The Role of Faculty in Centers Institutes in Higher Ed

I happened upon a conversation on Twitter about institutes where the original poster was asking whether people had been involved in starting or leading any centers or institutes on campus. I was surprised at how involved and committed people were to the conversation. Many had strong opinions about it, some were negative, such as, they had been involved in one but they would never do that again because the administrative tasks, especially at start-up, made it exceedingly difficult to make progress on anything other than that aspect of university work.

However, there were folks on the comment thread who said that despite being very demanding, the ability to lead projects and create new missions, particularly for special communities, was an important and meaningful contribution for them. Someone recommended that people only consider it if they were senior faculty and did not have to worry about their research loads as much as others. Another person said they tended to have staff who were paid higher than faculty for fewer qualifications, and it seemed that sometimes they weren’t very efficient or effective, just good at getting grant funds and moving money around to look good, and likened them to some big non-profit organizations.

I did a bit of looking around and found an explanation from the University of Arkansas that said that they allow for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary work and can “traverse the boundaries of colleges and departments… “Centers have the potential for strengthening disciplinary programs by providing interdisciplinary course work, offering service learning opportunities, facilitating certificate programs, supporting degree programs, enabling high levels of research productivity and providing external visibility for the university.”

I think that there are centers at universities that provide valuable service to the university community and the community at large, and some of them do great work to help marginalized communities at the university if they are run with a faithful intention to advocate for equality and justice. I don’t believe that those types of centers should be funded through student fees, as they are at Virginia Tech, since that’s asking the marginalized people to pay some of the money to correct wrongs done against their communities. I do see how some of the above comments can be valid, I think it depends on accountability, efficiency, and oversight. I agree faculty should not have to do the additional work of administrative oversight and research responsibilities (seems we’re always asking faculty, especially women and marginalized faculty) for more and more work.  In short, it’s a mixed bag and depends on the accountability and fidelity of the institution and those responsible.

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College Professors Reactions to MOOC’s

I’ve had email subscriptions to EdX, Coursera, and Udemy and even taken a “free” course through the massive online open course format, more commonly known as MOOC nowadays. I think it’s quite neat, and judging by the many students all over the world, people who might not usually have the opportunity to matriculate at the institutions that pioneered the format, it seems to be a clever idea. Tertiary education is free, or nominally fee-based in many countries around the world; but there is a common perception that an education derived from one of the global north “greats” – UK, US, Canada, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and France – your degree or certificate may not cut it in the modern world. This prophecy is fulfilled when would-be students from the global south, due to forces often manipulated by the very same nations – visa barriers, unequal exchange rates, lack of access to the qualifying secondary education, language barriers. MOOCs using the free and open format, often offering a certificate for a fee, earn double or triple benefit from these course offerings. They get to signal their virtue in offering free education to the global community, they promote and advertise their traditional formats, the certificate fees and loyalty that may garner future traditional matriculation give them earning potential (not that they need it given how much these institutions, and the nations in which they reside) have stolen from the rest of the world. For the institutions, they’re a boon. For professors on the other hand, perhaps not so much.
Online learning and MOOCs are a more accessible route to micro credentialling, celebrated by some, cautioned by others. Some professors see no problem with the format, particularly because it offers them new modes of teaching that are flexible. Those who are tech-savvy and already maximize functionality on their learning management systems, such as Canvas and Moodle, are better prepared and able to adapt to the new format. Some believe they take resources and attention away from traditional learning and they do not lend themselves to success in every area (I would imagine MOOCs are less convincing for the performing and visual arts, for anything where instruction in a hands-on setting is valuable). Some professors see hope in the format and identify being able to offer free education – altruism – as one form of value they place in the option. Others see MOOCs as a way to test out new innovations, which begs the question, is the experimental element beneficial to learners?
Overall it seems that the main concern for most professors is the learning curve and time commitment. As we have seen with the switch to online platforms during the pandemic, college professors and secondary school teachers faced high stress, and impossible hurdles having to fulfill their traditional teaching obligations and effectively learn new formats, modify materials, and manage more stimuli in the classroom. Whatever option is used for learning whether traditional classroom, online courses, traditional correspondence or MOOCs, two things are important: that the quality of education remains, and that those teaching are able to carry a fair burden of the workload.

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Thoughts on Ethics Case Reports from ORI

I reviewed two cases on the Office of Research Integrity’s website. Actually, I reviewed several, but I circled back around to a couple of them for the purpose of writing this post.  In 2020 ORI found that Charles A. Downs, a former Adjunct Assistant Professor, Arizona Health Sciences Center, the University of Arizona  “engaged in research misconduct by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly falsifying and/or fabricating data included in six (6) grant applications submitted for U.S Public Health Service (PHS) funds. As punishment, the respondent agreed to have his research supervised, to have a committee appointed and a supervision plan established, to not apply for any PHS funds unless the supervision plan is submitted and approved, and to abstain from serving on any PHS board, all for four years.

In the second case Yibin Lin, Ph.D., University of Texas Health Science Center knowingly and intentionally falsified, fabricated, and plagiarized data and text reported in the numerous published papers, which have been retracted, and manuscripts. The respondent also attempted to deceive the online publication sites bioRxiv and medRxiv, creating fictitious author names and affiliations, but not listing himself as an author. Given the extent of his misconduct, Dr. Lin agreed to exclude himself voluntarily for a period of ten (10) years beginning from any contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the United States Government and from eligibility for or involvement in US Government non-procurement programs (known as “covered transactions”). The scope of the respondent’s misconduct is surprising.

For both of these respondents, I think about the antecedents to this behavior. I believe many of us say this could not be us. But I wonder whether there is a tipping point, an incident, or an experience that catapults a researcher into these actions that inevitably will be caught. I wonder about whether they felt pressure to have a particular result, or to what extent was this driven by ego – a belief that they should have had particular results or a particular trajectory. I also wonder about how many of these situations have gone undetected because the fraud was less extensive. Research ethics reviews and peer reviews of published research are overseen and judged by human beings who all bring their own values and flaws, but the systems are lengthy and intended for researchers to be thoughtful. We should all be mindful of these types of ethics misconduct cases. At some point, it may have been that these researchers turned a corner in their mistakes and believed they were too far gone to turn back. However, at some point they were also young, hopeful scholars with potential. I hope they learn and recover from their mistakes.


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The Future of the University

In a conversation about The University recently, a former colleague said she was certain that academia would change. “Wouldn’t it?” She asked. Perhaps she wasn’t as sure as she said. Not an academic, herself, she observed that every client she has had in academia (she’s a psychotherapist) and friends have complained about academia. She’s said it seems the political nature of the setting, makes it a difficult space to navigate. She was reflecting on my observations of colleagues, and how after a meeting someone accused the most recalcitrant and ineffective of the lot, of being “just as bad” as the professors.

I thought for a minute about my friend and former colleague’s hope, first, an assertion then changed to a question. I said I thought it would implode before it changed, not soon, but that contrary to the idea that universities are spaces of innovation, attitudinally and structurally they are extremely conservative, and attrition seems to happen in the margins – rather, of the people in the margins: those with the least power, those hoping, willing to push the boundaries, those innovating. Far too many of the best academic scientists and practitioners I once knew, people who enjoyed teaching and mentoring but not faculty politics and hierarchy, fled the university for government, and the non-academic private sector.

The thing that must change is the structure itself. The university must do the gargantuan task of upsetting itself, of demystifying many of the processes that in thought and word appear to maintain a high regard for tradition and rigor, but in deed simply limit or marginalize too many folks. The university must accelerate its efforts at inclusion. There are changes now. The pandemic and the global uprising for Black lives, sparked by events in the US last summer, but in response to centuries of oppression and inequality, presented an opportunity for more funding, programs, statements, and task forces. Some are skeptical about whether the change will happen. But the conversation genie and the language that accompanies it are out of the box. Dialogue is certainly a pathway to change. Accessibility, equity, owning up to past wrongs, and reckoning with the fact The University was never intended for many of the people who now populate it and make it better, look towards the right direction. Change must come, it’s a matter of survival.

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Mission Statements

This week in Future Professoriate we look at the mission statements of a couple universities of our choosing. I chose to post on King’s College in the United Kingdom and Spelman College in Atlanta, USA. I wanted to look outside of the US and the UK is a country I am familiar with that was relatively easy to find a mission statement on. I chose Spelman because it is a historically Black college. As a graduate of another historically Black college or university (HBCU), I wanted to discuss one and to choose a mission statement I was not familiar with.

I’ll be candid with you, I view university mission statements as corporate rhetoric. Yes, they’re intended to solidify universities’ commitments to their students, communities in which they serve*, and the academic community. But as academia has become more neoliberal, as financial models have shifted and inequality, particularly in the US has increased, the statements sometimes echo the types of things we hear from corporations. I perused a few university and college websites in the US, The Netherlands, and the UK before settling on the two institutions I reviewed. There was some intentionality on my part in how I searched. Among a few of the mission statements I looked at nothing stood out or surprised me, so I moved on to others.

King’s College is one of the founding colleges of the University of London. What stood out to me about their mission statement is that it is actually short: one sentence. Of course, the objectives listed below essentially form a part of their mission statement. Among the objectives, what surprised me was the second one, “provide students with a professional and customer-focused service in respect of essential functions such as enrolment, examinations, funding, and graduation.” Customer service-oriented statements sound very much like the Americanization or commercialization of education. Although this has been a growing trend in the UK over the past two decades, it was still surprising to see it written that way. (Links to an external site.)


To provide staff and students with an excellent service in all aspects of academic and student administration.


The objectives of Academic Services are to:

  • Manage the student lifecycle from application to graduation to ensure a coherent and seamless student experience and effective administrative process
  • Provide students with a professional and customer-focused service in respect of essential functions such as enrolment, examinations, funding and graduation
  • Provide top-level support for research and the King’s Graduate School including co-ordination of the REF and the review and promotion of ethical research
  • Ensure that the College’s governance and academic regulatory framework is robust, up to date and compliant with relevant legislation
  • Support academic planning for the College
  • Ensure that all quality assurance and enhancement procedures are robust, effective and fit for purpose and to produce expert internal management information and external reports as required.

What stands out about Spelman College’s mission statement is the wholistic focus of their mission and the fact that although they are traditionally a women’s college, the do not emphasize that in their mission statement. I compared it to Bennett College – another historically Black college for women and theirs focuses specifically on the education of women. I believe Spelman has a small number of students who aren’t women, and certainly their students take classes with students of all genders in the Atlanta College Circle, but their mission statement is very wholistic, and gender neutral. It is a very convincing, strong mission statement.

Spelman College Mission Statement

Spelman College, a historically Black college and a global leader in the education of women of African descent, is dedicated to academic excellence in the liberal arts and sciences and the intellectual, creative, ethical, and leadership development of its students. Through diverse learning modalities, Spelman empowers the whole person to engage the many cultures of the world and inspires a commitment to positive social change.


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About this Space

Hello readers,

I’m Leslie Robertson Toney, a Ph.D. student of Sociology with a concentration on Women’s and Gender Studies. My interests broadly speaking are in health, well-being, and society. Specifically, I am interested in the ways women and adolescents articulate agency, engage with and shape health-related behaviors in the post-colonial Anglophone Caribbean. My frameworks are Black feminisms, transnational and decolonial feminisms. My dissertation project explores the sexual agency of adolescent girls, using Trinidad & Tobago as a case study. I write about young women and girls’ engagement with sexual, reproductive, and mental health within the systems and structures of post-colonial society. I also write about Trinidad carnival, its history, connections, and implications for the Black diaspora, and how carnival serves as a metaphor for engaging in acts of resistance and articulating agentic behavior for marginalized people.

This blog is an assignment for the Future Professoriate courses I am currently enrolled in at VT, including Preparing Future Professoriate and Diversity in a Global Society. I have been blogging for many years in a few different spaces, most notably here, about the historical Diasporic connections and contemporary social implications of Trinidad Carnival, but I will be attempting some new things here.

I hope you follow, engage, and gain something from this space.


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