The Struggles of Small Private Liberal Arts Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times this morning has a featured article on the difficulties of small private liberal arts colleges. While better-known private colleges such as Swarthmore and Amherst are doing well, others are struggling financially.  The article focuses on Franklin Pierce where a combination of fewer high school graduates and increasing costs are taking a toll.  Here is an excerpt:

“After years of financial crisis, Franklin Pierce, like dozens of other small colleges nationwide, is struggling to survive. It faces huge debt, a junk bond credit rating and an uncertain future. It has even resorted to creative image-buffing, like hanging a banner on a derelict building here saying, “Future Home of the Franklin Pierce Science Center,” though there is no money for a science center yet.

…In the last few years, small liberal arts colleges have been under financial siege, forced to re-examine their missions and justify their existence. Even several established and respected ones — Bard College, Yeshiva University, Mills College and Morehouse College, among others — have received negative financial ratings.

Not that long ago, colleges across the country enjoyed a seemingly endless supply of candidates and were pouring money into expansion plans. Some added costly luxury amenities like rock-climbing walls to seem more attractive. Some increased tuition on the theory that high tuition connotes prestige, but then cut their cash flow by giving out generous scholarships and grants to lure students despite their price. (At Franklin Pierce not a single student pays the sticker price.)

Now, as times change, the colleges are fighting over a dwindling pool of applicants. In parts of the country, the number of high school graduates is dropping. At the same time, students and parents have started to question the choice of expensive private schools that leave them with high debt and no clear job prospects, taking a second look at public universities. And the reduction in demand is making it harder to pay for some of the overbuilding.

Smaller colleges are especially hard-hit. Many of the endangered ones are in rural areas and have traditionally drawn from regional markets, but have lost market share as students become more willing to travel beyond their home territory. Often they have not been able to keep up with the demand for expensive science and technology courses.  Some are women’s colleges, historically black colleges or religiously affiliated — appealing to a smaller audience.”

While these colleges are indeed struggling there may be hope.  Commenting on the past year at Franklin Pierce, the article mentions:

“Franklin Pierce has about 1,400 undergraduates on its tiny rural campus, tucked here between the choppy waters of Pearly Pond and Mount Monadnock, a popular hiking spot memorialized by Ralph Waldo Emerson. With an endowment of $5.2 million and debt of $39 million, it depends on student fees to pay more than 95 percent of its operating costs; yet to keep students, it must heavily discount its $46,000-a-year tuition, room and board.

At its nadir in the fall of 2014, it hired a new marketing director, James Wolken, who had worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Rhode Island School of Design. He sat in his office recently surrounded by mock-ups for a fall marketing campaign — “Be Frank. Be who you want to be at Franklin Pierce” — and recalled how he had pushed to revive the college’s political polling operation, abandoned during the 2008 recession.

Mr. Wolken argued that the poll would build on the college’s Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communications, and give the Franklin Pierce name new visibility. The trustees argued that presidential elections come around only once every four years, and that the university needed a more permanent boost.

But Mr. Card, a chief of staff in the last Bush administration and new to his job here, liked the idea.

Last spring, the university formed a partnership with The Boston Herald and a private pollster. The unexpected intensity of the election season attracted attention to the operation for 11 months before the New Hampshire primary. Mr. Card leveraged his White House credentials to offer political commentary. And in August, worldwide news media picked up a Franklin Pierce University/Boston Herald poll showing Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont leading Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire.

The name recognition was phenomenal. “CNN, Fox, regional TV, he always got our name plug there,” Mr. Wolken said of Mr. Card.

In September, Standard & Poor’s raised Franklin Pierce’s rating from a gentleman’s CCC to CCC+, Mr. Card recalled.

This year, undergraduate applications soared to more than 6,400, from 3,600. More than 500 students have put down deposits, up from 370 at the same time last year. Officials say their goal is a class of 540.”

We wish Franklin Pierce and other small liberal arts colleges well!




New York Times Profiles Fox News Anchor Chris Wallace!

Chris Wallace

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an interesting piece today on Chris Wallace, the Fox News anchor, who unlike most of his colleagues, has shown an independence from the cable news station’s conservative, pro-Republican Party canon.  The article points to examples of Mr. Wallace criticizing his own Fox News colleagues.  For example:

“…there was the time he ticked off Roger Ailes, Fox’s powerful chairman, after chastising the hosts  of the network’s morning show, “Fox and Friends,” for their carping coverage of Senator Barack Obama in 2008.”

The article also has several Donald Trump stories especially an interview Wallace recently did with Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

“In the Fox studio in Washington on Sunday, Mr. Wallace could not resist making mischief. After grilling Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Mr. Wallace reassured her during a commercial break that the segment had gone fine.

“It was clear you think Donald Trump sucks,” Mr. Wallace said, earning a laugh from Ms. Schultz.”

The article also provides insight into Chris Wallace’s complicated relationship with his famous father, Mike Wallace, long time interviewer with CBS’s Sixty Minutes.

Well worth a read and listen!



Linda Katehi Removed as Chancellor of the University of California, Davis!

Linda Katehi

Dear Commons Community,

Dr. Linda P.B. Katehi, the chancellor of the University of California, Davis, was removed from her post and put on administrative leave pending an independent investigation into a number of possible violations, including using university funds to scrub negative references to the university and to herself on social media.  As reported in the New York Times:

“The chancellor, Linda P.B. Katehi, had been the target of student protests and criticism by California lawmakers. In addition to the controversy over paying to improve the university’s online profile, she had been criticized for receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation from a publisher of student textbooks and a for-profit education company, which critics said were conflicts of interest.

A statement released late on Wednesday by Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California system, said investigations would include “questions about the campus’s employment and compensation of some of the chancellor’s immediate family members, the veracity of the chancellor’s accounts of her involvement in contracts related to managing both the campus’s and her personal reputation on social media, and the potential improper use of student fees.”

“The president, with the support of the leadership of the Board of Regents, has determined it is in the best interest of U.C. Davis that Chancellor Katehi be placed on investigatory administrative leave from her position as chancellor pending the outcome of this investigation,” Ms. Napolitano said in the statement.

The university’s provost, Ralph Hexter, will become chancellor on an interim basis, the statement said.

The Sacramento Bee reported in April that the university paid more than $175,000 to two public relations firms to try to remove from the Internet negative search results related to the Davis campus and Ms. Katehi specifically. One goal of the public relations effort was to play down search results related to a November 2011 incident when a police officer pepper-sprayed students who were sitting in the quad during a protest, images of which were widely circulated online.”

Interesting case in the age of social media!


Ted Cruz Names Carly Fiorina His VP Running Mate!

Cruz nd Fiorina

Dear Commons Community,

Ted Cruz made a daring but somewhat desperate announcement yesterday that in the event of his nomination, Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard executive, would be his vice-presidential running mate. Appearing alongside Mrs. Fiorina in Indianapolis, Mr. Cruz delivered a fiery speech, castigating Donald Trump as “an untrustworthy narcissist”. He and Mrs. Fiorina jointly criticized the news media for rushing to treat Mr. Trump’s victory in the nomination fight as a foregone conclusion.  The Republican race, Mrs. Fiorina said, was a struggle “for the soul of our party and the future of our nation.”

I think this is too little too late.


Congratulations on the 20th Anniversary of the Online Learning Journal (formerly JALN)!

Dear Commons Community,

Peter Shea, Editor in Chief, Online Learning Journal, and Associate Provost and Associate Professor, SUNY Albany, has a posting today on the Online Consortium blog celebrating the twentieth anniversary of OLj/JALN.  For those of you not familiar with OLj, it was the first fully-online open source publication devoted exclusively to online education.  The authors who have published their work with it represent the pantheon of scholars in this field.

Congratulations to Peter and the staff at OLj.



Trump and Clinton Big Winners in Yesterday’s Primaries!

Northeast Primary Results

Dear Commons Community,

Donald Trump won five primaries (Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Maryland) yesterday and Hillary Clinton won four.  These victories pretty much make Trump and Clinton the presumptive nominees for their respective parties. Clinton is surely the Democratic Party nominee and it would take a most egregious maneuver by the Republican National Committee to deny the nomination to Donald Trump at the GOP convention in July.  As commented in a New York Times article:

“The big night for Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton intensified the aura of inevitability around their nomination bids and created urgent new challenges for their rivals. More significant, it increased Mr. Trump’s chances of avoiding a fight on the floor of the Republican convention in July and of claiming the nomination on the delegates’ first ballot.”

Bring on the general election!


New York Times Editorial Blisters Donald Trump – Compares Him to a Pygmalion Character!

Dear Commons Community,

Today is primary day in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware and Rhode Island and a good showing by Donald Trump can bring him closer to being the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.  The New York Times editorial today blasts Trump as someone completely unfit to be president and compares him to a Pygmalion character.   As a reminder, the George Bernard Shaw play, Pygmalion, involves a professor of phonetics Henry Higgins, who makes a bet that he can train a bedraggled Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a duchess at an ambassador’s garden party by teaching her to assume a veneer of gentility.  The essence of the Times editorial is that no attempt to change Donald Trump will work and make him into a viable president of the United States even if he hires a new campaign manager to help him change his comportment and manners.  Below is the full editorial.



New York Times 

By the Editorial Board

April 26, 2016

The Donald Trump Pygmalion Project

Tuesday’s primaries in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware and Rhode Island could bring Donald Trump close to securing the delegates he needs to win the Republican presidential nomination, though probably not all the way there. After a series of missteps, he seems to realize that he needs to improve the style and substance of his campaign among both Republicans who resist him and the electorate at large.

That’s why Mr. Trump has hired a Henry Higgins to work on his comportment. Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s new campaign chief and an old-guard Republican strategist, has eclipsed the abrasive Corey Lewandowski and his nonnegotiable “Let Trump Be Trump” approach. Mr. Manafort’s ambition is to turn this Eliza Doolittle into a candidate more acceptable to decent society, in time for the general election.

Mr. Manafort rolled out his Pygmalion project with a PowerPoint presentation behind closed doors at the Republican National Committee retreat in Florida last week. “The part he’s been playing is evolving,” Mr. Manafort assured the Republicans. Mr. Trump doesn’t really mean it when he says things like he’ll deport 11 million immigrants, or block Muslims from entering the country, or kill terrorists’ children, or when he maligns women. He’s doing all that, Mr. Manafort suggested, to win the primaries; come the general election, Mr. Trump will bloom into his truer (and presumably kinder and gentler) self.

Mr. Trump himself has been saying the same thing in private for months, including in regular calls to members of Congress and Republican leaders.

“He’s always said privately that he’s learned from negotiations that you start from the far end. If you start in the middle you lose,” says a longtime Republican operative who was in the room in Florida. “When he said those things, he was stimulating the group of voters that he capitalized on. Can he pivot to bring in more voters so he has a larger base in the general election? Most people think he can. But is there enough time?”

Starting small, the Trump-improvement strategists have already persuaded Mr. Trump to deliver a New York victory speech devoid of epithets and to stop calling the Sunday morning TV shows to bloviate on this or that. Mr. Trump followed up his New York speech with a couple of soft-focus interviews, telling one reporter that he would be “more disciplined,” and use a teleprompter like a proper politician.

But Mr. Trump has reverted to bad habits. He’s still telling lies, and earned four Pinocchios last week for saying that ISIS is “making a fortune” on Libyan oil the terrorist group doesn’t control. On the trail last week, he showed crowds that he hasn’t forgotten or doesn’t regret what he said about Mexicans and Muslims. “I sort of don’t like toning it down,” he said in Connecticut. “Isn’t it nice that I’m not one of these teleprompter guys?”

Mr. Trump knows that to do well in Tuesday’s primaries he still needs those “motivated voters” who want him to say what other politicians won’t. Yet the Trump on the stump is the true man. However copiously applied, cosmetics cannot obscure his brutish agenda, nor the narcissism, capriciousness and most of all, the inexperience paired with intellectual laziness that would make him a disastrous president.

Come Wednesday, with Tuesday’s primaries safely out of the way, Mr. Manafort’s makeover efforts will enter a new dimension — Mr. Trump’s first foreign policy address. The campaign promises no less than “a clear, consistent long-term foreign policy for making America safe and prosperous.” That’s sure to be an interesting test, given that until now Mr. Trump has demonstrated limited knowledge of foreign trade policy, Middle East issues or geography. A sometime adviser, Roger Stone, said in an interview released Monday that the presidency “is show business” to Mr. Trump, who Mr. Stone said lacks the bandwidth to read a 40-page briefing book.

Whatever persona or good manners Mr. Trump chooses to display from now on, he can’t hide his unfitness for the presidency.


Warren Simmons: “Student testing is like using a thermometer to diagnose what kind of cancer an individual has.”

Dear Commons Community,

An article in the New York Times over the weekend focused on the opt-out movement and specifically if it was only supported by suburban white parents as alluded to by former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  The article comments that recent actions by students, parents, and teachers in minority schools in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York show support for the opt-out movement.  For example:

“On April 15, a group of racially mixed high school students in Baltimore walked out of school and rallied outside the district’s headquarters to protest their state exam, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The students expressed frustration over the underfunding of their schools and the lack of culturally relevant courses and said they did not want to take the tests until those problems were addressed.”

Warren Simmons, senior fellow and former executive director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University is given the last word and is quoted saying:

“Student testing is like using a thermometer to try to diagnose what kind of cancer an individual has…” 

He said he believed that was why there was growing testing fatigue in low-income communities. Test scores can reveal that something is wrong at a school, but not what is wrong or how it can be fixed.

“I think what people are understanding is we don’t need another round of tests to tell us that schools are struggling.” 




Charles Koch:  Hillary Clinton May be a Better Candidate than Any of the Remaining GOPers!

Dear Commons Community,

Billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, a key source of financing for ultra conservative Republican causes along with his brother, said Democrat Hillary Clinton might make a better president than the candidates in the Republican field.  Koch, in an interview ABC’s “This Week” program, said that in some respects Bill Clinton had been a better president than George W. Bush, who Koch said had increased government spending. Then when asked if Hillary Clinton would be a better president than the Republicans currently running, he said, “It’s possible, it’s possible.”   Here is part of the ABC transcript:

Charles Koch says he won’t “put a penny” into trying to stop Donald Trump, that there are “terrible role models” among the remaining Republican presidential candidates, and that his massive political network may decide to sit out of the presidential race entirely.

“These personal attacks and pitting one person against the other — that’s the message you’re sending the country,” Koch said in an exclusive interview with ABC News that aired Sunday. “You’re role models and you’re terrible role models. So how — I don’t know how we could support ’em.”

The billionaire CEO of Koch Industries and one of the most powerful and controversial figures in politics said he and his brother David Koch have also turned down pleas to join the “Never Trump” movement, which aims to deny the real estate mogul the nomination.

Instead Koch said he and his brother plan to stay out of the party’s nomination fight.

“We haven’t put a penny in any of these campaigns, pro or con,” Koch said. “That’s not what we do. What we’re trying to do is build alliances to make the country better.”

Koch, author of the book “Good Profit,” said he would only consider contributing to either Trump or Cruz if they backtrack on some of their most controversial promises.

That includes one of Cruz’s favorite lines of his campaign stump speech — to carpet bomb ISIS in the Middle East and “make the sand glow.”

“That’s gotta be hyperbole, but I mean that a candidate — whether they believe it or not — would think that appeals to the American people,” Koch said. “This is frightening.”

Koch also slammed Trump’s rhetoric towards Muslims, saying his proposal of a temporary travel ban was “antithetical.”

“What was worse was this ‘we’ll have them all registered,'” Koch said. “That’s reminiscent of Nazi Germany. I mean — that’s monstrous as I said at the time.”

Interesting comments from someone who has spent a lot of time and money against Democratic candidates over the past several decades.



Georgetown, Jesuits, and Slavery!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an editorial calling on Georgetown University to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves sold by its Jesuit leaders in 1838.  The editorial (see full text below) comments that the reparations movement, which calls for compensating the descendants of generations of enslaved Americans going back 250 years, has failed to gain traction in this country for a variety of reasons including that there is little documentation of slave names and families.  The editorial also comments that:

“…at  Georgetown, slavery and scholarship were inextricably linked. The college relied on its plantations to help pay for its operations. When the school fell into trouble, the sale of the African-American men, women and children staved off its ruin.

The black Georgetown families might have been lost to history had the Jesuits not recorded their names. With that information in hand, a nonprofit group called the Georgetown Memory Project has begun tracking down living descendants of these families. The statistical model used by the project estimates that there are 12,000 to 15,000 living descendants of the original 272 enslaved people.”

The editorial recommends that Georgetown is morally obligated to adopt restorative measures and to at least offer scholarships to all descendants of the sold slaves.



Georgetown and the Sin of Slavery


Most Americans see slavery as an artifact of the distant past that has no bearing on the nation’s present. And even people who are sympathetic to the reparations idea — and who acknowledge the continued imprint of slavery on society — have often argued that there is no way to distinguish descendants who have provable claims to compensation from those who do not, partly because enslaved people usually went unnamed in the United States census, which rendered them faceless in the historical record.

Bankers, merchants and manufacturers all profited from the slave trade, as did companies that insured slaving ships and their cargo. And more than a dozen universities have acknowledged ties to slavery. Even so, some will find ways to paper over the role that slavery played in their founding and early history.

Such denials are impossible in the harrowing history of slavery at Georgetown University that Rachel Swarns recounted recently in The Times. In 1838, the Jesuits running the college that became Georgetown sold 272 African-American men, women and children into a hellish life on sugar plantations in the South to finance the college’s continued operation. On that fact, there is no dispute.

The sale by the Jesuits stands out for its sheer size and the directness of its relationship to the existence and fortunes of one of the country’s top Catholic universities. The names of the people who were taken from the Jesuit plantations in Maryland and shipped to New Orleans are known.

The fact that some of their descendants have already been found makes this a particularly salient case in the emerging effort to confront one of history’s worst crimes against humanity.

Georgetown is morally obligated to adopt restorative measures, which should clearly include a scholarship fund for the descendants of those who were sold to save the institution.

Many people may be startled to learn that the Jesuits were among the largest slaveholders in the nation. But as the historian Craig Steven Wilder notes in the forthcoming book “Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development,” the Catholic Church was fully involved with slavery in the colonial period. Professor Wilder writes that income from slave plantations gave Catholics the resources to resist colonial-era persecution, allowed the church to survive through the American Revolution and underwrote the church’s expansion.

Visitors to the Jesuit plantations, including an Irish priest who visited Maryland in 1820, documented the violence against the enslaved. Some urged the church to get rid of its slaves. But as Professor Wilder writes, “Rather than retreating from slaveholding, the bishops built their church by tracking the westward expansion of plantation slavery” after the Louisiana Purchase.

At Georgetown, slavery and scholarship were inextricably linked. The college relied on its plantations to help pay for its operations. When the school fell into trouble, the sale of the African-American men, women and children staved off its ruin.

The black Georgetown families might have been lost to history had the Jesuits not recorded their names. With that information in hand, a nonprofit group called the Georgetown Memory Project has begun tracking down living descendants of these families. The statistical model used by the project estimates that there are 12,000 to 15,000 living descendants of the original 272 enslaved people.

Following student protests last fall, the university removed from two campus buildings the names of the two priests who arranged the sale. In addition, a university working group made up of students, alumni, professors and others are studying ways for the university to acknowledge, memorialize and make amends for this history.

According to Richard Cellini, the Georgetown alumnus who established the memory project, some of the descendants wept openly when they were told of family histories that had been a mystery to them. As Catholics, some have experienced crises of faith since learning of the brutality of the 19th-century priests. None of the descendants he has spoken with have mentioned money or reparations for themselves, Mr. Cellini said.

The descendants want their ancestors recognized in a durable way. Some would like to see a permanent memorial on campus that honors the enslaved families, one descendant said, as “real people with real names.” Georgetown can begin by welcoming the descendants into the university family and listening to their suggestions.