The Chronicle of  Higher Education 2nd Annual Trends Report!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has just issued its 2nd Annual Trends Report.  Below is an excerpt from the Executive Summary.



Executive Summary

Here are the 10 higher-education trends identified by our reporters and editors, with help from people whose jobs put them on the front lines of academe every day:

 A fresh wave of attacks on free speech, often coming from students. Instructors (and even student debaters) are under pressure to provide students with trigger warnings, meant to warn them of potentially upsetting topics. Also contributing to the trend are student protests denouncing a hostile campus climate, and the emergence of watchdog groups that scrutinize campus speech for bias. Some colleges are fighting back.

 Efforts by colleges to combat sexual assault by creating new cultural norms on the campus. Under pressure to make sure their handling of sexual-assault cases will stand up under Title IX, some institutions are proactively educating students about the meaning of consent and the importance of intervening to prevent sexual violence.

 The growing use of metrics to measure faculty productivity. Colleges have new tools to see how their professors stack up, and they’re not afraid to use them. Faculty critics say the tools provide an incomplete and inaccurate picture of their jobs.

 The need for college leaders to react quickly to events that could quickly spin out of control. “Reactive” used to be seen as a negative label, but in the age of social media, when leaders can no longer control the campus agenda, the ability to react has become a survival skill.

 Widespread attacks on shared governance. The traditional model of shared governance is eroding as more governing boards make unilateral changes that ignore faculty opinion, such as appointing someone from outside academe as president. Boards are reacting to fiscal pressure, political heat, and complaints about the cost and value of a degree.

 The outsourcing of services that are a core part of a college’s mission. It’s not unusual for colleges to turn the operation of campus bookstores and cafeterias over to private companies, but now they’re also outsourcing some key academic services, like advising and even teaching.

 Increased scrutiny of academic research. Corporate influence and outright fraud have undermined the credibility of scientific research. Meanwhile, some fields have been tainted by research scandals involving fabrication and the inability to replicate results.

 A movement to overhaul the college transcript. Some colleges are adding new types of information to transcripts to better reflect what students have learned and accomplished. An expanded and digitized transcript may lead to “the quantified student,” but it could also provide a powerful accountability metric that allows colleges to track graduates.

 The rise of the instructional designer. As online learning and new classroom technologies spread, the demand for instructional designers — who develop courses that others may teach — is growing.

 A reliance on better marketing to survive enrollment challenges and create a stronger institutional identity. The golden rule: Know who your students are, and figure out how best to serve them.

Chris Rock Addressed the OscarsSoWhite Controvesy Head On!

Dear Commons Community,

In addition to the winners and losers, many viewers last night were tuned in to watch Chris Rock’s opening monologue to see how he would addressed the OscarsSoWhite controversy.  Rock, an African-American, did not hold back and dish it out but with the right amount of humor. It was a difficult assignment.  Some examples.

Rock opened his monologue with “Well, I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards.”

“If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job,” he said. “You’d be watching Neil Patrick Harris.”

He also addressed the boycott that some major Black figures in Hollywood, like Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett-Smith. Many people wondered why he hadn’t quit the hosting gig as part of the protest, which he thought was ludicrous.

“I thought about quitting,” he said. “I thought about it real hard. They’re gonna have the Oscars anyway, and they’re not going to cancel them because I quit. And the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart.”

Rock also wondered why this year was the year that garnered so much outrage about the lack of Black nominees: “Why this Oscars,” he asked. “It’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means this whole ‘no Black nominees’ thing has happened at least 71 other times.”

His answer to that question — why 2016 was the year’s diversity problem was the one that prompted so much backlash — was perhaps the joke the joke that made the most waves online.

“Black people did not protest [in years past]. Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time. [We were] too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won [Best] Cinematography.”

As many people noted throughout the #OscarsSoWhite conversation in the lead-up to Sunday’s ceremony, the lack of diversity in the acting nominations is more of a industry-wide problem in Hollywood and less the fault of the Academy itself. With so few Black performances in general, chances are there will be less Black actors nominated at the Oscars. And Rock addressed this idea in his monologue.

“The real question everybody wants to know is, ‘Is Hollywood racist?’ You’re damn right Hollywood is racist! They’re sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you Rhonda, but you’re not aKappa.'”

In the end, though, Rock said that “times are changing,” alluding to “Creed,” the 2015 “Rocky” redux that starred Michael B. Jordan, a Black actor. What needs to change though? The opportunities given to Black actors.

“We want opportunities — we want Black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors.”

Well done performance, Mr. Rock!



Hillary Clinton’s Wins Big in South Carolina!

Dear Commons Community,

With 99 percent of the vote counted, Mrs. Clinton won 73.5 percent, to 26 percent for Mr. Sanders, in the South Carolina primary yesterday.  While Mr. Sanders vowed to fight on, Mrs. Clinton and her supporters were elated, describing South Carolina as the turning point in the campaign.  As reported in the New York Times:

“We, tonight, have started Hillary Clinton on her way to the White House,” said Representative James E. Clyburn, the state’s most powerful black Democrat, as he introduced Mrs. Clinton at a victory rally here.

Taking the stage at the University of South Carolina to cheers of “Madam President,” Mrs. Clinton promised to continue courting voters aggressively in the coming weeks, but she also began looking past Mr. Sanders to the leading Republican candidate, Donald J. Trump.

“Tomorrow, this campaign goes national!” Mrs. Clinton said as she dedicated her victory to parents, teachers and “the entrepreneur who told me more dreams die in the parking lots of banks than anywhere else,” particularly among women and minorities.

Without mentioning Mr. Trump by name, Mrs. Clinton repeated a biblical anecdote from I Corinthians and said the country needed more “love and kindness.” 

 “Despite what you hear, we don’t need to make America great again,” Mrs. Clinton said to raucous applause as she took aim at Mr. Trump’s slogan. “America has never stopped being great.”

On to “Super Tuesday”!



The Hypocrisy of Chris Christie!

Dear Commons Community,

Chris Christie profusely lauded Donald Trump during a press conference on Friday (February 26, 2016) stating: 

“I will lend my support between now and November in any way for Donald Trump.  There is no one better than Donald who is prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs.”

Seven weeks ago, at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire on January 4th, 2016, Christie said of Trump:

“We are not electing an entertainer-in-chief. Showmanship is fun, but it’s not the type of leadership that will truly change America. If we’re going to turn our frustration and anger with the D.C. insiders and the politicians of yesterday and the carnival barkers of today into something that will actually change Americans’ lives, then we must elect someone who has been tested, someone with proven experience.”



What the U.S. Supreme Court without Antonin Scalia Means for Corporate America!

Dear Commons Community,

Since Justice Antonin Scalia passed away on February 13th, there has been praise for him and his work on the Supreme Court.  There has also been speculation about the power struggle that will occur when President Obama nominates his successor.  However, his death is already having reverberations in the legal world especially for corporations who viewed the Supreme Court as friendly to their interests.  Here is a short piece from the Associated Press reporting on how Dow Chemical has decided to settle a price-fixing lawsuit for $835 million rather than go forward before a Supreme Court without Scalia.

“Dow Chemical Co., one of America’s largest chemical manufacturers, agreed on Friday to settle a price-fixing lawsuit for $835 million in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

The company had challenged a $1 billion judgment in a high-stakes, class-action case. But without Scalia, it appears the new reality at the high court was too big a gamble for the company to continue with the litigation.

Growing political uncertainties due to recent events within the Supreme Court and increased likelihood for unfavorable outcomes for business involved in class action suits have changed Dow’s risk assessment of the situation,” the company said in a statement.

Dow said a case the Supreme Court heard last year but hasn’t yet decided, Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, was the reason its own case was still on hold at the court. Both cases present common questions of law that may limit class-action liability — an area where the Supreme Court of late has been friendly to business interests.

Stunningly, Dow’s statement singled out two major cases in which Scalia wrote the majority opinions — 2011’s Wal-Mart v. Dukes and 2013’s Comcast v. Behrend — essentially conceding that, without Scalia, the company no longer had any prospects of winning. Both of those cases were decided 5 to 4, with conservatives ruling for the corporations.

Given the new eight-justice court, Dow called its decision to end the litigation “the right decision for the company and our shareholders.” As is usual with settlements, the company maintained its innocence.

“While Dow is settling this case, it continues to strongly believe that it was not part of any conspiracy and the judgment was fundamentally flawed as a matter of class action law,” the company said.

A jury in 2013 had found Dow Chemical liable in a price-fixing scheme with four other companies for chemicals used to produce urethane, a compound used infoam upholstery for furniture and plastic walls in refrigerators, according to Bloomberg. About 2,400 businesses that bought the chemicals from Dow joined in a class action against the industrial giant.

Friday’s settlement is just another example of the shifting landscape at the Supreme Court — and why it matters who fills the now-vacant seat.”


New York’s Success Academy Loses on Key Contract Ruling!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times is reporting that Success Academy has suffered a defeat in a high-profile skirmish with New York City yesterday, when the state education commissioner ruled that the city could require the charter school network to sign a contract to receive funding for its prekindergarten program.  As reported:

“Success Academy has been running a program in three schools as part of the city’s universal prekindergarten system. But it refused to sign the city’s contract for prekindergarten providers, arguing that it gave the Education Department improper oversight over its operations.

The city said that the contract was necessary to ensure a consistent level of quality and noted that the 13 other charter school organizations with prekindergarten had signed it. Because of the dispute, Success has not been paid by the city for its program, which has 72 students. It is seeking roughly $720,000 from the city.

The network and a group of parents appealed to the State Education Department in October to settle the matter.

Last month, Success’s founder, Eva S. Moskowitz, wrote to the commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, saying that if the department did not make a decision by Feb. 15, “we will have no choice but to cancel our pre-K classes for next year.” That deadline came and went, and Ms. Moskowitz extended the deadline until March 1.

On Friday, she said that the network would appeal Ms. Elia’s decision in state court.

“The law is clear,” she said in a statement. “We have a very strong legal case.”

But in her decision, Ms. Elia noted that the city’s request for proposals to run prekindergarten programs clearly stated “no payments will be made by the D.O.E. until the contract is registered with the N.Y.C. comptroller’s office.”

She also ruled that there was nothing contrary to state education law in the city’s oversight of the program.

Taking Success’s argument “to its logical conclusion,” Ms. Elia wrote, “would mean that D.O.E. would be required to provide charter schools’ prekindergarten programs with public funding without any mechanism to ensure” that they were meeting quality requirements, and that “public funds are being spent in accordance with the requirements.”

This is an important decision considering that Commissioner Elia has been a strong supporter  of charter schools.



Trump:  The Republican Party’s Frankenstein Monster!

Dear Commons Community,

It was a busy day yesterday for the Republican Presidential nominees following on the heels of the debate Thursday night.  The media was awash with comments from Trump, Rubio, and Cruz.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced his endorsement of Trump.  Mitt Romney and others continued to call on Trump to release his tax returns. Rubio was poking fun at the way Trump applied make-up to his chin and around his lips during the debate.  In the midst of this, The Washington Post had an op-ed by Robert Kagan likening Donald Trump to the Republican Party’s Frankenstein monster.  Here is an excerpt:

“Let’s be clear: Trump is no fluke. Nor is he hijacking the Republican Party or the conservative movement, if there is such a thing. He is, rather, the party’s creation, its Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker. Was it not the party’s wild obstructionism — the repeated threats to shut down the government over policy and legislative disagreements, the persistent calls for nullification of Supreme Court decisions, the insistence that compromise was betrayal, the internal coups against party leaders who refused to join the general demolition — that taught Republican voters that government, institutions, political traditions, party leadership and even parties themselves were things to be overthrown, evaded, ignored, insulted, laughed at? Was it not Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), among others, who set this tone and thereby cleared the way for someone even more irreverent, so that now, in a most unenjoyable irony, Cruz, along with the rest of the party, must fall to the purer version of himself, a less ideologically encumbered anarcho-revolutionary? This would not be the first revolution that devoured itself.”

The op-ed also mentions the Party’s unbridled demeaning of President Obama and his policies as well as its bigotry towards immigrants.

Kagan concludes:

“So what to do now? The Republicans’ creation will soon be let loose on the land, leaving to others the job the party failed to carry out. For this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.”



Frank Bruni on Last Night’s Republican Debate: Trump, Rubio, and Cruz Go at It!

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni, has a good take on last night’s Republican presidential nominee debate.  We are down to five candidates (Trump, Rubio, Cruz, Carson, and Kasich).  In my mind, Kasich is the only one who has the heft and experience to become president but it will not happen for him at least not this year. The most interesting aspects of the debate were among Trump, Rubio, and Cruz.  Besides the nasty epithets hurled at each other, it was clear that Rubio was out to irk and perplex Trump.  He succeeded to a degree.  However, Rubio’s efforts may be too late.  Here is a good recap from Frank Bruni:

“Something profound happened on the stage in Houston on Thursday night. Both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz stopped focusing on each other long enough to turn toward the person who is actually beating both of them and at this point favored to win the Republican nomination: Donald Trump.

Cruz dismissed Trump as someone who’d discovered certain concerns — who’d discovered conservatism, really — only when he became a candidate. Cruz said that while he was working to combat the illegal immigration that so inflames Trump now, “Where was Donald? He was firing Dennis Rodman on ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’”

But Rubio turned in Trump’s direction with particular force. With ferociousness, in fact. He recited a meticulously memorized litany of Trump’s transgressions, especially those that contradict Trump’s words now: the illegal immigrants that Trump reportedly hired for his construction projects, the litigation against a college bearing his name, multiple bankruptcies associated with him.

Referring to Trump’s promised barrier along the Mexican border, Rubio sniped: “If he builds the wall the way he built Trump Towers, he’ll be using illegal immigrant labor to do it.”

He went after the notion that Trump is a good businessman. He went after the idea that Trump is a straight talker. He called Trump a liar — repeatedly.

In other words, he finally hit Trump where Trump lives: image-wise. This had to happen, because one explanation for Trump’s success is how reluctant his adversaries have been to confront him as they quarreled with one another instead.

And this had to hurt Trump, because he was shown in a harsher light than he’d been shown in at any previous debate, and his face reddened in the glare.

But Thursday night may well have been too late, and Trump has been made to mimic a ripe tomato before — with minimal political damage to him.

Besides which, Trump at times pushed back as effectively as possible, brushing off charges of hypocrisy and painting Rubio as a pipsqueak with no knowledge of business, and Cruz as an obnoxious scold despised by his Senate colleagues. Those were the smart colors to apply to them.”

The best line during the debate was by Mark Rubio:

“Here’s a guy [Trump] who inherited $200 million. If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be? He would be selling watches in Manhattan,” the senator said.

The march to the Republican candidacy continues.



New York City Independent Budget Office: NYC Schoolkids Keeping Pace with State on Reading and Math Tests!

Dear Commons Community,

New York City schoolkids are keeping pace with their state counterparts on annual reading and math tests, according to a new report released yesterday by the New York City Independent Budget Office.

The study analyzed reading and math scores from the 2015 tests for every public and charter school in the state and found the gap between city and state results had narrowed.  Researchers said 31.2% of city students scored proficient in the English Language Arts exam compared with 32.5% of students in the rest of the state. On the math test, 37.1% of city students scored proficient while the number was 40.5% for students in the rest of the state.

“This is dramatically different than the relative standing of the city and state in 2006, when the city lagged the state by 11 points in English and 9 points in math,” the report said.

The NYC Education Department said the city has expanded professional development for its teachers. “New York State has the highest standards in the nation and students in New York City are rising to the challenge,” said department spokeswoman Devora Kaye.

Congratulations to Chancellor Carmen Farina, the administrators, teachers, and students in our NYC public schools for this step in the right direction.



Governor Cuomo’s Revenge on CUNY!

Dear Commons Community,

Politico New York had an article yesterday commenting on the worsening relationship between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the City University of New York.  Since his re-election, Governor Cuomo has asked for massive budget cuts at CUNY and/or the transfer of funding from the state to the city.  Here is an excerpt with our colleague, Steve Brier, giving his take on the issue.

“The governor has taken things further recently in his official posture toward CUNY, dramatically cutting previous levels of state funding for the system. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose relationship with Cuomo is worse than Bloomberg’s ever was, said at an event in Bay Ridge last week that it was in the “dead of night” before Cuomo’s annual budget address last month that he first learned the state would reduce its contribution to the CUNY system by nearly a half billion dollars a year. The city, which does not control the university, would have to pay the difference.

Cuomo and de Blasio, of course, have been feuding. And the move was widely portrayed as yet another example of Cuomo toying with his erstwhile friend. 

While that interpretation may well be understandable, it’s also incomplete.

Like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, another state entity that he technically controls but would seemingly rather not, Cuomo has long made it clear that he doesn’t view City University of New York as a priority.

He has yet to name his own chairman to the board: Benno Schmidt, who has sat on the board since 1999, has been technically term-limited since 2013. 

Of the 17 members on the board, Cuomo controls 10. Two are holdovers whose terms have expired. One trustee resigned earlier this month because, the trustee said, Cuomo wouldn’t pick a successor

Dani Lever, Cuomo’s spokeswoman, said Cuomo plans to fill some of those seats after the budget is passed.

The university has yet to reach a contract agreement with CUNY’s faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, whose more than 25,000 members have been without one since 2010, or District Council 37, which represents over 10,000 non-professional workers at CUNY and hasn’t had a contract since 2009. 

He’s denied CUNY staff a $15 minimum wage, even as he insisted upon it at the State University of New York.

A CUNY spokesman declined comment.

“The Governor has always been a champion and advocate for these students and is committed to ensuring this system remains strong, healthy, and viable for generations to come,” said Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever, in a statement.

ASK PEOPLE IN AND AROUND CUNY ABOUT CUOMO’S attitude toward CUNY, an institution that serves 530,000 New Yorkers, many of them people of color, and they will offer a number of explanations, prominent among them the Memorial Sloan-Kettering incident.

They will point to the fact that the CUNY’s faculty union declined to endorse Cuomo in last year’s unexpectedly competitive Democratic primary against Zephyr Teachout, which surely didn’t help matters either. The Professional Staff Congress went along with its parent union, New York State United Teachers, which declined to endorse.

“I can’t say I’m inside the mind of Andrew Cuomo, but I have to think it plays a role,” said Stephen Brier, a CUNY education historian and co-author of the upcoming book, Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education.”

In sum, Governor Cuomo has a bone to pick with CUNY.  Mayor de Blasio’s may be CUNY’s only hope, however, he has his own problems with the governor.