Online GRE Raising Equity Concerns!

Dear Commons Community,

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, there is a growing unease that Educational Testing Service’s online GRE exam is heightening equity concerns.  Jane C. Hu, a journalist in Seattle, has an article in this week’s Science that looks at this issue.  The entire article is below.




Online GRE test heightens equity concerns

Jane C. Chu

As COVID-19 swept across the United States, standardized testing centers closed and the GRE General Test—an exam that’s required for admission to many U.S. graduate programs—went online. The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which offers the GRE, “completely revamped its delivery model so [aspiring graduate students] can test from the safety of home,” it declared in May. Since then, though, scores of academics have raised concerns about the equity of the online version of the test, arguing it disadvantages prospective students from rural and low income backgrounds. “If I were … a student trying to take this exam, satisfying [the online testing] criteria would be extremely difficult for me,” says Emily Levesque, an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Levesque wrote about ETS’s testing requirements in a Twitter thread this month, detailing what she sees as “a shopping list of hurdles.” Test takers must have access to a computer with a webcam—“tablets and smartphones won’t cut it,” she wrote—as well as a private room in a home with a stable internet connection. Libraries and other public spaces are out. “We already know from virtual teaching this spring that not all students/prospective grads have access to [computers] in their homes,” she wrote.

On top of that, test takers must have a whiteboard if they want to take notes, sit in a standard—not “overstuffed”—chair, and ensure that no one enters their room for the duration of the 4-hour test. In a statement, Alberto Acereda, executive director of higher education at ETS, wrote that the rules are “necessary to ensure the testing experience is similar to that in a test center, as well as to maintain the security and integrity of the test.”

Yet to some academic departments already questioning the value of the GRE, the burdensome requirements of the at-home test are a tipping point. Levesque’s department decided to temporarily suspend requiring GRE scores. “It was simply a question of access,” she says. “If we require the exam this year, that puts an excessive burden on folks we want to encourage to apply.”

Other departments have decided to forgo the GRE for good. “We’ve been thinking about [eliminating it] for a long time,” says Chrissy Wiederwohl, assistant department head for engagement and graduate affairs for Texas A&M University, College Station’s oceanography department, which voted to stop requiring GRE scores earlier this month. “COVID is what helped front-burner it.”

Levesque’s and Wiederwohl’s departments join a growing list of U.S. graduate programs that have moved away from the GRE in recent years. In 2018 alone, 44% of the country’s top molecular biology programs dropped the GRE as an application requirement, according to an investigation by Science (31 May 2019, p. 816). Dubbed “GRExit,” the movement has been fueled by concerns that the GRE doesn’t predict student success in graduate school, and that its use in admissions decisions disadvantages applicants from underrepresented groups.

Delia Shelton, a Black psychologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, says when she was applying to graduate schools, taking the GRE was a hardship; it was expensive and she had to drive 2 hours to her testing location. Her scores prevented her from applying to some programs that specified a cutoff for applicants. Yet she’s done well for herself in academia, winning a prestigious fellowship from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and an assistant professorship at her university. She and her colleagues voted earlier this month to eliminate the GRE from admissions requirements. The scores “don’t speak to how well you can do in graduate school,” she says. “

The socioeconomic constraints [of] standardized testing … [are] well documented, and I think this at-home test exacerbates some of those,” agrees Joshua Hall, director of admissions for the biological and biomedical science program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who maintains a list of roughly 300 life science programs that have joined GRExit. Hall estimates that 15 programs have contacted him since the start of the pandemic asking to be added to his list.

Acereda emphasized that GRE scores can be valuable as part of a holistic review process, one that looks at reference letters, essays, and other application materials. He acknowledged that some prospective students might be unable to take the test online, but he added that more than 1000 test centers have already reopened. “As the world continues to reopen after COVID, test takers will have greater choice regarding where they would like to test.”

This year, however, some simply gave up. Natasha Hodges says she ran into problems when she couldn’t install the proctoring software on her Apple laptop. “No matter how many people I chatted with, or how many times I’ve called or emailed them, no one can explain to me or even address [my problem],” she says. But after failing to resolve her technical issues, she was pleased to discover that many of the microbiology Ph.D. programs she wants to apply to have waived the GRE as an application requirement. “It ends up working out that I don’t end up having to take it anyway,” she says.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers Activates National Guard after Violence in Madison!

A statue taken down on Tuesday represents Wisconsin’s motto “Forward.”

Dear Commons Community,

Wisconsin’s governor activated the National Guard in Madison yesterday to protect state properties after a night of violence that included the toppling of two statues outside the state Capitol, one of which commemorated an abolitionist Civil War hero.  As reported by the Associated Press.

“Protesters attacked a state senator, threw a Molotov cocktail into a government building and attempted to break into the Capitol Tuesday night, only to be repelled by pepper spray from police stationed inside. The violence broke out as a group of 200 to 300 people protested the arrest of a Black man who shouted at restaurant customers through a megaphone while carrying a baseball bat.

On Wednesday night, about 40 people gathered peacefully outside the county jail where the man was being held, calling for his release. A crowd of about 100 people congregated outside the Capitol, where one of the statues used to stand, as Madison police watched. There was no sign of the National Guard.

Gov. Tony Evers, who toured the damage from Tuesday night and said the violence was in “stark contrast” to earlier peaceful protests, said he was activating the National Guard “to make sure people can exercise their First Amendment rights while ensuring the safety of members of the public and state buildings and infrastructure.”

“If your goal was to advance social justice and policing reforms in the state of Wisconsin and making sure systemic racism is a thing of the past, you failed,” Evers said of the protesters on WTMJ-AM.

Republican state lawmakers and others faulted Evers and Madison’s Democratic mayor for not moving more quickly on Tuesday to quell the violence.

“The mob has become very bold,” said Madison Alderman Paul Skidmore. “They see they can get away with a little, and they inch forward more and more. Downtown Madison is a battle zone right now, and I fear for my city.”

The violence unfolded in a city long known as a liberal bastion with a long history of protest, dating back to student demonstrations on the University of Wisconsin campus in the 1960s. About 100,000 people protested in 2011 over then-Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union proposals.

It also exposed simmering anger over the 2015 shooting by police of a 19-year-old Black man by an officer who remains on the force. That shooting has been referenced by protesters in recent weeks.

One of the statues toppled, decapitated and dragged into a lake about a half-mile away was of Civil War Col. Hans Christian Heg. He was an anti-slavery activist and leader of an anti-slave catcher militia in Wisconsin who fought for the Union and died from injuries suffered during the Battle of Chickamauga.

The base of the Heg statue was defaced with graffiti Wednesday morning that read “Fire Matt Kenny,” a reference to a white Madison police officer who shot and killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson, a Black man, in 2015. Kenny said Robinson had attacked him. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, who is Black, cleared Kenny of any criminal wrongdoing and he remains a Madison officer.

The other statue taken down represents Wisconsin’s motto “Forward.” The statue was first installed 125 years ago but replaced with a bronze replica in 1998. It sat prominently outside the Capitol, facing the University of Wisconsin campus and State Street, an avenue lined with bars, restaurants and small businesses. That corridor has been the target of much of the vandalism since the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer used his knee to pin the handcuffed Black man’s neck.

The destruction followed similar unrest nationwide following Floyd’s death, but in other cities statues of Confederate soldiers and other symbols of slavery were destroyed.”

Violence begets violence!




Barack Obama explains why Democrats can’t afford to get smug about Donald Trump!

Obama Says Average American Doesn't Want to 'Tear Down System ...

Dear Commons Community,

Former President Barack Obama earlier this week warned Democrats against thinking that they have the 2020 presidential election in the bag.  Most national polls have Biden with a comfortable and in some cases a double-digit lead.

“We can’t be complacent or smug or sense that somehow it’s so obvious that this president hasn’t done a good job, because look, he won once,” Obama said of President Donald Trump during a virtual fundraiser for and with the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“This is serious business,” Obama continued during the online event that raised a reported $11 million for his former vice president’s campaign.

“Whatever you’ve done so far is not enough,” he said. “And I hold myself and Michelle and our kids to that same standard.”

Obama, who endorsed Biden via a video in April, warned that “just because this energy is out there, it does not mean that it assures our victory.”

He also acknowledged Biden’s campaign would look different to a traditional campaign amid the coronavirus pandemic that has now killed more than 120,000 people nationwide.

“Unlike our current president, we recognize that we have a public health crisis going on,” said Obama, an apparent reference to Trump’s decision to press on with hosting rallies against the advice of public health experts and as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases start to rise again in multiple states.

As I posted on Sunday, “Biden and the Democrats right now have to view Trump as a caged tyrant who will do anything to win.  They have to develop a mentality that they are the underdogs in this election and fight tooth and nail for every vote.”


McKinsey and Company Report: COVID-19 and student learning in the United States – the hurt could last a lifetime!

Dear Commons Community,

McKinsey and Company issued a report earlier this month outlining how the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the achievement gap between white and black and Latino/a students in the United States.  Below is an excerpt from the report.  It does not paint a hopeful picture.

My colleague, Fred Lane, alerted me to this piece.



“The US education system was not built to deal with extended shutdowns like those imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers, administrators, and parents have worked hard to keep learning alive; nevertheless, these efforts are not likely to provide the quality of education that’s delivered in the classroom.

Even more troubling is the context: the persistent achievement disparities across income levels and between white students and students of black and Hispanic heritage. School shutdowns could not only cause disproportionate learning losses for these students—compounding existing gaps—but also lead more of them to drop out. This could have long-term effects on these children’s long-term economic well-being and on the US economy as a whole.

Despite the enormous attention devoted to the achievement gap, it has remained a stubborn feature of the US education system. In 2009, we estimated that the gap between white students and black and Hispanic ones deprived the US economy of $310 billion to $525 billion a year in productivity, equivalent to 2 to 4 percent of GDP. The achievement gap between high- and low-income students was even larger, at $400 billion to $670 billion, 3 to 5 percent of GDP. 1 Although we calculate these two gaps separately, we recognize that black and Hispanic students are also more likely to live in poverty. Yet poverty alone cannot account for the gaps in educational performance. Together, they were the equivalent of a permanent economic recession.

Unfortunately, the past decade has seen little progress in narrowing these disparities. The average black or Hispanic student remains roughly two years behind the average white one, and low-income students continue to be underrepresented among top performers. 2

We estimate that if the black and Hispanic student-achievement gap had been closed in 2009, today’s US GDP would have been $426 billion to $705 billion higher. 3 If the income-achievement gap had been closed, we estimate that US GDP would have been $332 billion to $550 billion higher.

These estimates were made before schools closed and the transition to remote learning began, sometimes chaotically. In this article, we explore the possible long-term damage of COVID-19–related school closures on low-income, black, and Hispanic Americans, and on the US economy.

Learning loss and school closures

To that end, we created statistical models to estimate the potential impact of school closures on learning. The models were based on academic studies of the effectiveness of remote learning relative to traditional classroom instruction for three different kinds of students. We then evaluated this information in the context of three different epidemiological scenarios.

How much learning students lose during school closures varies significantly by access to remote learning, the quality of remote instruction, home support, and the degree of engagement. For simplicity’s sake, we have grouped high-school students into three archetypes. First, there are students who experience average-quality remote learning; this group continues to progress, but at a slower pace than if they had remained in school. 4 Second, some students are getting lower-quality remote learning; they are generally stagnating at their current grade levels. Then there are students who are not getting any instruction at all; they are probably losing significant ground. Finally, some students drop out of high school altogether.

We also modeled three epidemiological scenarios. In the first—“virus contained”—in-class instruction resumes in fall 2020. In the second—“virus resurgence”— school closures and part-time schedules continue intermittently through the 2020–21 school year, and in-school instruction does not fully resume before January 2021. 5 In the third scenario—“pandemic escalation”—the virus is not controlled until vaccines are available, and schools operate remotely for the entire 2020–21 school year.

In our second scenario (in-class instruction does not resume until January 2021), we estimate that students who remain enrolled could lose three to four months of learning if they receive average remote instruction, seven to 11 months with lower-quality remote instruction, and 12 to 14 months if they do not receive any instruction at all.

Although students at the best full-time virtual schools can do as well as or better than those at traditional ones, 6 most studies have found that full-time online learning does not deliver the academic results of in-class instruction. 7 Moreover, in 28 states, 8 with around 48 percent of K–12 students, distance learning has not been mandated. 9 As a result, many students may not receive any instruction until schools reopen. Even in places where distance learning is compulsory, significant numbers of students appear to be unaccounted for. 10 In short, the hastily assembled online education currently available is likely to be both less effective, in general, than traditional schooling and to reach fewer students as well.

Likely effects on low-income, black, and Hispanic students

Learning loss will probably be greatest among low-income, black, and Hispanic students. Lower-income students are less likely to have access to high-quality remote learning or to a conducive learning environment, such as a quiet space with minimal distractions, devices they do not need to share, high-speed internet, and parental academic supervision. 11 Data from Curriculum Associates, creators of the i-Ready digital-instruction and -assessment software, suggest that only 60 percent of low-income students are regularly logging into online instruction; 90 percent of high-income students do. Engagement rates are also lagging behind in schools serving predominantly black and Hispanic students; just 60 to 70 percent are logging in regularly

These variations translate directly into greater learning loss. 13 The average loss in our middle epidemiological scenario is seven months. But black students may fall behind by 10.3 months, Hispanic students by 9.2 months, and low-income students by more than a year. We estimate that this would exacerbate existing achievement gaps by 15 to 20 percent.

In addition to learning loss, COVID-19 closures will probably increase high-school drop-out rates (currently 6.5 percent for Hispanic, 5.5 percent for black, and 3.9 percent for white students, respectively). The virus is disrupting many of the supports that can help vulnerable kids stay in school: academic engagement and achievement, strong relationships with caring adults, and supportive home environments. In normal circumstances, students who miss more than ten days of school are 36 percent more likely to drop out. 14 In the wake of school closures following natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Maria (2017), 14 to 20 percent of students never returned to school. 15 We estimate that an additional 2 to 9 percent of high-school students could drop out as a result of the coronavirus and associated school closures—232,000 ninth-to-11th graders (in the mildest scenario) to 1.1 million (in the worst one). 16

In addition to the negative effects of learning loss and drop-out rates, other, harder to quantify factors could exacerbate the situation: for example, the crisis is likely to cause social and emotional disruption by increasing social isolation and creating anxiety over the possibility that parents may lose jobs and loved ones could fall ill. Milestones such as graduation ceremonies have been canceled, along with sports and other extracurricular events. These challenges can reduce academic motivation and hurt academic performance and general levels of engagement. 17

The loss of learning may also extend beyond the pandemic. Given the economic damage, state budgets are already stressed. Cuts to K–12 education are likely to hit low-income and racial- and ethnic-minority students disproportionately, and that could further widen the achievement gap. 18

The economic impact of learning loss and dropping out

These effects—learning loss and higher dropout rates—are not likely to be temporary shocks easily erased in the next academic year. On the contrary, we believe that they may translate into long-term harm for individuals and society.

Using the middle (virus resurgence) epidemiological scenario, in which large-scale in-class instruction does not resume until January 2021, we estimated the economic impact of the learning disruption. (The results would, of course, be worse in the third scenario and better in the first.) All told, we estimate that the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars), or the equivalent of a year of full-time work, solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses. These costs are significant—and worse for black and Hispanic Americans. While we estimate that white students would earn $1,348 a year less (a 1.6 percent reduction) over a 40-year working life, the figure is $2,186 a year (a 3.3 percent reduction) for black students and $1,809 (3.0 percent) for Hispanic ones.

This translates into an estimated impact of $110 billion annual earnings across the entire current K–12 cohort 19 (Exhibit 4). Of that sum, $98.8 billion would be associated with loss of learning and the rest ($11.2 billion) with the increase in the number of high-school dropouts. This is not just an economic issue. Multiple studies have linked greater educational attainment to improved health, reduced crime and incarceration levels, and increased political participation.

The damage to individuals is consequential, but the consequences could go deeper: the United States as a whole could suffer measurable harm. With lower levels of learning and higher numbers of drop-outs, students affected by COVID-19 will probably be less skilled and therefore less productive than students from generations that did not experience a similar gap in learning. 20 Furthermore, if other countries mitigate the impact of lost learning and the United States does not, this will harm US competitiveness. By 2040, most of the current K–12 cohort will be in the workforce. We estimate a GDP loss of $173 billion to $271 billion a year—a 0.8 to 1.3 percent hit (Exhibit 5). 21

A call to action

These numbers are sobering—but they are not inevitable. If the United States acts quickly and effectively, it may avoid the worst possible outcomes. But if there is a delay or a lack of commitment, COVID-19 could end up worsening existing inequities.

It is therefore urgent to intervene immediately to support vulnerable students. Many students will continue to take advantage of free learning resources, but school systems must also think creatively about how to encourage ongoing learning over the summer. Initiatives might include expanding existing summer-school programs, working with agencies that run summer camps and youth programs so that they add academics to their activities, and enlisting corporations to identify and train volunteer tutors. Tennessee, for example, is recruiting 1,000 college students to tutor kids falling behind. New York will be conducting remote summer school for 177,700 students (compared with 44,000 in 2019). Some districts are making digital summer learning available (though optional) to all students.

The necessity of continued remote learning cannot be an excuse for inaction or indifference. There are examples of high-quality online education, and reaching this level should be the general expectation. While no one knows exactly what level of in-class learning will be possible for the 2020–21 school year, many students will probably need to stay home for at least part of it. Educators need to use the summer to learn how to make instruction more effective, whatever the scenario.

Achieving this goal will make it necessary to provide teachers with resources that show them how they can make virtual engagement and instruction effective and to train them in remote-learning best practices. It will also be necessary to work with parents to help create a good learning environment at home, to call upon social and mental-health services so that students can cope with the pandemic’s stresses, and to ensure that all students have the infrastructure (such as laptops, tablets, and good broadband) needed for remote learning.

As a blend of remote and in-classroom learning becomes possible, more flexible staffing models will be required, along with a clear understanding of which activities to prioritize for in-classroom instruction, identification of the students who most need it, and the flexibility to switch between different teaching methods. And all this must be done while school systems keep the most vulnerable students top of mind. That may require investment—something that cannot be taken for granted if state and local government budgets are cut.

The US academic-achievement gap was first identified in 1966. Its persistence is troubling. The possibility that COVID-19 could make it worse deserves focused attention. The achievement gap costs the United States hundreds of billions of dollars—and also exacts a long-term cost in social cohesion. This is a moment—and a challenge—that calls for urgency and energy.”

Allen Y. Lew, CUNY’s Senior Vice Chancellor of the Office for Facilities, Planning and Construction Management Passed Away from Coronavirus Complications!

Statement From Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez Regarding the ...

Allen Y. Lew

Dear Commons Community,

Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez issued a statement that Allen Y. Lew, CUNY’s Senior Vice Chancellor of the Office for Facilities, Planning and Construction Management passed away yesterday from coronavirus-related complications.  Below is the Chancellor’s email.

May he rest in peace!




Dear CUNY Faculty and Staff,

I am heartbroken to inform you of the death of Allen Y. Lew, CUNY’s senior vice chancellor of the Office for Facilities, Planning and Construction Management. Allen passed away this morning from coronavirus-related complications.

Allen was the first Asian-American appointed as vice chancellor in CUNY’s history. A product of New York City schools and CUNY who rose to prominence during a stellar quarter-century career in Washington, D.C., Allen came to the University in December 2019 with a reputation as a results-driven executive and builder and a master of efficiency.

Known as a mover and shaker and, in the words of former Washington Mayor Vincent C. Gray, “a visionary and a doer,” Senior Vice Chancellor Lew returned to his hometown and Alma Mater to put a capstone on a widely celebrated career that left more than landmarks as its legacy.

He was responsible for constructing some of Washington’s most visible and popular public facilities including the $850 million Washington Convention Center and the $650 million Washington Nationals Ballpark, and he oversaw the rehabilitation of the historic RFK Memorial Stadium for use by Major League Baseball. In addition to physical structures, Allen built a reputation as a hard-driving executive who prized speed and efficiency and mastered the art of cutting through bureaucracy.

His résumé included high-ranking appointments with the Washington Architectural Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Washington chapter of the American Institute of Architects; the city of Washington, D.C., for which he served as city administrator; for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission; the Washington Convention Center Authority; and the Office of Public Education Facilities and Modernization, a post in which he oversaw billions of dollars in improvements to the city’s public school buildings, won awards for design innovation and positively impacted the lives of thousands of children.

I had the privilege of getting to know him over the last six months as a member of my cabinet. In that time, I was impressed by his endless energy, his commitment to CUNY’s mission, and his humility despite his many accomplishments. He always had kind words to share with members of the team.

Allen was a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School and City College, where he earned a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Architecture. He also attended Columbia, where he earned a Master of Science in architecture and urban design.

When he returned to New York and CUNY late last year, he articulated a grand vision for the development of CUNY’s facilities and expressed high hopes for the work he would do with us. We will work hard to realize his vision in his honor, but it saddens me greatly that Allen will no longer be able to see those projects and plans come to fruition.

His loss is yet another reminder of the great costs exacted by the novel coronavirus and its indelible, unfortunate and tragic impact on this University. I take this opportunity to remember and celebrate all the members of the CUNY community whom we have lost to COVID-19.

Allan was recruited by his professional colleague of over 30 years, Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer Hector Batista, who recalled today that Allen placed great value on hard work and family. He was the type of colleague who was the first to call or email to mark professional or personal accomplishments. CUNY allowed Allen to return home to New York, where his family lived, after years of commuting from D.C.

We will plan for a future memorial service, but for now I want to pass along our deepest condolences to Allen’s wife Suling and son Garrett. May your hearts be filled with wonderful memories as you celebrate a husband and father who dedicated his working life to public service and the betterment of communities through brick-and-mortar projects that touched millions of lives. Our CUNY community mourns with you.



Anthony Fauci: New cases of the coronavirus in the United States surge to the highest level in two months!

Dear Commons Community,

According to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. yesterday reported 34,700 new cases of the virus. That’s more than on any single day since the outbreak began with the exception of April 9, when 34,800 cases were reported, and April 24, when a record 36,400 cases were reported.

New cases in the U.S. have been surging for more than a week, after they had been trending down for more than six weeks.

While early hot spots like New York and New Jersey have seen cases steadily decrease, the virus has been hitting the south and west. Several states on Tuesday set single-day records, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada and Texas.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci told Congress yesterday that he was seeing a “disturbing surge” of infections in some parts of the country, as Americans ignore social distancing guidelines and states reopen without adequate plans for testing and tracing the contacts of those who get sick.

Dr. Fauci’s assessment, delivered during a lengthy hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, painted a much grimmer picture of the coronavirus threat than the one given by President Trump, who claimed last week that the virus that had infected more than two million Americans and killed more than 121,000 would just “fade away.”

“The virus is not going to disappear,” said Dr. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who testified that the virus was not yet under control in the United States.



Where New Coronavirus Cases Are Increasing


Colleges Getting Involved with Decisions as to Who Teaches Remotely!

Remote - eLearning | UAB

Dear Commons Community,

While higher education is following closely which colleges are deciding to open this fall for face-to-face or online teaching, there is increasing activity in terms of accommodating individual faculty requests to teach remotely due to health concerns for themselves or loved ones. The Chronicle of Higher Education this morning analyzes this issue with several examples of faculty who are formally requesting accommodations to teach online for health reasons.  Here is an excerpt:

“Faculty organizations at some colleges are contesting the idea that it’s preferable to teach in person. In an open letter to Pennsylvania State University administration, faculty members affirmed that they “believe in the importance of the university as a physical site of face-to-face dialogue and debate.” Nevertheless, all people “have the right to protect their own well-being,” the letter said. Should students return to campus, instructors should have autonomy over how they want to teach, attend meetings, and hold office hours, the letter said, and no one should be obligated to disclose personal health information as a justification for such decisions.

At the University of Notre Dame, more than 140 faculty members signed a petition, arguing the same. Faculty members “should be allowed to make their own prudential judgments about whether to teach in-person classes,” it said. Notre Dame’s vice president for public affairs and communications said the university expects faculty members to be available for in-person classes, unless an individual person’s circumstance “results in an exception,” The Chronicle previously reported. Faculty members can fill out an accommodation-request form, which asks employees to disclose if they fall into one of the categories identified as being high risk for Covid-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Faculty members have complained that those accommodation-request forms offer a narrow interpretation of who is at risk from face-to-face instruction. What about faculty members who have concerns because they are older but not yet 65 — the age group specified by the CDC as high risk? What about those who fear getting infected, regardless of their own underlying conditions, and who feel they can perform their jobs remotely? Or those who aren’t caretakers but regularly interact with aging parents?

There’s evidence that some colleges are considering those broader questions. Sean D. Ehrlich, an associate professor of political science at Florida State University, said on Twitter that his dean had assured faculty members that no one will be made to teach in person this fall.

At TCU and elsewhere, instructors waiting to hear if their accommodation requests are approved may ultimately face difficult choices.

Helms, at Texas Christian, already told his family that he won’t teach in person this fall no matter what. Even if his second accommodation request isn’t approved through the university’s FMLA plan, it’s not worth the risk, he said. Since the beginning of June, coronavirus hospitalizations in Texas have climbed and hit record highs for a full week, The Texas Tribune reported on Thursday. Texas Christian’s own general counsel, Larry Leroy “Lee” Tyner Jr., told a U.S. Senate committee that when colleges reopen, there will be no way to assure that no one will bring the virus onto campus.

“Spread is foreseeable,” he told the committee in May, “perhaps inevitable.”

Naomi Ekas, an associate professor of psychology at Texas Christian, feels like she’s between a rock and a hard place. Ekas said her husband has multiple medical conditions that place him in the CDC’s high-risk category for Covid-19 complications, and, like Helms, she applied to be able to teach remotely this fall. And like Helms, Ekas received word on Wednesday that her request for ADA accommodation was denied because she didn’t meet the requirements. The email also told her that employees who are “the primary caregiver” of an individual with disabilities might be eligible for job-protected leave through the FMLA.

Ekas, too, said she was confused and unsure about what recourse she had. Chambers, TCU’s chief human-resources officer, said in an emailed statement to The Chronicle that the university does not comment on personnel matters but they are working with individual concerns “to find solutions, correct misinformation, and resolve misunderstandings.”

Ekas said she’s worried that she won’t qualify because she’s not technically a primary caregiver for her husband. If she isn’t permitted to teach her one class remotely, Ekas said she’ll be faced with a choice: Breach her contract or teach in person and put her husband at risk.”

Colleges opening up their campuses will have interesting decisions to make regarding faculty requests to teach online.  It is my sense that there will many more of these requests than expected as faculty seek to protect themselves and loved ones.


Book on Harry Truman:  “The Accidental President”

The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World by [A. J. Baime]

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading A.J. Baime’s 2017 book entitled, The Accidental President:  Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World. It covers the months immediately following President Franklin Roosevelt’s death and Truman’s suddent thrust into the presidency.  In addition to interesting background on Truman and Roosevelt, Baime focuses on Truman’s involvement on the major events that occurred between April and August 1945 such as the creation of the United Nations, the fall of Berlin, the Potsdam Conference, and the decision to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The final one hundred pages cover well the Potsdam Conference and the dropping of the bomb.  This August will mark the 75th Anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The book does a good analysis  of Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons. The author believes that Truman was convinced it would save the lives of 250,000  American soldiers who would have been part of a military invasion of Japan.  Quoting Truman:  “It occurred to me that a quarter of a million of the flower of our young manhood were worth a couple of Japanize cities,  and I still think they were and are.”

Baime concludes that Truman believed that the defeat of Nazism in Europe and victory of Japan in Asia was America’s finest hour in the eyes of the world and never before had the United States achieved such prestige. What Truman did not know was that  “never would the United States achieve this prestige again.”

Below is an excerpt from a review by Robert S. Davis that appeared in  the New York Journal of Books.

If you are interested in the period, I highly recommend The Accidental President.



“Harry S. Truman “left such a polarizing legacy” that “historians have ranked him among the greatest and the worst chief executives.” His problems began with living “in an age when Victorian values and class structure” and having as a predecessor the “first to be widely considered one of the all-time great American presidents,” the four-term president Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In The Accidental President, A. J. Baime offers “not a full-length biography of Truman” (the author does include much about Truman’s life in politics) but the story of the last months of World War II that coincided with the first months of the presidency of Harry S. Truman. The author argues that those days “seem particularly relevant given the global political picture today and all the debate about what the American presidency has or should become.”

Contrary to legend, Truman did not enter the White House as the least experienced president ever. A candidate for public office six times before 1945, he had won five elections and became Vice President during his second term as an exceptionally hard working and capable United States senator.

Just before America entered World War II, Truman formed the Truman Committee to inspect government military defense spending, particularly concerning new military bases. It “quickly uncovered shocking inefficiencies” including that “some construction sites were costing the federal government as much as ten times the original estimates.”

Truman consequently became a national figure. More importantly, he had also acquired an “intimate knowledge of the home front, how the United States had become a boiling industrial machine.” His committee had looked at aircraft, oil, rubber etc. shortages but also minority and women workers.

Even Truman, however, “was mystified by his rise to number two [vice president] in Roosevelt’s administration” but especially as FDR surely had only a short time to live. Only Truman’s “most inner circle knew that Truman suffered acute anxiety” on taking the job.

Truman “had failed to crack the inner circle of Roosevelt’s advisors and in fact knew almost nothing about what was going on in the Oval Office.” He did not have the historical hindsight to know that many of the men who had served Roosevelt, particularly in the military, had failed the president and the country.

“Nearing the end of his first week in office,” the new president “inadvertently became the world’s most fascinating man.” With the war over, a lot needed doing. He faced conflict with the Soviet Union over Poland and Eastern Europe; diplomatic crises from Argentina to Austria; ending the war in Europe; Lend Lease; China; secret agreements; the atomic bomb (that Truman only learned of on his first day as president); the media; defeating Japan; creating the United Nations; transitioning from the wartime economy, forming his own cabinet and staff; and more.

Baime wrote The Accidental President almost as if a witness to those momentous times. He makes no excuses for Truman but instead argues for how fortunate for the county to have had such a practical, hardworking leader of integrity.”

Mississippi ties spike in coronavirus cases to fraternity rush parties!

CT Spooky: The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad frat party ...

Dear Commons Community,

There were 381 new cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths in the state, Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said at a news conference late last week. Quite of a few of the new cases link back to fraternity parties in Oxford, the home of Ole Miss.

“We do think they’re at the front end or a mid sort of section of a significant outbreak,” Dobbs said. “What we’ve identified so far is that it seems to be related to community transmission and social gatherings.”

Dobbs said the rush parties — which are gatherings for current and prospective fraternity members — are violating Gov. Tate Reeves’ executive order that indoor gatherings where social distancing can’t be enforced be limited to 20 people or less.

“And that is clearly not happening in these scenarios,” he said.

The University of Mississippi said 162 of its students have tested positive for the virus since June 1, according to NBC News affiliate WLBT in Jackson.

The public university’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life said on its website that all fraternity and sorority gatherings are canceled or postponed until further notice.

The office’s director, Arthur Doctor, told The Oxford Eagle that any chapter that violates guidance from the school or public health officials will be placed on social probation.

“These decisions are extremely important to the safety of all of our students and contribute to a safe return for our campus community in the fall,” Doctor told the outlet.

Of the new coronavirus cases in Oxford, 81 percent are among people between the ages of 18 and 24 years old. Eight percent of the cases are people from out of state, and Dobbs said they have already started seeing parents testing positive.

“So please everyone follow the rules and be careful. The things that we can do to prevent transmission are so very easy,” Dobbs said, adding that the resurgence of cases is troublesome for an already strained health care system.

As I posted earlier on this blog, colleges that open for on campus classes and student life are one keg party away from a health catastrophe.



Associated Press Analyzes Trump’s Rally Flop: Be Careful When a Tyrant Fumes!

trump rally tulsa

Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press has a lead article this morning analyzing what Trump’s Tulsa rally flop means going forward in the 2020 presidential election.  He will come out swinging harder than ever at Joe Biden mainly because at this point he has few policy issues to run on.  Here is an excerpt from the AP article.

“President Donald Trump’s return to the campaign trail was designed to show strength and enthusiasm heading into the critical final months before an election that will decide whether he remains in the White House.

Instead, his weekend rally in Oklahoma highlighted growing vulnerabilities and crystallized a divisive reelection message that largely ignores broad swaths of voters — independents, suburban women and people of color — who could play a crucial role in choosing Trump or Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

The lower-than-expected turnout at the comeback rally, in particular, left Trump fuming.

“There’s really only one strategy left for him, and that is to propel that rage and anger and try to split the society and see if he can have a tribal leadership win here,” former Trump adviser-turned-critic Anthony Scaramucci said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

The president did not offer even a token reference to national unity in remarks that spanned more than an hour and 40 minutes at his self-described campaign relaunch as the nation grappled with surging coronavirus infections, the worst unemployment since the Great Depression and sweeping civil unrest.

Nor did Trump mention George Floyd, the African American man whose death at the hands of Minnesota police late last month sparked a national uprising over police brutality. But he did add new fuel to the nation’s culture wars, defending Confederate statues while making racist references to the coronavirus, which originated in China and which he called “kung flu.” He also said Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee, “would like to make the government of our country just like the country from where she came, Somalia.”

Trump won the presidency in 2016 with a similar red-meat message aimed largely at energizing conservatives and white working-class men. But less than four months before early voting begins in some states, there are signs that independents and educated voters — particularly suburban women — have turned against him. Republican strategists increasingly believe that only a dramatic turnaround in the economy can revive his reelection aspirations.

“It’s bad,” said Republican operative Rick Tyler, a frequent Trump critic. “There’s literally nothing to run on. The only thing he can say is that Biden is worse.”

But the day after Trump’s Tulsa rally, the president’s message was almost an afterthought as aides tried to explain away a smaller-than-expected crowd that left the president outraged.

The campaign had been betting big on Tulsa.

Trump’s political team spent days proclaiming that more than 1 million people had requested tickets. They also ignored health warnings from the White House coronavirus task force and Oklahoma officials, eager to host an event that would help him move past the civil rights protests and the coronavirus itself.

His first rally in 110 days was meant to be a defiant display of political force to help energize Trump’s spirits, try out some attacks on Biden and serve as a powerful symbol of American’s re-opening.

Instead, the city fire marshal’s office reported a crowd of just less than 6,200 in the 19,000-seat BOK Center, and at least six staff members who helped set up the event tested positive for the coronavirus. The vast majority of the attendees, including Trump, did not wear face masks as recommended by the Trump administration’s health experts.

After the rally, the president berated aides over the turnout. He fumed that he had been led to believe he would see huge crowds in deep-red Oklahoma, according to two White House and campaign officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

There was no sign of an imminent staff shakeup, but members of Trump’s inner circle angrily questioned how campaign manager Brad Parscale and other senior aides could so wildly overpromise and underdeliver, according to the officials.

Publicly, Trump’s team scrambled to blame the crowd size on media coverage and protesters outside the venue, but the small crowds of pre-rally demonstrators were largely peaceful. Tulsa police reported just one arrest Saturday afternoon.

It’s unclear when Trump will hold his next rally.

Before Oklahoma, the campaign had planned to finalize and announce its next rally this week. Trump is already scheduled to make appearances Tuesday in Arizona and Thursday in Wisconsin. Both are major general election battlegrounds.

As far as I am concerned, Biden and the Democrats right now have to view Trump as a caged tyrant who will do anything to win.  They have to develop a mentality that they are the underdogs in this election and fight tooth and nail for every vote.