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Conservative religious colleges are taking a victory lap after the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to an abortion established in Roe v. Wade. While many secular institutions issued condemnations of the decision, conservative religious colleges are celebrating a win against abortion rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday issued a 6-to-3 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to reverse the long-standing federally protected right to obtain an abortion. Some conservative states with so-called trigger laws have already outlawed abortion, literally changing the rules around reproductive health in moments Friday morning.
But among religious colleges, the response has not been uniform. While conservative institutions are celebrating, more moderate or liberal religious colleges have issued neutral statements, and some have even condemned the ruling.The Victory Lap
Liberty University, the evangelical university in Virginia founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell in 1971—shortly before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973—is among the religious universities noting their long-standing opposition to abortion.
“Today, on behalf of Liberty University, I want to express our gratitude to Almighty God for the landmark decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States. While this does not effectively end abortion in America, it is a monumental step in the direction of protecting life and placing that decision squarely in the hands of the American people,” Liberty University president Jerry Prevo said in a statement released Friday. “For nearly 50 years, Liberty University students, faculty, and staff have prayed, volunteered, and advocated for the life of mothers and their unborn babies. The Liberty student body has led the way and marched year after year, prayed on the steps of the Supreme Court, and committed their lives to pro-life causes. As Liberty University president, I am proud that we are now officially training the first Post Roe-v-Wade generation of leaders who will be Champions for Christ to continue to advocate for the life of mothers and their unborn babies.”
Liberty University has hosted numerous antiabortion speakers and events over the years; bused students to Washington, D.C., to support Supreme Court nominees who opposed the right to abortion; and revoked recognition of its Democratic student group because the organization’s stance on abortion and other issues clashed with university doctrines.
Liberty did not respond to a request for additional comment.
Franciscan University of Steubenville, a Catholic institution in Ohio, also marked the news Friday in a statement from its president and faculty members celebrating the fall of abortion rights.
“I am delighted the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, a ruling that has wounded the soul of our country. Roe never had solid legal grounding, and I am pleased the justices had the courage to rectify the error and strike it down. I am also well aware that this decision does not mean the end of abortion in our country, and so, we who are pro-life still have much work to do, continuing to aid mothers in difficult circumstances and being instruments of healing for those who have lost a child through abortion, ” Father Dave Pivonka, FUS president, said in a statement.
A university spokesperson told Inside Higher Ed by email that students formed a pro-life club in 1973, in the immediate aftermath of Roe v. Wade, which continues to be one of the most active organizations on campus. Over the years students have protested abortion in numerous ways, including by holding prayer vigils and protests, as well as by blocking the entrances of abortion clinics. The university is also home to the Tomb of the Unborn Child, where seven fetuses are buried.
“Our statement reflects the Catholic and Franciscan values of Franciscan University of Steubenville and our deeply held conviction of the sacredness and dignity of all human life,” Franciscan University of Steubenville spokesperson Lisa Ferguson wrote.
The Catholic University of America likewise celebrated the ruling.
“Today, in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court formally overruled Roe v. Wade,” Catholic University president John Garvey said in a statement. “This landmark decision changes our thinking about abortion in two ways. It rejects the unholy idea that there is a constitutional right to kill unborn children. And it returns responsibility for judgments about the permissibility of abortion regulations to the elected representatives of the people. Some state legislatures have already adopted plans for promoting abortion more enthusiastically than ever; others will greatly restrict the practice. Our national debates about abortion are not over. They have just moved to a different forum. Now we will all have a say in deciding how best to care for mothers and children. That is a great privilege and a great challenge.”
He added that since “unplanned pregnancies are a part of life,” Catholic University intends to “convene a working group to look for ways we can be more welcoming to mothers and babies.”Treading Lightly
Other religious institutions were less direct. The Reverend John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, offered a seemingly neutral statement.
“As a Catholic university, Notre Dame is committed to the sanctity of all human life, and I have for many years joined with others in advocating for the protection of unborn life. We acknowledge the divisions among people of good will on the question of abortion, and the controversy that has endured in our nation for the past fifty years,” Father Jenkins wrote. “I hope that today’s Supreme Court decision, which returns the question of abortion to voters and their elected representatives, will provide an occasion for sober deliberation and respectful dialogue. We must work with those who share our views and particularly with those who don’t, as we examine the profound and complex moral, legal and social questions involved. We urge everyone to bring to these discussions a generous spirit and, above all, strive to establish laws, policies and programs that ensure equality for women and support for mothers and their children.”
Asked about the message, a Notre Dame official offered little elaboration.
“Anticipating the court’s decision, Father Jenkins wrote his statement after speaking to several people. It arose less from an institutional strategy, than from his reflection on what is needed in our nation at this time,” Dennis Brown, spokesperson for Notre Dame, said by email.
Seattle University, a Jesuit institution, issued a statement that seemed to straddle both sides.
“Our community, like the American polity as a whole (including the American Catholic community), is made up of people with a wide range of perspectives on yesterday’s decision. Some are celebrating Dobbs as a long overdue victory for the protection of vulnerable human beings,” Seattle University president Eduardo M. Peñalver wrote. “Others are mourning an erosion of the autonomy of those experiencing unwanted or unsafe pregnancies or those whose rights may be undermined in the coming years by the sweeping scope of the Court’s reasoning. We recognize this diversity of perspectives in the belief that reasoned and respectful deliberation can bring us closer to a truth that honors the dignity of every person.”
A spokesperson did not provide additional information on Seattle University’s stance.A Rare Condemnation
Emory University, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church—and located in Georgia, where abortion could soon be banned—issued a statement disagreeing with the Supreme Court decision, a rare move among religious colleges. Emory’s response lands closer to comments from public peer institutions than from religious colleges.
A statement from Emory president Gregory L. Fenves called the ruling “a painful regression.” Fenves also warned of the challenges to come, including for Emory’s obstetrics program.
“The Supreme Court ruling will affect legislation in many states, including Georgia,” he wrote. “As a university and as an employer, Emory is highly likely to face new limits on the reproductive health care coverage we can offer our students, faculty, and staff. We are working closely with partner organizations throughout the state to review and adapt to these changes. We are also collaborating with national associations to make sure health care students, residents, fellows, and providers can continue to train in—and practice—world-class obstetrics at Emory.”
An Emory spokesperson declined to elaborate on the university’s statement.Unpacking the Responses
Colleges, like businesses, have brands to worry about. And how colleges communicate about this Supreme Court decision—among other issues—signals what they value as an institution. Messages are tailored to their constituents: employees, alumni and current and prospective students. For some religious colleges, their statements on the Dobbs decision could be easily linked to the values they’ve long espoused. Others struck a more nuanced tone, trying to appease diverse constituencies.
Erin Hennessy, a vice president at TVP Communications, noted that religious institutions aren’t monolithic, and neither are the constituents they serve. For example, some religious colleges may have to consider both conservative, older alumni and younger, more liberal students.
“As colleges and universities think through immediate and longer-term responses to the changes brought about by the reversal of Roe and [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey, they’re going to be leaning on their mission, their relationship with their religious body and their knowledge of what their students, faculty, staff, alumni and donors expect from them,” Hennessy wrote to Inside Higher Ed via email. “It’ll be a tough balancing act, and I expect we’ll see just as many religiously affiliated institutions step carefully here as we will see those who strike an outright celebratory tone.”Religious CollegesEditorial Tags: Religious collegesReligionSupreme CourtWomenImage Source: STEFANI REYNOLDS/Contributor/AFP/Getty ImagesImage Caption: Antiabortion activists demonstrate outside the Supreme Court.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0Most Popular: 3In-Article Advertisement High: 6In-Article related stories: 9In-Article Advertisement Low: 12
Women are participating in college sports at higher rates than in the past, but men’s participation still outpaces women’s—and the funding gap between women’s and men’s programs continues to widen, according to a recent report by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The report, released Thursday by the NCAA inclusion office, marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs that receive federal funds and is well-known for opening up opportunities in college women’s sports.
“Title IX has been a federal law for 50 years,” the report reads. “This milestone anniversary marks an opportune time to ask why aren’t we there yet? How can we work together to eliminate sex discrimination in education? How can we succeed at providing equitable intercollegiate athletics participation opportunities; at using resources to provide equitable treatment and to create equitable experiences for all student-athletes; and at hiring and retaining diverse leaders who reflect the demographics of the increasingly diverse student-athlete population and serve as impactful role models?”
The report found that the number of women competing in college sports has increased significantly over the decades. The overall women’s participation rate in college athletics was 43.9 percent in 2020, compared to 27.8 percent in 1982, when the NCAA started hosting women’s championships across divisions.
“The number of women competing in college sports is an enormous lift from 50 years ago,” said Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.
About 47 percent of athletes in Division I were women in 2020, compared to only about 26 percent in 1982. However, women made up 54 percent of the student body in Division I institutions in 2020, so the gender breakdown of athletes in the division was still out of pace with that of the student body.
Meanwhile, Divisions II and III had lower participation by women relative to their male counterparts. Division II had a 15.4 percent gap in participation rates between men and women’s sports in 2020, and Division III had a 16 percent gap, according to the report.
Opportunities in men’s college sports have grown at a slightly faster rate than women’s sports in the last two decades. Male student athletes gained nearly 73,000 participation opportunities between 2002 and 2020, while female athletes gained more than 67,000.
“Sport was a domain dominated by boys and men in our country for many decades before Title IX opened the doors for educational and athletics opportunities for girls and women,” Amy Wilson, NCAA managing director of inclusion and the author of the report, wrote in an email. “That ‘head start’ for men in the sports world in terms of acceptance and opportunities means we need continued progress for girls and women. I do not think the cause for lagging participation rates is that female student-athletes are less interested in college sports participation opportunities.”
An especially stark finding was that Division I athletic departments typically spend twice as much on men’s programs compared to women’s programs, with the largest disparity in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, the roughly 130 institutions that play big-time football. The report found a 23 percent difference in total spending between men’s and women’s athletics programs in Division I and an 8 percent difference in spending in Divisions II and III. The gap in total expenses increased three percentage points in Division I, one percentage point in Division II and stayed the same in Division III over the last five years.
These findings come after an external review of gender equity in NCAA championships, commissioned by the NCAA and conducted by an outside law firm last summer, which found an approximately $35 million spending gap between the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in 2019.
Across multiple reports on gender equality in sports, “we’re seeing consistent findings in terms of clear increases in opportunities for girls and women,” said Ellen J. Staurowsky, a professor of sports media at Ithaca College whose research focuses on equity in college athletics. “We’re seeing findings that continue to affirm the fact that Title IX did not destroy men’s sports. That misperception had been prevalent for so long. We’re still seeing tremendous gaps in terms of resource allocation.”
She believes there needs to be much more transparency regarding how athletic departments spend their budgets.
“We need to see more specifics about where the money is actually flowing,” she said.
Wilson said she hopes the report motivates presidents, chancellors and athletic department heads to reflect on their individual institutions’ practices and “prioritize equity in athletics.”
“I hope the disparities in the overall data spur campus and athletics department leadership to recommit to reviewing their participation opportunities, athletics’ financial aid and student-athlete experiences and treatment in their women’s and men’s athletics programs,” she said.
Women also occupy relatively few leadership positions in college sports, especially women from underrepresented backgrounds. They hold about a quarter of NCAA head coaching and athletics director positions and 30 percent of conference commissioner positions. Meanwhile, only 16 percent of female head coaches of women’s teams and female athletics directors were minority women.
Lapchick found the lack of women’s athletic leadership noted in the report to be especially jarring. He believes it should be mandatory for athletics departments to have diverse pools of candidates for positions to ensure more gender and racial diversity and pointed to the “Russell rule,” adopted by the West Coast Conference, as a model. It requires member institutions to include a candidate from a historically underrepresented background in the pool of final candidates for every athletic director, senior administrator, head coach and full-time assistant coach position in the athletic department.
“It’s my hope that … 10 years from now, 20 years, whatever reports we issue show we’re more closely following equality for both race and gender in the years ahead,” he said.StudentsEditorial Tags: AthleticsNCAAImage Source: Steph Chambers/Getty ImagesIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0Most Popular: 3In-Article Advertisement High: 6In-Article related stories: 9In-Article Advertisement Low: 12
Science is a meritocracy. The merit of scientists’ ideas matters much more than whether a scientist is Black or white, a man or a woman, and is gay or straight. Right?
Not so fast, says a new book, Misconceiving Merit: Paradoxes of Excellence and Devotion in Academic Science and Engineering (University of Chicago Press). The book is by two scholars of work and gender. Mary Blair-Loy is professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Competing Devotions: Career and Family Among Women Executives. Erin A. Cech is associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan. She is the author of The Trouble With Passion: How Searching for Fulfillment at Work Fosters Inequality.
Blair-Loy and Cech studied more than 500 STEM professors at a top research university to reveal how unequal and unfair outcomes can emerge alongside commitments to objectivity and excellence. The authors find that STEM in academe harbors dominant cultural beliefs that not only perpetuate the mistreatment of scientists from underrepresented groups but hinder innovation.
They responded to questions via email.
Q: How did you identify the university you studied? Can you offer any clues about it?
A: Our goal was to study a public research-intensive (R-1) university with strong STEM programs, a university commitment to equity and fairness, and, as much as possible, transparent academic personnel systems. Our case university fulfills these criteria. There, the academic advancement process goes through different levels of review with checks and balances, and decisions at each step and their rationale are made available to the professor under review. The salary and advancement level of all faculty at this university are made public. If fair practices exist anywhere in academic STEM, they should be in place here. Nonetheless, we document how many underrepresented faculty continue to experience devaluation, despite similar productivity metrics across demographic groups.
This case university also has a roughly similar size and student-faculty ratio as other comparably ranked universities in the U.S. Eighty-one percent of our survey sample received their Ph.D.s from a university currently ranked in the top 50 nationally or globally. Our supplemental analysis of data from the STEM Inclusion Study, which includes data on over 7,000 STEM academics from four-year institutions around the country, finds that the cultural beliefs we identify are similarly salient among STEM academics across the U.S. These similarities suggest that the processes and beliefs we identify are present more broadly in academic STEM.
Q: What’s wrong with the belief that science is a meritocracy?
A: The belief in objective, meritocratic evaluation is sacred in academic science and broadly shared across demographics and disciplines. Most believe they know excellence when they see it and that scientists and administrators can identify those making the greatest scientific contributions and reward them fairly. Yet there are several problems with this belief. We’ll briefly mention four.
First, in many instances, this belief is not supported by evidence. Our case study combines four powerful, layered sources of data: administrative data on all tenured or tenure-track STEM faculty members at the case university; a detailed survey on over half of these faculty; in-depth interviews with 85 of them; and a database with external, standardized metrics of publications and grants—outputs that STEM faculty and administrators regard as indicators of productivity and visibility.
Our quantitative analyses show that net of department and advancement level, there are no average differences in the productivity metrics or in time spent on research by gender, race/ethnicity or parenthood. Yet faculty who seem to conform to cultural schemas of excellence and devotion are more likely to be seen as excellent, net of their productivity.
Second, we find that meritocracy therefore often functions as an ideology that justifies the greater respect and resources disproportionately given to some faculty (including white and Asian men and/or assertive faculty) compared to others, who are often viewed as less excellent (disproportionately Black and Latinx men, women of all racial/ethnic backgrounds, mothers, and/or LGBTQ faculty), even though they are just as productive.
We have unusually deep and broad evidence from our case study university. Our results are consistent with many studies on academic STEM populations and help explain the durable underrepresentation of many groups.
Third, this faith in meritocracy distorts the objective and analytical thinking that scientists pride themselves on. In interviews, we witnessed smart, well-meaning faculty tie themselves in knots trying to explain away robust evidence of bias and discrimination in STEM to maintain their belief that STEM is a meritocracy.
Fourth, this broadly shared belief that STEM already functions as a meritocracy can be bad for science.
Q: Your book talks about two dominant beliefs in science: the work devotion schema and the schema of scientific excellence. How are those schemas used to deny opportunities to woman or men who are members of minority groups?
A: The work devotion schema frames science as demanding and deserving single-minded allegiance and frames mothers as lacking the necessary devotion. Yet we find mothers have the same publishing and grant metrics on average as men and as women without children. Mothers in the same departments and advancement levels are devalued and are paid less, net of their productivity. In response to this stigma, mothers often downplay their status as mothers or pass as nonmothers so that they will be taken seriously as academic scientists and engineers.
The schema of scientific excellence is the set of characteristics that forms a yardstick of sorts, which scientists use to measure up one another’s competence and excellence. The schema of scientific excellence valorizes scientists who are viewed by others as brilliant, assertive and self-promoting. White and Asian heterosexual men are often automatically viewed as having these qualities, while underrepresented and minoritized faculty do not benefit from this automatic assumption of excellence, despite their similar average productivity. Academic scientists and engineers who regard themselves as more assertive and self-promoting earn more than others, on average, although they don’t actually produce more scientific work. Black and Latinx men and women, white women, and LGBTQ faculty fare worse than white and Asian heterosexual men, on average, in terms of respect and professional integration, even net of productivity, job level and department.
Women faculty, especially Black and Latinx women, also face respect penalties. Men get credit for relational skills, but women don’t. Assertive “cowboys” are seen as producing the best science, but only majority-race men get full credit for this assertiveness. Black and Latinx women are devalued for assertive characteristics, while Asian women are marginalized for not being assertive enough. And, despite the myth of their independence, majority-race men actually receive more informal mentoring than other junior scientists.
Scientists who care about and are engaged in diversity and inclusion efforts also face respect penalties. They are sometimes seen as too politically engaged and as producing distorted science. Additionally, LGBTQ faculty often feel pressure to downplay their sexual identity and family lives because their identity could be viewed as politicizing and distorting “objective” science.
The schemas of work devotion and scientific excellence are bad for scientists and bad for science. They denigrate caregiving, other creative pursuits, rest and regeneration. They valorize individualistic, self-promoting “cowboys” and “rock stars,” but innovation often requires deeply collaborative work across departments, disciplines, generations and diverse identities.
Q: Is there bias against Asians in science?
A: Compared to the U.S. population, Asian men are not underrepresented in STEM. In our quantitative measures, Asian and white men similarly receive privileges of assumed competence, including greater respect. However, other research on the U.S. professional workforce more generally finds that Asian men are more likely than white men to experience marginalization and barriers to leadership.
Asian women are underrepresented in STEM, compared to their proportion in the national population, and we find that they are often devalued. Previous research shows that Asian women face even more pressure than white women to conform to norms of passive femininity and are more likely to say that they have to put their heads down and work hard while letting others take the lead. In our study, Asian women faculty do not generally have the same privilege as Asian and white men. We find that Black and Latinx women face backlash for assertive characteristics, while Asian women experience marginalization for not being assertive enough.
Q: What can departments, colleges and universities do about the problems you identify?
A: Solutions should first address the structural manifestations of these cultural beliefs. Formal academic review should systematically track and fully reward teaching, inclusive mentoring and translational work as highly as it valorizes article production. Further, academic culture tends to marginalize scientists who may offer something different than mainstream views and experiences. Yet studies show that marginalized scientists are among those most likely to add value to the scientific enterprise. Therefore, academic units should prioritize and reward fair and equitable collaborations among groups of people with diverse perspectives, backgrounds and experience, which research shows are likely to develop the most pioneering work. Departments and universities should fully value professors’ commitments to equitable, diverse and inclusive collaboration.
We identify three opportunities that are especially timely.
First, we find that professors are often more personally committed to collegiality, mentorship and diversity than what they see in their disciplines. The daylight between scientists’ own values and what they see as valorized in STEM creates an opportunity to reconsider what counts as excellence in the profession.
Second, the post-pandemic period is a critical time to reckon with the work devotion schema’s contributions to devaluing the excellence of mothers in STEM.
Third, Western approaches to science can learn much from feminist, postcolonial and Indigenous approaches that offer insight into how to value perspective-taking, collaboration, credit-sharing and humility in the process of knowledge creation.
STEM work has always been inherently cultural and social. It’s high time to embrace diversity and equity as an amplifier of innovation and not a threat to it.New Books About Higher EducationEditorial Tags: BooksSciences/Tech/Engineering/MathIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0Most Popular: 3In-Article Advertisement High: 6In-Article related stories: 9In-Article Advertisement Low: 12
Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders struggle with low college participation and high attrition rates, yet scholars say these students have often been overlooked in wider discussions about equity gaps in higher education. But more attention is being paid to their unique challenges as higher ed leaders nationwide focus more on improving academic outcomes for underrepresented students on their campuses and collect better research and data about their needs.
Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are members of more than 20 ethnic groups indigenous to islands in the Pacific. More than half of those who live in the U.S. never attended college, according to a 2020 report by APIA Scholars, a nonprofit focused on academic success among Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. Of those who enroll, many don’t complete their degrees—half of Native Hawaiians, more than 58 percent of Samoans and 54 percent of Tongans who attended college left without graduating.
Pearl Imada Iboshi, who directs the Institutional Research and Analysis Office at the University of Hawai‘i system, said campus leaders noticed that degree attainment rates were especially low among their Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students and among Filipino students, a major immigrant group in the state.
Only 10.6 percent of Native Hawaiians or people who are part-Hawaiian, 11.5 percent of Pacific Islanders and 18 percent of Filipinos over the age of 25 in the state had earned an associate degree or higher, according to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau data.
“We really are focusing on trying to reduce that gap,” Iboshi said.
To aid that effort, the Lumina Foundation gifted the University of Hawai‘i system $575,000 to increase the share of Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Filipinos earning college credentials in the state, according to an announcement by the foundation earlier this month. The university aims to raise attainment rates by five percentage points across these groups in the next four years. The grant is part of the Talent, Innovation, and Equity Partnership, a Lumina Foundation program that works to boost the number of residents pursuing and completing college credentials in specific states.
“We are grateful to Lumina Foundation for this timely and remarkable opportunity to strengthen our work to increase education equity in Hawaiʻi through a greater data-informed focus on populations that have historically been marginalized and boosting the associated educational outcomes,” University of Hawai‘i president David Lassner said in a press release.
The University of Hawai‘i plans to use the funds to develop a strategic plan that centers improving academic outcomes for these student groups. Some of the grant money will support engaging with local employers to develop better academic pathways to high-demand jobs. It will also fund the work of Hawai‘i P-20, a partnership of education and business leaders and state policy makers that set a goal to ensure that 55 percent of working-age adults in the state have a degree or credential by 2025. The university also plans to expand professional development opportunities for faculty members to learn how to teach Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Filipino and other minority students in more culturally responsive ways.
The move is in line with efforts already underway at the university to provide more courses in Native Hawaiian languages, culture and history to attract and retain more Native Hawaiian students.
“Student success really starts at the classroom,” Iboshi said.
Data from the Lumina Foundation show 50.7 percent of Hawaii residents, ages 25 to 64, hold a college degree or credential, slightly lagging behind the national average of 51.9 percent. Only 11.6 percent of Hawaii residents in that age range had earned an associate degree and 23.3 percent held a bachelor’s degree in 2019.
Iboshi noted that Native Hawaiians experienced a “sharp decrease” in enrollment in the University of Hawai‘i system during the pandemic, which worried her and her colleagues. Enrollment of Native Hawaiian and part-Hawaiian students fell from 7,307 students to 7,030 between fall 2019 and fall 2021, a 3.8 percent drop.
“We’re definitely trying to reverse that decline and really push forward,” she said. Native Hawaiians and part-Hawaiians make up about 20 percent of the state population, so she believes the decline likely contributes to workforce shortages in the state amid the pandemic, including in fields such as teaching, nursing and information technology.
Amanda DeLaRosa, strategy officer for state policy at Lumina, said the pandemic wreaked havoc on Hawaii’s economy and created an “immediate need and clear opportunity” to focus on education disparities in the state.
“Their industries were thrown into upheaval, as they kind of rely on tourism and hospitality,” she said. “And they learned that their Native Hawaiian Indigenous communities in particular were oftentimes trapped in these occupations that were not leading to family-sustaining wages.”
Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders disproportionately come from low-income households. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 14.8 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the country live at the federal poverty level compared to 9 percent of white Americans. The unemployment rate for these groups was 5.9 percent in 2019, compared to 3.7 percent for their white counterparts.
Robert Teranishi, the Morgan and Helen Chu Endowed Chair in Asian American Studies and a professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in an email that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders face many of the same barriers as rural students. These challenges include a “lack of access to information, knowledge and resources” about how to navigate college, “lower rates of intergenerational mobility, and a lack of proximity to higher education institutions.”
He noted that these students are concentrated in colleges and universities in Hawaii and the Pacific islands and Asian American and Native American–Pacific Islander–serving Institutions in other states.
“An important way to understand the NHPI student experience is through the lens of migration,” he said. “There is a lot of movement of NHPI students between institutions in the U.S. Pacific islands, as well as from the Pacific to the continental U.S.” As a result, “there is a need for more attention to and resources for” both kinds of institutions to help these students succeed academically.
He also noted that there’s a historical lack of awareness in higher ed about the needs of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders because of a lack of clear data. Federal data categorized Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders as Asian until the Office of Management and Budget required that the population be given its own classification in 1997. Now colleges and universities are required to report enrollment data for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders separately from those of Asian students to the federal government, but “this does not mean that colleges will actually report or use this information on an institutional level,” he said. Even after that change in standards, a “severe undercount” of these students continues, because they disproportionately belong to two or more races and frequently end up in the “two or more races” category in data sets, even if they also identify as Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
The long-standing perception of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders as just another subcategory of Asians, and the practice of including them in Asian student outcomes data, continues to obscure significant disparities, said Kirin A. Macapugay, vice chair of the higher education committee of the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs, which advises the governor’s office and state Legislature on the needs of these communities.
For example, she pointed to a recent report by the Campaign for College Opportunity, a California-based organization focused on closing equity gaps in education, which found that only 22 percent of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander adults in California held a bachelor’s degree compared to 59 percent of Asian Americans. However, she said studies that differentiate between these ethnic categories are rare.
When Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are treated as an Asian subgroup, they’re also subjected to the model minority myth, or the false assumption that all Asian American communities are socioeconomically and academically thriving compared to other minority groups, said Macapugay, who is also lead professor of human services at San Diego City College and a member of the Southwestern Community College District Board of Trustees.
“Because our Pacific Islander students are lumped in with the rest of us, their voices, their cries don’t get heard,” she said. “You have whole communities that frankly feel invisible because of this model minority myth that all AAPIs are doing well. And that’s not true. There’s a lot of struggle, there’s a lot of variance and socioeconomic disparities. It’s like screaming at the top of your lungs and nobody hears you.”Image Source: University of Hawai‘iImage Caption: The University of Hawai‘i aims to increase higher education attainment rates among Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Filipino students.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0Most Popular: 3In-Article Advertisement High: 6In-Article related stories: 9In-Article Advertisement Low: 12
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- Vincent Reitano, public affairs and administration
- Geraldine Rinna, libraries
- Cybelle Shattuck, Institute for the Environment and Sustainability
- Marianne Swierenga, libraries
- Lee Wells, industrial and entrepreneurial engineering and engineering management
- Li Xiang, world languages and literatures
- Russell Zwanka, marketing
Firearm-related deaths in the U.S. reached a new peak across age groups and surpassed motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in 2020, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and as noted in a May letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine calling for an update to how the field understands youth mortality.
These data are subject to some qualification: the peak designation refers to number of deaths, not rate of deaths, for instance. Yet however one approaches the statistics, gun violence is undeniably a leading cause of preventable death and a grave public health issue.
Despite this, the research landscape on guns and gun violence is seriously underdeveloped. One 2017 study found that in relation to mortality rates, gun violence was the least researched cause of death and second-least funded cause of death after falls; while gun violence killed as many people as sepsis, funding for gun violence research was 0.7 percent of that for sepsis, and the relative publication volume was 4 percent, that study found. There’s still no dedicated scholarly journal or association for gun and gun violence research, either.
A dearth of available funding and data for research on guns and gun violence have contributed to this gap in knowledge. The politically charged nature of the topic and academe’s tendency to frame complex problems as within specific disciplines present additional barriers to development.
There are signs that things are changing, however. Funding for gun violence research is increasing. The number of published health sciences articles involving firearms jumped by 327 percent between 2000 and 2019, according to another study. And later this year scholars will gather for the first ever National Research Conference on Firearm Injury Prevention.
“I really see this as a time of growth where the field is starting to strengthen,” said psychologist Andrew Morral, leader of the RAND Corporation’s Gun Policy in America initiative and director of the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, a philanthropy that funds non-RAND researchers, including those in academe.
Of the upcoming conference, in particular, which Morral is co-chairing, he said, “It’s going to be the first time there’s been a meeting where all these people are coming together, and we’ve got all these funded projects now that we’ll be able to talk about and see what they’re learning and what they’re doing.”Research on Ice
Why is research on guns and gun violence so far behind? Most trace the fallback to a 1993 article in NEJM by Arthur L. Kellermann and a group of colleagues that strongly and independently associated having a gun in the home with increased risk of homicide, nearly always by a family member or intimate acquaintance. The paper (and others like it) made a splash and helped establish gun violence as a major public health concern. But many gun advocates didn’t like the paper’s conclusion. The National Rifle Association, in particular, lobbied for the closure of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC, which funded Kellermann’s study, on the grounds that it was biased against guns.
The center survived, but NRA-friendly federal lawmakers—led by late Republican representative Jay Dickey of Arkansas—specified in a 1996 omnibus funding bill that none of the money could be used “in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.” Congress also earmarked $2.6 million of the CDC budget’s—the amount spent on firearm injury research in 1996—for traumatic brain injury research.
Gun violence research went from an up-and-coming field in the early 1990s to a relative dead zone, fast, and stayed that way for decades. Some gun research was still happening, but much of it was funded by private philanthropies such as Arnold Ventures. Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy and a core faculty member in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins University, estimated in 2017 that there were just 30 dedicated gun policy researchers in the country.
What’s known as the Dickey amendment is still in effect. Congress extended this language to other funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, in 2011.
Dickey told NPR in 2015 that he regretted the Dickey amendment in retrospect for how it effectively stalled research on guns. “It wasn’t necessary that all research stop,” he said of his original intent. “It just couldn’t be the collection of data so that they can advocate gun control. That’s all we were talking about. But for some reason, it just stopped altogether.”
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, then president Obama directed the CDC and other agencies to conduct or sponsor gun violence prevention research. The NIH in 2013 announced plans to fund research on violence with a focus on firearms through 2017, citing Obama’s guidance. But Science reported in 2017 that the NIH had quietly let funding for program lapse. Follow-up reporting from Science based on internal NIH emails revealed that the decision had been influenced by politics.
Congress clarified in 2018 that the Dickey amendment doesn’t ban research on gun violence. But lawmakers didn’t couple that message with any funding for such work.
Jennifer Carlson, associate professor of sociology and government and public policy at the University of Arizona and the author of several books on guns and politics, told Inside Higher Ed that the Dickey amendment effectively “created a very, very strong incentive for the CDC to not fund research related to guns.” It also had a broader “chilling effect” for research on guns and gun violence, she said, even if some of that chill was based on the perception—not necessarily the reality—that the federal government doesn’t fund this research.
“I’ve never been motivated by what will give me the biggest grant—I’ve been motivated by research questions, which I think most people are,” Carlson said. “But there is definitely a sense that in terms of what’s fundable, gun research is probably not at the top of that list. Though I think that’s changing.”
The funding climate is warming. In 2020, the federal Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill included $25 million for the CDC and NIH to research gun safety. Many grantees in academe benefited. The federal government designated the same amount for this research in 2021, and again this year.The Missing Data
Now that funding is opening up, some scholars say they’re hoping for a similar breakthrough on data about the prevalence of guns.
Morral, of RAND, said, “There’s a lack of good data being collected by the federal government and others on gun ownership. And in the absence of that, which is critical for understanding things like the effects of gun laws, and lots of other things, we have produced estimates of gun ownership.”
RAND’s state-level estimates of household gun ownership are based on a model that draws on a variety of sources, including survey data. These estimates help researchers and the general public make educated guesses as to how many guns are in circulation. Many researchers have also used various proxies for legal firearm prevalence, such as licensing and background check data, to the extent that they are available. These researchers aren't using actual market data because this information is not tracked and reported for guns in the way that it is for so many other goods: most states don’t register legal firearm transactions. (This is to say nothing of the complicating factor that is illegal weapons sales, though researchers argue that transparency regarding legal sales would be a vast improvement from the current situation.)
Both model-based estimates and proxies are imperfect measures of how many guns there are in a certain area at a certain time, and therefore not ideal for producing the kind of evidence that gun scholars want to be able to share. A 2019 report from NORC at the University of Chicago found that the “firearms data environment is disordered and highly segmented,” and that data on “the movement of firearms from first purchase to a criminal actor [are] highly restricted by laws, regulations and real-world politics.” A related 2020 report from NORC says that “Data collection is haphazard and disorganized and it is of no surprise that our baseline understanding of the relationship between firearms and firearms injury and death are equally incomplete. A conceptual framework is an important starting point for a cohesive firearms data strategy.”
Kenneth Wilbur, professor of marketing and analytics and the Sheryl and Harvey White Chair in Management at the University of California, San Diego, co-wrote a recent study in which he tested various proxies for legal firearm prevalence and determined that invalid proxies can lead to false research conclusions. Ultimately he recommended that the Federal Bureau of Investigation publish its background check data, which are currently published monthly, by state, “at more granular levels, such as county, city, zip code, week and date.” Those few states that collect firearm acquisition data, such as California and Massachusetts, could also publish “granular counts of firearm transactions,” he said, while states, counties and cities that do not collect firearm acquisition data could begin to do so and publish them.
Firearm retailers, retail chains or retailer associations could publish aggregate sales data by place and time, the paper also recommends, and digital platforms, advocacy groups or researchers could track and report online firearm sales.
Regarding confidentiality concerns, the paper argues for “transparently safeguarding individual privacy,” and notes that there are precedents for the handling of sensitive data for research purposes.
Wilbur said recently, “I don’t want to know who bought what. I want to know the societal-level effects of what drives firearm purchases and what happens as a result of these firearm purchases.” An increase in murders in San Diego may contribute to a lack of feeling of safety that drives guns purchases, while it’s also possible that an increase in guns in the city could increase or decrease the number of murders there, for example, he said. But without detailed data by time and space, causal relationships between gun sales and effects can’t be established.
Comparing the market data for guns to those for almost anything else, Wilbur said, “Look, if I want to know how many jars of peanut butter are sold in Connecticut last month, I have that at my fingertips. If I want to get how many trucks are sold in Texas last year, it’s easy. But if a researcher wants to know how many guns were sold, that’s generally not available, and it’s almost never been. And so if we want any form of science-based evidence—not to set policy but to help to inform policy—we need to start understanding and counting how many guns go into circulation.”
Carlson said, “I open every class that I teach on guns in America at the University of Arizona with the fact that we lack basic facts about many things involving guns in the United States. I think it’s important to be up front that because of a confluence of law and data transparency and a variety of other things, we do not know how many guns are actually in circulation among private civilians in the United States. And so there are definitely gaps in what I think most people would consider basic knowledge regarding the social life of guns in the U.S.”Scholar Advocates?
Following the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Tex., some scholars have called for increased activism from the field. Mary Ellen O’Toole, director of George Mason University’s forensic science programs, in her capacity as editor in chief of the Journal of Violence and Gender, issued an immediate call to action for superior gun control legislation.
“We’ve waited long enough,” she in a statement. “This political football must stop. Our children are being killed and the laws must be changed now. We can no longer normalize these behaviors or expect our children to be the victims on the front lines. The research is clear and we must continue to stay educated, relentless, and vigilant in our quest for the future of our country.”
Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, Bartley Dobb Professor for the Study and Prevention of Violence and professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, said it was his sense that researchers are “increasingly sharing their voices to advocate for policies and practices that, based on scientific evidence, have a good promise of saving lives and preventing firearm injuries.” This kind of activity is “valuable,” he said, and has taken different forms: providing testimonies, writing op-eds, talking with journalists and more.
At the same time, many scholars advise caution on this kind of engagement, as to avoid further politicizing the topic.
Morral, at RAND, said, “I think it’s pretty clear that this is an area where researchers have very different ideas about what their responsibilities as researchers are: I have heard people say, ‘This is why I’m a public health researcher, you know—it’s my responsibility to inform the public about ways of being safer or protecting themselves, and if I don’t, then I’m not doing my job.’ And, you know, from that perspective—which I totally get—they need to be out there advocating for what they believe is the right solution to gun violence.”
Morral continued, “And then there are other people—and I think I’m more in this camp—who feel like the most effective thing they can do is provide information that is objective and can be heard by people on all sides of this issue, to the extent that they’re open to hearing anything.”
By being “an advocate,” he also said, “my fear is that I will lose a big part of the potential audience for good science, because there will be an assumption that I’m pushing for this or that kind of policy that means that I’m biased, and how I analyze the science is biased." Morral doesn't know "that my approach persuades more people than the other approach. I don’t know that I’m doing it right. But I am very aware there is a divide in the field between these two kinds of perspectives on advocacy.”
Asked about his views on advocacy, Wilbur, of UC San Diego, said that he tends to focus on points of consensus.
“Surveys indicate that large majorities of Americans support common-sense policies, such as restricting sales of weapons with military applications and preventing criminals and mentally unstable people from purchasing weapons,” he said. “These are not controversial topics, and a lot of times the degree of actual debates over these topics seems to be exaggerated.”From Data to Policy
According to a survey last year by the Pew Research Center and Gallup, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans support preventing those with mental illnesses from purchasing guns and subjecting private gun sales and gun show sales to background checks. Majorities in both parties also oppose allowing people to carry concealed firearms without a permit. But other proposals reveal a persistent ideological divide, according to the survey: some 80 percent of Democrats favor creating a federal database to track all gun sales and bans on both assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, for instance. A majority of Republicans oppose both notions. Public opinion is further divided along gun-ownership lines.
What has been shown to reduce harm from guns, including violent crime, unintentional injuries and death, and suicide? RAND’s Gun Policy in America project says there’s supportive evidence that child-access prevention laws and waiting periods make a difference, moderate evidence that background checks and prohibitions associated with domestic violence work, and some limited evidence to support prohibitions associated with mental illness, licensing and permitting requirements, and minimum age requirements. There’s also some evidence that stand-your-ground laws and concealed carry laws may increase violent crime.
The bipartisan legislation that President Biden signed into law Saturday reflects some but certainly not all of what’s known about gun policies and death and injury prevention. But it does represent the federal government’s strongest action on gun violence in nearly 30 years. (The effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s weakening of concealed carry laws last week remain to be seen.)The Way Forward
Another challenge to the development of the field has been a siloed approach. Morral said that in his experience, “the field has been sort of divided” among public health researchers, criminologists and public policy experts, all of whom share their work within their disciplines at annual meetings. He said that the upcoming conference he’s organizing is intended to “mix” these researchers and efforts for the first time.
Team-based approaches to gun and gun violence research are promising. The University of Michigan, a leader among universities in securing federal research funding to study firearm injury prevention, in 2019 announced a Firearm Injury Prevention Research Initiative connecting researchers in public health, medicine, social sciences, engineering, public policy and the arts while respecting the Second Amendment, for instance. The university launched the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention last year. California’s state Legislature also established a $5 million center for gun violence research at the University of California, Davis, in 2016. A few other states followed suit.
Carlson, at the University of Arizona, said that gun research hasn’t just suffered from a siloed approach but also from limited framing, meaning a focus on gun violence to the exclusion of other questions about guns in this country. This is partly because sociologists historically have not engaged in gun culture research, she continued. But if gun researchers want to understand why and how the U.S. arrived at this point, they need to consider sociologists’ methods and perspectives, as well.
“My point isn’t that we shouldn’t be talking about firearms violence, but rather that that is one element—a core element—but one element of how firearms are significant sociologically in this country,” Carlson said. “If you want to understand gun violence and ameliorate gun violence, you have to engage the question of not just what gun policies should we have, but also why we have the gun policies that we do have. And that latter question cannot be addressed solely by focusing exclusively on gun violence itself.”
She added, “It’s our duty as scholars to create expansive spaces to think through the many ways that not only gun violence, but guns themselves matter and are impactful within American society. I’m not arguing against any approach. I am arguing that we need to create spaces to not only have multiple approaches and multiple ways of engaging this issue, and also that we talk across those approaches and those disciplinary perspectives.”
Rowhani-Rahbar, the epidemiologist, agreed that paying close attention to the “cultural aspects of gun ownership and firearm-related behavior are very important if we want to be effective as credible messengers.” He and colleagues have received a $1.5 million grant from the CDC to study the culture and patterns of handgun-carrying rural adolescents.
As the field continues to grow, Rowhani-Rahbar said, “my hope is that the new generation of scholars will have the resources and training needed to sustain rigorous levels of research while working with communities most affected by firearm injury and violence to disseminate the findings and translate them into action.”ResearchFacultyEditorial Tags: ResearchFacultyImage Source: artas/iStock/Getty Images PlusImage Caption: Gun violence research is deeply underdeveloped but growing.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0Most Popular: 3In-Article Advertisement High: 6In-Article related stories: 9In-Article Advertisement Low: 12
Students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison are calling on the administration to take action after a doctoral student from China was reportedly punched and kicked by a group of men while walking in downtown Madison near campus.
John Karl Scholz, interim chancellor of UW Madison, said in a statement last week that the incident was one of “a series of violent and aggressive attacks that have affected University of Wisconsin, Madison students and have touched many on campus, especially our Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American (APIDA) and Asian communities.”
A Chinese undergraduate had a banana repeatedly thrown at him that same night, June 14, and reported injuries from the encounter, according to the statement. Madison police also reported to university officials that another attack occurred in the area on June 12 that involved a white male with no connection to campus and a Latino undergraduate who went to the hospital for his injuries. The same four suspects, who have been arrested by Madison police, are believed to be connected to all of the attacks.
An incident report from the City of Madison Police Department about the battery of the doctoral student said detectives have “no information that leads them to believe this attack is racially motivated at this time.” Campus administrators and police echoed this message in a campus safety update on June 22 while acknowledging fears and concerns Asian students might be feeling.
“While we don’t have evidence these incidents were motivated by race, we know that each time incidents like these occur, it has an impact on the well-being of all our students, and particularly our Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American students, faculty, and staff, and other communities of color,” the statement read. “We are committed to creating a safe community at UW–Madison where everyone feels they belong, and we know we have more work to do.”
The campus held two Zoom events to provide virtual support to Asian students last week. Campus police and Madison police also increased their presence in the downtown area.
Students do not appear to be reassured. An open letter, signed by a variety of student groups, the student government association, individual students and faculty and staff members, emphasized that the incident had an “adverse impact” on “Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Desi Americans” on campus. Meanwhile, a public petition, signed by more than 2,500 people, raising similar concerns continues to garner signatures.
“We are appalled, devastated, and enraged by this abominable incident,” the open letter read. “Many of us were shocked because this attack took place on one of Madison’s busiest streets, where our friends and families live and walk by every day. What is worse, this is far from an isolated event. We have witnessed increasing anti-Asian racism on campus and across the country in the past few years.”
The letter questions university and police officials’ assertion that the recent incidents were not motivated by racism and calls that conclusion “incompatible with what we have learned from multiple credible sources, including victims themselves.” It demands that campus police, Madison police and the Dane County District Attorney’s Office “investigate the case more thoroughly, fairly, and swiftly,” and that the university penalize the attackers if they’re found to be affiliated with the campus.
It also asked that the administration “work on a systematic measure to prevent the occurrence of similar events” and be transparent about how it plans to respond to violent or discriminatory incidents in the future. The letter also calls for a mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion course for all students, faculty and staff members.
“During this trying time, we need clarity, understanding, and most importantly, concrete actions, as soon as possible,” the letter reads.
The incident comes at a time when anti-Asian hate crimes have been on the rise.
Russell Jeung, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit that tracks discrimination and harassment against Asians and Pacific Islanders in the U.S., said nearly 11,000 incidents have been reported to the group since March 2020, when the pandemic was declared a national emergency. A fifth of Asian Americans said they had experienced a hate incident between March 2020 and September 2021. A Pew Research Center report, released in May, also found that a third of Asian Americans changed their daily routines out of fear of rising attacks.
“Since the start of COVID-19, there has been a surge of racism against Asian Americans, especially East Asians,” said Jeung, who is also a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. Former president Donald Trump calling COVID-19 the “China virus,” and his rhetoric about its Chinese origins, “scapegoated Asians for being the source of COVID-19, and I think a lot of other Americans directed their fear and anger about COVID toward Asians.”
While hate crimes against Asians in the U.S. are not new, “this really is a period of collective racial trauma,” he added. “A lot of us have heightened anxiety, hypervigilance, anger—that’s our trauma responses.”
Two years into the pandemic, he continues to see it as a driver of discrimination against Asians.
“There’s still a lot of outbreaks. There’s still a lot of fear about COVID-19,” he said. “There’s still a lot of anger about the economic conditions of the U.S., and there’s over a million people who died and there’s a lot of grieving. I think a lot of that emotional pain gets focused on Asians as the blame.”
The blaming and scapegoating have led to concerns among Asian students across the country who have faced anti-Asian cyberbullying, verbal assaults and an array of microaggressions, Jeung said.
However, he also noted that these kinds of incidents have spurred activism among Asian students, who have pushed for expanded ethnic studies programs and more Asian American studies faculty members on campuses and had their demands met.
“There is a proactive response,” he said.Student Victims of ViolenceEditorial Tags: AsianPublic SafetyImage Source: Universal Images Group Editorial/Getty ImagesImage Caption: University of Wisconsin at Madison students voiced concerns about safety after a doctoral student from China was attacked off campus.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0Most Popular: 3In-Article Advertisement High: 6In-Article related stories: 9In-Article Advertisement Low: 12
As Americans across the country continue to react to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, eight law students at American University are under investigation for criticizing in a private group chat the draft opinion of the abortion ruling leaked last month.
Another student filed a harassment complaint against the chat group, arguing that their comments amounted to discrimination against him for his religious and antiabortion beliefs.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression shared the log of the chat on its website, highlighting the comments of the eight unidentified students accused of harassment in yellow and the complainant’s messages in blue.
“I blame James Comey and that stupid fucking letter he sent in 2016,” wrote one student who opposed the ruling, referring to the letter the former FBI director sent to Congress two weeks before the 2016 presidential election saying the bureau would investigate additional emails from Hillary Clinton. Many Democrats believe that move paved the way for Donald Trump to win the White House—and appoint three conservative justices to the Supreme Court.
“What are they going to go after next? … Griswold, Obergefell, Loving?” the same student added, naming other Supreme Court decisions protecting contraceptive use and the rights of same-sex and interracial couples to marry.
The complainant responded, “James Comey is a patriot who served his country as the Director of the FBI. Also as a Republican, I find it insulting that conservatives would be thought of as overturning people’s civil rights like Obergefell or Loving.”
A different student responded, “Can we shut the fuck up about personal opinions while people process this?” Another student sent an Instagram screenshot to the chat about a protest at the Supreme Court, which had a caption that read “abortion bans are class warfare.”
The complainant then wrote, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion and you all are more than welcome to protest. I find it interesting how the call to silence our personal opinions happens after I defended my deeply-held religious beliefs and yet nobody has mentioned that same sentiment about the pro-abortion posts. I was raised to stand up for my values, so baseless claims that abortion bans are ‘class warfare’ is deeply offensive to both me and my Greek Orthodox faith.”
“There was a request for info about abortion protests. No one asked for your personal opinion,” read a student’s response. “If you don’t have the decency to shut up while people come to terms with the fact that they’ve just lost a constitutional right then that says a lot about you.”
Another student wrote, “This issue of abortion does NOT impact you in the least bit because you live in (I am assuming) a male body that is not the one being regulated. So STOP MAKING THIS ABOUT YOU and what YOUR BELIEFS are, cause it’s not. It’s bigger than you and your opinions.”
On May 25, American University’s Office of Equity & Title IX notified eight students who participated in the group chat that they were under investigation for violating the university’s discrimination and non–Title IX sexual misconduct policy, which prohibits any form of discriminatory harassment.
“[The complainant] has alleged that during the week of May 2, 2022, Respondents subjected [the complainant] to Harassment on the basis of political affiliation and religious beliefs,” the notice from American University read. “Specifically, Complainant alleges that Respondents sent him harassing and threatening messages through the GroupMe social media platform due to his political affiliation and religious beliefs and that his receipt of these messages unreasonably interfered with his educational experience. [The student] identifies as Greek Orthodox Christian and Republican/Moderate-Conservative.”
One of the law students under investigation, Daniel Brezina, spoke with FIRE about his dismay over the investigation; the other seven have not been identified and are not working with FIRE to publicize the case.
In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Brezina declined to say which comments he contributed to the group chat, but he noted that most of the students in the chat shared similar sentiments about conservatives on the Supreme Court.
“I was disappointed that they were investigating,” Brezina said. “I mean, it’s just speech. There was certainly no harassment. And I was just disappointed that the school had come to this point.”
Brezina said he wishes the university would drop the investigation and that American would have conducted an informal investigation or prescreened the group chat before starting a formal investigation. He added that the messages didn’t threaten the complainant.
“If perhaps there was something really threatening, they might want to investigate, but it’s just a strong disagreement about abortion access and the impact of the Supreme Court,” Brezina said.Stifling Student Speech
Brezina is not worried about the impact of the investigation on his career, but FIRE’s Alex Morey, director of the Individual Rights Defense Program, said an investigation like that could cause lasting damage, potentially creating a barrier for the law students when they apply to the bar.
“Even if the investigation goes nowhere, [it] could theoretically hold them back from future employment or create additional barriers to them getting barred,” Morey said. “So this is not ‘just an investigation,’ this is a big deal that impacts the ability of these students—most of them are women and women of color, by the way, who have traditionally had less access to these kinds of careers.”
Morey said the investigation sets a precedent that could deter other students from speaking out.
“What does this tell other law students who want to have these kinds of passionate discussions about constitutional law at American Law?” Morey said. “If they do [speak up] and offend somebody, they might get brought up on harassment and discrimination charges and tank their future as a lawyer.”
Morey added that American’s investigation is uncommon in higher education, since many private institutions have “First Amendment–esque” policies that protect students’ speech. American University’s freedom of expression and dissent policy “defends the right to free expression, including the freedom to express dissent, within the context of the law and responsibility for one’s actions.”
“When [private] schools don’t deliver on that [free speech] promise, FIRE has a huge problem with that, because they are attracting these top-caliber students and faculty,” Morey said.
She added that the precedent is especially troubling given the Supreme Court’s ruling Friday ending federal protection of abortion rights.
“Roe v. Wade and the Dobbs v. Jackson decision is the issue of the day in this country,” Morey said. “And it certainly is going to be the issue of the day at American Law. It’s the biggest, most important legal news right now, and students at American Law should be able to talk about it in a passionate, unfiltered way, as part of their education. And to the extent that American might be censoring that discussion, it’s an absolute abomination.”
Asked to comment on the investigation, an American University spokesperson wrote via email that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prohibits comment on investigations involving students.
“American University is guided by its commitment to the right to free expression, including the freedom to express dissent within the context of the law and responsibility for one’s actions,” the spokesperson wrote. “The University’s Student Conduct Code is designed to support a safe, honest, and inclusive community with a shared commitment to acting with mutual respect and by forming the highest standards of ethics and morals among its members.”
Brezina said the investigation has made him reconsider the opinions he shares with other students.
“It’s going to make me think twice about speaking out on various issues,” Brezina said. “I’m going be a little more cautious about what I say, for fear that somebody is going to accuse me of targeting [them], whether it’s conservative or some sort of other ideological line. I might be a little more cautious now just because I don’t want to go through the process again.”Editorial Tags: Free speechStudent lifeImage Source: Brandon Bell/Getty ImagesImage Caption: Students at American University are being investigated for a group chat regarding the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0Most Popular: 3In-Article Advertisement High: 6In-Article related stories: 9In-Article Advertisement Low: 12
- Arizona State University is starting an online M.S. in addiction psychology.
- Clarke University has started an accelerated elementary education degree.
- University of Southern California is starting a bachelor of science in legal studies.
- University of Texas at San Antonio is starting a bachelor of arts in multidisciplinary studies: film and media studies.
The Biden administration on Thursday proposed major changes to Title IX that would make it easier for victims of sexual harassment to report possible harm and expands protections to students based on sexual orientation and gender identity, reversing many of the current regulations created by former president Trump.
The new rule expands the definition of sexual harassment that was narrowed by the Trump administration as well as throwing out requirements for in-person hearings and cross-examinations.
“This is very much a step forward—it has more robust provisions for both complainants and respondents and more specific responsibilities for institutions,” said S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects students, faculty and staff from sex-based discrimination at education programs that receive federal funding. The administration’s 700-page proposal was released on the law’s 50th anniversary and will undergo a 60-day comment period before taking effect.
“When it comes to government regulations, the specific wording and details are everything,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs at the American Council on Education. “One thing we can say for certain is that, like when the current regulations were first proposed, this will attract tens of thousands of comments, pro and con.”
It is expected that the proposed rules will receive pushback from conservatives, who have long been concerned about the protections of accused students’ due process rights in Title IX cases. Critics of former education secretary Betsy DeVos’s iteration of the law say it went too far to protect the rights of respondents and had a chilling effect that deterred many from reporting due to the complex and lengthy hearing process.
Legal battles over issues relating to transgender students, including pronoun and bathroom use and sports participation, are also expected.
The department will be conducting a separate rule-making process focused on student athletics due to the ongoing legal battles over transgender students’ involvement in athletics.Expanding the Definition of Sexual Harassment
The Biden administration proposed a new definition of sex-based harassment that now includes not only harassment based on sex, but also sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy and any situation that creates a “hostile environment.”
It also throws out the Trump-era definition that harassment must be “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive,” which many regarded as too high a standard, returning to the pre-2020 standard of “severe or pervasive.”
Tracey Vitchers, the executive director of It’s on Us, a sexual violence prevention organization, said that under the proposed rule, “one instance is enough for a student to report what has happened to them, whereas under the current regulations that are in place from the Trump administration, in many cases, a student would have to experience ongoing and escalating acts of sexual violence or harassment for the school to be required to take action.”
Additionally, the proposed regulations would require colleges to respond to instances of sexual harassment that occur off campus at educational programs or out of country, such as in study abroad programs. The 2020 regulations only covered instances of sexual harassment that occurred on campus. Most campus employees would also now be required to report any instances of harassment to Title IX officials.Changes to Investigations and Hearings
One of the most criticized aspects of the Trump-era version of Title IX was the requirement of cross-examination and in-person hearings, which many critics said was complicated and traumatizing for victims.
Thursday’s proposal would not require colleges to use cross-examination or in-person hearings when conducting formal investigations. It would require colleges that do choose to use hearings in their grievance process to offer a virtual option so that students bringing claims of harassment do not have to be in the same room as the person they are accusing.
The proposal also gives complainants more flexibility in reporting instances of sexual harassment, including allowing them to file a complaint after they have left college due to an instance of sexual harassment and the ability to pursue an informal complaint process without filing an official report.
Sharyn Potter, a professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of New Hampshire, said that many victims of sexual harassment leave college because of the harm they have experienced and that this new provision will “empower” victims, “because when they leave, the door is not shut behind them.”
The proposal also requires that colleges complete investigations in “prompt time frames” and that Title IX coordinators are in regular communication with both the complainant and respondent about the status of the case. The prior regulations, many said, left both parties largely in the dark as to the status of their cases, which can sometimes take up to a year to resolve.
Critics of the proposed rules are concerned about how the rollbacks to hearing procedures, specifically the elimination of the cross-examination requirement and changes to standards of evidence, will impact an accused student’s right to due process. This is expected to be one of the proposal’s largest legal targets, especially from conservatives.
Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, said in a statement, “The existing rule struck a balance that follows the law and is fair to both parties. This attempted overreach is not only extremely concerning but runs counter to federal court precedent and the opinions of leading legal experts.”
Additionally, Joe Cohn, the legislative and policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, said, “They are greenlighting all kinds of weaker procedures that will predictably lead to serious violation of due process rights necessary for procedures to be fundamentally fair.”
Some experts on the matter disagreed. “This was not a throwing out of all the due process protections that were incorporated in the 2020 regs. The Department of Education has left in some of the most important protections for respondents while also broadening the scope of protections that are provided to complainants,” said Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators.
An additional area of concern was that the final decision on a case could be made by the Title IX coordinators themselves, which is prohibited under the current regulations.
Carter said, “That is a very bad idea, because having one person be responsible for all of those tasks increases the possibility of mistakes being made or biases being introduced.”
The removal of many of the Trump-era requirements regarding hearings and investigations will give colleges more flexibility to create and use their own policies to respond to sexual harassment.
“We have moved from a proscriptive set of rules to a set of principles,” Sokolow said of the new proposal. “Those principles give boundaries or guardrails but allow for a ton more flexibility than the 2020 [regulations] with respect to how schools will implement the actual practices.”
Critics argued that the Trump-era regulations placed too many administrative rules on Title IX coordinators that did not allow them to develop policies to serve the unique needs of their college.
This too, however, could raise legal challenges. Alyssa Rae McGinn, vice president of investigations at Dan Schorr, a company that advises colleges on Title IX, said that “in returning so much discretion to schools, the door opens once again for inconsistency in procedures across the country,” and these inconsistencies will likely “give rise to legal challenges after implementation.”Creating Protections for LGBTQ Students
Perhaps the most anticipated and controversial aspect of the new proposal is the expansion of protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Protections for discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation were already included in Title IX after the Biden administration issued a notice of interpretation in June 2021, following the Supreme Court’s ruling that LGBTQ discrimination was the same as sex discrimination.
Since then, many colleges have already interpreted Title IX to include discrimination through this lens, however, the proposal officially codifies the rule in the Title IX regulations for the first time in history.
The Obama administration also issued a notice that expanded protections for LGBTQ students under Title IX, but this was overturned by the Trump administration.
Many have welcomed this addition as a win for the LGBTQ community, which experiences sexual harassment and abuse at disproportionally higher rates.
Diego Sanchez, the director of advocacy, policy and partnerships at Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National, said, “For parents and guardians whose loved ones are LGBTQ+ and planning for their next step in higher education, today’s proposed guidance offers a sign of hope. Even if a student attends school in a place like Texas or another state with local laws that might be harmful, they would be protected from harassment and discrimination at college.”
However, the proposed rules did not change any of the Trump-era expansions to exemptions that many religious colleges that receive federal funding have used to bypass Title IX requirements. The inclusion of LGBTQ students specifically in Title IX is expected to not only create a host of legal issues regarding freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but more applications for religious exemptions are expected as well.
The Religious Accountability Project said in a statement that the Biden administration failed “to acknowledge the needs of some of the most vulnerable LGBTQ+ people in America, LGBTQ+ students caught in the trap of taxpayer-funded religious educational institutions.”
The department will be conducting a separate rule-making process for how Title IX applies to athletics due to the recent uptick in legal challenges on transgender students’ involvement in sports.
Transgender students participating in sports teams that correspond with their gender identity has sparked a furry from Republicans who believe gender can only be defined in biological terms.
Senior department officials were not able to share details on when the rule-making process on athletics will begin.Editorial Tags: Title IXIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0Most Popular: 3In-Article Advertisement High: 6In-Article related stories: 9In-Article Advertisement Low: 12
On Monday, after a special meeting of the Board of Trustees, Piedmont University president James Mellichamp announced that he would retire once a successor is named. A few days later, his husband, Daniel Smith, resigned from his position as senior projects manager at the university.
It was the culmination of a tough semester for Piedmont. Two rounds of unexpected budget cuts, faculty layoffs, a vote of no confidence, professors’ contracts hanging in limbo and high-profile resignations from Provost Daniel Silber and endowed professor Carson Webb left the private college in Demorest, Ga., reeling with uncertainty and frustration.
Some faculty members left to avoid the possibility of being unceremoniously let go.
“The vibrations for the past several months have been very negative,” said Dale Van Cantfort, a communications professor and chair of Piedmont’s Faculty Senate. “I came to work every day trying to figure out who was the next person that was going to call me to tell me they weren’t coming back next year.”
Much of the blame for the chaos fell on Mellichamp. Faculty called for his resignation and even asked the Board of Trustees to suspend him and Smith from campus, citing concerns about their conduct and alleging retaliatory and even abusive behavior. After Monday’s announcement, the faculty issued a statement asking for Mellichamp’s immediate retirement or removal and requesting an interim president to serve during the search for a permanent replacement.
“Immediately after the announcement, a number of faculty reached out to me to say they were scared that this would lead to further retaliation [for criticism of Mellichamp], because there was nothing to hold him not to do it anymore,” Cantfort said.
But Cantfort said he’s since had productive discussions with both Mellichamp and the Board of Trustees, who have assured him that no retaliatory actions will take place and that the search process will “move swiftly.”
That process has already begun. On Tuesday the university launched its presidential search, appointing Barbara Strain, a lifelong local resident and a relatively new member of the Board of Trustees, as chair of the committee.
“I am committed to a prompt, collaborative, transparent search,” Strain wrote in a statement. “It is vital that we hire a president who can continue Piedmont’s growth and success.”
Neither Mellichamp’s office nor a representative for the university responded to multiple requests for comment.
Cantfort said Mellichamp’s departure is only “a first step” in resolving Piedmont’s financial and administrative problems.
“There is more that needs to be done,” he said. “First and foremost, we need an effective leader to help us work together to find those solutions.”‘No Moral Choice but to Leave’
The spring semester at Piedmont started out on a relatively good note: President Mellichamp had assured faculty at an all-hands meeting last November that the university’s finances were under control, and faculty had even received a 5 percent raise.
In February, it became clear that there was financial trouble lurking behind the university’s optimistic veneer. Mellichamp announced a first round of budget cuts, which included 22 staff and eight faculty layoffs. Faculty were assured that would be the end of it.
In early June, though, a second round of budget cuts was announced, which originally included 15 additional faculty layoffs. The number of faculty cuts was eventually reduced to four after negotiations with the Board of Trustees, but the move incensed faculty and administrators alike—including the provost, Silber.
Shortly afterward, Silber resigned in protest over the “unethical” budget cuts, writing in an email to colleagues that he had “no moral choice but to leave.”
Webb, who had been the Harry R. Butman Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Piedmont since 2017, resigned June 14. Like Silber, he outlined his reasoning in a blistering email to colleagues, calling out Mellichamp and other administrators for “underhanded,” “embarrassing” and “unethical” behavior, including intimidation and “workplace bullying” in the wake of Silber’s resignation.
“The endowed Harry R. Butman Chair of Religion and Philosophy was established in order to honor the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Butman and the commitment to ethics that plays such a key role in Piedmont’s Congregationalist heritage,” Webb wrote. “Unfortunately, Piedmont’s current leadership (and I use that term loosely) has dishonored this legacy to such an extent that I can no longer in good conscience be a part of it.”
Webb took a break from packing up his home to tell Inside Higher Ed that while the decision to leave Piedmont was difficult for him and his family, he believes it was the only moral choice considering the university’s actions.
“I am very sad to leave Piedmont. I think it’s a very special institution … and I’m also deeply saddened to be leaving this area. My family and I really settled down here,” said Webb, who has three young children. “At the same time, I think I made a good decision.”
Students were not naïve about the tension simmering on campus over the past few months. Jonathan Furlow, a rising senior studying theater and accounting, had been very happy with his time at Piedmont. In early May, he was interviewed for the university’s alumni news outlet, where he extolled his education and praised his professors.
“Piedmont is a place where you can make your college experience your own,” he said. “I’m getting the education that’s right for me.”
But the events of the past few months raised concerns about Piedmont’s stability, and the abrupt faculty layoffs in May made Furlow wonder what other problems were hidden behind the university’s optimistic messaging.
“The feeling on campus was, if they’re not telling us this, what else aren’t they telling us?” he said. “It’s been very odd and heartbreaking to look back at the school I go to and see that it isn’t the same place I walked into three and a half years ago. This is an entirely new mess.”
Furlow said that when Silber resigned, the anxiety on campus reached a fever pitch.
“That’s when a lot of us looked around and said, ‘OK, should I transfer?’” he said.
On Sunday, the day before Mellichamp announced his retirement, Furlow took to Piedmont’s internal social media app to call for the resignation of three administrators: Mellichamp, Smith and Piedmont’s chief financial officer, Brant Wright.
“WE DESERVE TO KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING AT OUR SCHOOL!” Furlow wrote in the post, which had 35 likes when Inside Higher Ed obtained a screenshot of it. “If this continues, there are going to be more issues than just lost faculty.”
One professor and department chair, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern about retaliation, said that Piedmont’s descent into twin fiscal and confidence crises over the past year was upsetting to him and others who believe in the university’s mission.
“Piedmont really is a great institution, and a great place for students to go,” they said. “But the administration has just really torn it to shreds.”A President’s Mixed Legacy
Mellichamp will leave Piedmont after 40 years at the university and a decade as president. Under his leadership, Piedmont’s residential student population grew by 60 percent, and he has led multiple successful capital campaigns, including one for the creation of a $10 million conservatory of music—a project of personal significance to Mellichamp, who made his name as a concert organist.
But Mellichamp’s legacy is also marred by conflicts with faculty, including legal battles; allegations of professional and sexual misconduct; and, most recently, fallout from the university’s sudden financial troubles and subsequent budget cuts.
Mellichamp has been at the center of multiple court cases that have drawn unwanted attention to Piedmont and sapped money from the institution for legal fees.
In 2018, former Piedmont biology professor Robert Wainberg, who had been tenured before the university ended its tenure program in 2004, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Mellichamp.
In 2021, another former biology professor, Rick Austin, who was also serving as Demorest’s mayor at the time, filed his own lawsuit against Mellichamp. He had submitted an affidavit in support of Wainberg’s wrongful termination suit, and he claimed he was fired in retaliation for supporting his colleague. In his affidavit Austin claimed, among other things, that Mellichamp groped him while he was a professor there and failed to intervene when an inappropriate professor-student relationship was reported.
Piedmont, on the other hand, had filed a lawsuit against the city of Demorest the year before, accusing the city, under Austin’s leadership, of committing fraud, conspiracy and theft by extortion by targeting the college with a water and sewage price hike, among other allegations.
Austin did not respond to Inside Higher Ed’s attempts to reach him for comment.
Austin’s lawsuit against Mellichamp was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Wainberg’s suit against Mellichamp is ongoing, as is the case the university launched against the city of Demorest. Representatives from Piedmont did not respond when asked whether the university would continue footing Mellichamp’s defense bills after his retirement or whether the university would drop the case against the city.
“President Mellichamp has done some good things for this institution, but his biggest problem has always been his narcissism,” said the department chair. “That, I think, was ultimately his downfall.”Another Shoe to Drop?
Both Silber’s and Webb’s resignation letters call attention to the “unethical” behavior and “egregious” financial mismanagement of Brant Wright, Piedmont’s senior vice president for administration and finance.
“No problems at Piedmont will be fixed until Brant Wright is gone,” the department chair said.
According to Piedmont’s federally filed 990 tax forms, the university posted a $2.9 million surplus in fiscal year 2019. But in FY 2020, Wright’s first full year on the job, Piedmont reported a $1.6 million deficit.
Mellichamp pinned Piedmont’s budget shortfalls, which weren’t communicated to faculty until last fall, on the pandemic. But enrollment at the tuition-dependent institution did not decline significantly from 2019 to 2020, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Wright then recommended and oversaw the budget cuts that led to 12 faculty layoffs and Silber’s resignation.
It wasn’t the first time Wright has presided over a budget shortfall and faced backlash for recommending layoffs as a solution. In 2019, Wright recommended departmental cuts and 10 faculty layoffs at Montana Tech, where he was serving his final year as vice chancellor of finance and administration before moving to Piedmont. After public backlash to the proposed cuts, Wright’s financial oversight responsibilities were reassigned, according to reporting by The Montana Standard.
Wright did not respond to multiple requests for comment.A New Hope
Furlow said the prospect of new leadership at Piedmont makes him much more optimistic about the university’s future.
“If we can get a new president, a new provost and hopefully a new finance vice president, I think everything at Piedmont will be back on track,” he said.
Cantfort said news of Mellichamp’s retirement led to a veritable “vibe shift” at Piedmont.
“Just in the past 24 hours, among those faculty and staff on campus this summer, I’m seeing smiling faces where I didn’t before. I’m seeing people say hello whereas before they’d just walk with their heads down,” he said Tuesday, a day after Mellichamp’s announcement.
Faculty who will be returning in the fall also received their contracts in the mail this week—two months later than they have in past years, but better late than never, said the department chair.
“People are hopeful,” Cantfort said. “The impression is that this is the start of a new day.”Image Source: Courtesy of NowHabersham.comImage Caption: Piedmont president James Mellichamp will retire after a semester of layoffs and public resignations capped a 10-year tenure marked by institutional growth as well as controversy and financial woes.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0Most Popular: 3In-Article Advertisement High: 6In-Article related stories: 9In-Article Advertisement Low: 12
Western Connecticut State University president John Clark is stepping down amid a financial crisis that resulted in a depletion of 99 percent of university reserves in recent years.
Clark, who has been president since 2015, will officially exit on July 14. His resignation follows a no-confidence vote regarding financial management issues leveled against him by the faculty union in May. Earlier this year, a scathing external report found that the university “has an expenditure control problem, not a revenue problem.”
The report, commissioned by the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, found a litany of financial missteps and no coherent strategy for reaching financial viability. It recommended a number of changes, including taking a hard look at current staffing levels. However, faculty members say the report ignores glaring issues, including years of declining state government funding, which has left institutions of public higher education scrambling to survive.The Problems
The report conducted by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, an education consulting agency, shows a stunning drop in WCSU’s reserves over the past decade. It paints a picture of a university that failed to address financial issues as its reserves dwindled from $24 million in fiscal year 2012 to being “all but wiped out” in FY 2021.
A CSCU system spokesperson did not have a current figure for Western Connecticut’s reserves.
“Western Connecticut State University is an institution in serious financial difficulty. It has a structural deficit that has caused the university to dip into its reserves almost every year for the last decade,” the NCHEMS report states. “This practice of relying on reserves to balance the operating budget over an extended period has led to the current situation in which reserves have been totally depleted. The university now has no choice but to address the underlying factors that have led to this condition—operating within the constraints of a balanced budget is now an imperative.”
The report, delivered in January, notes that of the four state universities in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, only Western Connecticut saw a complete collapse of its reserves. Two other state universities saw a growth in reserves since the end of the Great Recession, while Central Connecticut State University saw its reserves decline by about one-third.
Citing interviews with officials, NCHEMS described the administration’s approach to the financial crisis as “We haven’t had a balanced budget for years; why start now?”
High and rising expenditure levels led to the depletion of WCSU’s reserves, with most of the costs related to personnel, declining enrollment and the coronavirus pandemic, according to NCHEMS, which noted that WCSU’s problems were caused not by underfunding but by overspending.
But faculty members—who note no professors were interviewed by NCHEMS for its report—take exception to some of the findings, especially the claim that WCSU is not underfunded.
“The biggest problem is that the state of Connecticut has cut our budget repeatedly. State funding for public universities has been dropping, and Connecticut is not unique, unfortunately. State disinvestment in public higher education is really the underlying problem,” said Rotua Lumbantobing, an economics professor at Western Connecticut and president of the WCSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
Connecticut has indeed dialed down funding in years past, according to data available in the State Higher Education Finance report compiled by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Numbers from SHEEO show that state appropriations have declined by 29.1 percent since 2001, falling from $18,660 per full-time student in 2001 to $13,232 in 2021.
Lumbantobing also disputes findings that suggest that WCSU is spending too much on personnel, arguing that staffing levels are already lean and have been “cut to the bone.”
She blames high personnel costs on administrative bloat at WCSU, which the report disputes.
Lumbantobing also sees system leadership as partly responsible for the current crisis, arguing that it failed to financially rein in proposals from Clark’s administration as the reserves dwindled.
“The school has to submit a budget to the system office, to the Board of Regents. Every single year they approved it, which means they knew the reserves had been going down every single year. This is not just bad decisions by local administrators, but also the system office, the Board of Regents, they’re very much to blame, because they approved that budget every single year,” Lumbantobing said.
Leigh Appleby, spokesperson for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, said by email that system leadership engaged NCHEMS to help understand the financial issues at Western Connecticut and make recommendations that will return the university to financial health.
“The Board of Regents for Higher Education and CSCU have long understood the significant financial pressures facing WCSU and have taken actions meant to stabilize the university’s budget, including the adoption of a pilot program to allow students from New York and New Jersey to attend WCSU at an in-state rate, significantly bolstering enrollment at the university,” Appleby said. “However, the pandemic has exacerbated already significant enrollment and financial challenges. Recognizing the need for further action, NCHEMS was retained to review the situation, recommend immediate actions to stabilize the university, and ultimately provide long-term solutions to the problems that Western is facing. NCHEMS has produced a first report with immediate recommendations, and CSCU is currently working closely with the WCSU leadership team to ensure they are implemented. A second set of recommendations will be provided later this year by NCHEMS intended to strengthen long-term viability for the institution.”The Solutions
Though a more comprehensive plan from NCHEMS is expected later this year, some recommendations were made in the initial report, including “right-sizing the personnel roster.” Cuts, the plan states, should come from faculty, academic support and student services employees. The report adds that collective bargaining agreements in place across the CSCU system make controlling costs at the campus level difficult and recommends shedding part-time faculty members.
One upside for Western Connecticut is that it is projecting a balanced budget for fiscal year 2023, according to Appleby. Documents from the Board of Regents show that WCSU expects a balanced budget thanks to an $18 million infusion of one-time state funding and another $11 million in salary and benefit savings from a hiring freeze, which involves leaving 73 currently vacant full-time positions open.
With Clark set to depart WCSU next month, the CSCU system has appointed an interim in his place. Paul Beran, currently a consultant and previously the president of Northwestern Oklahoma State University, will step into the presidency on July 15, faced with the challenge of righting the ship financially.
“I look forward to being able to build relationships with all members of the community—most especially the faculty and the administration at the university,” Beran told a local newspaper, The News-Times, last week when his interim appointment was announced. “There are issues to overcome but I believe they are completely doable—and I need the faculty and everyone else’s help.”
Beran did not respond to a request for comment via LinkedIn from Inside Higher Ed.
His appointment, however, is another cause of concern for Lumbantobing, who points out that Beran is an outsider, unfamiliar with the state university system and the needs of the campus.
“They replaced [Clark] with someone who doesn’t know anything about the system here, about Western, doesn’t know our problems, our unique situation, or our students,” Lumbantobing said. “And [CSCU system leadership] did not get the input of faculty and staff whatsoever.”
Clark, who did not respond to a request for an interview sent to the university, has said he’ll work to welcome Beran and enable a smooth transition as he takes over the presidency at WCSU.
In an email to the campus community last week, Clark wrote, “I personally welcome Dr. Paul Beran as my successor and our new interim president. In my view, he comes at the exact right moment in the University’s history, when we need a new leader with the vision, energy and ideas necessary to move the University to financial stability, enrollment growth and student success.”Administration and FinanceEditorial Tags: College administrationGovernanceImage Source: Western Connecticut State University/FacebookImage Caption: John Clark, president since 2015, is stepping down from Western Connecticut State University amid allegations of financial mismanagement.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0Most Popular: 3In-Article Advertisement High: 6In-Article related stories: 9In-Article Advertisement Low: 12
A new requirement for Russian institutions to have a rector for students’ moral development has been seen by academics as another sign of a country reverting to Soviet-style thought control.
Coined during the Soviet era, the position of pro rector in charge of vospitatel’naya rabota—which roughly translates as “character building”—was once a common fixture at universities. Such individuals were tasked with benign activities, such as organizing volunteering and student scholarships, as well as more insidious ones—namely, inculcating state propaganda in their young charges.
The post still exists at many universities, but now it will be mandatory at all of them. Announcing the measure, Russian’s deputy minister of education Petr Kucherenko emphasized the importance of developing students not only as specialists in their fields, but also as “fully-fledged citizens of Russian society,” according to state media.
Scholars said that the move recalled times when Communist Russia intervened more heavily to shape young people’s worldview.
“Given that the old system is gone, the Russian re-Sovietizers are looking for opportunities to recreate similar structures in their universities,” said Anatoly Oleksiyenko, a scholar of post-Soviet studies in higher education policies based at the University of Hong Kong.
“They look for somebody to be personally in charge of the student masses and thus be conveniently punished—as scapegoats—on behalf of the whole system in case of student protests.”
Oleksiyenko said that for now it was uncertain whether Moscow would handpick candidates for the job, but tasking rectors with the selection could be a shrewd political maneuver.
“Most likely the Kremlin will give this responsibility to the rectors, so that they also feel greater responsibility—and thus become extra cautious and anxious—in the processes of student admissions and development,” he said.
Igor Chirikov, a senior researcher at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley, agreed that the move reflected a broader trend toward the “re-Sovietization of Russian universities,” with institutions “resurrecting or reinventing” Soviet rhetoric.
He said that Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has prompted protests by academics and students even as the Kremlin shows less tolerance for political dissent, “definitely plays a role” in the sector looking to the past, but that universities had been headed in this direction for years.
“The Kremlin already has far-reaching influence,” agreed Maria Popova, associate professor of political science at McGill University, adding that this was “a way to make the process of achieving political goals in the university setting more efficient and more centralized.”
She noted that, usually, pressure on universities to rein in students “was high around elections” but predicted that now, “political monitoring will be permanently institutionalized” and that the appointment of pro rectors across the board would be used to put institutions “on an even shorter political leash.”
Still, Popova disagreed with Oleksiyenko’s assessment that the move to establish pro rectors for moral development was “an indication of growing anxiety among the Russian politicians expecting massive protests in the population” as a result of economic depression and growing frustration over the war.
“There is no evidence of massive protests brewing and I doubt that the regime has indication of it,” she said. “It’s rather pre-empting. It’s covering all its bases, so if an antiwar movement were to emerge and grow stronger, it could be nipped in the bud.”GlobalEditorial Tags: RussiaTimes Higher EdIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0Most Popular: 3In-Article Advertisement High: 6In-Article related stories: 9In-Article Advertisement Low: 12
New presidents or provosts: Arlington Bethany Haskell Kingsville McPherson Mesa NMJC Springfield TWU
- Francis Arpan, dean of academics at Sisseton Wahpeton College, in South Dakota, has been selected as vice president of academics at Haskell Indian Nations University, in Kansas.
- Tamara Brown, executive dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at the University of North Texas, has been selected as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington.
- Tyler Forrest, vice chancellor for finance and administration at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, has been chosen as president of Tennessee Wesleyan University.
- Janet L. Gooch, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at Truman State University, in Missouri, has been named chancellor of the University of Illinois at Springfield.
- Amanda Gutierrez, vice president for automotive restoration at McPherson College, in Kansas, has been promoted to executive vice president and provost there.
- Ashanti Hands, vice president of student services at San Diego Mesa College, in California, has been named president there.
- Derek Moore, vice president for student services at South Arkansas Community College, has been selected as president of New Mexico Junior College.
- Anju Ramjee, professor of finance and business and chair of the business department at Bethany College, in West Virginia, has been promoted to provost and dean of faculty there.
- Robert H. Vela Jr., president of San Antonio College, in Texas, has been chosen as president of Texas A&M University at Kingsville.
The Biden administration released a proposed Title IX rule Thursday featuring major overhauls to how colleges should respond to cases of sexual assault. The proposed rule also expands protections for LGBTQ students.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is the law that protects students, faculty and staff from sex-based discrimination at education programs that receive federal aid. The proposed rule prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to sex, on college campuses for the first time in history. That protection is expected to be attacked by many. During the Obama administration, LGBTQ students were protected under Title IX, but that was never added to the regulations.
The proposed rule also eliminates many of the Trump administration’s requirements for investigations of cases of discrimination, including cross-examination of witnesses, which many critics of the 2020 regulations said imposed burdens on victims of harassment. It also gives colleges more flexibility to develop their own grievance procedures and policies.
“Our goal was to give full effect to the law’s reach and to deliver on its promise to prevent all students from sex-based harassment,” said Miguel Cardona, education secretary. “Our proposed changes would fully protect students from all forms of sex discrimination, instead of limiting some protections to sexual harassment alone, and make those protections include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”Highlights of the Proposal
- Expands coverage to behavior that occurs in education programs off campus, including out of country. (The Trump administration required discrimination to be shown on campus.)
- Expands mandatory reporting requirements to all employees at colleges that operate an educational program who have knowledge of an instance of sex discrimination.
- Created new eligibility for retroactive complaints after a student leaves an educational program due to an instance of discrimination.
- Requires “prompt time frames” for investigating cases of discrimination.
- Elimination of cross-examination and live hearing requirement from the rules for campus hearings.
- Requires colleges to allow students who participate in a live hearing to do so remotely if they choose.
- Allows informal resolution of an incident without the submission of a formal complaint. (The Trump administration required a formal complaint.)
- Requires protections for pregnant students and employees.
The proposed guideline will undergo a period of public comment for the next 60 days. The administration will also engage in a separate rule-making process on student athletes due to the current evolving legal decisions on transgender students’ involvement in sports. Senior department officials said it is unclear when the process will begin.
The public comment period on the rules is expected to attract tons of comments and attention. It is expected that parts of the regulations will be challenged in court.Editorial Tags: Breaking NewsTitle IXIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0Most Popular: 3In-Article Advertisement High: 6In-Article related stories: 9In-Article Advertisement Low: 12
James Watson and Francis Crick (not Rosalind Franklin) getting all the initial glory for unlocking the structure of DNA may be the most famous example of how women’s contributions to science get overlooked. It certainly isn’t the only instance, however: many women scientists report having their work go un- or undercredited, and some say they’ve left science altogether as a result.
While these anecdotes are powerful on their own, a new study pushes the conversation far beyond individual accounts: the paper, published in Nature, finds that women are significantly—and systematically—less likely to be recognized than their male peers.Input vs. Output
In one finding, women were 13 percent less likely to be named on articles and 58 percent less likely to be named on patents than their male collaborators, controlling for factors beyond gender, such as job title.
This effect is most pronounced for highly cited papers, the authors found: when controlling for field, career position and team size, there is no significant difference between the likelihood of a woman being named relative to a man on an article with zero citations. Yet on a paper with 25 citations, women are 20 percent less likely to be named than are men, relative to the baseline.
Another finding: when scientific credit is defined simply as ever being named an author, women account for only 35 percent of the authors on a team, even though they make up 48 percent of scientists studied.
The new paper is based largely on information about some 9,700 research teams, as reported to the Institute for Research on Innovation and Science at the University of Michigan. This data set includes information on payments and job titles for everyone working on a given grant, allowing this study’s authors to compare who was doing what—call this scientific input—to the credit the scientists eventually got on related papers and patents: scientific output. (Outputs were linked to a science team if an article or patent acknowledged one of the team’s grants, or if a member of the team was listed as an author on that article or patent.)
Co-author Britta Glennon, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, said that much of the existing literature on the underrepresentation of women in science starts “from the standpoint of counting patents and publications and trying to understand it from there. And what our data set allows us to do is look under the hood and actually see how science is being produced.”
Glennon added, “If you’re only looking at the output, you miss a lot of people, right? This is the first time that we’re actually able to look at who’s not visible. And so it’s a very different kind of type of explanation for this gender gap.”
To better understand the mechanisms by which women are being denied credit, Glennon and her co-authors also analyzed quantitative data from a survey of 2,446 scientists regarding scientific credit. Seemingly confirming the input-versus-output findings, responses to the survey varied by gender: reported experience with exclusion from authorship is common, but more common for women than men, at 43 percent versus 38 percent. Significantly more women (49 percent) than men (39 percent) also reported that others had underestimated their contributions to science.
In open-ended statements from survey respondents and additional personal interviews, scientists said that the rules of credit allocation were frequently unclear and left up to senior investigators.
One woman said, for instance, “I did not push to be listed as an author.” Another woman respondent said that “Being a woman [means] that quite often you contribute in one way or another to science but unless you shout or make a strong point our contributions are often underestimated.” Yet another respondent said, “Senior authors shamed me in front of group for asking for recognition (trying not to be a female-doormat stereotype backfires pretty much every time I have tried …).”
An overarching theme here, the paper says, “was that the rules governing scientific contributions were often not codified, not understood by all members of the research team, or simply ignored.”Fighting Implicit Bias
Co-author Matthew Ross, associate professor of economics and public policy and urban affairs at Northeastern University, whose work centers on discrimination, said that the survey revealed in some cases women had stepped back from their work for various reasons and saw a corresponding reduction in credit. But the survey revealed that the “much larger reason” for women getting less scientific credit was “basically that their contributions were underestimated,” he said.
Where there is “discretion in terms of decision making and not an explicit, codified set of rules,” Ross continued, “that’s where things like implicit bias tend to creep in.”
In presenting such findings, the paper also pushes the conversation about how credit is determined to solutions. Several possibilities emerge, either from the paper itself or in conversations with the authors, including: requiring formal training for principal investigators about how to manage group science and properly recognize contributors, and encouraging funding agencies to insist on transparency as to who does what on a grant.
Ross credited Nature, for example, with requiring article author contribution statements that specify the role of each author, and he suggested that this practice could be adopted not only by journals but grantors.
Glennon said that initiatives such as CRediT, a contributor roles taxonomy, are helping scientists navigate assigning credit. But the credit-assigning system as a whole remains “fractured.”
Other ideas: push back on academe’s publish-or-perish culture and the jockeying for authorship that it encourages, and acknowledge the power structures that exist in any laboratory so that all scientists feel free to speak up. (Indeed, while gender is at the heart of this new paper, academic science is rife with stories of abuses of power across various social lines, not always involving authorship disputes.)
Such changes are long overdue, said co-author Julia Lane, economist and professor at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
“There’s a maniacal focus on publishing metrics, which has been quite detrimental,” said Lane. “Trying to think through the mechanisms and the incentives that generate science is what’s important—not this focus on outputs, which I think distorts the processes.”
From the persecutive of a PI, in particular, she continued, “We all think of ourselves as having flat organizations, but in reality there is a power dynamic that you’re not conscious of. And we need to be mindful of that career dynamic and make sure that junior people do feel empowered to speak up.”
Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, co-wrote a 2018 article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences arguing for journals to adopt greater transparency requirements surrounding authorship, including the CRediT system. Asked about the new paper, McNutt said Wednesday that the “overrepresentation of men is consistent with the oft-observed phenomena of men overestimating their contributions to an effort and women underestimating the worth of their contributions.”
Moreover, she said, the “consistent failure in attribution can lead to a longer-term reduction in contribution. So the two explanations for why women’s contributions to science aren’t sufficiently recognized are connected.”GenderResearchFacultyEditorial Tags: Sciences/Tech/Engineering/MathGenderFacultyImage Source: Vector Artist/iStock/Getty Images PlusImage Caption: Study examines the uncredited contributions of women to science.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: Live Updates: liveupdates0Most Popular: 3In-Article Advertisement High: 6In-Article related stories: 9In-Article Advertisement Low: 12