Academic Freedom for the Southern Community

By Beckie Supiano

There can be lots of variation underneath a college’s overall graduation rate. Recently, a colleague here at The Chronicle stumbled across an unusually detailed breakdown of graduation rates that drove the point home.

The breakdown, which was compiled by the Indiana University system’s institutional-research office, might not seem all that revelatory at first. All colleges that receive federal financial aid report graduation rates for some subgroups—by race and sex, for instance—to the federal government. But the Indiana data go further, looking at categories like residency status, first-semester grades, and more.

That gives us a close glimpse of what the top-line data leave out. Let’s take a look:

The system’s overall graduation rate is 58.2 percent.

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September 30, 2014 – 7:25am

With a number of leading for-profits beset by legal and financial woes, enrollment in online education leveling off, and MOOCs off the front pages, one might reasonably conclude that the threats to higher ed posed by what was hailed as “disruptive innovation” have abated. 

No so.

At this point, institutions are disrupting themselves from the inside out, not waiting for the sky to fall. True disruption occurs when existing institutions begin to embrace the forces of transformation.

The innovations taking place may not seem to be as dramatic as those that loomed in 2012, but the consequences are likely be even more far-reaching, challenging established business and staffing models.

Let’s begin by looking at ten innovations that are slowly but surely being incorporated into higher ed, and then to five new educational models that are gradually emerging.

Innovation 1:  Learning Analytics
Learning analytics, data dashboards, and predictive algorithms are rapidly spreading across universities and community colleges. These tools offer innovative ways to predict student success, measure achievement of learning outcomes, and drive improvements in admissions, pedagogy, and student support services. And newer endeavors such as Civitas Learning, a leading proponent of actionable analytics, are on the rise, which can alert students to toxic course combinations and provide an early warnings of at-risk behavior to faculty, advisers, and the students themselves.

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James D. Herbert tells one of his patients to go into the bathroom—with a laptop.

Although his request may seem odd, Mr. Herbert, chair of Drexel University’s psychology department, in Philadelphia, is with a client.

Sort of.

Mr. Herbert is one of many mental-health professionals across the country who use teletherapy to counsel patients online. With this particular patient, Mr. Herbert is treating obsessive compulsive disorder, which results in frequent handwashing. Through teletherapy, Mr. Herbert can interact with the patient while he is in the actual area where the behavior manifests itself.

The trend of treating patients online is spreading rapidly at the nation’s colleges, especially to deal with anxiety, one of the leading reasons students turn to counseling centers.

According to a 2013 survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, nearly 6 percent of the 380 colleges participating in the study now use some form of teletherapy. While that number might not seem high, it’s up from less than 0.5 percent in 2012.

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Habitually Disrespected?

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September 25, 2014

Faculty members at San Antonio’s Alamo Colleges criticized Chancellor Bruce Leslie last year for trying to bump a humanities course from the core curriculum, to make room for a required class based in part on the popular self-help book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Their complaints prompted the regional accreditor to express concern about the class and shared governance at the institution, and the proposed requirement is on hold for now (although it’s being offered as an elective).

But faculty members say that the new academic year has brought with it new concerns about Alamo’s leaders’ commitment to shared governance – and respect.

“When the word comes down that we’re supposed to be yanking information about degrees off our websites, we tend to get a little concerned,” said Celita DeArmond, a librarian at San Antonio College, the Alamo system’s largest campus, and president of its American Association of University Professors advocacy chapter. “Unfortunately, the faculty don’t have a lot of trust in the chancellor based on past incidents with him.”

Currently at issue is a memo from Alamo’s vice chancellor for academic success informing faculty and staff that the college’s longstanding, non-vocational academic programs – something like majors – will be restructured and will no longer appear on students’ diplomas. Instead, the Alamo Colleges starting this academic year will issue two more generic degrees – an associate of arts and an associate of science, with no additional program information.

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Blumenthal @ SCSU

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New proposal to forgive some student loans

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Bogged down by student loans? There’s a proposal to change the way college grads would have to pay back their student loans if they go into a certain public service professions.

“Sometimes it’s concerning when I think about getting the right job,” Southern Connecticut State University freshman Debra Denhart said. “You hope you can pay back the loans.”

“It worries me because it’s a lot of money,” freshman Steve Dickerson said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal is trying to calm some of those worries for people going into public service. “Student loan debt is at an all time high,” the senator said at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven Wednesday. He discussed a proposed reform to what’s called the “public service loan forgiveness program.”

Right now, you have to complete 10 years of public service and you’ll receive relief from your loans. This impacts people who work in education, public safety and health. If you don’t make it to ten years you’re out of luck. Blumenthal wants to change that.

“Give people who graduate with a lot of debt the ability to work it down over a couple or three years rather than the 10 years that is mandatory right now,” Blumenthal said. “It’s an all or nothing deal. I want to make it more flexible.”

“Hearing this I definitely think it would be a help,” SCSU freshman Amani Richardson said.

“You might want to change your major when you hear something like that,” Denhart said. “You know that could impact your decision.”

Blumenthal says he plans on bringing up the matter in Washington, and possibly adopt the reform before the session ends this year.

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September 24, 2014

Many adjuncts wonder why colleges that employ them year after year, giving them good reviews course after course, seem to have no interest in them when tenure-track jobs open up. Several legal court cases suggest that bias against adjuncts may be linked to age discrimination.

“Whether this is a definite trend or not, I don’t know, but there’s been an increase of these cases, and that’s a good thing,” said Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy group. “We know anecdotally that is a problem and we hear about it all the time.”

Last week, the Washington State Supreme Court said that a longtime adjunct instructor of English at Clark College who accused the institution of age discrimination in not selecting her for a tenure-track position had enough of a case for it to proceed to trial. That court’s decision overturned several lower courts’ rulings in favor of Clark, which claimed that Kathryn Scrivener was the lowest-performing of four faculty-backed candidates interviewed for two open positions. Both eventually went to candidates under 40, who were selected by the president and vice president. But Scrivener, who began at the college in 1994 as a part-time adjunct and had been a “temporary” full-time instructor since 1999, said ageism was at play. She was 55 at the time.

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Florida State University’s Board of Trustees voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to name John E. Thrasher, a powerful longtime state lawmaker, as their institution’s next president, defying faculty members and students who had favored other candidates with more-traditional academic backgrounds and who denounced the selection process as tainted by political favoritism.

Some board members, in voicing support at their meeting for Mr. Thrasher, a Republican state senator who was the board’s chairman 10 years ago, expressed hope that he would be able to use his political skills to mend the campus’s divisions over his selection. One such trustee, Joseph Gruters, predicted that Mr. Thrasher would win over faculty members by securing additional state funds to raise their salaries. That way, he said, “everyone will be happy.”

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September 23, 2014

Recently there has been much debate about the proposed TEACH Act.  As the landscape in higher education has evolved, and most educational opportunities now require use of  electronic and information technology, institutions have been left without an effective structure for taking access for all into account. Currently, institutions have only lawsuits and enforcement actions to guide them; the point of the TEACH Act is to pave the way for consistent national guidance. The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) supports the proposed legislation and seeks to clarify a few points.

It is important to remember that the TEACH Act comes directly from a recommendation made in thAccessible Instructional Materials (AIM) Commission Report, and that the AIM Commission was authorized within the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008 and had representation of AHEAD as well as additional representation from both two-year and four-year colleges, advocacy groups, service providers, and publishers.

In addition, it is helpful to take a close look at the TEACH Actlanguage itself, and compare it to the arguments being raised in op-eds such as the recent “Good Intentions, Bad Legislation,” published by Inside Higher Ed. While there are several arguments that were raised within the opinion piece that warrant a closer look, one particular statement claimed: “Rather than simply providing helpful, voluntary guidelines, the TEACH Act would effectively require colleges to only use technologies that meet guidelines created by a federal agency, or risk being sued.”

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“I get it,” the professor for my short-story course said, going over the syllabus on the first day of class. She was referring to her cellphone policy, which is basically a have-some-sort-of-decorum-I-beg-you rule. She asks us to be polite and use our good judgement.

“This is second nature to you guys,” she said, holding an invisible phone in her hand. “When I was in college, I would daydream about that guy I’d been seeing,” picture him, “and I’d tune out the lecture to wonder if he’d be at coffeehouse after class or not. You have Candy Crush.”

In high school, teachers used their sternest voices to give the “Put it away” command, confiscating smartphone after smartphone from students who did not—could not—abide by a cellphone ban. Everything a student is exposed to must go through a filter of distraction, the material taking a precarious path toward retention past Instagram and 2048.

My short-story professor realized this and perhaps thought, If my students can’t control themselves, what hope do I have?

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‘It’s On Us’

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September 22, 2014

By Jake New


WASHINGTON — The White House launched a major public awareness campaign about campus sexual assault on Friday — the aim of which, President Obama said, is no less than to “fundamentally shift” how the country thinks about campus sexual assault.

“We are going to organize campus by campus, city by city, state by state,” Obama said. “This entire country is going to understand what this is about, and we’re going to put a stop to it.”

The campaign, called “It’s on Us,” encourages student bystanders to intervene when they see situations that could lead to sexual assault, as well as attempts to change harmful attitudes that young men may have about women and sex. The breadth of the campaign is expansive, with the White House enlisting support from Hollywood, Washington, and campuses across the country. But some sexual assault advocates worry that altering cultural norms to such a degree will be a taller order than the campaign can fill, and that it could divert attention from more policy-driven prevention efforts.

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