Title IX Proposed Changes – additional blog post #5

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed modifications to the Title IX regulations as reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s November 16th article by Sarah Brown and Katherine Mangan.


There are many proposed changes I could discuss at length but for brevity I’ll only choose one; the new definition of sexual harassment:

The definition of sexual harassment colleges are required to act on would be narrower.The new rules would define sexual harassment to include “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.” The Obama administration defined harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”

Since when did an unwelcome act have to deny a person access to education to be counted as sexual harassment at college?  To provide clarity, I Googled the definition of sexual harassment and this is what I found:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as follows: 

It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.  Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.  Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.  

Wikipedia defines sexual harassment as follows:

Sexual harassment is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature and the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.[1] Sexual harassment includes a range of actions from mild transgressions to sexual abuse or assault.[2] A harasser may be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a client or customer. Harassers or victims may be of any gender.[3]

Merriam-Webster defines sexual harassment as follows:

uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student)

In none of these definitions is sexual harassment further restricted to apply only when it denies a person’s access to education.  I personally feel that adding this new requirement will make it harder for victims to prove they were sexually assaulted.  This sort of governmental manipulation of regulations is potentially harmful to the rights of all victims and should not be allowable.

Eliminate Tenure – Blog Post #5

Having entered academia late in life, after 20 years in industry, I was/am appalled at the abuses I have seen of tenure.  I understand the idea of what tenure offers; increased academic freedom for research , the opportunity to challenge decisions, lifetime job security.  Unfortunately those benefits can sometimes lead to faculty members who do little/poor research,  feel free to treat students disrespectfully, and generally put forth less effort.  Many tenured faculty do great work and care deeply about their research and students.  However there are plenty of tenured faculty who use the benefits to their advantage (to the disadvantage of students, colleagues and universities).  I feel that the problem with tenure is the lack of accountability faculty members have to their department heads.  It appears it is either very difficult or just not worth the risk of addressing or dismissing ill performing tenured faculty and that must change in the universities of the future.

Downsides to Technology & Innovation – Blog Post #4

Last week in Albuquerque, New Mexico there was a global gathering of engineering educators at the VIII World Engineering Education Forum where the theme of the WEEF-GEDC 2018 conference is Peace Engineering: prosperity, sustainability, social equity, diversity, culture of quality, innovation and entrepreneurship.


The Marketplace Morning Report podcast with host David Brancaccio had a brief discussion about the conference on the 11/16/18 show.  Guest speaker Elsie Maio, founder of Soul Branding Institute, was a guest and discussed the conference with the host.  Part of their conversation explained that a possible catalyst for an engineering education conference titled, “Peace Engineering” is the impact Artificial Intelligence (AI) is having on ethics, social good and what unintended consequences the technology could cause.  Maio said AI was an, “impending onslaught,” causing “fear about dehumanization,” of our world.

Her concern was that the people writing the algorithms that make AI work could have their own biases that purposely or accidentally affect the outcome.

This begs the question, how are we addressing ethics, social good and unintended consequences of technology?

The podcast can be found here.  The section I’m referring to starts at about 5 minutes 12 seconds into the segment.

In U.S.-China trade war, some countries being told to pick a side

November 16, 2018



#metoo – Additional Blog Post #4

How a Department Took On the Next Frontier in the #MeToo Movement

By Lindsay Ellis and Sarah Brown, The Chronicle of Higher Education,  Nov 9, 2018


“It’s one thing to crack down on overt harassment and assault. Offhand remarks and uncomfortable moments are another story. They might not be illegal, but they have consequences. Over time, they weigh people down and make women question their place in the academy.”

“So why aren’t we talking about this? York remembers thinking.”

Julia York was a first year graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin when she was thinking about her department culture.  She is bold, and brave, and willing to tackle an issue some of us believe in but might not have the energy to address.   Gender harassment can be many different things but as this article so clearly highlights, it can be discriminatory even when it isn’t overt.

I was interested in this article because I feel like Julia does.  Never assaulted but exhuasted by 20+ years of uncomfortable moments and awkward remarks about being a female engineer in a male dominated field.  I felt certain that gender issues would be gone by the time my daughter went to college.  She’s 16 and while things have improved a bit, there is a long way to go before academe will be seen as equitable for men and women.

“Claus Wilke, chair of the integrative-biology department at Austin, told graduate students that he would help them try to change the department’s culture. Most of the department’s students are women, but about a quarter of the faculty is female.”  Julia is fortunate to have a department chair willing to listen and help.  Half of new faculty hired during Wilke’s appointment have been women.  Certainly his openness to listening to his female graduate students and efforts to increase the percentage of women faculty shows his seriousness about changing the department culture.  I wonder, once his appointment is up, will the positive forward momentum continue or could it stall under new, less supportive, departmental leadership?

Are there departments at other universities making even more progress than the one mentioned in this article?  If so, what are their recommendations?  Are there departments at VT that are this progressively taking action to improve their climate regarding gender discrimination?  Shouldn’t all departments at all IHE be working towards equity?  Will there ever be a time where this issue has been resolved?

“Who’s Teaching Teachers?” – Additional Blog Post 3

Because I am a Professor of Practice (and have 20 years industry experience instead of a PhD) I lack the experience of being a graduate student for a research professor.  I had naively assumed that part of all PhD programs was dedicated to teaching future academics how to teach.

When I was hired at VT I received zero guidance or mentoring on how to teach.  I literally have made it up as I’ve gone along.  By the end of my second year I learned that I wasn’t the only faculty member in my department that lacked formal instruction in the basics of teaching.  Almost none of my fellow faculty members had received training related to teaching.  They are great researchers and skilled at getting grants, certainly.  While some are great teachers, most are not.

Initially I did not know how to get help in “Teaching 101” but eventually learned on my own that VT has the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL, formerly CIDER) and an entire department in the COE dedicated to Engineering Education.  I took a CETL certificate course in “Principles of Effective Teaching” and enrolled in the Engineering Education graduate certificate program.  That first semester I learned volumes of information about teaching that have been invaluable.

Now in my fourth year of teaching I’ve developed a passion for the dilemma I feel we are facing; no one is teaching future college professors how to teach.  The February 11, 2018 issue of “The Chronicle of Higher Education” discusses this exact topic.  It cites statistics including that the American Association of University Professors estimates that over 70% of all faculty positions are non-tenure track, which usually means they are more focused on teaching instead of research.  Yet most PhD programs still do not include teaching training.


The article mentions some reasons why this might be happening but I’d like to address the problem head-on, in the COE, or at least in my department.  I see a two-pronged approach that could be implemented.  First, we need to include teaching instruction in our PhD program; this will benefit the students but also the institutions where they may end up as faculty.  Second, we need to make sure our faculty (regardless of where they got their PhD) have teaching instruction.  A way to do that is to require all current and future tenure-track faculty members to take the graduate certificate course in Engineering Education.  While this approach would not correct or improve the teaching of current tenured faculty it would certainly start the wave of change required to significantly improve the teaching skills of our faculty members.