Blue wave means new focus in House on climate change, research on science committee

Over the past eight years, the House science committee became a home to climate change denialism and attacks on the federal process for doling out research grant awards.

That promises to change in January when a Democrat takes up the committee gavel f…

Over the past eight years, the House science committee became a home to climate change denialism and attacks on the federal process for doling out research grant awards.

That promises to change in January when a Democrat takes up the committee gavel for the first time since 2010. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, the current ranking member, has already announced an about-face for the direction of the committee.

She’s outlined an agenda that includes addressing climate change, supporting STEM education and restoring the credibility of the committee on science issues. Johnson has also introduced legislation to deal with sexual harassment in science and has called for federal science efforts to be more inclusive of minority scientists and those who work at historically black institutions.

The pending retirement of Lamar Smith, the chairman since 2013, meant the committee would see at least one significant departure next year. But four other Republican members -- California representative Dana Rohrabacher, Illinois representative Randy Hultgren, Virginia representative Barbara Comstock and California representative Steven Knight -- also lost their re-election bids.

The incoming Democratic class, meanwhile, includes eight new members who campaigned on their backgrounds in science, engineering or medical fields and had the backing of organizers opposed to attacks on science by President Trump. Science advocates expect Congress to put a greater emphasis on science in policy making and are hoping the committee could once again become a plum assignment for House members.

“It’s kind of a novel idea to put scientists on the science committee,” said Yogin Kothari, a senior Washington representative with the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “I’d encourage all the new members who have scientific backgrounds -- whether they’re engineers or hard scientists -- to join this committee and give it the prominence it really deserves.”

Under Smith, the science committee issued subpoenas to the Environmental Protection Agency seeking raw data used for a landmark air pollution study. Opponents said it wasn’t possible to release the data without violating the privacy of program participants. Under the Trump administration, EPA officials have sought to require that new regulations be based only on research where data is publicly available. The rule would enact requirements that Smith had sought to impose for years. The agency argued it would advance data transparency, but science groups said it would let the government ignore important and credible studies.

Smith also subpoenaed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after researchers at the agency said in a paper that there had been no halt to global warming in decades. For years, he’s called the scientific consensus on global warming “climate alarmism” based on biased data.

Smith also targeted National Science Foundation grants for special scrutiny, asking the agency for detailed records -- including scientific and technical reviews -- of grants that he said had questionable intellectual merit. Johnson blasted that interference in the peer-review process in what became a rare public feud between the top leaders of the committee.

Rush Holt, CEO at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that Smith and other top Republicans on the committee have prided themselves on being iconoclasts when it comes to the conventional wisdom of research and the scientific consensus.

“I think they would take that as a badge of honor,” he said.

Tobin Smith, vice president for policy at the Association for American Universities, said with Lamar Smith’s departure and Democrats in charge of the committee, he expects that social science research would not see its value questioned so heavily by the committee, as it has under Republican leadership. And Democrats will likely look more favorably on the kind of applied research -- especially on wind and solar energy programs -- where industry won’t take the risk.

The committee is also likely to use its oversight powers to scrutinize the administration’s management of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Our hope is the committee will become more bipartisan,” Tobin Smith said. “It’s not at all clear that will be the case.”

He noted that Republican members who lost their campaigns for re-election included lawmakers praised for their support of science. Hultgren, for example, although a conservative Republican has been recognized for his support of basic research and STEM education by the American Physical Society.

But Hultgren lost a narrow contest to Lauren Underwood, a registered nurse and former senior adviser at the United States Department of Health and Human Services, where she helped implement the Affordable Care Act. Underwood was one of more than a dozen congressional candidates on the ballot last week who were backed by 314 Action, a group launched in the wake of the 2016 election to find and back candidates with science backgrounds.

Shaughnessy Naughton, the president of 314 Action, said those candidates were able use their backgrounds in STEM fields to talk about issues important to their communities in a credible way. One of those candidates, Joe Cunningham, pulled off a narrow upset of South Carolina representative Katie Arrington by making offshore drilling a key part of his campaign.

“They bring a lot of credibility to these issues,” Naughton said. “That’s what people want right now. They want problem solvers.”

Of 13 candidates backed by 314 on Election Day, eight were elected to Congress -- all of them in districts that flipped from Republican to Democrat. (Joseph Kopser, one of the 314-backed candidates, lost a bid for Lamar Smith’s open House seat to Republican Chip Roy, who has dismissed the threat of climate change.)

Naughton said the new leadership on the science committee should mean the chair no longer uses the position to intimidate and silence researchers “who are just doing their jobs.” She said she also hoped to see Congress pass the Scientific Integrity Act, which aims to prevent the suppression of data and findings at federal agencies. Johnson is a co-sponsor of the legislation, which was introduced last year.

Kothari of the Union of Concerned Scientists said he also hoped to see the committee start holding hearings featuring scientific experts on matters under review by the committee.

“We’re hopeful the committee next year will go back to defending and promoting science and its role in shaping policy,” he said.

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Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson
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New report shows colleges how to bridge the gap between the liberal arts and the work force

A report being released today says higher education is not keeping pace with the ever-changing job market. The report examines the “translation chasm” between the skills graduates of liberal arts programs have and the skills employers say they’re looking for in an applicant. Turns out, they’re not all that different, but “liberal arts graduates are too often left to stumble upon the valuable mixture of layered skills” required for any specific career, according to the report.

While many reports suggest that students should focus on studying marketable skills, the new report identifies career value in liberal arts education, albeit with some tweaks.

Put together by Emsi, a labor market analytics firm, and the Strada Institute for the Future of Work, the report is based on more than 100 million social and professional profiles and applicant résumés and more than 36 million job postings to determine how to bridge the gap between what liberal arts students learn and what employers want. (Note: Strada Education Network is a sponsor of Inside Higher Ed events, but Inside Higher Ed did not participate in the creation of this report.)

The report examines liberal arts programs, not liberal arts colleges, although many liberal arts programs are found at liberal arts colleges. “Liberal arts” is broadly defined as bachelor’s degree programs in the humanities, social sciences and interdisciplinary programs. Arts, business, health care and STEM majors were not included in this analysis.

“There are those who believe that the ‘hard’ skills of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are most critical to the future, and those who believe the uniquely ‘human’ skills of the liberal arts are the ones that will endure in the face of automation,” the report says. “We say, ‘both, and’: It is the integration of human and technical skills that will provide the best preparation for the future of work.”

Liberal arts graduates have successful careers. While their earnings never catch up to those of STEM graduates, liberal arts graduates earn more than workers with less education. “Among workers with liberal arts B.A.s, 82 percent are working (70 percent full-time), and the average full-time worker earns $55,000 annually, $20,000 more than high school graduates, but $5,000 less than the average college graduate,” the report says. “Two out of five liberal arts graduates, however, go on to earn graduate degrees, which further boosts their earnings to $76,000 annually, on average.”

In the past, such outcomes have not been translated for a wider audience of employers and students, and “as a result, depending on who you ask, these graduates are either headed for a lifetime as a barista or are capable of doing absolutely anything,” the report says.

Rob Sentz, chief innovation officer at Emsi and co-author of the report, hopes that students, employers and colleges will use the data to help clarify this discrepancy.

He thinks about the data as three overlapping circles: students can use the data to determine how their “human” skills — communication, leadership and problem solving — apply to different jobs, employers can use the data to advertise job openings to qualified applicants, and colleges can use the data to connect what students learn into the classroom to real-world job scenarios.

From their first career to the third, liberal arts graduates often transition into high-skill, high-demand careers in marketing, advertising, public relations, management and human resources.

A graph that shows the movement over time of liberal arts graduates into high-level jobs such as marketing, human relations, management and education

Employers could be more specific in job postings about what they’re looking for, but matching up jobs to applicants is a “two-way street,” Sentz said.

“Employers are going to signal, ‘We want communication skills because we want you working on a social media campaign,’ and the student needs to look and say, ‘OK, how do I translate what I learned to this?’” he said.

Take communication, for example. Hundreds of thousands of job postings list “communication” as a desired skill, but how that skill is utilized varies greatly from job to job. A listing for a behavioral health position could require good communication skills for suicide intervention, grief counseling or crisis management. In a marketing position, employees will communicate via press releases, brand management or social media marketing. In human resources positions, communication is required for onboarding, performance appraisal or management training.

“The college itself can help fill a gap between student and employer,” Sentz said. “Break down some of things that employers are asking for, and don’t necessarily just teach and certify those things, but say, ‘Now we’re learning rhetoric, or we’re writing an essay, and in the world of employment this is [how you could use this skill].’”

The report utilizes national data, but Sentz would like to see colleges collect this data locally.

“If you’re in Chicago, what are liberal arts students from different colleges in the Chicago area doing, and are [you] building relationships with those employers?” he said.

Deans, administrators working in program development, institutional research departments and faculty advisers should all be focused on helping students “translate what they are learning into skills that the labor market needs and wants,” Sentz said. “Once the college has researched the needs of the local or regional economy, has collected the data on what their students actually do in that economy, and developed curriculum that makes connections to the labor market, career services should take advantage of that.”

Students should also be doing their own research about how their skills and interests could translate into a career.

“The blessing of it is that [liberal arts graduates] are very mobile, but the curse is that they could end up mobile into bad spots,” Sentz said. “You really do have a very diverse array of things you could do, and you need to be very smart about how you begin to think about how you apply it in the market, versus a STEM student whose path might be already paved.”

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A report being released today says higher education is not keeping pace with the ever-changing job market. The report examines the “translation chasm” between the skills graduates of liberal arts programs have and the skills employers say they’re looking for in an applicant. Turns out, they’re not all that different, but “liberal arts graduates are too often left to stumble upon the valuable mixture of layered skills” required for any specific career, according to the report.

While many reports suggest that students should focus on studying marketable skills, the new report identifies career value in liberal arts education, albeit with some tweaks.

Put together by Emsi, a labor market analytics firm, and the Strada Institute for the Future of Work, the report is based on more than 100 million social and professional profiles and applicant résumés and more than 36 million job postings to determine how to bridge the gap between what liberal arts students learn and what employers want. (Note: Strada Education Network is a sponsor of Inside Higher Ed events, but Inside Higher Ed did not participate in the creation of this report.)

The report examines liberal arts programs, not liberal arts colleges, although many liberal arts programs are found at liberal arts colleges. "Liberal arts” is broadly defined as bachelor's degree programs in the humanities, social sciences and interdisciplinary programs. Arts, business, health care and STEM majors were not included in this analysis.

“There are those who believe that the ‘hard’ skills of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are most critical to the future, and those who believe the uniquely ‘human’ skills of the liberal arts are the ones that will endure in the face of automation,” the report says. “We say, ‘both, and’: It is the integration of human and technical skills that will provide the best preparation for the future of work.”

Liberal arts graduates have successful careers. While their earnings never catch up to those of STEM graduates, liberal arts graduates earn more than workers with less education. “Among workers with liberal arts B.A.s, 82 percent are working (70 percent full-time), and the average full-time worker earns $55,000 annually, $20,000 more than high school graduates, but $5,000 less than the average college graduate,” the report says. “Two out of five liberal arts graduates, however, go on to earn graduate degrees, which further boosts their earnings to $76,000 annually, on average.”

In the past, such outcomes have not been translated for a wider audience of employers and students, and “as a result, depending on who you ask, these graduates are either headed for a lifetime as a barista or are capable of doing absolutely anything,” the report says.

Rob Sentz, chief innovation officer at Emsi and co-author of the report, hopes that students, employers and colleges will use the data to help clarify this discrepancy.

He thinks about the data as three overlapping circles: students can use the data to determine how their “human” skills -- communication, leadership and problem solving -- apply to different jobs, employers can use the data to advertise job openings to qualified applicants, and colleges can use the data to connect what students learn into the classroom to real-world job scenarios.

From their first career to the third, liberal arts graduates often transition into high-skill, high-demand careers in marketing, advertising, public relations, management and human resources.

A graph that shows the movement over time of liberal arts graduates into high-level jobs such as marketing, human relations, management and education

Employers could be more specific in job postings about what they’re looking for, but matching up jobs to applicants is a “two-way street,” Sentz said.

“Employers are going to signal, ‘We want communication skills because we want you working on a social media campaign,’ and the student needs to look and say, ‘OK, how do I translate what I learned to this?’” he said.

Take communication, for example. Hundreds of thousands of job postings list “communication” as a desired skill, but how that skill is utilized varies greatly from job to job. A listing for a behavioral health position could require good communication skills for suicide intervention, grief counseling or crisis management. In a marketing position, employees will communicate via press releases, brand management or social media marketing. In human resources positions, communication is required for onboarding, performance appraisal or management training.

“The college itself can help fill a gap between student and employer,” Sentz said. “Break down some of things that employers are asking for, and don’t necessarily just teach and certify those things, but say, ‘Now we’re learning rhetoric, or we’re writing an essay, and in the world of employment this is [how you could use this skill].’”

The report utilizes national data, but Sentz would like to see colleges collect this data locally.

“If you’re in Chicago, what are liberal arts students from different colleges in the Chicago area doing, and are [you] building relationships with those employers?” he said.

Deans, administrators working in program development, institutional research departments and faculty advisers should all be focused on helping students "translate what they are learning into skills that the labor market needs and wants," Sentz said. "Once the college has researched the needs of the local or regional economy, has collected the data on what their students actually do in that economy, and developed curriculum that makes connections to the labor market, career services should take advantage of that."

Students should also be doing their own research about how their skills and interests could translate into a career.

“The blessing of it is that [liberal arts graduates] are very mobile, but the curse is that they could end up mobile into bad spots,” Sentz said. “You really do have a very diverse array of things you could do, and you need to be very smart about how you begin to think about how you apply it in the market, versus a STEM student whose path might be already paved.”

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Former Harvard dean’s tweet against required faculty diversity statements sets off debate

The debate over required faculty candidate statements on diversity and inclusion heated up again over the weekend, after the former dean of Harvard University’s medical school shared his pointed criticism on social media.

“As a dean of a major academic institution, I could not have said this. But I will now,” Jeffrey Flier, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor and Higginson Professor of Physiology and Medicine, tweeted Saturday. “Requiring such statements in applications for appointments and promotions is an affront to academic freedom, and diminishes the true value of diversity, equity of inclusion by trivializing it.”

Flier was commenting on a recent post on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s website by Robert Shibley, that organization’s executive director. Shibley wrote in response to a recent news article on the political website Real Clear Investigations about required diversity statements at the University of California, Los Angeles, and elsewhere.

Shibley was critical of such required statements as chilling academic freedom, saying that by allowing “administrators to rely on broad, subjective and ideologically-loaded terms to influence hiring decisions,” the Los Angeles campus headed in the wrong direction, away from broad public support.

Many academic freedom watchdogs value FIRE’s commentary and advocacy. But Flier’s comment — given Harvard’s perennial cachet and the fact that it’s currently embroiled in its own legal battle over how it factors in diversity in admissions — attracted widespread attention. Comments went both ways, from describing Flier as a hero to someone painfully unaware of his own bias.

Here’s a sampling:

I completely agree with this. Some of these statements, particularly those required by UC schools, appear to be political litmus tests. I will never make such a statement myself and will aggressively oppose their introduction elsewhere@HdxAcademy

— Paul Bieniasz (@PaulBieniasz) November 11, 2018

As part of coming to your view that diversity statements trivialize diversity, did you listen to STEM PoC, women, LGBTQ voices? Because they don’t seem to agree with you.
Good places to start:

— Benjamin de Bivort (@debivort) November 11, 2018

Well congrats you’ve got the tiki torch boys all reved up. But I’ll bite, how does a statement describing ones efforts towards diversity affect academic freedom? I also had to make statements about my teaching philosophy and research approach for tenure and my freedom survived.

— Jim Johnson, Ph.D. (@JimJohnsonSci) November 11, 2018

I read these statements as asking all faculty to make a commitment to educating every student that walks into your classroom, regardless of background. A university has not only a right but an obligation to expect faculty to adhere to this.

— Lexi Suppes (@suplexi) November 11, 2018

Flier said via email Sunday that the reaction to his initial tweet was “vastly bigger than any I had before. Most of the comments I saw were very supportive. Many new followers. Many people I greatly respect retweeted it. Many people reached out to me directly to thank me for ‘being brave enough to speak’ about this. I was very encouraged.”

As for the “expected” negative comments, Flier said he found nearly all of them “missed the point, and misunderstood why I was taking the view that I did. Also the requisite number of crazies.”

Asked whether he was bothered by the fact that diversity statements are required for many faculty candidates, or more about how they’ll be weighed by hiring committees, Flier said, “At this point nobody knows how they would be used today or in the future. I suspect in most cases they will not have much impact. Other more traditional factors will play the greatest role in decisions.”

But many professors likely “will be trying to figure out ‘what they are expected to do or say,’ to not have this held against them. That could lead to some beneficial things, and some bad behaviors.”

Flier summed up his primary objection to the “whole idea” as follows: what “should mainly be an objective evaluation of a faculty member’s accomplishments and reputation will now potentially be influenced by a politically contentious set of factors that will likely be gamed. And even more, this opens up academic assessment to even further inroads from political influences, which was well known in prior history.”

None of the above has “anything to do with support for more diversity, which I fully support,” he added.

Shibley’s takedown of required diversity statements says that it’s “one thing to tell candidates that their work in the areas of equity, diversity and inclusion will be credited to them and make sure these do not go unrecognized by departments.” But it’s “entirely another to indicate to candidates that their mandatory [statement] is going to be awfully lacking if they happen to spend too much time pursuing teaching, research and service goals that may be both worthy and excellent, but which simply don’t move the needle in the direction of equity, diversity or inclusion,” he wrote.

He also asked readers to imagine that diversity, equity and inclusion be replaced by values that might not make “mainstream Republicans” uncomfortable, such as “capitalism, freedom and patriotism.”

Shibley told Inside Higher Ed that he thought it was “obvious” that committees will be more likely to offer jobs to those with “better” statements, however better is defined, “just as they would with any other component of an application.” Otherwise, he said, what would be the point of such a requirement?

Shibley said he worried more about something else, though: that requiring such statements means “strongly nudging faculty to take a certain direction in their work,” violating their academic freedom.

“Some scholars may not, on their own, wish to pursue equality, diversity and inclusion, as defined by UCLA or by anyone else,” he said. But with mandated diversity statements, scholar have “enormous incentive to disregard” what their “scientific conscience” might be telling them — if they want to advance in academe.

Statements describing one’s interest in and evidence of work on equity, diversity and inclusion, are required from faculty candidates at the California university system’s Los Angeles campus, among several others. Ricardo Vazquez, a spokesperson for Los Angeles, noted that relevant campus policy specifically says that these statements will not compromise academic freedom. He also said that the university’s Academic Personnel Manual “explicitly marks academic freedom as a core institutional value.”

Vazquez said that asking candidates to submit an EDI statement, as they’re known on campus, doesn’t alter the main criteria for evaluating faculty candidates. Rather, the diversity statement requirement just “makes the process more explicit, accurate and salient, and offers the university a vehicle to gain better information about a candidate’s contributions to diversity and equal opportunity,” he said via email. “It differs little from comparable requirements throughout higher education for a teaching statement or statement of research interests.”

University policy on that issue says contributions “in all areas of faculty achievement that promote equal opportunity and diversity should be given due recognition in the academic personnel process, and they should be evaluated and credited in the same way as other faculty achievements.”

Philip Kass, vice provost at the university’s Davis campus, is currently overseeing an open faculty search initiative that emphasizes the role of diversity work for certain hires. Individual hiring committees will still decide how to judge or weigh those statements, however.

Kass said that he found Flier’s statement “ridiculous,” and criticized Shibley’s argument as intimating that required diversity statements were part of some “leftist plot.” Instead, he said, they’re an additive part of a portfolio, just like awards or other honors.

Using himself as an example, Kass said that when he comes up for a merit review, he may or may not submit an optional statement on his work on diversity and inclusion, with the assurance that it can only help — not hurt — him. The same is true of Los Angeles’s initiative, he said. (Davis also requires diversity statements for faculty candidates. Statements are optional for promotion and merit decisions.)

Saying there’s no requirement for as to what the statements say, Kass said they “can document the sorts of things I’m doing that go beyond the bounds of expectations with regard to equity, diversity and inclusion. But the converse is not true. I’m not penalized for not doing these things and not writing about them.”

Critics’ worst fears about diversity statements are simply not true, Kass continued, in that diversity work is not a new, fourth criterion for faculty evaluations, after teaching, research and service. But, especially in a majority-minority state such as California, he said, diversity work can be an important part of teaching, research and service.

“We are a public university, and that means providing students access to a diversity of ideas and diversity of peoples and never, ever lowering our standards for academic excellence.”

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The debate over required faculty candidate statements on diversity and inclusion heated up again over the weekend, after the former dean of Harvard University’s medical school shared his pointed criticism on social media.

“As a dean of a major academic institution, I could not have said this. But I will now,” Jeffrey Flier, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor and Higginson Professor of Physiology and Medicine, tweeted Saturday. “Requiring such statements in applications for appointments and promotions is an affront to academic freedom, and diminishes the true value of diversity, equity of inclusion by trivializing it.”

Flier was commenting on a recent post on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s website by Robert Shibley, that organization’s executive director. Shibley wrote in response to a recent news article on the political website Real Clear Investigations about required diversity statements at the University of California, Los Angeles, and elsewhere.

Shibley was critical of such required statements as chilling academic freedom, saying that by allowing “administrators to rely on broad, subjective and ideologically-loaded terms to influence hiring decisions,” the Los Angeles campus headed in the wrong direction, away from broad public support.

Many academic freedom watchdogs value FIRE’s commentary and advocacy. But Flier’s comment -- given Harvard’s perennial cachet and the fact that it’s currently embroiled in its own legal battle over how it factors in diversity in admissions -- attracted widespread attention. Comments went both ways, from describing Flier as a hero to someone painfully unaware of his own bias.

Here’s a sampling:

Flier said via email Sunday that the reaction to his initial tweet was “vastly bigger than any I had before. Most of the comments I saw were very supportive. Many new followers. Many people I greatly respect retweeted it. Many people reached out to me directly to thank me for ‘being brave enough to speak’ about this. I was very encouraged.”

As for the "expected" negative comments, Flier said he found nearly all of them “missed the point, and misunderstood why I was taking the view that I did. Also the requisite number of crazies.”

Asked whether he was bothered by the fact that diversity statements are required for many faculty candidates, or more about how they’ll be weighed by hiring committees, Flier said, “At this point nobody knows how they would be used today or in the future. I suspect in most cases they will not have much impact. Other more traditional factors will play the greatest role in decisions.”

But many professors likely “will be trying to figure out ‘what they are expected to do or say,’ to not have this held against them. That could lead to some beneficial things, and some bad behaviors.”

Flier summed up his primary objection to the “whole idea” as follows: what “should mainly be an objective evaluation of a faculty member's accomplishments and reputation will now potentially be influenced by a politically contentious set of factors that will likely be gamed. And even more, this opens up academic assessment to even further inroads from political influences, which was well known in prior history.”

None of the above has “anything to do with support for more diversity, which I fully support,” he added.

Shibley’s takedown of required diversity statements says that it’s “one thing to tell candidates that their work in the areas of equity, diversity and inclusion will be credited to them and make sure these do not go unrecognized by departments.” But it’s “entirely another to indicate to candidates that their mandatory [statement] is going to be awfully lacking if they happen to spend too much time pursuing teaching, research and service goals that may be both worthy and excellent, but which simply don’t move the needle in the direction of equity, diversity or inclusion,” he wrote.

He also asked readers to imagine that diversity, equity and inclusion be replaced by values that might not make “mainstream Republicans" uncomfortable, such as “capitalism, freedom and patriotism.”

Shibley told Inside Higher Ed that he thought it was “obvious” that committees will be more likely to offer jobs to those with "better" statements, however better is defined, “just as they would with any other component of an application.” Otherwise, he said, what would be the point of such a requirement?

Shibley said he worried more about something else, though: that requiring such statements means “strongly nudging faculty to take a certain direction in their work,” violating their academic freedom.

“Some scholars may not, on their own, wish to pursue equality, diversity and inclusion, as defined by UCLA or by anyone else,” he said. But with mandated diversity statements, scholar have “enormous incentive to disregard” what their "scientific conscience" might be telling them -- if they want to advance in academe.

Statements describing one's interest in and evidence of work on equity, diversity and inclusion, are required from faculty candidates at the California university system’s Los Angeles campus, among several others. Ricardo Vazquez, a spokesperson for Los Angeles, noted that relevant campus policy specifically says that these statements will not compromise academic freedom. He also said that the university’s Academic Personnel Manual “explicitly marks academic freedom as a core institutional value.”

Vazquez said that asking candidates to submit an EDI statement, as they’re known on campus, doesn’t alter the main criteria for evaluating faculty candidates. Rather, the diversity statement requirement just “makes the process more explicit, accurate and salient, and offers the university a vehicle to gain better information about a candidate’s contributions to diversity and equal opportunity," he said via email. "It differs little from comparable requirements throughout higher education for a teaching statement or statement of research interests.”

University policy on that issue says contributions "in all areas of faculty achievement that promote equal opportunity and diversity should be given due recognition in the academic personnel process, and they should be evaluated and credited in the same way as other faculty achievements.”

Philip Kass, vice provost at the university’s Davis campus, is currently overseeing an open faculty search initiative that emphasizes the role of diversity work for certain hires. Individual hiring committees will still decide how to judge or weigh those statements, however.

Kass said that he found Flier’s statement “ridiculous,” and criticized Shibley’s argument as intimating that required diversity statements were part of some “leftist plot.” Instead, he said, they're an additive part of a portfolio, just like awards or other honors.

Using himself as an example, Kass said that when he comes up for a merit review, he may or may not submit an optional statement on his work on diversity and inclusion, with the assurance that it can only help -- not hurt -- him. The same is true of Los Angeles’s initiative, he said. (Davis also requires diversity statements for faculty candidates. Statements are optional for promotion and merit decisions.)

Saying there's no requirement for as to what the statements say, Kass said they "can document the sorts of things I’m doing that go beyond the bounds of expectations with regard to equity, diversity and inclusion. But the converse is not true. I’m not penalized for not doing these things and not writing about them.”

Critics' worst fears about diversity statements are simply not true, Kass continued, in that diversity work is not a new, fourth criterion for faculty evaluations, after teaching, research and service. But, especially in a majority-minority state such as California, he said, diversity work can be an important part of teaching, research and service.

“We are a public university, and that means providing students access to a diversity of ideas and diversity of peoples and never, ever lowering our standards for academic excellence.”

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Mary Baldwin U closes art exhibit after two days when students said they found the art racist

Mary Baldwin University last week shut down an art exhibit after some students said that the art was racist. The artists involved say their art wasn’t racist at all — but has been misunderstood.

The exhibit, “RELEVANT / SCRAP,” is about the monuments, common in much of the South, to Confederate heroes. The two artists are white women who grew up in the South, and they say that the exhibit reflects their awareness that these monuments — glorified by some — are deeply hurtful to others and contribute to distortions of U.S. history. The art features images from statutes, turned into other images and mixed with other materials.

The current debates about such monuments, combined with “the current post-truth context in the U.S.” add to the “complexity of the issue,” the artists wrote in a document explaining the exhibit. (Three images from the exhibit are above.) The monuments that are the focus of the art are from Monument Avenue in Richmond, which includes statues of numerous Confederate heroes.

An anonymous group called Concerned Students of Mary Baldwin circulated an email calling the exhibit racist, and student leaders endorsed that view.

Mary Baldwin then held a forum for students, who again called the exhibit racist, and the university then took all the art down. A statement from the university said, “In accordance with our values as an inclusive, student-centered campus community, we take seriously the concerns about an art exhibition by two Richmond-based artists installed earlier this week in Hunt Gallery. As a result of student concerns and discussions with the artists, the installation has been removed as of last night.” The statement was illustrated with an image of the empty gallery.

The statement added that the exhibit had been booked three years ago, before the art was created. “Moving forward, Mary Baldwin will review its policies and procedures for selecting and booking cultural exhibitions on campus, including facilitating student input,” the statement said.

The artists — Jere Williams and Pam Sutherland — released a statement in which they said that they agreed that the art should have been removed. But they said that their work had not been understood.

“We assure you that we are neither in agreement with the ideology of the Lost Cause nor racist (as many of the students called us),” they wrote. “Our intention with this work is to use art making processes to create an aesthetic experience of the problematic challenge of reimagining the spaces where the monuments to the Confederacy currently reside in Richmond.”

Their statement expressed regret not about their art but about the lack of understanding of it.

“One mistake that we made was being naïve in the assumption that viewers reading our statement and viewing the work would understand our position on both the nature of the monuments to the Confederacy and our constructive intentions,” the artists said. “We wholeheartedly believe the Civil War was fought over slavery, that these monuments were installed to foster oppression and that they ought not remain installed exactly as they as are because they don’t represent what we value. In hindsight, it might have helped if we discussed this background information rather than quickly delving into an art process discussion as we did. As such, we seem to have been misunderstood as people, and in our estimation the presence of the work does not violate the safe embrace of shared experiences or differences as stated in the university’s inclusivity statement.”

This is not the first time that artwork on a college campus about racism has been criticized as racist. Salem State University shut down an exhibit featuring works inspired by the 2016 election when students complained about work that featured an image of Ku Klux Klan members. The artist said he was drawing attention to similarities in the hate spewed by the Klan and President Trump, but students urged that the exhibit be closed. Salem State subsequently reopened the exhibit, but with curtains and a warning that would be seen before encountering the work that caused offense.

Jonathan Friedman, the project director for campus free speech at PEN America, said via email that he was concerned about what happened at Mary Baldwin.

“In the midst of a rise in hate crimes, and important national questions about the legacies of slavery and the Confederacy, students’ reactions to the exhibit’s content are understandable, and could have been better anticipated when the work was first revealed,” he said. Further, he said that Mary Baldwin’s “decision to host a listening session with students is the right idea; but they could have done so while also staunchly defending the artists’ rights and the value of free expression. Engagement ahead of time to prepare the campus for the exhibit and hear from the artists about their creative process and aspirations might have helped to avert this regrettable result.”

Friedman added, “Once the works were put up on display the decision to withdraw them puts the viewpoint of protesters above those of the artists who created the exhibit, the curators who developed it, and the audiences who may have wished to view it. Teaching students that censorship is the solution to provocative material is a dangerous lesson, one which should be of grave concern to the artistic and academic communities alike. It not only goes against the spirit of hallowed artistic traditions, but also creates a wide opening for others to call for censorship in universities and museums in response to content that provokes or offends, no matter the grounds.”

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Mary Baldwin University last week shut down an art exhibit after some students said that the art was racist. The artists involved say their art wasn't racist at all -- but has been misunderstood.

The exhibit, "RELEVANT / SCRAP," is about the monuments, common in much of the South, to Confederate heroes. The two artists are white women who grew up in the South, and they say that the exhibit reflects their awareness that these monuments -- glorified by some -- are deeply hurtful to others and contribute to distortions of U.S. history. The art features images from statutes, turned into other images and mixed with other materials.

The current debates about such monuments, combined with "the current post-truth context in the U.S." add to the "complexity of the issue," the artists wrote in a document explaining the exhibit. (Three images from the exhibit are above.) The monuments that are the focus of the art are from Monument Avenue in Richmond, which includes statues of numerous Confederate heroes.

An anonymous group called Concerned Students of Mary Baldwin circulated an email calling the exhibit racist, and student leaders endorsed that view.

Mary Baldwin then held a forum for students, who again called the exhibit racist, and the university then took all the art down. A statement from the university said, "In accordance with our values as an inclusive, student-centered campus community, we take seriously the concerns about an art exhibition by two Richmond-based artists installed earlier this week in Hunt Gallery. As a result of student concerns and discussions with the artists, the installation has been removed as of last night." The statement was illustrated with an image of the empty gallery.

The statement added that the exhibit had been booked three years ago, before the art was created. "Moving forward, Mary Baldwin will review its policies and procedures for selecting and booking cultural exhibitions on campus, including facilitating student input," the statement said.

The artists -- Jere Williams and Pam Sutherland -- released a statement in which they said that they agreed that the art should have been removed. But they said that their work had not been understood.

"We assure you that we are neither in agreement with the ideology of the Lost Cause nor racist (as many of the students called us)," they wrote. "Our intention with this work is to use art making processes to create an aesthetic experience of the problematic challenge of reimagining the spaces where the monuments to the Confederacy currently reside in Richmond."

Their statement expressed regret not about their art but about the lack of understanding of it.

"One mistake that we made was being naïve in the assumption that viewers reading our statement and viewing the work would understand our position on both the nature of the monuments to the Confederacy and our constructive intentions," the artists said. "We wholeheartedly believe the Civil War was fought over slavery, that these monuments were installed to foster oppression and that they ought not remain installed exactly as they as are because they don’t represent what we value. In hindsight, it might have helped if we discussed this background information rather than quickly delving into an art process discussion as we did. As such, we seem to have been misunderstood as people, and in our estimation the presence of the work does not violate the safe embrace of shared experiences or differences as stated in the university’s inclusivity statement."

This is not the first time that artwork on a college campus about racism has been criticized as racist. Salem State University shut down an exhibit featuring works inspired by the 2016 election when students complained about work that featured an image of Ku Klux Klan members. The artist said he was drawing attention to similarities in the hate spewed by the Klan and President Trump, but students urged that the exhibit be closed. Salem State subsequently reopened the exhibit, but with curtains and a warning that would be seen before encountering the work that caused offense.

Jonathan Friedman, the project director for campus free speech at PEN America, said via email that he was concerned about what happened at Mary Baldwin.

"In the midst of a rise in hate crimes, and important national questions about the legacies of slavery and the Confederacy, students' reactions to the exhibit's content are understandable, and could have been better anticipated when the work was first revealed," he said. Further, he said that Mary Baldwin's "decision to host a listening session with students is the right idea; but they could have done so while also staunchly defending the artists' rights and the value of free expression. Engagement ahead of time to prepare the campus for the exhibit and hear from the artists about their creative process and aspirations might have helped to avert this regrettable result."

Friedman added, "Once the works were put up on display the decision to withdraw them puts the viewpoint of protesters above those of the artists who created the exhibit, the curators who developed it, and the audiences who may have wished to view it. Teaching students that censorship is the solution to provocative material is a dangerous lesson, one which should be of grave concern to the artistic and academic communities alike. It not only goes against the spirit of hallowed artistic traditions, but also creates a wide opening for others to call for censorship in universities and museums in response to content that provokes or offends, no matter the grounds."

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Spelman president tells students to confirm their votes counted

The gubernatorial race in Georgia has made national headlines due to a white Republican candidate, the secretary of state, who was allegedly using his power to block voting by many black citizens in a race where the Democratic candidate is an African American woman.

While some college presidents may have remained silent for fear of being portrayed as partisan, this was not the case for the Spelman College president, Mary Schmidt Campbell, the leader of Atlanta’s historically black women’s college. On Thursday, Campbell sent out a letter titled “urgent” to the campus, instructing students and others how to make sure their provisional ballots were counted.

This involved an in-person trip to the county Election Registrars’ Office with state identification, and Campbell said that buses would take students there.

Spelman has close ties with the Democratic nominee for the governor’s seat, Stacey Abrams, an alumna. Students and other Spelman alumnae formed the 1881 for Stacey Abrams coalition, designed to raise money and campaign for Abrams.

Meanwhile, the Republican in the race, Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, has been accused of having a conflict of interest while continuing to oversee election results. Kemp has also carried out a massive purge of voter rolls and put 53,000 voter registrations on hold, largely black voters.

On Election Day, thousands of provisional ballots were distributed across the state amid mass reports of voter machine malfunctions and a shortage of machines, as well as lines into polling locations up to five hours long. Because of these issues, Georgia’s state chapter of the NAACP won a lawsuit to extend voting times at two polling places by three hours, one near Spelman and another near Morehouse College, another historically black institution. The two colleges are both located in the Atlanta University Center, a hub for black higher education and once a center of the push to assure black people voting and other civil rights during the Jim Crow era.

Campbell did not mention the race in her letter, stressing only the Nov. 9 deadline for voters to confirm their provisional ballots. A spokeswoman said Campbell was unavailable for an interview.

But students and activists applauded Campbell’s statement, saying that in a time when voters are actively being suppressed, this type of vocal support was needed.

Phyllis Thomas Blake, president of the NAACP Georgia State Conference, said that the campus chapters at Spelman and other HBCUs have been running campaigns to make sure students know how to vote provisionally. Blake said that students need to be involved with civic education because of the rampant voter suppression across the state.

Blake said she also supports Campbell and any college president being vocal about voting rights — and they should be, given the tactics being used by certain candidates.

“We have to make sure the politicians doing it are no longer in office, because if they stay office, we may not end up having the right to vote,” Blake said. “All college presidents, especially those at the historically black colleges, need to be encouraging votes.”

Francesca Bentley, a sophomore and a political science major at Spelman, said she personally did not have any trouble voting, but she knew that many of her friends and classmates did — either they had been stripped from the voter rolls or their absentee ballots weren’t counted for some reason.

Widespread problems with voting were also documented on social media.

My son is at student at Morehouse. He registered and coincidentally, he was not in the system and he had to complete a provisional ballot. How many other Morehouse, Spelman and CAU students did this happen to at Stacy’s alma mater? Most students would just leave without voting.

— Hillary Dunson (@DunsonHillary) November 11, 2018

Bentley said that because voter disenfranchisement is so common in Atlanta’s West End, a poor and primarily black area where Spelman is located, she was pleased that the president took such a prominent stand on voting.

“I would say that colleges and universities need to take a more prominent role in voting in general,” Bentley said. “I think the main reason that younger people voted in this election more than in years past was because we were more educated and we had that support and on social media.”

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The gubernatorial race in Georgia has made national headlines due to a white Republican candidate, the secretary of state, who was allegedly using his power to block voting by many black citizens in a race where the Democratic candidate is an African American woman.

While some college presidents may have remained silent for fear of being portrayed as partisan, this was not the case for the Spelman College president, Mary Schmidt Campbell, the leader of Atlanta’s historically black women's college. On Thursday, Campbell sent out a letter titled “urgent” to the campus, instructing students and others how to make sure their provisional ballots were counted.

This involved an in-person trip to the county Election Registrars’ Office with state identification, and Campbell said that buses would take students there.

Spelman has close ties with the Democratic nominee for the governor’s seat, Stacey Abrams, an alumna. Students and other Spelman alumnae formed the 1881 for Stacey Abrams coalition, designed to raise money and campaign for Abrams.

Meanwhile, the Republican in the race, Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, has been accused of having a conflict of interest while continuing to oversee election results. Kemp has also carried out a massive purge of voter rolls and put 53,000 voter registrations on hold, largely black voters.

On Election Day, thousands of provisional ballots were distributed across the state amid mass reports of voter machine malfunctions and a shortage of machines, as well as lines into polling locations up to five hours long. Because of these issues, Georgia’s state chapter of the NAACP won a lawsuit to extend voting times at two polling places by three hours, one near Spelman and another near Morehouse College, another historically black institution. The two colleges are both located in the Atlanta University Center, a hub for black higher education and once a center of the push to assure black people voting and other civil rights during the Jim Crow era.

Campbell did not mention the race in her letter, stressing only the Nov. 9 deadline for voters to confirm their provisional ballots. A spokeswoman said Campbell was unavailable for an interview.

But students and activists applauded Campbell’s statement, saying that in a time when voters are actively being suppressed, this type of vocal support was needed.

Phyllis Thomas Blake, president of the NAACP Georgia State Conference, said that the campus chapters at Spelman and other HBCUs have been running campaigns to make sure students know how to vote provisionally. Blake said that students need to be involved with civic education because of the rampant voter suppression across the state.

Blake said she also supports Campbell and any college president being vocal about voting rights -- and they should be, given the tactics being used by certain candidates.

“We have to make sure the politicians doing it are no longer in office, because if they stay office, we may not end up having the right to vote,” Blake said. “All college presidents, especially those at the historically black colleges, need to be encouraging votes.”

Francesca Bentley, a sophomore and a political science major at Spelman, said she personally did not have any trouble voting, but she knew that many of her friends and classmates did -- either they had been stripped from the voter rolls or their absentee ballots weren’t counted for some reason.

Widespread problems with voting were also documented on social media.

Bentley said that because voter disenfranchisement is so common in Atlanta’s West End, a poor and primarily black area where Spelman is located, she was pleased that the president took such a prominent stand on voting.

“I would say that colleges and universities need to take a more prominent role in voting in general,” Bentley said. “I think the main reason that younger people voted in this election more than in years past was because we were more educated and we had that support and on social media.”

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APLU enlists 130 universities in collaboration on completion and equity gaps

A growing number of universities are trading notes on how to improve student success rates. And the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities wants to take this cross-institutional collaboration to the next level.

Over the weekend the group re…

A growing number of universities are trading notes on how to improve student success rates. And the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities wants to take this cross-institutional collaboration to the next level.

Over the weekend the group released details on an ambitious project involving 130 universities and systems that have pledged to work together in 16 “clusters” to boost their student access and completion rates while also curbing equity gaps.

“These are burning issues for everybody,” said Rick Miranda, provost and executive vice president of Colorado State University, which is part of the effort. “Working together is a way to do it better.”

The APLU and participating universities helped shape the clusters, each of which includes four to 12 universities grouped around geographic and other characteristics. For example, the project features an urban cluster, a group of technology-focused institutions, a cluster of universities with high percentages of Pell recipients and one that will seek to integrate data collection systems across six universities.

The 130 participating institutions collectively enroll three million students, one million of whom are eligible to receive Pell Grants. Under the project, which is being funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is dubbed Powered by Publics: Scaling Student Success, the universities are seeking to graduate several hundred thousand additional students over the next five years. APLU, which is holding its annual meeting in New Orleans, said specific completion targets are in the works.

Data sharing will be a key part of the effort, said Julia Michaels, director of APLU’s Center for Public University Transformation, which is overseeing the initiative. She said the clusters will use standard metrics on student completion, retention and credit accumulation.

Nationwide, 61 percent of students who first enrolled at a four-year public institution graduate within six years, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Deep achievement gaps persist as well. Just half of black students and 56 percent of Latino students completed at four-year publics within six years, the center found, compared to 71 percent of white students and 76 percent of Asian students.

APLU has asked for a five-year commitment for participating universities. The group said it will be open about its goals, publicly releasing hard numbers about completion and other targets as well as how each university is faring. If the project is successful, the group said it will continue the work as part of its membership benefits.

Urgency about improving completion rates at public universities has been building in recent years, due in part to performance-funding formulas that more than 35 states have enacted, many of which include completion components.

But beyond nudges from policy makers, university leaders and faculty members also increasingly realize they must help more students get to graduation to avoid the catastrophe of taking on debt without earning a degree, which in turn contributes to high student loan default rates, particularly for borrowers from minority groups.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Peter McPherson, APLU’s president, said when the group unveiled the project in February.

Mind the Gap

Eight years ago, Wayne State University was widely criticized after a report from the Education Trust identified its relatively low graduation rates and a deep achievement gap between black and white students at the university, which is located in Detroit.

M. Roy Wilson became Wayne State’s president in 2013. He said improving completion rates has been the university’s top priority ever since.

“We went to work immediately,” said Wilson. “We decided we were going to take the approach of not making excuses.”

Wayne State has had impressive results, improving its graduation rate by 21 percentage points during the last six years. In the same time frame, the completion rate for black students tripled. While an achievement gap still exists, Wilson said that’s mostly because graduation rates are rising for all student groups.

“We really think the black-white gap disappears soon,” he said.

APLU honored Wayne State on Sunday for its momentum on completion, giving the university an award for its "remarkable gains," including the increase of its graduation rate to 47 percent from 26 percent over six years.

The key for Wayne State and other participating universities, said APLU officials and participating university leaders, will be the sharing of tactics that work on completion.

“The goal here is to learn from each other,” Wilson said. “There are certainly things we can learn from others.”

Miranda agreed, saying the plan is to “take the best ideas and see how they can scale.”

The structured approach of the clusters, he said, will carve out time for administrators and faculty members to collaborate more deeply than is typically possible. Colorado State’s project team, for example, will include six administrators who work on student success, ranging from the president to an official from the institutional research department.

“It’s not unusual for us to be working together to make progress on these problems,” he said. “But we’ve really taken this to a whole other level of scale.”

The rollout of the University Innovation Alliance four years ago was a major development in cross-intuitional collaboration between public universities on student completion. And the group of 11 large research universities has achieved substantial gains, producing 25 percent more low-income graduates over the three years since the collaboration began. The group has said it’s on target for an increase of 100,000 completers alliancewide by 2025.

Colorado State is part of APLU’s western land-grant cluster. Miranda said the group of 11 universities will start by exploring completion strategies in four areas: academic advising models, digital learning tools such as adaptive learning, professional development for faculty members, and corequisite support (meaning the use of additional supports for students in courses rather than steering less-prepared ones to prerequisite courses).

Miranda is excited about the work and said he’s confident the universities will stick to the five-year commitment, and potentially more. That’s because both the completion challenge and the strategies for tackling it are enduring, he said. “If anything, these are going to become more important.”

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U of Louisville Foundation sues professor it partnered with to a launch a personalized medicine lab

In a highly unusual move, the University of Louisville Foundation is suing a faculty member at the institution it was founded to support, saying it wants a $3.5 million investment back.

That faculty member, Roland Valdes, a longtime professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and of biochemistry and molecular biology, says the foundation’s move will chill the “entrepreneurial spirit and activities we as a university are trying to promote and seemingly support.”

Ahead of Its Time

Noting that the foundation was a part owner in the now-defunct Pharmacogenetics Diagnostic Laboratory, Valdes described the project as a “spin-out” from his academic research, including a university-owned patent. He said the both the university and the medical school’s administration encouraged his business.

Valdes co-founded PGXL, as the lab was known, in 2004, on the cusp of what is now known as personalized medicine. The lab’s initial focus was on genetic testing to help physicians improve selection and dosing of medications, and the enterprise was successful for a time. It generated tens of millions in revenue and serviced 120,000 patients nationwide, by Valdes’s accounting. It created about 250 full-time jobs and won millions in federal and in-state grants, he said.

Then the lab met its well-documented demise, caused largely by federal rule reversals as to what pharmacogenomics testing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would cover. Labs around the country struggled to adapt, and Valdes said that his was able to sustain itself longer than most. Medicare is now paying for some of the tests it stopped funding, as they became what Valdes called “standard practice,” he added.

Ultimately, though, Valdes said, PGXL didn’t have the capital to survive the transition. It filed for bankruptcy in 2016, due to Medicare overpayment claims.

Louisville’s foundation had invested $3.5 million in PGXL, held a seat on the company’s board and was regularly involved in making decisions, Valdes said.

But the foundation is suing its former business partner, based on a personal guarantee that Valdes made before the foundation would guarantee a loan, as required by the bank.

Now that PGXL has defaulted on that loan, the foundation wants its money back.

‘Most Unfortunate’

Both the university and Louisville’s medical school referred questions back to the foundation, which did not respond to requests for comment directly or through its public relations firm.

Valdes called the lawsuit “most unfortunate,” saying that the foundation failed to consider how much its involvement in the lab aligned with its mission “to help the local economy and benefit the [university] community. Most unfortunate not to see and recognize the whole picture.”

Valdes, who has been a professor at Louisville for nearly 30 years, says he’s conducted himself with “respect and loyalty,” and that he’ll continue to do so now.

Mark Linder, another professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Louisville who co-founded PGXL, is not named in the suit and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The foundation’s lawsuit is pending a Kentucky circuit court.

Michael Olivas, William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center and former general counsel to American Association of University Professors, said he had no intimate knowledge of the Louisville case, but that the foundation is “a disaster waiting to happen, yet again.”

Louisville’s foundation has had a rocky few years, to put it lightly. James Ramsey, its founder, resigned in 2016 as both university president and foundation president after several scandals. An independent 2017 report on the foundation’s finances, ordered after Ramsey’s ouster, detailed extreme mismanagement, financial and otherwise. And, earlier this year, the university and the foundation sued Ramsey and other former foundation officials. The university faces other troubles.

Olivas said he wouldn’t rule out a university foundation ever suing a professor, however bad a look it is. But here, he said, the Louisville foundation should be “lining up with other creditors,” perhaps in bankruptcy court — not pursuing a civil case against an individual faculty member.

Olivas also said it’s not unusual for foundations to help faculty members with their start-ups, but that these are typically “arm’s-length agreements, lawyered up on both sides.” Offering a professor a $3.5 million line of credit does not seem like that kind of risk-controlled agreement, he added.

Yet, given the foundation’s history, Olivas said “the surprising thing to me isn’t that this happened — surprising to me is that the foundation still exists,” without a major restructuring. “It’s sucked everybody into the tar pit with it.”

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In a highly unusual move, the University of Louisville Foundation is suing a faculty member at the institution it was founded to support, saying it wants a $3.5 million investment back.

That faculty member, Roland Valdes, a longtime professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and of biochemistry and molecular biology, says the foundation’s move will chill the “entrepreneurial spirit and activities we as a university are trying to promote and seemingly support.”

Ahead of Its Time

Noting that the foundation was a part owner in the now-defunct Pharmacogenetics Diagnostic Laboratory, Valdes described the project as a “spin-out” from his academic research, including a university-owned patent. He said the both the university and the medical school’s administration encouraged his business.

Valdes co-founded PGXL, as the lab was known, in 2004, on the cusp of what is now known as personalized medicine. The lab’s initial focus was on genetic testing to help physicians improve selection and dosing of medications, and the enterprise was successful for a time. It generated tens of millions in revenue and serviced 120,000 patients nationwide, by Valdes’s accounting. It created about 250 full-time jobs and won millions in federal and in-state grants, he said.

Then the lab met its well-documented demise, caused largely by federal rule reversals as to what pharmacogenomics testing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would cover. Labs around the country struggled to adapt, and Valdes said that his was able to sustain itself longer than most. Medicare is now paying for some of the tests it stopped funding, as they became what Valdes called “standard practice,” he added.

Ultimately, though, Valdes said, PGXL didn’t have the capital to survive the transition. It filed for bankruptcy in 2016, due to Medicare overpayment claims.

Louisville’s foundation had invested $3.5 million in PGXL, held a seat on the company’s board and was regularly involved in making decisions, Valdes said.

But the foundation is suing its former business partner, based on a personal guarantee that Valdes made before the foundation would guarantee a loan, as required by the bank.

Now that PGXL has defaulted on that loan, the foundation wants its money back.

‘Most Unfortunate’

Both the university and Louisville’s medical school referred questions back to the foundation, which did not respond to requests for comment directly or through its public relations firm.

Valdes called the lawsuit “most unfortunate,” saying that the foundation failed to consider how much its involvement in the lab aligned with its mission “to help the local economy and benefit the [university] community. Most unfortunate not to see and recognize the whole picture.”

Valdes, who has been a professor at Louisville for nearly 30 years, says he’s conducted himself with “respect and loyalty,” and that he’ll continue to do so now.

Mark Linder, another professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Louisville who co-founded PGXL, is not named in the suit and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The foundation's lawsuit is pending a Kentucky circuit court.

Michael Olivas, William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center and former general counsel to American Association of University Professors, said he had no intimate knowledge of the Louisville case, but that the foundation is “a disaster waiting to happen, yet again.”

Louisville’s foundation has had a rocky few years, to put it lightly. James Ramsey, its founder, resigned in 2016 as both university president and foundation president after several scandals. An independent 2017 report on the foundation’s finances, ordered after Ramsey’s ouster, detailed extreme mismanagement, financial and otherwise. And, earlier this year, the university and the foundation sued Ramsey and other former foundation officials. The university faces other troubles.

Olivas said he wouldn’t rule out a university foundation ever suing a professor, however bad a look it is. But here, he said, the Louisville foundation should be “lining up with other creditors,” perhaps in bankruptcy court -- not pursuing a civil case against an individual faculty member.

Olivas also said it’s not unusual for foundations to help faculty members with their start-ups, but that these are typically “arm’s-length agreements, lawyered up on both sides.” Offering a professor a $3.5 million line of credit does not seem like that kind of risk-controlled agreement, he added.

Yet, given the foundation’s history, Olivas said “the surprising thing to me isn’t that this happened -- surprising to me is that the foundation still exists,” without a major restructuring. “It’s sucked everybody into the tar pit with it.”

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Rowan University will allow women athletes to practice in sports bras

Rowan University clarified its long-standing verbal policy that required all athletes to wear shirts during practice after a viral article bashed the university for prohibiting female athletes from wearing only sports bras during workouts.

The old policy was created “as a matter of keeping a level of standards throughout its men’s and women’s programs,” according to the university statement, and applied to both men and women.

In her article for the Odyssey online, a popular college blog, Gina Capone, a Rowan University student, criticized the policy.

“In the world of professional athletics, all female elite runners are permitted to wear racing crop tops. Not only are they non-restricting, but they are a trendy, comfortable, and empowering part of the running culture,” she wrote. “As women, we are constantly reminded that we should be ashamed or embarrassed about our bodies. It’s 2018, and yet women are still being objectified with their physical appearance.”

Capone’s article was shared widely on social media.

“This is unacceptable, @RowanUniversity. Why would anyone (including my four daughters) ever apply to a college that treats women this way, promoting rape culture and prioritizing men over them?” one user tweeted alongside the article link.

“Wow, this is really putting us back even more and perpetuating rape culture yet again. As a runner and a woman, I am incredibly infuriated by how this all makes sense. Please explain your logic @RowanUniversity,” another user said.

Following the criticism, the university said it was clarifying its policy, which it effectively ended.

“The university recognizes that while the verbal policy attempted to set standards, it could be misunderstood and does not accommodate today’s training practices across sports. We recognize this may stir debate within the university community and beyond,” the university’s statement read in part. “By clarifying our support of women’s athletics and its student-athletes, Rowan strongly affirms its commitment to ensuring that women are able to train and perform at the highest levels.”

In addition to the brief policy clarification, the university plans to develop a written policy allowing women to wear sports bras without shirts during practices.

“Rowan Athletics will continue to follow National Collegiate Athletic Association guidelines for uniforms during competition. In the new formal policy, there will be no restriction of sports bras without shirts as practice apparel,” according to the statement.

Capone’s article also accused the university of forcing female runners to practice at the local high school instead of on the university track so they would not distract the men’s football team. This is false, and the university issued a separate statement on Facebook to address the accusation.

“As is common at many institutions, the policy dictates that teams use our athletic venues one team at a time. The article explained in error that the cross country team was no longer allowed to use the track at the Rowan stadium. The cross country team has a mixed practice schedule where it may do road work one day, followed by trail work on another and then track work on yet another day,” the Facebook statement read. “Preferring not to schedule practice later in the day, the cross country coach has historically made alternate plans for the team to use Glassboro High School’s track, which is directly across the street from Rowan’s stadium.”

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Rowan University clarified its long-standing verbal policy that required all athletes to wear shirts during practice after a viral article bashed the university for prohibiting female athletes from wearing only sports bras during workouts.

The old policy was created “as a matter of keeping a level of standards throughout its men's and women's programs,” according to the university statement, and applied to both men and women.

In her article for the Odyssey online, a popular college blog, Gina Capone, a Rowan University student, criticized the policy.

“In the world of professional athletics, all female elite runners are permitted to wear racing crop tops. Not only are they non-restricting, but they are a trendy, comfortable, and empowering part of the running culture,” she wrote. “As women, we are constantly reminded that we should be ashamed or embarrassed about our bodies. It's 2018, and yet women are still being objectified with their physical appearance.”

Capone's article was shared widely on social media.

“This is unacceptable, @RowanUniversity. Why would anyone (including my four daughters) ever apply to a college that treats women this way, promoting rape culture and prioritizing men over them?” one user tweeted alongside the article link.

"Wow, this is really putting us back even more and perpetuating rape culture yet again. As a runner and a woman, I am incredibly infuriated by how this all makes sense. Please explain your logic @RowanUniversity," another user said.

Following the criticism, the university said it was clarifying its policy, which it effectively ended.

“The university recognizes that while the verbal policy attempted to set standards, it could be misunderstood and does not accommodate today’s training practices across sports. We recognize this may stir debate within the university community and beyond,” the university's statement read in part. “By clarifying our support of women’s athletics and its student-athletes, Rowan strongly affirms its commitment to ensuring that women are able to train and perform at the highest levels.”

In addition to the brief policy clarification, the university plans to develop a written policy allowing women to wear sports bras without shirts during practices.

“Rowan Athletics will continue to follow National Collegiate Athletic Association guidelines for uniforms during competition. In the new formal policy, there will be no restriction of sports bras without shirts as practice apparel,” according to the statement.

Capone’s article also accused the university of forcing female runners to practice at the local high school instead of on the university track so they would not distract the men’s football team. This is false, and the university issued a separate statement on Facebook to address the accusation.

“As is common at many institutions, the policy dictates that teams use our athletic venues one team at a time. The article explained in error that the cross country team was no longer allowed to use the track at the Rowan stadium. The cross country team has a mixed practice schedule where it may do road work one day, followed by trail work on another and then track work on yet another day,” the Facebook statement read. “Preferring not to schedule practice later in the day, the cross country coach has historically made alternate plans for the team to use Glassboro High School’s track, which is directly across the street from Rowan’s stadium.”

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Some at Michigan asking why music professor was granted tenure soon after misconduct investigation that was later allegedly reopened

David Daniels is known for his “superlative artistry, magnetic stage presence, and a voice of singular warmth and surpassing beauty, which has helped him redefine his voice category for the modern public.” That’s according to Daniels’s faculty biography at the University of Michigan, which granted him a full professorship in music, with tenure, in the spring.

Over the summer, though, Daniels became known for something else: allegations of rape, made by a singer who said he was a graduate student at Rice University, near where Daniels was performing in Houston at the time of the incident, in 2010. Daniels has denied those allegations. But now he faces another set of accusations and a lawsuit — this time from a graduate student at Michigan who says that Daniels drugged and groped him last year. The student also says Michigan turned a blind eye to rumors of sexual impropriety surrounding a faculty superstar, and even rewarded him with tenure after three years on the faculty.

Other students are now asking why Michigan granted Daniels tenure when it did, or at all. Is it appropriate to fast-track tenure for someone who has faced recent misconduct allegations?

“We call on the university to swiftly and transparently rectify its failure to adequately respond to the multiple allegations” against Daniels, reads an open letter from Michigan’s Central Student Government.

The university said in a statement that “when these allegations were made public in August, Daniels was not teaching classes and agreed to take a leave of absence.” He remains on leave for the term.

But what about before the former Rice student’s allegations were made public?

The new lawsuit says that Daniels invited one of his Michigan graduate students to his home one night last year, saying he was “lonely” and wanted to talk about the student’s career. Daniels allegedly gave the student drinks and what he called a Tylenol PM after the student said he needed to rest up for a performance. But the student says the pill was really the prescription sleep medication Ambien, and that Daniels soon took off the student’s clothes to grope and touch his genitals and face.

The lawsuit alleges that Daniels also sent the student text messages asking for pictures of his genitals, a video of himself masturbating and other sexual content, along with a reference to their “Bourbon and Ambien night.”

In March of this year, according to the lawsuit, Michigan received a complaint that Daniels was contacting students on the dating app Grindr and offering them money for sex. Michigan allegedly investigated the report but did not interview students or ask to see Daniels’s social media accounts. No findings were made against Daniels, according to the lawsuit.

Daniels was granted tenure in May.

In July, someone posted on Michigan’s opera Facebook page that Daniels was a serial rapist who drugged his targets. University officials received a similar anonymous letter.

Daniels and his husband “drugged and raped a young singer” in 2010, the letter reads. “He never reported it because he was terrified that a famous and successful singer could derail his nascent career.” Besides sexual assault, the letter says, “dozens of young men are unwilling recipients of pictures of Daniels’s genitalia. He’s a known serial sexual predator.”

The communication apparently caused Michigan to look into the pay-for-sex allegations again, according to the suit. Screenshots of the discussion from Grindr, quoted in the suit, allegedly show Daniels saying “many of the same things” he said to the graduate student, including “I’m a HUGE FAN of yours” and “I think you’re a crazy talented singer! I want to help you in any way I can in this crazy business.”

Daniels also wrote, “I wanna make a hot Dad/son fantasy come true with you!! $$$$$$,” and sent a photo of himself seated naked on a toilet and a picture of an erect penis, according to the screenshots quoted in the suit. He’s also alleged to have written, “Are you a U of M student? Cause I’m university affiliated … need to be WAY discreet” and “I’m one year from tenure.” The student allegedly blocked Daniels on the app after telling him, “This is not ok.” According to the lawsuit, Daniels continued to contact him via Facebook, saying, “I’m sorry! I’m such a big fan of your [sic]!” and “Academia is a new thing for me!”

In August, the singer Samuel Schultz publicly accused Daniels and his now husband, conductor Scott Walters, of inviting him back to where they were staying near Rice to drug and rape him. Both Daniels and his husband have denied the allegations.

Also in August, a faculty member became aware of the Michigan graduate student’s account, according to the lawsuit, and reported it to university officials. But “the Office for Institutional Equity did nothing. No file was opened,” according to the suit.

Asked about Michigan’s response to the allegations against Daniels both before and after his tenure decision, Kim Broekhuizen, university spokesperson, said it’s “important for you to know that with any allegation that could be criminal in nature, the university would typically defer to the law enforcement investigation” before starting its own inquiry.

Michigan “actively pursues all avenues to gather additional information in these situations, including those in which expressions of concern are anonymous,” Broekhuizen added via email. “We want to reiterate we take sexual misconduct allegations seriously. We always take appropriate action when there’s enough information to move forward.”

The student is seeking damages and equitable relief via a trial by jury.

Daniels in a statement called the allegations in the lawsuit both “false and malicious. I have never had a physical relationship with the individual mentioned in this complaint.” He added, ”The events alleged here never happened and I intend to defend my reputation.”

Michigan is far from the only institution facing complaints that it mishandled a sexual harassment case. It isn’t the only institution to promote someone accused of harassment, either. The University of Rochester, for example, promoted the brain and cognitive scientist Florian Jaeger to full professor while he was being investigated for sexual harassment. The university has since said it was a mistake, even though Jaeger was eventually cleared of wrongdoing by the university and a separate outside investigation (a related lawsuit against Rochester continues).

Unlike Jaeger, Daniels was no longer under investigation for misconduct at the time of his tenure decision, according to the suit. And many faculty advocates say it’s important to maintain due process as more and more reports of abuse come to light.

But the Michigan student’s complaint also alleges that the university’s investigation into Daniels’s alleged solicitation of sex was inadequate, and that incriminating screenshots and messages from the professor to a student were readily obtained once the investigation was reopened. His tenure recommendation report includes no reference to the investigation. Regarding students, the report says that they enjoy and “benefit greatly” from working with him.

“I frankly think it was a mistake, and it was one where it’s not going to happen again,” Joel Seligman, Rochester’s former president, said last year of Jaeger’s promotion while he was facing harassment reports. “And it’s not that after an investigation one can’t be promoted if it’s justified on the merits, but in the pendency of a serious investigation of this nature, it was wrong to promote him.”

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David Daniels is known for his “superlative artistry, magnetic stage presence, and a voice of singular warmth and surpassing beauty, which has helped him redefine his voice category for the modern public.” That’s according to Daniels’s faculty biography at the University of Michigan, which granted him a full professorship in music, with tenure, in the spring.

Over the summer, though, Daniels became known for something else: allegations of rape, made by a singer who said he was a graduate student at Rice University, near where Daniels was performing in Houston at the time of the incident, in 2010. Daniels has denied those allegations. But now he faces another set of accusations and a lawsuit -- this time from a graduate student at Michigan who says that Daniels drugged and groped him last year. The student also says Michigan turned a blind eye to rumors of sexual impropriety surrounding a faculty superstar, and even rewarded him with tenure after three years on the faculty.

Other students are now asking why Michigan granted Daniels tenure when it did, or at all. Is it appropriate to fast-track tenure for someone who has faced recent misconduct allegations?

“We call on the university to swiftly and transparently rectify its failure to adequately respond to the multiple allegations” against Daniels, reads an open letter from Michigan’s Central Student Government.

The university said in a statement that “when these allegations were made public in August, Daniels was not teaching classes and agreed to take a leave of absence.” He remains on leave for the term.

But what about before the former Rice student’s allegations were made public?

The new lawsuit says that Daniels invited one of his Michigan graduate students to his home one night last year, saying he was “lonely” and wanted to talk about the student’s career. Daniels allegedly gave the student drinks and what he called a Tylenol PM after the student said he needed to rest up for a performance. But the student says the pill was really the prescription sleep medication Ambien, and that Daniels soon took off the student's clothes to grope and touch his genitals and face.

The lawsuit alleges that Daniels also sent the student text messages asking for pictures of his genitals, a video of himself masturbating and other sexual content, along with a reference to their “Bourbon and Ambien night.”

In March of this year, according to the lawsuit, Michigan received a complaint that Daniels was contacting students on the dating app Grindr and offering them money for sex. Michigan allegedly investigated the report but did not interview students or ask to see Daniels’s social media accounts. No findings were made against Daniels, according to the lawsuit.

Daniels was granted tenure in May.

In July, someone posted on Michigan’s opera Facebook page that Daniels was a serial rapist who drugged his targets. University officials received a similar anonymous letter.

Daniels and his husband “drugged and raped a young singer” in 2010, the letter reads. “He never reported it because he was terrified that a famous and successful singer could derail his nascent career.” Besides sexual assault, the letter says, “dozens of young men are unwilling recipients of pictures of Daniels’s genitalia. He’s a known serial sexual predator.”

The communication apparently caused Michigan to look into the pay-for-sex allegations again, according to the suit. Screenshots of the discussion from Grindr, quoted in the suit, allegedly show Daniels saying “many of the same things” he said to the graduate student, including “I’m a HUGE FAN of yours” and “I think you’re a crazy talented singer! I want to help you in any way I can in this crazy business.”

Daniels also wrote, “I wanna make a hot Dad/son fantasy come true with you!! $$$$$$,” and sent a photo of himself seated naked on a toilet and a picture of an erect penis, according to the screenshots quoted in the suit. He's also alleged to have written, “Are you a U of M student? Cause I’m university affiliated … need to be WAY discreet” and “I’m one year from tenure.” The student allegedly blocked Daniels on the app after telling him, “This is not ok.” According to the lawsuit, Daniels continued to contact him via Facebook, saying, “I’m sorry! I’m such a big fan of your [sic]!” and “Academia is a new thing for me!”

In August, the singer Samuel Schultz publicly accused Daniels and his now husband, conductor Scott Walters, of inviting him back to where they were staying near Rice to drug and rape him. Both Daniels and his husband have denied the allegations.

Also in August, a faculty member became aware of the Michigan graduate student’s account, according to the lawsuit, and reported it to university officials. But “the Office for Institutional Equity did nothing. No file was opened,” according to the suit.

Asked about Michigan’s response to the allegations against Daniels both before and after his tenure decision, Kim Broekhuizen, university spokesperson, said it’s “important for you to know that with any allegation that could be criminal in nature, the university would typically defer to the law enforcement investigation” before starting its own inquiry.

Michigan “actively pursues all avenues to gather additional information in these situations, including those in which expressions of concern are anonymous,” Broekhuizen added via email. “We want to reiterate we take sexual misconduct allegations seriously. We always take appropriate action when there's enough information to move forward.”

The student is seeking damages and equitable relief via a trial by jury.

Daniels in a statement called the allegations in the lawsuit both “false and malicious. I have never had a physical relationship with the individual mentioned in this complaint.” He added, ”The events alleged here never happened and I intend to defend my reputation.”

Michigan is far from the only institution facing complaints that it mishandled a sexual harassment case. It isn’t the only institution to promote someone accused of harassment, either. The University of Rochester, for example, promoted the brain and cognitive scientist Florian Jaeger to full professor while he was being investigated for sexual harassment. The university has since said it was a mistake, even though Jaeger was eventually cleared of wrongdoing by the university and a separate outside investigation (a related lawsuit against Rochester continues).

Unlike Jaeger, Daniels was no longer under investigation for misconduct at the time of his tenure decision, according to the suit. And many faculty advocates say it’s important to maintain due process as more and more reports of abuse come to light.

But the Michigan student’s complaint also alleges that the university’s investigation into Daniels’s alleged solicitation of sex was inadequate, and that incriminating screenshots and messages from the professor to a student were readily obtained once the investigation was reopened. His tenure recommendation report includes no reference to the investigation. Regarding students, the report says that they enjoy and "benefit greatly" from working with him.

"I frankly think it was a mistake, and it was one where it’s not going to happen again,” Joel Seligman, Rochester’s former president, said last year of Jaeger’s promotion while he was facing harassment reports. "And it’s not that after an investigation one can’t be promoted if it’s justified on the merits, but in the pendency of a serious investigation of this nature, it was wrong to promote him."

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Cal State system sees record increases in graduation rates

Administrators at the California State University System worried two years ago when the system set ambitious goals for increasing graduation rates. They were concerned that low-income students and students of color would be harmed by the new targets. One criticism, for example, was that students would be pushed into courses they were not prepared to take.

Instead, the nation’s largest and most diverse public university system is seeing record levels of achievement and narrowed equity gaps among low-income and minority students.

“Everybody in our university community believes we should effectively serve students and improve graduation rates,” said James Minor, the system’s senior strategist for academic success and inclusive excellence. “People may have different opinions about how to do that, but everybody agrees with the goal. It’s impossible to do the same thing we’ve done for the last 50 years and expect gains in graduation rates and closing equity gaps.”

Preliminary data released earlier this month show the four-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time freshmen increased six percentage points over three years, from 19.2 percent in 2015 to 25.4 percent in 2018. The six-year graduation rate also increased by four percentage points, from 57 percent in 2015 to 61.1 percent in 2018. The system is scheduled to release final data later this month.

The graduation rate gap between students who receive federal financial aid, or Pell Grants, and peers who don’t receive the aid decreased by one percentage point, from 10.6 percent in 2017 to 9.5 percent in 2018. Among African American, Native American and Latino/Hispanic students, the graduation rate gap narrowed by two percentage points from 12.2 percent in 2017 to 10.5 percent in 2018.

Graduation rates also increased for transfer students. The two-year graduation rate increased by seven percentage points, from 30.5 percent in 2015 to 37.6 percent in 2018. Four-year graduation rates for transfer students also increased four percentage points, from 72.9 percent in 2015 to 77 percent in 2018.

Minor attributes this success to Graduation Initiative 2025, which called for increasing the four-year graduation rate from 19 percent in 2015 to 40 percent by 2025. It would also raise the six-year graduation rate for freshmen from 57 percent in 2015 to 70 percent, raise the two-year goal for transfer students from 31 percent in 2015 to 45 percent, and raise the four-year goal for transfer students from 73 percent in 2015 to 85 percent.

The initiative also called for eliminating achievement gaps among students of color and those from low-income households.

Meanwhile, campus administrators are seeing their own success from the initiative. At San Diego State University — one of the 23 universities in the Cal State system — the graduation rate for Pell Grant recipients increased to 71 percent. Nationally, a little less than half of first-time, full-time Pell recipients earn a bachelor’s degree in six years from the college where they first enrolled.

“We’ve been focusing on enhancing guidance and academic planning and making sure our first-generation students and [Educational Opportunity Program students] are entering early with a support system,” SDSU president Adela de la Torre said. “And we’re working with our community partners, the K-12s and community colleges.”

De la Torre said there wasn’t just one program that helped push graduation rates in a positive direction. The same is true for the larger Cal State system, which has implemented a few education reforms in the last couple of years, including moving away from placement exams and replacing noncredit remedial courses with credit-bearing classes that offer additional academic support.

Minor said the system received about $150 million, or $75 million a year, for the graduation initiative during the last two state budget cycles. But he said the funding alone didn’t drive the graduation rate increases.

“When you take $75 million and spread it across 23 campuses, it’s not game-changing money,” he said. “It’s enough for campuses to do things they otherwise would not. Campuses are investing percentages of their own budgets over and beyond what the appropriation is for student success.”

The graduation initiative involved campuses systemwide using data to identify learning gaps down to the classroom level, Minor said. Cal State campuses also added 4,300 new course sections to open more seats in classrooms and reduce the time it takes students to graduate.

Minor said CSU administrators questioned students about why they stayed in college for an extra semester or an additional year.

“It wasn’t because they wanted to hang out,” he said. “They couldn’t get the course they needed.”

Individual universities also made changes that went beyond what the system mandated, Minor said.

San Diego State, for example, extended the requirement that freshmen live on campus to sophomores, said Sandra Cook, associate vice president for academic affairs and enrollment at SDSU.

“Data shows students who live in residence halls and have that structure do better,” she said.

The university also created a center for commuter students that provides them a study and meeting space on campus and is building “learning communities” of students with similar backgrounds who attend the same classes and share academic advisers, Cook said. The hope is that these steps will improve students’ academic outcomes.

System officials and Chancellor Timothy White say although they’re pleased to see graduation rates increase and achievement gaps shrink, there is still more work to be done.

Cal State wants to improve student advising and make changes that will allow a greater percentage of students to have a degree plan before they register for their first term. The system also wants to improve coordination between various offices and departments so students aren’t given conflicting information when they have questions or issues to address, Minor said.

“The opportunity to graduate from CSU should not be based on ethnicity or financial background,” he said. “So even an equity gap of 1 percent in our mind is too large and we would look to close it.”

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Administrators at the California State University System worried two years ago when the system set ambitious goals for increasing graduation rates. They were concerned that low-income students and students of color would be harmed by the new targets. One criticism, for example, was that students would be pushed into courses they were not prepared to take.

Instead, the nation’s largest and most diverse public university system is seeing record levels of achievement and narrowed equity gaps among low-income and minority students.

“Everybody in our university community believes we should effectively serve students and improve graduation rates,” said James Minor, the system’s senior strategist for academic success and inclusive excellence. “People may have different opinions about how to do that, but everybody agrees with the goal. It’s impossible to do the same thing we’ve done for the last 50 years and expect gains in graduation rates and closing equity gaps.”

Preliminary data released earlier this month show the four-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time freshmen increased six percentage points over three years, from 19.2 percent in 2015 to 25.4 percent in 2018. The six-year graduation rate also increased by four percentage points, from 57 percent in 2015 to 61.1 percent in 2018. The system is scheduled to release final data later this month.

The graduation rate gap between students who receive federal financial aid, or Pell Grants, and peers who don't receive the aid decreased by one percentage point, from 10.6 percent in 2017 to 9.5 percent in 2018. Among African American, Native American and Latino/Hispanic students, the graduation rate gap narrowed by two percentage points from 12.2 percent in 2017 to 10.5 percent in 2018.

Graduation rates also increased for transfer students. The two-year graduation rate increased by seven percentage points, from 30.5 percent in 2015 to 37.6 percent in 2018. Four-year graduation rates for transfer students also increased four percentage points, from 72.9 percent in 2015 to 77 percent in 2018.

Minor attributes this success to Graduation Initiative 2025, which called for increasing the four-year graduation rate from 19 percent in 2015 to 40 percent by 2025. It would also raise the six-year graduation rate for freshmen from 57 percent in 2015 to 70 percent, raise the two-year goal for transfer students from 31 percent in 2015 to 45 percent, and raise the four-year goal for transfer students from 73 percent in 2015 to 85 percent.

The initiative also called for eliminating achievement gaps among students of color and those from low-income households.

Meanwhile, campus administrators are seeing their own success from the initiative. At San Diego State University -- one of the 23 universities in the Cal State system -- the graduation rate for Pell Grant recipients increased to 71 percent. Nationally, a little less than half of first-time, full-time Pell recipients earn a bachelor’s degree in six years from the college where they first enrolled.

“We’ve been focusing on enhancing guidance and academic planning and making sure our first-generation students and [Educational Opportunity Program students] are entering early with a support system,” SDSU president Adela de la Torre said. “And we’re working with our community partners, the K-12s and community colleges.”

De la Torre said there wasn’t just one program that helped push graduation rates in a positive direction. The same is true for the larger Cal State system, which has implemented a few education reforms in the last couple of years, including moving away from placement exams and replacing noncredit remedial courses with credit-bearing classes that offer additional academic support.

Minor said the system received about $150 million, or $75 million a year, for the graduation initiative during the last two state budget cycles. But he said the funding alone didn't drive the graduation rate increases.

“When you take $75 million and spread it across 23 campuses, it’s not game-changing money,” he said. “It’s enough for campuses to do things they otherwise would not. Campuses are investing percentages of their own budgets over and beyond what the appropriation is for student success.”

The graduation initiative involved campuses systemwide using data to identify learning gaps down to the classroom level, Minor said. Cal State campuses also added 4,300 new course sections to open more seats in classrooms and reduce the time it takes students to graduate.

Minor said CSU administrators questioned students about why they stayed in college for an extra semester or an additional year.

“It wasn’t because they wanted to hang out,” he said. “They couldn’t get the course they needed.”

Individual universities also made changes that went beyond what the system mandated, Minor said.

San Diego State, for example, extended the requirement that freshmen live on campus to sophomores, said Sandra Cook, associate vice president for academic affairs and enrollment at SDSU.

“Data shows students who live in residence halls and have that structure do better,” she said.

The university also created a center for commuter students that provides them a study and meeting space on campus and is building "learning communities" of students with similar backgrounds who attend the same classes and share academic advisers, Cook said. The hope is that these steps will improve students' academic outcomes.

System officials and Chancellor Timothy White say although they’re pleased to see graduation rates increase and achievement gaps shrink, there is still more work to be done.

Cal State wants to improve student advising and make changes that will allow a greater percentage of students to have a degree plan before they register for their first term. The system also wants to improve coordination between various offices and departments so students aren’t given conflicting information when they have questions or issues to address, Minor said.

“The opportunity to graduate from CSU should not be based on ethnicity or financial background,” he said. “So even an equity gap of 1 percent in our mind is too large and we would look to close it.”

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