Monthly Archives: August 2016

The New Cheating Economy – The Chronicle of Higher Education

http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-New-Cheating-Economy/237587?cid=wb&utm_source=wb&utm_medium=en&elqTrackId=cf8c0f856b9d4a05950579497abac94e&elq=7e2dd6bafb9f45a0b688543c80037849&elqaid=10458&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=3924

The New Cheating Economy

By Brad Wolverton August 28, 2016

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Photo illustration by Jonathan Barkat for The Chronicle

Fifteen credits were all he needed. That’s what the school district in California where Adam Sambrano works as a career-guidance specialist required for a bump in pay. But when he saw the syllabus for a graduate course he’d enrolled in last year at Arizona State University, he knew he was in trouble.

Among the assignments was a 19-page paper, longer than anything he’d ever written. The idea of that much research worried Mr. Sambrano, who also spends time serving in the Army National Guard.

Before the class started, he went on Craigslist and enlisted the service of a professional cheater. For $1,000 — less than the monthly housing allowance he was receiving through the GI Bill, he says — Mr. Sambrano hired a stranger to take his entire course.

He transferred $500 upfront, “From Adam for ASU,” according to a receipt obtained by The Chronicle. Then he just waited for the cheater to do his work.

On any given day, thousands of students go online seeking academic relief. They are first-years and transfers overwhelmed by the curriculum, international students with poor English skills, lazy undergrads with easy access to a credit card. They are nurses, teachers, and government workers too busy to pursue the advanced degrees they’ve decided they need.

The Chronicle spoke with people who run cheating companies and those who do the cheating. The demand has been around for decades. But the industry is in rapid transition.

Just as higher education is changing, embracing a revolution in online learning, the cheating business is transforming as well, finding new and more insidious ways to undermine academic integrity.

A decade ago, cheating consisted largely of students’ buying papers off the internet. That’s still where much of the money is. But in recent years, a new underground economy has emerged, offering any academic service a student could want. Now it’s not just a paper or one-off assignment. It’s the quiz next week, the assignment after that, the answers served up on the final. Increasingly, it’s the whole class. And if students are paying someone to take one course, what’s stopping them from buying their entire degree?

The whole-class market is maturing fast. More than a dozen websites now specialize in taking entire online courses, including BoostMyGrade.com, OnlineClassHelp.com, and TakeYourClass.com. One of them, NoNeedtoStudy.com, advertises that it has completed courses for more than 11,000 students at such colleges as Duke, Michigan State, even Harvard.

As cheating companies expand their reach, colleges have little incentive to slow their growth. There’s no money in catching the cheaters. But there’s a lot of money in upping enrollment.

Two professors at Western Carolina University were so concerned about the encroachment of cheating that they set up a fake online class to learn more about the industry’s tactics, and see what they could detect.

About a dozen students agreed to enroll in the introductory psychology course, including John Baley, then a graduate student in clinical psychology. They were provided with fake names, email addresses, and ID numbers, plus a pot of money for cheating services. Half were asked to cheat, and they did so in a variety of ways, collaborating inappropriately with classmates, buying papers, and paying others to take tests.

Mr. Baley went looking for a company to take the whole class for him. He typed a few words into his browser — “cheat for me in my online class” — and turned up dozens of results. Many sites seemed untrustworthy: Their content was misspelled or grammatically incorrect, or their customer-service reps had trouble with basic English. Some requested confidential banking information or asked him to enter it into a website with no security protection.

Lissa Gotwalls for The Chronicle
John Baley, now a law student, hired a company to complete all of his work in a fake online class that professors at Western Carolina U. had set up as a research experiment. The professors — who were on the lookout for cheaters — didn’t catch him.

But one company impressed him. Its representatives responded promptly, explained how their colleagues would complete the course, and guaranteed a B or better — or his money back. He agreed to pay the company $900, half upfront, and handed over his course username and password.

Over the next 10 weeks, the company, which Mr. Baley declined to name, to protect any further research, passed him from the customer-service staff to the management team to the person who took his course. At each stage, he says, he dealt with people who were efficient, responsive, and reliable. In fact, the cheaters performed better than he thought they would. They completed every assignment without prompting, at one point providing a written script for a video presentation with less than 36 hours’ notice.

The instructors, Alvin Malesky, an associate professor of psychology, and Robert Crow, an assistant professor of educational research, used Turnitin and Google to check students’ work for plagiarism and monitored them to see if groups were taking exams at the same time.

The professors caught several students plagiarizing material. But they didn’t spot the paid test takers, purchased papers, or coordinated assignments. And they had no clue that a person in New York to whom Mr. Baley had mailed his books was behind the A’s they were giving.

Even when professors knew that students were cheating, and were trying to catch them, they came up short.

Contract Cheating’s African Labor

Kenyan academic writers, who number more than 20,000, perform work for students in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere. “In every apartment building in Nairobi,” says one, “you could find two, three writers.”

Mr. Baley’s only frustration was with the barrage of marketing he got. His Facebook and Instagram feeds were saturated with ads for cheating companies, he says. That didn’t let up for months.

Two years after the company took his class, its representatives are still trying to enlist him to refer other students as clients.

Like any underground industry, academic cheating has its share of sloppy opportunists and savvy operators. Most work in the shadows. Click on a website that offers academic work for hire, and you’ll probably find little information about the people or company behind it. The owners often use aliases and mislead prospective customers with fake addresses and exaggerated claims.

No Need to Study LLC lists its corporate address as 19 East 52nd Street, in New York,, but complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau say that address does not exist. A representative for the company said in an email that it is a virtual business offering services exclusively online and does not have an office open to the public. A dissertation-writing service that claims to be based in Chicago seems to operate out of Pakistan. “In order to create a best academic assignment that rank #1 among other assignments,” it website says, “then you will seek for a dedicated and experienced writer’s help.”

Even more-established companies can be difficult to track down. The headquarters of one, Student Network Resources, appears to be in the middle of a New Jersey cornfield. A half-mile away, in a generic strip mall, it maintains a post-office box in a packing-and-shipping store. The owner of the store says he forwards the mail to Florida. It goes to the company’s founder and president, Mark DeGaeta.

Mr. DeGaeta got the idea for Student Network Resources in the late 1990s, when he was still in high school, he says in an email to The Chronicle. Over the years, he has registered more than a dozen domains, including PaperDue.com and HelpMyEssay.com, which funnel work to his company, whose name is relatively unknown.

When students place a request through one of the sites, they enter their name, email address, and as much information about the assignment as possible, including due date and level (undergraduate, master’s, or doctoral). That information goes into Student Network’s system, where a price is set based on the difficulty of the assignment. The job is posted to a private board for writers, stripped of any personal details about the student. From there, a willing writer picks up the order and corresponds with the client through a private channel in which students often disclose personal information about themselves and their courses. Then the writer delivers the completed assignment.

Chronicle photo by Brad Wolverton
A professional cheater’s little black book of assignments shows the work he performed for students over the course of several weeks.
Mr. DeGaeta is mum about the revenue he has brought in, but the business appears to be lucrative. Two longtime writers say they’ve earned as much as $10,000 a month. At peak times, the company says on its website, most of its 150 writers earn more than $1,800 a week. Writers typically pocket half the price of an order; the company gets the rest. If those numbers are accurate, annual revenue for Student Network Resources would be in the millions. The company has only two employees.

The founder has made a good living, according to public records. He owns an apartment in a tony neighborhood of New York, near the United Nations building, and seems to reside near Miami Beach. But his business has fallen off in recent years, he says, as the industry has expanded overseas.

The company emphatically denies that it is a cheating service. It says it tells customers that they may not use its material for academic credit — and requires them to acknowledge as much before purchasing papers, during the research process, and before receiving the work. “We vehemently protect our copyright,” Mr. DeGaeta said in a written statement. “If the customer decides to use our material as a reference they must cite Student Network Resources Inc.”

Several current and former writers told The Chronicle that they had believed that. Amelia Albanese, a former community-college tutor who worked for the company in 2010, says she thought she was writing sample papers for tutors and teachers. When she realized she was doing students’ work, she quit.

“I worked at a college,” she says, “and if the students I worked with had cheated, I would have been furious.”

The company’s business depends on covering its tracks. A memo it sent to writers last year gives step-by-step instructions for wiping the metadata from documents they produce.

“Every document that you submit must have 100% blank ‘Summary’ properties,” the memo says. “You can make the ‘Author’ field (and other fields) blank by default for all new documents by going to ‘Preferences’ –> ‘User Information’ and replacing the content of the ‘First:’ and ‘Last:’ fields with a blank space.”

According to Mr. DeGaeta, the memo was aimed at preventing writers from poaching clients. But if there’s no trace of a cheater on a document, a college has no way of knowing — or if an instructor suspects something, no proof — that the student didn’t do the work.

Cheating has become second nature to many students. In studies, more than two-thirds of college students say they’ve cheated on an assignment. As many as half say they’d be willing to purchase one. To them, higher education is just another transaction, less about learning than about obtaining a credential.

The market, which includes hundreds of websites and apps, offers a slippery slope of options. Students looking for class notes and sample tests can find years’ worth on Koofers.com, which archives exams from dozens of colleges. And a growing number of companies, including Course Hero and Chegg, offer online tutoring that attempts to stay above the fray (one expert calls such services a “gateway drug”).

Many students turn to websites like Yahoo Answers or Reddit to find solutions to homework problems. And every month, hundreds of students put assignments up for bid on Freelancer.com and Upwork, where they might get a paper written for the cost of a few lattes.

“Calculation based classes are $750. All others are $600. Anyone quoting different is not a pro and doesn’t know what they are doing.”
It’s not uncommon for students to disclose personal details in their orders, which anyone online can see. This spring a student from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte included an attachment to his Upwork order that identified his institution and the introductory philosophy class he was looking for help in. A few days later, a Ph.D. candidate in Britain went on the same site to solicit help with his dissertation. A document he attached to his order included his name and his adviser’s.

Some of the most explicit exchanges happen on Craigslist, which has become a hub of cheating activity. Over two days in April, The Chronicle analyzed Craigslist posts in seven cities in which a cheater or cheating service offered to complete whole courses for students. The search turned up more than 200 ads. In many cases, the same ads ran in multiple cities, suggesting a coordinated marketing effort.

Craigslist posters appealed to students by acknowledging how little time they had for busywork. “Online classes are a pain in the ass,” said one Chicago-area ad. Others outright asked students to hand over their online credentials. “You can trust us with your login and password information,” said a Phoenix post. “We will do every section of your online class including discussion boards, tests, assignments, and quizzes.”

The Chronicle exchanged messages with several Craigslist posters to inquire about the cost of their service and how it worked. One person who has posted regularly in the Los Angeles area said he had been in business for 10 years and had a staff of “over 20 experts.” His prices, he said, depended on the number of hours it would take to complete a class, not how well a student wanted to do.

“We always get A’s and B’s,” he said in a text message. “Calculation based classes are $750. All others are $600. Anyone quoting different is not a pro and doesn’t know what they are doing. Cheap quotes = F grades.

“Oh,” he added, “and you can split up the payments.”

Another poster said his prices depended on the institution. “A course from Penn State World Campus requires more effort than a course from Post University,” he said in an email. “Previously, I completed a remedial English course for a client at Kaplan University. This person requested a ‘B’ for $90/week for eight weeks. Another client at a Cal State University required an ‘A’ in a four week upper division Asian Studies course for $300/week.”

The most common way students cheat is through a simple web search — typing, for example, “essay,” “essay help,” or “write my essay.” As many as half of the visits to some sites used for cheating come through search engines, The Chronicle found.

The companies that have made the biggest strides in the business have mastered the search game. Search-engine optimization efforts have helped Ultius, founded in 2011, grow fast.

The Delaware-based company, with a call center in Las Vegas, has hired more than 40 employees, including engineers and customer-service representatives, according to job ads. It has contracted with more than 1,400 writers.

That growth has coincided with a surge in traffic. Over a recent three-month stretch, the site drew about 520,000 visits, according to a Chronicle analysis of data compiled by SimilarWeb. Thirty to 40 percent of Ultius’s traffic comes from students’ web searches, according to estimates on Alexa, which measures internet usage. Ultius is the No. 1 or No. 2 search result that pops up when someone Googles “buy a term paper,” “buy a research paper,” or about a dozen other phrases that indicate an intent to purchase a completed assignment, according to a Chronicle analysis of search data compiled by Spyfu, a search-engine optimization tool.

Boban Dedovic, 27, the company’s chairman, helped start it after three semesters as a student at the University of Maryland at College Park, during which he worked as a tutor. To him, Ultius is a technology company that connects customers to writers, he says via email.

He denies that Ultius is part of the cheating industry, referring to it as a “doc prep service.” In a written statement, the company says it works hard to ensure that its customers don’t misuse its services, informing them of its fair-use policy (that its work is meant for reference only and must be properly cited) at least three times and requiring them to accept it. When the company suspects a problem, it conducts an investigation, drafts an internal report, and, if it finds a violation, disables the customer’s account. However, the company says, it cannot individually monitor every one of its orders.

Ultius protects its business by keeping those orders private. When a student posts an assignment on Craigslist or other sites, looking for someone to pick it up, Google indexes that text, making it visible in searches. But the customer experience at Ultius occurs behind a wall, in the same way a bank keeps its clients’ information private. Because Google can’t create a record of those pages, professors wouldn’t be able to find them.

The company’s dealings with one Ph.D. candidate illustrate the increasingly complex work that students are outsourcing, while faculty members remain in the dark. Last year, Ultius contracted with a student who described herself as a “single active duty parent” to help write a concept paper for her doctoral program, records show. The job included revisions requested by the chair of her dissertation committee.

The Ph.D. student requested that Ultius complete a literature review and produce a theoretical framework for her dissertation. The order required the company to find data on migration patterns and economic growth in Jamaica, and to apply advanced economic theory. The company did the work, but the customer was so displeased with it that she filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. That complaint details the case.

Ultius considers customer service a top priority, and despite 19 complaints in the past three years, mainly minor beefs over papers and assignments, it maintains an A+ rating from the BBB.

The Ph.D. student threatened to go public with her story, but more often it’s the paid cheaters who make threats. After Mr. Sambrano, the high-school guidance specialist, transferred $500 to have the whole course at Arizona State done for him, he stopped hearing from his Craigslist cheater and filed a PayPal claim against him. The cheater advised him to drop the claim or he’d hand over evidence of the arrangement to the university. Mr. Sambrano, afraid he’d be expelled, dropped the charge. He says he ended up doing the class himself.

Adam Sambrano, a career-guidance specialist for a school district in California, paid a professional cheater he found on Craigslist to take a graduate course at Arizona State University for him.
In another case, if not for a cheater turning a student in, a college may never have known that the student was paying someone else to log in to the course and complete the work. In May an undergraduate at Colorado State University-Global Campus, dissatisfied with the quality of the work done for him, filed a PayPal claim. Angered, the cheater gave the student’s name to the instructor, along with text messages, screen shots of the student’s portal, and payment records detailing how the student had arranged to have the entire course done for him, says Jon M. Bellum, the provost.

CSU-Global, an online institution with about 15,000 students, had its information-technology department look at the IP addresses used for the student’s coursework and found more than one.

Mr. Bellum would not disclose the penalty the student faced, citing privacy law, but says such abuses can result in expulsion. Often, though, the university is not aware of the violation.

Colleges have tried technology to combat cheating. Several thousand institutions around the world use the anti-plagiarism software Turnitin, which says it has a database of some 600 million papers. But a recent study found that custom work is “virtually undetectable.”

Coursera, an online education platform employed by dozens of prominent colleges, uses webcams and “keyboard dynamics,” which attempt to verify students’ identities on the basis of their typing patterns. But that doesn’t do much good if the cheater is always typing.

CSU-Global says it spends about $60,000 a year administering random identity checks on its students. The tests require them to provide answers to personal questions like what banks service their loans or what streets they’ve lived on. If they don’t answer accurately, they can’t log in to their classes. About 2 percent of identity checks result in students’ getting locked out of the CSU system.

Other institutions have blocked access to sites that help students cheat. Victor Valley College, in California, has prevented anyone on a campus computer from accessing the website of Student Network Resources. But students can turn to their own laptops or other devices.

The biggest key to fighting the problem is faculty engagement, says Tricia Bertram Gallant, a former president of the International Center for Academic Integrity. She often speaks with professors about the business, she says, and finds them surprised that someone else could be doing students’ work.

“When I tell them about contract cheating, they’re shocked,” she says. “They basically say, ‘What? That goes on?’ ”

In studies, as many as half of college students say they’d be willing to purchase an assignment.
Others are in denial that it could happen in their classes. And even those who know about it and want to stop it say they’re too busy, or feel that the fight is futile, with new cheating companies popping up all the time.

But some professors are catching on. Last fall, Megan Elwood Madden, an associate professor in the School of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Oklahoma, spotted a suspicious passage in a student’s paper. She ran it through Turnitin, finding several plagiarized sources but no match for the bulk of the text. So she Googled the student’s research topic and found the assignment posted on Course Hero with the student’s request for help.

A web search did not turn up the text the student had handed in, because it was hidden in Course Hero’s system. But once Ms. Elwood Madden had logged in to the site, she could see communication between the student and a contractor suggesting that the student had had the work completed for him, the professor said in an email.

She discovered that the student had used Course Hero to arrange work in at least four other classes as well. The revelations led the university to expel the student.

Such stories are rare, academic-integrity officers say, because there are so few would-be enforcers in pursuit. After The Chronicle published an article about the Western Carolina experiment, two federal law-enforcement officials contacted the professors, eager to hear more about the business.

William Josephson, a former assistant attorney general in New York who has investigated fraud, says companies that assume false identities violate federal laws governing interstate commerce. Laws in at least 17 states prohibit students from using cheating services to complete their assignments. But prosecutors aren’t enforcing them.

Faculty members on the front lines are no more active. That’s also true in other countries where the cheating industry has developed. This spring, Marcus J. Ball, a higher-education reformer in Britain, came across an advertisement for academic cheating services on the wall of a London subway station.

The ad offended Mr. Ball, who began emailing college administrators and professors, trying to persuade them to sign a petition for the British government to debate the issue of contract cheating. His goal was to create a “unified block” of people willing to stand up to the cheating companies, with hopes of taking the fight to Canada, the United States, and elsewhere.

In May, Mr. Ball contacted more than 250 college officials, including academic-integrity leaders in several countries. Only five responded.

“Academics are constantly complaining about the essay-mill problem,” he said in the email. But when presented with a “practical way forward to potentially solve the problem, they don’t engage.”

Last year, Ms. Bertram Gallant, who is director of the academic-integrity office at the University of California at San Diego, organized a dozen international experts to study the growth of contract cheating and how to stop it.

Bill Wechter for The Chronicle
Tricia Bertram Gallant, a former president of the International Center for Academic Integrity, says professors are often surprised that someone else could be doing students’ work. “When I tell them about contract cheating, they’re shocked,” she says.

The group laid out a series of big goals. Chief among them: Mobilize faculty members and students to demand laws making it more difficult for cheating companies to operate. It is creating a tool kit to help professors detect and prevent cheating. And it is organizing an international awareness day to bring more attention to the problem.

But the group can only muster so much fight. “There’s just not enough of us who care,” says Ms. Bertram Gallant. “It’s a very small cadre internationally who really dedicate our lives to working on this issue, and that’s just not enough people.”

College leaders haven’t helped, she says. Many have failed to make the issue a priority. Few colleges have academic-integrity offices, she says, or devote dollars to the problem.

“There is a lot of money to support these companies, but not a lot of money to support our research,” she says. “All the money is going to the illegal part of the industry, and none of it is going to combat the industry.”

Colleges also might need to rethink their approach, says Ms. Bertram Gallant. As online education continues to grow, and cheating companies have more opportunities to infiltrate classes, institutions would do well to enlist people with the skills to ferret out violations, she says. While educators may be equipped to catch plagiarism, they don’t have the tools to track a paid cheater who is assuming someone else’s identity.

Instead, colleges continue to rely on proud traditions to fight the scourge of cheating. This fall, as students return to campus, some colleges will require them to sign an honor code. Others will spell out for them the potential consequences of academic dishonesty.

In October, academic-integrity officials at the University of Oklahoma plan to hold a session to warn new students about paper mills. The tool they’re using to combat cheating? Tea bags. To remind the students of the importance of ethics, the university is encouraging them have a cup of “integri-tea.”

Dan Bauman and Ben Myers contributed reporting to this article.

Brad Wolverton is a senior writer. Follow him on brad.wolverton

Improv in the Classroom

http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/improv-in-the-classroom/?utm_campaign=Faculty+Focus&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=33513299&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_Pqp4iYY2ZywcHB-KMx39wl2Jwj2_vxUpYrEsgQApko6GrEa2-bRg1AgJnmBnU7LpOY8B5ELpAEaafeQDyd0OjT7wIGg&_hsmi=33513299

Improv in the Classroom

For the last 15 years or so, I have performed improv comedy in Chicago. During much of that time, I also taught English classes at Kendall College, a culinary and hospitality school. As you might imagine, my improv skills come in handy in the classroom. Here is a brief introduction for how the basic concepts of improv, when employed skillfully, help improve the classroom climate.

  • Yes, and …” “Yes, and …” is probably the most fundamental concept in improv. It’s pretty simple to understand. Basically, when you are onstage with a scene partner, the two of you are tasked with creating a scene together. To do this, you need to support each other’s choices. So, if your scene partner proposes that the two of you are astronauts who have just landed on the moon, you must affirm this choice and then add something to it. The reason for this practice is that if you were to negate your partner’s choice, the scene would become bogged down in argument. This applies to the classroom in a number of ways, but for me it applies primarily to discussions and brainstorming. Practicing “yes, and …” while facilitating classroom discussion puts me in an affirmative rather than combative mind-set. I am there to help students tease out their ideas and opinions rather than to tell them they’re wrong. “Yes, and …” is also helpful when teaching brainstorming. By practicing “yes, and …” you can model for students how quickly a group can put a coherent brainstorm together. “Yes, and …” seems to protect against some of the critical self-censorship many students are prone to. Given a task, they might begin it but almost immediately feel compelled to circle back and scrutinize their ideas to the point of paralysis, severely bogging down the writing process. By practicing “yes, and…” we circumvent this self-editing tendency in favor of simply going with the flow, following the last thing.
  • Your first answer is your best answer. On stage during a show, you don’t have time to think. No audience will enjoy watching you up there trying to think of the clever thing you want to say. Good improvisers become very practiced in letting go of this need to say something that is perfectly formed. In a way, you get practice in saying many dumb things in front of large groups of strangers. This is helpful in that it loosens our need to always be right. And it can be good practice for students who, again, often feel hesitant to participate in discussions or show you rough drafts of their papers. I encourage students to simply say what is on their minds and to say the first thing on their minds. In this way, the classroom can become an encouraging place to experiment, where students are free to play with new ideas and ways of thinking.
  • Improvising around the lesson plan. Every class has an individual energy, not just over the course of a term but also during each particular class meeting. This energy is subject to change, I’m sure you know, from moment to moment. Given the ever-changing energy of any individual class, one is called upon to improvise around the lesson plan. Maybe this means dropping a planned activity altogether. Maybe it means one day extending discussion beyond the 10 minutes allotted for it. Maybe this means, as happened to me recently, calling upon a student to come to the front of the class and teach for five minutes because this student seemed exceptionally knowledgeable about the topic at hand. Whatever the case, this kind of improvising requires the kind of deep listening one finds among the best improv groups. This listening, a form of awareness, I believe, can be developed, but it entails sometimes being quiet and paying very close attention not only to what students are saying (or not saying) but even to how they are moving about in their chairs (also, do you have them moving about?). We get caught sometimes stubbornly conducting our lesson plans against a classroom dynamic that has shifted before us, hoping that this dynamic will somehow shift back toward our preference. Instead, wouldn’t it be better to acknowledge the changed dynamic and then make changes to a lesson plan in accord with it?

These are just a few of the ways the fundamentals of improv can help create a fun and engaging learning environment. By exhibiting the looseness that improv fosters, your students will respond and be more apt to participate authentically in your class.

Beau Golwitzer teaches English at Kendall College.

© Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

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Is The Department Of Education’s Work On Campus Sexual Assault In Danger? feedly

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Is The Department Of Education’s Work On Campus Sexual Assault In Danger?
// ThinkProgress – Medium

1*MkV0zqz32xuJFWCgdeF2kg.jpegProtesters stand in solidarity with rape victims on the campus of Brigham Young University during a sexual assault awareness demonstration Wednesday, April 20, 2016, in Provo, Utah. CREDIT: AP/RICK BOWMER

Over the past several years, Title IX — the federal statute that protects students from gender-based harassment — has become an important tool for campus activists to hold their colleges accountable when it comes to the way administrators are responding to cases of sexual assault and harassment.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights currently has 246 open investigations into 195 colleges and universities to examine the way they have handled sexual assault cases brought by students.

But Republican lawmakers and universities have long been critical of this aspect of Title IX enforcement, saying that the government is overstepping its authority on college campuses.

Most of these criticisms have been overblown. But new developments in a case regarding how Title IX should be interpreted regarding the rights of transgender students turns the opposition into more than hot air. Now, the U.S. Department of Education’s ability to enforce this law might be called into question in a real way.

Last week, a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction that blocks the Department of Education from acting on its guidance to schools that requires trans students to have access to the bathroom and locker rooms that match their gender. Judge Reed O’Connor said that the department violated the terms of the federal Administrative Procedure Act by not giving public comment and notice before — the same argument that critics are making about the department’s sexual assault guidance.

That leads legal experts to wonder whether this argument could affect the department’s efforts to investigate universities procedures for handling sexual assault complaints.

Why critics are unhappy with the way Title IX is used

A renewed debate over the disciplinary process for Title IX complaints began shortly after the agency released a Dear Colleague letter in 2011 providing some guidance to universities on how to handle these complaints appropriately.

In the letter, the department made it clear that colleges should use a standard known as “preponderance of the evidence” — which means the disciplinary panel would make a decision based on which party’s evidence has greater weight, rather than needing “clear and convincing evidence” to prove someone is guilty. The first standard is used in civil cases while the second standard is used in criminal cases.

The American Association of University Professors opposed use of the preponderance of evidence standard and said more evidence should be required. Although previous letters didn’t specify the use of this standard, defenders of the letter say this has always been the standard for issues involving civil rights on college campuses.

In January, Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford (R) wrote that the department’s letters went further than interpret existing law — and instead made new law without going through the notice and public comment period required by the Administrative Procedure Act.

Universities and their representatives have also claimed that the 2011 letter contributes to a climate of uncertainty, even though the purpose behind the letter was to clarify a university’s obligations.

“In trying to better deal with allegations of sexual assault on campus, a lot of schools would probably try different approaches and consider different things, but a fear of vague federal mandates limits these efforts. They are hamstrung by uncertainty,” Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government relations and public affairs at the American Council on Education, told Inside Higher Education.

Why these concerns are misplaced

There is no reason why the preponderance of evidence standard shouldn’t fully protect both the complainant and the accused, said Alyssa Peterson, policy and advocacy coordinator for Know Your Title IX, a group that does education and advocacy work on issues of campus sexual assault.

“The Dear Colleague letter offers many protections that students are constitutionally entitled to. They have to have notice of a hearing, they have to present evidence, they’re allowed to question witnesses through a third party. We’re not opposed to those protections being expanded … To focus on accused students rights without acknowledging how survivors feel in a system that is stacked against them is in many ways is inappropriate,” Peterson said.

One misconception about the handling of sexual assault cases is that universities must all use the idea of affirmative consent, which is seeking an enthusiastic yes before having sex, to determine whether a student has encountered a hostile environment on campus, which includes a range of actions that fall under the topic of sexual harassment. Although states are embracing the idea, the department actually uses the welcomeness standard, which Peterson said covers the nature of power imbalances and how they influence the ability to get consent from a person. That standard has been widely used in sexual harassment cases since the 1990s.

“You had a long time to figure this out.”

“Affirmative consent can break down where one party has power over another party, and they badger them and they say ‘Yes,’ and that person says ‘Oh I got a verbal yes, so I can now have sex with this person’ even though there’s a severe power imbalance and even though that person did not welcome their conduct,” Peterson said.

Peterson also doesn’t buy the idea that universities are confused about how to handle sexual harassment complaints because guidance on how to handle these cases without violating Title IX has existed since the 1990s and the education department, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, have dedicated a lot of resources to educating universities. The department of justice went on a “campus tour” to educate colleges on the issue and it provides grants to schools, which are authorized by the Violence Against Women Act, to provide better services for sexual assault survivors.

“If you go to whitehouse.gov, there are literally policies written that schools can just take,” Peterson said. “So I’m less than sympathetic in part because the students have a pretty strong idea of what their legal rights are, and then they’ve been literally handed written policies from the federal government, which I think is pretty unheard of on an issue, and Title IX has been interpreted to cover sexual harassment since the 1990s, so it’s been a long time. So when they say they’re really confused it’s like, you had a long time to figure this out.”

Why professors argue Title IX guidance is just use of civil rights law

Law professors and experts on Title IX argue that the agency’s actions are not very different from other agencies’ interpretation of rules — and that it is impractical to expect people’s civil rights to be addressed swiftly and appropriately when Congress doesn’t acknowledge its role in delegating its power to agencies after laws pass.

“This is an ordinary thing that is used by other enforcement agencies across the government and enforcement would fall apart, frankly, if agencies could not do this,” said Michele Landis Dauber, a law professor at Stanford University. “So the real question in my mind about this is, ‘Why is it being so politicized given the fact that it is an ordinary part of the executive branch?’”

“It is about women’s equality, basically. And the Office for Civil Rights has become a lightening rod.”

Landis Dauber, at least, has a pretty good guess about how to answer to that question. “I think the reason is because it is about women’s equality, basically,” she said. “And the Office for Civil Rights has become a lightening rod, unfortunately.”

Title IX has existed since 1972. The department issued new guidance regarding how Title IX relates to sexual assault cases in 1997 and 2001, providing comment periods on the issue each time. Although there hasn’t been another one since, it is debatable — and requires going into mostly academic conversations about the aging of statutes and rules — whether there is a time period that is appropriate for revisiting these rules, law professors say.

In a white paper on the department’s 2011 guidance, several law professors noted it’s simply inaccurate to suggest that the legal standard used for disciplinary proceedings on sexual assault complaints was forced upon colleges that year. In fact, the “preponderance of the evidence” standard existed way before the 2011 letter.

Furthermore, universities use the same standard in complaints of racial discrimination on campus, and don’t seem particularly concerned about using it in that context. Treating sexual harassment and assault issues differently than other civil rights complaints would be discriminatory, the law professors argued.

The professors also wrote that the purpose of the relationship of the school disciplinary proceedings to students and the criminal justice system’s relationship to those accused of a crime are very different in nature. The most the school can do is expel the student, which rarely happens, and even when it does, students can and do simply transfer to another college. This worst case scenario can’t be compared to prison, the authors write. In the criminal justice system, those accused are supposed to have the greatest rights, but in the context of civil rights issues, the ability for the alleged victim to live a full and productive life is as important as the accused’s quality of life.

What could happen next for Title IX

1*Fiz2zR92zKhsKMVqM5vd7Q.jpegTexas Tech freshman Regan Elder helps drape a bed sheet with the message “ No means No,” over the university’s seal on the Lubbock campus on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. CREDIT: AP/BETSY BLANEY

Still, the Texas federal judge’s injunction against the Justice Department and Education Department’s guidance on transgender students could end up being a model for those who want to argue Title IX is rulemaking not an interpretation of existing law, according to Charlton Copeland, professor of law at the University of Miami School of Law.

“[They could argue] that in some sense that this is an inappropriate use of agencies and their expertise, and on some level you might also suggest that these are not appropriate questions for administrative agencies altogether. I didn’t see that argument in the Texas case, but there were hints of that argument,” Copeland said.

“This is a case will likely be a model.”

Copeland pointed out that the in the complaint, lawyers argued the guidance on transgender students represents a “radical change in the definition of sex,” and are arguing that it is a “major question.” In the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court case, FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said the FDA did not have the power to regulate tobacco products and that the government couldn’t assume the FDA had the authority to “opine” by unilaterally deciding to regulate tobacco.

However, it’s possible this argument wouldn’t work on Title IX guidance on handling sexual harassment cases, Copeland said.

“I think Texas injunction issue is a cleaner issue than the campus sexual assault issue. Because the campus sexual assault issue sounds much more bureaucratic — asking ‘What are the proper procedures?’ — than this fundamental reorientation of and expansion of what sex means in Title IX. This is a case will likely be a model, but I think this is a case that may prove sufficiently different that we are able to distinguish it,” Copeland said.

These administrative law issues, as wonky as they may be, could have real life consequences for people most empowered by civil rights laws. Agencies are entrusted to interpret laws, many of them decades old, as the issues at hand change and groups affected by them change dramatically. The Office of Civil Rights appears to be at the epicenter of this debate, given its role in protecting the most disadvantaged populations in the country.

UChicago’s anti-safe spaces letter isn’t about academic freedom. It’s about power.

A letter from the University of Chicago’s dean of students to the incoming students of the class of 2020 has been making the rounds on social media the past few days. Its purpose, I guess, was to let those students know they were in for a real education. More of a full-on broadside than a welcome letter, the dean let the incoming students know that the university is totally committed to academic freedom and "freedom of expression" from its faculty and students.

What this means in practice, the letter continues, is that "we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own." And, if you’ve watched students at other campuses, the dean warns, don’t get any crazy ideas about protesting invited speakers: "we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial." And, for the love of Milton Friedman, "Our commitment to academic freedom means we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings.’" WE ARE A MIGHTY RACE OF INTELLECTUAL WARRIORS.

I’ve been teaching on the college level for 18 years, and I also direct my university’s Teaching and Learning Center, so I’ve been following the debate over "trigger warnings," "safe spaces," and the purported scourge of "political correctness" for quite a while. Despite the apocalyptic tone that often accompanies screeds against supposedly coddled students and their trigger-free safe spaces, the issues involved strike me as far more complicated than the overheated rhetoric suggests.

As with any conversation about teaching and learning, context and nuance matter greatly — but they’re not present in most of the critics’ attempted takedowns of trigger warnings (better called "content advisories," in my estimation) or safe spaces.

Students deserve much more credit than they get in the UChicago letter

I’m dismayed by how diatribes like the Chicago letter approach students in adversarial terms, implying that they don’t know how to make choices or approach material when it comes to their learning. Our students deserve more credit than they get in these types of polemics; as I’ve argued elsewhere, they are far from the coddled, entitled softies that they’re often painted as. Rather than obsessing about a cartoonish version of what some hypothetical Oberlin graduate might say, we ought to engage with our students as the real and complex people that they actually are.

As you might imagine, though, there’s been a wave of support from the usual quarters for the Chicago letter and its sentiments; I assume that’s what such a blatant attempt at elitist posturing was aiming for in the first place. On the surface, the points seem hard to argue with.

Academic freedom is the sine qua non of higher education. Students ought to be challenged, even made uncomfortable, in order to learn in deep and meaningful ways. And, of course, collegiate education is where students must encounter perspectives different from their own. No one who genuinely believes in higher education is going to dispute any of that. And that’s what this dean and the anti-trigger-warnings, no-safe-spaces crowd are counting on — that the surface veneer of reasonableness in these admonitions to the class of 2020 will obscure the rotten pedagogy and logical fallacies that infest this entire screed.

The screed is a manifesto looking for an audience

Even the timing of this missive raises questions. Why go full blast against this purported scourge of wimpy, touchy-feely educational malpractice right up front? Is there a safe-spaces petition percolating in the ranks of the first-years? Are the dean and the university worried that people will lose respect for the almighty maroon if they didn’t stake out the tough-guy intellectual turf from the beginning? Did they sit around and ask themselves what Milton Friedman would have done?

From the outside, it looks like a lot of smoke without much heat. I suspect that this letter is not intended as an orientation statement, but rather a public rebuke to what its authors see as a threat to their vision of what higher education ought to be. It’s not a welcome letter, it’s a manifesto looking for an audience.

And as a statement of principle, the letter — as does much of the general argument against trigger warnings and safe spaces — relies on caricature and bogeymen rather than reason and nuance. The document comes from a place, I imagine, where the true defenders of Academic Rigor™ man the parapets against the encroaching legions of namby-pamby liberals who want to coddle students instead of teach them.

Ohhh, you want a safe space so the mean nasty Truths of the world won’t hurt your wittle feewings. You want to be "warned" before we discuss "sensitive" subjects. WELL HEY JUNIOR, "WAR AND PEACE" HAS WAR IN IT. If you don’t like it, go sit on the quad and sing "Kumbayah" with the other flower children.

That’s the specter that arguments like this conjure up: The greatest threat to genuine academic freedom comes from within. Coddled students who are used to getting trophies for everything don’t want to engage with stuff they don’t like, so they wrap themselves in entitlement and demand trigger warnings to protect their feelz. Or they want safe spaces to hide from the big, bad world. Or they want the university to cancel a lecture because the speaker is from the wrong demographic. And if universities don’t make a stand against this foolishness, Western Civilization itself will collapse.

That’s a comforting narrative to the academic elite who feel like they’re faced with an existential crisis. Rather than seeing themselves as clinging to the last vestiges of the 1950s, they get to paint themselves as staunch advocates of all that is good and worthy. And there’s an audience for this fiction — people still read Allan Bloom. But as critiques of inequality have shown time and again, when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the backlash against so-called "political correctness" in higher education has intensified in direct variation with the diversification of the academy, areas of scholarship, and — most significantly — the student population.

What’s really behind the hand-wringing: the gatekeepers want to remain in place

Underlying much of the hand-wringing about the state of the academy is a simple desire to have the gatekeepers remain in place. The perception of the threat is entirely out of alignment with the reality on the ground. For every ginned-up hypothetical scenario of spoiled brats having a sit-in to protest too many white guys in the lit course, there are very real cases where trigger warnings or safe spaces aren’t absurdities, but pedagogical imperatives.

If I’m teaching historical material that describes war crimes like mass rape, shouldn’t I disclose to my students what awaits them in these texts? If I have a student suffering from trauma due to a prior sexual assault, isn’t a timely caution the empathetic and humane thing for me to do? And what does it cost? A student may choose an alternate text I provide, but this material isn’t savagely ripped out of my course to satiate the PC police.

To move from the hypothetical to the real, the Virginia Tech students who protested their university’s invitation to Charles Murray to deliver a lecture weren’t some sort of intellectual gestapo, they were members of a community calling out other members’ violation of the community’s ethos.

Murray is a racist charlatan who’s made a career out of pseudoscientific social Darwinist assertions that certain "races" are inherently inferior to others. To bring him to campus is to tell segments of your student community that, according to the ideas the university is endorsing by inviting Murray, they don’t belong there. This isn’t a violation of academic freedom. It’s an upholding of scientific standards and the norms of educated discourse — you know, the type of stuff that colleges and universities are supposed to stand for, right?

These two examples — one centered in an individual classroom and the other involving institutional decisions — speak to the diversity and complexity of the issues involved. It’s easy to inveigh against silly scenarios. It’s much harder to address real things that really happen. Do I tell my student that, even though she was the victim of a brutal assault in her past, she must read testimony of gang-rape survivors in my course in order to uphold the sacred values of free intellectual inquiry?

Sure, Charles Murray has a right to his views. But is it okay for us to use student fees paid in part by African-American students to bring him to campus, fête him, and give him a rostrum to tell those students they’re doomed by genetics to be inferior to whites? Well, he makes a strong argument and isn’t bound by conventional "niceties." Yes, that’s true. But that’s also the reason people claim to like Donald Trump, and I don’t see universities lining up to bring him in as a guest lecturer.

Ignoring the complexity of real-life situations is a common accusation hurled at academics and the academy in general. Why on earth would we be so eager, in this case, to prove those accusations true? To prevent imaginary sit-down strikes against Victorian literature, we’re willing to force students into a predetermined path where to deviate is to compromise academic integrity? Are we so scared of losing the intellectual heft of our curricula that we want to muzzle our students and deprive them of agency?

Or are we just afraid of our students challenging us and holding us accountable to the very values we profess?

Our first reaction to expressions of student agency should not be to shut them down

As a faculty member, I would be enormously dismayed if my dean sent this letter to my incoming students. Because now they’ll come into my class already having received a clear message about what my institution seems to value — and it isn’t them.

The Chicago letter reeks of arrogance, of a sense of entitlement, of an exclusionary mindset — in other words, the very things it seeks to inveigh against. It’s not about academic freedom; it’s about power. Know your place, and acknowledge ours, it tells the students. We’ll be the judge of what you need to know and how you need to know it. And professors and students are thus handcuffed to a high-stakes ideological creed. Do it this way, in the name of all that is holy and true in the academy. There is no room here for empathy, for student agency, or for faculty discretion.

Displaying empathy for the different experiences our students bring to the classroom is not a threat to our academic freedom. Allowing for a diversity of perspectives to flourish, even when that diversity might challenge the very structure of our course and its material, is not a threat, but an opportunity. Our first reaction to expressions of student agency, even when they seem misguided or perhaps frivolous, should not be to shut it down. If we really value academic freedom, then we need to model that with and for our students.

Ableism, misogyny, racism, elitism, and intellectual sloppiness deserve to be called out. That’s not a threat, that’s our students doing what they’re supposed to as engaged citizens of an academic community. This year, we should challenge ourselves to quit fixating on caricatures and hypotheticals and instead acknowledge the actual landscape of teaching and learning in all its messiness and complexity. When we act out of fear, we do harm. When we assume the worst from our students, that’s what we often end up getting — from them and from ourselves. We can do better than this.

Kevin Gannon, PhD, is professor of history and director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. In addition to his own blog at thetattooedprof.com, he writes on pedagogy and academia at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae and the Teaching US History blog. Find him on Twitter @TheTattooedProf.

This article was adapted from a post that originally ran on The Tattooed Professor.

First Person is Vox’s home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us atfirstperson@vox.com.

via Vox – All http://ift.tt/2bSV6Az

UChicago’s anti-safe spaces letter isn’t about academic freedom. It’s about power.

Via Vox – All: http://ift.tt/2bSV6Az


A letter from the University of Chicago’s dean of students to the incoming students of the class of 2020 has been making the rounds on social media the past few days. Its purpose, I guess, was to let those students know they were in for a real education. More of a full-on broadside than a welcome letter, the dean let the incoming students know that the university is totally committed to academic freedom and "freedom of expression" from its faculty and students.

What this means in practice, the letter continues, is that "we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own." And, if you’ve watched students at other campuses, the dean warns, don’t get any crazy ideas about protesting invited speakers: "we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial." And, for the love of Milton Friedman, "Our commitment to academic freedom means we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings.’" WE ARE A MIGHTY RACE OF INTELLECTUAL WARRIORS.

I’ve been teaching on the college level for 18 years, and I also direct my university’s Teaching and Learning Center, so I’ve been following the debate over "trigger warnings," "safe spaces," and the purported scourge of "political correctness" for quite a while. Despite the apocalyptic tone that often accompanies screeds against supposedly coddled students and their trigger-free safe spaces, the issues involved strike me as far more complicated than the overheated rhetoric suggests.

As with any conversation about teaching and learning, context and nuance matter greatly — but they’re not present in most of the critics’ attempted takedowns of trigger warnings (better called "content advisories," in my estimation) or safe spaces.

Students deserve much more credit than they get in the UChicago letter

I’m dismayed by how diatribes like the Chicago letter approach students in adversarial terms, implying that they don’t know how to make choices or approach material when it comes to their learning. Our students deserve more credit than they get in these types of polemics; as I’ve argued elsewhere, they are far from the coddled, entitled softies that they’re often painted as. Rather than obsessing about a cartoonish version of what some hypothetical Oberlin graduate might say, we ought to engage with our students as the real and complex people that they actually are.

As you might imagine, though, there’s been a wave of support from the usual quarters for the Chicago letter and its sentiments; I assume that’s what such a blatant attempt at elitist posturing was aiming for in the first place. On the surface, the points seem hard to argue with.

Academic freedom is the sine qua non of higher education. Students ought to be challenged, even made uncomfortable, in order to learn in deep and meaningful ways. And, of course, collegiate education is where students must encounter perspectives different from their own. No one who genuinely believes in higher education is going to dispute any of that. And that’s what this dean and the anti-trigger-warnings, no-safe-spaces crowd are counting on — that the surface veneer of reasonableness in these admonitions to the class of 2020 will obscure the rotten pedagogy and logical fallacies that infest this entire screed.

The screed is a manifesto looking for an audience

Even the timing of this missive raises questions. Why go full blast against this purported scourge of wimpy, touchy-feely educational malpractice right up front? Is there a safe-spaces petition percolating in the ranks of the first-years? Are the dean and the university worried that people will lose respect for the almighty maroon if they didn’t stake out the tough-guy intellectual turf from the beginning? Did they sit around and ask themselves what Milton Friedman would have done?

From the outside, it looks like a lot of smoke without much heat. I suspect that this letter is not intended as an orientation statement, but rather a public rebuke to what its authors see as a threat to their vision of what higher education ought to be. It’s not a welcome letter, it’s a manifesto looking for an audience.

And as a statement of principle, the letter — as does much of the general argument against trigger warnings and safe spaces — relies on caricature and bogeymen rather than reason and nuance. The document comes from a place, I imagine, where the true defenders of Academic Rigor™ man the parapets against the encroaching legions of namby-pamby liberals who want to coddle students instead of teach them.

Ohhh, you want a safe space so the mean nasty Truths of the world won’t hurt your wittle feewings. You want to be "warned" before we discuss "sensitive" subjects. WELL HEY JUNIOR, "WAR AND PEACE" HAS WAR IN IT. If you don’t like it, go sit on the quad and sing "Kumbayah" with the other flower children.

That’s the specter that arguments like this conjure up: The greatest threat to genuine academic freedom comes from within. Coddled students who are used to getting trophies for everything don’t want to engage with stuff they don’t like, so they wrap themselves in entitlement and demand trigger warnings to protect their feelz. Or they want safe spaces to hide from the big, bad world. Or they want the university to cancel a lecture because the speaker is from the wrong demographic. And if universities don’t make a stand against this foolishness, Western Civilization itself will collapse.

That’s a comforting narrative to the academic elite who feel like they’re faced with an existential crisis. Rather than seeing themselves as clinging to the last vestiges of the 1950s, they get to paint themselves as staunch advocates of all that is good and worthy. And there’s an audience for this fiction — people still read Allan Bloom. But as critiques of inequality have shown time and again, when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the backlash against so-called "political correctness" in higher education has intensified in direct variation with the diversification of the academy, areas of scholarship, and — most significantly — the student population.

What’s really behind the hand-wringing: the gatekeepers want to remain in place

Underlying much of the hand-wringing about the state of the academy is a simple desire to have the gatekeepers remain in place. The perception of the threat is entirely out of alignment with the reality on the ground. For every ginned-up hypothetical scenario of spoiled brats having a sit-in to protest too many white guys in the lit course, there are very real cases where trigger warnings or safe spaces aren’t absurdities, but pedagogical imperatives.

If I’m teaching historical material that describes war crimes like mass rape, shouldn’t I disclose to my students what awaits them in these texts? If I have a student suffering from trauma due to a prior sexual assault, isn’t a timely caution the empathetic and humane thing for me to do? And what does it cost? A student may choose an alternate text I provide, but this material isn’t savagely ripped out of my course to satiate the PC police.

To move from the hypothetical to the real, the Virginia Tech students who protested their university’s invitation to Charles Murray to deliver a lecture weren’t some sort of intellectual gestapo, they were members of a community calling out other members’ violation of the community’s ethos.

Murray is a racist charlatan who’s made a career out of pseudoscientific social Darwinist assertions that certain "races" are inherently inferior to others. To bring him to campus is to tell segments of your student community that, according to the ideas the university is endorsing by inviting Murray, they don’t belong there. This isn’t a violation of academic freedom. It’s an upholding of scientific standards and the norms of educated discourse — you know, the type of stuff that colleges and universities are supposed to stand for, right?

These two examples — one centered in an individual classroom and the other involving institutional decisions — speak to the diversity and complexity of the issues involved. It’s easy to inveigh against silly scenarios. It’s much harder to address real things that really happen. Do I tell my student that, even though she was the victim of a brutal assault in her past, she must read testimony of gang-rape survivors in my course in order to uphold the sacred values of free intellectual inquiry?

Sure, Charles Murray has a right to his views. But is it okay for us to use student fees paid in part by African-American students to bring him to campus, fête him, and give him a rostrum to tell those students they’re doomed by genetics to be inferior to whites? Well, he makes a strong argument and isn’t bound by conventional "niceties." Yes, that’s true. But that’s also the reason people claim to like Donald Trump, and I don’t see universities lining up to bring him in as a guest lecturer.

Ignoring the complexity of real-life situations is a common accusation hurled at academics and the academy in general. Why on earth would we be so eager, in this case, to prove those accusations true? To prevent imaginary sit-down strikes against Victorian literature, we’re willing to force students into a predetermined path where to deviate is to compromise academic integrity? Are we so scared of losing the intellectual heft of our curricula that we want to muzzle our students and deprive them of agency?

Or are we just afraid of our students challenging us and holding us accountable to the very values we profess?

Our first reaction to expressions of student agency should not be to shut them down

As a faculty member, I would be enormously dismayed if my dean sent this letter to my incoming students. Because now they’ll come into my class already having received a clear message about what my institution seems to value — and it isn’t them.

The Chicago letter reeks of arrogance, of a sense of entitlement, of an exclusionary mindset — in other words, the very things it seeks to inveigh against. It’s not about academic freedom; it’s about power. Know your place, and acknowledge ours, it tells the students. We’ll be the judge of what you need to know and how you need to know it. And professors and students are thus handcuffed to a high-stakes ideological creed. Do it this way, in the name of all that is holy and true in the academy. There is no room here for empathy, for student agency, or for faculty discretion.

Displaying empathy for the different experiences our students bring to the classroom is not a threat to our academic freedom. Allowing for a diversity of perspectives to flourish, even when that diversity might challenge the very structure of our course and its material, is not a threat, but an opportunity. Our first reaction to expressions of student agency, even when they seem misguided or perhaps frivolous, should not be to shut it down. If we really value academic freedom, then we need to model that with and for our students.

Ableism, misogyny, racism, elitism, and intellectual sloppiness deserve to be called out. That’s not a threat, that’s our students doing what they’re supposed to as engaged citizens of an academic community. This year, we should challenge ourselves to quit fixating on caricatures and hypotheticals and instead acknowledge the actual landscape of teaching and learning in all its messiness and complexity. When we act out of fear, we do harm. When we assume the worst from our students, that’s what we often end up getting — from them and from ourselves. We can do better than this.

Kevin Gannon, PhD, is professor of history and director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. In addition to his own blog at thetattooedprof.com, he writes on pedagogy and academia at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae and the Teaching US History blog. Find him on Twitter @TheTattooedProf.

This article was adapted from a post that originally ran on The Tattooed Professor.

First Person is Vox’s home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us atfirstperson@vox.com.

Poor and Uneducated: The South’s Cycle of Failing Higher Education

Via The Atlantic: http://ift.tt/2biQVlx


ATLANTA—The existence of Civil War emblems on campus has pounded out a drumbeat of angst and activism at universities across the South in the last few years.

But some campuses in this region are part of another North-South rift that’s gotten less attention:

Southern states have been disproportionately cutting spending on public higher education. In a region where the poorest families already face some of the nation’s highest poverty rates, forced tuition increases make their colleges and universities among the least affordable, a slew of recent data show.

This contributes to falling enrollment in states already struggling with some of the nation’s lowest percentages of residents with college educations.

It’s “a vicious circle,” said Dave Spence, the president of the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board, or SREB. “You’ve got a region that’s poor. Why? Because it’s undereducated.” Yet budget cuts keep pushing university and college degrees out of the reach of many.

Three of the five states that have most reduced their funding per public college and university student from 2008 to 2016 are southern, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington D.C.-based nonpartisan research institute. Louisiana led the way among these southern states with a 39 percent decrease, followed by South Carolina and Alabama.

Seven of the 20 states with the deepest cuts in higher-education spending are in the South, another report measuring funding decreases from 2010 to 2015 found. The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, or SHEEO, said Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Alabama and Virginia each decreased spending on public colleges and universities by at least 10 percent.

That means most of the states with the highest cost of college for families earning less than $30,000 a year are now also in the South, according to a new report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Research on Higher Education. In many of those states, about a quarter of the population earns that much or less.

Four of the five states where a community college costs the most for the poorest students are southern: Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Arkansas. Low-income families there would have to pay anywhere from 39 percent to 47 percent of their annual household incomes to pay for a two-year degree, the Penn study found.

And all five of the costliest four-year public university degrees for low-income families are in the South, the same study shows: South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas, where the poorest students would have to spend from half to three-quarters of their incomes to attend college.

These trends affect more than the number and income level of people on southern campuses, said Melanie Barton, the executive director of the independent, nonpartisan South Carolina Education Oversight Committee. They threaten the region’s economy and portend a further entrenchment of poverty.

“I’m scared to death we won’t have students in the pipeline for jobs,” said Barton, especially in newer fields such as high-tech manufacturing and healthcare administration.

Five of the 10 states with the lowest percentages of people who have college and university degrees are in the South, the Lumina Foundation, which tracks this, finds: Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and South Carolina. (Lumina is among the funders of The Hechinger Report, which produced this story.)

Of the top 25 metropolitan areas with the highest percentages of people with degrees, only two—Atlanta and Charlotte—are southern.

Meanwhile, five of the 10 states with the biggest declines in university enrollment are in the South, according to SHEEO: West Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina.

Barton said the low priority given by some governors and legislators to public higher education and the sort of associate’s degrees or certificates linked to newer jobs may be a throwback to a time when many workers in southern agriculture and manufacturing industries didn’t need one.

“It’s time to change the culture and our cultural aspirations,” Barton said.

Other observers say the problem stems in part from a more recent emphasis in southern states on giving money to students with good grades who may not have financial need  in order to keep them from moving away.

This amounts to “spending on students that are going to college anyway,” said William Doyle, a professor of public policy and higher education at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, who studies college affordability. “You’ve got a set of states that have spent a lot time and money on solving the wrong problems.”

F. King Alexander, the president of Louisiana State University, said the real issue is a shortage of state funding overall. Louisiana, like some other southern states, has suffered from declining oil revenues and political resistance to increasing taxes.

Those and other reasons have led Louisiana to slash higher-education spending by nearly 40 percent since 2008, with more cuts likely, forcing a doubling of tuition and warnings that the very existence of Louisiana State is at risk.

Funding for Kentucky’s public higher education fell short this year by $26 million, resulting in a 6 percent increase in tuition and the layoffs of more than 500 faculty and staff. Gov. Matt Bevin, who has said taxpayers should support engineers but not humanities majors, has ordered another $18 million in cuts over the heads of the legislature. A judge has held he had the right to do this, though the case has been appealed.

State funding in Georgia has also fallen, and tuition in the University of Georgia system has doubled since 2008.

States in other parts of the country have also reduced higher-education spending, increased tuition, and seen enrollment drop. But not to the same degree as in the South.

Cuts like these also have a bigger impact here, where there are fewer alternatives to public higher education.

“The South has built its higher education system on the back of public education, unlike the Northeast, with its private colleges and universities,” Alexander said. “So it’s particularly damaging when appropriations are reduced, as has been the case in the last 10 years in the South.”  

Because tuition has increased and financial aid has shifted to students based on reasons other than financial need, Doyle said, “They’re not helping first-generation, under-represented, minority, low-income students to attend college.”

That’s the exact population that is in abundance and is growing in the South, where the number of Latinos in particular is among the fastest-growing in the nation.

In states such as Louisiana, Alexander said, if degrees in fields like health care remain out of reach for a large swath of the state’s population, those industries will be hobbled by the inability to find qualified employees. Therefore, they will contribute less state revenue and still less money to support the public universities and colleges.

It’s another vicious circle, he said.

Spence said the South needs to be innovative in the way it tries to solve this problem.

“We’ve got to find a way to be more efficient and help students increase post-secondary education without increasing costs—particularly since it appears that we’re not going to see an increase in appropriations,” Spence said.

But, he added, this is not a new imperative.

“I’ve said this once or twice a decade for the last three decades.”


This post appears courtesy of The Hechinger Report.