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Issues in Higher Education and DePauw University

Report from the 2018 AAC&U Conference and ACE Meeting

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Reports from the 2018 AAC&U Conference and ACE Meeting

The AAC&U (Association of American Colleges and Universities) annual meeting was held in Washington, DC on January 24-27, 2018 with the theme, “Can Higher Education Recapture the Elusive American Dream?”. 

Attended by David Alvarez (English, Chair of English) , Tamara Beauboeuf (Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Dean of Faculty), and Smita Rahman (Political Science).

AAC&U 2018 Summaries – David Alvarez

Attending this year’s AACU conference changed my understanding about diversity, faculty governance, and global learning.

A panel on faculty governance has stuck with me most. It was led by university presidents who highlighted the poor understanding that faculty members have of the responsibilities and authority of the Board of Trustees and the kinds of work with which trustees are engaged. The presidents added that this ignorance on the part of the faculty was matched only by that of the trustees’ understanding of the work of faculty members. This mutual lack of knowledge makes it very difficult to align the goals and priorities of faculty members, the administration, and the Board of Trustees. President McCoy’s commitment to aligning priorities and priorities as recommended in Steven Bahl’s Shared Governance in Times of Change: A Practical Guide for Universities and Colleges struck me as prescient, and the panel put forward several ideas for bridging this gap. These included non-voting participation of students and faculty members on the Board of Trustees, inviting trustees to visit classes when they are on campus, and in general promoting numerous informal exchanges in order to build mutual understanding and trust. The panel of presidents had found that such lack of trust and shared understanding led too frequently to poor institutional planning and unnecessarily rocky relationships. It was also suggested that during faculty members’ orientation they could learn about the role of the Board of Trustees in faculty governance and that trustees could learn about the nature of academic careers and work during their orientation.

A workshop on “Advancing Diversity” focused on a program promoting “inclusive learning” at Bryn Mawr and Haverford. Much like the undergraduate “writing tutors” program being considered at DePauw, this program brought students into the classroom to help faculty members get feedback on the extent to which their syllabi and classroom practices were achieving their stated goals for inclusive learning. Students were trained by a faculty member to act as class observers and to provide feedback on assignments. The program was lauded as a huge success. In relation to DePauw, it made me wonder about how we measure “inclusive learning” and, with The Commitment, how we measure inclusive access to the network. How will Centers be evaluated in their efforts to meet this goal? And what can departments do as well to insure inclusive access to DePauw’s exceptional professional network (e.g., department-related internships and other positions)? I now consider department social functions (faculty/student lunches, etc.) in a new light, since such events can extend the network to minority, first-gen, and other students who may not be as well positioned to benefit from DePauw’s network through informal contacts.

A panel on global learning emphasized the importance of a clear institutional structure for articulating, promoting, and sharing global learning, which echoed DePauw’s recent report on “The Liberal Arts and Global Citizenship: Theory and Practice.” The panel also shared some success promoting more reflective interaction between international and domestic students by passing out “medallions” to students who attend a given number of lectures from visiting speakers, cultural events, etc. that are related to global learning. Students are pleased to earn “badges” and “certificates” as marks of specialized learning and training for their future careers. Perhaps it’s time for the “DePauw Passport”?


AAC&U 2018 Summaries – Tamara Beauboeuf

AAC&U gathers faculty, staff, and administrators from all Carnegie Classifications of higher education institutions.  What these individuals share is the conviction that the liberal arts plays an essential role in the pursuit of social justice.

My takeaways from the 2018 conference had a lot to do with the moral mission of the liberal arts.  At the Women’s Networking Breakfast, the keynote Dr. Joia Mukherjee of the Harvard School of Medicine and Partners in Health informed us that global health is the ranking minor among undergraduates across the county.  She interprets this as a reflection of our students’ investment in global citizenship and used this pattern to challenge all of us to ask – “How do our disciplines connect us to justice, fairness, and liberation?”  Her language was pointed and clear.  Instead of paraphrasing, I’ll list some key phrases:

  • “Can we teach what we love and connect it to justice?”
  • “Time’s up …. We’ve been teaching the status quo for centuries.”
  • “Millennials are much more global citizens than we are.  We can be better partners to young people.”
  • “The world is really not okay.”
  • “Making everything a market is dangerous to the soul.”
  • “How much of a bottom line can we take before we all become impoverished?”

These are questions that I would love for us to consider as we move to reduce busyness and overwork, and become much more focused on the powerful connections to our students’ growth that are at the heart of the liberal arts.

Another key theme at the conference was the connection between inclusion and STEM.  A particularly noteworthy panel was “Equity-Minded Explorations at Recently-Diversified Liberal Arts Colleges.”  At Vassar College, “The Cube” is a mobile recording booth, and participants answer these questions:

  • What was your first impression of Vassar?
  • What was a time you felt affirmed or struggled at Vassar?
  • Describe the place you’d like Vassar to become.

Might the Plaza be a space for such recordings about DePauw – what our campus community is, what belonging and exclusion feel like, and what “a great place to live, learn, and work” really means?

At St. Olaf, their STEM efforts have paid attention not only to the percentages of different racial/ethnic/gender groups in their courses of study, but the rates of participation of those students in high-impact practices – such as internships, undergraduate research, and off-campus study.  The focus at St. Olaf has been on examining what barriers to participation exist.  They view it as the institution’s work to promote equal participation by all students in activities known to serve their growth.

Amherst is home to Being Human in STEM —, a student-initiated course that examines realities of exclusion and identifies strategies for inclusive pedagogy.   What’s really exciting is that students design and take on research projects, as well as find ways to disseminate what they learn about the barriers to belonging and the practices that foster it.  This course is in its 5th semester and the model has been adopted by STEM faculty and students at Yale.  The faculty leader, Dr. Sheila Jaswal (chemistry), shared the following ideas with the group:

  • The importance of contextualizing faculty intent with actual student experience.
  • The beauty and usefulness of student-designed interventions.
  • The realities that become visible when we ask, “What has helped you overcome?  Belong?”
  • The use of 1-minute check outs at the end of classes to capture what is on students’ minds. These responses can be used to open the next class meeting.
  • The payoffs of faculty humanizing their own paths to their disciplines.
  • Challenging the flawed perspective that first year is a “boot camp” students just have to “get through”
  • The institutionalization of inclusive pedagogy retreats for faculty to share the insights of the Being Human in STEM course research.

As I hope is clear, AAC&U is deeply relevant to who we are and what we do in the field of higher education.

AAC&U 2018 Summaries – Smita Rahman

AAC&U was a wonderful conference and a very positive experience. I went to several panels, made some interesting connections with faculty at other liberal arts colleges, and really enjoyed the time spent with Tamara Beauboeuf and David Alvarez over good food and wine.

I went to a session on first generation students that was excellent. It presented the findings of a large research project that was conducted at George Mason University by a group of faculty, graduate students, and administrators. It was a really well done collaborative study that used mixed methods to survey first generation students and diagnose the particular challenges they face. While I don’t know the percentage of DePauw students that are first-generation, this is something I want to look at more closely and see how we might be able to apply some of the findings from this research. The team used the Gallup Well-Being Survey to assess students’ vitality, sense of purpose, resilience, and engagement. The research clearly showed that first generation students face certain common challenges, particularly “breakaway guilt” and often face a family dichotomy of simultaneous support and disconnection (which tends to show up when they miss portions of the semester to support a sick family member and have trouble catching up), and often struggle with depression and anxiety. They shoulder a great deal of pressure to succeed as the first member of their family to go to college and to be able to financially support them.

Most of this is intuitive, but what was really interesting was how first generation students’ sense of well-being is disproportionately affected by their level of civic engagement. They are used to volunteer work and supporting their communities and these are activities that create a sense of belonging on campus for them and positively influence retention rates and well-being indicators. However, they face particular challenges in this area, mostly financial, as they struggle to balance community work and involvement with work study and the need to provide financial and emotional support to their families. At GMU they have set scholarships for first generation students to make some of these challenges easier. The focus on civic engagement also does important work, I think, in shifting the focus from a deficit model (what do these students lack) to an asset model (what can they add to a campus culture of civic engagement). The panel also touched on the need for resources and information, including possibly creating an information portal for first generation students, and to integrate advising and mentoring by first generation faculty into their freshman experience. A first generation student working group could be quite useful here on our campus to address some of these issues, particularly if it attends to intersectional identities and includes students of color and international students, who face a complex set of challenges on campus.

I also went to several panels on classroom dialogue in challenging political times and an excellent one on campus climate discussions. The common thread in many of these was a pervasive sense of dialogue fatigue on college campuses and also the need to attend to a growing sense that the burdens of these discussions were falling disproportionately on faculty and students of color to share their often painful experiences without a clear sense that these conversations were actually translating to meaningful practices. There was a widespread sentiment that dialogue is often seen as a moral good in and of itself but it needs to be accompanied by structural change (we have certainly started this work at DePauw with the PPD requirement and, to some extent, the Day of Dialogue, but it is worth thinking about further areas in which we might make meaningful changes). While DePauw does a better job than many in its commitment to shared governance and student representation on major committees, there was a clear sense at these panels that student activists and groups benefit from being included in campus-wide conversations and having a meaningful voice at the table.

There was also a good bit of discussion of the “Crucible Moment”–the report from the National Task Force on Civic learning and Engagement that highlights the role that universities play in the construction of democratic citizens and communities. The classroom certainly can and does serve as catalyst in these discussions but fostering a culture of civic engagement needs to think beyond that and I think ask hard questions about whether or not we are replicating or challenging larger societal and political patterns on campus. To what extent can a focus on civic engagement move us forward in a more unified way to do the messy and challenging work of democracy on campus? This is a question that I think is worth pondering.

Thanks again to VPAA Anne Harris for the opportunity to attend the conference. It was an enriching experience


 The ACE (American Council on Education) Meeting was held in Washington, DC on March 10-13, 2018.

Attended by Anne Harris (Vice President of Academic Affairs)

Report from the 2018 ACE (American Council on Education) meeting

ACE first gathered fourteen institutions of higher education in early 1918 as ECE – the Emergency Council on Education in response to WWI. Since then, they have grown to 1800 accredited institutions and have made systemic changes within education such as the GED and the GI-Bill (including the renewed). They are located in Washington, D.C. and advocate for higher education. During this 100th anniversary year, the origins in emergency were prominent, as higher education experiences urgency on multiple fronts: creating access to higher education, misperception within the public sphere, and legislative threats to the Higher Education Act and other access programs. What follows is a brief summary of five sessions featuring leaders in higher education. Their words and books can be powerful interlocutors to our own work.

Elaine Maimon, author of Leading Academic Change (2018)

Elaine Maimon’s book and track record focus on changing the locale of higher education “from the ivory tower to the public square.” Further, at times, to a garden in the public square. Her work with campus partners at Governors State University (GSU) instituting a Writing Across the Curriculum program is delineated in this book about making education accessible to more people. Take-aways:

  • Approaching curriculum with an “infusion model” – shared discussions and values
  • Doing away with the “hierarchical fallacy” that prevents the valorization of intro courses
  • Researching the “New Majority Learner” – demographic changes in ethnicity and class
  • Moving away from monastic model of providing information to assessing information
  • Articulating the model of the public square (agora) – faculty and staff as “stewards of place”
  • Realizing we’ve grown our own problems: PhDs “only good” for academic sphere
  • Knowing the work of Sean Harper and a strength-base approach to students designed to replace the deficit model (that students come to us only lacking knowledge)
  • Playing to the research strength of faculty: research the curriculum
  • Finding strategies to break down silos and hierarchies; consider campus-wide symposium

Cathy Davidson, author of The New Education (2017)

Cathy Davidson’s book examines the mission of higher education within both the historical context of the last great revolution in higher education (during the Industrial Revolution) and the contemporary circumstances in our digital age that are calling for new models and responses to what students need to know and how they learn. Pushing on the idea of “College for Everyone” (one of the book chapters), and addressing technology as a needed disruption of old Industrial Era models, this book is starting conversations on multiple college campuses, including our own (Glen Kuecker refers to it in a recent Report from the Field and faculty members eager to talk about General Education reform and the mission of higher education have asked about a reading group – to be continued!). In the meantime, ten take-aways:

  • We are still operating within an education system designed to address a managerial crisis in the Industrial Age. The economic, society, demographics and more have changed.
  • This latest revolution began in 1993 with the internet – changed knowledge acquisition; knowledge is now very easy to acquire: assessing and analyzing it is the new challenge
  • We need to prepare students for “information collision” – purposefully create cacophonies that students learn to negotiate, education as problem solving vs knowledge absorption
  • Education as creating interactive, responsible communicators who understand complexity
  • MOOCs failed because learning is social, motivation is lost without collaboration
  • The social mobility mission of higher ed; beyond making money, being a member of society
  • Learning through a “lens of problems” rather than a discipline (this is a major revolution)
  • Rebundling – not siloed discipline, but collaborative problem-solving (identify the problems)
  • Educational ecosystems: call service “institutional leadership” to revalorize it
  • What is the will to make structural changes in the Industrial Revolution paradigm?

What Keeps Presidents Up at Night: Inside Higher Ed/ Gallup Presidents –  Joyce C. Ester (President, Normandale Community College, NM); Mildred Garcia (President, American Association of State Colleges and Universities); Doug Lederman (Co-founder and editor of Inside Higher Ed); Mark McCoy (President, DePauw University, IN)

This panel discussion ranged across the issues that rose to prominence about higher education in 618 responses to the annual survey submitted to college and university presidents. These were:

  • Public Perception of Higher Education – President McCoy drew applause from the audience when he stated that “We have to tell our story better not from our position, but from their position” in reference to how colleges and universities communicate with the public, especially prospective students. All presidents shared concern with the public perception that higher education is elitist and about gate-keeping (low acceptance rates as high status). There was a call to break siloes (in the vein of “from ivory tower to public square); President Garcia called for educators to “speak plainly within communities.”
  • Money and Access – President Ester drew cheers from the audience when she introduced her college as “accepting the top 100% of applicants.” With 50% of higher education institutions being community colleges, it is crucial to follow and be knowledgeable about their development. Graduation rates (often between 20-40%) and resources are intrinsically linked. States cutting funding (related to anti-higher ed backlash of public perception) are putting more pressures on these crucial institutions. How do other institutions partner?
  • Race Relations – The work of Sean Harper was evoked by President Garcia – specifically his work with 47 campuses on campus climates (and surveys). Shifting the onus from students, faculty, and staff of color to the institution as a whole needs to continue to happen. Leadership matters; institutional inventories need to be taken (campuses knowing themselves as a whole, not just individual departments and divisions); wake-up call to declare not just what we do, but what we believe. The changes in higher education that will be needed to teach New Majority learners are only now beginning – not just curriculum, but pedagogy, community relations, and the connection between education and society.
  • Other issues that emerged during question: presidential leadership (what does it mean now? Related to issue of the mission of higher ed in a diverse, digital society); gun violence (conversations and policies); athletics (budgeting and accountability – D3/D1 experiences); mental health (staffing, pressures on students, especially veterans and PTSD); third-party validations of higher education (partnerships in the community, outside the academy).

“These are not just the issues that keep us at night, they are the ones that get us up in the morning.”

Freeman Hrabowski, President of UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)

President Hrabowski gave the main plenary address of the conference. I highly recommend your seeking out one of his talks on YouTube. His leadership in defining the mission of higher education within American society’s changing demographics, his sharing of his experience as a Black American in higher education, and his innovations for student success in math and sciences are an invigorating call to our shared purpose. Below are ten take-aways from his 3-standing-ovations talk.

  • Recall ACE’s 1938 study on the effects of racism on children of color – remain committed to the work of difficult knowing: know your institution and how it serves its students
  • We must become broader in our participation – 2/3 of Americans today still have not graduated from a 4-year college. Preserve the Higher Education Act and Pell Grants.
  • 50% of college graduates begin in community colleges – what partnerships are being established with four-year colleges to make transitions and access possible?
  • Let’s be honest in higher education – 80% of the professoriate is white. How much do graduate programs exercise self-replication? Role of undergraduate institutions?
  • Civic education and engagement as a primary function of higher education (democracy!)
    • From information (easily gotten) to knowledge (hard to gain)
    • Assessment of information and argumentation based on knowledge
    • Reasoned, evidence-based debate
  • We must step out of our academic culture to reach to people who don’t see it – specifically to the inner city and to the rural Midwest.
  • We have desegregated higher education, but we have not integrated it. Innovation/change in pedagogy, curriculum, access (ex. Sloane grants for students of color in economics)
  • Remembering the civil rights era, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr – this feeling of “What’s going to become of us?” – and we still moved forward. Will now, too.
  • Community engagement – it will take us (higher education) to get people beyond what their family said, what their assumptions are; to move families and societies – that is the mission.
  • Education’s importance to citizenry and democracy; as he says to all his students:
    • Watch your thoughts, they become your words
    • Watch your words, they become your actions
    • Watch you actions, they become your habits
    • Watch your habits, they become your character
    • Watch your character, they become your destiny

Chronicle of Higher Education Trends Report

This panel opened up discussion of the annual Trends Report from Inside Higher Ed. Ten take-aways:

  • Peer review in flux – open-access journal, how the internet has changed the landscape
  • Deregulation – unsettling, following accreditation conversations (state schools, especially)
  • Student success – no longer just about getting students in the door, accountable for life after
  • Data scientists in demand – need to do more with infrastructure to educate, also: privacy
  • Rebranding the PhD – only leads the jobs in academe for now; branch out its usefulness
  • Black College Renaissance – HBCU enrollment gains; enrolling across demographics
  • Hazing – Fraternities in the news, lawsuits, incongruity of Greek orgs. and education
  • Mergers – Trend, rather than closing, especially small colleges and regional universities
  • Changing landscape of tenure – 30% of the professoriate on tenure/tenure-track
  • Cyber security – trend as an academic field (curriculum and major), also on campuses



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