Colleague Stefan Baumrin Died on September 19th!

Dear Colleagues,

Stefan Baumrin, our long-time colleague from Lehman College and the CUNY Academy for the Humanities and Sciences, died on September 19th.  Below is an announcement describing a memorial service that will be held tomorrow.  Stefan was a good colleague who I knew for more than forty years going back to our time at Lehman College in the 1970s.  In later years we both served on a number of committees including the development of CUNY’s Intellectual Property Policy and the governance of the CUNY School of Professional Studies.  He was always prepared and although we did not always agree, we had friendly words for each other whenever we met.  In every sense, a true colleague.

I join the many others in the CUNY community who will miss him.


Professor Stefan Bernard Baumrin Memorial Service

It is with great sadness that the CUNY Academy for the Humanities and Sciences announces the passing of Professor Stefan Bernard Baumrin on September 19 at the age of 84.  Professor Baumrin was a long-term member of our Board of Directors and former Secretary-Treasurer of the Academy. He was at home, surrounded by his closest family members, and kept his characteristic wit and humor until the end.

Stefan was a dear friend and a source of brilliant commentary and sound advice always. He was a long-term member of the University Faculty Senate and its Executive Committee. His Ph.D. was from Johns Hopkins University and his J.D. from Columbia University?s School of Law. He was Professor emeritus of Philosophy at Lehman College and the CUNY Graduate Center and Professor of Philosophy and Medical Ethics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

He leaves behind his wife Judith, son Seth (Professor and Chair of Communication and Theatre Arts at John Jay College), and daughters Jeanne and Rachel (Christopher Lyons). He was also a proud grandfather and great-grandfather.

The memorial service will be held on Sunday, September 23, 12:00 PM at

The Riverside Memorial Chapel
180 West 76th Street
New York, NY 10023
(212) 362-6600

Shiva will be observed after the service at the Baumrin apartment: 590 West End Avenue, Apartment 12C. On Tuesday September 25, the family will be traveling to Martha?s Vineyard for the burial on Wednesday, September 26th, 2018.

Donations in his memory may be made to: The CUNY Academy of Humanities and Sciences or to the Island Housing Trust.


The Board of Directors of the CUNY Academy for the Humanities and Sciences

Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke Clash Over ‘Jim Crow,’ Immigration and Kavanaugh in First Debate!

Dear Commons Community,

Republican incumbent Texas Senator Ted Cruz and his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke held their first debate last night and clashed over ‘Jim Crow,’ Immigration and U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.  Recent polls have indicated that the race is a tossup. On Tuesday, a poll by Quinnipiac University showed Mr. Cruz leading Mr. O’Rourke by nine percentage points among likely voters surveyed by phone. On Wednesday, an online poll by Reuters and others put Mr. O’Rourke ahead of Mr. Cruz by two percentage points among likely voters, the first poll that has had Mr. O’Rourke in the lead.

As reported by NBC News:

“In the fiery first debate between GOP incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the differences couldn’t have been more clear.

They split sharply during the hour-long face off on immigration, the National Football League kneeling controversy, gun rights, marijuana legalization, police-involved shootings, the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and more.

There was virtually no common ground, on anything. And they didn’t hesitate to get in each other faces.

Cruz hammered O’Rourke, who represents the border town area of El Paso, over his support for undocumented immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” or children who were brought to the United States as children.

During the face off at Southern Methodist University before a live audience in Dallas, O’Rourke said he wants to provide a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants and attacked Cruz for pushing to deport all them, including Dreamers. Cruz then boiled down his position to the audience in four words: “Legal good, illegal bad.”

The race between Cruz and O’Rourke is regarded as surprisingly competitive for a Democrat in a red state — Texas hasn’t elected a Democratic Senate in 25 years — and it’s garnering national attention. This week, the authoritative Cook Political Report rated the contest as a “toss up.”

The candidates, answering questions from two reporters from NBC 5 and The Dallas Morning News, also clashed over the controversy involving football players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police-involved shootings of unarmed black men. President Donald Trump has repeatedly condemned the kneeling as disrespectful.

Cruz said he also found the protests to be offensive and added that he believed there are better ways for players to protest injustice. But O’Rourke likened the protests to the civil rights movement and said he supported the players.

Cruz tried to paint O’Rourke as anti-law enforcement for his beliefs, and claimed his opponent had called police “modern day Jim Crow,” which O’Rourke denied.

The debate also became contentious when the candidates were asked about gun rights, particularly school shootings, such as the Santa Fe, Texas, high school murders in May.

Cruz suggested such shooting are a result of “removing God from the public square” and called for armed guards in schools as a deterrent. He charged that O’Rourke was a Hillary Clinton supporters who wanted to toss out the Second Amendment.

O’Rourke, however, denied he wanted to get rid of the right to own guns but rather sought to make it harder for civilians to access to military-grade weapons.

“Thoughts and prayers are simply not going to cut it anymore, Senator Cruz,” he said.

During the debate, O’Rourke repeatedly sidestepped opportunities to attack Trump, saying he would stand up to the president on some issues and work with him on others after Cruz claimed O’Rourke wanted to impeach the president.

Toward the end, the candidates were asked to say something nice about each other. O’Rourke credited Cruz for being a family man and his public service. Cruz, in turn, offered a backhand compliment by praising O’Rourke for standing up for his beliefs — even if it was for being a socialist like Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“True to form,” O’Rourke said under his breath in response.

The debate was the first of three that have been scheduled.”

This race is one to watch!



New York Times:  Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Suggested Invoking the 25th Amendment to Remove Donald Trump!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times this morning is reporting that deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, suggested last year that he secretly record President Trump in the White House to expose the chaos consuming the administration, and he discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office for being unfit. As reported by the Times:

“Mr. Rosenstein made these suggestions in the spring of 2017 when Mr. Trump’s firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director plunged the White House into turmoil. Over the ensuing days, the president divulged classified intelligence to Russians in the Oval Office, and revelations emerged that Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Comey to pledge loyalty and end an investigation into a senior aide.

Mr. Rosenstein was just two weeks into his job. He had begun overseeing the Russia investigation and played a key role in the president’s dismissal of Mr. Comey by writing a memo critical of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But Mr. Rosenstein was caught off guard when Mr. Trump cited the memo in the firing, and he began telling people that he feared he had been used.

Mr. Rosenstein made the remarks about secretly recording Mr. Trump and about the 25th Amendment in meetings and conversations with other Justice Department and F.B.I. officials. Several people described the episodes in interviews over the past several months, insisting on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein’s actions and comments.

None of Mr. Rosenstein’s proposals apparently came to fruition. It is not clear how determined he was about seeing them through, though he did tell Mr. McCabe that he might be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John F. Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security and now the White House chief of staff, to mount an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment.

The extreme suggestions show Mr. Rosenstein’s state of mind in the disorienting days that followed Mr. Comey’s dismissal. Sitting in on Mr. Trump’s interviews with prospective F.B.I. directors and facing attacks for his own role in Mr. Comey’s firing, Mr. Rosenstein had an up-close view of the tumult. Mr. Rosenstein appeared conflicted, regretful and emotional, according to people who spoke with him at the time.

Mr. Rosenstein disputed this account.

“The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect,” he said in a statement. “I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman also provided a statement from a person who was present when Mr. Rosenstein proposed wearing a wire. The person, who would not be named, acknowledged the remark but said Mr. Rosenstein made it sarcastically.”

Does it get any crazier that this – no pun intended?


France Bans Smartphones in Schools Through 9th Grade!

Dear Commons Community,

Education policymakers and adminsitrators around the world have been tackling the issue of smartphone use by students in school.  In many schools, they are allowed anyplace, in others they are restricted to certain places and during certain times, and in others they are banned outright.  France has joined the last group by banning smartphones for students in anyplace and at anytime while on school grounds.  Here in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio won points three years ago when he lifted a school cellphone ban put in place under his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.  Below is an article on the subject as reported by the New York Times.



France Bans Smartphones in Schools Through 9th Grade. Will It Help Students?

By Alissa J. Rubin and Elian Peltier

Sept. 20, 2018

PARIS — The eighth-grade girls already know what to expect from France’s new smartphone ban in all primary and middle schools because their school voluntarily instituted one last year.

“Annoying,” was the assessment of Zoélinh Masson, 12, as her friend Grace Blahourou, 13, agreed.

Still, they said that with no smartphones, students did talk to one another more.

France’s education ministry hopes that its smartphone ban, which took effect at the beginning of September and applies to students from first through ninth grades, will get schoolchildren to pay more attention in class and interact more, and several studies suggest such correlations.

Some experts are skeptical that the ban can be enforced, and some teachers question the merits of insulating children from the internet-dominated world they will face outside school. But the French government believes that without minimizing distractions, children will never learn the basics.

“If we want to prepare children in the 21st century, we must give them the tools of modernity: mastery of math, of general culture, the ability to flourish in social relationships, a capacity to discuss with others, to understand and respect others and then very strong digital skills,” said Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.

“It’s a message we send to society: Do not always be on your phones.”

The smartphone ban expands on a current law that applied only to junior high grades and forbade the use of smartphones during class. The new law includes lower grades and will also apply to the entire school grounds, including the schoolyard. The only exception is when smartphones’ use is assigned by a teacher.

Around 93 percent of French children ages 12 to 17 have mobile phones, and an estimated 86 percent in that age group have models that support apps, according to French government and research institute data from 2016 and 2017.

Just under two-thirds of middle school and junior high students are signed up on social networks like Instagram and Snapchat and video games like Fortnite.

The problems with smartphone use are well known. Students’ insecurity can rise as they constantly worry about keeping up with “likes” and “shares” on social media. Teachers worry about cyberbullying and abusive practical jokes like photographing classmates from under the bathroom door and then posting the images online.

France is rare in legislating a solution. In Denmar, legislators are examining a similar approach, but have said they do not want to put it into law. In Britain, each school makes its own rules. And in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio won points three years ago when he lifted a school cellphone ban put in place under his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.

In New York, as in many American school districts, parents want to be able to check on their children throughout the day. And in school shootings in the United States, students have often used their phones to call 911 and report “active shooter” situations.

In France, where there have been no school shootings, few parents have objected to the ban. The law, a campaign promise of President Emmanuel Macron, flew through the legislature this summer with strong support from parents and many teachers.

About 60 percent of French junior high schools already had similar bans, said Frédérique Rolet, the secretary general of a national teachers union.

Under the new law, students can bring their phones to school but must keep them out of sight in their school bags or lockers. If they are caught using them, the phones can be confiscated for a day.

Around 93 percent of French children ages 12 to 17 have mobile phones, and most have models that support apps.CreditDmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

Yet students say they know how to get around the ban.

Grace, the eighth grader, said that even after her school, Françoise Dolto middle school in Paris, introduced its rule last year, she continued to film her friends for Snapchat and Instagram. She just did it clandestinely.

Both she and her classmate Zoélinh say they take their phones to school even though they are not allowed to use them there.

“In theory I could leave it at home and pick it up after school, but I’d be missing something,” Zoélinh said. “I would not feel good at all.”

Grace added, half joking, “We’d be depressed.”

Both said they felt a void when their phones were not close by. During an interview in a cafe, both girls restrained themselves from doing much texting, but kept touching their phones.

Teachers also doubt whether the ban is enforceable, especially with young teenagers for whom rebellion often trumps any inclination to follow a teacher’s instructions.

“I just don’t know how the law will be put in place,” said Cécile Dhondt, who teaches students who have trouble keeping up in class at College Jean Jaurès middle school in a suburb of Lille, in northern France.

As for taking away phones if students refuse to put them away, she said, “If I confiscated them, my students would not come anymore to class, and that is not the objective.”

David Scellier, who teaches French language and literature at a school in a Paris suburb, said that he doubted the law would be an effective “answer to the addiction problem,” and that responsibility was being put in the wrong place.

“Who buys the phones for the children?” he said. “Who doesn’t give them a framework and set limits on using them? Parents. But everyone blames the school, which is very typical in France: School should be responsible for all the children’s problems.”

However, he acknowledged that phones were a top concern of the young teachers he trains, who inevitably ask how to deal with smartphone use in class. “Most of them think that they will be more protected with the law,” he said. “Let’s wait and see. But I doubt it.”

For sociologists and scientists in France who study attention spans and the digital culture, removing smartphones from school makes sense even if it does not fully address the difficulty of managing the siren call of social networks.

“It’s a culture of presentism,” Monique Dagnaud, a researcher at the government-run National Center for Scientific Research, said of social media. “It creates a rapport with the world that is very immediate, very visual, fun.”

“The culture of the internet is of immediate pleasure,” she added — the inverse of school, which is about delayed gratification.

Smartphone use sets off the production of dopamine — “the same system that is implicated in addictions and drugs,” said Jean-Philippe Lachaux, a neuroscientist at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research.

“The problem with the telephone is that it reduces all sensation to what you see and the body disappears,” he said. “The world is very much reduced.”

That makes the smartphone ban all the more important, he said, so that children “open up to the rest of the world” for at least a few hours a day.


Ph.D.s – Before You Write a Cover Letter for a Nonfaculty Job, Try This Exercise!

Dear Commons Community,

Erin Bartram, a history Ph.D. has an article in this morning’s Chronicle of Higher Education providing practical advice for writing a cover letter when applying for a nonfaculty job.  Below is her article.



Before You Write a Cover Letter for a Nonfaculty Job, Try This Exercise

By Erin Bartram

September 18, 2018

For a Ph.D., writing cover letters for nonacademic jobs — letters that explain how your skills and experience make you a good fit — can be difficult and frustrating. That isn’t because Ph.D.s have no transferable skills, but because the academic job market has trained you to think and speak very narrowly about your qualifications.

Even if the cover letter is for a job you know you’re qualified for, you may find yourself tearing your hair out trying to translate your qualifications. Academe places economic and professional value on just a portion of what scholars do. Shedding that narrow understanding of your skills and experiences is important for a nonacademic job hunt in general, but particularly vital for writing cover letters.

Just knowing that in the abstract isn’t enough. As scholars, we do research before we write. We don’t just assume we’ll remember the evidence — we write it down. In order to talk effectively about your skills and experiences in a cover letter for a nonfaculty job, you have to do the research first — on yourself.

In the months since I decided to end my search for a tenure-track job in history, I’ve been applying for positions outside of academe and writing about my career transition for The Chronicle. I’ve learned a few things so far about drafting cover letters for a nonacademic search.
Think outside the CV. It was hard enough to remember to put all of your research, teaching, and service activities on your CV in a timely manner. Now you’ve got to try to think beyond those three narrow categories of academic work and recall all the things you’ve done that haven’t gone on the CV. Here are some ways to do that:

• Look at older CVs. As you progress through a doctoral program, or as an early-career scholar, you often revise your CV, removing the “less impressive” work from earlier in your career and adding “Selected” to some headings. Older versions of your CV can be a goldmine of things you forgot you even did.
• Think about service. That can mean two things. First, remember that while faculty search committees often place little value on the experiences you listed under “Service” on your CV, the nonacademic world might find those same things very valuable. Second, think about all the unpaid labor that scholars do to keep departments and disciplines going: participating in peer review, mentoring students and colleagues (formally and informally), reviewing fellowship and prize applications, running workshops, organizing events. Those can be valuable evidence of your skills and experience.
• Acknowledge all of your side jobs. Many of us accepted graduate-school stipends under the condition that we wouldn’t take outside jobs, and while it was a charade even at the time, those who did take such jobs often worked hard to hide them. It may seem obvious that you’d want to acknowledge those jobs now, but it can be easy to forget their duration and value when you put so much effort into not mentioning them.
• Acknowledge nonwork activities that you left off your CV on purpose. Here I’m thinking about things like volunteer work or activism. For instance, I didn’t splash my time organizing a graduate-student union all over my CV, though I knew any potential employer could discover it without too much effort. But I also left off my time serving on the board of a local arts institution. Both activities were related, and even helpful, to my scholarly career but they weren’t the sort of things I was taught to put on a CV. Such activities might, for some positions, be the thing in your cover letter that piques the interest of a potential employer.
• Talk to your friends and family members. I’ve offered that advice before but that’s because it’s important. They will often remember things that have slipped your mind, or more important, things that you have actively forgotten because they weren’t considered relevant to your academic worth.

Once you’ve got an exhaustive list, it’s time to think about how to make it decipherable to nonacademic employers.

Break things down. Years ago, I was complaining to a friend about the trouble I was having writing a lecture, and she remarked that she had never realized how much work went into teaching a college class until she knew me. She figured that professors just got up and lectured on what they knew off the top of their heads. Prior to our conversation, she had no idea of the work that went into writing a single lecture, let alone designing an entire course.

I share that story because it’s a good example of why Ph.D.’s transitioning to a nonfaculty career need to really break down their academic skills and experiences into component parts. Then break down those parts even further, and explain what they all mean. Imagine you aren’t just telling someone what you do, you’re telling them exactly how you do it. For instance:

• What does it mean to conduct academic research in your field? How do you write a literature review? How do you outline the scope and course of a research project and then successfully carry it out? How do you find and apply for grants?
• What does it mean to teach? How do you plan a course? How do you write a syllabus? How do you run an internship program? How do you advise students?
• What does it mean to do academic service? How do you chair a prize committee? How do you review articles for your peers? How do you effectively observe your peers and evaluate them?
• And what does it mean to do much of this on your own, at your own direction, without constant or even intermittent supervision?

In academe, when everyone around you does the same thing — and has the same degree — it’s unnecessary to break those tasks down. Because everyone in your work circle already knows what they mean.

Here, again, nonacademic friends and family can be helpful — both because they can “see” the applicable skills that you might miss, and because they can help you find new language to communicate those skills and their value to jobs outside of higher education.

What you’ll have at the end of this process is a master list of your skills and experiences — something like an annotated CV. It’s useful to build this list early in the job-hunting process, but I’ve found it especially helpful when drafting cover letters for nonacademic positions or writing “KSAs” (it stands for “Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities”) for federal-government jobs. I often copy over the job ad into a separate document and comment on it with relevant skills and experiences from my master list. Seeing your qualifications mapped onto a job ad like that helps you organize the paragraphs and themes of your cover letter, and it can be an enormous confidence-booster as well.

Having a master list of your skills and experiences won’t make writing cover letters more enjoyable. It will still feel very strange and quite difficult to write about your qualifications in this way if you have been writing academic cover letters for years.

What this exhaustive list can help you do, though, is get started. And isn’t that often the hardest part of any writing project?

Faced with a grim tenure-track market, professors who train doctoral students often ask: But what can I do to help my students with a nonacademic search? Here’s what I suggest: Imagine that you found out your tenured position had been eliminated. Then go on and find a job for which you think you are qualified. Now try to write a cover letter for that position. Just try.
After doing that exercise myself, I felt like apologizing to every student to whom I had blithely uttered the phrase “transferable skills.” Because figuring out your transferable skills is incredibly difficult, and those of us who haven’t had to do it in years — even decades — should make sure we know of what we speak.

More broadly, scholars, doctoral programs, and disciplinary societies committed to the idea that the Ph.D. provides transferable, marketable skills of use beyond the professoriate must also be committed to talking about those skills and making them visible well before the end of someone’s graduate-school career. How?

• Make it standard practice for your department’s doctoral students to create and maintain full annotated CVs.
• Provide examples of academic and nonacademic cover letters. Make them equally available, and be honest about the differences between them. Sample cover letters must be pitched to the skill level of people with Ph.D.s.
• Be sure that any career counselors you bring in for cover-letter workshops understand the skills that Ph.D.s in a particular field have to offer.
• Perhaps most important, admit when you as an adviser are out of your depth and help your Ph.D.’s who are leaving academe find the career guidance they need.

Academic and nonacademic cover letters are different animals, and difficult in different ways. But given that many Ph.D.s are going to have to draft both types of letters, it’s important to acknowledge the differences and teach graduate students how to write both.

Leaving academe is scary, and that feeling can be most intense when you’re facing a blank page with no idea how to write a cover letter for a position you really want. Drawing up a full accounting of your experience and skills — before you begin writing cover letters — can help you learn to speak about those skills in a way that potential employers will understand.

Erin Bartram, formerly a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of Hartford, is writing about her career transition out of academe. Her web site is and you can find her on Twitter @erin_bartram .

Democratic candidate for governor Jay Gonzalez said Massachusetts could raise $1 billion a year by taxing the endowments of the state’s wealthiest colleges and universities!

Dear Commons Community,

Democratic candidate for governor Jay Gonzalez said Massachusetts could raise $1 billion a year for education and transportation by taxing the endowments of the state’s wealthiest colleges and universities like Harvard University and MIT.  As reported by the Associated Press:

“Gonzalez said the plan he unveiled yesterday would bring in revenue needed to help make child care and preschool affordable for all families and fully fund public schools while also improving the state’s roads, bridges and public transportation systems.

The plan would pay for the improvements by imposing a 1.6 percent tax on the endowments of private, nonprofit colleges and universities with endowment funds exceeding $1 billion.

Gonzalez said there are nine colleges and universities that meet the criteria including: Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Williams, Boston College, Amherst, Wellesley, Smith, Tufts University, and Boston University.

Gonzalez, who announced his plan at a press conference just outside Harvard’s campus, said its time for well-heeled universities to step up.

“I think it’s fair to ask the wealthiest among us — including major institutions that have accumulated enormous wealth in part thanks to their exemption from taxation — to contribute to our greater community,” Gonzalez said.

Under the proposal, Harvard would pay more than $560 million annually, Gonzalez said. MIT would pay more than $200 million. He said each of the nine endowment funds has seen an average annual return of between 4.8 percent and 8.4 percent over the past 15 years.

Gonzalez is hoping to unseat Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in the November election. Baker is seeking a second, two-year term.

Baker said Wednesday that he was opposed to a similar plan floated by President Donald Trump earlier this year that would have also taxed college and university endowments. Baker said he opposed the plan because the vast majority of the money used in endowments supports scholarships and financial aid, much of it directed at low-income and middle-income students.

“I thought it was a bad idea then, and I still think it’s a bad idea,” Baker said.

Universities and colleges have also pushed back on similar proposals to tax their endowments when they have been floated in the past.

The universities argue that institutions of higher learning are a key engine to the economy in Massachusetts, helping produce the brain power needed to fuels things like the state’s current boom in the high tech and life sciences fields.

Richard Doherty, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, said the group — which represents 55 schools — “is fundamentally opposed to the notion of taxing nonprofit private college and university endowments to raise revenue.”

Doherty said the schools educate close to 150,000 Massachusetts residents annually, award more than $608 million in financial aid each year to undergraduate students and employ more than 100,000 people.

“Taxing endowments is bad for students, bad for our economy, and bad for Massachusetts,” Doherty said in a statement.

The search for new sources of revenue comes after the state’s highest court rejected as unconstitutional a proposed “millionaire tax” ballot question backed by Gonzalez and other Democrats that called for a surtax on Massachusetts wealthiest earners.

The proposed constitutional amendment would have imposed a surtax of 4 percent on any portion of an individual’s annual income that exceeds $1 million, which supporters said would generate some $2 billion annually in additional revenue for education and transportation.”

If Gonzalez is elected, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. If enacted in Massachusetts, it will attract the attention of other governors in states where there are well-endowed colleges and universities.


Penn Says It Will Be First Ivy League College to Offer Fully Online Bachelor’s Degree!

Dear Commons Community,

Starting next fall, the University of Pennsylvania will offer what it says is the first online bachelor’s degree at an Ivy League college.  Designed for adult learners, the program will confer a bachelor of applied arts and sciences, and will enroll students through the School of Arts and Sciences’ College of Liberal and Professional Studies, which serves working adults and other nontraditional students.  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Nora E. Lewis, vice dean of professional and liberal education, said that while roughly 500 adults are earning bachelor’s degrees part time through the college, Penn realized it could do more to serve nontraditional students. Only 30 percent of adults over 25 hold a bachelor’s degree, she noted.

“When you’re working and raising a family or you’re part of the sandwich generation,” Lewis said, “it really makes it very difficult to get through the 30 to 36 courses needed to get an undergraduate degree. And it’s not terribly affordable.” The question, she said, then became: “Can we leverage all the advances in technology, in online learning, in the experiences our faculty have had in developing MOOCs, and put it to good use?”

Lewis estimates the new program could serve thousands of students. It will differ in focus from the College of Liberal and Professional Studies’ on-campus B.A. degree, which it will replace, through an emphasis on interdisciplinary learning and on connecting the liberal arts to professional and career development. The college is working closely with an employer advisory board as it develops the program. The cost per course will be $2,250, down from the $3,212 per course charged in the on-campus program.

The move, announced on Tuesday, follows the news this summer that Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science would offer the university’s first online degree, a master of computer and information technology, at about a third of the cost of the program’s on-campus version.

Richard Garrett, chief research officer at Eduventures, a consulting company, said he’s curious to see how this new degree fits into Penn’s broader online strategy and the programs it designs for the adult-student market. “The more interesting story may be that this means you can get a bachelor’s from Penn at a much lower price,” he said.

It also makes sense that the degree is aimed at adults, Garrett said, given that traditional-age students have shown little interest so far in fully online programs. “It’s hard to be sure on the numbers,” he said, “but about 80 percent-plus fully online bachelor students are over the age of 25, and most of the rest are 22 to 24. There are very few who are 18.”

According to U.S. Education Department data, about 13 percent of undergraduates in 2016 studied fully online, compared with more than a quarter of graduate students.

The new program will have two residency requirements. The first is a writing course, which Lewis said would be designed to be completed over a weekend early in the program, and would include meetings with advisers and participation in campus events. The second would vary based on students’ interests and academic focus. Natural-science courses may require more time on the campus, she said, but the college is working to find ways to put all content online.

The university will join a growing number of traditional higher-education institutions offering online degrees at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Penn State World Campus, for example, enrolls nearly 20,000 students in more than 150 degree and certificate programs taught by Penn State faculty members.

Penn may be the only Ivy League university to offer an online bachelor’s degree, but Lewis expects that will change. “It’s coming, it’s definitely coming,” she said. “There’s a real commitment and understanding of the need to have broader inclusion and access, and be able to reach learners around the world. So I think it’s just a matter of time.”

It took a while but the Ivies are finally getting onboard with fully online education!


Comparing Christine Blasey Ford to Anita Hill!

Dear Commons Community,

With the accusation of sexual misconduct threatening to derail Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, various observers have begun to compare the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford to Anita Hill who in 1991, accused Clarence Thomas of inappropriate behavior during his confirmation hearings.  The cases seem similar at first: Hill and Ford, both college professors, accused a man nominated to the country’s highest court of sexual misconduct. On closer examination, however, the two accusations are different in many details. In 1991, Hill was a tenured professor at a major research institution, accusing Thomas of harassing her in the workplace. Today, Ford teaches at a university that specializes narrowly in psychology programs, and her assault allegation dates to when she and Kavanaugh were suburban teenagers. Below is an analysis courtesy of The Chronicle of Higher Education.




When Anita Hill Testified, These Scholars Were Moved to Act. Now They’re Contemplating What’s Changed.

By Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz 

SEPTEMBER 17, 2018

In 1991, Mary Gray, a professor of mathematics and statistics at American University, watched Anita Hill tell the Senate Judiciary Committee that her former boss Clarence Thomas, recently nominated to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, had sexually harassed her.

Gray also watched as the credibility of Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, was questioned by both lawmakers and the viewing public. By the time Thomas was confirmed, Gray was pushing her university to consider revising its own student-conduct code, for both its own protection and that of accused students. She told The Chronicle that the hearings had inspired the second look.

On Sunday, Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University, accused Brett M. Kavanaugh, the current Supreme Court nominee, of sexually assaulting her when they were high-school students, in the early 1980s. And professors like Gray had occasion to consider what has changed — and what hasn’t — since the law professor’s experience discouraged so many women nearly three decades ago.

The cases seem similar at first: Hill and Ford, both college professors, accused a man nominated to the country’s highest court of sexual misconduct. On closer examination, however, the two accusations are different in almost every detail. In 1991, Hill was a tenured professor at a major research institution, accusing Thomas of harassing her in the workplace. Today, Ford teaches at a university that specializes narrowly in psychology programs, and her assault allegation dates to when she and Kavanaugh were suburban teenagers.

In a Washington Post interview, Ford said Kavanaugh and a friend were both drunk when they took her into a bedroom during a gathering of friends at a home in the Washington suburbs some 35 years ago. Kavanaugh assaulted her, she said. He has denied the allegations, and he and Ford will both testify before the Senate committee on Monday.

Despite the differences, Ford’s accusation gives those who watched Hill testify déjà vu. In the middle of the #MeToo movement, scholars like Gray say the time is ripe to evaluate the progress of women’s rights.

If Thomas’s hearing and his subsequent appointment left many women deeply disillusioned, said Gray, the recent success of women who have taken on men in Hollywood, politics, corporations, and the academy for sexual harassment has changed the equation. But it took years. “That fact that we see all of it now is because there have been some successes,” Gray said. “There was no success with Anita Hill.”

Still, that feeling of progress has its limits. Despite the attention being paid to women’s issues and the #MeToo movement, Gray said, she expects Kavanaugh to be confirmed.

After watching Hill’s case unfold, and now Ford’s, Gray said both serve as reminders to her students to speak up immediately after they have been assaulted or harassed.

In 1991, Deborah L. Rhode, a Stanford University law professor who specializes in ethics and gender issues, joined more than 100 other professors in signing a petition urging senators to delay Thomas’s vote until the Judiciary Committee had evaluated Hill’s charges. Now, she said, women have more power to levy accusations.

“The lesson today with the #MeToo movement has been that women have voice and agency, and they can come forward without risking all, and that their concerns will be taken seriously,” Rhode said.

And after repeated cases of serial sexual harassers have come to the public’s attention, a woman can be a little more at ease that she might not be the lone accuser, Rhode said. “Women are realizing that it’s hard to be the first,” she said, “but there’s a very good chance that you won’t be out there alone for very long.”

There was an uptick in concerns about sexual harassment after Hill, Rhode said. Complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission went up too. Companies and various institutions introduced training to warn against and curb sexual harassment.

Now things have come full circle, she said.

At least Ford’s accusations can be taken seriously, for the moment.

Brett Kavanaugh’s Confirmation to Supreme Court Delayed over Sexual Misconduct Allegation!

Dear Commons Community,

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court has taking an uncertain turn as Republican senators expressed concern over a woman’s private-turned-public allegation that a drunken Kavanaugh groped her and tried to take off her clothes at a party when they were teenagers.  As reported by the Associated Press.

“The White House and other Kavanaugh supporters had dismissed the allegation of sexual misconduct when it was initially conveyed in a private letter. With a name and disturbing details, the accusation raised the prospect of congressional Republicans defending President Donald Trump’s nominee ahead of midterm elections featuring an unprecedented number of female candidates and informed in part by the #MeToo movement.

The GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee appeared nonetheless committed to a vote later this week despite Christine Blasey Ford’s account in The Washington Post. Kavanaugh, she said, pinned her to a bed at a Maryland party in the early 1980s, clumsily tried to remove her clothing and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. Kavanaugh repeated his previous denial that such an incident ever took place.

A split seemed to be emerging among the GOP.

As Democrats, led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, called for a delay in the vote, two committee Republicans — all 11 on the GOP side are men — Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said they wanted to hear more from Ford. Flake went as far as to say he was “not comfortable” voting for Kavanaugh for the time being. A potential “no” vote from Flake would complicate the judge’s prospects. A Republican not on the committee, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, said the vote should be postponed until the committee heard from Ford. Contacted Sunday by CNN, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wouldn’t say if the vote should be postponed.

Some Senate Republicans, along with the White House, see no need to postpone voting over what they consider uncorroborated and unverifiable accusations, according to a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly.

A committee spokesman said late Sunday that its chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, was trying to arrange separate, follow-up calls with Kavanaugh and Ford, but just for aides to Grassley and Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., before Thursday’s scheduled vote. Critics have already accused the GOP of fast-tracking the process to get Kavanaugh on the court by Oct. 1, the first day of the fall term.

The allegation against Kavanaugh first came to light late last week in the form of a letter that had been for some time in the possession of Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and one of its four female members. On Sunday, The Washington Post published an interview with Ford, who after months of soul-searching decided to go public.

“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” said Ford, 51, a clinical psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.” She told the Post that she was able to escape after a friend of Kavanaugh’s who was in the room jumped on top of them and everyone tumbled.”

This is an interesting development now that Ms. Ford has courageously come forth publicly.  Shades of the Clarence Thomas nomination.


Does Teacher Diversity Matter in Student Learning? Research shows that students, especially boys, benefit when teachers share their race or gender.

Dear Commons Community,

An issue of great importance in K-12 education is the disparity in race and gender between teachers and students.  The New York Times last week had an article reviewing current research on this issue that highlights the effects of this disparity especially on black and Hispanic male students.  Below is the entire article.



Does Teacher Diversity Matter in Student Learning?

Research shows that students, especially boys, benefit when teachers share their race or gender. Yet most teachers are white women.

By Claire Cain Miller

Sept. 10, 2018

As students have returned to school, they have been greeted by teachers who, more likely than not, are white women. That means many students will be continuing to see teachers who are a different gender than they are, and a different skin color.

Does it matter? Yes, according to a significant body of research: Students tend to benefit from having teachers who look like them, especially nonwhite students.

The homogeneity of teachers is probably one of the contributors, the research suggests, to the stubborn gender and race gaps in student achievement: Over all, girls outperform boys, and white students outperform those who are black and Hispanic.

Yet the teacher work force is becoming more female: 77 percent of teachers in public and private elementary and high schools are women, up from 71 percent three decades ago. The teaching force has grown more racially diverse in that period, but it’s still 80 percent white, down from 87 percent.

There are many things that contribute to children’s academic achievement, including teachers’ experience and training; school funding and zoning; and families’ incomes and home environment. And teachers have long been predominantly white and female. But new educational opportunities for girls may mean that they can take more advantage of the benefits of female teachers. And studies show that teacher diversity can make a difference in students’ performance and their interest in school.

The effect is stronger on boys. Research has found that boys, and particularly black boys, are more affected than girls by disadvantages, like poverty and racism, and by positive influences, like high-quality schools and role models. Yet they are least likely to have had a teacher that looks like them.

“We find that the effect is really driven by boys,” said Seth Gershenson, an economist studying education policy at American University. “In the elementary school setting, for black children and especially disadvantaged black children, the effect of having even just one black teacher is fairly big and robust and a real thing.”

When black children had a black teacher between third and fifth grades, boys were significantly less likely to later drop out of high school, and both boys and girls were more likely to attend college, Mr. Gershenson and his colleagues found in a large study last year. The effect was strongest for children from low-income families. The study included 106,000 students who entered third grade in North Carolina from 2001 to 2005, and it followed them through high school. There was no effect on white children when they had a black teacher.

Teachers’ gender does not necessarily have a big effect during elementary school but seems to make more of a difference when children are older. Then, girls do better with a female teacher and boys with a male one, said Thomas Dee, a professor of education at Stanford.

When eighth graders had a female teacher instead of a male one, boys fell behind girls by the equivalent of three and a half months of learning, according to a well-regarded study he wrote, which compared the effect of two teachers of different genders on the same students. When students and teachers were the same gender, teachers also had more positive impressions of students, and students looked forward more to the subject. The study used Department of Education data on 25,000 eighth graders from 1,000 schools.

In high school and college math and science courses, studies have shown that when women have a female instructor, they get higher grades, participate more in class and are more likely to continue to pursue the subject.

Researchers say it’s not entirely clear why teachers’ gender and race make a difference; it’s likely to be a combination of things. Students tend to be inspired by role models they can relate to. Same-race teachers might be able to present new material in a more culturally relevant way. Also, teachers sometimes treat students differently based on their own backgrounds and stereotypes. Social scientists call this implicit bias, when stereotypes influence people’s thinking, often unconsciously.

A variety of research, for instance, has shown that teachers tend to assess black students differently from white students. Preschool teachers judge black children more harshly for the same behavior. White teachers are less likely than black teachers to assign black students to gifted and talented programs even if their test scores match those of white students. When black students had both a white and black teacher, the black teachers consistently had higher expectations for the children’s potential.

Sharon Contreras, the superintendent of Guilford County Schools in High Point, N.C., with Cameron Pryor on the first day of school this year. Research has shown that black children perform significantly better when they have black teachers. CreditLaura Greene/The High Point Enterprise, via Associated Press

Teachers’ biases can end up becoming self-fulfilling prophecy, Mr. Gershenson has found. “The high expectations actually motivate kids to do better,” he said. “Black students are hurt by that lack of optimism that white kids get, and black kids with black teachers rise to meet their expectations.”

Sometimes teachers underestimate students of their race or gender, suggesting that they have internalized stereotypes about their own group and that white and Asian-American students may not experience negative effects from having nonwhite teachers.

Girls perform about the same as boys in math on average through eighth grade. By age 17, there is a meaningful male advantage in that subject.

A new study, not yet published, found that math teachers favored boys over girls, and white students over black or Hispanic students — and that female teachers were biased in favor of boys and that nonwhite teachers were the most biased in favor of white students.

“These results indicate that enduring cultural biases may have long residual effects on stigmatized groups,” said Yasemin Copur-Gencturk, one of the authors and an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California.

Long term, the evidence suggests it would make a difference to train and hire more diverse teachers. But researchers say there’s also something that schools can do immediately, with the teachers they already have: teach them about their biases and stereotypes. It can lead to fairer treatment of students.

The research shows that no matter their demographics, teachers can overcome some of the effects of bias, Mr. Dee said. He summed up the interventions this way: “Signal to students your deep faith in their capacity to learn, coupled with your high expectations that they’ll do great things, full stop.”

It’s surprisingly effective and simple to do, social scientists have shown. One study found that merely informing teachers about their stereotypes closed gaps in grading. An hourlong online tutorial for teachers has halved suspension rates for black students, after training educators on how to value students’ perspectives and view misbehavior as a learning opportunity.

Another strategy is coaching teachers on how their language can unintentionally signal to students that they can’t excel. Teachers are taught to convey to students that intelligence is not fixed, but built through hard work, and to talk about each student’s value and belonging in the classroom.

Retaining current teachers is also important, researchers say. More qualified people would stay in the profession if the jobs had better pay, benefits and support. Nonwhite teachers in schools with poor resources are at particular risk of burning out.

“It also matters just to have a really good teacher,” Mr. Dee said. “We don’t want to lose sight of that as we support diversity.”