Academic Freedom for the Southern Community

A federal appeals court has ruled that the First Amendment protected an adjunct instructor’s public complaints about how her employer, an Illinois community college, deals with people in her position.

In a decision handed down on Thursday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously held that the First Amendment precluded Moraine Valley Community College from firing Robin Meade, a part-time business instructor and adjunct-union head, for telling an international organization that her college mistreats adjuncts in ways that hurt students’ education.

The sort of retaliation alleged in Ms. Meade’s lawsuit is a common fear among adjunct instructors, who lack tenure and, at most colleges, can be removed simply by being denied work in the future. Such retaliation appears especially likely to be directed at adjunct instructors with union-leadership positions, which put them at odds with administrators. At the time of her dismissal, in August 2013, Ms. Meade had been president of the Moraine Valley Adjunct Faculty Organization, a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

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October 27, 2014 – 5:32pm

The growing presence and influence of for-profit higher education internationally is worrisome and seems to be attracting less attention that it deserves. Supporters of the trend towards more for-profit universities, like to claim that this sector expands access. This may be true to some extent but access to what? For-profit higher education has the primary objective (of course) of generating profit. It is possible that for-profit universities could offer a respectable alternative to private non-profits and public institutions, yet to do so would imply significant changes to the current model, starting with more selective admissions as well as more intensive student support programs—both with significant implications for revenue. Given the anecdotes that are surfacing, it would seem that the educational product is often of dubious quality with more concern given to profits than student success— completion rates tend to low and (where government subsidized loans are available) default rates high.

In the US, only 10% of the undergraduate enrollment is in private for-profit universities yet these students account for 25% of federal loan dollars and 50% of the loan defaults. Shockingly, some of the publicly-traded college corporations receive nearly 90% of their revenue from federal student aid programs. As a result, these private business enterprises profit as a result of the considerable investment of public funds. Yet, in a recent article published in Washington Monthly ranking “America’s Worst Colleges” for-profit universities dominate their tables.

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Diversity in Academe

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The path to college is hardly easy for black men, who often struggle with poverty, inequities in public schools, discrimination, and frustrations like those that have risen with the recent shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. This special report looks beyond statistics and features the struggles, successes, and voices of black male students, faculty members, and administrators.

(Link to some articles some are free access)

How to Treat Adjuncts

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October 24, 2014

It is the time of year when graduate students, unemployed Ph.D.s, contingent faculty, and various rubberneckers are clogging the lanes of the internet looking for job announcements. And, in spite of improvement in certain areas of the economy, there are few to be seen.

Amid the gloom, as job hopefuls often do, I found myself imagining what I would like to do if I did find myself on the tenure track after this year. One of my increasingly prosaic fantasies is that I would be able to act as a good mentor to future contingent faculty, who will no doubt be a part of our academic labor ecosystem for some years to come. (Only about 30 percent of faculty positions are now full-time, tenure-line positions, although the composition of course varies by the type of institution.) If my years in adjunct purgatory do indeed come to an end, these are some of the basic practices I would like to put in place that would show consideration for adjuncts and lecturers.  (To understand my perspective, here is my story.) And if I spend another year atoning, then perhaps others can do the job for me. Here, then, is a brief guide for tenure-line faculty to treating your contingent colleagues with respect.


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By Max Lewontin


How do community-college students move from their first class to their first job? Plenty of educators and analysts would like to know more about that process.

A research institute called RTI International said on Monday that its newly revamped web tool could provide answers. The tool, known as The Completion Arch, is an effort to provide a data-driven look at the experiences of the nation’s approximately 10 million community-college students.

The Completion Arch brings together 500 measures drawn from federal and state data about colleges across the country, such as students’ transfer rates to four-year institutions, how many students are placed in remedial courses, and the average time it takes them to earn a degree.

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New federal rules issued on Monday aim to make campuses safer by requiring colleges to train students and employees on preventing sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking. The rules also include new categories for identifying hate crimes (gender identity and national origin) and specify that students can choose advisers, including lawyers, to accompany them in campus disciplinary proceedings.

“These regulatory changes provide new tools to improve campus safety,” Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, told reporters on Friday.

One advocate called the new rules momentous. They represent “the most significant change in campus-sexual-assault policy in 20 years,” said S. Daniel Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative of the VTV Family Outreach Foundation, a group representing survivors and victims of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007.

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Coursera, the online education company, announced on Wednesday that it was expanding a program that awards special certificates to students who pass multiple MOOCs.

The company unveiled the program, called Specializations, earlier this year. The idea was to create certificates that, while not supplanting traditional degrees, carry more weight than a certificate of completion from a single massive open online course.

The program, which requires learners to take Coursera’s fee-based “Signature Track” courses, apparently has been a success: The company is adding 18 new Specializations—mostly practical, in-demand fields like project management, cloud computing, and data mining. Students who complete the sequences can expect to pay $100 to $300, depending on the number of courses, according to a spokeswoman.

Colleges so far have succeeded in preventing free online courses from disrupting their tuition-based degree programs, but MOOC providers are still hopeful that they can create alternative credentials that have currency with workers and employers.


October 15, 2014

The American Association of University Professors Foundation is granting $5,000 in temporary financial aid to Steven Salaita, via its Academic Freedom Fund. The controversial scholar, who is currently jobless, is contesting the revocation of his tenured faculty appointment to the American Indian studies program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The institution pulled Salaita’s offer this summer due to his anti-Israel remarks on Twitter, which many have called uncivil and unbecoming of an academic. Still, many of those who object to Salaita’s tweets say they are protected speech and should not have cost him his appointment.

Both the foundation’s governing board and the greater AAUP say that Salaita wasn’t fired or “unhired,” but rather “barred from teaching” the classes he already had been assigned to teach this semester. AAUP maintains this kind of “suspension” should be paid. The University of Illinois Board of Trustees formally rejected Salaita’s professor candidacy last month, indicating he does not have a job there.

A faculty committee at the university is looking into the circumstances surrounding Salaita’s retracted offer. A spokeswoman for Salaita’s legal team at the Center for Constitutional Rights said he is preparing to file a lawsuit.

Right to Know Why Not

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October 9, 2014

Some 28 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, $1.4 million in research funding and strong evaluations along the way – but still no tenure. The only thing more disturbing to Dylan Kesler, an assistant professor of wildlife sciences at the University of Missouri at Columbia, than his failed bid this summer is that he still hasn’t been told why. Kesler thinks he’s being retaliated against for blowing the whistle on alleged misuses of federal research funds in his department. But he says can’t confirm that or appeal the university’s decision without a formal reason for his denial.

While admittedly more complicated than most tenure disputes, Kesler’s case raises a basic question: Does a professor have a right to know why he or she didn’t earn tenure?

The American Association of University Professors says yes. Its Statement on Procedural Standards in the Renewal or Nonrenewal of Faculty Appointments recommends that “in the event of a decision not to renew an appointment, the faculty member should be informed of the decision in writing, and, upon request, be advised of the reasons which contributed to that decision.” The statement also says that the faculty member should be able to request reconsideration of the unsatisfactory decision.


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By Kelly Field


After years of negotiation, lawsuits, and more negotiation, the Education Department is preparing to release this month the final version of its controversial “gainful employment” rule. For-profit and community colleges, who are pushing for changes in the measure, are on the edges of their seats.

As currently written, the rule would judge career and technical programs based on their graduates’ default rates and debt-to-earnings ratios. Programs that exceeded the cutoffs would become ineligible to award federal aid—a death sentence for most.

The department’s goals are laudable. It hopes to shield students from programs that leave them saddled with debt they can’t repay. But its draft rule comes with several potential pitfalls. Here are five:

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