Posts tagged with Ku

The David Guth of Wisconsin

Some of you on the hill might remember a little incident last September involving a Kansas University journalism professor, a politically charged sentiment about the Navy Yard shootings in Washington, D.C., and a social media platform that disseminates statements of 140 characters or less.

I'm talking about David Guth, who was placed on administrative leave last fall by the KU administration after an anti-NRA tweet sparked outrage among conservatives and gun rights supporters.

Guth put KU and the journalism school in the national spotlight for reasons both entities would probably like to forget. But Guth wasn't alone among college professors who have come under fire for making politicized statements in an age of rapid-fire social media communication.

This week the Chronicle of Higher Education detailed the story of Rachel Slocum, an assistant professor of geography with the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse.

Like Guth, Slocum referenced current events in digital communication, only in this case the medium was email and it was directed at her students.

When last fall's government shutdown stalled a class assignment, which depended on government data from websites that were on hold with the shutdown, Slocum made an overt reference to the politics around the shutdown.

According to the Chronicle, Slocum wrote to her class in an email:

Some of the data gathering assignment will be impossible to complete until the Republican/Tea Party controlled House of Representatives agrees to fund the government… [the rest of the project] will have to wait until Congress decides we actually need a government."

A student in Slocum's class, who was then interning at the anti-tax advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform and who had a different view on the politics behind the shutdown, posted a picture of the email on Twitter with the message: "Can't do my homework for class; govt. shutdown. So my prof. blames Republicans in an e-mail blast…"

The fallout was swift and harrowing for Slocum and the university, much as it was for Guth and KU.

Among the similarities between the Slocum and Guth situations: Both stories were picked up by the college media site Campus Reform, which is affiliated with the Leadership Institute and other conservative outlets.

Guth, Slocum and administrators at their respective universities received vitriolic messages from strangers outside the university. Guth even received death threats.

Administrators in both cases publicly denounced the faculty members under fire.

Some called for Slocum to be fired. Same holds for Guth, and some state legislators joined in the demands for his job. Both universities saw legislative funding come under threat.

And, of course, both stories spread like wildfire through social media.

The speed with which news travels through social media strikes fear into the heart of university officials. In response, some universities and state boards are looking to somehow contain social media wildfires, as another Chronicle article points out.

That list includes Kansas. If it weren't for David Guth's tweet, the Kansas Board of Regents would probably never have introduced the controversial new social media policy giving university CEOs the power to fire employees over "improper" social media use.

That policy has gained at least as much notoriety as Guth's tweet. It sparked dismay and outrage among Kansas university employees and has brought condemnation from national groups and newspaper editorial pages around the state. Critics say the policy restricts academic freedom and free speech.

(Shortly after passing the policy, the regents said they would take a second look at it in response to the outcry. The work group tasked by the regents with reviewing it recently approved a rewrite that would take an advisory, rather than disciplinary, role. Campuses have largely lauded the proposed draft so far.)

The regents, as KU Provost Jeff Vitter has said, were trying to protect universities from political backlashes and funding risks such as that which followed the Guth imbroglio. In the process the regents found themselves at the center of a national debate over free speech in higher education.

Universities have evolved in part to be institutions of democratic instruction and the free debate of ideas. The invention of tenure was meant to shield university scholars from political reprisals by people who don't like their ideas or ways of expressing them.

It's understandable that taxpayers and tuition payers would want to limit classroom conversations to the assignment at hand, and to keep hot-button politics out of education. At the same time, universities are the places where many learn to think, talk and write critically about political, social, philosophical, scientific and commercial ideas for the first time.

Trying to keep politics out of the classroom, or social media, for education's sake might ultimately be self-defeating.

Reply 1 comment from Betty Bartholomew

Another setback in KU’s quest for Med Center expansion

In recent days Kansas University officials have faced new setbacks with legislators on some key initiatives, but certainly not for lack of effort or focus.

For much of the past year the university's public affairs office and top administrators have been trying to persuade lawmakers to help fund a new KU Medical Center facility that would help train more doctors.

They've talked, they've tweeted, they've gone on road trips around the state, they've invited lawmakers to the Med Center. They've even tapped KU alumni for help spreading the word about the health education initiative.

It's rare to hear KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little or Tim Caboni, KU's chancellor for public affairs, give a talk without mentioning the state's shortage of doctors and KU's role, as the only state university with a medical school, in training them.

But the university hit another road block this week after the Kansas Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a capital improvement plan that excluded KU's long-sought-after Med Center facility.

KU has requested the Legislature release a $25 million FICA tax refund linked to the medical center, and provide $1.4 million a year to help retire $15 million in bonds. The remaining funds needed for the building would be paid with private donations and internal funds, KU has said.

The $75 million building would would allow KU Med to expand capacity by 50 additional medical students and add new technologies and teaching methods that KU has said are necessary for accreditation.

Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, didn't see it that way. Masterson told the Journal-World Tuesday, "I don't feel the accreditation is in jeopardy. If it were, we would reconsider what we needed to reconsider."

Caboni was on his way to speak about KU at a Rotary Club event in McPherson Kansas — a fairly typical road trip to spread the KU gospel — when he heard news of the committee's decision.

"The state has a certain need for more primary care physicians, and the University of Kansas is the one institution in the state that can help solve this challenging problem," Caboni said. "The decision today also unfortunately puts at risk the accreditation of the state's only medical school."

He said his public affairs team and fellow administrators plan to regroup after the decision. "We will continue to talk about it across the state," he added.

A senate subcommittee also excluded an item listed in Gov. Sam Brownback's budget to help establish the Kansas Institute for Translational Chemical Biology.

The $2 million Brownback had set aside for the research center would help support labs working on drug discovery and other research aimed at fighting a range of health problems.

Caboni lamented that decision as well. "Without seed money, it makes it difficult to build the center," he said. Pointing to competition in recruiting top faculty, he said, "It's important to us that the talented faculty that do this work have the resources that will keep them at the University of Kansas."

Reply

KU students call on regents to suspend social media policy

Kansas University students have joined in the call for the Kansas Board of Regents to suspend a social media policy passed in December.

The KU Student Senate passed a resolution this week urging the regents to ax the policy while a regents-created work group reviews it and recommends revisions.

Garrett Farlow, a KU freshman in journalism, was one of the primary authors of the resolution, which states the social media policy "inhibits free speech of faculty and staff, depriving them of the academic and personal freedoms necessary to effectively educate students."

Farlow said he was concerned that the policy could inhibit faculty members who engage with peers and students on social media. "Although the policy is directly targeted at faculty and professors, it obviously affects students," he said.

The policy allows university heads to suspend and fire employees for social media posts that conflict with the best interest of the university or its ability to perform services, among other violations.

After passing the policy unanimously in December, the regents announced they would review it in response to widespread criticism that it was too broad and could restrain free speech.

The regents established a work group of faculty and staff from state universities to study the policy and make recommendations to the board by April. But faculty and staff groups have repeatedly asked the regents to suspend the policy until the work group makes its findings. Yesterday the regents pushed back against those calls.

Farlow said the issue hasn't gotten much attention from students largely because they don't follow media accounts as closely as faculty and staff. But Farlow is trying to make it an issue with students, starting with last night's resolution.

"The more people that know about this, the more impact that we can have," he said. "The First Amendment is very near and dear to my heart."

Reply

KU students in Topeka to ask for break on sales taxes for textbooks

A contingent of Kansas University students spent the day in Topeka Tuesday advocating for higher education issues with lawmakers.

Members of KU's Student Senate joined students from other Kansas Board of Regents universities traveling to the capital as part of Higher Education Day.

On behalf of their student bodies, the delegation is calling for lawmakers to eliminate sales taxes on textbooks as well as discuss higher education funding.

Marcus Tetwiler, KU student body president, said in a release that getting rid of sales taxes on text books would "help alleviate these rising costs" of textbooks and decrease the overall cost of education.

Eric Hurtt, a KU senior in political science and government relations director for the Senate, helped coordinate meetings and events.

While student delegations have traveled to Topeka to talk with lawmakers before, Hurtt said he thought this year's student delegation had better talking points.

"This year we're picking things where we all have skin in the game," he said. "You get a better seat at the table if you pick issues we can actually do something about."

Reply

A counter-proposal for higher education

Last fall, President Barack Obama proposed an ambitious set of reforms to make colleges more affordable and accountable for outcomes.

The president's plan, which included a system to rank schools according to measures of value and a proposal to distribute federal student aid based on the rankings, found a mixed response in higher education circles.

At the time of the president's proposal, university officials and education experts around the country voiced fears about possible unintended consequences. Some said ranking schools based on graduation rates, for example, might encourage schools to lower academic standards. Kansas University Provost Jeffrey Vitter echoed that concern in a September interview.

Other outcomes, such as the incomes of college graduates, critics have said, could punish programs and schools that provide education of social value but which doesn't always lead to high-paying jobs. (A December story in the Journal-World explored this topic.)

In a letter last week sent from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities to the U.S. Secretary of Education, the APLU said it supported the president's overall goals of making college as affordable and effective as possible but stated the president's plan could "create perverse incentives."

So the APLU, which KU belongs to, and whose executive committee KU Chancellor Gray-Little sits on, offered its own counter-proposal to the president's.

The APLU's plan calls for providing students and families with more data on college, but nixes the ranking system. Rather than tying the information to the federal aid system, it calls for more stringent Title IX eligibility (a requirement for schools receiving federal funds) that would include "a limited set of meaningful outcomes," adjusted by a student readiness index.

Those outcomes would include student progress and completion rates, as the president suggested, but offered alternative measures. The APLU also listed student loan default rates, net tuition (rather than sticker price) and graduate employment and graduate program enrollment rates (rather than income) as measurable college outcomes.

In much of this, the APLU offered ideas similar to what the White House proposed but with tweaks that could help account for differences among institutions and students. Which of course makes it a similarly ambitious proposition.

One thing both plans call for, and many around the country are calling for, is more transparency in higher education when it comes to comparing costs and programs. Transparency turns out to be not so simple a thing when you are talking about thousands of massive, complex, multi-million dollar institutions.

But maybe you have your own grand plan for reforming the country's higher education system. We're all ears at Heard on the Hill. Send them this way, along with your KU news tips, to bunglesbee@ljworld.com

Reply

Sorting out the legal issues of the regents’ social media policy

Last week the Kansas Board of Regents announced the names of a work group created to review the social media policy that the board approved last month. The policy, for those returning to campus from holiday hibernation, allows presidents of Kansas public universities to discipline, up to firing, employees for social media posts that conflict with the best interests of the university or its ability to provide services.

That the regents agreed to review the policy has done little to quiet those who have vocally opposed it. With the work group set to report back to the regents in April, that leaves at least four months, and quite possibly more, for it to sit in the regents' policy book in its original wording.

Distinguished professors from Kansas State University and Kansas University have asked the regents to suspend the policy while under review. Last week the faculty senate presidents of regents universities also asked the regents to suspend the policy.

The regents refused. Regents chairman Fred Logan explained their position, saying they had passed the new rules on social media use "in good faith."

Not everyone agrees. Philip Nel, a K-State distinguished professor of English, and a vocal critic of the policy who has helped organize multiple faculty responses to it, wrote in a recent blog post that he originally thought the policy "must have been a mistake." He writes:

Unlike previous Boards, this one had — for instance — been asking the Kansas Legislature to fund the state universities in Kansas. Adopting a social media policy that suspended freedom of speech and (in effect) eradicated tenure was surely because the hastily passed proposal was ill-considered.

His thinking has changed, though.

Before voting on its new social media policy, the Kansas Board of Regents ran it by the Kansas attorney general's office to make sure it stood on solid legal and constitutional ground. Confident in its constitutionality, the regents passed the policy unanimously in December.

The fact that the regents took the policy to the attorney general Nel takes as evidence that the policy was not a blunder or hastily crafted and little-thought-upon blip:

The policy is not a mistake, but a carefully executed plan to muzzle free speech. This is why the Board passed the policy as faculty and staff were grading exams and preparing to leave town (indeed, many had already left town). This is why, though the policy has been panned with near unanimity from both within and beyond Kansas, the Board is not backing down.

Logan said last week that he believed that the policy is a re-statement of existing law. But whether the policy could survive a legal challenge in court is an open question.

The constitutional issues involved are fairly nuanced and complicated. Although I suppose if these things were simple and straightforward, we wouldn't need courts or lawyers. In a conversation earlier this month with Rick Levy, a distinguished professor of law at KU, pointed to parts of the policy that could potentially be challenged on legal and constitutional grounds.

Levy, who is always careful when talking about the policy to point out that he is not expressing any opinion one way or the other, said, "Normally the state cannot discriminate or take action against speakers based on the contents of their speech." That's a core First Amendment protection. But there are some exceptions to it. One being speech that is, as Levy explains, "directed toward inciting imminent unlawful" behavior.

That provision to free speech comes with standards. Such speech must be likely to provoke unlawful conduct, and the speaker must have intended for the speech to incite unlawful behavior, Levy said. (Without those standards you'd get a lot of perverse legal and social outcomes. Imagine J.D. Salinger being on the hook for Mark David Chapman's murder of John Lennon because of Catcher in the Rye.)

The regents seemed to address speech inciting illegal behavior in their social media policy. Included in the types of improper social media are any posts that "directly incites violence or other immediate breach of the peace." But Levy said this "doesn't match the standard directly. It may be broader or permit action under broader grounds" because it "does not clearly require intent or likeliness" in its wording.

Another potential issue relates to the "void for vagueness" doctrine in constitutional due process. Under the doctrine people are "entitled to fair notice of whether your conduct is valid or not," Levy says.

The regents policy allows university heads to punish employees for any social media post that "impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impedes the performance of the speaker's official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affects the university's ability to efficiently provide services."

Under a constitutional challenge to the policy, the regents would have to prove this gives university personnel adequate information about what kinds of speech would cause them to be disciplined or fired, Levy said.

Finally, there's the question of whether faculty and employees at a university are subject to the same legal precedents under free speech law as other public employees. The regents policy appears to apply principles that came out of the Gracetti v. Ceballos Supreme Court decision, in which the court decided that when employees make statements "pursuant to their official duties" (very similar language can be found in the regents policy), they are not engaged in civic speech protected by the First Amendment.

Levy said that, because of language in the court opinion, lower courts have typically ruled that those principles don't apply to universities, where teaching and scholarship have a unique function among other government activities.

Head spinning yet? All this of course could be sorted out by regents once the work group reports back. If not, there's a chance it could go to court to be sorted out.

If you have your own legal opinions on the matter or, better yet, KU news tips, send them along to bunglesbee@ljworld.com.

Reply

The long and tangled journey of post-tenure review at KU

It took two proposals, four handouts (printed on four different colors of paper) and nearly two hours for the Kansas University Faculty Senate to approve a post tenure policy yesterday.

But of course it took far more than that. The process of crafting a policy that would allow academic departments at KU to evaluate the long-term research and performance of tenured professors began earlier this year and took, by my own rough and vague estimate, thousands of man hours.

It has been a long, fraught process full of negotiations — within the committee that drafted the proposal, between the committee and faculty during townhall meetings, among Faculty Senate members, and between the Faculty Senate and the provost's office.

After yesterday's meeting, Rick Levy, a KU law professor and co-chair of the post-tenure review draft committee, said he felt "gratified" that the committee's policy won the approval of the Senate. Yet he pointed out that the draft didn't necessarily contain his own vision of what post-tenure review should be. "Ultimately I was only a proposer," he said.

The committee's policy faced a direct challenge in the form of an amended version submitted by Gerald Mikkelson, a KU professor of Russian and Eastern European studies. The actual process of post-tenure review, as a seven-year evaluation of a professor's work by a small committee of peers, was essentially the same in both drafts. But Mikkelson's draft nixed approval of the review's outcome by school deans and the provost. Essentially, Mikkelson's alternate proposal maximized the control faculty had over the post-tenure review process. Mikkelson's proposal was ultimately defeated in favor of the committee's draft.

Throughout the months-long discussion and debate over post-tenure review, many faculty members have expressed worry that tenure itself could become eroded through the review process. The committee tried to address those concerns in their revised policy draft, released in October for public consumption, by deleting most references to disciplinary consequences that could follow from post-tenure review.

Also at stake is the power faculty have through the governance process. One of the bigger issues throughout the talks has been about the destination of the policy — i.e., whether it will reside in the Faculty Senate's rule books or the provost's. Ultimately the question boils down to how much control and oversight faculty members are given over future changes to the policy.

The Senate essentially lost that battle, at least on the original front it was fought. Earlier this fall the Senate voted unanimously on a resolution that essentially said to the provost's office, "Hey, we want the policy with us." Mikkelson's draft stated outright that the post-tenure review policy would reside with the Faculty Senate. KU Provost Jeffrey Vitter's position was that the policy belonged in his office's policy library because it was a personnel matter, along with annual evaluations.

However Vitter's office did offer a compromise, negotiated with the Faculty Senate's executive committee, that would in effect give the Senate the power to approve any future changes to post-tenure review and the annual evaluation policy — something the Senate didn't have before. That compromise passed last night.

Listening to all this debate over how much power the provost should have over post-tenure review was Vitter himself. When the meeting was over, I asked him if he took any of it personally. "If I did that, I wouldn't be able to survive," he said. Not that any faculty members voiced suspicions and distrust of Vitter as a person. Rather, the debate centered around the power of his office relative to their own.

Vitter said that he, too, thinks there is room for a stronger role at the university for the Faculty Senate. The amendments passed last night give faculty governance "new power," something Vitter thought was important, he said. As a whole, he voiced pleasure over the policy-creation process — tangled as it's been at times.

"It illustrates the positive things that can happen when people work together for the common good," he said.

Reply

Student debt on the rise

In Kansas and across the country student debt is on the rise, though the debt burdens of Kansas students are, as you might expect, smaller.

A new report from the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit focused on college affordability, shows more than 70 percent of college seniors who graduated in 2012 left school with student loan debt.

That's a lot of indebted graduates. More troubling is that the average debt among them has grown. For 2012 the average debt load was $29,400. That number has been on the rise for several years, ticking up about 6 percent per year on average.

Kansas students are in a bit better shape. In 2012 the average debt taken out by KU students was $23,468, almost $6,000 less than the national average reported by College Access and Success, though that number has also risen from 2008's average of $20,902. For all students graduating from a public university in Kansas, the average debt load is $23,000, according to figures from the Kansas Board of Regents.

While those figures are far better than the national average, and while acknowledging that an average masks very different experiences across students, even Kansas' lower student debt figures could be a problem, especially for lower income students.

In a recent conversation with William Elliot, a KU associate professor of social welfare and the founding director Assets and Education Initiative, Elliott said that student debt burdens even below $20,000 can affect the long-term financial prospects of lower income students. Moreover, the prospect of debt can discourage loan-averse students from enrolling in 4-year programs or from going to college altogether.

To address the problem Elliott and others have advocated for encouraging college savings accounts and even restructuring federal financial aid to more of a savings model. Others are looking sharply at debt and graduate income levels to measure the value of a college education. And still others are just generally freaked out about the $1 trillion in outstanding student debt U.S. adults are trying to pay off.

And I'm proud, sad and frightened to say I'm among them. That's why I need your KU news tips to keep the show going. Send them along to bunglesbee@ljworld.com

Reply 6 comments from John Graham Bob Smith Richard Heckler

Humanities crises therapy

Once again the humanities are on our minds here at Heard on the Hill.

First, a mea culpa: A few weeks ago in a Journal-World article about the role of the humanities and liberal arts at Kansas University, we referenced a decrease of 210 undergraduate students enrolled in Kansas University’s theatre program from 2007 to 2012. As folks from the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences explained to me, the number did not accurately reflect the change in theatre students during the time period. The decrease from 2007 to 2012 reflected a reclassification of majors with the creation KU School of Art within arts and sciences. Where theatre and film majors had previously been counted together in the theatre department, they were now counted separately, shifting a large numbers of students away theatre to film on paper — but that didn't reflect actual interest in the major. Between 2009, when the School of Art was created, and 2012, undergraduate enrollment in theatre actually increased from 73 to 85. Our apologies for any confusion that caused.

The academic future of arts and humanities is an ongoing topic of conversation not just on the hill but across the country. But a New York Times op-ed article by Gary Gutting, a University of Notre Dame philosophy professor, argues that the crisis extends well beyond the college world. The inability of those interested in creating art or doing humanistic study to find an outlet in the economy is a national economic, cultural — perhaps even a moral — crisis in the country, Gutting writes. Making a living from writing, painting or playing music is all but impossible except for the extraordinarily good and very lucky elite.

If humanities doom and gloom in the media has gotten you down, though, Michael Gibbs Hill, a blogger with the Chronicle of Higher Education, has devised a "Humanities Crisis Mad Lib" to shine a bit of light on all the handwringing over humanities among journalists such as myself. Gibbs also happens to offer a resounding and nuanced defense of the humanities and their role in education.

But there are other crises in [adjective] need of a Mad Lib. You can [strong action verb] yours in to bunglesbee@ljworld.com. I'll happily take your KU news tips, too.

Reply

A moody outlook for higher education industry

Higher education is education, but it's also an industry in this country. As evidence of that I would point to the fact that Moody's Investor's Service issues market outlooks for higher education. (Perhaps you remember Moody's from the run-up to the financial crisis, when it and other investment ratings agencies gave high seals of approval to the toxic mortgage-backed securities that blew up the economy.)

And Moody's view on the higher education industry the last couple years has been "mostly bleak," writes Scott Carlson from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The service's most recent outlook for higher ed., issued this week, was negative once again. Moody's cited a weak economy, which hurts families' ability to pay for college, and political fights over the federal budget, which could decrease the student aid available.

The sluggish economy led to rising loan default rates, high unemployment and stagnant family income — all of which can hurt the revenues of schools. More expenses are coming up as well, after years of colleges and universities having avoided investments in human capital (i.e., raises and new hires) and infrastructure.

At Kansas University, total student enrollment is down for the fifth straight year, though the school had a 6.1 percent larger freshman class compared with last year. Along with federal battles over revenue, the university has also faced sharp cuts from the Kansas state government. With a $34.3 million decrease of funding for state schools over two years, Kansas is one of the few states in the U.S. to make outright cuts to higher education funding.

All these factors would seem to suggest that KU could keep struggling for a couple of years yet to regain previous enrollment levels, especially if tuition rates rise in response to state cuts. Lower levels will make it all the more difficult for the university to make capital investments.

See how easy that was? Maybe I should start my own investor outlook service. To subscribe to my outlooks, for a Moody's-esque price, or to send KU news tips, email me at bunglesbee@ljworld.com

Reply

1 2 3 4 ...16