NCAA urges institutions to sign diversity pledge

The National Collegiate Athletic Association rolled out a new pledge on Wednesday urging college presidents and chancellors, as well as conference commissioners, to “specifically commit to establishing initiatives for achieving ethnic and racial diversity, gender equity and inclusion with a focus on hiring practices in intercollegiate athletics.” The NCAA will not, however, sanction those who do not honor the commitment.

With white men filling the vast majority of leadership positions in college sports, minority and women’s groups have long asked the NCAA to put pressure on institutions to improve their hiring practices. Those groups largely, if cautiously, praised the creation of the pledge on Wednesday.

“We recognize and value the experiences individuals from diverse backgrounds bring to intercollegiate athletics,” the pledge states. “To that end, we will strive to identify, recruit and interview individuals from diverse backgrounds in an effort to increase their representation and retention as commissioners, athletics directors, coaches and other athletics leadership positions. As part of this commitment we will also engage in a regular diversity, inclusion and equity review to inform campus policy and diversity initiatives.”

As of Wednesday evening, nearly 100 presidents and chancellors had signed the pledge, including 31 from Division I institutions, 33 from Division II and 29 from Division III. Commissioners from 23 athletic conferences had also signed it. Colleges and conferences that sign the pledge will be added to a public listing on the NCAA’s website.

Bernard Franklin, the NCAA’s chief inclusion officer, said the pledge was the first in a series of initiatives the association plans on creating to help colleges address issues related to diversity. The NCAA’s Board of Governors approved the pledge in August, following a presentation by Franklin earlier in the year.

“My presentation made it very clear that we were making very little progress in terms of demographic representation, and in some cases we were actually seeing some decline,” Franklin said. “I think the data were a call to action. We want our members to sign on the dotted line clearly saying that they are committed and that they want to address these issues.”

Fewer than 10 percent of athletics directors are African-American, according to an NCAA survey from 2015, and members of ethnic minority groups make up only 13 percent of leadership positions in athletics administration.

According to a study published in November by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, 78.9 percent of presidents at the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision colleges were white men, as were 79.7 percent of athletics directors. About 7 percent of athletics directors were women, and all of them were white. Nearly 90 percent of faculty athletics representatives were white.

More than half of college football players last season were black, but about 88 percent of head football coaches were white.

In the last four decades, the percentage of women’s teams being coached by women has fallen from 90 to 40 percent. The massive drop in the proportion of female coaches happened while the number of female college athletes soared 500 percent, thanks to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Sixty percent of women’s teams are now coached by men. About 3 percent of men’s teams are coached by women.

“This commitment is a huge milestone in our industry’s dedication to a better future,” Patti Phillips, chief executive officer of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, said in a statement. “The pledge acknowledges the importance of diversity in intercollegiate athletics and calls on all college presidents, chancellors and leaders to commit themselves and their respective institutions to create better opportunities for women and people of color in athletics.”

The pledge, which would not extend to presidents and other nonathletics positions, also received praise from the American Council on Education, with the association saying Wednesday that it was giving the initiative its “full support.”

Advocates for Athletic Equity, the group formerly known as the Black Coaches Association, is supportive of the pledge, though Tyrone Lockhart, the group’s chief executive officer, said he is disappointed that there is no way to hold colleges that sign the document accountable.

“Our organization has been involved with this for a long time, and we are hopeful this is a step in the right direction,” Lockhart said. “A pledge really acknowledging that the lack of ethnic minority coaches is a real issue and that we need to do a better job in this area is a positive step. In terms of accountability, it’s not really possible for the NCAA to create some type of Rooney Rule.”

The Rooney Rule, named for the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a National Football League policy that requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and other leadership positions. While many would argue that the NFL still has a long way to go in terms of diversity, the rule is credited with improving the league’s hiring of minority coaches and officials. In the 80 years before the rule was adopted in 2003, only seven NFL teams had people of color in head coaching positions. Since 2003, 17 teams have hired an African-American or Latino coach or general manager.

Earlier this year, the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development urged the NCAA to create a similar rule, called the Eddie Robinson Rule, named for the former head coach of Grambling State University. The rule would require “colleges and universities to interview at least one qualified racial and ethnic minority candidate in their final candidate pool for open head coaching and administrative positions.”

Franklin, of the NCAA, said the mix of private and public institutions among the association’s membership and the various state laws that govern colleges make it difficult for the NCAA to adopt any hard rules mandating hiring practices.

But Richard Lapchick, who first proposed the Eddie Robinson Rule and is director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, said that unless the NCAA adopts a rule that carries sanctions, it is unlikely that colleges will change their hiring practices. The NCAA Division I Athletic Directors Association passed a similar resolution in 2008, promising to interview at least one minority candidate for football head coaching positions. Diversity among Division I football coaches has declined since then.

“It’s an idealistic pledge, and it’s definitely good that it’s there,” Lapchick said. “But it doesn’t have any teeth.”

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The National Collegiate Athletic Association rolled out a new pledge on Wednesday urging college presidents and chancellors, as well as conference commissioners, to “specifically commit to establishing initiatives for achieving ethnic and racial diversity, gender equity and inclusion with a focus on hiring practices in intercollegiate athletics.” The NCAA will not, however, sanction those who do not honor the commitment.

With white men filling the vast majority of leadership positions in college sports, minority and women’s groups have long asked the NCAA to put pressure on institutions to improve their hiring practices. Those groups largely, if cautiously, praised the creation of the pledge on Wednesday.

“We recognize and value the experiences individuals from diverse backgrounds bring to intercollegiate athletics,” the pledge states. “To that end, we will strive to identify, recruit and interview individuals from diverse backgrounds in an effort to increase their representation and retention as commissioners, athletics directors, coaches and other athletics leadership positions. As part of this commitment we will also engage in a regular diversity, inclusion and equity review to inform campus policy and diversity initiatives.”

As of Wednesday evening, nearly 100 presidents and chancellors had signed the pledge, including 31 from Division I institutions, 33 from Division II and 29 from Division III. Commissioners from 23 athletic conferences had also signed it. Colleges and conferences that sign the pledge will be added to a public listing on the NCAA’s website.

Bernard Franklin, the NCAA’s chief inclusion officer, said the pledge was the first in a series of initiatives the association plans on creating to help colleges address issues related to diversity. The NCAA’s Board of Governors approved the pledge in August, following a presentation by Franklin earlier in the year.

“My presentation made it very clear that we were making very little progress in terms of demographic representation, and in some cases we were actually seeing some decline,” Franklin said. “I think the data were a call to action. We want our members to sign on the dotted line clearly saying that they are committed and that they want to address these issues.”

Fewer than 10 percent of athletics directors are African-American, according to an NCAA survey from 2015, and members of ethnic minority groups make up only 13 percent of leadership positions in athletics administration.

According to a study published in November by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, 78.9 percent of presidents at the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision colleges were white men, as were 79.7 percent of athletics directors. About 7 percent of athletics directors were women, and all of them were white. Nearly 90 percent of faculty athletics representatives were white.

More than half of college football players last season were black, but about 88 percent of head football coaches were white.

In the last four decades, the percentage of women’s teams being coached by women has fallen from 90 to 40 percent. The massive drop in the proportion of female coaches happened while the number of female college athletes soared 500 percent, thanks to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Sixty percent of women's teams are now coached by men. About 3 percent of men's teams are coached by women.

“This commitment is a huge milestone in our industry’s dedication to a better future,” Patti Phillips, chief executive officer of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, said in a statement. “The pledge acknowledges the importance of diversity in intercollegiate athletics and calls on all college presidents, chancellors and leaders to commit themselves and their respective institutions to create better opportunities for women and people of color in athletics.”

The pledge, which would not extend to presidents and other nonathletics positions, also received praise from the American Council on Education, with the association saying Wednesday that it was giving the initiative its “full support.”

Advocates for Athletic Equity, the group formerly known as the Black Coaches Association, is supportive of the pledge, though Tyrone Lockhart, the group’s chief executive officer, said he is disappointed that there is no way to hold colleges that sign the document accountable.

“Our organization has been involved with this for a long time, and we are hopeful this is a step in the right direction,” Lockhart said. “A pledge really acknowledging that the lack of ethnic minority coaches is a real issue and that we need to do a better job in this area is a positive step. In terms of accountability, it’s not really possible for the NCAA to create some type of Rooney Rule.”

The Rooney Rule, named for the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a National Football League policy that requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and other leadership positions. While many would argue that the NFL still has a long way to go in terms of diversity, the rule is credited with improving the league’s hiring of minority coaches and officials. In the 80 years before the rule was adopted in 2003, only seven NFL teams had people of color in head coaching positions. Since 2003, 17 teams have hired an African-American or Latino coach or general manager.

Earlier this year, the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development urged the NCAA to create a similar rule, called the Eddie Robinson Rule, named for the former head coach of Grambling State University. The rule would require “colleges and universities to interview at least one qualified racial and ethnic minority candidate in their final candidate pool for open head coaching and administrative positions.”

Franklin, of the NCAA, said the mix of private and public institutions among the association’s membership and the various state laws that govern colleges make it difficult for the NCAA to adopt any hard rules mandating hiring practices.

But Richard Lapchick, who first proposed the Eddie Robinson Rule and is director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, said that unless the NCAA adopts a rule that carries sanctions, it is unlikely that colleges will change their hiring practices. The NCAA Division I Athletic Directors Association passed a similar resolution in 2008, promising to interview at least one minority candidate for football head coaching positions. Diversity among Division I football coaches has declined since then.

“It’s an idealistic pledge, and it’s definitely good that it’s there,” Lapchick said. “But it doesn’t have any teeth.”

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Pressure to Build the Class: 2016 Survey of Admissions Directors

Highlights: fewer colleges meeting targets for this year, a higher bar for Asians, skepticism about new standardized writing tests and a new application, mixed feelings on Hillary Clinton’s college plan and applicants’ criminal records.

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Highlights: fewer colleges meeting targets for this year, a higher bar for Asians, skepticism about new standardized writing tests and a new application, mixed feelings on Hillary Clinton’s college plan and applicants’ criminal records.

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Many academics are fooled by robot-written peer reviews

Soulless computer algorithms are already churning out weather bulletins, sports reports, rap lyrics and even passable Chinese poetry.

But it seems machines have now taken another step toward replacing human enterprise by generating their own reviews o…

Soulless computer algorithms are already churning out weather bulletins, sports reports, rap lyrics and even passable Chinese poetry.

But it seems machines have now taken another step toward replacing human enterprise by generating their own reviews of serious academic journal papers that are able to impress even experienced academics.

Using automatic text generation software, computer scientists at Italy’s University of Trieste created a series of fake peer reviews of genuine journal papers and asked academics of different levels of seniority to say whether they agreed with their recommendations to accept for publication or not.

In a quarter of cases, academics said they agreed with the fake review’s conclusions, even though they were entirely made up of computer-generated gobbledygook -- or, rather, sentences picked at random from a selection of peer reviews taken from subjects as diverse as brain science, ecology and ornithology.

“Sentences like ‘it would be good if you can also talk about the importance of establishing some good shared benchmarks’ or ‘it would be useful to identify key assumptions in the modeling’ are probably well suited to almost any review,” explained Eric Medvet, an assistant professor in Trieste’s department of engineering and architecture, who conducted the experiment with colleagues at his university’s Machine Learning Lab.

“If, by chance, a generated review combines sentences which are not too specific, but credible, the review itself may appear as written by a real, human reviewer even to the eyes of an experienced reader,” added Medvet, whose paper “Your Paper Has Been Accepted, Rejected, or Whatever: Automatic Generation of Scientific Paper Reviews,” was published in the journal Lecture Notes in Computer Science last month.

Mixing the fake reviews with real reviews was also likely to distort decisions made by academics by making weak papers appear far stronger thanks to a series of glowing reviews, the paper found.

The research team was able to influence the peer review process in one in four cases by throwing fake reviews into the mix, it said.

“This [may be] the situation [faced by a] real conference program chair … who has to take decisions about all the submissions at his or her conference,” Medvet told Times Higher Education.

“He or she could decide [whom to accept] without actually reading all the reviews, or maybe by giving them just a shallow read,” he added.

While computer-generated reviews “cannot possibly deceive any rigorous editorial procedure, [they] could nevertheless find a role in several questionable scenarios and magnify the scale of scholarly frauds,” the paper concludes.

With nearly 1,000 so-called predatory publishers seeking pay-to-publish journal papers, automatically generated reviews may make it easier for bogus papers to gain credibility, he added.

“It is quite easy to spot the fact that [these reviews] are not sound, but not if you do not read them,” said Medvet.

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More people enroll in college even with rising price tag, report finds

More Americans are attending college than ever before — nearly 90 percent of millennials who graduate from high school attend college within eight years. But a far smaller proportion of Americans actually have a college degree: only 40 percent of students complete a bachelor’s degree in four years and 60 percent graduate in six years. At two-year colleges, 29 percent of students graduate in three years.

Those are the findings of a report released Thursday morning by the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, an initiative from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences begun last November. The commission was tasked with assessing the future undergraduate education by analyzing facts and data rather than relying on anecdotes, and it was funded with $2.2 million from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

“Our ambition is to help the American population, the American people, to appreciate what college education means now in the United States, which is something much broader and more complex than what a number of us might have thought a few years ago,” said Michael McPherson, co-chair of the committee and president of the Spencer Foundation.

The committee’s first report, “The Primer on the College Student Journey,” examines the current state of undergraduate education, compiling numbers on everything from college preparedness to student loans and providing some analysis. The data comes from a range of sources, including the National Center for Education Statistics, along with think tanks, nonprofits and academic studies.

“From an early point, it was agreed that an important thing to do was get a baseline for the state of undergraduate education so we could get a common set of facts,” said McPherson.

This report will inform the committee’s work moving forward, and the committee plans to publish another report next summer on the state of higher education for the next 20-25 years.

The report published this morning is also a trove of data on higher education. Among the takeaways from the report:

  • When it comes to college attainment, gender matters. In 2015, 50 percent of women aged 25-29 had a bachelor’s degree; 41 percent of men did.
  • Race and ethnicity matter, too. Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of Asian students aged 25-29 had earned an associate degree or higher. That percentage was much higher than for white (54 percent), black (31 percent) and Hispanic students (27 percent).
  • Many high school graduates are unprepared for college; half must take remedial classes. Remedial classes don’t always work, though — just 28 percent of two-year college students who took these courses actually earned a degree in 8.5 years.
  • Students are borrowing more. In 2000, about 50 percent of students took out loans; that number had increased 10 percentage points by 2012.
  • A small number of college graduates default on their loans — 9 percent. But many more people default if they attended college and did not graduate — 24 percent. That is why “borrowers at greatest risk of defaulting are typically those who take out the smallest loan amounts,” the report said.

Rather than take the conventional four-year track to graduation, many students followed what the report called “a multidirectional transfer swirl.”

Approximately one-third (35 percent) of first-time students either transferred or were simultaneously enrolled in two institutions over six years. Although traditionally people might consider transferring to mean moving from a two-year institution to a four-year institution, some students made lateral transfers — that is, 15 percent of those enrolled at two-year institutions enrolled at another two-year college; 17.2 percent of students at four-year universities switched to two-year colleges; and 17.9 percent of students at four-year institutions transferred to a different four-year.

Socioeconomic status was another big indicator of what type of college students attended.

Those numbers are reflected in statistics from the high school graduating class of 2004: of the 40 percent that enrolled in four-year institutions, 39 percent were in the top socioeconomic quartile and 12 percent were from the bottom quartile. In contrast, among students who chose two-year institutions, 27 percent were from the bottom quartile and only 18 percent from the top.

Socioeconomic status also indicated whether students were likely to attend college at all. By 2014, just about half (52 percent) of low-income high school graduates immediately enrolled in college; 81 percent of high-income graduates did the same.

Add in financial aid, and the relationship of low-income students to college becomes even more complex. Approximately 85 percent of dependent students — that is, students younger than 24 who rely on their parents for financial support — with an income below $30,000 receive tuition subsidies that actually cover the entire cost of their tuition and fees.

Despite these financial resources, many lower-income students opt out of going to college because they are not aware of these opportunities. All they see is the sticker price, an expensive prospect.

The report also explored the rising price of college.

At public four-year institutions, students pay 73 percent more in net tuition — the price they pay after scholarships, grants and loans — than they did 20 years ago. In fact, they pay 55 percent more than they did only six years ago.

The price tags at private four-year colleges are rising, too — students pay 32 percent more than they did two decades ago, and 10 percent more than they did 10 years ago — but the steep increase in price of public colleges is the most significant change.

That dramatic change is often attributed to education-related spending such as faculty and instruction, according to the commission report. In fact, the report concluded, those rising prices are generally thanks to decreased funding from state governments and declining public subsidies.

Even so, the fact that more than 85 percent of students who graduate from high school have some sort of higher education experience before they turn 30 is encouraging to McPherson.

“One thing that really did hit me hard was how pervasive the college experience is in the American population,” he said. “That is like nothing in American history.”

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More Americans are attending college than ever before -- nearly 90 percent of millennials who graduate from high school attend college within eight years. But a far smaller proportion of Americans actually have a college degree: only 40 percent of students complete a bachelor’s degree in four years and 60 percent graduate in six years. At two-year colleges, 29 percent of students graduate in three years.

Those are the findings of a report released Thursday morning by the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, an initiative from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences begun last November. The commission was tasked with assessing the future undergraduate education by analyzing facts and data rather than relying on anecdotes, and it was funded with $2.2 million from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

“Our ambition is to help the American population, the American people, to appreciate what college education means now in the United States, which is something much broader and more complex than what a number of us might have thought a few years ago,” said Michael McPherson, co-chair of the committee and president of the Spencer Foundation.

The committee's first report, "The Primer on the College Student Journey," examines the current state of undergraduate education, compiling numbers on everything from college preparedness to student loans and providing some analysis. The data comes from a range of sources, including the National Center for Education Statistics, along with think tanks, nonprofits and academic studies.

“From an early point, it was agreed that an important thing to do was get a baseline for the state of undergraduate education so we could get a common set of facts,” said McPherson.

This report will inform the committee’s work moving forward, and the committee plans to publish another report next summer on the state of higher education for the next 20-25 years.

The report published this morning is also a trove of data on higher education. Among the takeaways from the report:

  • When it comes to college attainment, gender matters. In 2015, 50 percent of women aged 25-29 had a bachelor’s degree; 41 percent of men did.
  • Race and ethnicity matter, too. Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of Asian students aged 25-29 had earned an associate degree or higher. That percentage was much higher than for white (54 percent), black (31 percent) and Hispanic students (27 percent).
  • Many high school graduates are unprepared for college; half must take remedial classes. Remedial classes don’t always work, though -- just 28 percent of two-year college students who took these courses actually earned a degree in 8.5 years.
  • Students are borrowing more. In 2000, about 50 percent of students took out loans; that number had increased 10 percentage points by 2012.
  • A small number of college graduates default on their loans -- 9 percent. But many more people default if they attended college and did not graduate -- 24 percent. That is why “borrowers at greatest risk of defaulting are typically those who take out the smallest loan amounts,” the report said.

Rather than take the conventional four-year track to graduation, many students followed what the report called "a multidirectional transfer swirl."

Approximately one-third (35 percent) of first-time students either transferred or were simultaneously enrolled in two institutions over six years. Although traditionally people might consider transferring to mean moving from a two-year institution to a four-year institution, some students made lateral transfers -- that is, 15 percent of those enrolled at two-year institutions enrolled at another two-year college; 17.2 percent of students at four-year universities switched to two-year colleges; and 17.9 percent of students at four-year institutions transferred to a different four-year.

Socioeconomic status was another big indicator of what type of college students attended.

Those numbers are reflected in statistics from the high school graduating class of 2004: of the 40 percent that enrolled in four-year institutions, 39 percent were in the top socioeconomic quartile and 12 percent were from the bottom quartile. In contrast, among students who chose two-year institutions, 27 percent were from the bottom quartile and only 18 percent from the top.

Socioeconomic status also indicated whether students were likely to attend college at all. By 2014, just about half (52 percent) of low-income high school graduates immediately enrolled in college; 81 percent of high-income graduates did the same.

Add in financial aid, and the relationship of low-income students to college becomes even more complex. Approximately 85 percent of dependent students -- that is, students younger than 24 who rely on their parents for financial support -- with an income below $30,000 receive tuition subsidies that actually cover the entire cost of their tuition and fees.

Despite these financial resources, many lower-income students opt out of going to college because they are not aware of these opportunities. All they see is the sticker price, an expensive prospect.

The report also explored the rising price of college.

At public four-year institutions, students pay 73 percent more in net tuition -- the price they pay after scholarships, grants and loans -- than they did 20 years ago. In fact, they pay 55 percent more than they did only six years ago.

The price tags at private four-year colleges are rising, too -- students pay 32 percent more than they did two decades ago, and 10 percent more than they did 10 years ago -- but the steep increase in price of public colleges is the most significant change.

That dramatic change is often attributed to education-related spending such as faculty and instruction, according to the commission report. In fact, the report concluded, those rising prices are generally thanks to decreased funding from state governments and declining public subsidies.

Even so, the fact that more than 85 percent of students who graduate from high school have some sort of higher education experience before they turn 30 is encouraging to McPherson.

"One thing that really did hit me hard was how pervasive the college experience is in the American population," he said. "That is like nothing in American history."

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Q and A with author of new book on ‘gender shrapnel’ in academe

Ellen Mayock, Ernest Williams II Professor of Spanish and professor of women’s and gender studies at Washington and Lee University, wasn’t always a feminist. But a career in academe — including a frustrating stint as the token female admin…

Ellen Mayock, Ernest Williams II Professor of Spanish and professor of women’s and gender studies at Washington and Lee University, wasn’t always a feminist. But a career in academe -- including a frustrating stint as the token female administrative “voice” -- led to a consciousness about how gender issues play out in the academic workplace. That transition is a major thread in her new book, Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace (Palgrave Macmillan), which is a combination of theory, personal and gathered anecdotes, and recommendations for change.

Shrapnel takes its name from its central concept: that female professors and administrators aren’t necessarily overtly discriminated against as much as they are subject to regular insults and slights -- all of which build up over time to inflict real damage. The cumulative damage idea will be familiar to anyone following recent dialogues about race -- in that context this idea has frequently been described as microaggressions. Mayock’s gender-specific term is arguably more illustrative: gender shrapnel.

Put another way, digs such as “How does your husband deal with this?” (“this” being long hours at work that have amounted to a productive research agenda), lodge in one’s skin, like bits of shrapnel from an explosion meters off. One isn’t fatal but many over time pose risk to the woman -- or at the very least to her longevity in academe.

Yet the book is not all descriptive. It presents possible solutions, such as awareness training and a detailed instructor’s appendix to help better contain the blasts. As Mayock puts it, “When more women and men workers can capably evaluate their work environments, find the strength to speak out consistently against injustice, become CEOs and presidents who vociferously do not tolerate workplace injustice, and find support in other like-minded individuals, then we will have cleared much of the gender and intersectional shrapnel that continues to cause too many ‘Ow, it got me’ moments and to capture too much of our attention that could be placed more productively on the work itself.”

Mayock responded to email questions about the book. Here is some of the conversation, edited for clarity and length.

Q: What is gender shrapnel, and how is it similar to microaggressions that have been cited in recent campus protests about race?

A: Gender shrapnel is a series of small workplace explosions that occur when no one person or organization is purposefully discriminating against women (or men, less frequently) based on sex, but when the gender norms of our homes and of our public interactions that consistently follow a patriarchal flow are replicated in the workplace, entrenched in the workplace, and then become the fabric of a pattern of sexual discrimination. This pattern is normally not consonant with the organization’s professed values and is often in direct opposition to Title VII and Title IX law. Gender shrapnel also encompasses the scattered bits of metal at the intersections of gender with race, socioeconomic status, sexuality, parental status, national origin and religion.

The excellent term “microaggressions,” originally coined by Chester Pierce in 1970 and made more commonplace recently through Derald Wing Sue’s 2010 Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation, is certainly linked to the concept of gender shrapnel. In Gender Shrapnel, I say that Pierce’s term is a useful way to understand the daily, frustrating, energy-sucking experience of dealing with discrimination. The metaphor of gender shrapnel obviously focuses on gender (and its connections with others of the so-called protected categories), and it implies that oftentimes the experience of discrimination, harassment and retaliation requires an understanding of uneven dynamics over time and a nuanced approach about when and how to confront the workplace injustice.

Q: What are “bad gender days,” and can you describe one of your own?

A: Each one of us can probably offer a highly unique take on the “bad gender day.” [Cisgender] men who feel limited by the emotional palette available to them, cis women who work so hard just to be heard and to be credited for their good ideas and work, and trans women and trans men who are even more boxed in by gender norms and scripts. These issues are so hard to navigate, and I wonder how we can move deliberately towards kindness and very firmly away from violence in these realms. I think most of us can generate a narrative of gender shrapnel, if we think analytically about our own experiences.

A bad gender day for me might include being interrupted at a meeting, hearing another credited with my idea or work, having someone speak for me, rather than listen to me, and/or being seen in a group of women and being asked what we are “plotting.” There are many worse gender days out there, so these are just a few lighter examples. Of course, we see in the news every day much more acute examples of the sexual violence so present on our college and university campuses.

Q: You cite Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, from which you’ve developed the notion of the professional mystique. What is the professional mystique, and how -- if at all -- has life for women working in academe and without improved since the early 1960s?

A: I talk about the professional mystique as a dissatisfaction with roles and cultures that women and underrepresented groups experience in the workplace. I relate this issue to women’s depiction in the popular press, the “role crisis” (i.e., which role[s] are we supposed to play at any given moment?), the “is this all?” phenomenon (Friedan), privilege envy (Friedan) and the structure of the workplace.

In many ways, life for women in the college and university workplace seems better now. There are more and more women, including women of color, graduating from undergraduate and graduate programs, so the pipeline is open. At the same time, a look at the statistics in Kristine De Welde and Andi Stepnick’s excellent volume, Disrupting the Culture of Silence, shows us that women and, in particular women of color (categorized by the authors as black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native women), occupy primarily the part-time and/or temporary (adjunct) ranks and, on the tenure track, primarily the assistant professor level. This means that women in the academic workplace are definitely experiencing a glass ceiling and a significant wage gap.

Another important issue to consider is women students’ and employees’ access to equality in the education workplace. If sexual discrimination, harassment and retaliation are an issue for educational institutions, then it’s more than likely that these institutions are not managing well the more acute problems of sexual assault and violence. We know that this goes against [federal antidiscrimination laws] and creates significant obstacles for girls and women in educational settings.

The U.S. government over the past several years has required educational institutions to inspect and revise their policies and practices. This increased vigilance sends the right message that illegal behaviors won’t be tolerated, although enforcement methods and goodwill about transparency still vary widely from institution to institution.

Q: The book has personal, academic and practical purposes. Who is its intended audience?

A: The book is structured to offer narratives of gender shrapnel, theorize about the problems of gender and intersectional dynamics, and offer solutions and training principles. In this sense, the first part of the book states clearly that stories matter, that we have to understand the nuance and the details to make more transparent the experiences of discrimination, harassment and violence. The second part of the book is perhaps the most dense, as it dives into legal theory and history, sociology, organizational management, and media analysis in order to name common denominators in different types of workplace injustice. I don’t leave my cultural studies/Hispanic studies roots behind, but rather enhance them through the incorporation of other disciplines’ scholarship. The third section, titled “Solutions,” has an extremely practical bent. This was of utmost importance to me, because I didn’t want to just lay out the stories and problems without offering clear, firm solutions.

Many people and groups, therefore, fit into the audience for the book. Some readers might want to get a sense of the minutia, or the textured details, of gender shrapnel; some readers, especially sociologists, women’s, gender and sexuality experts, lawyers, and journalists, might delve into the more data-heavy second part of the book; still other readers might go right to the nitty-gritty of training principles and solutions for creating an improved workplace environment. I laughed when several people told me they read Gender Shrapnel on the beach this summer. I love that! It is somewhat dense beach reading, but I do think many of the messages will speak to a wide audience, both in and beyond educational settings.

Q: What is tempered radicalism? How do you see it helping women in the academic workplace?

A: Tempered radicalism is a term coined by Debra Meyerson and Maureen Scully, who say that tempered radicalism is a process enacted by “the people who work within mainstream organizations and professions and want also to transform them.” I particularly like this concept, because it doesn’t ignore that we workers are human beings who have beliefs and platforms that we don’t just leave at the door when we enter the workplace. Meyerson and Scully believe that recognizing and understanding the broad array of views of different individuals in the workplace can help managers to effect fair change. This is good for men and women in the workplace. The one drawback they note is that the “radicals” can end up forming a part of an out-group, and organizational dynamics can stagnate with fixed in- and out-groups.

Q: How do we “clear the shrapnel”? What kind of awareness training should be required, for whom?

A: I believe that clearing the shrapnel requires a multipronged approach, which includes providing education about gender and intersectional dynamics and pitfalls to every member of the organization (students and employees in the academic setting), following up on that education in small and large groups, sending consistent institutional messages, considering and rectifying inequities in levels of visibility and invisibility, advertising new opportunities to all, and figuring out individual students’ and employees’ strengths that can contribute to organizational change. Gender Shrapnel provides instructions for training sessions, a glossary and recommendations for creating a more equitable work environment. We must make sure that we train the trainers well, or else the whole process can run off the rails.

The leaders of the institution or organization must make the training and follow-up absolute priorities for themselves and all students and employees.

New Books About Higher Education
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Is this breaking news?: 

NCAA urges institutions to sign diversity pledge

The National Collegiate Athletic Association rolled out a new pledge on Wednesday urging college presidents and chancellors, as well as conference commissioners, to “specifically commit to establishing initiatives for achieving ethnic and racial diversity, gender equity and inclusion with a focus on hiring practices in intercollegiate athletics.” The NCAA will not, however, sanction those who do not honor the commitment.

With white men filling the vast majority of leadership positions in college sports, minority and women’s groups have long asked the NCAA to put pressure on institutions to improve their hiring practices. Those groups largely, if cautiously, praised the creation of the pledge on Wednesday.

“We recognize and value the experiences individuals from diverse backgrounds bring to intercollegiate athletics,” the pledge states. “To that end, we will strive to identify, recruit and interview individuals from diverse backgrounds in an effort to increase their representation and retention as commissioners, athletics directors, coaches and other athletics leadership positions. As part of this commitment we will also engage in a regular diversity, inclusion and equity review to inform campus policy and diversity initiatives.”

As of Wednesday evening, nearly 100 presidents and chancellors had signed the pledge, including 31 from Division I institutions, 33 from Division II and 29 from Division III. Commissioners from 23 athletic conferences had also signed it. Colleges and conferences that sign the pledge will be added to a public listing on the NCAA’s website.

Bernard Franklin, the NCAA’s chief inclusion officer, said the pledge was the first in a series of initiatives the association plans on creating to help colleges address issues related to diversity. The NCAA’s Board of Governors approved the pledge in August, following a presentation by Franklin earlier in the year.

“My presentation made it very clear that we were making very little progress in terms of demographic representation, and in some cases we were actually seeing some decline,” Franklin said. “I think the data were a call to action. We want our members to sign on the dotted line clearly saying that they are committed and that they want to address these issues.”

Fewer than 10 percent of athletics directors are African-American, according to an NCAA survey from 2015, and members of ethnic minority groups make up only 13 percent of leadership positions in athletics administration.

According to a study published in November by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, 78.9 percent of presidents at the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision colleges were white men, as were 79.7 percent of athletics directors. About 7 percent of athletics directors were women, and all of them were white. Nearly 90 percent of faculty athletics representatives were white.

More than half of college football players last season were black, but about 88 percent of head football coaches were white.

In the last four decades, the percentage of women’s teams being coached by women has fallen from 90 to 40 percent. The massive drop in the proportion of female coaches happened while the number of female college athletes soared 500 percent, thanks to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Sixty percent of women’s teams are now coached by men. About 3 percent of men’s teams are coached by women.

“This commitment is a huge milestone in our industry’s dedication to a better future,” Patti Phillips, chief executive officer of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, said in a statement. “The pledge acknowledges the importance of diversity in intercollegiate athletics and calls on all college presidents, chancellors and leaders to commit themselves and their respective institutions to create better opportunities for women and people of color in athletics.”

The pledge, which would not extend to presidents and other nonathletics positions, also received praise from the American Council on Education, with the association saying Wednesday that it was giving the initiative its “full support.”

Advocates for Athletic Equity, the group formerly known as the Black Coaches Association, is supportive of the pledge, though Tyrone Lockhart, the group’s chief executive officer, said he is disappointed that there is no way to hold colleges that sign the document accountable.

“Our organization has been involved with this for a long time, and we are hopeful this is a step in the right direction,” Lockhart said. “A pledge really acknowledging that the lack of ethnic minority coaches is a real issue and that we need to do a better job in this area is a positive step. Unfortunately, in terms of accountability, it’s not really possible for the NCAA to create some type of Rooney Rule.”

The Rooney Rule, named for the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a National Football League policy that requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and other leadership positions. While many would argue that the NFL still has a long way to go in terms of diversity, the rule is credited with improving the league’s hiring of minority coaches and officials. In the 80 years before the rule was adopted in 2003, only seven NFL teams had people of color in head coaching positions. Since 2003, 17 teams have hired an African-American or Latino coach or general manager.

Earlier this year, the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development urged the NCAA to create a similar rule, called the Eddie Robinson Rule, named for the former head coach of Grambling State University. The rule would require “colleges and universities to interview at least one qualified racial and ethnic minority candidate in their final candidate pool for open head coaching and administrative positions.”

Franklin, of the NCAA, said the mix of private and public institutions among the association’s membership and the various state laws that govern colleges make it difficult for the NCAA to adopt any hard rules mandating hiring practices.

But Richard Lapchick, who first proposed the Eddie Robinson Rule and is director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, said that unless the NCAA adopts a rule that carries sanctions, it is unlikely that colleges will change their hiring practices. The NCAA Division I Athletic Directors Association passed a similar resolution in 2008, promising to interview at least one minority candidate for football head coaching positions. Diversity among Division I football coaches has declined since then.

“It’s an idealistic pledge, and it’s definitely good that it’s there,” Lapchick said. “But it doesn’t have any teeth.”

Is this breaking news?: 

The National Collegiate Athletic Association rolled out a new pledge on Wednesday urging college presidents and chancellors, as well as conference commissioners, to “specifically commit to establishing initiatives for achieving ethnic and racial diversity, gender equity and inclusion with a focus on hiring practices in intercollegiate athletics.” The NCAA will not, however, sanction those who do not honor the commitment.

With white men filling the vast majority of leadership positions in college sports, minority and women’s groups have long asked the NCAA to put pressure on institutions to improve their hiring practices. Those groups largely, if cautiously, praised the creation of the pledge on Wednesday.

“We recognize and value the experiences individuals from diverse backgrounds bring to intercollegiate athletics,” the pledge states. “To that end, we will strive to identify, recruit and interview individuals from diverse backgrounds in an effort to increase their representation and retention as commissioners, athletics directors, coaches and other athletics leadership positions. As part of this commitment we will also engage in a regular diversity, inclusion and equity review to inform campus policy and diversity initiatives.”

As of Wednesday evening, nearly 100 presidents and chancellors had signed the pledge, including 31 from Division I institutions, 33 from Division II and 29 from Division III. Commissioners from 23 athletic conferences had also signed it. Colleges and conferences that sign the pledge will be added to a public listing on the NCAA’s website.

Bernard Franklin, the NCAA’s chief inclusion officer, said the pledge was the first in a series of initiatives the association plans on creating to help colleges address issues related to diversity. The NCAA’s Board of Governors approved the pledge in August, following a presentation by Franklin earlier in the year.

“My presentation made it very clear that we were making very little progress in terms of demographic representation, and in some cases we were actually seeing some decline,” Franklin said. “I think the data were a call to action. We want our members to sign on the dotted line clearly saying that they are committed and that they want to address these issues.”

Fewer than 10 percent of athletics directors are African-American, according to an NCAA survey from 2015, and members of ethnic minority groups make up only 13 percent of leadership positions in athletics administration.

According to a study published in November by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, 78.9 percent of presidents at the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision colleges were white men, as were 79.7 percent of athletics directors. About 7 percent of athletics directors were women, and all of them were white. Nearly 90 percent of faculty athletics representatives were white.

More than half of college football players last season were black, but about 88 percent of head football coaches were white.

In the last four decades, the percentage of women’s teams being coached by women has fallen from 90 to 40 percent. The massive drop in the proportion of female coaches happened while the number of female college athletes soared 500 percent, thanks to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Sixty percent of women's teams are now coached by men. About 3 percent of men's teams are coached by women.

“This commitment is a huge milestone in our industry’s dedication to a better future,” Patti Phillips, chief executive officer of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, said in a statement. “The pledge acknowledges the importance of diversity in intercollegiate athletics and calls on all college presidents, chancellors and leaders to commit themselves and their respective institutions to create better opportunities for women and people of color in athletics.”

The pledge, which would not extend to presidents and other nonathletics positions, also received praise from the American Council on Education, with the association saying Wednesday that it was giving the initiative its “full support.”

Advocates for Athletic Equity, the group formerly known as the Black Coaches Association, is supportive of the pledge, though Tyrone Lockhart, the group’s chief executive officer, said he is disappointed that there is no way to hold colleges that sign the document accountable.

“Our organization has been involved with this for a long time, and we are hopeful this is a step in the right direction,” Lockhart said. “A pledge really acknowledging that the lack of ethnic minority coaches is a real issue and that we need to do a better job in this area is a positive step. Unfortunately, in terms of accountability, it’s not really possible for the NCAA to create some type of Rooney Rule.”

The Rooney Rule, named for the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a National Football League policy that requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and other leadership positions. While many would argue that the NFL still has a long way to go in terms of diversity, the rule is credited with improving the league’s hiring of minority coaches and officials. In the 80 years before the rule was adopted in 2003, only seven NFL teams had people of color in head coaching positions. Since 2003, 17 teams have hired an African-American or Latino coach or general manager.

Earlier this year, the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development urged the NCAA to create a similar rule, called the Eddie Robinson Rule, named for the former head coach of Grambling State University. The rule would require “colleges and universities to interview at least one qualified racial and ethnic minority candidate in their final candidate pool for open head coaching and administrative positions.”

Franklin, of the NCAA, said the mix of private and public institutions among the association’s membership and the various state laws that govern colleges make it difficult for the NCAA to adopt any hard rules mandating hiring practices.

But Richard Lapchick, who first proposed the Eddie Robinson Rule and is director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, said that unless the NCAA adopts a rule that carries sanctions, it is unlikely that colleges will change their hiring practices. The NCAA Division I Athletic Directors Association passed a similar resolution in 2008, promising to interview at least one minority candidate for football head coaching positions. Diversity among Division I football coaches has declined since then.

“It’s an idealistic pledge, and it’s definitely good that it’s there,” Lapchick said. “But it doesn’t have any teeth.”

Is this breaking news?: 

Author discusses new book, ‘The Uberfication of the University’

How much do Uber, Airbnb and other elements of the “sharing economy” explain the state of higher education? Quite a lot, according to Gary Hall, professor of media and performing arts at Coventry University, in Britain. He outlines his views in The Uberfication of the University, a short book (55 pages) published as part of the University of Minnesota Press Forerunners series on new ideas. Hall responded via email to questions about his book.

Q: Many of the trends you reference (reliance on adjuncts who lack job security, state disinvestment in higher education) predate Uber and the sharing economy. How do such trends relate to the sharing economy?

A: You’re right, many of the trends I refer to in The Uberfication of the University did not originate with the corporate sharing economy. I’m thinking here of those predatory and parasitical practices whereby we are increasingly being transformed into atomized, precarious individuals operating in an environment in which we’re being gradually divested of employment rights, public services and a social safety net. They include the outsourcing of work to independent contractors, freelancers and temps in order to circumvent labor laws that set minimum standards. Such trends are of course present in many other areas of the economy and society. (A recent inquiry by the government’s business select committee into working practices at Britain’s largest sporting retailer, Sports Direct, likens them to those of a “Victorian workhouse.”)

What I’m interested in is how neoliberalism has not become unviable after the financial crash of 2008, but has actually intensified in many respects. The reason for focusing on the emergence of the for-profit sharing economy over this period is because it’s one of the places where the implications for workers of such an intensification are today most apparent. We could even go so far as to categorize this change in terms of a transition to an übercapitalist society. Übercapitalist, in that this historically specific version of neoliberalism, whereby social democracy, the welfare state and public sector (i.e., universities, hospitals, prisons, the police, armed forces, postal service) are either weakened, cut back or dismantled so as to allow for the enlargement of the market and further generation of profit, is seemingly ever more powerful; and that Uber, a technology firm that enables passengers to use an app on their smartphones to hail a taxi, ride share or private car, provides one of the most characteristic and frequently cited examples of this intensified form of free market capitalism.

Uber has thus been held up by Fortune magazine as “emblematic of the dynamic, thoroughly modern global corporation,” and as possessing the archetypal business model for the 21st century, having become a “global brand largely on the strength of its intellectual property and without a need to manufacture anything or maintain many fixed assets.” And, to be sure, the fact that the prefix “über” means “advanced,” “irresistible,” “higher,” “superior,” “more powerful,” does enable it to capture something of the intensification of neoliberalism in the years following the crash of 2008 as we move further and further away from postwar ideas of democratic capitalist economies that are centrally planned and balanced by national governments.

At the same time I’m aware there’s a risk of overkill at the moment, with everything from housing to health care apparently in the process of being überfied — to the extent it’s become something of a dad joke. However, my association of these trends with a business that, contrary to many predictions, could actually turn out to have quite a limited lifespan (say, if there’s a widespread introduction of driverless cars owned and controlled by another company, such as Google or Tesla), is designed to render my use of the terms “überfication” and “übercapitalism” much less grandiose and bombastic — and certainly more speculative and teasing — than similar-sounding theories, such as “supercapitalism,” “hypercapitalism” and “neurocapitalism.”

Q: Proponents of the sharing economy say that it gives the power (and cash) to the individual Uber driver, Airbnb proprietor, etc. Why have adjuncts not had this experience? Is there any way to make the sharing economy work for them?

A: It’s important to be aware that the information and data management companies of the sharing economy are not all the same. Each has its own particular ways of operating and organizing itself. More and more of those who are laboring for Airbnb by renting out space in their homes are increasingly well-funded professionals who own multiple properties …. It is not possible for such professionals to create profitable businesses opportunities in quite the same way by owning and driving multiple vehicles for Uber. Moreover, for all that the technology firm stresses its drivers have the potential to earn more than regular cab drivers, many of Uber’s “independent contractors” have been found to be working for less than the minimum wage.

Of course, driving for Uber may offer more control over the number of hours worked and when. It may thus be a form of microentrepreneurship that is particularly attractive to students, the old and those with child-care responsibilities. However, such flexibility has to be put into context: as I show in the book, freelancers in the corporate sharing economy still have to operate according to the conditions set by their respective platform’s owners. It is also the owners who decide on pricing and wage levels, work allocation, and preferred user and laborer profiles. And of course it’s the owners who take the lion’s share of the profits, resulting in former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich describing this economic model as less of a sharing economy and more of a “share-the-scraps economy.”

Adjuncts have not yet had this experience because the sharing economy business model has not yet been introduced into higher education to any significant extent. However, if for me übercapitalism can be understood as a regime of subjectification designed to produce a specific form of self-disciplining subjectivity — namely that of individuals who function as if they are their own freelance microenterprises — then we can say that elements of überfication are appearing in higher education. For example, just as Uber’s “surveillance capitalism” uses finely grained data to acquire deep knowledge of consumer behavior, so many higher education institutions already collect large amounts of data on student grades, attendance, library use, movements around campus and participation in online learning forums and virtual learning environments.

JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) in the United Kingdom is even involved in hosting a national learning analytics service, which will collate data from a learning records “warehouse” and use this information to help understand which methods of teaching work best, and highlight when students are experiencing difficulties. Yet one of the features of this JISC national learning analytics scheme also concerns:

  • The development of an app for mobile devices that will allow students to track their own progress and, if they wish, the progress of their peers.
  • A screenshot of the app shows a Facebook-style newsfeed displaying how one student might have spent seven hours in the library over three days, while another might have spent six hours in the lab in a single day, and another might be in the top 10 percent of their class for an assignment.

It is just this kind of performance monitoring, rating and surveillance, enabled by the development of mobile phones and apps, that I’m referring to when I say that übercapitalism is in the process of transforming us all into self-preoccupied, hypercompetitive microentrepreneurs of our own selves and lives.

Q: In higher education, do the professors who land research grants or launch spin-off businesses fit the theory of the entrepreneurial individual of the sharing economy?

A: In The Birth of Biopolitics, Michel Foucault writes of the neoliberal “homo oeconomicus [economic man] as entrepreneur of himself, being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer, being for himself the source of [his] earnings.” I would say that those professors who land research grants and launch spin-off businesses are perhaps closer to being entrepreneurs in this sense. What I’m referring to in relation to übercapitalism and the sharing economy is an intensification of this state of affairs whereby we are encouraged to become atomized individuals who develop our personalities as brands and endeavor to generate social, public and professional value by acting as both a microentrepreneur and microentrepreneur of our own selves and lives.

In the context of higher education, think more in terms of those subjectivizing features that are used by Academia.edu and other academic social networks to help users develop their profiles as “personal brands” in order to emphasize their individual difference and specialness: the kind of thing academics have to do more and more in a competitive market both to get jobs and to hang on to them. I have in mind such features as real-name policies, personal pictures and biographies, not to mention Academia.edu’s analytics dashboards and quantifying deep analytics.

Moreover, the mode of production is shifting more and more from publishing texts intermittently in centralized entities such as journals and even websites, to the generation of a high-volume, fast-paced flow of content over a range of dispersed media — Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WhatsApp, Snapchat. Transforming their identities into a recognizable personal brand, often by using humor, lifestyle, controversy, the cultivation of celebrity and other means of gaining attention may therefore be one of the main ways left for authors to manage perceptions of their work, and to prevent it from being merely a series of atomized texts that are posted online and then reblogged, shared and reused by others in a manner that challenges traditional notions of authorship, originality and copyright.

Given the way in which many higher education institutions, in the face of increasing market competition, are already using YouTube, Instagram and Twitter to reach both current and prospective students, there is even the possibility that in order to be able to teach and research in the future, some academics may have to sell their whole way of life, just as many celebrities are now charging subscribers a few dollars a month to access their own, personally branded, app-based mobile media channels. By cutting out the intermediaries of the “old media” in this way (book publishers, press, TV, magazines), these celebrities are providing their fans with “direct” access to their “real” lives by detailing their carefully curated fitness and lifestyle tips, the superfoods they eat, as well as offering advice on clothing, hair and makeup, and highlighting the glamorous people they know and exotic places they travel to, all as an extension of their brands and personalities. It is not so much the products celebrities are marketing and selling with these channels, then, as their own selves. They are their own jobs.

You would be forgiven for thinking this is hyperbole. Yet the University of Salford in Britain is already reported to have “two profiles on the dating app Tinder, encouraging school leavers to ‘start a lasting relationship with us this September’ and to ‘swipe right to find the course of your dreams.’”

Q: Many young people seem to embrace parts of the sharing economy — even as some of them complain about lack of resources for higher education. What do you make of that?

A: As I say, the greater degree of autonomy and flexibility offered by many instances of the sharing economy may suit some people. However, übercapitalism is about more than the way we work. It acts even on those elements of life that used to be beyond the control of the corporation: our sociability, our personalities. Companies such as Uber and Airbnb are concerned not just with what we do but with who we are, in other words. This is why I argue that affirmatively disrupting übercapitalism will mean affirmatively disrupting the microentrepreneurs of our own selves and lives we are becoming. This applies to the ways in which we work, act and think as teachers and researchers, including how we create, publish and disseminate our work.

Q: What do you believe higher education should do to resist the “überfication of the university”?

A: The second part of my project focuses on data commonism (which is distinct from both platform cooperativism and venture communism). I’m going to be arguing that universities should adopt a CopyFarLeft approach in order to construct an information and data commons with which to disrupt the disrupters of übercapitalism and the corporate sharing economy. At the moment universities act as fairly mediocre businesses, for all they are under pressure from neoliberal national and regional governments to adopt the values and practices of for-profit corporations in the belief that doing so makes them more effective and efficient. When it comes to research, for example, they clearly have a “product” the corporate sector is keen to exploit commercially. And universities are being encouraged by governments worldwide to make this product freely available to businesses on an open-access, open-knowledge, open-data basis for precisely this purpose.

Yet at the same time universities are being pushed to act as for-profit businesses in other aspects of their operation in order to compensate for the withdrawal of public funding at the hands of the very same neoliberal governments. In this respect, CopyFarLeft represents a strategic way for universities to adopt a far more “businesslike” approach toward the knowledge and research they generate (and to stop using public funding to provide free information, data and labor for parasitical for-profit businesses such as Academia.edu and LinkedIn). CopyFarLeft does so by allowing universities to insist that any for-profit business wishing to privatize, commercialize and commodify their research must pay a decent price for it (rather than getting it cheaply or indeed for free as is all too frequently the case now), while also ensuring this research and data remains openly available and free to use in the public sphere.

Adopting such a CopyFarLeft approach could thus enable universities to affirmatively disrupt those privately owned for-profit companies such Academia.edu that have a business model resting on their ability to parasitically trade off publicly funded education, research and labor. This model will provide universities with a means to render themselves far less vulnerable to disruption at the hands of both neoliberal governments and any future higher education equivalent of Uber or Airbnb.

New Books About Higher Education
Editorial Tags: 
Is this breaking news?: 

How much do Uber, Airbnb and other elements of the "sharing economy" explain the state of higher education? Quite a lot, according to Gary Hall, professor of media and performing arts at Coventry University, in Britain. He outlines his views in The Uberfication of the University, a short book (55 pages) published as part of the University of Minnesota Press Forerunners series on new ideas. Hall responded via email to questions about his book.

Q: Many of the trends you reference (reliance on adjuncts who lack job security, state disinvestment in higher education) predate Uber and the sharing economy. How do such trends relate to the sharing economy?

A: You’re right, many of the trends I refer to in The Uberfication of the University did not originate with the corporate sharing economy. I’m thinking here of those predatory and parasitical practices whereby we are increasingly being transformed into atomized, precarious individuals operating in an environment in which we’re being gradually divested of employment rights, public services and a social safety net. They include the outsourcing of work to independent contractors, freelancers and temps in order to circumvent labor laws that set minimum standards. Such trends are of course present in many other areas of the economy and society. (A recent inquiry by the government’s business select committee into working practices at Britain's largest sporting retailer, Sports Direct, likens them to those of a "Victorian workhouse.")

What I’m interested in is how neoliberalism has not become unviable after the financial crash of 2008, but has actually intensified in many respects. The reason for focusing on the emergence of the for-profit sharing economy over this period is because it’s one of the places where the implications for workers of such an intensification are today most apparent. We could even go so far as to categorize this change in terms of a transition to an übercapitalist society. Übercapitalist, in that this historically specific version of neoliberalism, whereby social democracy, the welfare state and public sector (i.e., universities, hospitals, prisons, the police, armed forces, postal service) are either weakened, cut back or dismantled so as to allow for the enlargement of the market and further generation of profit, is seemingly ever more powerful; and that Uber, a technology firm that enables passengers to use an app on their smartphones to hail a taxi, ride share or private car, provides one of the most characteristic and frequently cited examples of this intensified form of free market capitalism.

Uber has thus been held up by Fortune magazine as “emblematic of the dynamic, thoroughly modern global corporation,” and as possessing the archetypal business model for the 21st century, having become a “global brand largely on the strength of its intellectual property and without a need to manufacture anything or maintain many fixed assets.” And, to be sure, the fact that the prefix “über” means “advanced,” “irresistible,” “higher,” “superior,” “more powerful,” does enable it to capture something of the intensification of neoliberalism in the years following the crash of 2008 as we move further and further away from postwar ideas of democratic capitalist economies that are centrally planned and balanced by national governments.

At the same time I’m aware there’s a risk of overkill at the moment, with everything from housing to health care apparently in the process of being überfied -- to the extent it’s become something of a dad joke. However, my association of these trends with a business that, contrary to many predictions, could actually turn out to have quite a limited lifespan (say, if there’s a widespread introduction of driverless cars owned and controlled by another company, such as Google or Tesla), is designed to render my use of the terms “überfication” and “übercapitalism” much less grandiose and bombastic -- and certainly more speculative and teasing -- than similar-sounding theories, such as “supercapitalism,” “hypercapitalism” and “neurocapitalism.”

Q: Proponents of the sharing economy say that it gives the power (and cash) to the individual Uber driver, Airbnb proprietor, etc. Why have adjuncts not had this experience? Is there any way to make the sharing economy work for them?

A: It’s important to be aware that the information and data management companies of the sharing economy are not all the same. Each has its own particular ways of operating and organizing itself. More and more of those who are laboring for Airbnb by renting out space in their homes are increasingly well-funded professionals who own multiple properties …. It is not possible for such professionals to create profitable businesses opportunities in quite the same way by owning and driving multiple vehicles for Uber. Moreover, for all that the technology firm stresses its drivers have the potential to earn more than regular cab drivers, many of Uber’s “independent contractors” have been found to be working for less than the minimum wage.

Of course, driving for Uber may offer more control over the number of hours worked and when. It may thus be a form of microentrepreneurship that is particularly attractive to students, the old and those with child-care responsibilities. However, such flexibility has to be put into context: as I show in the book, freelancers in the corporate sharing economy still have to operate according to the conditions set by their respective platform’s owners. It is also the owners who decide on pricing and wage levels, work allocation, and preferred user and laborer profiles. And of course it’s the owners who take the lion’s share of the profits, resulting in former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich describing this economic model as less of a sharing economy and more of a "share-the-scraps economy."

Adjuncts have not yet had this experience because the sharing economy business model has not yet been introduced into higher education to any significant extent. However, if for me übercapitalism can be understood as a regime of subjectification designed to produce a specific form of self-disciplining subjectivity -- namely that of individuals who function as if they are their own freelance microenterprises -- then we can say that elements of überfication are appearing in higher education. For example, just as Uber’s “surveillance capitalism” uses finely grained data to acquire deep knowledge of consumer behavior, so many higher education institutions already collect large amounts of data on student grades, attendance, library use, movements around campus and participation in online learning forums and virtual learning environments.

JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) in the United Kingdom is even involved in hosting a national learning analytics service, which will collate data from a learning records “warehouse” and use this information to help understand which methods of teaching work best, and highlight when students are experiencing difficulties. Yet one of the features of this JISC national learning analytics scheme also concerns:

  • The development of an app for mobile devices that will allow students to track their own progress and, if they wish, the progress of their peers.
  • A screenshot of the app shows a Facebook-style newsfeed displaying how one student might have spent seven hours in the library over three days, while another might have spent six hours in the lab in a single day, and another might be in the top 10 percent of their class for an assignment.

It is just this kind of performance monitoring, rating and surveillance, enabled by the development of mobile phones and apps, that I’m referring to when I say that übercapitalism is in the process of transforming us all into self-preoccupied, hypercompetitive microentrepreneurs of our own selves and lives.

Q: In higher education, do the professors who land research grants or launch spin-off businesses fit the theory of the entrepreneurial individual of the sharing economy?

A: In The Birth of Biopolitics, Michel Foucault writes of the neoliberal “homo oeconomicus [economic man] as entrepreneur of himself, being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer, being for himself the source of [his] earnings.” I would say that those professors who land research grants and launch spin-off businesses are perhaps closer to being entrepreneurs in this sense. What I’m referring to in relation to übercapitalism and the sharing economy is an intensification of this state of affairs whereby we are encouraged to become atomized individuals who develop our personalities as brands and endeavor to generate social, public and professional value by acting as both a microentrepreneur and microentrepreneur of our own selves and lives.

In the context of higher education, think more in terms of those subjectivizing features that are used by Academia.edu and other academic social networks to help users develop their profiles as “personal brands” in order to emphasize their individual difference and specialness: the kind of thing academics have to do more and more in a competitive market both to get jobs and to hang on to them. I have in mind such features as real-name policies, personal pictures and biographies, not to mention Academia.edu’s analytics dashboards and quantifying deep analytics.

Moreover, the mode of production is shifting more and more from publishing texts intermittently in centralized entities such as journals and even websites, to the generation of a high-volume, fast-paced flow of content over a range of dispersed media -- Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WhatsApp, Snapchat. Transforming their identities into a recognizable personal brand, often by using humor, lifestyle, controversy, the cultivation of celebrity and other means of gaining attention may therefore be one of the main ways left for authors to manage perceptions of their work, and to prevent it from being merely a series of atomized texts that are posted online and then reblogged, shared and reused by others in a manner that challenges traditional notions of authorship, originality and copyright.

Given the way in which many higher education institutions, in the face of increasing market competition, are already using YouTube, Instagram and Twitter to reach both current and prospective students, there is even the possibility that in order to be able to teach and research in the future, some academics may have to sell their whole way of life, just as many celebrities are now charging subscribers a few dollars a month to access their own, personally branded, app-based mobile media channels. By cutting out the intermediaries of the “old media” in this way (book publishers, press, TV, magazines), these celebrities are providing their fans with “direct” access to their “real” lives by detailing their carefully curated fitness and lifestyle tips, the superfoods they eat, as well as offering advice on clothing, hair and makeup, and highlighting the glamorous people they know and exotic places they travel to, all as an extension of their brands and personalities. It is not so much the products celebrities are marketing and selling with these channels, then, as their own selves. They are their own jobs.

You would be forgiven for thinking this is hyperbole. Yet the University of Salford in Britain is already reported to have “two profiles on the dating app Tinder, encouraging school leavers to ‘start a lasting relationship with us this September’ and to ‘swipe right to find the course of your dreams.’”

Q: Many young people seem to embrace parts of the sharing economy -- even as some of them complain about lack of resources for higher education. What do you make of that?

A: As I say, the greater degree of autonomy and flexibility offered by many instances of the sharing economy may suit some people. However, übercapitalism is about more than the way we work. It acts even on those elements of life that used to be beyond the control of the corporation: our sociability, our personalities. Companies such as Uber and Airbnb are concerned not just with what we do but with who we are, in other words. This is why I argue that affirmatively disrupting übercapitalism will mean affirmatively disrupting the microentrepreneurs of our own selves and lives we are becoming. This applies to the ways in which we work, act and think as teachers and researchers, including how we create, publish and disseminate our work.

Q: What do you believe higher education should do to resist the "überfication of the university"?

A: The second part of my project focuses on data commonism (which is distinct from both platform cooperativism and venture communism). I’m going to be arguing that universities should adopt a CopyFarLeft approach in order to construct an information and data commons with which to disrupt the disrupters of übercapitalism and the corporate sharing economy. At the moment universities act as fairly mediocre businesses, for all they are under pressure from neoliberal national and regional governments to adopt the values and practices of for-profit corporations in the belief that doing so makes them more effective and efficient. When it comes to research, for example, they clearly have a “product” the corporate sector is keen to exploit commercially. And universities are being encouraged by governments worldwide to make this product freely available to businesses on an open-access, open-knowledge, open-data basis for precisely this purpose.

Yet at the same time universities are being pushed to act as for-profit businesses in other aspects of their operation in order to compensate for the withdrawal of public funding at the hands of the very same neoliberal governments. In this respect, CopyFarLeft represents a strategic way for universities to adopt a far more “businesslike” approach toward the knowledge and research they generate (and to stop using public funding to provide free information, data and labor for parasitical for-profit businesses such as Academia.edu and LinkedIn). CopyFarLeft does so by allowing universities to insist that any for-profit business wishing to privatize, commercialize and commodify their research must pay a decent price for it (rather than getting it cheaply or indeed for free as is all too frequently the case now), while also ensuring this research and data remains openly available and free to use in the public sphere.

Adopting such a CopyFarLeft approach could thus enable universities to affirmatively disrupt those privately owned for-profit companies such Academia.edu that have a business model resting on their ability to parasitically trade off publicly funded education, research and labor. This model will provide universities with a means to render themselves far less vulnerable to disruption at the hands of both neoliberal governments and any future higher education equivalent of Uber or Airbnb.

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Belmont removes freshman after social media post calling football players the N-word

A freshman at Belmont University is no longer a student as of Tuesday afternoon — after he posted a racist photo on Snapchat, labeling three National Football League players with the N-word.

The student’s post showed three Philadelphia Eagles players raising their fists during the national anthem with the caption visible below in full. “Every one of them needs a damn bullet in their head. If you don’t like this country get the hell out,” the student wrote.

Racist social media comments are nothing new in higher education. But many times colleges say that there is nothing they can do about them, either because of First Amendment protections or — at private colleges such as Belmont — a reluctance to punish any form of speech.

The snap was posted during a Monday night football game, and it quickly circulated on social media. Critics called for Belmont administration to address the tweet.

@BelmontUniv I just wanted to inform you that this very offensive & racist post was by a Belmont student and I think it should be addressed. pic.twitter.com/O3vdmFZtI9

— Jasmine Sewell (@jasminesewell20) September 20, 2016

Tuesday morning, Belmont released a statement, saying it was investigating the case. “This is not free speech — this is hate speech,” the statement read. By Tuesday afternoon, the university announced that the student was no longer at the university.

The updated statement read, “After investigating a racist social media post that surfaced earlier today, we can report that the person involved is no longer a student at Belmont. The university rejects comments rooted in racism or bigotry. As a Christian institution, it is our goal to build a diverse and inclusive community where all members feel accepted, safe and valued.”

Belmont did not release the name of the student.

The Belmont University Black Students Association also released a statement through a Facebook post, in which the group thanked Belmont for its swift response.

“As we have seen from our administration, the necessary response to racism such as this is a direct and immediate rejection. Not one hidden beyond administrative doors, but one on full display. May we continue to publicly expose the private acts of bigotry,” the post stated.

A spokesperson from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free speech watchdog group, said that the group is looking into the case, but had no comment on Tuesday.

The Eagles players raised their fists in solidarity with another NFL player, Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans has been both widely praised and criticized.

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A freshman at Belmont University is no longer a student as of Tuesday afternoon -- after he posted a racist photo on Snapchat, labeling three National Football League players with the N-word.

The student's post showed three Philadelphia Eagles players raising their fists during the national anthem with the caption visible below in full. "Every one of them needs a damn bullet in their head. If you don't like this country get the hell out," the student wrote.

Racist social media comments are nothing new in higher education. But many times colleges say that there is nothing they can do about them, either because of First Amendment protections or -- at private colleges such as Belmont -- a reluctance to punish any form of speech.

The snap was posted during a Monday night football game, and it quickly circulated on social media. Critics called for Belmont administration to address the tweet.

Tuesday morning, Belmont released a statement, saying it was investigating the case. "This is not free speech -- this is hate speech," the statement read. By Tuesday afternoon, the university announced that the student was no longer at the university.

The updated statement read, "After investigating a racist social media post that surfaced earlier today, we can report that the person involved is no longer a student at Belmont. The university rejects comments rooted in racism or bigotry. As a Christian institution, it is our goal to build a diverse and inclusive community where all members feel accepted, safe and valued."

Belmont did not release the name of the student.

The Belmont University Black Students Association also released a statement through a Facebook post, in which the group thanked Belmont for its swift response.

“As we have seen from our administration, the necessary response to racism such as this is a direct and immediate rejection. Not one hidden beyond administrative doors, but one on full display. May we continue to publicly expose the private acts of bigotry,” the post stated.

A spokesperson from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free speech watchdog group, said that the group is looking into the case, but had no comment on Tuesday.

The Eagles players raised their fists in solidarity with another NFL player, Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans has been both widely praised and criticized.

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New study could be another nail in the coffin for the validity of student evaluations of teaching

A number of studies suggest that student evaluations of teaching are unreliable due to various kinds of biases against instructors. (Here’s one addressing gender.) Yet conventional wisdom remains that students learn best from highly rated instructors; tenure cases have even hinged on it.

What if the data backing up conventional wisdom were off? A new study suggests that past analyses linking student achievement to high student teaching evaluation ratings are flawed, a mere “artifact of small sample sized studies and publication bias.”

“Whereas the small sample sized studies showed large and moderate correlation, the large sample sized studies showed no or only minimal correlation between [student evaluations of teaching, or SET] ratings and learning,” reads the study, in press with Studies in Educational Evaluation. “Our up-to-date meta-analysis of all multisection studies revealed no significant correlations between [evaluation] ratings and learning.”

These findings “suggest that institutions focused on student learning and career success may want to abandon SET ratings as a measure of faculty’s teaching effectiveness,” the study says.

The paper considered end-of-course evaluations, not arguably more subjective ratings found on ratings websites.

Authors of the new paper scrutinized data taken from seven studies that have been cited over time as evidence of the effectiveness of student evaluations. Some of the data, for example, come from a 1981 meta-analysis of multisection validity studies. That analysis, based on 41 studies reporting on 68 multisection courses, found a significant link between overall instructor course rating and student achievement, especially on measures of skill and structure. It endorsed student ratings as valid measures of teacher effectiveness.

Yet, according to the new analysis, that paper and others like it “suffer from multiple critical methodological flaws that render their conclusions unwarranted.” Namely, the studies fail to do some or all of the following: provide basic information about the primary-level data, such as effect and sample size; ensure the data’s accuracy, such as by checking how they’re coded; or, perhaps most importantly, consider small sample size bias. The latter occurs when statistical results that may not be representative of the sample as a whole are gathered or reported in such a way that shows significant — and therefore more likely to be published — results.

The 1981 study, for example, did briefly consider sample size, in terms of course sections, but reported it was not a significant factor. A few pages later, the same study dismissed reviewers “concerned that rating/achievement correlations vary according to the number of sections used in the study,” but then somewhat inexplicably said a “number of sections correlated significantly with the absolute value of effect size.” Correlation size was not reported.

A rerunning of that study’s original, available data found that the number of sections included in multisection studies was generally small, with the number of multisection studies based on as few as five sections, and that “many impossibly high correlations (r > 0.90) were obtained in multisection studies with a small number of sections.” It also found that the majority of reported rating-achievement correlations were not statistically significant, and that the magnitude of evaluation-achievement correlations decreased for larger-sized studies in a predictable pattern.

The study says that the best evidence — its own meta-analysis of SET-learning correlations when prior learning and ability are taken into account — indicates that the SET-learning correlation is actually zero, and that it’s “astonishing” that poor data have driven the conversation around evaluations for some 30 years. The paper advises universities to begin giving teaching evaluations appropriate “weight” in personnel and other decisions.

“The entire notion that we could measure professors’ teaching effectiveness by simple ways such as asking students to answer a few questions about their perceptions of their course experiences, instructors’ knowledge and the like seems unrealistic given well-established findings from cognitive sciences such as strong associations between learning and individual differences including prior knowledge, intelligence, motivation and interest,” the paper says. “Individual differences in knowledge and intelligence are likely to influence how much students learn in the same course taught by the same professor.”

Small sample size bias concerns aren’t unique to student evaluations of teaching — it’s a concern in neuroscience, for example, and many other fields. But the new analysis is one more reason for critics to question the validity of student evaluations of teaching as effective measures of quality. A recent Stanford University investigation of meta-analyses also found them to be problematic.  “Currently, there is massive production of unnecessary, misleading, and conflicted systematic reviews and meta-analyses,” that paper says. “Instead of promoting evidence-based medicine and health care, these instruments often serve mostly as easily produced publishable units or marketing tools.”

“Meta-analysis of faculty’s teaching effectiveness: Student evaluation of teaching ratings and student learning are not related” was written by Bob Uttl, professor of psychology at Mount Royal University; Carmela A. White, a graduate student in psychology at the University of British Columbia; and Daniela Wong Gonzalez, a graduate student at the University of Windsor, all in Canada. Most of the studies analyzed were based on U.S. data.

Philip B. Stark, associate dean of the Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences and a professor of statistics at Stanford, is a vocal critic of teaching evaluations used as high-stakes measures of teaching effectiveness (he did not write the recent study on meta-analysis). He said Uttl’s and his colleagues’ paper “pays much more attention than usual to the quality of the underlying studies, and gives a circumspect review of previous meta-analyses.”

Given what “the best randomized, controlled experiments have shown, it is not surprising that this study finds no meaningful correlation between SET and learning,” he said. And given the “strong association between SET and instructor gender, this adds evidence to the argument that institutions that care about learning should abandon SET as a measure of teaching effectiveness.”

Uttl said that contrary to popular belief, “the multisection studies do not support validity of SET ratings as measure of faculty’s teaching effectiveness. They indicate that students do not learn more from professors with higher SET ratings.”

 

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A number of studies suggest that student evaluations of teaching are unreliable due to various kinds of biases against instructors. (Here’s one addressing gender.) Yet conventional wisdom remains that students learn best from highly rated instructors; tenure cases have even hinged on it.

What if the data backing up conventional wisdom were off? A new study suggests that past analyses linking student achievement to high student teaching evaluation ratings are flawed, a mere “artifact of small sample sized studies and publication bias.”

“Whereas the small sample sized studies showed large and moderate correlation, the large sample sized studies showed no or only minimal correlation between [student evaluations of teaching, or SET] ratings and learning,” reads the study, in press with Studies in Educational Evaluation. “Our up-to-date meta-analysis of all multisection studies revealed no significant correlations between [evaluation] ratings and learning.”

These findings “suggest that institutions focused on student learning and career success may want to abandon SET ratings as a measure of faculty's teaching effectiveness,” the study says.

The paper considered end-of-course evaluations, not arguably more subjective ratings found on ratings websites.

Authors of the new paper scrutinized data taken from seven studies that have been cited over time as evidence of the effectiveness of student evaluations. Some of the data, for example, come from a 1981 meta-analysis of multisection validity studies. That analysis, based on 41 studies reporting on 68 multisection courses, found a significant link between overall instructor course rating and student achievement, especially on measures of skill and structure. It endorsed student ratings as valid measures of teacher effectiveness.

Yet, according to the new analysis, that paper and others like it “suffer from multiple critical methodological flaws that render their conclusions unwarranted.” Namely, the studies fail to do some or all of the following: provide basic information about the primary-level data, such as effect and sample size; ensure the data’s accuracy, such as by checking how they’re coded; or, perhaps most importantly, consider small sample size bias. The latter occurs when statistical results that may not be representative of the sample as a whole are gathered or reported in such a way that shows significant -- and therefore more likely to be published -- results.

The 1981 study, for example, did briefly consider sample size, in terms of course sections, but reported it was not a significant factor. A few pages later, the same study dismissed reviewers “concerned that rating/achievement correlations vary according to the number of sections used in the study,” but then somewhat inexplicably said a “number of sections correlated significantly with the absolute value of effect size." Correlation size was not reported.

A rerunning of that study’s original, available data found that the number of sections included in multisection studies was generally small, with the number of multisection studies based on as few as five sections, and that “many impossibly high correlations (r > 0.90) were obtained in multisection studies with a small number of sections.” It also found that the majority of reported rating-achievement correlations were not statistically significant, and that the magnitude of evaluation-achievement correlations decreased for larger-sized studies in a predictable pattern.

The study says that the best evidence -- its own meta-analysis of SET-learning correlations when prior learning and ability are taken into account -- indicates that the SET-learning correlation is actually zero, and that it’s “astonishing” that poor data have driven the conversation around evaluations for some 30 years. The paper advises universities to begin giving teaching evaluations appropriate “weight” in personnel and other decisions.

“The entire notion that we could measure professors' teaching effectiveness by simple ways such as asking students to answer a few questions about their perceptions of their course experiences, instructors' knowledge and the like seems unrealistic given well-established findings from cognitive sciences such as strong associations between learning and individual differences including prior knowledge, intelligence, motivation and interest,” the paper says. “Individual differences in knowledge and intelligence are likely to influence how much students learn in the same course taught by the same professor.”

Small sample size bias concerns aren’t unique to student evaluations of teaching -- it’s a concern in neuroscience, for example, and many other fields. But the new analysis is one more reason for critics to question the validity of student evaluations of teaching as effective measures of quality. A recent Stanford University investigation of meta-analyses also found them to be problematic.  "Currently, there is massive production of unnecessary, misleading, and conflicted systematic reviews and meta-analyses," that paper says. "Instead of promoting evidence-based medicine and health care, these instruments often serve mostly as easily produced publishable units or marketing tools."

“Meta-analysis of faculty's teaching effectiveness: Student evaluation of teaching ratings and student learning are not related” was written by Bob Uttl, professor of psychology at Mount Royal University; Carmela A. White, a graduate student in psychology at the University of British Columbia; and Daniela Wong Gonzalez, a graduate student at the University of Windsor, all in Canada. Most of the studies analyzed were based on U.S. data.

Philip B. Stark, associate dean of the Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences and a professor of statistics at Stanford, is a vocal critic of teaching evaluations used as high-stakes measures of teaching effectiveness (he did not write the recent study on meta-analysis). He said Uttl's and his colleagues' paper "pays much more attention than usual to the quality of the underlying studies, and gives a circumspect review of previous meta-analyses."

Given what "the best randomized, controlled experiments have shown, it is not surprising that this study finds no meaningful correlation between SET and learning," he said. And given the "strong association between SET and instructor gender, this adds evidence to the argument that institutions that care about learning should abandon SET as a measure of teaching effectiveness."

Uttl said that contrary to popular belief, "the multisection studies do not support validity of SET ratings as measure of faculty’s teaching effectiveness. They indicate that students do not learn more from professors with higher SET ratings."

 

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Regional accreditors refocus on institutions with low grad rates

A year ago, The Wall Street Journal called regional accreditors the watchdogs that “rarely bite,” and in recent months the federal panel that oversees those agencies has increasingly asked them to justify how they approve colleges with low graduation rates and high rates of student loan defaults. Today, the seven regional accrediting agencies took a step toward responding to that criticism with the announcement of a joint effort to further scrutinize institutions with extremely low graduation rates.

Members of the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions will ask four-year institutions with graduation rates at or below 25 percent over six years and two-year institutions at or below 15 percent over four years — half the national average for first-year, full-time students — to account for how they are working to improve those numbers. In the coming days, the regional accreditors will contact colleges and universities they oversee who meet those criteria, notifying them that they will be under additional review. They will share how colleges are working to address those challenges and hold those falling short further accountable.

“Institutions want their students to be successful and so part of what we’ll learn is more about the various ways that they’re systematically going about that,” said Barbara Brittingham, chair of the council and president of the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

Of the nearly 3,000 institutions overseen nationwide by seven regional accreditors, the additional review will affect 266 four-year colleges and universities and 279 two-year institutions, according to an analysis of data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

“We applaud the plan announced today by the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions, which is designed to ensure that colleges and universities are doing all they can to enable their students to graduate with a quality degree,” said American Council on Education President Molly Corbett Broad in a statement. “Under this new policy, regional accreditors will use a set of common criteria to identify institutions that may be struggling and subject them to additional scrutiny, while also considering individual institutional missions and student populations.”

The new focus for members of the accrediting council comes after regional accreditors have been taken to task for continuing to give approval to persistently low-performing institutions. A Wall Street Journal article from June 2015 drew attention to the high number of four-year colleges approved by regional accrediting bodies that had low graduation or high loan default rates. The previous year, the seven regional accrediting groups said they would issue a common framework of terms and better align their actions toward their higher ed institutions in response to mounting complaints about the failures of accrediting bodies. 

“We have each been concerned for a long period of time about metrics like graduation rates, and we have heard the considerable interest, particularly in Washington but also the press, about these [low graduation rates],” Brittingham said. “We wanted to be responsive to that concern in a cooperative way but also do it in a way that reflects the complexity of institutions and to learn from [the process].”

The expanded review of regionally accredited colleges and universities will also account for loan default and loan repayment rates, two areas that have received increased attention from the U.S. Department of Education.

The council meets next week in Washington, D.C. Brittingham said member organizations would discuss then the timeline for sharing and acting on their findings from the review. As part of the expanded reviews, the accrediting organizations will have at their disposal their usual tool kit — peer visits to institutions, focused evaluations or, in cases where accreditors see real cause for concern, probation or withdrawal of accreditation.

Of the four-year institutions that would fall under criteria for additional review, 85 are public, 73 are private and 105 are for-profit colleges. A large number of institutions that meet those criteria also include community colleges, historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions. The council said it is aware that a single graduation rate metric cannot fully gauge the successes or failures at those institutions. The accreditors will accordingly include data such as transfer rates in its review to add more context to their judgment of those institutions.

Those institutions aren’t necessarily experiencing trepidation over additional reviews by accrediting agencies. David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis for the American Association of Community Colleges, said colleges are already focused on improving metrics such as completion rates.

“People look at accreditation as a gatekeeper issue,” Baime said. “Institutions look at accreditation as a mechanism to help them improve. They invest tremendous resources into it. They take it tremendously seriously as a process.”

The review also highlights issues around discrepancies in graduation data reported to the federal government. Lezli Baskerville, president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, the umbrella organization for HBCUs and predominantly black institutions, said that “the right type of data gathering or the strategic organizing of currently collected data can assist institutions in better realizing their missions.”

She said accrediting bodies should take into account the socioeconomic makeup of student bodies as well as missions that prioritize affordability and serving low-income and first-generation students.

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A year ago, The Wall Street Journal called regional accreditors the watchdogs that "rarely bite," and in recent months the federal panel that oversees those agencies has increasingly asked them to justify how they approve colleges with low graduation rates and high rates of student loan defaults. Today, the seven regional accrediting agencies took a step toward responding to that criticism with the announcement of a joint effort to further scrutinize institutions with extremely low graduation rates.

Members of the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions will ask four-year institutions with graduation rates at or below 25 percent over six years and two-year institutions at or below 15 percent over four years -- half the national average for first-year, full-time students -- to account for how they are working to improve those numbers. In the coming days, the regional accreditors will contact colleges and universities they oversee who meet those criteria, notifying them that they will be under additional review. They will share how colleges are working to address those challenges and hold those falling short further accountable.

“Institutions want their students to be successful and so part of what we’ll learn is more about the various ways that they’re systematically going about that,” said Barbara Brittingham, chair of the council and president of the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

Of the nearly 3,000 institutions overseen nationwide by seven regional accreditors, the additional review will affect 266 four-year colleges and universities and 279 two-year institutions, according to an analysis of data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

“We applaud the plan announced today by the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions, which is designed to ensure that colleges and universities are doing all they can to enable their students to graduate with a quality degree,” said American Council on Education President Molly Corbett Broad in a statement. “Under this new policy, regional accreditors will use a set of common criteria to identify institutions that may be struggling and subject them to additional scrutiny, while also considering individual institutional missions and student populations.”

The new focus for members of the accrediting council comes after regional accreditors have been taken to task for continuing to give approval to persistently low-performing institutions. A Wall Street Journal article from June 2015 drew attention to the high number of four-year colleges approved by regional accrediting bodies that had low graduation or high loan default rates. The previous year, the seven regional accrediting groups said they would issue a common framework of terms and better align their actions toward their higher ed institutions in response to mounting complaints about the failures of accrediting bodies. 

“We have each been concerned for a long period of time about metrics like graduation rates, and we have heard the considerable interest, particularly in Washington but also the press, about these [low graduation rates],” Brittingham said. “We wanted to be responsive to that concern in a cooperative way but also do it in a way that reflects the complexity of institutions and to learn from [the process].”

The expanded review of regionally accredited colleges and universities will also account for loan default and loan repayment rates, two areas that have received increased attention from the U.S. Department of Education.

The council meets next week in Washington, D.C. Brittingham said member organizations would discuss then the timeline for sharing and acting on their findings from the review. As part of the expanded reviews, the accrediting organizations will have at their disposal their usual tool kit -- peer visits to institutions, focused evaluations or, in cases where accreditors see real cause for concern, probation or withdrawal of accreditation.

Of the four-year institutions that would fall under criteria for additional review, 85 are public, 73 are private and 105 are for-profit colleges. A large number of institutions that meet those criteria also include community colleges, historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions. The council said it is aware that a single graduation rate metric cannot fully gauge the successes or failures at those institutions. The accreditors will accordingly include data such as transfer rates in its review to add more context to their judgment of those institutions.

Those institutions aren’t necessarily experiencing trepidation over additional reviews by accrediting agencies. David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis for the American Association of Community Colleges, said colleges are already focused on improving metrics such as completion rates.

“People look at accreditation as a gatekeeper issue,” Baime said. “Institutions look at accreditation as a mechanism to help them improve. They invest tremendous resources into it. They take it tremendously seriously as a process.”

The review also highlights issues around discrepancies in graduation data reported to the federal government. Lezli Baskerville, president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, the umbrella organization for HBCUs and predominantly black institutions, said that “the right type of data gathering or the strategic organizing of currently collected data can assist institutions in better realizing their missions.”

She said accrediting bodies should take into account the socioeconomic makeup of student bodies as well as missions that prioritize affordability and serving low-income and first-generation students.

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