Academic Freedom Overreach

November 6, 2015

In an other wise interesting and thoughtful article I read recently, I came upon the following passage:

In general, [universities] don’t like their professors to criticize their policies and actions, without airing their disagreements with the administration first, so that the latter aren’t blindsided. One can argue that this places constraints on the academic freedom of all … faculty.

That brought me up short. The assertion here seems to be that an administrator’s disagreeing or feeling uncomfortable with something a faculty member says or writes should, in itself, be seen as a constraint on academic freedom.

It didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t agree with that.

On a daily basis, administrators (provosts, deans, presidents) read or hear things said by faculty members with which they, the administrators, disagree, or with which they know others (faculty, parents, legislators, the general public) will disagree. Academic freedom is a principle to protect faculty members by allowing them to speak freely in the pursuit of truth. We don’t begin to have an issue of academic freedom until there is some negative consequence visited on the faculty member for what s/he said: for example denial of reappointment or tenure or promotion or salary increase. Rolled eyes or a wince on the part of an administrator can’t count as a negative consequence nor even disagreement voiced to others. Administrators need freedom, too, and they can hardly stop themselves reacting to what faculty members say. Academic freedom puts limits on the authoritative actions administrators can take.

Put another way: if administrators never found anything disagreeable, there wouldn’t be any need for academic freedom as principle or practice. It’s what happens next that matters when expression of an idea offends.

Posted in Academic Freedom | Leave a comment

Meanings: Character

September 1, 2015

On River View Friend, I’ve added a post about the meaning of the word “character.”

Posted in Meanings | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Our Far-Flung Alumni: Robbie Rohr

June 23, 2015

Robbie Rohr - Susan Riemer/Staff Photo“Rohr said she has always had a strong sense of social justice, and when she attended Earlham College, a Quaker school in Indiana, she felt among kindred spirits, as there was a sense of joy and an appreciation of life and personal responsibility to make life better for people.”

That’s from Robbie Rohr’s interview with the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber after she was named executive director of the Vashon Maury Community Food Bank.

“Rohr said she has always had a strong sense of social justice, and when she attended Earlham College, a Quaker school in Indiana, she felt among kindred spirits, as there was a sense of joy and an appreciation of life and personal responsibility to make life better for people. ‘Since then I have learned that it is all about compassion,’ she said,” says the article.

Rohr brings a wealth of experience in non-profit leadership across a wide range of issues.  “Her most recent interim appointments include DAWN (the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network) in Tukwila and the Wonderland Developmental Center in Shoreline. She has also served as the executive director of Cancer Lifeline, the Center for Human Services and the Executive Alliance, a nonprofit membership association she helped create to advance the nonprofit sector.”

Sounds like an Earlhamite to me.  Congratulations.

Posted in Leadership, Our Far-Flung Alumni | Leave a comment

Sexual Assault: The View From Missoula

May 28, 2015

Missoula, Jon Krakauer’s account of “Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” is strikingly detailed look at what rape on college campuses looks like today.  He focuses on several rapes at the University of Montana (in Missoula) using his skills as a researcher and reporter to lay out what happened in the encounters and how they were handled by the university and by local law enforcement.

rape posterTowards the very end, Krakauer tells how he came to write the book. He learned that “a  woman in her late twenties with whom my wife and I have a close relationship had been raped when she was in her mid-teens by a male peer” (p 347).  A few years later she was raped again by a trusted family friend. “The men who assaulted her,” Krakauer says, “didn’t just steal her innocence; they poisoned her understanding of who she was. They transformed her into a kind of ghost, trapped forever in the act of being violated.”

Krakauer connected what he learned about her trauma to what he had observed with soldiers who served in Afghanistan. A therapist told him that rape survivors suffer many of the same “the same symptoms and behaviors as survivors of combat: flashbacks, insomnia, nightmares, hypervigilance, depression, isolation, suicidal thoughts, outbursts of anger, unrelenting anxiety and an inability to shake the feeling that the world is spinning out of control” (p 349). “After Laura told me about what she’d endured, I was angry with myself for being so uniformed–not only about her ordeal but about non-stranger rape in general.” And so Krakauer set out to inform himself, and that led to his writing the book.

Krakauer emphasizes that while Missoula found its way into the national news because of a series of rapes a few years ago, the city and the university are in no way unusual: the incidence of rape in Missoula and at the University of Montana are somewhat below the (very shaky) data we have about the incidence of rape inflicted among college-age women. Threaded through Krakauer’s narratives about specific rape cases are some more general understandings of acquaintance or non-stranger rape. He is especially eager to lay to rest a number of myths about such rape cases: that false accusations of rape are common, for example, or that a woman who has not screamed or fought aggressively against her assailant couldn’t have been raped, or that a woman who expresses any degree of uncertainty or self doubt after the encounter must somehow have been complicit.

The cases in Missoula that Krakauer focuses upon were all cases in which the woman felt a degree of comfort, even closeness with the man. Nearly all involve alcohol, and I wish Krakauer had said more about that. Most of the men are athletes–football players for UM’s Grizzlies.  When the rape accusations become public, because these players are local heroes, the women are invariably subjected to public scorn and humiliation.  (In passing Krakauer notes that the players’ every move on the field of play is subjected by coaches to minute analysis and criticism, but hardly any guidance is given to their conduct off the field.)  And in nearly every case the men appear clueless about why what they did was wrong. Somehow, all evidence to the contrary, they felt they had consent or permission.

In each case, Krakauer recounts how the university, on the one hand, and the local criminal justice system, on the other, handled the accusation. In each setting there are people who come off better than others in how they handled the cases. Overall the impression is one of justice systems unprepared for the demands of rape cases, and lost in some of the myths about rape. I was especially struck that Krakauer makes no explicit judgments about any of these officials (he lets you draw your own conclusions), but he does argue that the adversarial nature of the criminal justice system is a nearly perfect way to re-create the trauma of a rape survivor.

I was especially impressed at Krakauer’s clarity about the respective roles of the university on the one hand and the police and criminal courts on the other. For the university, the issue is whether the men will be found responsible and as a consequence expelled from the university. The appropriate standard is “preponderance of the evidence” or “more likely than not.” That’s the standard now required of colleges and universities under Title IX.

In the criminal justice system, the punishment can be much more severe: extended incarceration and labeling for life as a sex offender.  There the appropriate standard is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” At several points in the narrative, attorneys for the accused press the university to use the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in university disciplinary hearings. Krakauer does as good a job as I’ve seen to make clear why different standards of evidence should pertain in the two settings.

Posted in Responsibility and Ethics, Student Life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Nelson’s Baccalaureate Speech

May 18, 2015

“I hope you will take at least three lessons from what I’ve said today. First, affirm yourself and feel the goodness in your heart. Second, respect and love others, especially those you think do not deserve it. And third, draw upon your imagination and your education to actualize the spirit of Kahlil Gibran’s poem and be ‘living arrows’ sent forth to create a future that will fulfill your own dreams and improve the world.”

Nelson Bingham

Professor Nelson Bingham

These wise words are the concluding sentences of the Baccalaureate address that Professor of Psychology Nelson Bingham delivered to Earlham College’s graduating seniors, their families and friends. The speech is vintage Nelson: deep, mellow and loving.  You can read his entire address, “Are We There, Yet?” here.

I had the great good fortune to have the regular benefit of Nelson’s wisdom when he served as Earlham’s Provost from 2006-14.

Each year Earlham does something different from most colleges. There is no Commencement speaker invited from outside the college. The major address on Commencement day is delivered at the Baccalaureate service in the morning. The speaker is a member of the faculty chosen by the seniors. Over the years they have been consistently wonderful. In every one of them you can hear the personal connections between the speaker and those being spoken to. That’s rare on Commencement Day.

Here are links to the speeches from the past dozen years:

2014:  Associate Professor of Religion James Logan, A World Yearning for Your (Sometimes Funky) Love

2013: Professor of Psychology Bob Rosenberg, Conformational Change.

2012: Professor of Anthropology JoAnn Martin, The Art of Falling Into the Future

2011:  Assistant Professor of Geology Andrew Moore, The Tao of the Ant Guy

2010: Assistant Professor of Peace and Global Studies Joanna Swanger, The Tyranny of Certainty

2009: Professor of History Chuck Yates, Chuck’s Top Ten Secrets to a Long, Happy, Useful, Productive and Meaningful Life

2008: Assistant Professor of Religion James Logan, A (Not So Simple) Word of (Audacious) Hope

2007: Professor of History and PAGS Caroline Higgins, The Monster and the Riddle

2006: Professor of Classics Steve Heiny, Was It Good for You?

2005: Professor of Psychology Vince Punzo, Just Isn’t So

2004: Professor of Politics Robert Johnstone, What Does It Matter To Me?

2003: Professor of English Gordon Thompson, If I Forget You…

Posted in Mission | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Myth of Exploding College Costs

March 10, 2015

“And, of course, there is the cost,” writes Joe Nocera in a New York Times column in which he extols Kevin Carey’s new book, The University of Everywhere, an imagining of how college could be in the future.  Carey, Nocera tells us, presents “both a stinging indictment of the university business model ands a prediction about how technology is likely to change it.”

The technology part of the argument is interesting enough, and there is lots to criticize about business models in higher education. But Nocera tells a whopper (and it seems Carey, too) when he says it is the “out of control cost of college [Carey] believes will cause people to search for a different way of educating students.” To see what’s wrong with that, let’s focus first on “cost of college” and then on the “out of control” claim.

Anyone serious about higher education has learned to distinguish between “cost” and “price.” “Cost” is what the institution spends to provide the education. “Price” is what an institution charges for that education.  And with “price” we need to distinguish “sticker price,” the published charges for tuition and fees, and “net price,” what students and their parents actually pay. There’s a big difference between sticker and net price because of financial aid and other subsidies to institutions.  Mostly people talk about sticker price, and that’s misleading. Few students actually pay that.

Nocera (and perhaps Carey) points to rapidly rising student debt (“now tops $1 trillion”) as an indication of “out of control college costs.” Indeed, student indebtedness has been exploding. That’s because students are being asked to pay more and more in “net price.” But it isn’t the “cost” that’s gone up to push up “net price,” it’s the decline in financial aid and subsidies.  More and more of the expense of college has been pushed onto individual students and their families.  Governments, especially state governments, are providing less and less of a subsidy.

The College Board provides the most comprehensive, accurate annual look at what is happening to cost and price in higher education.  Sensibly, it disaggregates the data it provides by kind of institution, because there is a world of difference in both cost and price between a research university and a community college, and important differences, too, between public and independent institutions.

Look at the data in the Table below, which has data from the past decade for which it has been compiled. Yes, net price has been going up quickly, especially at public institutions where the withdrawal of subsidies from state governments has hit particularly hard. The increase at private, non-profit institutions is more modest, but since wages and salaries have been flat for all but the wealthiest for more than two decades, any increase is hard to bear.

But is the cost going up? Hardly at all, unless you are looking at the private doctoral institutions (think Harvard and Yale, Stanford and NYU).  At public two-year (community) colleges, the educational expenditures have actually gone down. At private non profit bachelor’s colleges (think Earlham) the cost increase is just 3% spread over a decade.

Table 1:  Change in Educational Expenditures and Net Tuition Revenue, 2001-02 to 2011-12
Price Cost
Net Tuition Revenue Educational Expenditures
Public Doctoral 66% 6%
Public Master’s 66% 3%
Public Bachelor’s 60% 9%
Public Two-Year 54% -7%
Private Nonprofit Doctoral 18% 21%
Private Nonprofit Master’s 19% 10%
Private Nonprofit Bachelor’s 11% 3%

Source: College Board, Trends in College Pricing, Figures 19A and 19B

This isn’t a story of exploding college costs, it’s a story of exploding college prices for students and families.  In the not-so-distant past, we helped families pay for college. Now we don’t so much. That’s the crisis.  Instead of education, we are using our tax dollars to pay for war and prisons.

And bear this in mind. The educational costs at public two-year, bachelor’s and master’s institutions is $12,000 per year or below. These are where the majority of students attend. $12,000 is about how much we expend, per student, in public k-12 schools per year. Do we really expect a college education to cost less per year?

 Table 2: Cost
Average Educational Expenditures/year
Public Doctoral $16,600
Public Master’s $12,040
Public Bachelor’s $11,920
Public Two-Year $8,130
Private Nonprofit Doctoral $40,320
Private Nonprofit Master’s $16,090
Private Nonprofit Bachelor’s $21,080

Source: College Board, Trends in College Pricing, Figures 19A and 19B

Posted in Money Matters | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Duke University Sexual Assault Case

March 3, 2015

Just coming into public view is a sexual assault case at Duke University. The student newspaper at Duke reports that two students made separate allegations of sexual assault against Rasheed Sulaimon during the 2013-14 academic year.

The first student made the allegation in October 2013 at a diversity retreat called Common Ground, and the second made her allegation following another Common Ground retreat in the spring. But, says the paper, neither filed a complaint through the Office of Student Conduct or took legal action through the Durham Police Department. Various news sources report that the alleged victims chose not to file charges or come forward to the Office of Student Conduct because they were afraid of backlash from Duke basketball fans.

Sulaimon, speaking through an attorney, has declared he did nothing wrong.

This makes national news because Rasheed Sulaimon, until recently, was a member of the Duke men’s basketball team. At the end of January, Sulaimon was released from the team by coach Mike Krzyzewski who said that Sulaimon “has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program.” Krzyzewski declined to say anything further, then or subsequently.

The ABC-TV affiliate in Raleigh reports that an ‘affiliate of the program’ came forward after talking to both women. The whistleblower told the paper that in March 2014 the allegations were brought to a team psychologist, head coach Mike Krzyzewski, assistant coaches Jon Scheyer and Nate James, and associate head coach Jeff Capel.

So who should have done what when? And what should someone do now? (Full disclosure: though a critic of Division 1 NCAA Athletics, I am fan of Duke basketball and of Coach K.)

First, no one employed by Duke should be talking about the case to the media, and no one should fault them for declining comment. Students have rights to confidentiality, both moral and legal, and university officials should be respecting those rights. (Krzyzewski was also right to say as little as he did about Sulaimon’s dismissal from the team.)

Second, it would have been better if the two students had reported the incidents either to university officials or to the Durham police—if they wanted to say anything at all in public. Of course both had a right to keep whatever happened to themselves, but it puts everyone, especially the accused and the university, in a bind if the allegation is made in public without making a formal report of the incident. Under such circumstances, we get trial by rumor.

Third, if the students had any fear of reprisals from reporting the incidents, Duke had an obligation to see that there would be none.

Fourth, once anyone in the employ of the university learned of the allegations, the university should have done two things. It should have gone to the student making the allegation and asked if she now wanted to report it. Whether or not she said yes to that question, the university should have undertaken to investigate the allegation. If it found credible evidence of criminal wrong-doing, it should have brought the matter to the attention of the Durham Police.

This is the one question I have given the reporting to date: last spring when the matter first (apparently) came to the attention of Duke employees, was any investigation started? That’s what I’ll be looking to learn.  Regarding what Krzyzewski did or did not do over the last few months, the Duke Athletic Director has already stood up for Coach K, though no details were given.)

Mike Bianchi, a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, has written a piece with the headline Duke basketball is entering Jameis Winston territory regarding rape allegations. That is overreach, not to use a blunter word. In the Jameis Winston case, the young woman did report the incident and the university did nothing to pursue it.

P.S.: My hackles go up when someone is referred to as ‘an affiliate of the program.’ Is this person a Duke employee, with all the responsibilities that come with that? Why the shadowy cloak?

Posted in Leadership, Responsibility and Ethics, Student Life | Tagged | Leave a comment