Report from Scholars at Risk tracks global attacks on students and scholars

A report released today by the human rights monitoring group the Scholars at Risk Network documents a range of recent attacks on international higher education, including militant attacks on university campuses in Afghanistan and Pakistan; targeted killings of scholars in Bangladesh, India, Iraq and Syria; pressures on student protest movements in Myanmar, South Africa, Thailand, Venezuela and elsewhere; as well as cases of persecution and imprisonment, travel restrictions, and loss of academic positions or expulsion from study involving individual scholars and students.

The second installment of “Free to Think: Report of the Scholars at Risk Monitoring Project” is based on an analysis of 158 reported attacks in 35 countries that occurred between May 1, 2015 — when the group’s first report left off — and Sept. 1. It includes special sections on Egypt, where, the report states, “thousands of students and hundreds of scholars imprisoned prior to this reporting period remain in prison, many for peacefully exercising their right to free expression and association,” and Turkey, where pressures on academe have escalated since a July 15 coup attempt.

“Although these incidents may differ by target, type of attack, location and scale, they are part of a single global phenomenon of increasing attacks on higher education, a crisis marked by widespread violence and coercion to silence inquiry and discourse,” the “Free to Think” report states.

“The big takeaway that’s in the recommendations in the report is all of us need to work on reinforcing a universal norm that ideas are not crimes, that dissent is not disloyalty,” said Robert Quinn, the executive director of Scholars at Risk.

Types of attacks identified in the report include:

  • Violent attacks on university campuses, including a militant attack on the American University of Afghanistan on Aug. 24 that killed 15 people, and a Jan. 20 attack on Pakistan’s Bacha Khan University that killed 22 people and responsibility for which was claimed by a Taliban official. The report also describes an October 2015 bombing at the University of Aden that happened after ISIS fighters reportedly issued a threat against the campus, demanding that it be segregated by sex, that music be banned and that students pray collectively.
  • Targeted attacks against individual scholars, including the August 2015 public execution of a Syrian antiquities scholar, Khaled al-Asaad, after he reportedly refused to provide ISIS militants with the location of hidden artifacts. The report also details three cases in which scholars or students were killed, two in Bangladesh and one in India, in what the report describes as “apparently targeted attacks connected to their religious views.”
  • The crackdown on the higher education sector in Turkey that began in January with criminal and university-level disciplinary investigations of more than 1,000 academics accused of spreading “terrorism propaganda” for signing a petition opposing military operations against Kurdish rebels in the country’s southeast. Many signatories of the petition were in various cases detained or forced from their academic positions. The crackdown accelerated in July after the failed coup that prompted the government to temporarily remove deans, order the closure of 15 private universities and initiate large-scale dismissals and detentions of academics, among others, as part of a widespread purge of individuals deemed to be followers of the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Turkish officials blame for the coup attempt. (Gülen has denied involvement.)
  • Ongoing restrictions in Egypt, including the imposition of travel restrictions affecting Egyptian scholars and foreign academics who have reportedly been denied entry to Egypt, purportedly on national security-related grounds. The most high-profile case during the period covered by the report was the kidnapping and killing of Giulio Regeni, an Italian Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge who was studying Egyptian labor movements. Regeni was kidnapped Jan. 25; his body was found a week later showing signs of torture. “While state authorities claim that he was kidnapped and killed by a gang,” Scholars at Risk’s report says, “Egyptian and international human rights defenders suggest Mr. Regeni was targeted by state security forces because of his research.”
  • The use of violence, arrest or disciplinary actions by governments or universities to restrict student expression. The report identifies cases in which police or other security forces used violence against student protestors, including in Papua New Guinea, Sudan, Swaziland and Venezuela, as well as cases of arrests or detentions of peaceful student activists in India, Myanmar and Thailand. The report also notes with concern cases in which student protests themselves have turned violent or destructive, as has happened, for example, in the large-scale student protests in support of free higher education in South Africa.

“State and higher education authorities must respect students’ right to engage in peaceful expression and must refrain from violence or other inappropriate responses, especially those likely or intended to provoke violent responses from students,” the report states. “In instances where some students fail to act peacefully and engage in destructive or violent acts, state and university authorities seeking to protect property and other persons should nevertheless exercise restraint and take care to distinguish between violent actors and those students engaged in responsible, peaceful expression.”

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International Higher Education
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A Majeed / AFP / Getty Images
Image Caption: 
Pakistani students protest attack on Bacha Khan University.
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A report released today by the human rights monitoring group the Scholars at Risk Network documents a range of recent attacks on international higher education, including militant attacks on university campuses in Afghanistan and Pakistan; targeted killings of scholars in Bangladesh, India, Iraq and Syria; pressures on student protest movements in Myanmar, South Africa, Thailand, Venezuela and elsewhere; as well as cases of persecution and imprisonment, travel restrictions, and loss of academic positions or expulsion from study involving individual scholars and students.

The second installment of “Free to Think: Report of the Scholars at Risk Monitoring Project” is based on an analysis of 158 reported attacks in 35 countries that occurred between May 1, 2015 -- when the group's first report left off -- and Sept. 1. It includes special sections on Egypt, where, the report states, “thousands of students and hundreds of scholars imprisoned prior to this reporting period remain in prison, many for peacefully exercising their right to free expression and association,” and Turkey, where pressures on academe have escalated since a July 15 coup attempt.

“Although these incidents may differ by target, type of attack, location and scale, they are part of a single global phenomenon of increasing attacks on higher education, a crisis marked by widespread violence and coercion to silence inquiry and discourse,” the “Free to Think” report states.

“The big takeaway that’s in the recommendations in the report is all of us need to work on reinforcing a universal norm that ideas are not crimes, that dissent is not disloyalty,” said Robert Quinn, the executive director of Scholars at Risk.

Types of attacks identified in the report include:

  • Violent attacks on university campuses, including a militant attack on the American University of Afghanistan on Aug. 24 that killed 15 people, and a Jan. 20 attack on Pakistan’s Bacha Khan University that killed 22 people and responsibility for which was claimed by a Taliban official. The report also describes an October 2015 bombing at the University of Aden that happened after ISIS fighters reportedly issued a threat against the campus, demanding that it be segregated by sex, that music be banned and that students pray collectively.
  • Targeted attacks against individual scholars, including the August 2015 public execution of a Syrian antiquities scholar, Khaled al-Asaad, after he reportedly refused to provide ISIS militants with the location of hidden artifacts. The report also details three cases in which scholars or students were killed, two in Bangladesh and one in India, in what the report describes as “apparently targeted attacks connected to their religious views.”
  • The crackdown on the higher education sector in Turkey that began in January with criminal and university-level disciplinary investigations of more than 1,000 academics accused of spreading "terrorism propaganda" for signing a petition opposing military operations against Kurdish rebels in the country’s southeast. Many signatories of the petition were in various cases detained or forced from their academic positions. The crackdown accelerated in July after the failed coup that prompted the government to temporarily remove deans, order the closure of 15 private universities and initiate large-scale dismissals and detentions of academics, among others, as part of a widespread purge of individuals deemed to be followers of the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Turkish officials blame for the coup attempt. (Gülen has denied involvement.)
  • Ongoing restrictions in Egypt, including the imposition of travel restrictions affecting Egyptian scholars and foreign academics who have reportedly been denied entry to Egypt, purportedly on national security-related grounds. The most high-profile case during the period covered by the report was the kidnapping and killing of Giulio Regeni, an Italian Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge who was studying Egyptian labor movements. Regeni was kidnapped Jan. 25; his body was found a week later showing signs of torture. “While state authorities claim that he was kidnapped and killed by a gang,” Scholars at Risk's report says, “Egyptian and international human rights defenders suggest Mr. Regeni was targeted by state security forces because of his research.”
  • The use of violence, arrest or disciplinary actions by governments or universities to restrict student expression. The report identifies cases in which police or other security forces used violence against student protestors, including in Papua New Guinea, Sudan, Swaziland and Venezuela, as well as cases of arrests or detentions of peaceful student activists in India, Myanmar and Thailand. The report also notes with concern cases in which student protests themselves have turned violent or destructive, as has happened, for example, in the large-scale student protests in support of free higher education in South Africa.

“State and higher education authorities must respect students’ right to engage in peaceful expression and must refrain from violence or other inappropriate responses, especially those likely or intended to provoke violent responses from students,” the report states. “In instances where some students fail to act peacefully and engage in destructive or violent acts, state and university authorities seeking to protect property and other persons should nevertheless exercise restraint and take care to distinguish between violent actors and those students engaged in responsible, peaceful expression.”

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International Higher Education
Image Source: 
A Majeed / AFP / Getty Images
Image Caption: 
Pakistani students protest attack on Bacha Khan University.
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Departmental study at Columbia College suggests there are too many female adjuncts over 50

Part-time faculty members at Columbia College in Chicago say a department-level report, submitted to the administration without seeming to raise any eyebrows, demonstrates the kind of status-, age- and even gender-based bias they face on a regular basi…

Part-time faculty members at Columbia College in Chicago say a department-level report, submitted to the administration without seeming to raise any eyebrows, demonstrates the kind of status-, age- and even gender-based bias they face on a regular basis.

The report suggests that fashion studies needs to diversify because there is a disproportionate number of female adjuncts “over 50,” and that the part-time faculty union contract is holding the department back because of new job protections for long-serving instructors.

The college disputes the adjuncts’ characterization of the report and says it’s committed to equal employment opportunity and diversity in every way.

“We really hate to see senior adjuncts treated with such disrespect,” said Nancy Traver, a part-time instructor of journalism at Columbia College and a spokesperson for P-fac, the independent adjunct union. “These are people who have put their lives toward teaching and they’re quite good at what they do. And yet it seems the college wants to get rid of them.”

That’s on the one hand, Traver added. On the other, the report is something of a “vindication,” since it represents a “spelling out” of biases that instructors have been sensing for years.

Columbia College’s fashion studies department has been in something of an uproar this year over plans to reframe it as the “Fashion Next” program and drop a technique-heavy bachelor of fine arts in favor of a single bachelor of arts degree. The changes are in part a response to a recent drop in enrollments in the department, reflective of a major drop in enrollment at the college over all -- from about 12,000 students in 2008 to about 8,000 this year.

Opponents of the changes -- students and some faculty members -- have started a petition saying that the proposed curriculum “will not provide Columbia fashion design students with the education they need for viable employment in their chosen field,” and that they’ve been given “no evidence/data to show the courses that have been proposed, altered, removed or renamed will improve our students’ educational experience and make them more marketable in their respective fields, which is what Fashion Next’s intended purpose is.”

Trying to track some of the changes for its members, the part-time faculty union requested from the college a copy of the fashion studies department’s recent self-study report, completed by Jeff Schiff, interim chair of the department and a tenured professor of English who specializes in poetry and communications.

Members did not expect to see the following: a section on diversity says that a “predominantly female student body is almost always taught by white women instructors” and that “noteworthy, too, is that 25 of them are older than 50.”

The report continues, “Sentiment is high about further diversifying our faculty -- in terms of age, ability, sexual orientation, philosophical bent, socioeconomic background, etc. Given the de facto hiring freeze and the strictures of our collective bargaining agreement, such will likely not come to pass any time soon.”

There are several other references to how the part-time faculty contract allegedly hinders departmental progress, including that “the collective bargaining agreement means that unless we substantially rewrite classes, and find those currently assigned lack sufficient expertise to teach them, we cannot seek the most appropriate credential/outcomes match.”

Columbia College signed its collective bargaining agreement with P-fac in 2013, after years of negotiations. In what was considered a major win for long-serving faculty members seeking some degree of job security, the contract says the college must offer two course sections to qualified adjuncts with 51 or more teaching credits’ worth of service, before moving on to those with 33-50 credits’ worth. (A typical course is three credits.)

It’s unclear exactly how long-serving adjuncts with expertise to teach even significantly redesigned classes would hold back the department. Traver suggested that some courses are minimally redesigned or renamed so that tenure-line faculty members may offer them to friends or less experienced adjuncts whom they may pay less.

In any case, job security is something adjuncts on many campuses seek, saying it’s poor practice -- with negative implications for both students and faculty members -- to wait until the approach of a new semester to tell an adjunct who’s taught on a campus for years whether they’ll be asked back. At the same time, administrators often say that part-time faculty members are a key part of maintaining institutional flexibility -- especially when enrollment numbers are in flux.

As for age, many adjuncts say they face discrimination, especially when applying for tenure-track jobs, because being older in a non-tenure-track position somehow signals failure to some, rather than experience.

Women make up a disproportionate part of the adjunct workforce, for a variety of reasons. But Traver said gender parity may be unrealistic in fashion studies, in particular, because it’s a female-dominated field. The department has 35 women and nine men teaching, according to the self-study.

Schiff, the interim department chair who prepared the report, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The college in a statement said it “strongly disagrees” with P-fac’s “attempt to mischaracterize select parts of a robust, departmental self-assessment written by faculty in the fashion studies department.”

The college and its faculty are engaged in a “comprehensive, deep and thoughtful review of its curriculum and of the institution’s current practices around diversity, equity and inclusion,” the statement says. “The self-study takes a candid look at the department in the context of collegewide priorities as outlined in the strategic plan, and includes contributing statements from all full-time faculty, giving multiple perspectives. The self-study is a conversation and is not a final document. To suggest that it’s one person’s perspective or that the college endorses such perspectives is deeply inaccurate.

P-fac has “either misunderstood or willfully distorted the content of the diversity section in the self-study,” the college said. “Although that section is written informally, it does advance a basic observation at the college, which is that our faculty are disproportionately less diverse than our student body. The college’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and Universal Learning Outcomes Committee also recognize the necessity not only for diverse faculty representation, but for diverse curriculum, scholarship, perspective and practice so that Columbia students can be better prepared to engage in a highly diverse, global creative environment.”

The collective bargaining agreement “memorializes the college’s responsibility and obligation to both establish faculty qualifications and assess part-time faculty,” the college added. “Courses do not need to be rewritten in order to ensure that teaching faculty are qualified,” and courses will not be rewritten for such a purpose.

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Latina student’s story about how professor reacted to word “hence” sets off debate on stereotypes

An exchange between one professor and one student at Suffolk University has set off a nationwide online discussion over the assumptions faculty members may bring to interactions with minority students.

The student, Tiffany Martínez, shared her story in a blog post — “Academia, Love Me Back” — that went viral on Friday. In the post, she described how a professor (whom she did not name) was handing back papers (in this case a literature review) and told her that “this is not your language.” At the top of the paper, the professor asked her to indicate where she had used “cut and paste.” And in an example of language that the instructor assumed could not have come from Martínez, the instructor circled the word “hence” and wrote, “This is not your word,” with “not” underlined twice.

Martínez wrote that she had not used anyone else’s words, but that she felt humiliated and filled with self-doubt by the professor’s reaction, which Martínez attributed to stereotypes about the words a Latina student would use.

The professor’s “blue pen was the catalyst that opened an ocean of self-doubt that I worked so hard to destroy. In front of my peers, I was criticized by a person who had the academic position I aimed to acquire. I am hurting because my professor assumed that the only way I could produce content as good as this was to ‘cut and paste.’ I am hurting because for a brief moment I believed them,” Martínez wrote.

Added Martínez: “I am tired and I am exhausted. On one hand, this experience solidifies my desire to keep going and earn a Ph.D. but on the other it is a confirmation of how I always knew others saw me. I am so emotional about this paper because in the phrase ‘this is not your word,’ I look down at a blue-inked reflection of how I see myself when I am most suspicious of my own success. The grade on my paper was not a letter, but two words: ‘needs work.’ And it’s true. I am going to graduate in May and enter a grad program that will probably not have many people who look like me. The entire field of academia is broken and erases the narratives of people like me. We all have work to do to fix the lack of diversity and understanding among marginalized communities. We all have work to do. Academia needs work.”

In her desire to earn a Ph.D., Martínez is not a typical undergraduate. And as she outlines in the blog post, she has had considerable success already. She is a McNair Scholar (a federal fellowship designed to help disadvantaged undergraduates prepare for doctoral education), she has published an article in a peer-reviewed journal and she has made presentations at conferences in Miami, San Diego and San Francisco.

“I have consistently juggled at least two jobs and maintained the status of a full-time student and dean’s list recipient since my first year at Suffolk University,” she wrote. “I have used this past summer to supervise a teen girls’ empowerment program and craft a 30-page intensive research project funded by the federal government. As a first-generation college student, first-generation U.S. citizen and aspiring professor, I have confronted a number of obstacles in order to earn every accomplishment and award I have accumulated. In the face of struggle, I have persevered and continuously produced content that is of high caliber.”

On social media, Martínez has received considerable support — with many minority students and academics describing similar experiences.

One commenter on the Martínez blog post said a professor accused her — in front of a class — of plagiarizing (and gave her a C) because she used the word “unscathed” in a paper. The woman said she then defined the word and used it in a sentence and challenged the professor to give her an A. He did, but the commenter said she has “mixed emotions” about the experience.

Many have been posting comments urging Martínez to become a faculty member. One woman wrote that she has faced similar experiences but today has two master’s degrees and is working on a doctorate. “Hold on to your dreams and remember no one can take away your destiny. Latina and proud. Future Dr. in the house. You have a journey that awaits,” the woman wrote.

Suffolk on Friday informed all students and faculty members that it was looking into the situation involving Martínez. In an email to all students and faculty members (that did not name Martínez), Marisa J. Kelly, the acting president, and Sebastián Royo, the acting provost, wrote that they were aware that “one of our undergraduate students posted a blog entry that was widely shared expressing anguish about the way a faculty member commented on an assignment.”

Kelly and Royo added, “We have policies and procedures in place to respond to and investigate matters such as this one and we are following those procedures. We need to respect the privacy of both the student and the faculty member in order to ensure that these concerns are addressed in a swift and fair manner …. But let us be clear: Suffolk University is deeply committed to fostering an inclusive environment. Every student and every member of our community should feel respected. We need to pay attention to both the intention behind our words and actions and the way in which those words and actions are experienced. As a community we are not perfect, and we make mistakes as an institution and as individuals.”

Follow me on Twitter @ScottJaschik.

Diversity
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Is this breaking news?: 

An exchange between one professor and one student at Suffolk University has set off a nationwide online discussion over the assumptions faculty members may bring to interactions with minority students.

The student, Tiffany Martínez, shared her story in a blog post -- “Academia, Love Me Back” -- that went viral on Friday. In the post, she described how a professor (whom she did not name) was handing back papers (in this case a literature review) and told her that "this is not your language." At the top of the paper, the professor asked her to indicate where she had used "cut and paste." And in an example of language that the instructor assumed could not have come from Martínez, the instructor circled the word "hence" and wrote, "This is not your word," with "not" underlined twice.

Martínez wrote that she had not used anyone else's words, but that she felt humiliated and filled with self-doubt by the professor's reaction, which Martínez attributed to stereotypes about the words a Latina student would use.

The professor's "blue pen was the catalyst that opened an ocean of self-doubt that I worked so hard to destroy. In front of my peers, I was criticized by a person who had the academic position I aimed to acquire. I am hurting because my professor assumed that the only way I could produce content as good as this was to 'cut and paste.' I am hurting because for a brief moment I believed them," Martínez wrote.

Added Martínez: "I am tired and I am exhausted. On one hand, this experience solidifies my desire to keep going and earn a Ph.D. but on the other it is a confirmation of how I always knew others saw me. I am so emotional about this paper because in the phrase 'this is not your word,' I look down at a blue-inked reflection of how I see myself when I am most suspicious of my own success. The grade on my paper was not a letter, but two words: 'needs work.' And it’s true. I am going to graduate in May and enter a grad program that will probably not have many people who look like me. The entire field of academia is broken and erases the narratives of people like me. We all have work to do to fix the lack of diversity and understanding among marginalized communities. We all have work to do. Academia needs work."

In her desire to earn a Ph.D., Martínez is not a typical undergraduate. And as she outlines in the blog post, she has had considerable success already. She is a McNair Scholar (a federal fellowship designed to help disadvantaged undergraduates prepare for doctoral education), she has published an article in a peer-reviewed journal and she has made presentations at conferences in Miami, San Diego and San Francisco.

"I have consistently juggled at least two jobs and maintained the status of a full-time student and dean’s list recipient since my first year at Suffolk University," she wrote. "I have used this past summer to supervise a teen girls' empowerment program and craft a 30-page intensive research project funded by the federal government. As a first-generation college student, first-generation U.S. citizen and aspiring professor, I have confronted a number of obstacles in order to earn every accomplishment and award I have accumulated. In the face of struggle, I have persevered and continuously produced content that is of high caliber."

On social media, Martínez has received considerable support -- with many minority students and academics describing similar experiences.

One commenter on the Martínez blog post said a professor accused her -- in front of a class -- of plagiarizing (and gave her a C) because she used the word "unscathed" in a paper. The woman said she then defined the word and used it in a sentence and challenged the professor to give her an A. He did, but the commenter said she has "mixed emotions" about the experience.

Many have been posting comments urging Martínez to become a faculty member. One woman wrote that she has faced similar experiences but today has two master's degrees and is working on a doctorate. "Hold on to your dreams and remember no one can take away your destiny. Latina and proud. Future Dr. in the house. You have a journey that awaits," the woman wrote.

Suffolk on Friday informed all students and faculty members that it was looking into the situation involving Martínez. In an email to all students and faculty members (that did not name Martínez), Marisa J. Kelly, the acting president, and Sebastián Royo, the acting provost, wrote that they were aware that "one of our undergraduate students posted a blog entry that was widely shared expressing anguish about the way a faculty member commented on an assignment."

Kelly and Royo added, "We have policies and procedures in place to respond to and investigate matters such as this one and we are following those procedures. We need to respect the privacy of both the student and the faculty member in order to ensure that these concerns are addressed in a swift and fair manner …. But let us be clear: Suffolk University is deeply committed to fostering an inclusive environment. Every student and every member of our community should feel respected. We need to pay attention to both the intention behind our words and actions and the way in which those words and actions are experienced. As a community we are not perfect, and we make mistakes as an institution and as individuals."

Follow me on Twitter @ScottJaschik.

Diversity
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New analysis shows gaps between humanities Ph.D.s and others with doctorates

For years, many humanities leaders have urged doctoral students in their fields to consider jobs outside academe — and have encouraged graduate departments to prepare their Ph.D. students for careers in fields other than higher education.

An analysis released today by the Humanities Indicators Project shows how different job patterns are for those with humanities Ph.D.s (where academic work remains the norm) compared to other fields, which except for the arts send the vast majority of Ph.D.s to jobs outside higher education. Not surprisingly given some of the fields that employ nonhumanities Ph.D.s, people with humanities Ph.D.s earn less than Ph.D. recipients in other fields. The new analysis also shows substantial gender gaps in the pay of Ph.D.s across disciplines.

The project conducted its analysis by using data from the National Science Foundation’s National Survey of College Graduates.

The Humanities Indicators Project, part of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, found that in 2013, 60 percent of employed humanities Ph.D.s were teaching at the postsecondary level. Across all fields, only 30 percent of employed Ph.D.s work in postsecondary education. The only category of disciplines even close to the humanities in postsecondary higher education employment is the relatively small category of the arts.

Among doctoral degree recipients in engineering and the life, physical and medical science fields, 18 to 28 percent have postsecondary jobs, while the behavioral and social sciences are in between the humanities and the other sciences.

Employment of Ph.D.s, by Broad Disciplinary Categories, 2103

Among employed humanities Ph.D.s, the analysis found some gender differences. Men were more likely than women to be employed in nonteaching positions in higher ed education (typically administration). Women were more commonly found in management positions (outside higher education) and in precollegiate education jobs than were their male counterparts.

Occupations of Humanities Ph.D.s, by Gender, 2103

When it comes to pay, the gap between Ph.D.s in the humanities and every other field was significant. (The total number of arts Ph.D.s was too small to analyze and so was excluded.)

Humanities Ph.D.s who were working in 2013 reported median earnings of $75,000. The median across fields was $99,000, with engineering doctorates reporting the highest median, at $124,000.

Despite that wage gap, the analysis found encouraging news for those at the top of the humanities Ph.D. salary range. The top 25 percent of humanities Ph.D.s earned more than did half of Ph.D. recipients in every other field. This is explained in part by a larger gap in the humanities than in other fields between high earners and those at the median.

Median Annual Earnings of Ph.D.s, by Field and Gender

The gender gap in salaries is more pronounced in the humanities than in most other groupings of employed Ph.D.s.

The Humanities Indicators Project also looked at employment of those whose highest degree is a master’s. Here, too, the humanities differ from other fields in that a significant number are employed in postsecondary teaching — a far larger share than is true for any other field.

Occupations of Holders of Terminal Master’s Degrees

Robert B. Townsend, director of the Washington office of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, said he suspected that the numbers are influenced in part by the sharp decline in new humanities jobs in the years since the economic downturn of 2008. But since the study examines all employed Ph.D.s, the situation for humanities Ph.D.s could get even worse if new doctorates continue to focus on academic jobs.

“The comparison to the other fields suggests that the problem is not with oversupply, but rather with the training culture and perceived career pathways for humanities Ph.D.s,” he said. “Unless and until doctoral training in the humanities prepares students for a broad range of careers, graduates will be subject to the boom-and-bust cycles of the academic job market.”

Follow me on Twitter @ScottJaschik.

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Is this breaking news?: 

For years, many humanities leaders have urged doctoral students in their fields to consider jobs outside academe -- and have encouraged graduate departments to prepare their Ph.D. students for careers in fields other than higher education.

An analysis released today by the Humanities Indicators Project shows how different job patterns are for those with humanities Ph.D.s (where academic work remains the norm) compared to other fields, which except for the arts send the vast majority of Ph.D.s to jobs outside higher education. Not surprisingly given some of the fields that employ nonhumanities Ph.D.s, people with humanities Ph.D.s earn less than Ph.D. recipients in other fields. The new analysis also shows substantial gender gaps in the pay of Ph.D.s across disciplines.

The project conducted its analysis by using data from the National Science Foundation's National Survey of College Graduates.

The Humanities Indicators Project, part of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, found that in 2013, 60 percent of employed humanities Ph.D.s were teaching at the postsecondary level. Across all fields, only 30 percent of employed Ph.D.s work in postsecondary education. The only category of disciplines even close to the humanities in postsecondary higher education employment is the relatively small category of the arts.

Among doctoral degree recipients in engineering and the life, physical and medical science fields, 18 to 28 percent have postsecondary jobs, while the behavioral and social sciences are in between the humanities and the other sciences.

Employment of Ph.D.s, by Broad Disciplinary Categories, 2103

Among employed humanities Ph.D.s, the analysis found some gender differences. Men were more likely than women to be employed in nonteaching positions in higher ed education (typically administration). Women were more commonly found in management positions (outside higher education) and in precollegiate education jobs than were their male counterparts.

Occupations of Humanities Ph.D.s, by Gender, 2103

When it comes to pay, the gap between Ph.D.s in the humanities and every other field was significant. (The total number of arts Ph.D.s was too small to analyze and so was excluded.)

Humanities Ph.D.s who were working in 2013 reported median earnings of $75,000. The median across fields was $99,000, with engineering doctorates reporting the highest median, at $124,000.

Despite that wage gap, the analysis found encouraging news for those at the top of the humanities Ph.D. salary range. The top 25 percent of humanities Ph.D.s earned more than did half of Ph.D. recipients in every other field. This is explained in part by a larger gap in the humanities than in other fields between high earners and those at the median.

Median Annual Earnings of Ph.D.s, by Field and Gender

The gender gap in salaries is more pronounced in the humanities than in most other groupings of employed Ph.D.s.

The Humanities Indicators Project also looked at employment of those whose highest degree is a master's. Here, too, the humanities differ from other fields in that a significant number are employed in postsecondary teaching -- a far larger share than is true for any other field.

Occupations of Holders of Terminal Master's Degrees

Robert B. Townsend, director of the Washington office of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, said he suspected that the numbers are influenced in part by the sharp decline in new humanities jobs in the years since the economic downturn of 2008. But since the study examines all employed Ph.D.s, the situation for humanities Ph.D.s could get even worse if new doctorates continue to focus on academic jobs.

"The comparison to the other fields suggests that the problem is not with oversupply, but rather with the training culture and perceived career pathways for humanities Ph.D.s," he said. "Unless and until doctoral training in the humanities prepares students for a broad range of careers, graduates will be subject to the boom-and-bust cycles of the academic job market."

Follow me on Twitter @ScottJaschik.

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Wide praise for restoration of Pell Grant eligibility for students at closed colleges

The potential effects of the borrower defense rules the U.S. Department of Education released last week have generated disagreements — and some uncertainty. But an accompanying announcement restoring Pell Grant eligibility to students of shuttered colleges was widely praised.

The department’s decision to exercise that authority is part of a bipartisan push by the U.S. Congress to find solutions for students whose progress toward a degree was cut short by the recent closures of for-profit institutions such as ITT Technical Institutes and Corinthian Colleges.

The borrower defense regulations seek to create a standardized framework for students who were defrauded or misled by such colleges to have their student loans forgiven. They also add protections for student borrowers and taxpayers, the department said. While the implications of those rules will be picked over and debated by policy makers and people in higher education, the Pell announcement was praised for removing an obstacle for students as they seek to earn degrees.

The decision also establishes a clear precedent for Pell recipients who may be affected by future closures of institutions, say consumer groups and financial aid policy experts.

Congress in 2008 limited a student’s total number of Pell-eligible semesters to 18, and in 2012 lowered the restriction to 12 total semesters. The department had previously said it did not have the authority to restore semesters of Pell Grant eligibility for students who attended closed institutions, but reversed itself after lobbying by Senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s education committee, and Republican Congressman Luke Messer of Indiana.

The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) said 28,000 students could be affected by the decision. Messer’s office said the Pell restoration could help more than 16,000 students, while Murray’s office deferred to the department, which is still calculating how many students may be affected and how much it will cost.

Both Messer and Murray on Friday took credit for a victory for students.

“For many low-income students, Pell Grants are their best shot to attend college and secure a better future for themselves,” Messer said in a written statement. “I’m relieved that the Education Department is doing right by these students and ensuring they have a path forward to continue their education.”

Murray said the announcement was great news for students who face the abrupt closure of their college or university.

“As someone who was only able to go to college myself because of the federal support that is now called Pell Grants, I know firsthand how much of a difference this will make for students in my home state of Washington and across the country who are working hard and scrambling to continue their education at a new school,” Murray said in a written statement.

Senate Democrats had previously introduced legislation to extend Pell Grant eligibility for students affected by college closures, such the shutdowns of the two for-profit chains. Messer also has introduced separate legislation to restore Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for veterans affected by the closures of their institutions.

Ted Mitchell, the U.S. under secretary of education, said in a letter sent to Murray and Messer that a staff review of the Higher Education Act found that the period of a student’s attendance at an institution that closed would not be considered in calculating their total eligibility for additional federal financial aid.

“It is our further intention to establish a process that may be used in the event of future institutional closings that similarly affect students,” Mitchell wrote.

The announcement Friday was hailed by student advocacy groups like TICAS and members from both parties. But some lawmakers said they still had concerns over details of the Pell Grant restoration. A spokeswoman for North Carolina Republican Virginia Foxx, who is widely expected to become chairwoman of the House education committee in the next Congress, said Foxx has concerns about whether the department has the authority to make the policy change and that she wants to hear more information about the plan.

Center for American Progress Senior Fellow David Bergeron, the former acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the department, said before 2008 there was no limit on Pell eligibility, so the need was itself a recent concept.

Bergeron said he did not expect the restoration of eligibility for those students to create significant new costs for the department. But he said it sends an important message to students who otherwise might not continue their education by allowing them to use their Pell benefits elsewhere.

“For a $30 billion Pell Grant program, I don’t think this is a big deal,” he said. “It’s important because it sends a message to students harmed by the closing of a school that they should continue with their education by finishing somewhere else.”

The nearly $6,000 per year Pell Grant award could mean the difference between continuing a degree or not for many of the students affected by recent closures.

Justin Draeger, the president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said restoring Pell Grant eligibility was exactly what was needed to address the needs of students who had their education halted by closures.

“I’m grateful the department is taking steps in this direction,” he said. “I’m doubly grateful that Congress applied pressure on them to do it.”

Draeger said a key part of the announcement was that the department appeared committed to making Pell Grant restoration automatic for affected students.

“Explaining the lifetime Pell eligibility to students is tough on its own — let alone in the context of a closed school,” he said. “To the extent that [the department] can find a way to automate this for Pell recipients is all the better.”

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The potential effects of the borrower defense rules the U.S. Department of Education released last week have generated disagreements -- and some uncertainty. But an accompanying announcement restoring Pell Grant eligibility to students of shuttered colleges was widely praised.

The department's decision to exercise that authority is part of a bipartisan push by the U.S. Congress to find solutions for students whose progress toward a degree was cut short by the recent closures of for-profit institutions such as ITT Technical Institutes and Corinthian Colleges.

The borrower defense regulations seek to create a standardized framework for students who were defrauded or misled by such colleges to have their student loans forgiven. They also add protections for student borrowers and taxpayers, the department said. While the implications of those rules will be picked over and debated by policy makers and people in higher education, the Pell announcement was praised for removing an obstacle for students as they seek to earn degrees.

The decision also establishes a clear precedent for Pell recipients who may be affected by future closures of institutions, say consumer groups and financial aid policy experts.

Congress in 2008 limited a student’s total number of Pell-eligible semesters to 18, and in 2012 lowered the restriction to 12 total semesters. The department had previously said it did not have the authority to restore semesters of Pell Grant eligibility for students who attended closed institutions, but reversed itself after lobbying by Senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate's education committee, and Republican Congressman Luke Messer of Indiana.

The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) said 28,000 students could be affected by the decision. Messer’s office said the Pell restoration could help more than 16,000 students, while Murray’s office deferred to the department, which is still calculating how many students may be affected and how much it will cost.

Both Messer and Murray on Friday took credit for a victory for students.

“For many low-income students, Pell Grants are their best shot to attend college and secure a better future for themselves,” Messer said in a written statement. “I’m relieved that the Education Department is doing right by these students and ensuring they have a path forward to continue their education.”

Murray said the announcement was great news for students who face the abrupt closure of their college or university.

“As someone who was only able to go to college myself because of the federal support that is now called Pell Grants, I know firsthand how much of a difference this will make for students in my home state of Washington and across the country who are working hard and scrambling to continue their education at a new school,” Murray said in a written statement.

Senate Democrats had previously introduced legislation to extend Pell Grant eligibility for students affected by college closures, such the shutdowns of the two for-profit chains. Messer also has introduced separate legislation to restore Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for veterans affected by the closures of their institutions.

Ted Mitchell, the U.S. under secretary of education, said in a letter sent to Murray and Messer that a staff review of the Higher Education Act found that the period of a student’s attendance at an institution that closed would not be considered in calculating their total eligibility for additional federal financial aid.

“It is our further intention to establish a process that may be used in the event of future institutional closings that similarly affect students,” Mitchell wrote.

The announcement Friday was hailed by student advocacy groups like TICAS and members from both parties. But some lawmakers said they still had concerns over details of the Pell Grant restoration. A spokeswoman for North Carolina Republican Virginia Foxx, who is widely expected to become chairwoman of the House education committee in the next Congress, said Foxx has concerns about whether the department has the authority to make the policy change and that she wants to hear more information about the plan.

Center for American Progress Senior Fellow David Bergeron, the former acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the department, said before 2008 there was no limit on Pell eligibility, so the need was itself a recent concept.

Bergeron said he did not expect the restoration of eligibility for those students to create significant new costs for the department. But he said it sends an important message to students who otherwise might not continue their education by allowing them to use their Pell benefits elsewhere.

“For a $30 billion Pell Grant program, I don't think this is a big deal,” he said. “It's important because it sends a message to students harmed by the closing of a school that they should continue with their education by finishing somewhere else.”

The nearly $6,000 per year Pell Grant award could mean the difference between continuing a degree or not for many of the students affected by recent closures.

Justin Draeger, the president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said restoring Pell Grant eligibility was exactly what was needed to address the needs of students who had their education halted by closures.

“I’m grateful the department is taking steps in this direction,” he said. “I’m doubly grateful that Congress applied pressure on them to do it.”

Draeger said a key part of the announcement was that the department appeared committed to making Pell Grant restoration automatic for affected students.

“Explaining the lifetime Pell eligibility to students is tough on its own -- let alone in the context of a closed school,” he said. “To the extent that [the department] can find a way to automate this for Pell recipients is all the better.”

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Capacity problems plaguing colleges may be due to poor scheduling

Some colleges struggling to figure out how to manage overcrowded or empty courses could be looking for solutions in the wrong place.

A new report from Ad Astra Information Systems shows that the capacity issues some colleges are facing can be traced t…

Some colleges struggling to figure out how to manage overcrowded or empty courses could be looking for solutions in the wrong place.

A new report from Ad Astra Information Systems shows that the capacity issues some colleges are facing can be traced to the way they schedule classes. The company’s Higher Education Scheduling Index is a database that tracks how colleges allocate their faculty and classrooms to meet students’ course needs.

The report found that 36 percent of entry-level courses at four-year public institutions were “overloaded” with enrollments of 95 percent or more, which created “bottlenecks” that hindered students from graduating on time. The report also found that during peak hours, classroom utilization ranged from 63 percent at community colleges to 70 percent at public universities.

The annual report used data from 82 four-year public universities, 23 four-year private institutions and 52 community colleges. (Ad Astra isn’t the only company or consulting group that is assisting colleges with their capacity or scheduling issues. Others, such as Huron, offer similar services.)

For some of these colleges, the problem boils down to the way they currently schedule courses -- by rolling the master course schedule from one year to the next.

“Academics make edits to the schedule based on what they know and maybe they have information about what their students’ needs are,” said Sarah Collins, chief client experience officer for Ad Astra. “But they build based on available faculty and available space and it’s posted for students to register. The challenge is enrollments are dynamic.”

Enrollment changes, changes in student demographics and the demands of curriculum pathways all require adjustments to the schedule, so the roll-forward method creates inefficiencies and misalignment with student and curriculum demand, Collins said.

Addressing capacity concerns can be an expensive endeavor for most colleges. In 2015, institutions spent more than $11.6 billion on construction, with $8.7 billion going to the construction of new buildings, according to the report.

Sometimes erecting more buildings or classrooms can seem like the solution because the process of scheduling courses is decentralized.

“It becomes hard to see outside of the scope of an academic department you’re scheduling for,” she said.

But space isn’t the issue. At two-year institutions, classrooms were only used for 39 percent of what they considered the standard week. Four-year public universities used classrooms less than half of the time during a standard week, but they were more likely to have underutilized courses (36 percent) or overloaded classes (33 percent) than those courses that effectively balanced seat supply with student demand.

The real shakeup causing colleges to re-examine how they’re scheduling courses and handling capacity is coming from the dual-credit student population, particularly in community colleges, said Tom Shaver, Ad Astra’s chief executive officer and founder.

“Dual credit is a really big curveball for handling incoming freshmen,” said Collins. “A freshman isn’t necessarily a freshman anymore, so having statistics understanding this incoming population is critical.”

It’s one of the driving reasons why the Ohio Association of Community Colleges is using a state grant to examine the scheduling and capacity data at the state’s 20-plus community colleges and four open-access universities.

Ohio Governor John Kasich pushed the state to create more dual-credit opportunities last year, which increased the number of high school students in dual-credit programs from 15,000 to 52,000 enrolled this year, said Jack Hershey, president of OACC.

“It’s that kind of large spike in enrollment that makes a product like this valuable,” Hershey said. “We have to figure out how we can best use our space in one year, and we can’t build a bunch of new classroom spaces.”

There’s an additional driving factor for Ohio, as well -- the state uses performance-based funding for its institutions.

“Performance funding has caused us to change our thinking in almost everything. It’s a culture change,” Hershey said. “One limitation of current practice is that right now scheduling is done by faculty and academic chairs … they might know the data within their department, but it’s not shared across the college, yet we’re sharing classrooms and spaces. Each department may be in their own little world, but we have to make it a collegewide discussion so everyone can see where the opportunities are.”

Stark State College, located north of Canton, Ohio, was the first institution in the state to make scheduling and capacity adjustments using Ad Astra’s system.

“Stark State saw their student population almost double in five years, and that’s a welcome crisis most leaders would want to have,” Hershey said. “But it forced them to rethink their scheduling process and what they were doing.”

After one year, Stark saved $2 million in instructional costs and increased their tuition yield by $1.3 million because they were offering more courses at the times students wanted and so students increased the amount of credits they took, he said.

Stark State’s general education courses, for instance, tended to be overloaded with students, while upper-level technical courses like accounting or information technology were underutilized, said Peter Trumpower, Stark’s director of research and planning.

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Educause releases strategic plan for a more personalized membership organization

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Educause wants to get to know its members.

The higher education IT organization will over the next five years focus on collaboration, personalization and professional development in order to create an experience that is more “inclusive, equitable and simplified,” according to a new strategic plan.

“We’re changing the Educause experience in many of the same ways you’re being asked to change on your campus,” CEO John O’Brien said Thursday to the thousands of IT staffers attending the organization’s annual conference here this week. “We’ll navigate this future together.”

The strategic plan is the clearest indication yet of in what direction O’Brien, who became CEO in June 2015, intends to take Educause. The organization has more than 2,300 member institutions and 300 corporate partners around the world, and its events, research and policy work help set the agenda for the role of IT in higher education.

Speaking to Inside Higher Ed last October, O’Brien said he intended to pursue “ambitious but achievable goals” and avoid creating a strategic plan that was either full of rhetorical flourishes or one that would end up as a paperweight.

O’Brien’s presentation on Thursday showed some signs of that approach. He breezed through the strategic plan’s three priorities and changes to Educause’s membership model in about six minutes. But it was also an aspirational speech; O’Brien used variations of the world “imagine” 10 times as he listed the ways he plans for Educause to change over the next five years.

The strategic plan’s first priority, personalization, is likely to come as relief to anyone overwhelmed by the conference’s hundreds of exhibitors and sessions and thousands of attendees — not to mention the research and teaching and learning resources Educause offers outside the conferencing space.

Educause will take a more proactive and tailored approach to disseminating knowledge through a new network that will learn about each member’s habits, according to the plan. For future conferences, O’Brien said, Educause could potentially send each individual attendee a list of recommended sessions based on their interests, or forward them relevant research based on the issues they are grappling with on their campuses.

“For those of us in college some time between mood rings and the internet, we remember the biggest challenge was simply finding information,” O’Brien said, reflecting on when, as a college student, he relied on browsing the library stacks to find articles and books. “Yesterday we were thirsty for information. Today we’re drowning in it.”

In a follow-up interview Thursday, O’Brien said Educause hasn’t yet decided what technology it will use to achieve that level of personalization, but that it could be as simple as adding questions about concerns and interests to members’ profile pages. The organization has behind the scenes updated its website and content management system in preparation of a more personalized way to communicate with members.

Educause will also strengthen its professional development programs, both with more specialized paths (O’Brien mentioned tracks for chief information security and digital officers as potential examples), new delivery methods — such as a team-based model — and a concierge service that finds the best program based on personal preference.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that so many of you look to Educause to grow and advance as professionals,” O’Brien said. “Technology and IT roles and responsibilities are in motion now more than ever, and we’re going to reimagine professional development over the next few years to help you keep pace.”

O’Brien also said Educause will continue to work with other associations and organizations, as “IT is inextricably interconnected across our higher education ecosystem, and our success depends more than ever on strategic partnerships and collaboration.” Educause has, among other partnerships, worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the Next Generation Learning Challenges program, the National Association of College and University Business Officers on co-hosting events, and teamed up with higher education, technology and library associations to speak with one voice on policy matters such as regulating the internet.

Collaborating with outside groups could help IT departments more clearly demonstrate the benefits they provide to colleges and give them an opportunity to participate in conversations about strategic academic decisions, O’Brien said.

“The future of IT is not IT talking to itself,” O’Brien said in the interview, during which he brought up research showing only 35 percent of chief information officers feel involved in that decision-making process. “The future is talking across the C suite.”

Educause considered adding diversity as a stand-alone fourth priority, but decided instead to embed it in the other three, O’Brien said.

The changes introduced by the strategic plan will come with a simplified membership structure, O’Brien said. Today, Educause determines membership fees — which range from $560 to $9,315 — based on a college’s Carnegie classification and enrollment, while associations, corporations and colleges outside North America are charged flat fees. Membership in the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) and a subscription to the Educause Center for Analysis (ECAR) costs thousands of dollars more.

That structure will be scrapped in favor of a system that looks at a college’s size, type and operating budget, O’Brien said. Starting in July, all members will be able to access research from ECAR and resources from ELI (an announcement met with applause from conference attendees).

As O’Brien jokingly pointed out seconds later, no one applauded when he mentioned how that change would impact membership fees. Educause will recoup the loss of income from ECAR subscriptions and ELI memberships by spreading the costs across its membership, he later explained. Colleges already paying for those resources will likely see their dues go down, while those who don’t may see a slight increase, he said.

In the follow-up interview, O’Brien addressed the rampant commercialization present at the annual conference — everything from corporate-branded coffee breaks and advertising space on escalators to exhibit hall magicians and giveaways of light-up plastic swords. He described the balance between serving the needs of nonprofit college and corporate members as “productive tension,” but added that a strong vendor presence at the conference is not “inherently problematic.”

Besides, O’Brien added, visitors keep returning to the conference. This year, nearly 8,000 people attended.

“The reality is people don’t come back year after year because we’re big or because of the magicians or because of the plastic swords,” O’Brien said. “You’ve got to cross a few swords and magicians, but there are substantive, meaningful conversations that are happening.”

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Educause CEO John O’Brien speaks during the organization’s annual conference.
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Educause wants to get to know its members.

The higher education IT organization will over the next five years focus on collaboration, personalization and professional development in order to create an experience that is more “inclusive, equitable and simplified,” according to a new strategic plan.

“We’re changing the Educause experience in many of the same ways you’re being asked to change on your campus,” CEO John O’Brien said Thursday to the thousands of IT staffers attending the organization’s annual conference here this week. “We’ll navigate this future together.”

The strategic plan is the clearest indication yet of in what direction O’Brien, who became CEO in June 2015, intends to take Educause. The organization has more than 2,300 member institutions and 300 corporate partners around the world, and its events, research and policy work help set the agenda for the role of IT in higher education.

Speaking to Inside Higher Ed last October, O’Brien said he intended to pursue “ambitious but achievable goals” and avoid creating a strategic plan that was either full of rhetorical flourishes or one that would end up as a paperweight.

O’Brien’s presentation on Thursday showed some signs of that approach. He breezed through the strategic plan’s three priorities and changes to Educause’s membership model in about six minutes. But it was also an aspirational speech; O’Brien used variations of the world “imagine” 10 times as he listed the ways he plans for Educause to change over the next five years.

The strategic plan’s first priority, personalization, is likely to come as relief to anyone overwhelmed by the conference’s hundreds of exhibitors and sessions and thousands of attendees -- not to mention the research and teaching and learning resources Educause offers outside the conferencing space.

Educause will take a more proactive and tailored approach to disseminating knowledge through a new network that will learn about each member’s habits, according to the plan. For future conferences, O’Brien said, Educause could potentially send each individual attendee a list of recommended sessions based on their interests, or forward them relevant research based on the issues they are grappling with on their campuses.

“For those of us in college some time between mood rings and the internet, we remember the biggest challenge was simply finding information,” O’Brien said, reflecting on when, as a college student, he relied on browsing the library stacks to find articles and books. “Yesterday we were thirsty for information. Today we’re drowning in it.”

In a follow-up interview Thursday, O’Brien said Educause hasn’t yet decided what technology it will use to achieve that level of personalization, but that it could be as simple as adding questions about concerns and interests to members’ profile pages. The organization has behind the scenes updated its website and content management system in preparation of a more personalized way to communicate with members.

Educause will also strengthen its professional development programs, both with more specialized paths (O’Brien mentioned tracks for chief information security and digital officers as potential examples), new delivery methods -- such as a team-based model -- and a concierge service that finds the best program based on personal preference.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that so many of you look to Educause to grow and advance as professionals,” O’Brien said. “Technology and IT roles and responsibilities are in motion now more than ever, and we’re going to reimagine professional development over the next few years to help you keep pace.”

O’Brien also said Educause will continue to work with other associations and organizations, as “IT is inextricably interconnected across our higher education ecosystem, and our success depends more than ever on strategic partnerships and collaboration.” Educause has, among other partnerships, worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the Next Generation Learning Challenges program, the National Association of College and University Business Officers on co-hosting events, and teamed up with higher education, technology and library associations to speak with one voice on policy matters such as regulating the internet.

Collaborating with outside groups could help IT departments more clearly demonstrate the benefits they provide to colleges and give them an opportunity to participate in conversations about strategic academic decisions, O’Brien said.

“The future of IT is not IT talking to itself,” O’Brien said in the interview, during which he brought up research showing only 35 percent of chief information officers feel involved in that decision-making process. “The future is talking across the C suite.”

Educause considered adding diversity as a stand-alone fourth priority, but decided instead to embed it in the other three, O’Brien said.

The changes introduced by the strategic plan will come with a simplified membership structure, O’Brien said. Today, Educause determines membership fees -- which range from $560 to $9,315 -- based on a college’s Carnegie classification and enrollment, while associations, corporations and colleges outside North America are charged flat fees. Membership in the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) and a subscription to the Educause Center for Analysis (ECAR) costs thousands of dollars more.

That structure will be scrapped in favor of a system that looks at a college’s size, type and operating budget, O’Brien said. Starting in July, all members will be able to access research from ECAR and resources from ELI (an announcement met with applause from conference attendees).

As O’Brien jokingly pointed out seconds later, no one applauded when he mentioned how that change would impact membership fees. Educause will recoup the loss of income from ECAR subscriptions and ELI memberships by spreading the costs across its membership, he later explained. Colleges already paying for those resources will likely see their dues go down, while those who don’t may see a slight increase, he said.

In the follow-up interview, O’Brien addressed the rampant commercialization present at the annual conference -- everything from corporate-branded coffee breaks and advertising space on escalators to exhibit hall magicians and giveaways of light-up plastic swords. He described the balance between serving the needs of nonprofit college and corporate members as “productive tension,” but added that a strong vendor presence at the conference is not “inherently problematic.”

Besides, O’Brien added, visitors keep returning to the conference. This year, nearly 8,000 people attended.

“The reality is people don’t come back year after year because we’re big or because of the magicians or because of the plastic swords,” O’Brien said. “You’ve got to cross a few swords and magicians, but there are substantive, meaningful conversations that are happening.”

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Johns Hopkins threatens to close humanities center, sparking outcry

The possible closure of Johns Hopkins University’s 50-year-old interdisciplinary Humanities Center is facing sharp criticism from students and faculty members alike. They say the center merits a place on campus and are citing concerns about faculty autonomy over the curriculum, the university’s explicit commitment to graduate study and the humanities, and donor influence in academic matters.

Hopkins’s reasons for considering closing the center aren’t totally clear, but the dean in charge of the center’s fate has cited its narrow focus (a characterization its proponents challenge), among other concerns. In any case, it doesn’t appear to be a budget issue.

“Through its distinctive intellectual and pedagogical profile, the Humanities Center has formed generations of innovative young scholars, promoted precious and productive conversations across the humanities and social sciences, and played a crucial role in maintaining Hopkins’s reputation in the fields of humanistic studies in the U.S. and abroad,” reads an online petition in support of the center, with over 3,200 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

“We urge President [Ronald J.] Daniels to allow the Humanities Center to continue to thrive and to avoid any decision that would bring irreparable damage to the humanities at Hopkins and to the reputation of the university as a teaching- and research-oriented institution invested in all academic fields,” the petition says.

Graduate student supporters of the center also have created a website with details and documents about the pending decision.

Here’s a summary: the center, which operates like a department, sponsors two Ph.D. programs, in comparative literature and intellectual history. Only a few highly qualified applicants are admitted (there are 19 students currently), and courses of study are designed by center faculty members and in cooperation with those in outside, relevant departments.

The center also runs an undergraduate humanities honors program and two undergraduate courses, and recently introduced a one-year master of arts degree in humanistic studies.

It’s been requesting permission to conduct searches to replace two retiring faculty members for the last several years, a decision ultimately left up to Beverly Wendland, who was named permanent dean of the Krieger School of the Arts and Sciences in 2015. Before making up her mind, Wendland requested a review of the center, which had already been reviewed twice since 2008 with generally positive findings.

Two committees reviewed the center anew. An external committee found that while the center was at a “crossroads,” with two of four full professors then in phased retirement, it “has given a great deal of thought to its future, and (small details aside) we strongly support its plans.” The committee urged the university to hire two faculty members of similar status as those who were retiring, and the center to expand its offerings, via a new undergraduate major. It also said morale among graduate students was “measurably high” — no small thing for graduate programs in the humanities these days.

“There was an almost exceptionless assertion of positive comments from the students we met — about the instruction they received, the attentiveness and helpfulness of the faculty, the opportunities provided to the students to do their own teaching, the solidarities that existed among them, and the relative freedom to pursue their special interests without the constraint of compulsory routines,” the external reviewers found.

An internal review committee came to similar conclusions and highlighted what is special about the Johns Hopkins center, as opposed to those dedicated to the humanities on other campuses.

“Elsewhere, humanities centers are the supra-departmental entities intended to foster cooperation across between [sic] departments,” the internal review says. “Such humanities centers invite speakers, provide internal and external fellowships for faculty and postdoctoral fellows, and organize seminars, often around a yearly theme. They have no permanent faculty or specific disciplinary interests of their own.”

Wendland responded to the center’s reviews and requests for two replacement faculty lines in a lengthy June letter. While she relied in part on the new reviews, she drew on past reviews of the department and of the Krieger school, including one that found — despite noting high graduate student morale — a “pervasive anxiety … having to do with the fear of falling between disciplinary stools when it comes to seeking jobs. This is not a matter of surprise. It is entirely to be expected, almost as a form of original sin, in a humanities center that serves as a graduate degree-conferring department.”

Relatedly, she highlighted a finding of the most recent external review. While positive over all, it said that “graduate student placement seems to be good but not outstanding. 2014: Loyola University, Maryland Institute College of Art, [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] (Instructor, Instructor, Lecturer in German). The question is one of institutions, but also if they end up teaching in the right departments.”

Wendland also questioned the center’s commitment to broad interdisciplinary study, saying that it behaves “as a department with some interdisciplinary foci, rather than as an integrating locus for activities across all the humanities.”

Because of the center’s “practice of not cross-listing courses if they are not taught by core or joint appointments,” she added, “colleagues in [Krieger] who specialize in comparative literature, critical theory and philosophical approaches to art, literature, film and history are de facto excluded from participation in the graduate program that attracts students with such interests.”

‘Center’ vs. ‘Institute’

Perhaps most controversially, Wendland touched on the new Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Hopkins, established through a $10 million grant from the family of the founder of Rite Aid. The gift is the university’s largest ever specifically for the advancement of the humanities. She noted that the center under review had previously refused to change its name, as not to confuse itself with the new “institute” — a concern that even the generous external review had raised.

Crucially, though, that review said that both the center and the institute could coexist without redundancy, with the center remaining like a department and the center offering other programs.

Wendland said she did not immediately approve of the new plan for an undergraduate major and advised the center to clarify its honors humanities program, saying that if it “truly is cross-humanities rather than specific to the [center’s] declared field, then the honors program should be moved to the Humanities Institute.”

She told it to “decide upon a name that identifies it as a department commensurate with its field and that does not claim to represent the humanities as a whole,” and to develop a plan for how to proceed if another faculty member were to depart the university, a mentoring plan for junior faculty and a “commitment by the [center members] to collegial and constructive interactions with the Humanities Institute.”

Threat to Close the Center

Then a bombshell: the center’s “future status” was up in the air, to be decided in time to know whether or not new students should be recruited for next fall. A “small, neutral committee,” to be appointed in consultation with the provost, will submit its recommendations in December.

Graduate students, many of whom were away over the summer, formally responded to the prospect of closing the center in a letter to Daniels, Hopkins’s president, earlier this month.

Highlighting the center’s uniqueness as offering both humanities study and extracurricular programs, students challenged Wendland’s assertion that the center was isolated and narrow in its focus.

Information from the anthropology department, for example, they wrote, shows that more than half of its cohorts between 2010 and 2015 took Humanities Center courses, and nine anthropology graduates who have worked with center’s faculty since 2007 have placed well on the job market.

“While this case is only one example, we trust that the outpouring of support from other departments will attest to the nonredundancy and utility of the Humanities Center’s scholarly resources,” they wrote. “[Wendland’s letter] does not acknowledge this rich collaborative spirit, and instead criticizes our limited research interests and our apparent failure to represent the full range of scholarship in the humanities. We would like to indicate to the contrary, that despite the research tendencies of the department, its interdisciplinary core has enabled it to serve as a meeting ground for many scholars across the university.”

A long list of center alumni, many of whom hold tenure-line academic jobs in the U.S. and abroad, have signed on to a separate open letter, also published earlier this month.

“We consider the education, training and mentoring we received there to be superlative, and unlike any we could have obtained at any other department in any other university in the U.S.,” they wrote. “We chose to study at the Humanities Center because of its superb faculty, because of the extraordinary independence that it offers its students and because of its quality, rigor and originality.”

The letter continues, “We also chose to study at the Humanities Center because it crosses disciplinary boundaries. The Humanities Center is distinctive. It occupies an unusual position within conventional university structures. This is precisely its strength.”

A handful of scholars with no affiliation to the center also have written to Hopkins, urging that it remain open. Glenn W. Most, visiting professor of social thought and of classics at the University of Chicago, for example, wrote that he has been “perplexed and dismayed over the past weeks to learn that there is a real danger that the [center] might be closed. I write to you as a concerned senior scholar who has no direct connection with the Humanities Center but who has long regarded it as an institution of fundamental significance in American humanities, asking you to do what you can to maintain and if possible expand it and to reflect on the very negative consequences that would derive from its closure.”

Graduate students continue to use social media to advocate for the center, and the issue has received some attention on higher education blogs. Arash Abazari, a graduate student in philosophy at Hopkins, recently posted an essay to the popular philosophy site Daily Nous, for example, saying that the threat to the center demonstrates the “encroachment of administration” on education, and on the humanities in particular — now even at the country’s wealthiest, most selective universities.

“The fate of an extremely successful department, with a tradition of more than 50 years, should not be upon the arbitrary decision of few temporary administrators in a process that is not transparent to the public,” he wrote. “What traditionally made American universities unique for education and research was arguably the autonomy of the departments — their independence from the administration. … This unique characteristic of the American universities, however, is fading away, and it is fading away unfortunately quite rapidly.”

The center also has support from unaffiliated students on campus. An editorial published Thursday in the student newspaper, The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, says that eliminating the center “would be a mistake” and that its review “suspiciously coincides with the introduction of the brand-new Humanities Institute, made possible by a generous $10 million gift.”

“The center directly benefits the humanities at the university and represents a refuge for students in an environment of a [science, technology, engineering and math]-dominated school,” the paper says. The newspaper’s editorial board “stands in solidarity with the faculty and students” of the center.

As to what’s actually behind the move to close the center, a group of center graduate students — Ben Gillespie, Katie Boyce-Jacino and Benjamin Stein, writing on behalf of their cohorts — said via email that they were “still bewildered at the prospect, have found no clear or consistent rationale behind the administration’s actions, and have been seeking answers,” though a recent meeting with Wendland offered no clarity. “The usual suspects of cutting costs or eliminating a unique, interdisciplinary department due to its perceived inscrutability to nonhumanities scholars are all possible,” they added.

The students said they saw no conflict whatsoever between the center and the new institute, and said that the center continues to offer “courses not available anywhere else at Hopkins, be they outside of the national language concerns of other departments, or topics like religion, cinema and philosophy, critical theory across the disciplines, and other subjects that are outside the purview of traditional departments.”

“Our coherence and singular reputation are well attested to in the outpouring of scholarly support we’ve received,” they added.

If there is concern about the missions of the institute and center overlapping, it’s not coming from the institute’s director, William Egginton, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities. He called the two humanities entities “entirely different,” with “very different purposes.”

The institute “exists to serve the humanities across their considerable breadth, to support graduate and undergraduate research in all humanities departments, and to help connect humanities scholarship at Hopkins with a public audience that often isn’t aware of the fascinating work being done here,” Egginton said. To that end, the institute “has representation from and seeks collaborations with all humanities departments at Hopkins, including the Humanities Center.”

Egginton offered one caveat: that the overlapping names do present potential confusion. The department, the center, “would be better served by a name that more accurately represents the work done by its distinguished faculty,” he added.

That’s something with which the center eventually agreed, and it’s offered up a few possible new names. None have yet stuck.

Wendland said via email that Johns Hopkins has a “a long and proud history in the humanities – and continues to be a place where the humanities are thriving and important.” The humanities faculty has grown from 90 to 110 faculty members in recent years, for example, she said. 

To “further strengthen” the humanities, the Humanities Center is under review, she said. A faculty committee, led by a dean, is looking at a number of issues, from mission to structure, and will present several alternatives for the department’s future by mid-December. There is no predetermined outcome, and Hopkins looks forward to receiving the committee’s advice, “as well as the input of our faculty and students as we chart the best path forward.” 

Supporting faculty, making the “best use of resources, challenging and educating our students well and putting our programs in the best position to thrive intellectually and prosper academically” are all part of the process.

Hent de Vries, Russ Family Chair in the Humanities and director of the Humanities Center, said that given that Johns Hopkins is a “relatively small research university, intellectually vibrant units are based up two related principles: selective excellence and the fostering of the intensive seminar tradition.” 

The Humanities Center “never pretended to be a neutral platform for the transmission of everything knowable or interesting, nor did it limit itself by definition to research and teaching of two distinct fields — intellectual history and comparative literature — alone,” he added. “And yet it is committed to these two disciplines in which we have a known track record in terms of placement and publication and that simply do not find systematic, serious and sustained coverage elsewhere at this university.”

A larger institute that serves as a broader forum, “disconnected from such specific, faculty-bound knowledge interests, converging strangely in a certain shared intellectual style and scholarly profile, cannot replace such a learning experience,” de Vries said. “It can do other things, but not what makes this small operation unique and one of the gems that Johns Hopkins and at least its senior administration should perhaps appreciate a bit more.”

Image Caption: 
Johns Hopkins University
Is this breaking news?: 

The possible closure of Johns Hopkins University’s 50-year-old interdisciplinary Humanities Center is facing sharp criticism from students and faculty members alike. They say the center merits a place on campus and are citing concerns about faculty autonomy over the curriculum, the university’s explicit commitment to graduate study and the humanities, and donor influence in academic matters.

Hopkins's reasons for considering closing the center aren't totally clear, but the dean in charge of the center's fate has cited its narrow focus (a characterization its proponents challenge), among other concerns. In any case, it doesn't appear to be a budget issue.

“Through its distinctive intellectual and pedagogical profile, the Humanities Center has formed generations of innovative young scholars, promoted precious and productive conversations across the humanities and social sciences, and played a crucial role in maintaining Hopkins’s reputation in the fields of humanistic studies in the U.S. and abroad,” reads an online petition in support of the center, with over 3,200 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

“We urge President [Ronald J.] Daniels to allow the Humanities Center to continue to thrive and to avoid any decision that would bring irreparable damage to the humanities at Hopkins and to the reputation of the university as a teaching- and research-oriented institution invested in all academic fields,” the petition says.

Graduate student supporters of the center also have created a website with details and documents about the pending decision.

Here’s a summary: the center, which operates like a department, sponsors two Ph.D. programs, in comparative literature and intellectual history. Only a few highly qualified applicants are admitted (there are 19 students currently), and courses of study are designed by center faculty members and in cooperation with those in outside, relevant departments.

The center also runs an undergraduate humanities honors program and two undergraduate courses, and recently introduced a one-year master of arts degree in humanistic studies.

It’s been requesting permission to conduct searches to replace two retiring faculty members for the last several years, a decision ultimately left up to Beverly Wendland, who was named permanent dean of the Krieger School of the Arts and Sciences in 2015. Before making up her mind, Wendland requested a review of the center, which had already been reviewed twice since 2008 with generally positive findings.

Two committees reviewed the center anew. An external committee found that while the center was at a “crossroads,” with two of four full professors then in phased retirement, it “has given a great deal of thought to its future, and (small details aside) we strongly support its plans.” The committee urged the university to hire two faculty members of similar status as those who were retiring, and the center to expand its offerings, via a new undergraduate major. It also said morale among graduate students was “measurably high” -- no small thing for graduate programs in the humanities these days.

“There was an almost exceptionless assertion of positive comments from the students we met -- about the instruction they received, the attentiveness and helpfulness of the faculty, the opportunities provided to the students to do their own teaching, the solidarities that existed among them, and the relative freedom to pursue their special interests without the constraint of compulsory routines,” the external reviewers found.

An internal review committee came to similar conclusions and highlighted what is special about the Johns Hopkins center, as opposed to those dedicated to the humanities on other campuses.

“Elsewhere, humanities centers are the supra-departmental entities intended to foster cooperation across between [sic] departments,” the internal review says. “Such humanities centers invite speakers, provide internal and external fellowships for faculty and postdoctoral fellows, and organize seminars, often around a yearly theme. They have no permanent faculty or specific disciplinary interests of their own.”

Wendland responded to the center’s reviews and requests for two replacement faculty lines in a lengthy June letter. While she relied in part on the new reviews, she drew on past reviews of the department and of the Krieger school, including one that found -- despite noting high graduate student morale -- a “pervasive anxiety … having to do with the fear of falling between disciplinary stools when it comes to seeking jobs. This is not a matter of surprise. It is entirely to be expected, almost as a form of original sin, in a humanities center that serves as a graduate degree-conferring department.”

Relatedly, she highlighted a finding of the most recent external review. While positive over all, it said that “graduate student placement seems to be good but not outstanding. 2014: Loyola University, Maryland Institute College of Art, [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] (Instructor, Instructor, Lecturer in German). The question is one of institutions, but also if they end up teaching in the right departments.”

Wendland also questioned the center’s commitment to broad interdisciplinary study, saying that it behaves “as a department with some interdisciplinary foci, rather than as an integrating locus for activities across all the humanities.”

Because of the center’s “practice of not cross-listing courses if they are not taught by core or joint appointments,” she added, “colleagues in [Krieger] who specialize in comparative literature, critical theory and philosophical approaches to art, literature, film and history are de facto excluded from participation in the graduate program that attracts students with such interests.”

‘Center’ vs. ‘Institute’

Perhaps most controversially, Wendland touched on the new Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Hopkins, established through a $10 million grant from the family of the founder of Rite Aid. The gift is the university’s largest ever specifically for the advancement of the humanities. She noted that the center under review had previously refused to change its name, as not to confuse itself with the new “institute” -- a concern that even the generous external review had raised.

Crucially, though, that review said that both the center and the institute could coexist without redundancy, with the center remaining like a department and the center offering other programs.

Wendland said she did not immediately approve of the new plan for an undergraduate major and advised the center to clarify its honors humanities program, saying that if it “truly is cross-humanities rather than specific to the [center’s] declared field, then the honors program should be moved to the Humanities Institute.”

She told it to “decide upon a name that identifies it as a department commensurate with its field and that does not claim to represent the humanities as a whole,” and to develop a plan for how to proceed if another faculty member were to depart the university, a mentoring plan for junior faculty and a “commitment by the [center members] to collegial and constructive interactions with the Humanities Institute.”

Threat to Close the Center

Then a bombshell: the center’s “future status” was up in the air, to be decided in time to know whether or not new students should be recruited for next fall. A “small, neutral committee,” to be appointed in consultation with the provost, will submit its recommendations in December.

Graduate students, many of whom were away over the summer, formally responded to the prospect of closing the center in a letter to Daniels, Hopkins’s president, earlier this month.

Highlighting the center’s uniqueness as offering both humanities study and extracurricular programs, students challenged Wendland’s assertion that the center was isolated and narrow in its focus.

Information from the anthropology department, for example, they wrote, shows that more than half of its cohorts between 2010 and 2015 took Humanities Center courses, and nine anthropology graduates who have worked with center's faculty since 2007 have placed well on the job market.

“While this case is only one example, we trust that the outpouring of support from other departments will attest to the nonredundancy and utility of the Humanities Center’s scholarly resources,” they wrote. “[Wendland’s letter] does not acknowledge this rich collaborative spirit, and instead criticizes our limited research interests and our apparent failure to represent the full range of scholarship in the humanities. We would like to indicate to the contrary, that despite the research tendencies of the department, its interdisciplinary core has enabled it to serve as a meeting ground for many scholars across the university.”

A long list of center alumni, many of whom hold tenure-line academic jobs in the U.S. and abroad, have signed on to a separate open letter, also published earlier this month.

“We consider the education, training and mentoring we received there to be superlative, and unlike any we could have obtained at any other department in any other university in the U.S.,” they wrote. “We chose to study at the Humanities Center because of its superb faculty, because of the extraordinary independence that it offers its students and because of its quality, rigor and originality.”

The letter continues, “We also chose to study at the Humanities Center because it crosses disciplinary boundaries. The Humanities Center is distinctive. It occupies an unusual position within conventional university structures. This is precisely its strength.”

A handful of scholars with no affiliation to the center also have written to Hopkins, urging that it remain open. Glenn W. Most, visiting professor of social thought and of classics at the University of Chicago, for example, wrote that he has been “perplexed and dismayed over the past weeks to learn that there is a real danger that the [center] might be closed. I write to you as a concerned senior scholar who has no direct connection with the Humanities Center but who has long regarded it as an institution of fundamental significance in American humanities, asking you to do what you can to maintain and if possible expand it and to reflect on the very negative consequences that would derive from its closure.”

Graduate students continue to use social media to advocate for the center, and the issue has received some attention on higher education blogs. Arash Abazari, a graduate student in philosophy at Hopkins, recently posted an essay to the popular philosophy site Daily Nous, for example, saying that the threat to the center demonstrates the “encroachment of administration” on education, and on the humanities in particular -- now even at the country’s wealthiest, most selective universities.

“The fate of an extremely successful department, with a tradition of more than 50 years, should not be upon the arbitrary decision of few temporary administrators in a process that is not transparent to the public,” he wrote. “What traditionally made American universities unique for education and research was arguably the autonomy of the departments -- their independence from the administration. … This unique characteristic of the American universities, however, is fading away, and it is fading away unfortunately quite rapidly.”

The center also has support from unaffiliated students on campus. An editorial published Thursday in the student newspaper, The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, says that eliminating the center “would be a mistake” and that its review “suspiciously coincides with the introduction of the brand-new Humanities Institute, made possible by a generous $10 million gift.”

“The center directly benefits the humanities at the university and represents a refuge for students in an environment of a [science, technology, engineering and math]-dominated school,” the paper says. The newspaper’s editorial board “stands in solidarity with the faculty and students” of the center.

As to what's actually behind the move to close the center, a group of center graduate students -- Ben Gillespie, Katie Boyce-Jacino and Benjamin Stein, writing on behalf of their cohorts -- said via email that they were "still bewildered at the prospect, have found no clear or consistent rationale behind the administration's actions, and have been seeking answers," though a recent meeting with Wendland offered no clarity. "The usual suspects of cutting costs or eliminating a unique, interdisciplinary department due to its perceived inscrutability to nonhumanities scholars are all possible," they added.

The students said they saw no conflict whatsoever between the center and the new institute, and said that the center continues to offer "courses not available anywhere else at Hopkins, be they outside of the national language concerns of other departments, or topics like religion, cinema and philosophy, critical theory across the disciplines, and other subjects that are outside the purview of traditional departments."

"Our coherence and singular reputation are well attested to in the outpouring of scholarly support we've received," they added.

If there is concern about the missions of the institute and center overlapping, it’s not coming from the institute’s director, William Egginton, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities. He called the two humanities entities “entirely different,” with “very different purposes.”

The institute “exists to serve the humanities across their considerable breadth, to support graduate and undergraduate research in all humanities departments, and to help connect humanities scholarship at Hopkins with a public audience that often isn’t aware of the fascinating work being done here,” Egginton said. To that end, the institute “has representation from and seeks collaborations with all humanities departments at Hopkins, including the Humanities Center.”

Egginton offered one caveat: that the overlapping names do present potential confusion. The department, the center, “would be better served by a name that more accurately represents the work done by its distinguished faculty,” he added.

That’s something with which the center eventually agreed, and it’s offered up a few possible new names. None have yet stuck.

Wendland said via email that Johns Hopkins has a “a long and proud history in the humanities – and continues to be a place where the humanities are thriving and important.” The humanities faculty has grown from 90 to 110 faculty members in recent years, for example, she said. 

To “further strengthen” the humanities, the Humanities Center is under review, she said. A faculty committee, led by a dean, is looking at a number of issues, from mission to structure, and will present several alternatives for the department’s future by mid-December. There is no predetermined outcome, and Hopkins looks forward to receiving the committee’s advice, “as well as the input of our faculty and students as we chart the best path forward.” 

Supporting faculty, making the “best use of resources, challenging and educating our students well and putting our programs in the best position to thrive intellectually and prosper academically” are all part of the process.

Hent de Vries, Russ Family Chair in the Humanities and director of the Humanities Center, said that given that Johns Hopkins is a “relatively small research university, intellectually vibrant units are based up two related principles: selective excellence and the fostering of the intensive seminar tradition.” 

The Humanities Center “never pretended to be a neutral platform for the transmission of everything knowable or interesting, nor did it limit itself by definition to research and teaching of two distinct fields — intellectual history and comparative literature — alone,” he added. “And yet it is committed to these two disciplines in which we have a known track record in terms of placement and publication and that simply do not find systematic, serious and sustained coverage elsewhere at this university.”

A larger institute that serves as a broader forum, “disconnected from such specific, faculty-bound knowledge interests, converging strangely in a certain shared intellectual style and scholarly profile, cannot replace such a learning experience,” de Vries said. “It can do other things, but not what makes this small operation unique and one of the gems that Johns Hopkins and at least its senior administration should perhaps appreciate a bit more.”

Image Caption: 
Johns Hopkins University
Is this breaking news?: 

For-profits favor Republicans with campaign money but donations are down

During the Republican presidential primary in 2012, nominee Mitt Romney praised Full Sail University and other for-profit colleges as alternatives to increasingly costly traditional colleges and universities.

With the Obama administration moving to add new regulations aimed at for-profits, Romney’s endorsement offered a contrast on higher education policy.

During that cycle, the for-profit sector for the first time broke heavily for GOP candidates as it ramped up its political spending — donations to Republican candidates outpaced those to Democrats by more than a two-to-one margin. And Romney received more than three times the campaign cash from the sector as President Barack Obama. In previous cycles, donations to Democrats were even with or slightly larger than those to the GOP.

However, while the industry’s campaign largess continues to heavily favor Republican officeholders, its spending on campaign contributions has dropped off precipitously.

With less than two weeks to go until the November elections, individuals and political action committees associated with the for-profit sector had given less than half the amount to federal campaigns that they did in the 2012 election cycle. So far they have donated just over $1.1 million to congressional candidates in the current election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That would be the lowest amount since the 2008 cycle.

Those numbers are indicative of an industry that’s seen entities large and small shut their doors and finds itself struggling with both structural challenges and government regulations. And the shrinking dollar amounts may reflect a sense that campaign contributions are having a limited impact on for-profit policy.

The partisan breakdown of donations reflects just how much support for the for-profits has come to be dictated by party affiliation, as oversight and accountability of the sector became an increasing focus of progressive leaders within the Democratic Party.

“It’s all of the above,” said Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, which advocates on behalf of the for-profit sector. “You have a lot fewer players and the players that are there, frankly, have a lot less money available to participate in the political process.”

The for-profit industry began steadily increasing its campaign finance activity during the 2008 campaign cycle, a period that coincided with rising enrollments as the Great Recession pushed more Americans out of the labor force and back into higher education. For-profits marketed their programs heavily to students who likely would not enroll in traditional colleges and universities. As enrollment swelled, so did revenues.

Campaign giving was fairly bipartisan as the sector began to flex its political muscle, even favoring Democrats slightly. But starting in 2012, the industry’s political support tilted heavily to Republican candidates at the federal level. Contributions to GOP candidates and officeholders outpaced those to Democrats by more than two to one during that cycle. As its giving to political campaigns has continued to decline over the last two cycles, the for-profit sector has continued to heavily favor GOP candidates.

Barmak Nassirian, director of Federal Relations and Policy Analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and a frequent critic of for-profits, said there is now a strong consensus within the Democratic Party on the issue.

“We have had a very clear separation with regard to attitudes toward the for-profit sector between the two parties,” he said.

By 2010, Nassirian said, the handwriting was on the wall that a crackdown from the Obama administration was coming. The sector spent heavily to try to elect Romney and then to fight impending gainful employment regulations introduced by the U.S. Department of Education. Legal challenges delayed the rules, which impose new standards on college programs for graduates’ ability to pay back their federal student loans. But a federal court panel ruled earlier this year that the department could go ahead with implementation of the rules.

As the fight over those rules and other regulations targeted at for-profits has now ended, for the most part, the sector’s spending on political campaigns has lost some of its urgency. And the increasing polarization of the parties on oversight of the sector may have blunted the effects of campaign donations.

Ben Miller, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, said the increasingly partisan breakdown of donations beginning in the 2012 cycle reflected changes in Congress as much as any of the administration’s policies.

“I don’t think it was in response to the administration as much as it was an acknowledgment that congressional support for the for-profit sector was going much more in one direction,” he said. “The support for it among the Republicans has somewhat diminished, too. There are people who are in favor, but the number who really want to go to bat for [the sector] is a lot lower.”

Follow the Money

In the current election cycle, the GOP dominates the list of top recipients of for-profit campaign money. Florida Democratic Congressman Alcee Hastings, a longtime friend of the sector, has received more than $41,000 so far. And Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, among a handful of Democratic co-sponsors of 2014 legislation to delay the gainful employment regulations until a study of their potential impact could be completed, has received more than $22,000 from for-profits this cycle.

Washington Senator Patty Murray, the ranking member on the Senate education committee, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders — whose presidential primary campaign significantly boosted his national profile — received $19,000 and about $17,000, respectively.

On the Republican side, Arizona Senator John McCain has received more for-profit money than any sitting elected official — more than $73,000 — while North Carolina Representative Virginia Foxx ($68,000) and Minnesota Representative John Kline (about $53,000) come in second and third, respectively. Both Kline, the current chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and Foxx, who is widely expected to be the next chair if Republicans retain the House, have been supportive of the for-profit sector.

Member Party State Amount
John McCain Republican Ariz. $73,750
Virginia Foxx Republican N.C. $68,200
John Kline Republican Minn. $52,800
Alcee Hastings Democrat Fla. $41,650
Roy Blunt Republican Mo. $28,800
Richard Burr Republican N.C. $25,400
Kyrsten Sinema Democrat Ariz. $22,825
Carlos Curbelo Republican Fla. $19,400
Patty Murray Democrat Wash. $19,000
Bernie Sanders Democrat Vt. $16,962

McCain represents the home state of the Apollo Education Group and Grand Canyon University, two of the biggest for-profit enterprises. And he serves as chairman of the Armed Services Committee — a position he used to push back on a Pentagon order last year banning the University of Phoenix from recruiting on military bases or receiving money from the federal Post-9/11 GI Bill.

That so much for-profit money has gone to Republicans in recent cycles partly reflects how many House seats Democrats lost in the 2010 Tea Party wave. But because of the shift in the politics on for-profits, that polarization in the flow of campaign money is likely to continue, and lawmakers like Hastings and Sinema will remain outliers.

There is a sense in the sector that campaign contributions over all just haven’t been as effective, said Trace Urdan, an industry analyst at Credit Suisse.

“The climate has become so difficult that it maybe doesn’t feel worthwhile,” he said.

Just a handful of vocal supporters like Foxx have consistently defended for-profits. And many in the Republican caucus have remained quiet while voices in the sector said the administration pushed entities like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes into closure.

As a proportion of the sector’s overall revenues, which have plummeted, political contributions have likely remained stable, Urdan said. While for-profits may have hoped for some kind of legislative response to regulations like gainful employment, there’s been little in the way of new laws from Congress to draw their interest.

Urdan said campaign contributions may pick up once Congress begins considering reauthorization of the Higher Education Act — an objective of key lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

But for-profits’ political resources remain diminished and the sector has for now become more selective in choosing the candidates and elected officials it does support. Chairs of key committees are big recipients of for-profit support, as are officials who have shown they will back the industry.

“It’s dependent on those who a) stand up for us and b) who decide to destroy us. It’s no surprise to anyone that the Dick Durbins and Elizabeth Warrens of the world are out to destroy us,” Gunderson said. “We have to look for friends.”

For-Profit Higher Ed
The Policy Debate
Image Source: 
Getty Images
Image Caption: 
Senator John McCain
Is this breaking news?: 

During the Republican presidential primary in 2012, nominee Mitt Romney praised Full Sail University and other for-profit colleges as alternatives to increasingly costly traditional colleges and universities.

With the Obama administration moving to add new regulations aimed at for-profits, Romney’s endorsement offered a contrast on higher education policy.

During that cycle, the for-profit sector for the first time broke heavily for GOP candidates as it ramped up its political spending -- donations to Republican candidates outpaced those to Democrats by more than a two-to-one margin. And Romney received more than three times the campaign cash from the sector as President Barack Obama. In previous cycles, donations to Democrats were even with or slightly larger than those to the GOP.

However, while the industry's campaign largess continues to heavily favor Republican officeholders, its spending on campaign contributions has dropped off precipitously.

With less than two weeks to go until the November elections, individuals and political action committees associated with the for-profit sector had given less than half the amount to federal campaigns that they did in the 2012 election cycle. So far they have donated just over $1.1 million to congressional candidates in the current election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That would be the lowest amount since the 2008 cycle.

Those numbers are indicative of an industry that’s seen entities large and small shut their doors and finds itself struggling with both structural challenges and government regulations. And the shrinking dollar amounts may reflect a sense that campaign contributions are having a limited impact on for-profit policy.

The partisan breakdown of donations reflects just how much support for the for-profits has come to be dictated by party affiliation, as oversight and accountability of the sector became an increasing focus of progressive leaders within the Democratic Party.

“It’s all of the above,” said Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, which advocates on behalf of the for-profit sector. “You have a lot fewer players and the players that are there, frankly, have a lot less money available to participate in the political process.”

The for-profit industry began steadily increasing its campaign finance activity during the 2008 campaign cycle, a period that coincided with rising enrollments as the Great Recession pushed more Americans out of the labor force and back into higher education. For-profits marketed their programs heavily to students who likely would not enroll in traditional colleges and universities. As enrollment swelled, so did revenues.

Campaign giving was fairly bipartisan as the sector began to flex its political muscle, even favoring Democrats slightly. But starting in 2012, the industry’s political support tilted heavily to Republican candidates at the federal level. Contributions to GOP candidates and officeholders outpaced those to Democrats by more than two to one during that cycle. As its giving to political campaigns has continued to decline over the last two cycles, the for-profit sector has continued to heavily favor GOP candidates.

Barmak Nassirian, director of Federal Relations and Policy Analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and a frequent critic of for-profits, said there is now a strong consensus within the Democratic Party on the issue.

“We have had a very clear separation with regard to attitudes toward the for-profit sector between the two parties,” he said.

By 2010, Nassirian said, the handwriting was on the wall that a crackdown from the Obama administration was coming. The sector spent heavily to try to elect Romney and then to fight impending gainful employment regulations introduced by the U.S. Department of Education. Legal challenges delayed the rules, which impose new standards on college programs for graduates’ ability to pay back their federal student loans. But a federal court panel ruled earlier this year that the department could go ahead with implementation of the rules.

As the fight over those rules and other regulations targeted at for-profits has now ended, for the most part, the sector's spending on political campaigns has lost some of its urgency. And the increasing polarization of the parties on oversight of the sector may have blunted the effects of campaign donations.

Ben Miller, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, said the increasingly partisan breakdown of donations beginning in the 2012 cycle reflected changes in Congress as much as any of the administration’s policies.

“I don’t think it was in response to the administration as much as it was an acknowledgment that congressional support for the for-profit sector was going much more in one direction,” he said. “The support for it among the Republicans has somewhat diminished, too. There are people who are in favor, but the number who really want to go to bat for [the sector] is a lot lower.”

Follow the Money

In the current election cycle, the GOP dominates the list of top recipients of for-profit campaign money. Florida Democratic Congressman Alcee Hastings, a longtime friend of the sector, has received more than $41,000 so far. And Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, among a handful of Democratic co-sponsors of 2014 legislation to delay the gainful employment regulations until a study of their potential impact could be completed, has received more than $22,000 from for-profits this cycle.

Washington Senator Patty Murray, the ranking member on the Senate education committee, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders -- whose presidential primary campaign significantly boosted his national profile -- received $19,000 and about $17,000, respectively.

On the Republican side, Arizona Senator John McCain has received more for-profit money than any sitting elected official -- more than $73,000 -- while North Carolina Representative Virginia Foxx ($68,000) and Minnesota Representative John Kline (about $53,000) come in second and third, respectively. Both Kline, the current chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and Foxx, who is widely expected to be the next chair if Republicans retain the House, have been supportive of the for-profit sector.

Member Party State Amount
John McCain Republican Ariz. $73,750
Virginia Foxx Republican N.C. $68,200
John Kline Republican Minn. $52,800
Alcee Hastings Democrat Fla. $41,650
Roy Blunt Republican Mo. $28,800
Richard Burr Republican N.C. $25,400
Kyrsten Sinema Democrat Ariz. $22,825
Carlos Curbelo Republican Fla. $19,400
Patty Murray Democrat Wash. $19,000
Bernie Sanders Democrat Vt. $16,962

McCain represents the home state of the Apollo Education Group and Grand Canyon University, two of the biggest for-profit enterprises. And he serves as chairman of the Armed Services Committee -- a position he used to push back on a Pentagon order last year banning the University of Phoenix from recruiting on military bases or receiving money from the federal Post-9/11 GI Bill.

That so much for-profit money has gone to Republicans in recent cycles partly reflects how many House seats Democrats lost in the 2010 Tea Party wave. But because of the shift in the politics on for-profits, that polarization in the flow of campaign money is likely to continue, and lawmakers like Hastings and Sinema will remain outliers.

There is a sense in the sector that campaign contributions over all just haven’t been as effective, said Trace Urdan, an industry analyst at Credit Suisse.

“The climate has become so difficult that it maybe doesn’t feel worthwhile,” he said.

Just a handful of vocal supporters like Foxx have consistently defended for-profits. And many in the Republican caucus have remained quiet while voices in the sector said the administration pushed entities like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes into closure.

As a proportion of the sector's overall revenues, which have plummeted, political contributions have likely remained stable, Urdan said. While for-profits may have hoped for some kind of legislative response to regulations like gainful employment, there’s been little in the way of new laws from Congress to draw their interest.

Urdan said campaign contributions may pick up once Congress begins considering reauthorization of the Higher Education Act -- an objective of key lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

But for-profits’ political resources remain diminished and the sector has for now become more selective in choosing the candidates and elected officials it does support. Chairs of key committees are big recipients of for-profit support, as are officials who have shown they will back the industry.

“It’s dependent on those who a) stand up for us and b) who decide to destroy us. It’s no surprise to anyone that the Dick Durbins and Elizabeth Warrens of the world are out to destroy us,” Gunderson said. “We have to look for friends.”

For-Profit Higher Ed
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Senator John McCain
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Education Dept. releases final version of defense to repayment loan rules

The U.S. Department of Education released Friday the final version of controversial regulations that will allow student loan borrowers to have their debt discharged if they were victims of fraud or misrepresentation by their institution.

The rules replace an existing system based on various state laws with a single federal standard meant to simplify the claims process for having student loans discharged. They also put institutions themselves on the hook for paying back borrowers’ claims and seek to provide earlier warnings to students about risky colleges. And the rules limit colleges’ ability to impose mandatory arbitration clauses on students.

The final rules come after a comment period in which the department received more than 10,000 responses to proposed regulations before an Aug. 1 deadline. Although the regulations were drafted with the for-profit sector in mind, many of the comments warned about potentially wider repercussions affecting public and private nonprofit institutions. Some stakeholders were troubled that the regulations didn’t distinguish between intentional fraud and inadvertent mistakes in circumstances like advertising of job placement rates.

But modifications to the proposed rules appear to do little to address those concerns, and in several ways are tougher than the draft version, according to a summary document the department released.

The regulations put in place triggering mechanisms that would lead to a required letter of credit — large sums of money to be placed at the feds’ disposal to protect taxpayers — where it finds institutions to be financially unstable or to be engaged in misconduct. In a change from the proposed rules, the final rules revised some triggers so that financial protection measures are not required when circumstances don’t necessarily indicate a risk of closure.

The department also announced it would restore Pell Grant eligibility for students who were unable to finish a program after their institution closed its doors.

Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said the rules appeared to strengthen consumer protections and standardize the discharge process for student borrowers. He said the key for the regulations was to balance those rules against regulatory triggers that would make closure inevitable for some institutions.

“We don’t want to be pushing schools over the edge,” Draeger said. “That’s a hard balance to manage. We don’t know enough to say if the department struck that balance.”

Dennis Cariello, a former Department of Education official and lawyer who served on the rule-making panel for defense to repayment, said he thought it was a mistake not to incorporate more of the feedback from stakeholders into the final rules.

“The department doesn’t appear to have made changes based on school recommendations, and that’s disappointing,” he said.

Cariello said he was particularly concerned that the final rules don’t appear to require the department to demonstrate that a college or university intentionally defrauded or misled student borrowers. He said a minor misrepresentation or a mistake could lead to negative consequences for an institution. And because the rules make it easier for the department to provide debt relief to groups of borrowers, the consequences of those mistakes would be multiplied without an opportunity for a university to make a correction.

“The department has refused so far to give comfort on those type of points, and that’s a really big deal,” Cariello said. “People can make mistakes. And they’re going to get whacked.”

The defense to repayment rules were formulated in 2015 in response to the closure of Corinthian Colleges, and multiple rounds of negotiations involving the department and various stakeholders followed. Groups well outside the typical education policy circles weighed in on the proposed borrower defense rules, including conservative organizations like Americans for Tax Reform, which warned the costs of covering loan discharges would be burdensome to taxpayers. The department’s own estimates have said the rules could cost as much as $42 billion over the next decade.

Senator Elizabeth Warren told the department last month that it was not doing enough to assist students who had attended campuses of the Corinthian chain and had instead placed many of those students in debt collection. Under provisions of the rules governing loan discharges at closed institutions, students borrowers who do not re-enroll at another institution within three years of their college closing would automatically have their loans forgiven.

The rules are part of a regulatory push — including new gainful employment regulations — to impose new accountability on higher education. The administration targeted the failures of the for-profit college sector, but the new rules will create fallout for many other institutions, especially open-access institutions and those serving low-income and first-generation student populations.

The Institute for College Access and Success called the regulations a huge win for students and taxpayers.

“The final borrower defense and college accountability regulations make it much harder for schools that commit fraud to hide it, which will make it less likely that schools commit fraud in the first place,” said TICAS Executive Vice President Pauline Abernathy. 

TICAS praised the department especially for taking the step to restore Pell Grant eligibility for students affected by closure of their institutions before they could complete their studies. More than 28,000 Pell Grant recipients were affected by the closures of Corinthian Colleges last year and ITT Technical Institutes this summer. Abernathy said those students couldn’t get back the time they spent at those institutions, but restoring Pell eligibility would allow them to resume their education.

Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, said the final borrower defense rules would cause millions of students to lose access to higher education.

“This regulation will limit career education opportunities for new traditional students and ultimately deny millions of Americans a pathway to improving their life and growing the American economy,” said Gunderson, whose organization advocates for the for-profit college sector.

The regulations would burden career education institutions with financial requirements not imposed on other colleges and universities, including others with lower graduation rates and higher default rates on student loans, he said.

“All of this is being enacted in the final days of the administration — a last-ditch ideological effort that will have a lasting impact on students, educators and taxpayers,” he said.

Student Aid and Loans
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The U.S. Department of Education released Friday the final version of controversial regulations that will allow student loan borrowers to have their debt discharged if they were victims of fraud or misrepresentation by their institution.

The rules replace an existing system based on various state laws with a single federal standard meant to simplify the claims process for having student loans discharged. They also put institutions themselves on the hook for paying back borrowers’ claims and seek to provide earlier warnings to students about risky colleges. And the rules limit colleges’ ability to impose mandatory arbitration clauses on students.

The final rules come after a comment period in which the department received more than 10,000 responses to proposed regulations before an Aug. 1 deadline. Although the regulations were drafted with the for-profit sector in mind, many of the comments warned about potentially wider repercussions affecting public and private nonprofit institutions. Some stakeholders were troubled that the regulations didn’t distinguish between intentional fraud and inadvertent mistakes in circumstances like advertising of job placement rates.

But modifications to the proposed rules appear to do little to address those concerns, and in several ways are tougher than the draft version, according to a summary document the department released.

The regulations put in place triggering mechanisms that would lead to a required letter of credit -- large sums of money to be placed at the feds’ disposal to protect taxpayers -- where it finds institutions to be financially unstable or to be engaged in misconduct. In a change from the proposed rules, the final rules revised some triggers so that financial protection measures are not required when circumstances don't necessarily indicate a risk of closure.

The department also announced it would restore Pell Grant eligibility for students who were unable to finish a program after their institution closed its doors.

Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said the rules appeared to strengthen consumer protections and standardize the discharge process for student borrowers. He said the key for the regulations was to balance those rules against regulatory triggers that would make closure inevitable for some institutions.

"We don't want to be pushing schools over the edge," Draeger said. "That's a hard balance to manage. We don't know enough to say if the department struck that balance."

Dennis Cariello, a former Department of Education official and lawyer who served on the rule-making panel for defense to repayment, said he thought it was a mistake not to incorporate more of the feedback from stakeholders into the final rules.

“The department doesn’t appear to have made changes based on school recommendations, and that’s disappointing,” he said.

Cariello said he was particularly concerned that the final rules don’t appear to require the department to demonstrate that a college or university intentionally defrauded or misled student borrowers. He said a minor misrepresentation or a mistake could lead to negative consequences for an institution. And because the rules make it easier for the department to provide debt relief to groups of borrowers, the consequences of those mistakes would be multiplied without an opportunity for a university to make a correction.

“The department has refused so far to give comfort on those type of points, and that’s a really big deal,” Cariello said. “People can make mistakes. And they're going to get whacked.”

The defense to repayment rules were formulated in 2015 in response to the closure of Corinthian Colleges, and multiple rounds of negotiations involving the department and various stakeholders followed. Groups well outside the typical education policy circles weighed in on the proposed borrower defense rules, including conservative organizations like Americans for Tax Reform, which warned the costs of covering loan discharges would be burdensome to taxpayers. The department’s own estimates have said the rules could cost as much as $42 billion over the next decade.

Senator Elizabeth Warren told the department last month that it was not doing enough to assist students who had attended campuses of the Corinthian chain and had instead placed many of those students in debt collection. Under provisions of the rules governing loan discharges at closed institutions, students borrowers who do not re-enroll at another institution within three years of their college closing would automatically have their loans forgiven.

The rules are part of a regulatory push -- including new gainful employment regulations -- to impose new accountability on higher education. The administration targeted the failures of the for-profit college sector, but the new rules will create fallout for many other institutions, especially open-access institutions and those serving low-income and first-generation student populations.

The Institute for College Access and Success called the regulations a huge win for students and taxpayers.

"The final borrower defense and college accountability regulations make it much harder for schools that commit fraud to hide it, which will make it less likely that schools commit fraud in the first place," said TICAS Executive Vice President Pauline Abernathy. 

TICAS praised the department especially for taking the step to restore Pell Grant eligibility for students affected by closure of their institutions before they could complete their studies. More than 28,000 Pell Grant recipients were affected by the closures of Corinthian Colleges last year and ITT Technical Institutes this summer. Abernathy said those students couldn't get back the time they spent at those institutions, but restoring Pell eligibility would allow them to resume their education.

Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, said the final borrower defense rules would cause millions of students to lose access to higher education.

“This regulation will limit career education opportunities for new traditional students and ultimately deny millions of Americans a pathway to improving their life and growing the American economy,” said Gunderson, whose organization advocates for the for-profit college sector.

The regulations would burden career education institutions with financial requirements not imposed on other colleges and universities, including others with lower graduation rates and higher default rates on student loans, he said.

“All of this is being enacted in the final days of the administration -- a last-ditch ideological effort that will have a lasting impact on students, educators and taxpayers,” he said.

Student Aid and Loans
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Is this breaking news?: