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The College of St. Joseph, in Vermont, announced Thursday that it will shut down at the end of the semester.
The college has been struggling for the last year. most recently with demands from its accreditor, the New England Commission on Higher Education, that it show that it has the financial resources to operate effectively.
In May, the college announced that it might close. Then it announced that that it would redouble its efforts to reach its enrollment goal of 235 full-time undergraduates for the next academic year. In December, the college announced new demands from the accreditor on its financial resources.
Most recently, college officials said that they hoped that a potential partnership would provide the necessary resources. But a statement Thursday from Jennifer L. Scott, the president, said that possibility fell through,
"It is with heavy heart and great disappointment that I must deliver the news that our potential institutional partner has elected to not move forward with us," said Scott's statement. "Creating and implementing a thoughtful plan for a deep affiliation proved to be too great of a feat given our current accreditation deadline and critical financial condition. Therefore, while we have new evidence for the New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE) that is material to our financial resources, including the sale of assets and a successful multi-year pledge campaign, the collective impact of this material evidence will not reach NECHE’s threshold of significance."
Jessica Calarco has a thought-provoking thread on Twitter this week about how to respond to young kids when they’re denied something they want, and scream “no fair!”
I like it a lot because it gives kids credit for being smart. It assumes that if you give them a thoughtful answer, they’ll rise to it. That’s often true.
Check it out; she wrote it better than I could.
As a followup to the post earlier this week about shadowboxing with Calvin -- which may have to be the title of my next book, with a hat-tip to @Infamous_PhD for the suggestion -- it’s worth remembering that the term “meritocracy” was originally satirical. It was popularized by the British sociologist Michael Young in a dystopian novel published in 1958.
The idea gained currency as an alternative to overt racism and sexism, and to the extent that it is, it’s certainly preferable. But it still assumes stratification, and it conflates social rank with moral standing. That was the point of the satire, and it’s why the concept is so insidious. It offers folks on the top all of the rewards and self-regard of the older aristocracy, but without any of that annoying noblesse oblige.
Anyone on top who doesn’t have a healthy sense of “there but for the grace of God go I…” doesn’t get it. I’ve tried to teach that to my own kids. They’re good kids, they study, they follow the rules, and they try hard. That’s to their credit. They were also born to educated parents in an affluent country, physically healthy, in a home without mental illness or substance abuse, and with family histories that suggest a high likelihood of long and healthy lives. They get credit for those, too, but none of those is their doing. They just happened to do pretty well in the birth lottery.
I hope they continue to work hard, and that they’re able to live the lives they want to lead. I hope that they’re safe, and happy, and that when the time comes, they’ll find partners who love them as much as we do. But I also want them to understand, at a visceral level, that luck is never far from the surface. That we have moral obligations to treat people decently, and to try to nudge the world in a direction where more people are treated fairly.
Having grown up in second-tier suburbs of an out-of-the-way city, and then attended a college full of rich kids with last names some folks would recognize, I can attest that material success and moral decency are, at best, uncorrelated. The basic myth of meritocracy is false. I know some admirable people with unremarkable careers, and I’ve met some folks who embody the term “stinking rich.” People are just people. Don’t defer to them for being rich, and don’t lock them in cages for being brown. Just be decent, and build a decent society. The rest is commentary.
Last week TW and I decided to play “tourist” in our own city -- to the extent that NYC is our own city -- so we caught the production of “Network” with Bryan Cranston, followed by a pizza tour of Brooklyn.
I still have a hard time seeing Cranston without picturing “Malcolm in the Middle,” but he was terrific. In the movie, Peter Finch played Beale’s “mad as hell” scene as angry; in the play, Cranston plays it almost fragile, like he’s desperately grabbing onto anger in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. It was more affecting than I expected.
Tony Goldwyn was weirdly miscast in the William Holden role; I really don’t know what they were thinking there. The Faye Dunaway role -- horrifically written in the movie -- was played more for laughs, which was about the only thing you could do.
The pizza tour was more tour than pizza, which was too bad; the premise was excellent. Imagine a barbecue tour of Memphis or Kansas City, or a cheesesteak tour of Philly. (Maybe not a garbage plate tour of Rochester, if only for fear of heart attacks…) The Sicilian pizza at L&B in Bensonhurst was a work of art. According to the tour guide, they bake the cheese onto the crust before adding the sauce, which was cooked separately so it would sweeten; that way, they could apply enough sauce to satisfy without making the crust too soggy. I don’t usually order Sicilian, but this was extraordinary. And it came on plastic plates with thick plastic cups of soda, like God intended.
Pizza Hut is bigger, but I’ll take this one anytime. Meritocracy? Fuhgeddaboutit...
The shuttering of Argosy University campuses across the country has sent students of the for-profit college chain scrambling for ways to complete their education and get their degrees.
Graduate and doctoral students, particularly those close to completing their programs, are finding it difficult to transfer to other institutions. Many universities won't accept graduate-level course credits earned at a different institution. Universities that will accept Argosy students may not transfer all the credits they've earned, which means they may have to retake courses at the new institutions.
Some Argosy students also have complained about receiving vague details and little information from Argosy and potential transfer institutions about their options.
“This has been stressful,” said Aretha Barnes, a student pursuing a doctorate in counseling psychology at Argosy’s campus in Tampa, Fla. “I’m two and a half years into my program. I’m scheduled to start my dissertation research this month. I’ve done all of my required courses. I just have three classes left. I’m basically at the end.”
Barnes, who expected to graduate in December 2020, said the only option she wants to pursue is transferring to another university’s graduate program. She said one institution, National Louis University in Chicago, recently visited the Tampa campus to reassure students that NLU was working on a plan to allow students to transfer to the private university's Florida branch. But Barnes said she still has questions.
"We were told that everything we currently have will transfer and I won't have to redo my residencies, because I've done those," she said. "Wherever we are in our program is where we're supposed to pick up, but I'm still waiting on confirmation for that."
Barnes said she expects to learn more about her program and her transfer status later this week from NLU. This isn't the first time she has been forced to find a new graduate program -- Barnes transferred to Argosy's Tampa campus last year after the university's Sarasota location shut down. But moving from one campus to another within the same institution was easier, Barnes said.
Students on the Tampa campus received emailed messages on March 8 from National Louis informing them that officials from both institutions were working to build a seamless transfer bridge for all Argosy Tampa students. Representatives from National Louis did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
If Barnes can’t transfer to another university, she’ll “lose everything,” she said. “All of the sacrifices and missing family dinners and not participating in activities and working full-time … every spare minute I have has gone into studying for this.”
Most of the approximately 460 students on Argosy’s Tampa campus were enrolled in a professional or doctoral degree program. The campus, which was one of about 20 Argosy locations that closed this month, had 332 graduate students in 2017, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Dream Center Education Holdings, Argosy’s parent company, and the university’s court-appointed receiver had been searching for a potential buyer. Earlier this month the Trump administration cut off Title IV student aid to the colleges after Argosy failed to make financial aid payments to students. Some Art Institutes campuses also were affected. In total, Dream Center campuses enrolled about 26,000 students.
Argosy has agreements with some institutions to accept transfers and maintains a list of universities on its website that will accept Argosy transfer students.
Transferring graduate credits can be a difficult process, because it involves fewer credits than the traditional 120 credits required for undergraduate degrees, said Melanie Gottlieb, deputy director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.
“Institutions generally limit the number of transfer credits that they will take at the graduate level so as to ensure the coherence of the program of study towards the degree,” she said. “Ideally … an institution would make arrangements with another institution to teach-out their programs. This type of arrangement can smooth credit transfer for students but is unlikely to be seamless and does not always exist.”
Transferring from a professional program at one institution to another becomes even more complex in majors, such as law, psychology, medicine, nursing and education, that require programmatic accreditation and have additional requirements on course content and residency, she said.
Psychology educators across the nation lamented the loss of Argosy's program after learning the university would close.
“Argosy had large clinical training programs and [had] interns all over the country engaging in [American Psychological Association]-accredited internships,” Lisa Adams Somerlot, director of counseling and accountability at the University of West Georgia and a past president of the American College Counseling Association, said in an email. “This definitely affects college counseling centers.”
Those centers will have to consider how to continue an internship for a student who isn't enrolled in a clinical training program, or they'll have to end the internship, Adams Somerlot said.
"It is a terrible thing for doctoral students who now have no way to finish a very complex degree process," she said.
The APA, which accredited 10 psychology doctoral programs at Argosy campuses, said it would do what it could to help students transition to doctoral programs at other institutions. The association recently held a webinar to help Argosy students and alumni submit documentation of their credentials and internships to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards and the National Register of Health Service Psychologists for free. The registries will keep academic records that can be submitted to state licensing boards and future employers on the behalf of students so students won't have to track down this information.
Nearly 800 Argosy psychology graduate students have contacted the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, or TCSPP, a nonprofit institution with 5,000 students and campuses in Chicago; Dallas; San Diego; Los Angeles; Irvine, Calif.; and Washington, D.C. It also offers courses online. TCSPP is one of five nonprofit institutions in the TCS Education System that is accepting transfers and offering teach-out programs for Argosy students.
“When we heard about Argosy’s challenges, our first concern was for their students,” TCSPP president Michele Nealon said. “The world of doctoral-level clinical psychology programs is quite small, so we’ve been very connected for a long time in the clinical psychology community. We’ve known the Argosy programs as being good colleagues and having good faculty and administrators over the years.”
Losing a psychology program such as the one at Argosy is also difficult because it is happening at a time when psychologists are in demand, she said.
Employment in the psychology field, which includes clinical, counseling and school and forensic psychology jobs, is projected to grow 14 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average growth of all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A significant number of Americans are in need of mental health counselors and psychologists -- one in five Americans has a mental health problem and one in 25 Americans has a chronic mental health problem, Nealon said.
“There is and will continue to be a tremendous need for well-trained, multiculturally competent psychologists,” she said. “This is and will continue to be a national issue to ensure that we are developing and training and positioning our future professionals in this space.”
Fourteen of TCSPP’s programs, including the clinical psychology doctoral degree, align with Argosy’s psychology programs, which should ease transfer challenges. Argosy students who live near one of TCSPP’s regional campuses will be able to continue their education, Nealon said.
“This is working very well right now for students [near] on-ground campuses,” she said. “Where this is a challenge is those students who are not in one of those geographic areas.”
Students such as Barnes, who don't live near TCSPP campuses, should be hearing from other colleges Argosy is partnering with, Nealon said.
“We are part of the solution but not the whole solution,” Nealon said. “I’m really optimistic that other colleges and universities will step up to support the thousands of students that have been impacted.”
Other universities across the country have, in fact, stepped up to help. Chaminade University of Honolulu, a Catholic institution, announced Monday that it would continue to run the clinical psychology doctoral program that was offered at Argosy University Hawaii. And Hawaii Pacific University, a private, nonprofit institution, is starting a doctoral psychology program and also plans to offer former Argosy students an opportunity to complete their courses.
Graduate assistants at Boston University on 12-month stipends will get two weeks’ paid vacation time starting in September. Students on shorter stipends will get prorated paid time off. This is on top of already scheduled holidays and intersession days.
Among others aims, the university hopes to encourage students' self-care.
“Not only is graduate school inherently stressful and isolating, but changes in the academic job market have increased feelings of uncertainty,” said Emily Barman, associate dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and a professor of sociology. Two weeks’ vacation alone “isn’t sufficient,” she said. But it’s a start -- and one of a number of changes Boston is making to help graduate students.
Other changes include funding to pay for childcare when graduate students -- many of whom are parents -- attend professional conferences. Discounted dental health care is also now available through the university’s Dental Health Center.
The vacation policy is perhaps the most significant change, however, as it's uncommon in academe. Most graduate students aren't guaranteed paid vacation time apart from scheduled days off.
The policy also challenges the all-consuming “ideal worker” ethos of many if not most labs and graduate programs.
Case in point: Diane Lebo, a Ph.D. candidate in biology at Boston and president of its Graduate Student Organization student government, said that during her first year on campus she told a professor about her plans to go home for Thanksgiving. The university would be closed. But the professor’s response was that “I’m no longer an undergraduate and that I should stay here and work,” Lebo recalled.
Lebo still went home, as her plans were already set. But “that message has stuck with me throughout my time here.”
She’s not alone. Lebo said there may be less pressure to work on “off” days. But “many, if not most, of us do not take intersession off, and work through the holidays.”
That said, Lebo thinks the new vacation policy is a great thing, since “it guarantees that we all get time to decompress every once in a while.”
It just “needs to be enforced,” she added. “We graduate students need to remember to take that time off, and our mentors have to not just allow, but encourage, us to take it.”
Barman said the new policy originated in Lebo’s department (Lebo said she was not heavily involved in those discussions). Some in biology wanted to formalize vacation time for graduate students in the interest of transparency and equity. But they wanted to make sure that an equivalent policy didn’t already exist, and that their idea didn’t violate university rules, Barman explained.
“A university is always improved when clear policies are in place and when processes of accountability are transparent,” she added. And at a time when Ph.D. students “feel ever more pressure to publish,” it’s important that the university “communicates its commitment to their well-being.”
Jeanna Kinnebrew, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Boston and mother to a 3-year-old, said she was “very pleased” to learn of the new policy. Enrolling in graduate school following a job in industry, she realized that being a teaching fellow means “there really is no off time.” That became more apparent -- and difficult -- after she had a child and had to juggle teaching, research travel and dissertation writing on top of day-care schedules, child sick days and school closings.
“This policy is a good step forward in recognizing the realities of graduate student life,” she said.
Like Lebo's, Kinnebrew's praise came with some qualifications. Kinnebrew said she’d like more clarity on how the policy translates to graduate students in the humanities. As written, the policy says that vacation time for those supported by teaching fellowships can’t conflict with teaching obligations, including class time and planning meetings.
That about covers the entire semester, she said. And since many humanities stipends run from September to April, it’s immediately unclear “exactly when we are expected to take our vacation time.”
“This is an excellent policy,” Kinnebrew said, “but one which will prove ultimately frustrating for the majority of graduate students if the expectations and restrictions around teaching fellows' time are not clarified.”
Some graduate students also have expressed concern that not all faculty members -- their effective managers -- are not yet aware of the new policy.
Daniel Kleinman, associate provost for graduate affairs, said the university expects to have a “multifaceted communication strategy” about paid vacation. Students will learn about the policy during orientation and through student organizations. The university will ask directors of graduate studies in individual programs to discuss it with them, as well.
As for Kinnebrew's concern about humanities students with shorter appointments, Kleinman said the university recognizes that the vacation policy "is of greater benefit to our students with 12-month appointments, especially those who work in laboratories." (About 58 percent of arts and sciences Ph.D. students have 12-month appointments, and the share is larger in some other divisions.)
He added via email, "We view our new vacation policy as one among many policies and programs that seek to enhance the educational experience of our Ph.D. students. Among other recent programs for Ph.D. students in the humanities and social sciences are initiatives that provide stipends to Ph.D. students who serve as interns over the summer in nonprofit, cultural and governmental organizations in the Boston area."
Jon Bomar, director of employment concerns for the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, said in a statement that his organization supports "fair compensation and time off for graduate student workers." While paid vacation, in addition to breaks in the academic calendar, "is a positive step," he continued, "it draws attention to a central problem with the culture surrounding graduate employment -- graduate students are expected to work countless hours, often including holidays and breaks in the academic calendar, in exchange for low wages."
So the "very fact that a proposal for paid vacation time for graduate student workers at B.U. has made the news reflects the disregard many institutions and faculty advisors have for the wellbeing and personal lives of graduate student workers," Bomar said. "Nevertheless, the [association] supports progressive efforts, such as paid time off, to promote fair graduate student employment."
Giving graduate students paid vacation time is arguably an acknowledgment that they are workers. And the employee-versus-student question is at the heart of the ongoing graduate student union debate on private campuses. There's a graduate union organizing drive at BU affiliated with the United Auto Workers. Supporters, like their pro-union peers elsewhere, maintain that they are employees entitled to collective bargaining rights.
Kleinman said that the university takes the position "that our Ph.D. students are students, and students can and should have vacation time.”
President Trump on Thursday delivered on his promise of an executive order that would hold colleges that receive federal research funding accountable for protecting free speech.
However, his bombastic rhetoric in a White House East Room ceremony wasn't matched by the modest language of the order.
"If a college or university does not allow you to speak, we will not give them money. It's that simple," he said Thursday.
But the executive order essentially directs federal agencies to ensure colleges are following requirements already in place. And it doesn't spell out how enforcement of the order would work.
It directs 12 federal grant-making agencies to coordinate with the Office of Management and Budget to certify that colleges receiving federal research funds comply with existing federal law and regulations involving free academic inquiry. While the administration expects public institutions to uphold the First Amendment, the order says, private colleges are expected to comply with their "stated institutional policies" on freedom of speech. The free-speech directive doesn't apply to federal student aid programs.
The document also directs the Education Department to publish program-level data in the College Scorecard on measures of student outcomes, including earnings, student debt, default rates and loan repayment rates.
And it requires the department to submit policy recommendations to the White House by January 2020 on risk-sharing proposals for colleges that participate in the federal student loan program.
The executive order puts extra force behind several policies the White House has backed previously. For example, earlier this week the administration released a report on priorities for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that included program-level data and a new accountability system for colleges.
President Trump has weighed in repeatedly on alleged suppression of free speech on campuses, especially speech by conservative students. Most recently, he announced plans for an executive order addressing the issue at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of activists and elected officials.
"Free inquiry is an essential feature of this nation's democracy, and it promotes learning, scientific discovery and economic prosperity," the order reads. "We must encourage institutions to appropriately account for this bedrock principle in their administration of student life and to avoid creating environments that stifle competing perspectives, thereby potentially impeding beneficial research and undermining learning."
The executive order had been in the works long before the president’s comments at the conservative event.
But it’s not clear what kind of teeth the order has beyond new certification requirements for institutions. A senior administration official told reporters on Thursday that federal agencies will enforce it the same way they enforce existing federal grant conditions, which colleges already are required to follow. The official didn’t address details about how the order would be implemented.
Agencies covered by the order include the Departments of Education, Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and Energy, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation and NASA.
It says those agencies should "take appropriate steps, in a manner consistent with applicable law, including the First Amendment, to ensure institutions that receive federal research or education grants promote free inquiry through compliance with all applicable federal laws, regulations and policies."
Trump has repeatedly threatened federal funding for colleges and universities, beginning in 2017, when violent protests led the University of California, Berkeley, to cancel a planned lecture by Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative provocateur with a history of inflammatory statements disparaging women and minorities. And last month at the Berkeley campus, an activist with the conservative student group Turning Point USA was punched in the face by another man. Neither attended the university, and campus police later arrested the assailant. But Trump had the activist, Hayden Williams, appear on stage with him at CPAC and urged him to sue the university.
The president's message has been that colleges should either guarantee free speech or risk losing federal money. Jeff Sessions, the administration's first attorney general, also made campus free speech a key issue for the Justice Department. Under Sessions, the DOJ filed statements of interest in several ongoing lawsuits involving issues such as campus free speech zones.
On Thursday, Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point, called the executive order "historic."
Reactions to the Order
However, higher education leaders and groups have said the long-promised executive order is a solution in search of a problem. Research universities and other public colleges promote free speech and academic freedom as part of their mission, the groups have argued. And Congress, not the president, controls appropriations to colleges and universities.
Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said the executive order is unnecessary.
“Public universities are already bound by the First Amendment and work each day to defend and honor it. The commitment to free speech, the vigorous exchange of ideas and academic freedom go to the very core of what public universities are all about. It is inherent to their very identity,” he said in a statement. “As institutions of higher learning, public universities are constantly working to identify new ways to educate students on the importance of free expression, provide venues for free speech and advance our world through free academic inquiry. No executive order will change that.”
Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said the order was unnecessary and "could lead to unwanted federal micromanagement of the cutting-edge research that is critical to our nation’s continued vitality and global leadership." He urged the administration to consult with higher ed institutions as it carried out the order.
Julie Schmid, executive director of the American Association of University Professors, said the executive order appeared to accomplish little procedurally, "but is troubling in that it serves a broader goal of attempting to discredit higher education."
The lack of detail in the order also raises questions for colleges about how it will be carried out. Although the order directs federal agencies to coordinate with OMB in carrying out the rule, the administration official said it's more likely that each agency would issue guidance tailored to its particular grant programs.
"At the moment we anticipate each agency, in coordination with the general counsel's office, would be the arbiter," the official said.
Jonathan Friedman, project director for campus free speech at PEN America, said that approach virtually guarantees inconsistent interpretations at federal agencies. And he said linking research grant funding to free speech protections could have the effect of chilling some speech, because it conveys to faculty members and administrators that they are being watched by the federal government.
"It's essentially an order designed to create a lot of chaos and confusion," Friedman said.
He said Trump's focus on conservatives being censored on campus raises questions about whether his administration will apply speech protections for all points of view.
"There's no question that a more bipartisan or even-handed approach to free expression would be much wiser," Friedman said.
But Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said it was too early to praise or criticize the executive order without more details.
"We haven't seen what the agencies plan to do. That work has yet to happen," he said. "We have seen throughout our history at FIRE how censorship has victims on every part of the political spectrum. How the agencies take their next steps will be important in determining whether or not the public can trust the federal government to protect the rights of all speakers, and not just speakers with whom they politically agree."
Lamar Alexander, the GOP chairman of the Senate education committee, cautioned against Congress or the president getting involved in defining what can be said on campus.
“The U.S. Constitution guarantees free speech," Alexander said. "Federal courts define and enforce it. The Department of Justice can weigh in. Conservatives don’t like it when judges try to write laws, and conservatives should not like it when legislators and agencies try to rewrite the Constitution.”
The college-transparency component of the order directs the Education Department to by 2020 produce a website that will allow student loan borrowers to view information about their loans, including their total debt, monthly payment when entering repayment and available repayment options. Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, already had announced plans to create a single website for student borrowers as part of an overhaul of the federal loan-servicing system.
The expanded College Scorecard will include data for each certificate, degree and graduate and professional program on median earnings, median debt, Graduate PLUS loan debt, Parent PLUS loan debt and other metrics. The order directs the Treasury Department to work with the Education Department to produce program-level earnings data. And it directs the Education Department to submit, in consultation with the Treasury Department, recommendations by January 2020 to reform the collections process for defaulted federal student loans.
The White House said last year that it would release additional program-level data through the Scorecard. After the Education Department announced it would rescind the gainful-employment rule, which applied only to career education programs, officials said the additional program-level information would replace the rule and provide accountability for all colleges.
Amy Laitinen, director for higher education at New America's education policy program, said the order reflects how policy makers increasingly recognize that students need more information before making important and expensive decisions on where to enroll. But she said expanding the Scorecard would still leave out roughly 30 percent of students who aren't counted right now because they don't receive federal aid.
"If we want to count all students, Congress has to do it," she said. "The truth is there's only so much the administration can do because of existing law."
Faculty members and students at the University of Texas at El Paso are raising concerns about the sole finalist chosen to be their next president, saying both the candidate and the process deserve more scrutiny.
At an institution where 80 percent of students are Latinx and another 4 percent are Mexican nationals, the University of Texas system search committee’s choice of Heather Wilson -- a white Republican former congresswoman and Trump-appointed U.S. Air Force secretary -- is generating resistance.
“They just didn’t give a damn about the interests and the values of the student body at the university -- and the population at large here in El Paso,” said Oscar Martinez, a retired history professor.
The opening for a new president comes as UTEP’s longtime leader, Diana Natalicio, 79, prepares to step down later this year, after 31 years on the job.
Wilson’s nomination as UTEP’s next president could be approved as early as March 29. In the meantime, her first appearance on campus last week generated student protests, and a Change.org petition that asks the regents to remove Wilson as finalist has garnered more than 9,000 signatures.
Faculty say they weren’t consulted on the decision and question what they call a secretive selection process. UTEP’s Faculty Senate has yet to formally interview Wilson or any of the other three purported semifinalists, and faculty members said they are in the dark not just about who made it that far, but about how the committee chose Wilson, a former defense and security consultant who represented central New Mexico for a decade in Congress. Wilson admits she didn’t set foot on the El Paso campus until earlier this month.
“This person came the weekend of [her selection] and they’re like, ‘Meet your new president.’ And you’re supposed to be happy with that?” said Guillermina Gina Núñez-Mchiri, who directs UTEP's Women's and Gender Studies program. “I just don’t understand how this makes any logical sense.”
Núñez-Mchiri, who is also vice president of UTEP’s Faculty Senate, said the group was never consulted during the search -- nor was it told who the semifinalists were. Faculty members on the search committee, she said, were required to sign a nondisclosure agreement prohibiting them from talking about the process. “I’m very concerned,” she said. “We want to know about the diversity of the pool. Were they actively recruiting Latina or Latino presidents? We don’t know that because everything is held in secrecy.”
A few faculty members met Wilson for the first time in a brief get-together last week, Núñez-Mchiri said. As a result, she said, they’re left with an odd sense that their next leader is both a well-known public figure and an unknown quantity. “Anyone who knows how to google can google her voting record,” she said. “We can google what has been written, and that’s what precedes her, because we have no other way of knowing who this person is. So if googling our president is the only way of knowing who she is, how’s that for transparency?”
Presidential searches are often secretive -- in 2017, UT’s regents went through a nearly identical process, announcing that after a lengthy search they had chosen a sole finalist to be the next president of the University of Texas at San Antonio. Their choice was Taylor Eighmy, 60, then vice chancellor for research and engagement at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Dennis Bixler-Marquez, a UTEP Chicano studies professor, said the searches such as those in El Paso and San Antonio represent a departure from an earlier tradition, in which the top three presidential candidates would visit campus to meet faculty, staff and students.
“Obviously they didn’t want anybody to do that because we would question the fit,” he said. “I think most people are going to be rather recalcitrant to accept a Trump appointee if you come from Mexico or if you’re undocumented.”
He also noted that Texas lawmakers from both parties have for generations found academic positions for political allies. “I think it’s the typical Texas tradition to acquire people who have been or are about to exit, or are exiting a political administration, and finding them a home somewhere in academia in Texas,” he said.
UT system rules require that four finalists -- their names are protected by Texas law -- be reviewed by the Board of Regents. "Once the board votes to select a finalist (or finalists)," the rule says, "the name(s) become public at least 21 days in advance of the board’s final vote to officially appoint the new president."
Wilson, 58, comes to the nomination with an eclectic, if well-connected, background and strong academic credentials. A 1982 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, she was a Rhodes Scholar who earned both a master’s degree and Ph.D. in international relations at the University of Oxford. Wilson served for three years as a member of the National Security Council staff under President George H. W. Bush, and as head of New Mexico's Children, Youth and Families Department under Governor Gary Johnson. After a decade in Congress representing Albuquerque and surrounding areas in New Mexico's First Congressional District, she lost a Senate race in 2012 to Democrat Martin Heinrich.
From 2013 to 2017, she was president of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. Shortly after his inauguration in 2017, President Trump nominated Wilson to be secretary of the Air Force. Last week, she told reporters at UTEP, “You couldn’t have chosen as a sole finalist someone who has lived more in public life.”
But critics have pointed to Wilson’s voting record in Congress, which they say is, among other things, anti-LGBTQ.
The Human Rights Campaign, which rates lawmakers on their friendliness to LGBTQ issues using a scale of 0 to 100 percent, rated Wilson’s last three terms, respectively, at 0 percent, 0 percent and 5 percent. In the last rating, for Wilson’s 2007-2009 term, HRC gave her a small boost for voting in favor of a bill that permitted state Medicaid programs to cover low-income, HIV-positive patients before they develop AIDS.
During her tenure leading the Air Force, she upheld the religious rights of a colonel who claimed he was wrongly disciplined for refusing to sign a certificate of appreciation for the same-sex spouse of one of his airmen, Stars & Stripes reported.
In a letter to lawmakers, Wilson said Colonel Leland Bohannon “had the right to exercise his sincerely held religious beliefs and did not unlawfully discriminate when he declined to sign the certificate.” She said Bohannon met the Air Force’s duty “to treat people fairly and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin or sexual orientation” by having a more senior officer sign the certificate.
In a press briefing shortly after her selection last week, Wilson said her “general approach” with respect to LGBTQ issues “is to treat everyone with dignity and respect. And I think that’s what a leader should do with everyone in the university.” A video of the briefing was posted by UTEP’s daily newspaper, The Prospector.
On border issues, Wilson said she’d honor UTEP’s responsibility to educate “whoever walks onto this campus and chooses to be educated. I am not yet an expert on Texas law, but we’ll follow what Texas law is. But as a leader of this university, it’s my responsibility to educate. And I think this university is very well positioned to be a binational and bicultural university, and honestly I also think that’s also one of its appeals.”
Asked about Mexican students, who might be nervous about a Trump appointee leading UTEP, Wilson said, “We will welcome them and make them part of this rich fabric of university life. And I really look forward to getting to know them.”
Since Trump’s inauguration, UTEP and the UT system have pushed to make students feel more secure -- UTEP's campus reaches nearly to the U.S.-Mexico border.
In September 2017, amid threats to students covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Natalicio wrote an open letter “expressing support for you and the achievement of your educational aspirations.” She said UTEP officials “understand and very much regret that, with every breaking news story or rumor, the visa uncertainties that surround you gain new intensity and cause enormous stress and apprehension for you and your loved ones. What we want to be sure you know is that UTEP stands fully behind you and your dreams of a successful future through the attainment of your UTEP degree. Please know, too, that we will do all within our power to ensure that you have the opportunity to achieve your educational goals on our campus.”
In January 2018, then-UT chancellor William H. McRaven, a former Navy admiral, said he supported DACA and noted that all UT presidents “strongly believe in the benefits of DACA and encourage Congress to act quickly to continue the program.” He encouraged DACA students to renew their status as litigation moved through federal courts, and noted that for more than 15 years, nearly any student who graduated from a Texas high school, despite his or her immigration status, has been eligible to pay in-state tuition.
Wilson, who remains on the job as Air Force secretary through May, didn't respond to several requests for an interview or to written questions emailed to her via the university. But in a letter sent Tuesday to J. B. Milliken, the new UT chancellor, Wilson said she planned to meet with college faculty and others before March 29. She said she's coming to UTEP "with one agenda in mind: to advance its extraordinary record through access, opportunity and excellence. I will be focused on student success, advancing meaningful discovery and connecting the university to the community." Her letter concluded, "As a first-generation college graduate and as a woman who has worked at the highest levels in education, politics and national security affairs, I am personally committed to opening the doors of opportunity and keeping them open for everyone."
One of her only recorded congressional votes on Hispanic-serving institutions came in 2006, when Wilson voted no on a substitute amendment that would have provided $25 million for a new graduate Hispanic-serving institution program, among others. Wilson last week said the measure would have decreased the amount of the maximum Pell Grant from $6,000 to $5,800 per person. “In the end, that was an important decision,” she said.
But Howard Campbell, a UTEP professor of cultural anthropology, said making a Trump appointee the president of a major university on the U.S.-Mexico border offers terrible optics. “Trump has attacked the reality and the identity of the El Paso community,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say that there’s a real sense of discontent in the university and the community about this decision, because it appears to not match the aspirations of the university or the city as a whole.”
Wilson last week said she’d have “big pumps to fill, big shoes to fill” if selected to succeed Natalicio, whose tenure began in 1988. During that time, UTEP's enrollment has grown from 15,000 to over 25,000 students. In January, the university earned a coveted R-1 designation as a top-tier research university. But Martinez, the retired history professor, said another consequence of Natalicio's long service is that other Latinx educators haven't had a chance to lead. He also noted that UTEP has never had a Latinx president -- Natalicio, who uses her married surname, was born Diana Siedhoff in St. Louis.
In a personal essay included in the 2002 book Let Me Tell You What I've Learned: Texas Wisewomen Speak, the book’s editor notes that both sets of Natalicio’s grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from Germany.
During her long tenure, Natalicio has been an outspoken advocate for Latinx students, raising UTEP's profile and collaborating with area school districts and El Paso Community College to encourage them to pursue STEM careers, for instance. She has also led UTEP's work in helping create the Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions. In 2016, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation awarded her its STEM award. Last year, Latino Leaders magazine named her one of its "101 Most Influential" leaders.
But after three decades, Martinez said, “We felt, ‘Hey, it’s time that we have a Mexican American/Hispanic person here.’ In an African American community, this would never be permitted, not to have the person who represents the population as a whole.”
Steven Leslie, UT's executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, who chaired the search committee, said it "scoured the nation” for qualified candidates and understood that the finalist's cultural heritage would be a key issue in El Paso.
But in the end, he said, “We found the candidate who was most qualified to advance the institution in the ways that can advance the Latino population, the Hispanic population there -- that’s the goal and that’s exactly what we endeavored to do.” He said Wilson "has no real personal agenda in this," describing her as "someone who wants to continue to advance the mission of UT El Paso to serve that region."
Martinez said a group of faculty asked the search committee to expand in order to include more community members -- they suggested three at-large community representatives. The request “was totally ignored,” he said. “The community is outraged for those reasons -- and the fact that they found somebody who is totally alien to what the people in El Paso wanted.”
UT spokeswoman Randa Safady said the system actually added another search committee member from El Paso "at the community's request."
Wilson herself has proceeded as if her selection is a fait accompli. Once considered a top candidate to become the next U.S. defense secretary, she tweeted on March 8 that she had already told the president she was resigning to take the UTEP job.
Trump wishedWilson well, saying she had done “an absolutely fantastic job” leading the Air Force, “and I know she will be equally great in the very important world of higher education. A strong thank-you to Heather for her service.”
California State University has settled a lawsuit with two Jewish students, agreeing to publish a statement that Zionism is an important part of Jewish identity.
Two San Francisco State University students, Liam Kern and Charles Volk, had sued the institution, alleging the university and its Board of Trustees discriminated against them.
They said that officials did not let the campus Hillel chapter participate in an event called “Know Your Rights,” designed to gather groups to talk about a hostile political climate.
San Francisco State must also hire a coordinator for Jewish student life and refer cases of religious discrimination to an outside investigator, according to the settlement agreement. It must also allocate $200,000 toward “educational outreach efforts to support education outreach efforts to promote viewpoint diversity.”
"California State University's public recognition that Zionism is an integral part of Jewish identity represents a major victory for Jewish students at SFSU and across the country. Today we have ensured that SFSU will put in place important protections for Jewish and Zionist students to prevent continued discrimination. We are confident that this will change the campus climate for the better," Brooke Goldstein, executive director of the Lawfare Project, said in a statement. "The Lawfare Project was proud to play a role in securing justice for Jewish and Zionist students at SFSU. We commend the student plaintiffs who showed the courage to stand up and advocate for their civil rights."
What are the first responders for damaged cells in your body? In today's Academic Minute, part of USC Dornsife Week, Irene Chiolo looks into the body to find out. Chiolo is an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California. A transcript of this podcast can be found here.
A letter published in Science Thursday from several groups of Chinese or Chinese American scientists registers concerns about what the writers describe as “the recent political rhetoric and policies that single out students and scholars of Chinese descent working in the United States as threats to U.S. national interests.”
The letter from the Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America, the Chinese American Hematologist and Oncologist Network, and the Chinese Biological Investigators Society argues that some recommendations of a working group recently convened by the National Institutes of Health on the topic of foreign influences on research integrity “could target collaborations if implemented with bias. For example, NIH recommends fostering 'trusted relationships' with foreign partners but does not specify whether the trust must be established through official channels. NIH also suggests more disclosure requirements for foreign collaborators than domestic colleagues, which could hinder collaborations.”
The letter also raises concerns about several high-profile cases in which Chinese American scientists were wrongfully accused of spying, and about new visa restrictions targeting Chinese scientists. “It is our sincere hope that these actions, which we believe amount to racial profiling, will stop immediately and that increased security measures are not used to tarnish law-abiding scientists and limit normal and productive scientific exchanges,” the letter states.
In a response letter, Francis S. Collins, the director of the NIH, and other top agency officials said the NIH “greatly values scientists of Chinese descent as members of the American biomedical research enterprise … The vast majority of Chinese scientists working in America are honorable, conscientious and dedicated to the cause of expanding knowledge for the betterment of humankind,” Collins wrote.
“Unfortunately, instances have recently come to light where certain scientists, including some with links to foreign institutions and/or governments, have violated the honor-based systems and practices of the American research enterprise,” Collins's letter continues. “Convened to address the issue, the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director working group carefully considered how to ensure fairness of the grant process and intellectual property principles, while seeking to minimize jeopardy to innocent foreign nationals and important international collaborations. The working group recommendations apply to all foreign scientists, not just those of Chinese descent.”
“We are determined to maintain the integrity of the NIH research enterprise, but we are also deeply concerned about the issues raised by these three societies. NIH is committed to avoiding overreaction, stigmatization, harassment and profiling. We will use our influence and bully pulpit as necessary to speak out against such prejudicial actions, for which there is no place in the biomedical research community.”
Human Rights Watch on Thursday released a 12-point code of conduct to help colleges counter Chinese government efforts to undermine academic freedom abroad. The proposed code of conduct is based on interviews with more than 100 academics, graduate students and administrators at universities in Australia, Canada, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Interviewees identified a range of concerns, including surveillance of students and academics from China by Chinese authorities and problems related to censorship and self-censorship.
Among the recommendations included in the code of conduct are that universities strengthen academic freedom on campus, in part by publicizing policies stipulating that classroom discussions should be kept to the confines of the campus and not be reported to foreign missions; that they develop mechanisms, such as an ombudsman, to which pressures or threats from the Chinese government in response to research or speech can be reported; and that they join with other universities in promoting research in China, “including by making public statements and complaints where appropriate, in the event of unwarranted visa denials or prolonged delays for research in China.”
The code also recommends that universities offer flexibility to students and scholars studying China to “ensure that a scholar’s career advancement or a student’s progress will not be compromised if their research has to change direction due to Chinese government restrictions on research or access to source material in China.”
Among other recommendations, Human Rights Watch suggests that universities require all campus organizations that receive funding from Chinese government-linked entities -- such as the Chinese Students and Scholars Association -- report this information. And it recommends that colleges ensure academic freedom in their Chinese exchange programs and branch campuses and that they refrain from hosting the controversial Confucius Institutes, Chinese-government funded centers that typically offer language classes and cultural programs.