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.

https://www-chronicle-com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/article/What-You-Need-to-Know-About/245118

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.

https://weef-gedc2018.org/

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

https://www.marketplace.org/shows/marketplace-morning-report/11162018-us-edition

 

#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

https://www-chronicle-com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/article/How-a-Department-Took-On-the/245050?cid=FEATUREDNAV

“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.

https://www-chronicle-com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/search/?q=242488

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.

Additional Blog Post 2 – “Murky Business of Demotion”

I read this article in a recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education: Yale Case Spotlights the Murky Business of Demotion by Alexander Kafka.

https://www-chronicle-com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/article/In-a-World-of-Tenure-and/244636

As a Professor of Practice, 80% of my career experience has been as an engineer in industry where doing something egregious like committing harrassment, financial improprieties, favoritism, plagiarism, substance -related misbehaviors or other serious matters led to being fired.  What I’m slowly and disbelievingly learning is that similar improprieties, even breaking the law, do not have the same consequences in higher education, specifically for tenured professors.

While colleges are required to report rape or molestation charges to law enforcement, “the other vast majority of cases, those in the gray zone – alleged misbehavior that is grave but not heinous – to which committees and administrators bring their judgement to bear.”   These committees and adminstrators most often consider the cases in complete confidentiality.

So if your faculty colleague committed a ‘crime’  (let’s hypothesize a gross misuse of funding or discrimination against under represented students in their lab) the arbitration of their misdeed and punishment (if any) would be kept under wraps.  “Committee members are tight-lipped.”  While I understand the need for fairness during the evaluation of the facts, I do not like the idea of a university not releasing information about misdeeds their faculty have been found guilty of.  This is especially important for public universities.

It seems that at many institutions of higher education, the accused faculty’s,”… work is great!” and that, as Tatiana Melguizo was quoted as saying, “deans and presidents are so focused on the prestige, the money, and these start professors that bring millions in funding from NIH and NSF that they forget about their mission sometimes, and they forget about the values, and that’s when institutions start to lose the moral fabric.”

Additional Blog Post 1 – “I did’t know how to ask for help”

“If we could ‘calm down’, we would. Obviously,” writes one student quoted in a  February 9th, 2018 article from of The Chronicle of Higher Education which gives voice to student anxiety and how pervasive it has become in institutions of higher education in the United States.

https://www-chronicle-com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/issue/2018/02-09

I’m entering my fourth year as a university professor and am astonished at the number of my students that need help dealing with temporary or permanent mental illness.  I saw this issue of The Chronical on my department head’s desk this spring and asked him if I could keep it.

The numbers surrounding this issue, as stated in the article, are staggering:

  • 26% of undergraduates and 17% of graduate and professional students report that anxiety has affected their academic performance – American College Health Association National College Health Assessment, Spring 2017
  • More than one in four students report symptoms of anxiety. – The Healthy Minds Study, 2016-2017
  • More than four in 10 freshman say they feel overwhelmed by all they have to do, compared with fewer than two in 10 freshmen in 1985. – The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2016
  • 22% of students have used psychotropic medication in the past year. – The Healthy Minds Study, 2016-2017
  • For seven straight years, anxiety has been the top complaint among students seeking mental-health services. – Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors Annual Survey 2015-2016.

There are more statistics in the article but I believe we don’t need to read this article in The Chronicle to realize this is happening at Virginia Tech, too.  I graduated from VT in 1995 and, while we had a Student Health facility, I don’t recall having a counseling center, either because their wasn’t a need or because there wasn’t a willingness to recognize the need.  I was anxious in college but there was a stigma associated with admitting to any sort of mental illness that made it taboo to even discuss it.  I’m thrilled that times have changed and we now have Cooks Counseling Center, but why do the statistics show that anxiety in college has increased in the last 20 years?

The academic advisors in my department are some of the best, if not THE best, on campus.  They discuss students’ well being with the faculty constantly.  Each semester they even have a student ‘watch list’ with names of students we are concerned about.  I haven’t yet had a semester as faculty where I didn’t contact the Dean of Students about a student I was worried about.

I remember my first semester teaching, saying to anyone who would listen, “I wish I had a degree in psychology or counseling because it seems required to be good at this job.”  I spend a considerable amount of time identifying, contacting or talking with students about how they are coping (or often NOT coping) with all of the demands of their senior year.

Some students interviewed for the article say they felt comfortable talking to a TA about anxiety but not their professors, “mostly because I didn’t feel comfortable enough.  Based off of comments they made during lectures, I assumed they weren’t very empathetic toward this subject.”  I don’t know for sure, but I feel like most of my colleagues don’t feel it is their job to look after students in any way that is outside of academics.  One student was quoted as saying, “I wish they would even care to ask.”  Some professors contact students if/when a student’s grades begin to drop.  If those professors could simply add to the end of the email something about the counseling services the school offers, the students might feel more supported.

“When someone shows concern or simply listens, that can make all the difference, students say….Being approachable is always salient: “If you are willing to talk to students,” one wrote, “or walk them to a counselor on campus who can, then you may be helping more than you know.””

Though I have yet to understand why anxiety has increased so much since I left college, it cannot be ignored.  I feel it is my responsibility to be the professor that helps students academically AND mentally.  It only takes a little bit of extra time, but if my effort to reach out to the student can make a difference in their life, I feel it is time well spent.

Blog Post 3 – Open Access

I have chosen the open access Scientific Bulletin of Naval Academy to write about.  This journal, “provides an international forum for engineers from various disciplines with a common interest in personnel training and management and the design, production and operation of processes and equipment for naval and management domains”.

https://www.anmb.ro/buletinstiintific/eng/home.html

It is published by Naval Academy Press out of the Naval Academy, Constanta, Romania.

Regarding open access the, “Scientific Bulletin of Naval Academy uses an Open Access publishing model, which provides fast, worldwide, free access to the full content of research articles. Authors who publish in Scientific Bulletin of Naval Academy retain the copyright of their article. The publication costs are covered by the authors, sponsors or research funds.”

https://www.anmb.ro/buletinstiintific/eng/home.html

 

Bloody ethics – Elqutub’s admission

I reviewed the case of Maria Cristina Miron Elqutub from University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC).

A view of the outside of the MD Anderson Cancer Center

Photo: Houston Chronicle

https://ori.hhs.gov/case-summary-elqutub-maria-cristina-miron

I found Ms. Elqutub’s case interesting because not only did she fabricate/falsify data in two published papers and two grants, but she used her own blood samples to do it.  Her research was related to a human cancer genetics study on salivary gland carcinoma.

The punishments for this ethics violation included that Ms. Elqutub’s research must be supervised for three years, that her employment institution must certify her applications for funding, or publications  are accurate, the retraction of PLoS One 10(6):e0128753, 2015 Jun2, and she voluntarily exclude herself from service, advisory roles, committee participation and consulting with any PHS entities for three years.

Ms. Elqutub’s settlement agreement referenced above will expire on April 26, 2021, however it appears the ethics violation has had a permanent impact on her career.  When I could not find her on the MDACC website, a google searched resulted in articles from Houston Chronical

 https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/MD-Anderson-research-assistant-subbed-in-her-12917536.php

and Science Alert

https://www.sciencealert.com/texas-cancer-researcher-caught-using-own-blood-100-samples-elqutub-retraction-salivary-gland-carcinoma

that she is no  longer employed by MDACC but is currently working as a middle school nurse.

What is curious, to me, about this case is what made it “worth-it” to knowingly commit such a serious ethics violation?  While Elqutub didn’t have an advanced degree, she was part of a strong research group at one of the highest regarded medical institutions in the US, a presumably great job; not a position you would think would be worth risking.  Until she is interviewed I suppose we’ll never know why she did it.

 

Mission Statements – mid-west universities

I chose these two universities to look at because my son (a senior in high school) is considering them both.  Interestingly, they are both considered “mid-west” schools.  He was looking at OSU for the physics major and music minor and looking at UNL for their music major program.

We are not considering any out of country schools for our children.

We visited OSU and believe the mission statement applies to our experience – it appears to be a comprehensive school with strengths in multiple academic programs.  It is clear that they live their philosophy of engagement and service and that diversity and inclusion are pervasive at their university.

I have not visited UNL but have heard they have a good music education program.  What stood out to me was that their mission statement seemed very focused on in-state students and benefits to Nebraska, specifically.  They don’t mention diversity, inclusion or having a global reach (only a Nebraska reach).

After this assignment I’m more inclined to like OSU because they appear to value a diversity, inclusivity and a larger (more global) reach than UNL.

Mission statement from The Ohio State University:

MISSION

The University is dedicated to:

  • Creating and discovering knowledge to improve the well-being of our state, regional, national and global communities;
  • Educating students through a comprehensive array of distinguished academic programs;
  • Preparing a diverse student body to be leaders and engaged citizens;
  • Fostering a culture of engagement and service.

We understand that diversity and inclusion are essential components of our excellence.

Mission statement from University of Nebraska, Lincoln:

Our Mission

As Nebraska’s only land-grant, comprehensive, research university, our mission is clear. It is defined by the Board of Regents and the Nebraska Statutes. We are directed to teach, to do research, and to serve Nebraskans. These missions are intertwined and interdependent. The products of the fulfillment of our mission are young adults prepared to lead successful lives, innovation that expands our horizons and our economy, creative activity that improves the quality of our lives, and a close connection to the needs and aspirations of Nebraska.