Ivy League announces proposals for curbing early recruitment of athletes

The Ivy League will announce today a series of proposals aimed at curbing early recruiting in college sports, urging other National Collegiate Athletic Association members to “change the culture of recruiting that forces prospective student-athletes to commit earlier and earlier.”

The proposed Division I rule changes, which would potentially be voted on at the NCAA’s annual meeting in January, would prohibit verbal offers from coaches to potential recruits until Sept. 1 of the student’s junior year of high school. The legislation would also prohibit players initiating or receiving phone calls with and from college coaches, and ban any recruiting conversations at camps or clinics until that date.

Current NCAA Division I rules differ among sports, but they largely already prohibit players from receiving phone calls from a coach, going on official campus visits or getting an offer before their junior year. Prospective athletes are allowed to initiate phone calls with coaches, however, and coaches can communicate through proxies at the students’ high schools. Recruits are allowed to visit campuses and meet with coaches prior to their junior year as long as the trip is an unofficial visit not paid for by the institution.

“We’re trying to close those loopholes,” Robin Harris, executive director of Ivy League, said. “The current culture is putting more and more pressure on prospective athletes to commit, because they’re talking to coaches and making unofficial visits earlier and earlier. You think about freshmen and sophomores and how much they still have to grow, physically, athletically, academically, emotionally, and our concern is that prospects are making decisions they come to regret.”

Harris pointed to increasing transfer rates in intercollegiate athletics as evidence athletes are making recruitment decisions too early. According to the NCAA, one-third of college athletes transfer to another program.

“There’s a lot of talk about there being a transfer problem,” Harris said. “Well, I would say a lot of the problem with transfers is the fact that we have individuals making decisions too soon that are too rushed.”

Early recruiting is especially prevalent in sports like women’s soccer and lacrosse, where some players are being recruited as early as middle school. An analysis by the National Collegiate Scouting Association in 2014 found that 36 percent of women’s lacrosse players who use the consulting firm to commit to colleges are doing so early, as are 24 percent of women’s soccer players.

The athletes cannot sign binding letters of intent at such an early age, but middle school students are increasingly announcing verbal commitments to specific institutions after receiving unofficial scholarship offers from coaches.

In 2014, an eighth-grade soccer player verbally committed to the University of Texas at Austin. Earlier this year, another eighth-grade girl said she would be playing for the same team. In January, an eighth-grade lacrosse player verbally committed to play the sport at Syracuse University. In May, another eighth-grade lacrosse player also agreed to play for Pennsylvania State University’s men’s team — he was 13 years old.

“The current trend to recruit and commit prospective student-athletes before they matriculate high school or reach puberty is outrageous and detrimental to our sport,” Kim Simons Tortolani, the former head coach of Georgetown University’s women’s lacrosse team, wrote in a blog post in May. “The accelerated recruiting timeline has far-reaching effects: forcing early specialization in one sport, encouraging the growing practice of repeating an academic year in hopes of gaining an athletic advantage [and] promoting participation on club and travel teams at a younger age.”

Specializing in a specific sport at a young age is on the rise. According to a survey conducted by the NCAA last year, more than 60 percent of Division I college athletes said they started specializing in their sport by age 12, with many saying they did so hoping to play for a college team.

Early recruiting is occurring in the big-time sports like football and basketball, as well. Earlier this year, an eighth-grade linebacker in Florida received verbal offers from football programs at the University at Alabama and Iowa State, Michigan State, North Carolina State and West Virginia Universities. An eighth-grader football player in Louisiana also received verbal offers this year from Alabama and Louisiana State University.

In March, Florida State University offered a scholarship to an eighth-grade quarterback in Connecticut. He was at least the sixth football player to receive a scholarship offer from Florida State before entering high school.

“The pressure coaches exert on young students to make life-changing decisions in haste erodes their ability to make the right choice, and is therefore in direct conflict with the purpose and process of higher education,” Bob Scalise, Harvard University’s athletics director, wrote in a letter last year. “The NCAA needs to acknowledge the elephant in the room and engage in meaningful dialogue with its member institutions in order to find a workable solution to this alarming trend.”

There have been attempts to curb early recruiting before.

The Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association proposed rules similar to the Ivy League’s proposals to the NCAA in 2009 and 2012, but the association declined to vote on them, with some members and association leaders saying that many existing recruiting rules are already unenforceable. The Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association submitted its own proposal last year, eliciting a similar response, and tried again in June.

“We expect there to be some negative reactions to our proposals, too,” said Harris of the Ivy League. “But our goal is twofold. We want to change the rules to change the culture, but we also want to at least push the NCAA to have these discussions. We’ve been trying for several years. We think the time is right.”

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The Ivy League will announce today a series of proposals aimed at curbing early recruiting in college sports, urging other National Collegiate Athletic Association members to “change the culture of recruiting that forces prospective student-athletes to commit earlier and earlier.”

The proposed Division I rule changes, which would potentially be voted on at the NCAA’s annual meeting in January, would prohibit verbal offers from coaches to potential recruits until Sept. 1 of the student’s junior year of high school. The legislation would also prohibit players initiating or receiving phone calls with and from college coaches, and ban any recruiting conversations at camps or clinics until that date.

Current NCAA Division I rules differ among sports, but they largely already prohibit players from receiving phone calls from a coach, going on official campus visits or getting an offer before their junior year. Prospective athletes are allowed to initiate phone calls with coaches, however, and coaches can communicate through proxies at the students’ high schools. Recruits are allowed to visit campuses and meet with coaches prior to their junior year as long as the trip is an unofficial visit not paid for by the institution.

“We’re trying to close those loopholes,” Robin Harris, executive director of Ivy League, said. “The current culture is putting more and more pressure on prospective athletes to commit, because they’re talking to coaches and making unofficial visits earlier and earlier. You think about freshmen and sophomores and how much they still have to grow, physically, athletically, academically, emotionally, and our concern is that prospects are making decisions they come to regret.”

Harris pointed to increasing transfer rates in intercollegiate athletics as evidence athletes are making recruitment decisions too early. According to the NCAA, one-third of college athletes transfer to another program.

“There’s a lot of talk about there being a transfer problem,” Harris said. “Well, I would say a lot of the problem with transfers is the fact that we have individuals making decisions too soon that are too rushed.”

Early recruiting is especially prevalent in sports like women’s soccer and lacrosse, where some players are being recruited as early as middle school. An analysis by the National Collegiate Scouting Association in 2014 found that 36 percent of women’s lacrosse players who use the consulting firm to commit to colleges are doing so early, as are 24 percent of women’s soccer players.

The athletes cannot sign binding letters of intent at such an early age, but middle school students are increasingly announcing verbal commitments to specific institutions after receiving unofficial scholarship offers from coaches.

In 2014, an eighth-grade soccer player verbally committed to the University of Texas at Austin. Earlier this year, another eighth-grade girl said she would be playing for the same team. In January, an eighth-grade lacrosse player verbally committed to play the sport at Syracuse University. In May, another eighth-grade lacrosse player also agreed to play for Pennsylvania State University’s men’s team -- he was 13 years old.

“The current trend to recruit and commit prospective student-athletes before they matriculate high school or reach puberty is outrageous and detrimental to our sport,” Kim Simons Tortolani, the former head coach of Georgetown University’s women’s lacrosse team, wrote in a blog post in May. “The accelerated recruiting timeline has far-reaching effects: forcing early specialization in one sport, encouraging the growing practice of repeating an academic year in hopes of gaining an athletic advantage [and] promoting participation on club and travel teams at a younger age.”

Specializing in a specific sport at a young age is on the rise. According to a survey conducted by the NCAA last year, more than 60 percent of Division I college athletes said they started specializing in their sport by age 12, with many saying they did so hoping to play for a college team.

Early recruiting is occurring in the big-time sports like football and basketball, as well. Earlier this year, an eighth-grade linebacker in Florida received verbal offers from football programs at the University at Alabama and Iowa State, Michigan State, North Carolina State and West Virginia Universities. An eighth-grader football player in Louisiana also received verbal offers this year from Alabama and Louisiana State University.

In March, Florida State University offered a scholarship to an eighth-grade quarterback in Connecticut. He was at least the sixth football player to receive a scholarship offer from Florida State before entering high school.

“The pressure coaches exert on young students to make life-changing decisions in haste erodes their ability to make the right choice, and is therefore in direct conflict with the purpose and process of higher education,” Bob Scalise, Harvard University’s athletics director, wrote in a letter last year. “The NCAA needs to acknowledge the elephant in the room and engage in meaningful dialogue with its member institutions in order to find a workable solution to this alarming trend.”

There have been attempts to curb early recruiting before.

The Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association proposed rules similar to the Ivy League's proposals to the NCAA in 2009 and 2012, but the association declined to vote on them, with some members and association leaders saying that many existing recruiting rules are already unenforceable. The Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association submitted its own proposal last year, eliciting a similar response, and tried again in June.

“We expect there to be some negative reactions to our proposals, too,” said Harris of the Ivy League. “But our goal is twofold. We want to change the rules to change the culture, but we also want to at least push the NCAA to have these discussions. We’ve been trying for several years. We think the time is right.”

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Regional accreditors refocus on institutions with low grad rates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Regional accreditors refocus on institutions with low grad rates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jasmine Sewell (@jasminesewell20) September 20, 2016

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

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

Belmont did not release the name of the student.

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

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

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

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

Diversity
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Is this breaking news?: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belmont did not release the name of the student.

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

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

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

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

Diversity
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Berkeley may remove free online content rather than complying with disability law

The University of California, Berkeley has announced that it may eliminate free online content rather than comply with a U.S. Justice Department order that it make the content accessible to those with disabilities.

The content in question is all free and is for the general public to use. “The department’s findings do not implicate the accessibility of educational opportunities provided to our enrolled students,” said a statement on the situation by Cathy Koshland, vice chancellor for undergraduate education.

While the university has not made a final decision, she said, it may not be able to afford complying with the Justice Department’s recommendations on how to make the online material accessible.

“In many cases the requirements proposed by the department would require the university to implement extremely expensive measures to continue to make these resources available to the public for free,” she wrote. “We believe that in a time of substantial budget deficits and shrinking state financial support, our first obligation is to use our limited resources to support our enrolled students. Therefore, we must strongly consider the unenviable option of whether to remove content from public access.”

The announcement added that Berkeley hoped to avoid that path through additional discussions with the Justice Department.

The material in question involves courses provided by Berkeley through the edX platform for massive open online courses, and videos on YouTube and iTunes U.

The Department of Justice found that much of this online material is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires colleges to make their offerings accessible to people with disabilities.

The department investigation followed complaints by two individuals who are deaf — one of them a faculty member at Gallaudet University and one at its school for elementary and secondary school students. Both said that they are unable to use Berkeley online material because it has not been formatted for use by people with hearing disabilities.

Berkeley released the Justice Department letter finding the university in violation of ADA. The letter outlined numerous concerns not only about issues related to those who are deaf but also those who have visual disabilities:

  • Many videos do not have captions.
  • Many videos lack “an alternative way to access images or visual information (e.g., graphs, charts, animations, or urls on slides), such as audio description, alternative text, PDF files, or Word documents.)
  • Many documents “associated with online courses were inaccessible to individuals with vision disabilities who use screen readers because the document was not formatted properly.”
  • Some videos that had automatically generated captions were ‘inaccurate and incomplete.”

The review of online material involved 16 MOOCs available in March and April of 2015 and another 10 in January of this year. The Justice Department also based its analysis on reviews of 543 videos on Berkeley’s YouTube channel, and on 99 lectures in 27 courses on iTunes University.

The letter noted that Berkeley makes resources available to those creating online content who want that content to be accessible. But the letter faulted Berkeley for not requiring such steps.

A quick search of YouTube videos on various college and university channels suggest that there are many videos without captions.

As word has started to spread of the Justice Department findings, many criticized the Justice Department.

The blog of Reason, a libertarian magazine, wrote: “Special thanks to the DOJ — fulfilling its role here as the Handicapper General — for ensuring equal access to public education, where ‘equal access’ is defined as ‘no access for anybody.’:

But some on social media defended the Justice Department:

 

Lots of people blame JD, but Berkeley gets funds from disabled taxpayers, has needed to follow ADA laws elsewhere too for many many years.

— Ben Alpert (@soprano) September 17, 2016

 

 

Is this breaking news?: 

The University of California, Berkeley has announced that it may eliminate free online content rather than comply with a U.S. Justice Department order that it make the content accessible to those with disabilities.

The content in question is all free and is for the general public to use. "The department’s findings do not implicate the accessibility of educational opportunities provided to our enrolled students," said a statement on the situation by Cathy Koshland, vice chancellor for undergraduate education.

While the university has not made a final decision, she said, it may not be able to afford complying with the Justice Department's recommendations on how to make the online material accessible.

"In many cases the requirements proposed by the department would require the university to implement extremely expensive measures to continue to make these resources available to the public for free," she wrote. "We believe that in a time of substantial budget deficits and shrinking state financial support, our first obligation is to use our limited resources to support our enrolled students. Therefore, we must strongly consider the unenviable option of whether to remove content from public access."

The announcement added that Berkeley hoped to avoid that path through additional discussions with the Justice Department.

The material in question involves courses provided by Berkeley through the edX platform for massive open online courses, and videos on YouTube and iTunes U.

The Department of Justice found that much of this online material is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires colleges to make their offerings accessible to people with disabilities.

The department investigation followed complaints by two individuals who are deaf -- one of them a faculty member at Gallaudet University and one at its school for elementary and secondary school students. Both said that they are unable to use Berkeley online material because it has not been formatted for use by people with hearing disabilities.

Berkeley released the Justice Department letter finding the university in violation of ADA. The letter outlined numerous concerns not only about issues related to those who are deaf but also those who have visual disabilities:

  • Many videos do not have captions.
  • Many videos lack "an alternative way to access images or visual information (e.g., graphs, charts, animations, or urls on slides), such as audio description, alternative text, PDF files, or Word documents.)
  • Many documents "associated with online courses were inaccessible to individuals with vision disabilities who use screen readers because the document was not formatted properly."
  • Some videos that had automatically generated captions were 'inaccurate and incomplete."

The review of online material involved 16 MOOCs available in March and April of 2015 and another 10 in January of this year. The Justice Department also based its analysis on reviews of 543 videos on Berkeley's YouTube channel, and on 99 lectures in 27 courses on iTunes University.

The letter noted that Berkeley makes resources available to those creating online content who want that content to be accessible. But the letter faulted Berkeley for not requiring such steps.

A quick search of YouTube videos on various college and university channels suggest that there are many videos without captions.

As word has started to spread of the Justice Department findings, many criticized the Justice Department.

The blog of Reason, a libertarian magazine, wrote: "Special thanks to the DOJ — fulfilling its role here as the Handicapper General — for ensuring equal access to public education, where 'equal access' is defined as 'no access for anybody.':

But some on social media defended the Justice Department:

 

 

 

Is this breaking news?: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Books About Higher Education
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Is this breaking news?: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Books About Higher Education
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Jury finds Saint Louis U denied tenure to female professor based on her gender

Saint Louis University must pay $367,000 in damages to a former professor who alleged she was denied tenure because of her gender. That’s what a Missouri court decided late last week following a trial by jury. The university says it’s “disappointed” in the verdict and is reviewing its options.

The case is one of several high-profile tenure disputes across academe in recent years involving claims of gender discrimination. Historically, courts have been reluctant to question tenure decisions, given the traditional judicial deference given to higher education.

The plaintiff in the Saint Louis case, Cornelia Horn, was an assistant professor of theology from 2004 to 2012. Her complaint says that she was one of a handful of women in her department, and that out of 20 tenured professors, just two were female. It says she experienced “bullying and intimidation” from her male peers, which she was later retaliated against for reporting.

Horn’s attorney, Jonathan Berns, described the intimidation as cultural but hinging on two events. In the first, an older, male colleague sent a “belittling” email about a dispute over a textbook purchasing decision to Horn, copying several male colleagues. In the second, Horn was teaching when an male colleague entered the room yelling at her and “demeaning” her for allegedly using the wrong room. Berns said Horn believed the professor would have treated a male colleague “with more respect,” especially in front of students.

Horn reported her concerns in 2010 to her department chair and Saint Louis’s acting academic vice president, which led to a formal investigation. Several months later, she applied for tenure. Her department approved her bid in a split decision, but her department chair, the Reverend J. A. Wayne Hellmann, wrote a separate recommendation against tenure. In it, he cited the investigation as evidence of Horn’s lack of collegiality, Berns said, along with her requests for research leave. He also raised concerns about her effectiveness as a teacher; Berns said that while Horn did have some troubles with instruction earlier in her probationary period, she’d worked hard to correct them and had been rated highly as a teacher for the two years prior to the tenure decision. He said her research record was repeatedly praised.

A college-level committee and Horn’s dean approved her bid at the next level of review. But a university-level committee rejected the bid, relying heavily, Berns said, on Father Hellmann’s letter. That recommendation was forwarded to the academic vice president involved in the discrimination complaint, Manoj Patankar, who rejected Horn’s bid. She alleges that decision was based not on her credentials but on her speaking out against the culture of her department.

Horn appealed Patankar’s decision, but Saint Louis’s then president, the Reverend Lawrence Biondi, upheld it, according to the complaint.

Berns said much of the eight-day trial focused on demonstrating how Father Hellmann’s letter had tainted the decision-making process, and on the department’s “starkly different treatment for male and female professors” — especially in terms of promotion and tenure. Over 40 years, he said, the department promoted just one woman to associate professor with tenure, while a number of other women — including Horn — were either denied tenure or fired before they could apply. Yet virtually every male tenure-track professor was promoted over the same period, he said. (The second female tenured professor in Horn’s department was hired with tenure.)

The jury sided with Horn’s gender discrimination claim, 9 to 3, Berns said. The vote for the retaliation claim was 11 to 1 in Horn’s favor.

“Even though the university had detailed procedures for review, when discrimination was injected into the process, it corrupted and destroyed the legitimacy of the ultimate decision,” Berns said.

Father Hellmann could not immediately be reached for comment.

The university said in a statement that consideration of a faculty member’s application for promotion and tenure is a “significant decision,” as a successful bid “guarantees a faculty member a lifetime appointment.”

The university “has a robust process for evaluating applications for promotion and tenure and does not discriminate or retaliate against anyone because of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sexual orientation, marital status, military status, veteran status, gender expression/identity, genetic information, pregnancy or any other characteristics protected by law,” it said.

Horn initially wanted possible reinstatement, which is often sought in tenure disputes but rarely awarded. But Berns said she recently was offered a desirable position overseas, making the issue null.

Horn isn’t alone in alleging her gender disadvantaged her in the tenure process.

Kimberly Theidon, a professor, now the Henry J. Leir Chair in International Humanitarian Studies and a tenured professor of human security at Tufts University, in 2014 sued Harvard University after she was denied tenure in the anthropology department. The lawsuit is ongoing; Theidon in her complaint alleges that she was discriminated against on the basis of gender and retaliated against for speaking out against campus sexual assaults.

In another example, Kristen Stromberg Childers, a former assistant professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, sued that institution in 2014 for gender discrimination. She alleges her maternity leaves and family medical leave to take care of a sick child biased the tenure process against her, in part because her faculty peer evaluators called hers a “complicated case” in which it was “especially hard to judge productivity.” That case is also ongoing. Both Harvard and Penn have challenged the assertion that gender plays any role in tenure decisions.

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Cornelia Horn
Is this breaking news?: 

Saint Louis University must pay $367,000 in damages to a former professor who alleged she was denied tenure because of her gender. That’s what a Missouri court decided late last week following a trial by jury. The university says it’s “disappointed” in the verdict and is reviewing its options.

The case is one of several high-profile tenure disputes across academe in recent years involving claims of gender discrimination. Historically, courts have been reluctant to question tenure decisions, given the traditional judicial deference given to higher education.

The plaintiff in the Saint Louis case, Cornelia Horn, was an assistant professor of theology from 2004 to 2012. Her complaint says that she was one of a handful of women in her department, and that out of 20 tenured professors, just two were female. It says she experienced “bullying and intimidation” from her male peers, which she was later retaliated against for reporting.

Horn’s attorney, Jonathan Berns, described the intimidation as cultural but hinging on two events. In the first, an older, male colleague sent a “belittling” email about a dispute over a textbook purchasing decision to Horn, copying several male colleagues. In the second, Horn was teaching when an male colleague entered the room yelling at her and “demeaning” her for allegedly using the wrong room. Berns said Horn believed the professor would have treated a male colleague “with more respect,” especially in front of students.

Horn reported her concerns in 2010 to her department chair and Saint Louis’s acting academic vice president, which led to a formal investigation. Several months later, she applied for tenure. Her department approved her bid in a split decision, but her department chair, the Reverend J. A. Wayne Hellmann, wrote a separate recommendation against tenure. In it, he cited the investigation as evidence of Horn’s lack of collegiality, Berns said, along with her requests for research leave. He also raised concerns about her effectiveness as a teacher; Berns said that while Horn did have some troubles with instruction earlier in her probationary period, she’d worked hard to correct them and had been rated highly as a teacher for the two years prior to the tenure decision. He said her research record was repeatedly praised.

A college-level committee and Horn’s dean approved her bid at the next level of review. But a university-level committee rejected the bid, relying heavily, Berns said, on Father Hellmann's letter. That recommendation was forwarded to the academic vice president involved in the discrimination complaint, Manoj Patankar, who rejected Horn’s bid. She alleges that decision was based not on her credentials but on her speaking out against the culture of her department.

Horn appealed Patankar’s decision, but Saint Louis's then president, the Reverend Lawrence Biondi, upheld it, according to the complaint.

Berns said much of the eight-day trial focused on demonstrating how Father Hellmann's letter had tainted the decision-making process, and on the department’s “starkly different treatment for male and female professors” -- especially in terms of promotion and tenure. Over 40 years, he said, the department promoted just one woman to associate professor with tenure, while a number of other women -- including Horn -- were either denied tenure or fired before they could apply. Yet virtually every male tenure-track professor was promoted over the same period, he said. (The second female tenured professor in Horn's department was hired with tenure.)

The jury sided with Horn’s gender discrimination claim, 9 to 3, Berns said. The vote for the retaliation claim was 11 to 1 in Horn’s favor.

“Even though the university had detailed procedures for review, when discrimination was injected into the process, it corrupted and destroyed the legitimacy of the ultimate decision,” Berns said.

Father Hellmann could not immediately be reached for comment.

The university said in a statement that consideration of a faculty member’s application for promotion and tenure is a “significant decision,” as a successful bid “guarantees a faculty member a lifetime appointment.”

The university “has a robust process for evaluating applications for promotion and tenure and does not discriminate or retaliate against anyone because of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sexual orientation, marital status, military status, veteran status, gender expression/identity, genetic information, pregnancy or any other characteristics protected by law,” it said.

Horn initially wanted possible reinstatement, which is often sought in tenure disputes but rarely awarded. But Berns said she recently was offered a desirable position overseas, making the issue null.

Horn isn’t alone in alleging her gender disadvantaged her in the tenure process.

Kimberly Theidon, a professor, now the Henry J. Leir Chair in International Humanitarian Studies and a tenured professor of human security at Tufts University, in 2014 sued Harvard University after she was denied tenure in the anthropology department. The lawsuit is ongoing; Theidon in her complaint alleges that she was discriminated against on the basis of gender and retaliated against for speaking out against campus sexual assaults.

In another example, Kristen Stromberg Childers, a former assistant professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, sued that institution in 2014 for gender discrimination. She alleges her maternity leaves and family medical leave to take care of a sick child biased the tenure process against her, in part because her faculty peer evaluators called hers a “complicated case” in which it was “especially hard to judge productivity.” That case is also ongoing. Both Harvard and Penn have challenged the assertion that gender plays any role in tenure decisions.

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Cornelia Horn
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Palestine course at Berkeley is reinstated after criticisms of violating academic freedom

Less than a week after the University of California, Berkeley, suspended a student-run course on Palestine, the administration reversed its decision and brought it back.

The one-credit course, called Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis, was suspended last Tuesday after members of pro-Israel groups accused it of having “anti-Israel bias.” But the university administration claimed it suspended the course — a part of the DeCal program, which allows students to propose and lead their own for-credit courses — because the course leaders hadn’t followed the proper approval procedures and policies.

The course was reinstated Monday morning after a committee from the Department of Ethnic Studies reviewed the course, which has the purpose of examining “key historical events that have taken place in Palestine … through the lens of settler colonialism,” according to the syllabus.

“Nothing in the syllabus indicates that a single viewpoint is taught uncritically; on the contrary, the syllabus indicates that multiple viewpoints are welcomed and debated in the class,” wrote Shari Huhndorf, chair of ethnic studies, in a review of the course sent Sunday to Carla Hesse, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Palestine Legal, a nonprofit supporting the student course leader, Paul Hadweh, sent a letter to Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks condemning last week’s decision to suspend the course and alleging that the university violated First Amendment rights and the principles of academic freedom.

The move to suspend the course was criticized by others, too, prompting open letters from the 26 students enrolled in the course and an alumnus decrying the decision.

In a letter Monday morning, Hesse explained the decision, saying she met last week with Hadweh, along with the faculty sponsor of the course and Huhndorf, the ethnic studies chair. She wrote that she asked them work together to:

  • “Clarify how a course focused exclusively on Palestine was consistent with the academic mission of the Department of Ethnic Studies.”
  • “Assess whether the course description and syllabus had a particular political agenda.”
  • “Assess whether the stated objective of the course to ‘explore the possibilities of a decolonized Palestine’ potentially violated Regents Policy,” which prohibits political indoctrination in the classroom.

Along with a committee of four faculty members from ethnic studies, the department chair reviewed the course and recommended reinstatement. The dean accepted the review and the committee’s answers to her questions, and she reinstated the course. In addition, Hadweh worked with faculty members to revise the course description.

“They were cosmetic changes, nothing that changed the substance of the course,” Hadweh said in a phone interview.

Rather, the revisions were meant to clarify that the course complied with the Regents Policy. For instance, the amended syllabus added the sentence “Our analyses will utilize a comparative approach with an emphasis on scholarship in settler colonial studies.”

Although Hadweh is glad he gets to teach again, he is still angry with the university administration’s response and handling of the course. Besides the meeting with Hesse, Hadweh said he had no direct contact with university administration.

“The administration’s actions were inexcusable,” he said. “What they did flies in the face of any democratic process and the principles of academic freedom.”

Further, Hadweh — a senior studying peace and conflict studies — criticized the administration’s claim that he had not followed the correct procedures to obtain proper course approval.

“It has been determined that the facilitator for the course in question did not comply with policies and procedures that govern the review and approval of proposed courses for the DeCal program,” the original statement from Berkeley stated.

Specifically, the proposal had not been submitted to the dean of the College of Letters and Sciences. Although the dean is not required to approve the course, she is required to review it.

But Hadweh claims he was never required to submit the proposal to the dean.

Rather, the acting department chair at the time did not submit the proposal to the dean, clarified Dan Mogulof, executive director for communications and public affairs at Berkeley.

Palestine Legal and members of the Middle East Studies Association accused the administration of bowing to political pressure from pro-Israel groups who feared the course would be anti-Zionist proselytizing.

“The sequence of events surrounding the decision to suspend this course is particularly troubling, arousing suspicion that political groups based outside the university have been given undue influence over curricular matters that should be handled by faculty in accordance with established procedures,” a letter sent Friday from MESA to the chancellor stated.

A group of 42 Jewish and pro-Israel organizations signed a letter to the chancellor last week, calling on administrators to suspend the course because it “intended to indoctrinate students to hate the Jewish state and take action to eliminate it.”

The letter accused both Hadweh and the course’s faculty sponsor, Hatem Bazian, a lecturer in ethnic studies, of pushing anti-Zionist sentiments. It also claimed that the goal of the class was to teach students that Israel is an illegitimate state and that the readings have an anti-Israel bias.

“A review of the syllabus of Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis reveals that the course’s objectives, reading materials and guest speakers are politically motivated, meet our government’s criteria for anti-Semitism and are intended to indoctrinate students to hate the Jewish state and take action to eliminate it,” the letter stated.

Hadweh and Liz Jackson, a staff attorney at Palestine Legal, both rejected these accusations.

“This course, the syllabus is clear about this, is looking for a just solution,” Jackson said. “And that’s not about being anti-Jewish, that’s about looking for equality for all people in the area.”

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, the director of the AMCHA Initiative, who wrote the letter, said that if the dean’s concerns were addressed in a substantive way, then the reinstatement of the course would be a positive step. She hopes that after this controversy, all courses will go through a rigorous vetting process to make sure they do not violate the Regents Policy.

The Academic Senate will still review the course; the chair of the Senate could not immediately be reached for comment.

Teaching and Learning
Editorial Tags: 
Image Caption: 
Paul Hadweh
Is this breaking news?: 

Less than a week after the University of California, Berkeley, suspended a student-run course on Palestine, the administration reversed its decision and brought it back.

The one-credit course, called Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis, was suspended last Tuesday after members of pro-Israel groups accused it of having “anti-Israel bias.” But the university administration claimed it suspended the course -- a part of the DeCal program, which allows students to propose and lead their own for-credit courses -- because the course leaders hadn’t followed the proper approval procedures and policies.

The course was reinstated Monday morning after a committee from the Department of Ethnic Studies reviewed the course, which has the purpose of examining “key historical events that have taken place in Palestine … through the lens of settler colonialism,” according to the syllabus.

“Nothing in the syllabus indicates that a single viewpoint is taught uncritically; on the contrary, the syllabus indicates that multiple viewpoints are welcomed and debated in the class,” wrote Shari Huhndorf, chair of ethnic studies, in a review of the course sent Sunday to Carla Hesse, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Palestine Legal, a nonprofit supporting the student course leader, Paul Hadweh, sent a letter to Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks condemning last week's decision to suspend the course and alleging that the university violated First Amendment rights and the principles of academic freedom.

The move to suspend the course was criticized by others, too, prompting open letters from the 26 students enrolled in the course and an alumnus decrying the decision.

In a letter Monday morning, Hesse explained the decision, saying she met last week with Hadweh, along with the faculty sponsor of the course and Huhndorf, the ethnic studies chair. She wrote that she asked them work together to:

  • “Clarify how a course focused exclusively on Palestine was consistent with the academic mission of the Department of Ethnic Studies.”
  • “Assess whether the course description and syllabus had a particular political agenda.”
  • “Assess whether the stated objective of the course to ‘explore the possibilities of a decolonized Palestine’ potentially violated Regents Policy,” which prohibits political indoctrination in the classroom.

Along with a committee of four faculty members from ethnic studies, the department chair reviewed the course and recommended reinstatement. The dean accepted the review and the committee's answers to her questions, and she reinstated the course. In addition, Hadweh worked with faculty members to revise the course description.

“They were cosmetic changes, nothing that changed the substance of the course,” Hadweh said in a phone interview.

Rather, the revisions were meant to clarify that the course complied with the Regents Policy. For instance, the amended syllabus added the sentence “Our analyses will utilize a comparative approach with an emphasis on scholarship in settler colonial studies.”

Although Hadweh is glad he gets to teach again, he is still angry with the university administration’s response and handling of the course. Besides the meeting with Hesse, Hadweh said he had no direct contact with university administration.

“The administration’s actions were inexcusable,” he said. “What they did flies in the face of any democratic process and the principles of academic freedom.”

Further, Hadweh -- a senior studying peace and conflict studies -- criticized the administration’s claim that he had not followed the correct procedures to obtain proper course approval.

“It has been determined that the facilitator for the course in question did not comply with policies and procedures that govern the review and approval of proposed courses for the DeCal program,” the original statement from Berkeley stated.

Specifically, the proposal had not been submitted to the dean of the College of Letters and Sciences. Although the dean is not required to approve the course, she is required to review it.

But Hadweh claims he was never required to submit the proposal to the dean.

Rather, the acting department chair at the time did not submit the proposal to the dean, clarified Dan Mogulof, executive director for communications and public affairs at Berkeley.

Palestine Legal and members of the Middle East Studies Association accused the administration of bowing to political pressure from pro-Israel groups who feared the course would be anti-Zionist proselytizing.

“The sequence of events surrounding the decision to suspend this course is particularly troubling, arousing suspicion that political groups based outside the university have been given undue influence over curricular matters that should be handled by faculty in accordance with established procedures,” a letter sent Friday from MESA to the chancellor stated.

A group of 42 Jewish and pro-Israel organizations signed a letter to the chancellor last week, calling on administrators to suspend the course because it “intended to indoctrinate students to hate the Jewish state and take action to eliminate it.”

The letter accused both Hadweh and the course's faculty sponsor, Hatem Bazian, a lecturer in ethnic studies, of pushing anti-Zionist sentiments. It also claimed that the goal of the class was to teach students that Israel is an illegitimate state and that the readings have an anti-Israel bias.

“A review of the syllabus of Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis reveals that the course's objectives, reading materials and guest speakers are politically motivated, meet our government’s criteria for anti-Semitism and are intended to indoctrinate students to hate the Jewish state and take action to eliminate it,” the letter stated.

Hadweh and Liz Jackson, a staff attorney at Palestine Legal, both rejected these accusations.

“This course, the syllabus is clear about this, is looking for a just solution,” Jackson said. “And that’s not about being anti-Jewish, that’s about looking for equality for all people in the area.”

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, the director of the AMCHA Initiative, who wrote the letter, said that if the dean’s concerns were addressed in a substantive way, then the reinstatement of the course would be a positive step. She hopes that after this controversy, all courses will go through a rigorous vetting process to make sure they do not violate the Regents Policy.

The Academic Senate will still review the course; the chair of the Senate could not immediately be reached for comment.

Teaching and Learning
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MOOC-based master’s degree initiative expands globally

Fourteen universities around the world are today launching modular master’s degree programs in which students can complete up to half of the course work online, earn a credential and then decide whether they want to apply to pursue the full degre…

Fourteen universities around the world are today launching modular master’s degree programs in which students can complete up to half of the course work online, earn a credential and then decide whether they want to apply to pursue the full degree.

The launch of the 19 programs, known as MicroMasters, follows a pilot at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT has since early this year tested the model in its supply chain management program. Learners start the program by taking massive open online courses hosted on edX, the MOOC platform MIT helped found. After completing five MOOCs, learners who pay a fee can either call it quits and walk away with a certificate -- or apply and, if accepted to MIT, eventually earn a master’s of engineering in logistics.

The programs launching today follow a similar blueprint. Most of them consist of four to 10 MOOCs, representing anywhere from one-quarter to half of the master’s degrees they feed into. Learners pursuing the identity-verified credential -- a prerequisite for applying to the full degree program -- will typically pay about $1,000 for it. In the MIT MicroMasters, for example, each MOOC costs $150.

While learners can take the MOOCs free, those who pay get access to some additional features. Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, said some of the MOOC provider’s university partners were hesitant about offering credit for learners whose course work was graded by their peers. EdX will therefore filter learners who pay into separate cohorts, where their papers will be graded by instructors.

In addition to MIT’s supply chain management program, the lineup announced this morning focuses on in-demand fields such as artificial intelligence, offered by Columbia University, and user experience research and design, by the University of Michigan.

Each program also comes with a corporate endorsement. Walmart, for example, has endorsed the supply chain management program. In general, the endorsements serve as a stamp of approval from an industry partner, but Agarwal said edX is in discussions with companies about enrolling their own employees or inviting learners who complete the MicroMasters program to job interviews.

“I like to say it takes MOOCs to the next level,” Agarwal said, comparing MicroMasters programs to the stand-alone courses edX and other MOOC providers are more commonly known for.

While Agarwal stressed the pathway to credit as one of the signature features of the MicroMasters programs, it is not yet certain if the option of pursuing a master’s degree will appeal to MOOC learners. The MIT pilot, which began in February, has not yet reached the point where learners can decide if they want to apply to complete the degree.

The closest comparison may be Global Freshman Academy, an edX initiative run in partnership with Arizona State University. The initiative resembles the MicroMasters programs, but is intended for undergraduate students. The university offers a number of MOOCs on edX that learners can complete and -- if they are satisfied with their own performance -- pay to earn credit. But after the first round of MOOCs concluded late last year, only 323 of 34,086 initial registrants were eligible for credit.

The number of learners who pay to earn the credential may be one indicator. In MIT’s pilot, which to date has attracted more than 27,000 registrants, more than 3,500 are pursuing the paid credential -- about four times as many compared to a regular MOOC, Agarwal said.

Several of the universities involved in Tuesday’s launch said they don’t have any set goals for how many paying students they hope the programs will attract. James L. Hilton, vice provost for academic innovation at the University of Michigan, said it is “really hard to predict those kinds of things” since only one MicroMasters program has been piloted so far.

Michigan is launching three MicroMasters programs -- more than any of the other colleges involved -- which Hilton said reflects the university’s interest in experimenting with new forms of delivering education.

“An online education ought to be different from a face-to-face education, and this allows us to explore the interactions between both and figure out what each does best,” Hilton said in an interview. “It allows us to continue to experiment with ways to bring high-quality learning experiences to global and lifelong learners.”

Similarly, Jeremy Haefner, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Rochester Institute of Technology, said in an email that he expected “enrollments in the tens of thousands” but that a “smaller group” would probably opt for the paid credential and academic credit.

Agarwal said he expects other colleges will accept the MicroMasters programs as progress toward a degree. “We believe that a MicroMasters will start a new trend in academia where people will complete it and be able to find pathways to credit at a variety of universities,” he said.

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