Academic freedom vs disclosure

Just last month, Virginia’s high court upheld the University of Virginia’s right not to disclose a professor’s emails about his work on climate change to a conservative organization that requested their release under the Freedom of Information Act.images-1
InsideHigher Ed reports that “Now the university is again being asked to disclose a faculty member’s email correspondence and other personal records — this time by a gay rights advocacy group that says it’s concerned that the work of renowned Constitutional law professor Douglas Laycock is being used to support anti-gay and pro-life legislation.
“Although the two Virginia requests came from different sides of the political aisle, experts say they raise similar issues. Namely, experts say, FOIA requests regarding professors’ preliminary scholarship and personal correspondence walk a fine line between ensuring transparency in public institutions and infringing on academic freedom. The newest case is particularly notable due to Laycock’s eminence in the field and the fact that he is married to U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan.
“Earlier this month, the university received a FOIA request from two students, in consultation with GetEQUAL, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights advocacy group based in Berkeley, Calif. The request seeks access to emails to and from Laycock’s university account to three conservative political organizations, along with phone records from the professor’s work cell phone from January 2012 to May of this year and expense reports for travel during the same period. The request also seeks access to relevant emails sent to and from the professor’s assistant, and the professor’s employment contract. The request says: “At the heart of this [FOIA] request is a general concern University of Virginia resources may have been used to help finance causes that are perpetuating harm to [LGBT] individuals and the reproductive rights of women across the country, including here on UVA’s campus.” Continue reading “Academic freedom vs disclosure”

Linking tenure to student success

An administrative law judge in Florida this week upheld new rules by the State Department of Education that require significantly more of state college faculty members — particularly in the areas of student success — for them to earn continuing contracts (the equivalent of tenure).

As InsiderHigher Ed reports, “The United Faculty of Florida, the faculty union in the state, had challenged the new rules as beyond the scope of the department’s powers. But the judge rejected that view and said that the board was within its rights. The rules affect faculty members at the state college system, which was formerly a community college system but no longer uses that label as many of the former community colleges have introduced some four-year programs. The system — with 28 colleges, nearly 25,000 faculty members and 879,000 students — is among the largest in the United States.

“Colleges and universities nationally have been under increasing pressure to demonstrate their success (as institutions) in student learning. And there has been a strong push in some K-12 districts to evaluate teachers in part based on student learning gains as measured by tests. But the movement is unpopular with educators, who say that such systems tend to punish instructors who — however talented and committed they are — teach poorly prepared or disadvantaged students.

The rules that have now been approved state that each district president, after consulting with faculty, should develop a system to evaluate faculty members, using “appropriate criteria to measure student success.” Those criteria “may include”:

  • Demonstrated or documented learning gains.
  • Course completion rates.
  • Graduation and/or certification rates.
  • Continued success in subsequent and additional courses or educational pursuits.
  • Job placements in the appropriate field.

“The criteria would be used not only for awarding new continuing contracts, but also for the equivalent of post-tenure reviews, which are also mandated by the new rules. The faculty challenge to the new rules said that the state board lacked the authority to make such specific changes in the way continuing contracts are awarded.”

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/12/27/judge-upholds-new-florida-rules-tenure-and-student-success#ixzz2ojrmytlt
Inside Higher Ed

Adjuncts are organizing

A movement catching on across American campuses where adjunct faculty members, the working poor of academia, are turning to collective action.

Only a quarter of the academic work force is tenured, or on track for tenure, down from more than a third in 1995, reports today’s New York

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 Times. ” The majority hold contingent jobs — mostly part-time adjuncts but also graduate assistants and full-time lecturers. And the Service Employees International Union, with members in health care, maintenance and public service, is moving hard and fast to add the adjuncts to their roster, organizing at private colleges in several urban areas.

“In Washington, it has unionized American University, Georgetown, George Washington and Montgomery College. In the Los Angeles area, adjuncts at Whittier College and the University of La Verne just filed with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election. In Boston, Tufts University’s part-time faculty voted to join the service employees’ union in September, and an October vote at Bentley University failed by two votes. Campaigns are underway at Northeastern and Lesley.

“The S.E.I.U. strategy has the momentum right now,” said Adrianna Kezar, director of the University of Southern California’s Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success. “And we know that unionizing leads to pay increases and at least the beginnings of benefits.” Continue reading “Adjuncts are organizing”

Improving adjunct working conditions

Collecting better data on adjunct employment on campus. Inviting adjuncts to participate in departmental

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meetings and curriculum design. Some of the biggest ways institutions can improve the working conditions of adjunct faculty are free or cost little, debunking a common argument against rethinking higher education’s changing faculty make-up, reports InsideHigher Ed on a new study.

“Or so argues a new paper from the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, a partnership between the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities to examine and develop the role of adjunct faculty.

“[Although] leaders in higher education do face budgetary constraints and uncertainty over future funding sources,it is a myth that resources are the sole reason that prevents us from ensuring that all our faculty members are adequately supported so they can provide the highest quality of instruction to their students,” reads Delphi’s “Dispelling the Myths: Locating the Resources Needed to Support Non-Tenure-Track Faculty.”

“The paper, written by Adrianna Kezar, director of the Delphi Project and professor of higher education at the University of Southern California, and Dan Maxey, Kezar’s research assistant, outlines a variety of practices institutions may adopt to better support all faculty – not just adjuncts – rated on a scale from “$” (free to marginal in cost) to “$$$$” (indicating a “more substantial” expense).

“Some obvious means of supporting adjunct instructors, who make up nearly three-fourths of the higher education work force — better pay, benefits — are costly. But others — such as enhancing data collection efforts to better track adjunct employment on campus, ensuring protections for academic freedom in faculty handbooks, and inviting adjuncts to participate in curricular discussions and governance – aren’t. Continue reading “Improving adjunct working conditions”

Let us now praise the non-tenured

While many higher education experts — and parents — bemoan the fact that tenured professors are a shrinking presence,now making up less than a quarter of the academic work force, a study released Monday found, surprisingly, that students in introductory classes learned more from outside instructors than from tenured or tenure-track professors, reports today’s New York Times

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“Students taught by untenured faculty were more likely to take a second course in the discipline and more likely to earn a better grade in the next course than those whose first course was taught by a tenured or tenure-track instructor, the report said.

“The study, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, is based on data from more than 15,000 students who arrived at Northwestern University from 2001 to 2008.

“According to the authors — David N. Figlio, director of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research; Morton O. Schapiro, the university’s president; and Kevin B. Soter, a consultant — there was “strong and consistent evidence that Northwestern faculty outside of the tenure system outperform tenure track/tenured professors in introductory undergraduate classrooms.” The differences were present across a wide variety of subject areas, the study found, and were especially pronounced for average and less-qualified students.

“Our results provide evidence that the rise of full-time designated teachers at U.S. colleges and universities may be less of a cause for alarm than some people think, and indeed, may actually be educationally beneficial,” the report said. The fact that the study included only one university — and a selective, private research university at that — left its general applicability open to question. And, skeptics point out, there are many reasons a student might take a second class in a discipline apart from the teaching skills of the previous instructor. “I’m kind of dubious,” said Anita Levy, a senior program officer at the American Association of University Professors. “I’m not surprised that introductory classes might be better taught by contingent faculty members simply because most tenured faculty more often teach advanced courses. Continue reading “Let us now praise the non-tenured”

Univ of Calif affirms speech rights

The right of faculty members to speak out on matters affecting their colleges and universities has long been viewed as central to the way academic freedom and shared governance are supposed to work in American higher education, reports Inside Higher Edimages

“The University of California Board of Regents affirmed that right this month with an amendment to the system’s “Statement on the Professional Rights of Faculty.” In so doing, the board sought to undercut the impact of a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has been used in some cases to question the faculty right to speak out on institutional governance.

“The new language states that faculty members have the “freedom to address any matter of institutional policy or action when acting as a member of the faculty whether or not as a member of an agency of institutional governance.”

“While many faculty members might just assume that they have that right, the 2006 decision (which was not about higher education) led some courts to question such rights. That ruling, Garcetti v. Ceballos, was about a suit by a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles who was demoted after he criticized a local sheriff’s conduct to his supervisors. The Supreme Court ruled that First Amendment protections do not necessarily extend to public employees when they speak in capacities related to their jobs. Continue reading “Univ of Calif affirms speech rights”