Tag Archives: higher education

Historical Periodization and the Long Civil War

Periodization is both the most useful and most obfuscatory tool in the historian’s toolbox. In Western historical writing (and because of the West’s culturally-imperialist tendencies, in many other historiographies as well), we reckon time largely according to the conventions of the Gregorian Calendar: days, months, years on a cycle that mostly matches the Earth’s perambulation around the Sun. Conversely, “Big,” or “Deep” History challenges us to move beyond Puny Human Time and think in terms of (at minimum) geologic time. It’s enough of a struggle to finish our survey courses anywhere near where we’re “supposed” to; the very thought of beginning our studies with, say, the Pleistocene Era is enough to give an instructor palpitations. Within the generally-accepted chronology, then, we’ve carved out our scholarly spaces within a framework so well-established as to be internalized. I’m a nineteenth-century US historian. I do the Cold War. I’m a medievalist. We often interrogate these divisions—when does “modern” begin?—but when it comes to our scholarly autobiographies, we default to the divisions we once criticized. Undergirding this hegemony of the Established Historical Era is the way in which we teach our field. Chronological markers of varying specificity define our courses: Early Modern Europe; US History to 1877; The Vietnam War, 1954-1975. And, as these examples suggest, chronological boundaries are often accompanied by geographic designators. Thus, largely without meaning to, we enclose History into digestible packages. And that’s how we and our audiences—students, readers, each other—tend to consume it.

In doing so, however, we undersell the contingency, the possibility of differing interpretations, the sheer messiness of history. When students ask “is this on the test,” or are history-phobic because “it’s hard to memorize all those names and dates,” they’re speaking to this habit of consumption. Of course, we tell ourselves, history is more than that—it’s understanding things like contingency, difference, and messiness are at the root of historical processes rather than outside them. But I don’t think we connect these understandings—shaped in our deep and meaningful research and engagement with history—with our presentation nearly enough. As historians, we know that World War II didn’t start in 1941, but when we teach the US survey, or write the textbooks for that course, don’t we throw 1941-1945 out there as the most common chronological window? Maybe we use 1939, but doesn’t that center Europe over Asia? This might seem like pedantic quibbling, but I think our periodization says quite a bit about our perspective—and isn’t it our perspective through which historical research is filtered on its way to being consumed by a larger audience? So students who encounter World War II only through a US history course might think that conflict only lasted four years because the only significant part of the war is when the US was involved. Or they might see it as a primarily Western event, losing the essential global dimensions of the conflict, if they think it “began” in 1939. And if one wanted to open up a whole new can of worms, what about the wars of national liberation we associate with decolonization? Could they be interpreted as part of the “World War?” We know the “Cold War” became hot on occasion; why not see events like Korea as parts of the global conflict that didn’t end in 1945 so much as mutate into a more dispersed insurgency? Pinning 1945 as the “end” of World War II implicitly states that the war was over when the Western Great Powers—via nuclear weapons—said that it was. Is that true? Maybe. In any case, it’s certainly worth asking.

If we want students to learn in a deep and meaningful way, we need to problematize the material. Students should be asked to confront what they thought was familiar in unfamiliar and problematic ways. In this creative dissonance, learning and critical understanding flourish. So even if we don’t want to adjust the end date of World War II, it’s an exercise that can pay significant dividends by challenging our students’ notions of the “historical fact.”

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I’ve been thinking about periodization a lot lately, because I think we’re doing it wrong with what we typically call the Civil War and Reconstruction. In the typical survey course, textbook, or scholarly treatment of the conflict, we encounter the war from 1861 to 1865, and then Reconstruction from 1865 (unless it’s 1863) to 1877 (unless it’s 1871 or 1886 or 1890 or ongoing). As the ambiguity surrounding “when Reconstruction happened” suggests, perhaps it’s worth reconceptualizing how we define the “Civil War” as a process in historical time. I think it’s instructive to look at how we view wars in other historical eras—to put it simply, why do wars get shorter in the 20th century? World War I? 1914-1918. World War II? 1939(ish)-1945. The Gulf War? 1991. Modern technology has brought us shorter wars! Hooray!

I’m (sort of) joking here, but it’s interesting, isn’t it, that we put a narrower and narrower boundary around more recent conflicts? I think there’s a great case for looking at the “Gulf War” as beginning with the 1991 US invasion of Iraq and continuing through the present; the reality on the ground doesn’t lend itself to an argument that the war ever stopped, does it? Yet, look at earlier epochs: they knew how to have a long war! The Barbarian Invasions of Rome. The Hundred Years’ War. Hell, the Thirty Years’ War was a model of brevity compared to its forebears. Facetiousness aside, the periodization we use for those conflicts gets at the long-term nature of both their causes and consequences. Arguing for a conception of the French Revolution lasting from 1789-1815 speaks to this longer view, as does a more expansive consideration of the global conflict of which the American Revolution was a part. And some of the more innovative scholarship on recent conflicts takes a similar approach-studies that place the Vietnam War into the larger anticolonial struggle, for example, or sees the American Revolution as a longer-term struggle that was continental in scope.

In that spirit, I’d argue for looking at the mid- to late-nineteenth century in North America (primarily, but not exclusively, the United States) as the “Long Civil War” (I’m definitely open to suggestions on this one). If the Civil War was a contest over slavery and freedom as competing visions of an expanded American state, why not look at the US invasion of Mexico in 1846 as the first chapter of that struggle? It’s not like violence—nay, warfare—didn’t occur between then and 1861. Ask the Californios or indigenous peoples of the Pacific coast. Ask the Kansans and “Border Ruffians.” Hell, ask Charles Sumner and John Brown and the proto-army that took shape in the South after Brown’s raid. Seen in this light, the secession crisis of 1860-61 intensified warfare that was diffuse and regional into a truly continental affair by consolidating and expanding the political-military coalitions involved.

Moreover, there’s a compelling argument to ditching the notion that the Civil War ended in 1865. Gregory Downs, for example, argues precisely that in his masterful study of the Union’s military occupation of the erstwhile Confederate states from 1865-1871. Downs characterizes this period as an “insurgent phase” of the war, where each side used violent force to shape the outcome of the conflict. This interpretation has the singular advantage of allowing us to see clearly the scope and scale of violence in the South after 1865. You don’t need generals and armies to lay waste to populations and civil order. I’d take this even further, however, and look at the so-called “Indian Wars” of the 1870s and 1880s not as a separate conflict, but another chapter in this Long Civil War. The Civil War was a struggle for the shape of the American state to come. Would the expanded continental empire be organized and administered as a Free Labor society? Or would it be a slaveholder’s empire, pursuing the aims of a master class and the crucial chattel foundation of its wealth and herrenvolk identity? Even though the Union victory “ended” chattel slavery (terms and conditions apply), the profoundly racialized nature of free labor ideology meant that white supremacy would, in the main, steer the ship of state after Appomattox. “Reunion” in the 1870s was made possible not only because northern politicians and their public were willing to “forget about the Negro” (in the words on one northern editor), but because the remaking of the trans-Mississippi West united northern and southern whites in a free-labor, privatization crusade against the region’s Indian peoples. What we’ve traditionally seen as the entire Civil War, 1861-1865, might be more accurately conceived as a chapter within the larger war (hitherto analyzed as separate conflicts) that reshaped the North American continent from 1846 to 1886. The invasion of Mexico and the Dawes Severalty Act were the bookends of a settler colonial revolution, the result of which was contested in various turns by Mexicans, self-styled Confederate whites, and Native peoples.

Training our analytical lens on the Long Civil War of 1846-1886 offers a number of interpretive advantages. It allows us to see the larger ways in which racial and racist ideologies shaped not only the pitched warfare of 1861-1865, but the violent struggle for mastery of much of North America in the surrounding decades. It prevents us from seeing “reconstruction” as a period where peace returned and the issues that divided the United States were magically resolved; instead, we see the ways in which continuing violence defined the reality of many groups of North Americans, even after representatives of the white elite signed a document at Appomattox Court House. And above all, we can take a more integrated approach to the ways in which white Americans expanded a specific form of racialized hegemony over much of the continent, a prelude of sorts to overseas imperialism at the end of the century. Conceiving of a Long Civil War prevents the myopia of overly-narrow periodization from placing analytical blinders upon us, and challenges us to make the type of connections that truly illuminate the larger historical processes at work. And that alone commends it to our historical imaginations.


Bibliographic note: On the post-Appomattox insurgency, see Gregory Downs, After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War. For links between post-1865 efforts at reconstruction and the trans-Mississippi West, see Heather Cox Richardson’s excellent West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War. On settler colonialism and its analytical utility for this era, my thinking has been influenced by Lorenzo Veracini, Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview and James Belich, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld.

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Trump questions spending decisions of colleges with large endowments

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, on Thursday outlined his first specific idea on how to make colleges more affordable. He said that he would work with Congress to pressure institutions with large endowments to spend more on students — or to face a loss of their tax-exempt status.

A detailed plan was not released, but Trump said in a speech in Pennsylvania that college debt is having a devastating impact on many students and graduates. And he criticized the spending decisions of colleges and universities with "multi-billion dollar endowments."

According to a Washington Post account of the speech, he said that endowment spending should focus on students. "Instead these universities use the money to pay their administrators, to put donors’ names on their buildings, or just store the money, keep it and invest it. In fact, many universities spend more on private-equity fund managers than on tuition programs…. But they should be using the money on students, for tuition, for student life and for student housing. That’s what it’s supposed to be for.”

On student loans, he said: “The students are choking on those loans. They can’t pay them back. Before they start, they’re in trouble. And it’s something I hear more and more and it’s one of the things I hear more than anything else,”

Trump has suggested for weeks that he would be making proposals on college affordability.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has made college affordability a major part of her campaign and has been talking about it quite a bit on the campaign trail. Her proposal would make in-state public higher education free for students with family income of up to $125,000. She has also proposed a three-month moratorium for all federal student loan borrowers on repaying their debt, during which time borrowers would get help refinancing their loans or moving into income-driven repayment plans.

Trump’s proposal comes at a time that some Republicans in Congress and some experts who focus on low-income students have been suggesting that wealthy colleges should be spending more of their endowments on financial aid.

Regardless of what one thinks of those approaches, a key fact is that the overwhelming majority of college students enroll at institutions without large endowments. Further, some of the colleges and universities most generous with student aid — including those at which low-income students do not have to borrow at all — are among those with multi-billion endowments.

While endowment values fluctuate, about 50 colleges and universities are in the category of "multi-billion" cited by Trump. Close to another 50 may have endowments of $1 billion but less than $2 billion.

Large Endowments Reporting Losses

Trump’s proposal also comes as some of the largest endowments in higher education are reporting losses for the last fiscal year.

On Thursday, Harvard University’s endowment — the largest higher education endowment — reported that it lost 2 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016. A report released by the Harvard Management Company blamed a "low interest rate environment and market volatility," but also admitted that "execution was also a key factor in this year’s disappointing results."

The value of the endowment on June 30 was still enormous compared to the rest of higher education: $35.7 billion.

But an analysis by Bloomberg said that the most recent returns are part of "a decade of lackluster returns compared with the school’s elite rivals."

And Harvard is not the only university with a significant endowment reporting losses. Many large public universities — including the Universities of California, Colorado, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Iowa, Washington and Virginia; and Ohio State University — are reporting losses in the last year.

Response From Pro-Clinton Group

Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton group, released a statement Thursday denouncing the Trump proposal:

“Trump introduced what appeared to be an attempt at a college affordability proposal, which is ironic coming from the man behind the student-swindling Trump University and Trump Institute. He has no credibility to speak about affordable and high-quality education when his own employees were told to target single parents desperate to feed their children and encourage students to drain their retirement accounts. Americans deserve better than Donald Trump.

 

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U of Tennessee investigating a professor and popular conservative blogger for tweeting that drivers should “run down” protesters in North Carolina

U of Tennessee investigating a professor and popular conservative blogger for tweeting that drivers should "run down" protesters in North Carolina

U of Tennessee investigating a professor and popular conservative blogger for tweeting that drivers should "run down" protesters in North Carolina

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The University of Tennessee at Knoxville says it’s investigating a law professor’s tweet suggesting that motorists “run down” protesters blocking traffic following a fatal police shooting in Charlotte, N.C. The professor, a popular blogger with the Twitter handle @Instapundit, says he hasn’t been contacted by the university directly, and many free speech advocates say that his remark — however objectionable — should be protected.

“He apparently is unaware of how dangerous it is to the driver who runs over a human being, and he is apparently unaware that vehicular homicide is both illegal and evil,” said John K. Wilson, an independent scholar of academic freedom and co-editor of the American Association of University Professors’ “Academe” blog, referring to Glenn Reynolds, the professor in question.

Yet while Reynolds’s tweet “is unquestionably stupid and morally repugnant,” Wilson said, “it generally should not be subject to investigation or punishment.” He didn’t threaten a particular person harm, Wilson said, and it “seems his overwrought statement was meant to convey anger with the protesters, not a serious call for violence against them.”

Robert O’Neil, a former president and professor emeritus of law at the University of Virginia who studies the First Amendment, had a similar opinion, saying he’d treat the “arguably tongue-in-cheek tweet as though it had been uttered orally during a rally, or even in print.” That means pausing to recognize its “inherent ambiguity,” as well as Reynolds’s physical distance from the events in Charlotte.

While O’Neil hoped Tennessee wouldn’t sanction Reynolds, he did say that “collegial guidance would certainly be appropriate” — especially as Reynolds teaches law.

Reynolds, the Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at Tennessee and moderator of the conservative blog Instapundit, was temporarily blocked from Twitter Wednesday evening after he responded to a tweet from a local news station notifying the public that protesters were stopping traffic and surrounding vehicles on Interstate 277, outside Charlotte. “Run them down,” Reynolds tweeted.

The post immediately caught attention on social media and from news outlets, with many accusing Reynolds of inciting violence toward those demonstrating against the Tuesday shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by a police officer. Reports vary as to whether or not Scott was armed, and his family, who deny that he was, have linked his death with police shootings of a number of other unarmed black men in recent years.

Reynolds, whose account has since been reinstated, said Twitter asked him to delete the tweet to return to service. He posted the tweet elsewhere lest he be accused of “airbrushing.”

On his blog Thursday, after his tweet attracted attention, Reynolds said, “I’ve always been a supporter of free speech and peaceful protest. … But riots aren’t peaceful protest. And blocking interstates and trapping people in their cars is not peaceful protest — it’s threatening and dangerous, especially against the background of people rioting, cops being injured, civilian-on-civilian shootings and so on.”

Reynolds “wouldn’t actually aim for people blocking the road,” he wrote, “but I wouldn’t stop, because I’d fear for my safety, as I think any reasonable person would.” He later said that he agreed with a suggestion that “Keep driving” would have been more in line with what he was thinking, but that his tweets “can’t be all be perfect.”

On Thursday, Melanie D. Wilson, dean of Tennessee’s College of Law, posted a statement to the university website saying that she was “aware of the remarks” and of the “serious and legitimate concerns expressed by members of the [law college] family and the University of Tennessee community, as well as concerned citizens across the country.”

Wilson said Reynolds’s comments “do not reflect my views and opinions, nor do they reflect the values of the college and university,” and that she, administrators and faculty members are “investigating this matter.”

While the university is committed to academic freedom and diverse viewpoints, and Wilson and her colleagues support civil disobedience and free speech, she said, “we do not support violence or language that encourages violence. [Reynolds] has built a significant platform to discuss his viewpoints, but his remarks on Twitter are an irresponsible use of his platform.”

Seeming to invoke Reynolds’s status as a teacher, Wilson added that Tennessee law students are to become “not only responsible lawyers, but also responsible global citizens who are able to competently represent people of all backgrounds.”

Via email, Reynolds said he hadn’t been contacted by the university about any investigation, beyond Wilson’s statement. He referred additional questions to Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

A university spokesperson confirmed that Tennessee is investigating the case. “University administrators, as well as the College of Law dean and faculty, are discussing a number of issues related to the tweet,” she said via email.

On Thursday evening, Reynolds published an apology in USA Today, where is a contributor; the newspaper promptly said it was suspending his column. "Wednesday night one of my 580,000 tweets blew up," Reynolds wrote said. "I didn’t live up to my own standards, and I didn’t meet USA Today’s standards. For that I apologize, to USA Today readers and to my followers on social media."

Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary for tenure, governance and academic freedom at AAUP, said what matters is that any question of whether Reynolds’s tweets merit discipline should be referred to a faculty committee.

AAUP’s statement on extramural utterances — those outside of teaching or research — says that the “controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness to serve. Extramural utterances rarely bear upon the faculty member’s fitness for continuing service. Moreover, a final decision should take into account the faculty member’s entire record as a teacher and scholar.”

Of course, referrals to a faculty committee don’t always happen. Steven Salaita was famously “unhired” by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2014 for his anti-Israel tweets — which some said incited violence — absent a faculty review. A key difference between that case and Reynolds is that Salaita hadn’t quite started his job, and Reynolds is a chaired professor. AAUP censured the university over the incident, and Illinois eventually settled a lawsuit alleging breach of contract and First Amendment violations with Salaita.

Reynolds’s case also recalls that of David Guth, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas who was suspended from teaching prior to a faculty review for tweeting the following after the 2013 shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington: “The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters.”

Critics said Guth was advocating more violence. FIRE argued that his speech was protected, and Guth said at the time that he didn’t wish gun violence on anyone but that "if it does happen again — and it likely will — may it happen to those misguided miscreants who suggest that today’s death toll at the Navy Yard would have been lower if the employees there were allowed to pack heat." He was allowed to return to teaching, but the Kansas Board of Regents ultimately approved a new policy limiting what employees may say on social media. The move was panned by First Amendment advocates, but the regents argued the new policy would better facilitate free speech.

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The Flipped Classroom Unplugged: Three Tech-Free Strategies for Engaging Students

Throughout this summer article series, we’ve addressed some of the most frequently asked questions about the flipped classroom in higher education. We’ve shared ideas for student motivation, student engagement, time management, student resistance, and large classes. Since this is the final article in the series, I reviewed my notes and the findings from the Faculty Focus reader survey on flipped classroom trends (2015), and there’s one more topic we need to address:  creativity.

“I don’t know if I’m creative enough to flip my class. How do you keep coming up with new teaching strategies and tools to engage students during class time?”

In almost every workshop I teach, at least one participant asks me this question. And, the findings from the Faculty Focus reader survey highlight the scope of this concern among educators. Almost 79% of the survey respondents indicated that “being creative and developing new strategies and ideas” was sometimes, often, or always a challenge when implementing the flipped classroom model.

By design, the flipped classroom model challenges you to plan activities and learning experiences where students focus on applying, analyzing, and evaluating course content during class time. It does take a certain amount of creativity to flip your classroom, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. You can flip your class using simple strategies that allow for students to interact with the material and engage with each other.

For example, lately, I’ve been exploring the idea of flipping moments in our classes without using technology. What would happen if we got back to the basics with some of our activities and used everyday tools to engage students in higher levels of thinking? Would this help some of us overcome some of these feelings of intimidation and inspire us to be more creative? To start the conversation and get the creative ideas flowing, here are three “unplugged” flipped strategies you can add to your class to engage students.

Flipped Strategy:  Adaptation of Muddiest Point
Tool:  Index Cards
“Muddiest Point” is a classroom assessment technique that allows students the opportunity to tell you what they are still confused or unclear about from the lesson (Angelo and Cross, 1993). Ask students to write their “muddiest point” on an index card. You may want to specifically focus their attention on the material from today’s lecture, yesterday’s lab, last night’s homework, or any other learning experience you want them to examine. After your students complete the task, divide them into groups and tell them to analyze the cards based on some set of criteria. Ask them to look for patterns, common themes, categories, or outliers. Note how this adaptation of the Muddiest Point activity challenges students to move beyond just explaining what they don’t understand and into the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. They are now summarizing, sorting, analyzing, and evaluating the cards while looking for connections and themes.

Bonus idea: After students sort the cards, challenge them to find the answers together. If you want to keep things “unplugged,” tell them they can only use their textbook, hand-written notes, or other printed materials.


Join Barbi Honeycutt on Oct. 18 for The Flipped Classroom: Strategies to Overcome Student Resistance and Increase Student Engagement. During the program, she’ll provide strategies you can use to create a successful flipped learning experience for you and your students. You will learn how to identify the reasons that some students resist the flipped classroom model and how you can address those challenges to increase the likelihood that they will come to class prepared. Learn More »


Flipped Strategy: Mind Mapping
Tools: Sticky Notes, Whiteboard, Markers
Give each pair or group of students a stack of sticky notes and ask them to go to the whiteboard or chalkboard. Assign a topic related to the course material and challenge students to create a mind map of the topic using only their sticky notes. Explain that they can only put one idea on each sticky note, but they can use as many sticky notes as they need. Encourage them to use markers or chalk to draw lines and make connections between the ideas/concepts so you can see how their mind map is organized. By using sticky notes, it’ll be easier for the students to change their maps based on new ways of thinking.

Bonus idea: If you assign all groups the same topic, then you can ask them to rotate around the room and compare and contrast the different mind maps. You could give each group a different colored sticky note so they can add to another group’s mind map, almost like a gallery walk but with sticky notes.

Flipped Strategy: Brainstorming Challenge
Tools:  Pair of Dice, Worksheet
Give students a case study, question, or problem that benefits from brainstorming. Then, divide students into groups and give each group a pair of six-sided dice. Tell students to roll the dice, and whatever number they roll represents the number of answers they need to generate. For example, if they roll a four and a five, they need to brainstorm nine possible solutions. If they roll a pair of sixes, they need to brainstorm 12 possible solutions. Give them a worksheet to record their ideas. Once groups have completed their challenge, ask them to switch their worksheets with another group and review their lists. This could be the beginning of a class discussion, or you could go another round and see how many more ideas students can add to another group’s list.

Bonus idea: At the end of this activity, ask students to review all of the ideas, select the top two best solutions, and justify their decision.

Hopefully these unplugged flipped strategies will inspire you to be creative in your own way. Your flipped classroom may not look like your colleague’s flipped classroom, and that’s okay. It’s not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. There isn’t one “right” way to flip your class. The most important takeaway is to use the tools and strategies that make the flipped model work for you and your students.

Thank you for following the series this summer. I hope I have addressed many of your questions about the flipped model, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Now it’s your turn! What “unplugged” flipped strategies have you used in your classes to enhance student engagement?

Resources
Angelo, T. & Cross, P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. 2nd edition. Jossey-Bass.

Honeycutt, B. (July 7, 2016). Three ways you can use index cards to FLIP your class: Another “unplugged” flipped strategy. Published on LinkedIn. Available online: http://ift.tt/2cHHnfj

Barbi Honeycutt is the owner of FLIP It Consulting in Raleigh, N.C. and an adjunct assistant professor at NC State University. Her new book 101 Unplugged Flipped Strategies to Engage Your Students. Connect on Twitter @BarbiHoneycutt and on her blog.

The post The Flipped Classroom Unplugged: Three Tech-Free Strategies for Engaging Students appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

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Trigger Warning: Elitism, Gatekeeping, and Other Academic Crap

Making the rounds on Twitter today was a letter from the University of Chicago (more specifically, the Dean of Students) to the incoming students of the Class of 2020 with the purpose, I guess, of letting them 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 in no uncertain terms, 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.

Defender of Academic Integrity
Defender of Academic Integrity

As you might imagine, there’s been a wave of support from the usual quarters for the 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.

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 kum-ba-yah 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 Alan 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. 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, that 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 OK for us to use student fees paid in part by African American students to bring him to campus, fete 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?

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.

(Note: I turned off the comments because some folks thought jumping into the comments and personally abusing others was a cool thing to do. For all those who left thoughtful comments and kept the conversation going for all of us to learn from, thank you. For those who came to abuse others, you’re the reason we can’t have nice things.)

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Innovation — Everyone Says It’s the Answer, but Is It What Colleges Need?

Many people in higher education are working to make college more accessible and effective. Even some who are succeeding, though, acknowledge that praise and money tend to follow what’s “new” more than what works.

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Haiku Deck Introduces “Classroom” Option

Back in June of 2013, I wrote a brief post about Haiku Deck, which at the time was simply a free iPad app for creating and showing presentations. In the last 3 years, Haiku Deck has evolved to include web-hosted presentations (and the ability to create presentation through a web-based interface). Unfortunately, if you want to be able to create more than 3 presentations you’ll now have to pay. The most affordable option is signing up for a “Pro” account for $10 a month (though teachers and students can get a 50% discount). I like Haiku Deck, but I don’t think it’s worth $60 a year for how I use it when I present.

However, they’ve recently introduced an option they’re calling “Haiku Deck Classroom,” which — for $99 a year — allows one teacher with up to 150 students to take advantage of all of the features available through a Pro account. For a class in which students are creating presentations on a regular basis (and in which the teacher would like to be able to keep track of all of their students’ presentations), this sounds like a pretty good option.

The company has provided this 3-minute screencast explanation of how to set things up:

Are you a Haiku Deck user? What’s been your experience? Does the $99 “Classroom” option sound like something you’d be interested in? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.

[CC-licensed Flickr photo by Adam Tr]

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As Indiana U’s eTexts initiative grows, a textbook model emerges

Indiana University’s eText initiative is rapidly becoming the go-to way for students there to buy textbooks and other course materials.

The initiative, which began as a pilot in 2009, has a simple goal: ensure all students have access to textbooks. To do so, IU has developed a model that it says balances benefits and compromises for all partners involved — faculty members, publishers, students and the university.

“We don’t ask students to bring their own desk and chair to the classroom,” Bradley C. Wheeler, vice president for information technology, said in an interview. “Why do we ask them to waste their own time running around, playing games trying to find the book they need, when we can simplify the process electronically and have the university buy it wholesale?”

Essentially, the eTexts initiative treats textbook acquisition as software licensing. In course sections where faculty members opt in to the program, the university is able to negotiate discounted prices by promising publishers that virtually every student in the section will buy the textbook. The course materials are then delivered through an ereading platform controlled by IU, giving the university control over the data collected about how students interact with their textbooks. Students themselves are notified if a course section they wish to enroll in uses an eText, telling them up front how much they will be charged.

The program has over the last 12 months seen a surge in popularity. Last academic year, more than 40,000 students — about one-third of the university’s total enrollment — got at least one textbook through the program. This fall alone, more than 27,000 students did the same, suggesting another record-setting year ahead. Now the growth has experts wondering if IU has developed a model the higher education textbook industry has been searching for.

Wheeler said a combination of factors is behind the growth, including the maturation of the smartphone and tablet markets, as well as a growing sense that faculty members and students are more comfortable with digital course materials today than they were a few years ago.

The persistence of the used and rental book market also plays a major role, Wheeler said. While it serves as a convenient and affordable option for students, it represents a tantalizing missed revenue opportunity to publishers.

The life cycle of a traditional textbook goes something like this: student A pays up to several hundred dollars for a brand-new textbook. At the end of the semester, the student may decide to sell the book back to the bookstore, receiving slightly less than list price in return. The book then enters the used-book market, where a new student is able to purchase it for considerably less than the first student. That cycle of depreciation repeats until the publisher releases a new edition, after which the cycle restarts.

Publishers, of course, only make money on the first sale, and as a result they have made several attempts to cut into the used and rental book markets — for example, pushing for more faculty members to use digital course materials, exploring direct-to-student marketing and sales, and charging students who buy used books to access homework questions.

None of those strategies have addressed the “fundamental problem” of making course materials affordable and accessible to a greater number of students, Wheeler said

“We’ve just had such a distortion in how people who consume pay the people who produce,” Wheeler said. “If every user pays a little bit, you do away with piracy, you do away with … whether a student can afford to buy a book or not. It brings a whole new level of rationality of acquiring course materials.”

Other universities have signed similar agreements with a single publisher, such as the California State University System’s 2012 deal with Cengage Learning. IU has expanded its program to about two dozen publishers, including the five largest — Cengage, John Wiley & Sons, Macmillan Publishers, McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson — but also smaller ones, such as its own university press. The publishers aren’t disclosing how much of a discount they give, but students pay substantially less than they would for a traditional print book.

Joseph J. Esposito, a management consultant in the publishing industry, said the initiative is a “major development” in the textbook market that, if copied by other large universities, could shift the balance of power in textbook sales away from resellers and back toward publishers. He described it as a “brilliant move” — and not just for the university or its students.

“Meanwhile, behind closed doors, they’re uncorking the bottles of champagne in the publishers’ offices, because they’re making more money on this deal than they would have otherwise,” Esposito said.

Picture a class of 30 students. About a dozen of them — if publishers are lucky — will buy the newest version of the textbook assigned by their instructor. Among the remaining students, maybe 10 rent or buy the book used, a handful get their hands on pirated copies, and some can’t afford or simply don’t buy it.

With the eTexts initiative, publishers are guaranteed that virtually every student in a class buys the textbook — an almost unheard-of 100 percent sell-through rate. None of those digital course materials end up in the used book market. And since the textbooks are delivered digitally, the publishers are able to cut down on manufacturing and shipping costs, as well as the markup college bookstores collect, Esposito said.

College bookstores aren’t expressing any concern about the eTexts initiative and similar programs, however. On the contrary, the National Association of College Stores in a statement said it “applauds efforts to make course materials and education more affordable for students.” NACS pointed to institutions such as the University of California, Davis, which works with outside vendors to offer students a choice of where they buy their course materials.

“The campus store is well positioned to play an important role in these programs,” the organization said in the statement. “The store has relationships with students, faculty, other campus services and content providers that are key when creating and implementing a digital course materials initiative.”

While faculty members at IU opt in to using eTexts in their courses, the growing popularity of the program means it is becoming increasingly opt out for students. Many IU students today have a choice between sections using eTexts and those that don’t, but if more faculty members continue to opt in, that may no longer be the case in the future. IU offers an electronic opt-out form for students who want to purchase their own course materials regardless of which sections they enroll in (although “practically no one” has used it, Wheeler said).

A 2015 case study that looked at student participation levels and motivation suggested students prefer eTexts to print textbooks — as long as their instructors actively used the course materials in the class. In those classes, a slight majority of students said they read and learned more.

IU’s model also raises questions of ownership. Students who pays the fee to access the eText assigned in a course lose access once they are no longer enrolled at the university. That is a much longer window than what many rental programs offer, but still temporary.

But the “notion of physical ownership” is tied to print books, Wheeler said. Students “expect more” from digital course materials — features like collaboration and searchable highlights and notes, he said.

For print lovers, IU’s agreements with publishers allow students to print as many pages as they want. And for an additional fee, students can order a print copy on top of digital access — which is still less expensive than opting out and buying a new print copy at list price, Wheeler said.

“I think we’ve struck the right kind of balance with eTexts,” Wheeler said.

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Graduate student enrollments increased by 4 percent, with the biggest relative gains seen among underrepresented minority groups

Graduate student enrollments increased by 4 percent, with the biggest relative gains seen among underrepresented minority groups

Graduate student enrollments increased by 4 percent, with the biggest relative gains seen among underrepresented minority groups

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First-time graduate student enrollments were up 3.9 percent last fall from a year earlier, according to a new report from the Council of Graduate Schools. Each of the last four annual surveys has found that enrollment has increased, but 2015’s bump was one of the biggest since 2009. Contributing to that growth was an increase in the share of underrepresented minority student enrollees, which could be a response to national conversations and institutional initiatives on faculty diversity. At the very least, it’s a possible start to broadening the eventual faculty applicant pool.

“This year’s data are very encouraging in terms of underrepresented minorities seeing very robust growth in their first-time graduate enrollment — nonwhite Hispanics are up by 7.6 percent [year over year] and African-Americans are up 6.6 percent,” compared to a 2.8 percent increase among whites, said Hironao Okahana, assistant vice president for research and policy analysis at the council and one of the report’s authors.

“There’s still a way to go in terms of their actual numbers,” Okahana said, noting that minority representation within the student body is still relatively low compared to the general population. “But we do think part of this growth comes from how many graduate institutions are working very hard to recruit and retain and help minority students succeed.”

First-Time Graduate Enrollment by Citizenship and Race/Ethnicity, 2005-15

The council doesn’t disaggregate its data on race and ethnicity to show whether enrollments are in master’s or doctoral programs, so it’s too early to tell how many underrepresented minority students will seek their Ph.D.s — let alone to become faculty members. The vast majority of the enrollments over all last year — some 83.6 percent — were in programs leading to master’s degrees or graduate certificates.

Still, at least 22.5 percent of American and permanent U.S. resident first-time graduate students were underrepresented minorities in fall 2015, including American Indian/Alaska Native (0.5 percent), African-American (11.8 percent), native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander (0.2 percent) and Latino (10 percent). Underrepresented-minority women saw particularly big gains in enrollment.

In another trend, new arts and humanities doctoral enrollments were up slightly (0.1 percent) last year from 2014, but not enough to put a dent in a five-year-average enrollment decline of 0.8 percent. New doctoral enrollments in the social and behavioral sciences have declined year over year and over five years by more than 1 percent, as well.

Okahana said the longer-term downward trend could be a response to a shaky academic job market in the humanities. “It’s one thing that could be weighing on a potential applicant’s mind.” At the same time, he said, council member institutions and other groups are working with graduate students to broaden their skill sets and help them “think outside the box” about potential nonfaculty careers. One example of many such programs, which Okahana highlighted, is the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Next Generation Ph.D. Implementation Grants to transform scholarly preparation in the humanities at the doctoral level.

First-Time Doctoral Enrollment by Field and Gender, 2014-15 and 2010-15

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, said there’s been a “longstanding and vigorous discussion about the right size of doctoral programs, with much of the argument focused on the equally longstanding decline in the number of tenure-track positions as compared to the number of Ph.D.s who seek those positions.” So enrollment data can reflect “responsible decisions” that graduate programs make to reduce the size of entering classes, as well as decisions students make about whether to apply, Feal said.

Anecdotally, Feal said she’s heard departments describe the “advantages that can follow from limiting the size of entering cohorts,” especially when resources can be spread among fewer students, such as to increase support packages or offer more intangible forms of support.

Over all, applications to doctoral programs decreased by 4.3 percent last year compared to 2014. They increased by 3.8 percent for master’s and other programs. At the master’s level, math and computer science saw the biggest one-year increase in applications, of 11.2 percent.

Engineering, business and health sciences admissions offices were the busiest, seeing 39.3 percent of all applications for 2015. The largest share of doctoral-level applications was in the social and behavioral sciences, at 18.7 percent of all applications reported. These sciences also were highly competitive for admissions, with an acceptance rate of 14.7 percent (only business was lower, at 13.4 percent).

Education doctoral programs saw the largest one-year increase in applications of all broad fields. At the master’s level, math and computer science saw a whopping 11.2 percent jump.

Women made up the majority of first-time students, at 58.2 percent of master’s and certificate-level students and 51.3 percent at the Ph.D. level. According to the survey, women earned 66.4 percent of graduate certificates in 2014-15, 58.4 percent of the master’s degrees and 51.8 percent of doctorates. Among first-time enrollees last year, men were more likely to be enrolled full time than women.

Much graduate school application growth has been led in recent years by international students. First-time international student enrollment continued to climb this year over last, by 5.7 percent, but it was considerably lower than recent increases. Okahana said it’s too early to tell whether it’s a single-year blip or the beginning of a downward trend, and noted that earlier growth was probably unsustainable — at least in terms of the annual survey.

International students still made up 22 percent of first-time enrollees in graduate school. At research universities with high research activity, about three in 10 were temporary residents. The share of international students among all enrollees was particularly high in math and computer science, at 63.2 percent, and engineering, at 58.5 percent.

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