume this speaking circuit?

A: Not really. Maybe in 10 or 20 years, once we’ve all forgotten how much of a failure these conservative speakers were. They essentially got laughed out of public discourse. College students and other activists have been remarkably successful at getting their point across and de-emphasizing the importance of these provocateurs. Evergreen College, for example, is seen as a controversial example of protest, and in many cases even a failure, because of the protests there in recent years over an overly white faculty and curriculum that didn’t center anyone but white people. But in my mind, it’s actually a success story: students got much of what they wanted, and the school is now more committed to diversity in hiring and teaching. Because of those successes, right-wingers have had to take a step back and restrategize. That doesn’t mean they’re not still active on college campuses. But I suspect they’ll develop a different tactic soon, since the provocateur model has kind of failed.

Q: Some students want “hate speech” to be punishable on public college campuses. Do you believe there is the will among administrators to do this, or to change over all what is acceptable at these institutions, despite First Amendment concerns?

A: Again, this goes back to colleges being some of the most highly curated environments out there. Is denying someone admission to a college a threat to that person’s free speech? Is failing someone in a class a threat to their free speech? Is a student not being able to disrupt a class whenever they want a threat to free speech? We take these limits as a given, and even a positive in colleges, yet when it comes to students requesting or demanding that colleges not allow professors or students to say racist, transphobic and other offensive language without punishment, that becomes a step too far for administrators. So I would question whether they’re really afraid of limiting speech (which, as I said, they do all the time), or whether they’re afraid of confronting just how common and ingrained transphobia, racism and other forms of oppression are on their campuses.

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College campuses have grappled with extraordinary free speech challenges in the last several years. Students have shouted down speakers whose views they disagree with or find offensive, and outsiders have demanded the students be punished. White supremacists have increased their presence on campuses both to speak and to spread their literature. P. E. Moskowitz, formerly a staff writer with Al Jazeera America, has documented many of those cases in their new book, The Case Against Free Speech: The First Amendment, Fascism and the Future of Dissent (Hachette Book Group). Moskowitz discusses how they believe conservatives have abused the concept of free speech and walks through the forces behind the 2017 riots in Charlottesville, Va., and elsewhere.

Moskowitz answered some questions about their book via email.

Q: What do you anticipate the biggest battles related to free speech will be on college campuses?

A: I think, thankfully, we've kind of seen beyond the ruse of free speech fights on college campuses and begun to recognize there are deeper issues at play. For years, there were dozens of op-eds, think pieces and some reported pieces framing college students as rabble-rousers who just wanted to shut people down. Now we're starting to see that these students aren't after a purified and politically correct campus, but one that is more challenging -- one that includes different points of view and is more welcoming to people of color and trans students. Does that mean the fights on campus are over? Absolutely not. If anything, we'll see more of these fights on college campuses as students take professors and administrators to task for teaching staid curricula that don't relate to their lived experiences. But I think that's a positive sign: Isn't it great that students are passionate about what they're learning, passionate enough to demand that it be changed to more accurately reflect the world we live in today? They're asking for more, not less.

But what I do [think] is mostly over is the era of conservative provocateurs claiming that their free speech has been violated because students simply don't want to hear them speak. Colleges, after all, are some of the most highly curated environments out there, and faculty, administrators and many others are realizing there's nothing wrong with limiting some speech. After all, that's their literal jobs -- to create syllabi, classroom discussions, etc. that teach students some things, but not everything. Is not including a book on a syllabus a violation of free speech? Of course not. Why is the logic of not inviting racist speakers to campus different?

Unfortunately I do think there will be more legal battles over this. You're seeing conservative legislators trying to block students from protesting on campus in several states, something that's sure to only anger students further.

Q: When it comes to incidents related to free speech, i.e. controversial speakers, shout-downs, protests and more, what do you think administrators get wrong in their response?

A: I think administrators have kind of had the wool pulled over their eyes when it comes to free speech and inviting controversial speakers. They think they have some duty to present conflictual viewpoints even if those viewpoints are racist, anti-intellectual and simply not factual. As one Middlebury student pointed out to me, the administrators don't invite people who [don't] want to present evolution or global warming as a truth, because that would conflict with the college's academic values. Why is inviting someone who believes in an outdated concept such as race science, like Charles Murray, held to a less stringent standard?

The job of colleges and universities has always been to limit some forms of information while promoting others. A conservative Christian university would likely not invite someone to talk about the benefits of communism and atheism, and we do not expect them to. You don't go to history class to learn to bake a cake. Classrooms are generally led by professors, and students are not allowed to speak out of turn. In other words, colleges have always been some of the most limited speaking environments in the world, so why is inviting or not inviting a conservative provocateur different? I think administrators are simply scared of angering some very powerful forces. That's especially true of public universities, where their budgets might be cut if they piss off the wrong legislators.

Q: You argue in the book that you believe conservatives have hijacked the concept of free speech for their own purposes. Do you think conservatives truly believe in the notion of free speech at all, and if not, why?

A: I think many conservatives believe in free speech but don't really question what it means. We've been taught a very specific definition of free speech that promotes certain speech while quashing other speech. If I voice my opinion in my house, that's free speech; if I voice it, uninvited, at my neighbor's house, that's a home invasion and I could be legally shot in many states! If you enter a Walmart, you're not allowed to photograph anything. If you yell in a government building about a grievance, you can be arrested for protesting.

This is where we get into the conservatives that I believe see free speech as nothing more than a tool to push their agenda. In the 1980s, the Koch brothers and their policy advisers got together and put together a plan to infiltrate college campuses with free-market ideology. They knew that people wouldn't simply accept lower tax rates and deregulation of the economy, so they purposefully invested in what they called "raw materials" -- professorships, literature and student groups -- that would push for conservative beliefs under the guise of free speech.

Q: White nationalist speakers such as Richard Spencer and others have largely ceased college tours. Do you anticipate a time where they, or others like them, will resume this speaking circuit?

A: Not really. Maybe in 10 or 20 years, once we've all forgotten how much of a failure these conservative speakers were. They essentially got laughed out of public discourse. College students and other activists have been remarkably successful at getting their point across and de-emphasizing the importance of these provocateurs. Evergreen College, for example, is seen as a controversial example of protest, and in many cases even a failure, because of the protests there in recent years over an overly white faculty and curriculum that didn't center anyone but white people. But in my mind, it's actually a success story: students got much of what they wanted, and the school is now more committed to diversity in hiring and teaching. Because of those successes, right-wingers have had to take a step back and restrategize. That doesn't mean they're not still active on college campuses. But I suspect they'll develop a different tactic soon, since the provocateur model has kind of failed.

Q: Some students want "hate speech" to be punishable on public college campuses. Do you believe there is the will among administrators to do this, or to change over all what is acceptable at these institutions, despite First Amendment concerns?

A: Again, this goes back to colleges being some of the most highly curated environments out there. Is denying someone admission to a college a threat to that person's free speech? Is failing someone in a class a threat to their free speech? Is a student not being able to disrupt a class whenever they want a threat to free speech? We take these limits as a given, and even a positive in colleges, yet when it comes to students requesting or demanding that colleges not allow professors or students to say racist, transphobic and other offensive language without punishment, that becomes a step too far for administrators. So I would question whether they're really afraid of limiting speech (which, as I said, they do all the time), or whether they're afraid of confronting just how common and ingrained transphobia, racism and other forms of oppression are on their campuses.

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Trump administration to grant disabled veterans automatic loan forgiveness

President Trump said in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday that he would wipe out “every penny” of student loan debt held by disabled veterans.

At an event organized by the veterans group AMVETS, Trump signed a memorandum directing the Education Department to automatically discharge federal student loans held by veterans who qualify as permanently disabled.

Democratic lawmakers and state officials had urged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for months to take that step.

DeVos and Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie announced last year that their agencies would begin identifying and reaching out to veterans who may qualify for the benefit. Since then, more than 22,000 borrowers have received a total of $650 million in loan forgiveness.

But in a letter to DeVos in May, attorneys general for 51 states and territories wrote to say that the process remained inadequate and said requiring veterans to affirmatively seek loan discharge would create insurmountable obstacles for many.

Under the process outlined in the White House memorandum Wednesday, veterans will receive loan forgiveness automatically unless they decide to opt out — a decision some might make because of issues like state tax liability. Congress last year eliminated federal tax liability for veteran loan forgiveness.

“Supporting and caring for those who have sacrificed much in service to our country is a priority for President Trump and the entire administration,” DeVos said in a statement.

Education Department data provided last year to two groups, Veterans Education Success and Vietnam Veterans of America, showed that more than 42,000 borrowers were eligible for the loan forgiveness benefit, known as Total and Permanent Disability discharge. Of those eligible veterans, more than 25,000 had defaulted on roughly $168 million in student loans — a sign of both how much veterans were struggling with loan payments and how underutilized the loan forgiveness program had been.

Borrowers enter default when they go more than 270 days without making a payment on their student loans, which has negative repercussions for their credit and blocks their ability to take out other federal student aid.

In response to those Education Department figures, several veterans’ groups called on DeVos to make the loan forgiveness process automatic.

“It is not fair to ask severely disabled veterans to have to complete paperwork, especially given that some catastrophic disabilities will interfere with their ability to complete the paperwork,” those groups wrote in a November letter. “Further, the fact that more than half of veterans eligible for student loan forgiveness are currently in default is absolutely egregious — the government needs to do more to help those who have sacrificed so much for our country.”

Washington senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, also encouraged DeVos in November to provide automatic loan forgiveness to qualifying veterans in a letter that outlined a process like the one announced by the Trump administration Wednesday.

The Education Department said that it would notify 25,000 eligible veterans about the automatic loan discharge. It will continue notifying qualifying veterans on a quarterly basis.

The announcement was applauded by veterans’ groups and advocates for student borrowers. Some, however, said it showed the federal government could be doing more to automate loan forgiveness for other borrowers. Georgetown University law professor John Brooks noted on Twitter that any totally disabled person is eligible to have their student loans discharged.

Disabled vets should be just the start for @usedgov. ALL disabled borrowers should have their loans discharged, as is their long-standing right under the law.

— John Brooks (@jakebrooksGULC) August 21, 2019

Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success, called the announcement a welcome development.

“We look forward to working with the Education Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs to educate eligible veterans and to ensure a successful rollout of this program and to determine how it will make whole the 25,023 totally and permanently disabled veterans who were wrongly put into default, harming their credit scores, offsetting their tax returns and withholding their VA disability living allowance,” she said.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said the group would push the Trump administration to streamline other loan forgiveness programs as well.

“While we commend the administration, we will continue to call on it to take action to address the similarly egregious loan cancellation problems in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and TEACH Grant programs,” he said.

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President Trump said in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday that he would wipe out “every penny” of student loan debt held by disabled veterans.

At an event organized by the veterans group AMVETS, Trump signed a memorandum directing the Education Department to automatically discharge federal student loans held by veterans who qualify as permanently disabled.

Democratic lawmakers and state officials had urged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for months to take that step.

DeVos and Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie announced last year that their agencies would begin identifying and reaching out to veterans who may qualify for the benefit. Since then, more than 22,000 borrowers have received a total of $650 million in loan forgiveness.

But in a letter to DeVos in May, attorneys general for 51 states and territories wrote to say that the process remained inadequate and said requiring veterans to affirmatively seek loan discharge would create insurmountable obstacles for many.

Under the process outlined in the White House memorandum Wednesday, veterans will receive loan forgiveness automatically unless they decide to opt out -- a decision some might make because of issues like state tax liability. Congress last year eliminated federal tax liability for veteran loan forgiveness.

“Supporting and caring for those who have sacrificed much in service to our country is a priority for President Trump and the entire administration,” DeVos said in a statement.

Education Department data provided last year to two groups, Veterans Education Success and Vietnam Veterans of America, showed that more than 42,000 borrowers were eligible for the loan forgiveness benefit, known as Total and Permanent Disability discharge. Of those eligible veterans, more than 25,000 had defaulted on roughly $168 million in student loans -- a sign of both how much veterans were struggling with loan payments and how underutilized the loan forgiveness program had been.

Borrowers enter default when they go more than 270 days without making a payment on their student loans, which has negative repercussions for their credit and blocks their ability to take out other federal student aid.

In response to those Education Department figures, several veterans' groups called on DeVos to make the loan forgiveness process automatic.

“It is not fair to ask severely disabled veterans to have to complete paperwork, especially given that some catastrophic disabilities will interfere with their ability to complete the paperwork,” those groups wrote in a November letter. “Further, the fact that more than half of veterans eligible for student loan forgiveness are currently in default is absolutely egregious -- the government needs to do more to help those who have sacrificed so much for our country.”

Washington senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, also encouraged DeVos in November to provide automatic loan forgiveness to qualifying veterans in a letter that outlined a process like the one announced by the Trump administration Wednesday.

The Education Department said that it would notify 25,000 eligible veterans about the automatic loan discharge. It will continue notifying qualifying veterans on a quarterly basis.

The announcement was applauded by veterans' groups and advocates for student borrowers. Some, however, said it showed the federal government could be doing more to automate loan forgiveness for other borrowers. Georgetown University law professor John Brooks noted on Twitter that any totally disabled person is eligible to have their student loans discharged.

Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success, called the announcement a welcome development.

"We look forward to working with the Education Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs to educate eligible veterans and to ensure a successful rollout of this program and to determine how it will make whole the 25,023 totally and permanently disabled veterans who were wrongly put into default, harming their credit scores, offsetting their tax returns and withholding their VA disability living allowance," she said.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said the group would push the Trump administration to streamline other loan forgiveness programs as well.

"While we commend the administration, we will continue to call on it to take action to address the similarly egregious loan cancellation problems in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and TEACH Grant programs," he said.

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Columbia, Stanford and Chicago law schools now cost more than $100,000 to attend

The price to attend the law schools at Columbia and Stanford Universities and the University of Chicago will pass $100,000 this academic year, making them the first of the nation’s law schools to blow past that mark. Several of their law school peers are poised just below it and will surpass six figures soon.

Columbia’s cost of attendance went from $97,850 in 2018-19 to $101,345 this upcoming year, according to its costs and budgeting information published online, which includes both tuition and fees and law students’ nine-month cost of living expenses. Stanford Law will charge $101,016 this upcoming year, as reported in its 2019-20 Financial Aid Handbook. That’s a 4.5 percent increase from its 2018-19 total cost of $96,429. Chicago edged over the $100,000 mark by $80 for first-year students, but is at a mere $98,505 for second- and third-year students.

A six-figure cost of attendance can be shocking to prospective law students at first glance, said Kyle McEntee, director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit that aims to increase the accountability and affordability of the nation’s law schools.

But many elite schools like Harvard Law, the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Law and Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law have been creeping toward $100,000 over the past three years, with 2019-20 costs at $99,200, $98,484 and $94,410, respectively.

In a statement, Stanford Law said its tuition pricing is set by the university and noted that cost of attendance accounts for both university-provided health insurance and the high cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, which was more than one-third of Stanford’s total COA and $10,000 more than Columbia Law’s cost of living in 2018-19, according to the American Bar Association’s most recent required disclosures.

“Tuition covers roughly one-third of the actual cost of educating law students,” the statement read. “Stanford Law School currently has the lowest tuition rates among our peers.”

The cost of attending elite law schools is rising over all, so Stanford Law and Columbia Law surpassing $100,000 is unsurprising and won’t affect application rates for these schools, said Chris Chapman, president and CEO of AccessLex, a nonprofit that works to improve legal education.

For law students considering the two schools, which are ranked second (Stanford) and fifth (Columbia) in U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 Best Law Schools, they acknowledge the high costs as an investment in a prestigious legal education, Chapman said.

“They could increase demand and that wouldn’t impact the number of people who apply or qualify [to attend],” Chapman said. “These schools, they’re perceived as a premium item, a luxury good. You almost have a reverse psychology that if it’s not that expensive, it’s not that good. No one wants to be seen as the cheap version of these schools.”

Top law schools generally aren’t worried about expenses diminishing their attractiveness, McEntee said, and the law students attending won’t be dramatically swayed by an additional $1,000 to $3,000, said Chapman, who compared the decision to investment in other big-ticket purchases.

“Most people don’t walk away from a house that they really enjoy being in for a couple thousand dollars in savings,” Chapman said.

But it is possible that some schools with costs of attendance upward of $90,000 are strategically limiting increases in tuition to avoid reaching $100,000, McEntee said. Harvard Law showed evidence of slowing its tuition and fee increases — if it had increased by the same amount this year as in 2018-19, the school would also be hitting $100,000 for 2019-20, but tuition and fees increased by only 3.2 percent this year, which is a lower rate than each of its yearly increases over the last five years, McEntee said.

Harvard Law’s Office of Communications did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

While the $100,000 marker may not impact students who know they can afford a Stanford or Columbia legal education or who plan on making loan repayments with a substantial salary, low-income prospective students and those hoping to enter the public sphere are much more likely to notice this cost, McEntee said.

Students who attend these law schools could accumulate as much as $300,000 or more in loans by the time they pass the bar, which could take 25 years to pay off at roughly $2,500 a month.

“Those increases hurt. They make it more difficult for students who attend Columbia to consider noncorporate careers,” McEntee said. “On top of that, the national data show that people of color are more likely to pay full price than their white counterparts.”

To help students afford its legal education, Stanford Law said in a statement it provides “very generous loan forgiveness and financial aid programs.”

“Columbia Law School is committed to making a first-rate legal education accessible to students regardless of their financial circumstances,” wrote Columbia Law in a statement. “We devote substantial resources to financial aid and have increased this support in recent years.”

Grants and scholarships from the schools haven’t made a meaningful dent in a majority of students’ cost of attendance, either, with 47 percent of Stanford students and half of students at Columbia receiving financial aid from the school in 2017-18, according to 509 disclosures. Law School Transparency’s financial aid analyses show that 49.8 percent of Columbia Law students paid full price in 2018-19, McEntee said.

Tuition increases over the past decade — private law schools were collectively 1.2 times as expensive in 2018 as in 2008 (when adjusted for inflation), LST reported — are leading many students to pursue corporate law, where returns are likely to be higher than in other fields, McEntee said.

“You can spend any time with any group of law students with any type of debt, and they’ll tell you, they don’t get to go into the career they want because of this,” McEntee said. “These law students could be the leaders of our future. That makes this really important.”

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The price to attend the law schools at Columbia and Stanford Universities and the University of Chicago will pass $100,000 this academic year, making them the first of the nation’s law schools to blow past that mark. Several of their law school peers are poised just below it and will surpass six figures soon.

Columbia’s cost of attendance went from $97,850 in 2018-19 to $101,345 this upcoming year, according to its costs and budgeting information published online, which includes both tuition and fees and law students’ nine-month cost of living expenses. Stanford Law will charge $101,016 this upcoming year, as reported in its 2019-20 Financial Aid Handbook. That's a 4.5 percent increase from its 2018-19 total cost of $96,429. Chicago edged over the $100,000 mark by $80 for first-year students, but is at a mere $98,505 for second- and third-year students.

A six-figure cost of attendance can be shocking to prospective law students at first glance, said Kyle McEntee, director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit that aims to increase the accountability and affordability of the nation’s law schools.

But many elite schools like Harvard Law, the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Law and Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law have been creeping toward $100,000 over the past three years, with 2019-20 costs at $99,200, $98,484 and $94,410, respectively.

In a statement, Stanford Law said its tuition pricing is set by the university and noted that cost of attendance accounts for both university-provided health insurance and the high cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, which was more than one-third of Stanford’s total COA and $10,000 more than Columbia Law’s cost of living in 2018-19, according to the American Bar Association’s most recent required disclosures.

“Tuition covers roughly one-third of the actual cost of educating law students,” the statement read. “Stanford Law School currently has the lowest tuition rates among our peers.”

The cost of attending elite law schools is rising over all, so Stanford Law and Columbia Law surpassing $100,000 is unsurprising and won’t affect application rates for these schools, said Chris Chapman, president and CEO of AccessLex, a nonprofit that works to improve legal education.

For law students considering the two schools, which are ranked second (Stanford) and fifth (Columbia) in U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 Best Law Schools, they acknowledge the high costs as an investment in a prestigious legal education, Chapman said.

“They could increase demand and that wouldn’t impact the number of people who apply or qualify [to attend],” Chapman said. “These schools, they’re perceived as a premium item, a luxury good. You almost have a reverse psychology that if it’s not that expensive, it’s not that good. No one wants to be seen as the cheap version of these schools.”

Top law schools generally aren’t worried about expenses diminishing their attractiveness, McEntee said, and the law students attending won’t be dramatically swayed by an additional $1,000 to $3,000, said Chapman, who compared the decision to investment in other big-ticket purchases.

“Most people don’t walk away from a house that they really enjoy being in for a couple thousand dollars in savings,” Chapman said.

But it is possible that some schools with costs of attendance upward of $90,000 are strategically limiting increases in tuition to avoid reaching $100,000, McEntee said. Harvard Law showed evidence of slowing its tuition and fee increases -- if it had increased by the same amount this year as in 2018-19, the school would also be hitting $100,000 for 2019-20, but tuition and fees increased by only 3.2 percent this year, which is a lower rate than each of its yearly increases over the last five years, McEntee said.

Harvard Law’s Office of Communications did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

While the $100,000 marker may not impact students who know they can afford a Stanford or Columbia legal education or who plan on making loan repayments with a substantial salary, low-income prospective students and those hoping to enter the public sphere are much more likely to notice this cost, McEntee said.

Students who attend these law schools could accumulate as much as $300,000 or more in loans by the time they pass the bar, which could take 25 years to pay off at roughly $2,500 a month.

“Those increases hurt. They make it more difficult for students who attend Columbia to consider noncorporate careers,” McEntee said. “On top of that, the national data show that people of color are more likely to pay full price than their white counterparts.”

To help students afford its legal education, Stanford Law said in a statement it provides “very generous loan forgiveness and financial aid programs.”

“Columbia Law School is committed to making a first-rate legal education accessible to students regardless of their financial circumstances,” wrote Columbia Law in a statement. “We devote substantial resources to financial aid and have increased this support in recent years.”

Grants and scholarships from the schools haven’t made a meaningful dent in a majority of students’ cost of attendance, either, with 47 percent of Stanford students and half of students at Columbia receiving financial aid from the school in 2017-18, according to 509 disclosures. Law School Transparency's financial aid analyses show that 49.8 percent of Columbia Law students paid full price in 2018-19, McEntee said.

Tuition increases over the past decade -- private law schools were collectively 1.2 times as expensive in 2018 as in 2008 (when adjusted for inflation), LST reported -- are leading many students to pursue corporate law, where returns are likely to be higher than in other fields, McEntee said.

“You can spend any time with any group of law students with any type of debt, and they’ll tell you, they don’t get to go into the career they want because of this,” McEntee said. “These law students could be the leaders of our future. That makes this really important.”

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