Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Discrimination in Registered Student Organizations


Christian groups have filed lawsuits against several institutions across the country on behalf of students and student organizations. These lawsuits deal with the students’ rights to speak out against homosexuality and restrict homosexual students from joining Christian organizations on campus. These lawsuits follow a recent movement is fueled by gay rights activists and groups promoting universities to change their tolerance and anti-discrimination policies to include sexual orientation.

Discrimination in Registered Student Organizations

Is it discrimination to forbid someone to discriminate? Are tolerance laws intolerable? Is hate speech protected by free speech? These questions seem circular at first glance, but they are the foundation of a serious issue currently facing leaders in higher education. Institutions across the nation are reviewing their anti-discrimination policies and it seems students are protesting no matter what decision they make. The Human Rights Campaign is crossing the nation asking colleges to reassess their policies and consider adding sexual orientation to the list of traits that they will not discriminate against. In their wake, the Alliance Defense Fund is filing lawsuits for discrimination and violation of the first amendment. As university officials make decisions about these issues, they are setting a precedent that will affect the country in ways that extend beyond the campus borders.

GLBT Rights

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is an organization that works for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender rights. “By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.” (Human, 2004) On this issue they work to end campus discrimination for both students and employees based on sexual orientation. Several years ago they began asking campuses to change their policy and at last report 562 colleges have made the adjustment. (Jaschick, 2006) They offer several arguments for why the change should be made.

The first argument supporting gay rights seems to be the most simplistic. Sexual orientation should be added to anti-discrimination policies to stop and prevent discrimination. Anti-discrimination campaigns are not uncommon and they have created the policies that are currently in place. They stand behind the assertion that it is the responsibility of the institution to protect its students and staff. This side asserts that while no one deserves to be discriminated against in the first place, if discrimination is not prevented it leads to hate speech, and hate speech leads to hate crimes. The way for a college to be proactive is to stop the discrimination.

A second argument is that the University needs to update it policy in order to stay competitive. If they want to appear progressive and concerned with student rights they should change their policy before they are forced to. Both students and parents want to invest in a university that fosters a safe environment and actively deciding to permit or perpetuate discrimination does not convey that. It becomes an issue of what the institution wants to stand for. When discussing a recent decision by Virginia Tech to remove sexual orientation from the policy HRC national field director Seth Kilbourn said, “Virginia Tech needs to decide if it wants to be known as a place of higher learning or lower principles.” (Human, 2003)

Their final argument is directed more specifically at the recent opposition by Christian organizations. They assert that public institutions do not have the responsibility to uphold and promote religious ideals. GLBT staff and students have not decided to go to private religious institutions and demand special treatment. Rather, they have gone to an institution that they as citizens support with taxes. This argument has the fundamental weakness that most state policies do not include sexual orientation and therefore none of the other tax supported state agencies are required to include it in their policies.

Religious Freedom

This status quo argument is one of the strongest offered by the Christian organizations. The Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (FEEO) laws state, “We are an Equal Opportunity Employer and there fore do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender, age, or disability.” (Equal, 2004) This policy is in place for all federal employees. At the state level, the state governments have made their own policies for state employees. Since these policies represent a minimum requirement, the majority of states have based their policy off the federal standard just as the majority of institutions have based theirs off the state. At any level they have the freedom to expand upon the policy, and its affects will trickle down to any policies at a lower level. In this case the institution policies are trickling down into the student organization policies. The argument here is that if there are no federal or state changes, then there is no need for an institutional change.

The next two arguments supporting religious freedom both deal with the first amendment but they are separated by the rights being claimed and the types of trials that they are surfacing in. The first of these is the right to religious freedom. This argument is the basis for the cases where Christian student organizations on campus are being denied funding or RSO status because they have policies that keep homosexual students from being members or leaders of the group. Lawsuits like these have taken place at Southern Illinois University, Ohio State University, and Arizona State University. “Legal scholars see the cases as a conflict between the First Amendment's guarantee of free exercise of religion and its requirement that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.’” (Murphy, 2005) Students are saying that forcing them to accept members with different religious views negates the purpose of the organization and restricts their religious freedom. Other student organizations have the right to limit student access and so should they. This argument has had tremendous success in the courts. Southern Illinois was forced to recognize their student group, and several universities that are still waiting for a ruling have been told to recognize their groups in the interim.

These cases are being fought by both the Alliance Defense Fund and the Christian Legal Society (CLS). The ADF is “a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation,” and CLS is a professional association of Christian attorneys. (About ADF, 2006) The second strain of lawsuits that they are filing focus more on the freedom of speech aspect of the first amendment. This argument asserts that tolerance policies that ban negative speech about homosexuality violate the first amendment right to free speech. Faculty have gotten more involved with this argument because of the implications speech bans may have on Academic Freedom. ADF’s Director for Academic Freedom David French says, “The old draconian speech codes were unconstitutional because they enabled university officials to engage in blatant viewpoint discrimination. The new policies make it impossible to punish a student expressing his or her viewpoint simply because someone finds that speech offensive” after an ADF victory that resulted in Penn State altering its speech code policy. (Penn State, 2006) Students are increasingly stepping forward to demand their right to speak out against homosexuality. A lawsuit has recently been brought forward against Georgia Institute of Technology and the hopes are that the precedent of Penn State will start another trend of success.


These rulings have the potential to impact every aspect of higher education. In the immediate future homosexual students and organizations can be expected to return this issue to the courts. This extends beyond the universities that have already begun this process to every college in the nation. These organizations will be reviewing campus policies in hopes of finding some that are weak or poorly worded so that making a change and claiming a victory will be easy. Both sides of this issue will be actively working to build up legal support. In more general ways, students, staff, and faculty will start including the institution’s stance on this issue when they make decisions about coming here. In this way it is no different than any other issue a college can take a stance on, but just like those other issues, decisions will have to be made about what the institution stands for and who they want to attract.

This issue will also affect higher education well into the future. As alluded to before, even campuses that are not currently facing litigation need to have a close look at their policies and their missions. It only took a few years for the issue of gay marriage to make its way through the nation’s state elections. There is reason to expect this issue to have the same driving power behind it. Universities need to consider how these decisions will affect students beyond extra curricular involvement and free speech areas. By altering campus tolerance policies, institutions may be setting the ground work for a hostile environment where students are turning societal issues into personal attacks. In addition, the campus is the student’s first interaction with their future profession. Universities are setting a standard of expectation that will follow the student to the work place and graduate school. Once again this is an issue of the institution comparing these decisions to their goals for the students.

Aside from the students these lawsuits are setting a standard that is already working its way into campus employment. If the faculty are demanding the right to discriminate then staff may soon follow. If the university has set a standard that allows discrimination, even if that standard is in an RSO, it makes the battle to include sexual orientation on employment policies even harder. It may seem like a slippery slope, but that is how legal precedent is used. For example, in these university lawsuits lawyers were using the recent ruling on the right of Boy Scouts of America to discriminate. If we continue to take this to the next step, campus decisions to exclude sexual orientation in equal employment could affect all state employees. This quickly becomes an issue that deals with all government jobs.

Personal Opinion

Though not intentionally, I may have already given my position on this issue away in the Significance section. I side with HRC and against the decisions made in the majority of these lawsuits. My initial, and often emotional, response is that Christianity does not necessitate speaking out against homosexuality. There are plenty of Christian faiths that tolerate homosexuality and there are even GLBT Christian churches. However, it is also my opinion that the worst possible reaction of a university leader would be to tell students, employees, community members, and peers that they don’t understand their religion.

After counting to ten and maybe some meditation, my opinion is still in full support of HRC and the two different types of cases have two different types of responses. In the first issue of allowing homosexual students to be members of Christian organizations the main thing that I find important is framing. This issue needs to be reframed. They are not Christian organizations. They are Student Organizations. They are not funded by the local churches; they are funded by student fees. Christianity is the interest that brings all of these students together, and as I mentioned before Christianity does not dictate anti-homosexuality. If I as a leader at an institution were faced with this issue, I would like to think that I would handle it similarly to Arizona State. Out of court, they decided to allow the student organization to continue as an RSO provided they, “opened membership to all students, heterosexual and homosexual, who uphold its religious values regarding sexual behavior.” (Murphy, 2005) I think that it is good for students to be involved with organizations that are formed with the basis of religious beliefs. It is great for students to have that kind of support as they make the transitions to independence and adulthood. I don’t want to see these student groups abolished, I want them to function within campus tolerance policies.

The second issue of free speech is the one that truly upsets me. Ruth Malhotra started a lawsuit in March because her university “bans speech that puts down others because of their sexual orientation.” (Simon, 2006) She is not upset because there is no free speech area on her campus. She is not upset because she is prohibited from discussing and debating the current issue of gay marriage. She is upset because she is not allowed to ‘put down others.’ A person’s rights only extend until they infringe on the rights of another, and homosexual students have the right to higher education with out personal attacks on the sexual orientation. Maybe I am nit picking with this particular case, but in my opinion it would be handled better with a student, a counselor, and maybe a diversity trainer. Unfortunately, involvement of organizations like ADF and CLS make that impossible at this point. I do not know the series of events that led up to her decision to pursue litigation but I would hope that the answer would fall somewhere before this point. Regardless, this is the situation that Georgia Institute of Technology is in right now. As a leader of this institution I would once again want to accomplish something out of court. In court I have the power to defend my decisions, but I do not have the power to make the decisions. I would try to work with this student to identify the differences between issue debates or protests and personal attacks. Together we may be able to work out an area or forum where these debates could be held and develop a code of conduct and a set of guidelines for it. Our goal should be to make sure that the guidelines are unbiased and still protect the students.

These are not easy issues to discuss. They are emotionally charged and polarized. It saddens me that they are being addressed through the court systems, but perhaps if enough colleges take heed, they can begin now assessing and justifying their policies so that legal disputes will be unnecessary.


ADF: Alliance Defense Fund (2006). About ADF Accessed December 5, 2006. http://alliancedefensefund.org/about/Default.aspx.

ADF: Alliance Defense Fund (2006) ADF Wins First Amendment Lawsuit For Christian Silenced By SUNY College Officials. May 24, 2006. Accessed December 5, 2006. http://alliancedefensefund.org/news/story.aspx?cid=3765.

ADF: Alliance Defense Fund (2006). Penn State Revokes Unconstitutional Speech Codes After ADF Intervention. May 22, 2006. Accessed December 5, 2006. http://alliancedefensefund.org/news/story.aspx?cid=3761.

ADF: Alliance Defense Fund (2006). University Life. Accessed December 5, 2006. http://alliancedefensefund.org/issues/ReligiousFreedom/UniversityLife.aspx.

Cohen, J. (2006). Southern Illinois University is told to recognize group. Chicago Tribune. July 11, 2006 Accessed through The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Religion News December 5, 2006. http://pewforum.org/news/display.php?NewsID=10848.

Equal Employment Opportunity (2004). About Equal Employment Opportunity. April 20, 2004. Accessed December 5, 2006. http://www.eeoc.gov/abouteeo/overview_laws.html.

Human Rights Campaign. (2003). HRC Deplores Virginia Tech’s Move to Omit Sexual Orientation From Anti-Discrimination Policy. March 13, 2003. Accessed December 5, 2006. http://www.hrc.org/Template.cfm?Section=Home&CONTENTID=9879&TEMPLATE=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm.

Human Rights Campaign. (2004). About the Human Rights Campaign. Accessed December 5, 2006. http://www.hrc.org/Template.cfm?Section=About_HRC.

Jaschick, S. (2006) Long-fought Win for Gay Rights. Inside Higher Ed. Sept. 18. Accessed December 5, 2006. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/09/18/bias.

Murphy, K. (2005). Student Groups in a Clash of Church and State U. Religion News Service. November 26, 2005 Accessed through The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Religion News December 5, 2006. http://pewforum.org/news/display.php?NewsID=5772.

Press Release (2004). Center for law & religious freedom sues Ohio state university over discriminatory “non-discrimination” policy: Christian Legal Society Chapter at OSU Law School Told to Accept Non-Christians, Practicing Homosexuals as Leaders and Members. March 12, 2004 Released by Christian Legal Society. Accessed December 5, 2006. http://www.clsnet.org/clrfPages/pr_2004-03-12.php.

Simon, S. (2006). Christians Sue for Right Not to Tolerate Policies. Los Angeles Times. April 10, 2006. Accessed through The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Religion News December 5, 2006. http://pewforum.org/news/display.php?NewsID=10330

Wisconsin Experimental College


In 1927 Alexander Meiklejohn founded the Experimental College (Ex-college) at the University of Wisconsin. It was a program that strived to provide an education that would enrich students and create citizens. It threw contemporary structure aside and challenged higher education. There were no formal grades and the faculty lived in the same building as the students. Its uniqueness attracted adversity and in 1932 cost cuts shut it down. The program itself only lasted five years but the philosophy behind it persists in learning communities throughout the country.

Wisconsin Experimental College

In the mid-1920s was undergoing a new wave of criticism. Abraham Flexner had started printing his critiques the decades prior and in response visionaries of higher education were immerging. The traditional student had reached the average age of 18-22, and the curriculum has been broken up into courses for credit hours that add up to a major and a degree. While this set up sounds similar to what we see now, one of the defining differences is that, at this point in history, there are no general education requirements. This caused several critics to question the purpose and practicality of college. Some claimed that college had no purpose aside from preparing for graduate school and that young men who were interested in work would be wasting their time in a university.

Alexander Meiklejohn was one of the most exciting visionaries of the time. He decided to address the issues in American higher education with a food metaphor. He called the contemporary learning model the cafeteria education. Allowing students to choose their own food is not going to ensure that they have a healthy diet. They quickly end up with too much protein and not enough vitamins. He decided to start an experimental college to work on reforming the education model. It was a lack of funding and the young, ambitious, and new President of the University of Wisconsin Glenn Frank that convinced Meiklejohn to associate his experiment with an institution.

Meiklejohn aimed to change more than just the curriculum; he was challenging the entire setup and structure of higher education. He believed that college should engage students as citizens so they could participate in democracy, but he believed that higher education did just the opposite and in actuality was fostering apathy and indifference. “Envisioning a small college where instructors and students would be colleagues, Meiklejohn proposed a school in the nature of an experiment where traditional notions of curriculum standards and teaching methods would be abolished in favor of an integrated study of various subjects taught in the style of the Greek philosopher Socrates.” (Abler, 2002) He wanted students and faculty to interact as peers, so he made his college residential. The faculty and the students lived together in their own building on campus. Unfortunately, this kept female students from participating since co-ed living was not an option for the students. This arrangement created a relationship between faculty and students that Meiklejohn believed was directly responsible for the success of his ‘experiment.’ He said, “The college, we have said, intends, by using scholarship–its fruits or processes or both of these—to so cultivate and strengthen the intelligence of a pupil that he may be ready to take responsibility for the guidance of his own behavior.” (Meiklejohn, 1932)

This community focused on the students’ first two years study, and learned about civilizations. The first year was dedicated to ancient Athens and the second year to modern English or American culture. “Both years involved intense scrutiny of all imaginable aspects of society: architecture, philosophy, politics, justice systems, geography, sculpture and painting, law, science, money and banking, war, social inequality, marital institutions, education, medicine, evolution and downfall of the society-if it could be named, chances are it was integrated into the Ex-College curriculum.” (Abler, 2002) In order to accomplish this, the year was broken down into six week sections that were each lead by a faculty member. There were four or five class sessions, several smaller group meetings, and at least one individual meeting between the faculty member and the student happened every week. The faculty member taught the subjects they knew as they pertained to the civilizations being studied and the students did extensive reading and produced a paper concerning the subject matter of each six week session. In addition to these papers there were two major project papers. At the end of the sophomore year there was an essay on The Education of Henry Adams, and the summer after the Freshman year was a ‘regional study’ that, “Was an extensive study of an American community, often the student’s hometown or some other area with which he was familiar. The project was intended to integrate the knowledge and special insight that the student had gained in his year of societal study by applying that perspective to an actual community.” (Abler, 2002) These major projects often extended beyond these guidelines and included the students’ commentary about the society as well as the Ex-college.

From the beginning, Meiklejohn had several issues that he felt were going to be difficult for the Ex-college. The first of which was student responsibility. He worried that students at age 18 were not ready to bear the burden of being peers with faculty. There was always the concern that without explicit rewards and punishments students would not behave like adults or complete their work. External observers were also eager to contribute to this criticism. They believed that their continual food fights and disregard for quite hours were evidence of their inability to handle the responsibility of the work as well as the freedom of the environment. Despite that, they did manage to be successful. As one alumni put it, “If you wanted to goof off, you could. But I think that there was probably less of that then might have been expected because the majority of them were serious students who went along with what the general intent of the place was.” (Abler, 2002)

Secondly, Meiklejohn worried about the demand on faculty. He strived to hire faculty from outside the college for several reasons. Mainly he wanted teachers who would be willing to experiment and were not attached the standard of how things were, but also he wanted faculty with fewer ties to the University of Wisconsin in hopes that it would mean fewer obligations. He knew that incorporating such intensive involvement with students would consume time and energy and he was afraid that it would be too arduous for the professors. This concern came true in many ways. Despite being hired by Meiklejohn for the Ex-college, the faculty understandably still had obligations to the university and living on campus gave them no escape from these burdens. Everyone’s exhaustion is one of the reasons that the experiment was so easy to end. (Meiklejohn, 1932)

Next he worried about the criticism of non-expert teaching by the faculty. In order to cover the range of subjects that the program did with the staff available, faculty members were going to have to do some teaching outside the field of their degrees. Meiklejohn decided to accept this issue for what it was, but not to fix it. He believed that if there were more faculty and the sessions were shorter than six weeks he would be sacrificing the mentorship and extensive engagement that the program was all about. He also believed that the faculty learning along side the students would not only strengthen their bond, but also the students’ ability. If the faculty were extended just past their comfort zone, there was more assurance that they were working with students to ask the critical questions instead of just telling students their already formed critical assessments. (Meiklejohn, 1932)

In a different form of assessment, Meiklejohn’s final concern was in reporting student achievement. The majority of student work was out of class reading and class participation. Occasionally there would be a quiz, but they were infrequent and there were no tests. While there were regular papers, they were graded subjectively. Meiklejohn stood behind the belief that the relationship between the faculty member and the student would provide enough information for assessing their performance. In these small classes and individual meetings it was readily apparent which students had adequately prepared and which ones had not. (Meiklejohn, 1932)

Meiklejohn’s last two concerns dealt more with concern over the criticism he expected to receive as opposed aspects of the college that he believed were troubled. He was certainly justified in addressing them because, as predicted, they came up. Unfortunately there were several problems that he did not consider that eventually brought about the end of the Ex-college. The first of these was a lack of enrollment. Meiklejohn’s model flourished as a small college, so he never worked to expand it and a steady decline in enrollment gave the program the appearance of being unsuccessful. In addition to this, an increasing number of the students applying were from out of state. Fewer and fewer Wisconsin students were electing to take part in the experiment. In the end it became hard to justify a program that was losing students and potentially alienating in-state students. (Abler, 2002)

Alienation was happening in other ways as well. Faculty and students from the institution felt that the Ex-college was excluding itself from the university as a whole. Since Meiklejohn’s original plan was to be a separate college, it is easy to understand that it may have had difficulty integrating into the rest of the university. While the program had difficulty integrating, the students did not. The Ex-college did not teach any trade or professional classes, so students were involved with the rest of the college for any courses they took that counted toward their major. The Ex-college was also deficient in teaching languages and sciences yet expected the students to be well versed in them. Additionally, the students were regularly involved in campus organizations, and often in leadership roles. Justified or not, the sentiment existed and the appearance of exclusion may have attracted extra critics.

It is possible that Meiklejohn’s liberal use of the term ‘experiment’ gave President Frank a limited view of the Ex-college. Whatever caused it, “President Frank spoke of the College as a temporary establishment, a testing ground for ideas on educational reform, rather than a legitimate institution of learning.” (Abler, 2002) This in conjunction with a need to make funding cuts during the depression brought an end to Ex-college. In the 1931-1932 school year Meiklejohn stopped accepting new freshman and after five years the Experimental College was closed. Meiklejohn continued to teach for the University of Wisconsin in philosophy and eventually left to start an adult learning center in California that was based on the same principles as the Ex-college.

Despite the Experimental College being shut down, Meiklejohn’s revolutionary ideas persisted in higher education. They persisted in his students who today, in their nineties, continue to gather as alumni in testament to the strength of the experience he created. In education, he inspired others to question the standard of curriculum and value the liberal arts education. The Ex-college foreshadowed, “both in duration and intent many experimental colleges of the 1960’s.” (Cohen, 1998) In more current ways, “More than five hundred colleges and universities now offer some type of ‘learning community’ in which students take two or more courses as a group.” (Smith, 2003) His concepts have been brought to successful fruition across the nation and are enriching students. A recent National Survey of Student Engagement found that, “participation in learning communities was positively related to diversity experiences, student gains in personal and social development, practical competence, general education, and overall satisfaction with the undergraduate college experience.” (Smith, 2003)

Alexander Meiklejohn has been partnered with John Dewey and Abraham Flexner for the impact he has had on higher education. He dedicated his life to putting his philosophies to the test and improving the methods that we use to teach students. His philosophies offered us an original way to consider the student and the process of learning.


Abler, E. (2002). The Experimental College Remembering Alexander Meiklejohn and an Era of Ideas Archive: A Journal of Undergraduate History 5, 50-75 Accessed December 4, 2006. http://uwho.rso.wisc.edu/Archive/Erin%20Abler%20volume%205.pdf

Cohen, A. (1998). The Shaping of American Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Integrated Liberal Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Meiklejohn’s Influence at UW-Madison. Accessed December 4, 2006. http://www.wisc.edu/ils/Meiklejohn.html

Meiklejohn, A. (1932). The experimental college. New York: Harper. Accessed December 4, 2006. http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/UW/UW-idx?type=header&id=UW.MeikExpColl&isize=M

Smith, B. (2003). Learning communities and liberal education. Academe 89, 14-18.

Stuart Wells, A. Oakes, J (1996). Extra Issue: Special Issue on Sociology and Educational Policy: Bringing Scholarship and Practice Together. Sociology of Education, 69, Accessed November 27, 2006 http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0038-0407%281996%2969%3C135%3APPOSRE%3E2.0.CO%3B2-L

Friday, December 01, 2006

Colleges, Prisions, and Mental Hospitals

I should be writing the papers that are due, but I didn't want to go another week with out writing so today I'll quickly share a quote I found while was researching my History of Higher Ed paper on the University of Wisconsin Experimental College. You can find the following quote here: The experimental college.

"Never again, unless he is taken over by a prison or a mental hospital, will any institution devote itself explicitly to the forming of his character, the general training of his mind, the enriching and directing of his personality." --Alexander Meiklejohn 1932

This quote really hits home with me because as a student affairs professional, I live for the 'whole student.' I want to enrich and enlighten. I want to develop character and promote success in the training of the mind. But I've already thought to myself, "How much is too much?" Seeing my profession compared to a prison or a mental hospital add a very sharp perspective.

Students are coming to college for a degree. They want instruction in a specific field. I want to make them good people and good citizens. The kind of development that I want to offer can't end when they walk off campus but I know that no one else will be striving to develop it.

There is also the people that never come on to campus. So there is also a part of me that wants my job done before they get to me, but that's not the answer either. Ideally, personal enrichment would be a life long societal and cultural goal. Then I could be assured that high schools, colleges, churches, community centers, workplaces, and individuals were striving for enrichment. That is much less pressuring than thinking that I and my institution are the last stop personal development in the game of life.

Either way, I have to keep in mind that I am a support field. My goal is to enrich the experience that is defined and driven by academia. I am responsible for the environment that makes student learning and faculty teaching as successful as possible. Inspiring good people and good citizens is just one way of promoting that success.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Student Citizens

This post was originally titled Student Activists, but it didn't quite fit what I've been thinking about. I needed a word with a different connotation; something that didn't give me the mental image of protests and police barriers. It started with student activists because of the protests at Gallaudet, and we've been learning about Berkeley and the Free Speech Movement in History of Higher Ed, but as I was writing, I found myself straying off to explain why any student should not be a student activist because they should be students first and foremost. Let me explain. We've all seen the Disney sports movie where the coach says, "they are student athletes ... student comes first." The dilemma is that English just doesn't work that way (and Jen is more then welcome to back me up or correct me). In English the adjectives and descriptive terms come before the subject. So a minority student is a student who is a minority and a student activist is an activist who is a student. I think it's great for students to be passionate about issues and to stand up for what they believe in, but they shouldn't be defined as activists. They are not here to change the world, they are here to learn how to change the world.

So why then did I accept Student Citizen? Because we can't help but be citizens first and foremost. Activist or not, passionate or not, student or not, we are citizens. Citizens of the university, the community, the state, or the country it doesn't matter; citizenry defines us. More and more, I'm seeing students so caught up in the role of student that they forget they are citizens. I'm included in the guilty party. When Benjamin Franklin wrote the founding documents for the Academy of Philadelphia he wanted an institution that would create good citizens. He wanted an experience that would teach students their power within and their responsibility to their government both federal and local. Has that gotten lost somewhere along the way?

In an NPR interview one of the student leaders from Gallaudet was asked, "Could students on this campus get as excited about the war in Iraq as, say, they were in protesting the choice of a president for their campus?" He replied, "I'm not so sure if they would, only because you know that's more of a Democrat/Republican thing. I don't know. Maybe we're too focused on our own community here." He continued to comment on the oppression that the students on campus were feeling. How do we reconnect students to the world? I presented for a class on election day and one of the students was working to convince the class that their vote was not worth the energy it took to cast it. I know he wasn't serious, but I've heard all of his arguments before. How can we return the image of voting to a right instead of an obligation? Programs like Rock the Vote have improved student turn out, but we need to go further. I don't want students failing classes because they spend too much time at sit ins and protests, but concern and attachment to the world beyond campus borders shouldn't is vital. The actions that are taken while a student is in college will define the world that she enters after graduation.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Research after the Rant.

As I talked about earlier, the cost of college has been an issue for a long time. Things are just getting worse. Tuition is going up and Pell funding is going down as the criteria for eligibility changes. Fortunately, they didn't need me to tell them to start dealing with it. Here are several new approaches that are being taken towards financial aid:

A New Way for Need Based Aid This article talks about the program that Oregon is called a 'shared responsibility' plan. Students will be expected to pay the equivalent of what they could earn working full time during the summer and up to 12 hours a week while in class(Oregon's minimum wage is currently $7.50) for a community college. For a four year institution they will be expected to take out a loan for some of the additional costs. Student's families are also expected to contribute their portion as outlined by federal financial aid methodology. Oregon will pay what is left over.

This plan was developed after a committee polled citizens about starting an endowment and received negative reactions. The people who spoke out said that they didn't want to give students a sense of entitlement, and that higher education was a privilege not a right. This way students can prove themselves and earn their education.

I am troubled by this plan and it probably has a lot to do with my financial/academic history. I had a full ride to college that was a combination of need and merit based aid, so I earned part of my aid. However, the work I did to earn my scholarship was on school work, and it was my expectation that the work I would do here would be on school work. College is supposed to be a full time job. For every hour of class I’m suppose to spend 2 to 3 hours outside of class studying. This program is requiring students to have 1 ⅓ jobs if their parents or spouses are contributing. The article wasn’t clear about whether the family contribution was necessary to receive the funding or if it was just part of the calculation for how much the funding would be awarded. Another issue I have with this program is that they are setting the program up on students’ potential earnings. Do the students still have to pay tuition at the beginning of the school year? Has anyone taken into account the additional hours the student will have to work for living expenses? Are programs going to be put in place to ensure that students can find and maintain a minimum wage job? What about a full time job? What about the holiday breaks are students no longer going to be able to visit home for fall and spring break because they need to make those 12 hours that week?

Student is an occupation. Students are showing their responsibility by being successful on campus. I don’t think that they should have to prove their worth in any other way especially knowing that part time jobs have been shown to have negative impacts on student grades and involvement.

A different approach is coming from the University of Washington. Everyone who qualifies for Pell Grants or need based state aid will have their tuition and fees paid for by the university. A capital campaign is currently underway to raise funds and the program will be implemented at all of the University of Washington campuses. This plan is following the lead of some private colleges, but unlike their plans UW will not be covering room and board. Since the criteria is that they be eligible for other aid, students will be expected to use that aid for housing.

I suppose that it's a bit obvious that I support this program more. I don't have anything at all against giving away education. The GI Bill has proven that education is simply good for the country. In the most basic and measurable sense, if we educate people, they get better jobs. With those better jobs they make more money. When they make more money they spend more money and pay more taxes. Now we'll just have to develop a better system for determining need.

Its degrees that we shouldn't be giving away, but grade inflation should be a completely different post.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Internet Identities Part I Faculty

According to Inside Higher Ed, Instructor John Hall from the University of Florida was participating in a distance learning course that videotaped lectures and made them available online for students enrolled in the course. Clips from one of the classes were uploaded on websites such as break.com and youtube.com under the title ‘Stoned Professor,’ shortly after the lecture. Since then Prof. Hall has been put on paid administrative leave and the course has been taken over by someone else. Once voted teacher of the year, Hall now has his future employment with the University of Florida, “Under consideration.”

While I think this is a very important topic, I was disappointed in this article. The author never asked why Hall was put on leave. There is a distinct difference between putting an instructor on leave because they were stoned, because an investigation into their drug habits is underway, because the university doesn’t approve of the current teaching method, and because he was the center of too much negative student attention. What the reader is left with is that he was put on leave because some unknown student said online that he was stoned.

Unlike many YouTube.com videos of professors, this one was being filmed intentionally by the University and the instructor was well aware that he was on camera. I wish that this author would have talked about what criteria or assessment the university uses when they decide which course to video tape. Is someone reviewing these lectures before they are put online? Was Belinda (the woman referenced in the clip as in charge of the zooming) concerned with Hall’s 'performance' on this day? Hall’s CV and his presence on the University of Florida online directory are impressive. Even his ratings on ratemyprofessor.com are good (based on the rumor that instructors want an average rating because a good rating is a signal that your classes are too easy).

This all leads to a soapbox that I probably frequent too often about faculty keeping up with the online identity that students are creating for them. Students are posting extensively edited and elaborately planned videos of their professors as a new hobby. When a faculty member's course is being represented online with videos of the students struggling to stay awake during lecture, that fac
ulty member now has a negative online identity. It doesn't matter if it is only two minutes, because it is the only two minutes many people will ever see of that lecture. As Ann Springer said in an article about faculty being filmed with out their knowledge for youtube.com, “Students will always mock professors and there is nothing you can do about that.” However, with students embracing new technologies and mocking professors for an audience of strangers that will never have the opportunity to interact with the instructor or experience one of her lectures, the mocking has become much more powerful. Student mocking is now being electronically published and the lines separating student banter from slander and libel are getting awfully close together.

If a precedent is started that faculty members can loose their jobs based on this internet mocking, it means there could be a scary power shift that gives advantages to those who know how to Google. Lately faculty and mentors have been eager to point out that our future employers will be looking at our facebook accounts and judging us, but there is the possibility that the university is also looking at our facebook, and they are judging the faculty by what we say. I'm not saying that faculty have to become avid facebookers or should be reading the blogs of every student they encounter, but they need to keep in mind that avoiding the internet does not keep them from developing an online identity. Faculty need to be keeping track of where their names and their classes are popping up online. Not only for the CYOA theory, but there is also the possibility that it is some of the most honest feedback you'll ever get.

Friday, October 06, 2006

My Degree and My Debt

I was reading this article when I noticed the statement that, "the average student now graduates with $17,500 in student loan debt." It doesn't seem that hard to know why that is, but I'm wondering if there is just a whole different approach we should be taking. Students have never been able to afford college. However, one of the major differences is that in the 17, 18 and early 19 hundreds students were just skipping the bill. Now we carry around our debt for years. I'm not suggesting a grassroots movement that inspires students everywhere to dodge thier debt collectors, but if tuition for students doesn't work and has never worked, maybe it needs to be reassessed from top to bottom.

According to this simple College Cost Calculator, a high school freshman right now can expect to pay $90,591.93 for college. If that freshman starts working at 14 (when it becomes legal) for $7 an hour and 20 hours a week over the next 4 years she will earn $26,880. If she continues to work at the same rate through four years of college she will earn a total of $53,760. That student is short $36,831.93. She almost earned 60% of what she needs. Of course this doesn't take into account any living costs that she may have such as the car or the gas to get to this job. I could go on but there is no need to. We are knowingly marketing and selling a service to customers that cannot afford it. That is unethical.

I understand the importance of the commercial approach and that marketing universities supports the quality and diversity that we have in our country. I also understand that the students are people receiving the services rendered, but all of our campus programming on being responsible with a credit cards and staying out of debt seems ironic and perhaps a bit hypocritical given the situation we are putting them in.

During a discussion with one of my instructors she mentioned that tuition made up 15% or less of the University's budget. I don't have documentation for this but if it is true, we are expecting student to take out loans, be awarded scholarships, and work part time to provide us with only 15% of our budget. It doesn't seem like much to ask but it is enough to jeopardize their grades both in high school and college, cause them extra stress and anxiety, and edge them in to counseling (financial and mental). It has the potential to keep them from engaging in their community, visiting with their faculty, or even coming to college in the first place.

I don't know what the solution is. Maybe we should cut 15% of our budget. It's not a task I would want, but it wouldn't be the first or the last time a business has done it. Maybe employers should be recruiting students the same way sport coaches do, and whichever employer is lucky enough to get me is also lucky enough to pay off my debt. Maybe every potential student in the country should be given vouchers that equal the average cost of college. If they want to go somewhere more expensive then they should start worrying about scholarships and loans. It may be crazy talk, but crazy talk may be just what we need. This problem has been around for hundreds of years, we have to completely abandon the box in order to find an answer.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Collegiate Experience

As a writer concerned with the current events of higher education, it is only appropriate that I comment on the recent speech by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Unfortunately, I feel like I am entering in the middle of this discussion, and I am not ready to begin participating in it. Instead I'm simply going to offer you some article links and talk about something else.
The Spellings Plan
The Sounds of Conciliation
In Focus: The Spellings Commission

Instead of Spellings, I want to talk some more about the implications of Course casting. I know that I've already posted on this, but I just can't get over the excitement of what it all could mean. Everything to follow is my personal and probably overly optimistic hopes for the changes that would follow the widespread availability of quality courses online with audio visual components.

If the content of a course is available free for everyone, what are the students who decide to pay to be there really wanting? They want the Collegiate Experience. Without lectures what is the collegiate experience? It is going to a place where experts of the field congregate. It is mentorship and networking. It is access to lab equipment and primary resources. It is peer discussions and study groups. It is RSOs and football games. It is the cafeteria and the local hangouts. It is living with strangers and making new friends. It is leaving home and growing up. It is the whole student.

I'm sorry I got a bit carried away there. What does this emphasis on experience mean? Well in my ideal future, there will no longer be lecture halls full of 50+ students. Faculty will be leading smaller classes where the group spends more time working with the content than they do trying to absorb it. Learning communities will have a surge of popularity, and faculty involvement outside the classroom will be expected.

Eventually everything will level out. One of the perks of American Higher Education is it's diversity. There will be colleges with huge lecture halls and there will be colleges that offer the experience emphasis. What might change for good is which one is considered mainstream.

Monday, September 25, 2006

We're getting better?

Here is the Arkansas report card from Measuring Up the National Report Card on Higher Education.

Preparation D+ (Improvement)*
Participation C (Improvement)
Affordability F (Minimal Improvement)
Completion C (Improvement)
Benefits C (Improvement)

“Arkansas’ underperformance in educating its young population could limit the state’s access to a competitive workforce and weaken its economy over time. The proportion of 9th graders graduating in four years has declined since the early 1990s. Moreover, relatively few students who do graduate are adequately prepared to succeed in college compared with leading states. In addition, Arkansas trails other states in providing college-level education and training opportunities for working-age adults. Since the early 1990s, four-year colleges and universities in Arkansas have become less affordable for students and their families. If these trends are not addressed, they could undermine the state’s ability to compete successfully in a global economy.”

According to the 2006 report we are improving, but here are the grades from 2004:

Preparation C
Participation C-
Affordability F
Completion C
Benefits D+

*Improvement indicates change over time

Good News for Good Will Hunting

According to this article, The Next Level of Open Source Yale is going to start video tapping course lectures and making them publicly available online. They are not the first to do it, in fact MIT has been offering it since 2001. They offer syllabi, reading references, lecture notes, and even assignment and project descriptions. There is no reason why a self-motivated, self-teacher couldn't couldn't take full classes online. If this trend continues, what kind of changes will happen in higher education?

What will this transparency will mean. What will happen when someone compares Fundamentals of Physics offered at UCA to Fundamentals of Physics at Yale? Will UCA instructors be expected to make their course comparable to Yale's? What if UCA is better, would Yale be tarnished? What if a student doesn't like their professor? Can they find a different professor online and opt to take that course instead?

What does this mean for my resume? Right now I fill the special training section of my resume with UCA course titles that are relevant to the job I'm applying for. Can I put OCW (OpenCourseWare) courses on there as well? Will my potential employer see me as self-motivated or will they think that it's irrelevant since there is no way to determine that I understood and processed the information I took in? What if my employer starts expecting it? As a college student I'm suppose to be self-motivated and self-teaching. Per class I'm suppose to spend two to three hours working outside of the classroom. Supposedly I'm already good at taking online courses because the majority of my college experience was happening on my own. That means I have little excuse for not self teaching during breaks. Along those same lines, are students who can't afford college expected to self-teach online? Will a day come where retail management positions require OCW business courses?

The most obvious questions, what will happen to my classes? If everyone can receive the same education, why should I pay for it? Am I still paying for the education, or am I paying for the test? Can they charge that much for a grade? Will the lecture become part of the homework? Will I have the right to demand that my in class experience goes above and beyond what everyone else gets for free? Will college become more about the experience and less about the investment?

This last question is one of the most exciting to me. When the first colleges were founded in Colonial America, they didn't always make the most economic sense. In that agricultural society, there was little reason to let your son leave the farm to learn Greek and Latin. Colleges were providing an experience that was intended to create good citizens and good leaders. Unfortunately, as colleges became more accessible, they also became an investment. We've reached a point where we know exactly how much more a person will earn in their lifetime based on each degree they have. It could probably be argued, that now the experience has very little to do with the courses. If these Open Source Courses take off, we could have education available to all, and the experience available to many.

Friday, September 22, 2006

I’ve been blogged!

To step away from the ‘my life in Higher Ed’ theme and focus a bit more on just the ‘my life’ theme, I’ve been blogged. You may have visited the Rathbone Images link on my sidebar and seen some beautiful pictures of mainly of weddings. Well now, some beautiful pictures from my wedding are there.

My husband (Mike) and I got married in Seattle and Rathbone Images did our photography. They are an incredibly wonderful couple who were just great to have participating. A few weeks after the wedding, they gave me a sneak peek at our pictures and they instantly became two of my favorite people and one of my favorite businesses. I am one of the luckiest women in the world because my wedding exceeded all of my expectations. Keri at Bliss Events made it better than what I had envisioned perfect to be, and Bob and Priscilla captured that. Everyone who sees our pictures understands just how amazing the day was. I’ve lost count of how many people have cried, or struggled not to, while looking at the pictures they put up for us online.

They are amazing people and someday when we move back to Seattle, I’ll have to see about making them our friends instead of our photographers.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Things Taken for Granted

"We are an Equal Opportunity Employer, and there fore do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender, age or disability."

I admit I've completely taken these words for granted. This phrase has been grouped in with Miranda Rights, the surgeon general's warning, and flight attendants' instructions on how to use my seat cushion as a flotation device. I hear it all the time, but I've stopped listening to it, and I've started assuming too much.

I've never thought about where it comes from. If I had thought about it I probably would have just assumed that there is a law or policy somewhere that organizations just copy into their handbooks and manuals. While that is often the case, things can get hazy as we transition between federal employees through state institutions to private businesses. For more information check out the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws, but that is not exactly what I want to talk about right now. The reason that I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't know where it came from is because to follow through with that, I didn't think about who updates it. While I was taking this phrase for granted, I happily assumed that it was updated in a timely fashion all across the country. I was startled yesterday to find out that I was very wrong.

Yesterday this article, Inside Higher Ed Article found it's way to my inbox. On Friday Missouri State University added sexual orientation to the list of barred biases. In other words, as of Friday it is no long acceptable to discriminate against students or employees based on their sexual orientation. I was disappointed in Missouri when I heard this. In my head they should have updated back when everybody else did. I'm not certain when that actually happened, but I know that major corporations are offering benefits for same sex partners so certainly that's already been revised. Ok you can look now. Go back to the quote at the top... that's right it's not their either, but I assumed it would be. That wording was taken from my university's staff handbook and matches the information on the FEEO website. (To UCA's credit our student handbook does have a policy protecting students from discrimination.)

Missouri State University has received a considerable amount of attention and a lot of flack on the topic because of how clearly biased the former president was, but I'm not certain how I should feel. I want to be embarrassed that it took them so long, and I want to scold the board for not setting their president straight. I want to be angry that even after that president left it was a 5-3 vote. Then I look at the numbers they rank with. According to the article, "Missouri State joins hundreds of colleges — 562 according to the latest study by the Human Rights Campaign — that bar bias based on sexual orientation." That seems good but it's the most disturbing point of the entire article. I found out in class a couple weeks ago that in 2003 there were about 4,500 accredited institutions awarding degrees. I am sad that of 4,500, only 562 are barring sexual orientation discrimination.

Something else to think about...

(Brought to my attention by the enviably articulate Michael Herring)

To continue on with the assumptions I was so naively making, I thought this was just about protecting people from discrimination. As it turns out, refusing to let people discriminate is in its self a form of discrimination: Christians Sue for Right Not to Tolerate Policies. This issue of this article is that religious views are being discriminated against if people are forced to accept everyone. Is it unfair to force a Christian student organization to accept homosexual members? or is it unfair to tell homosexual students that they can't be in Christian organizations?

Friday, September 15, 2006

High Tech vs High Touch

Academic Errands as a Freshman

I skipped lunch and my afternoon class in order to make time for an afternoon of errands. I left straight from class to work so I could wait in line and get my paycheck as they were being signed. I took it right to the bank and waited in line to cash it and pull out the majority of my savings because on Academic Errands Day I'm always a big spender. Cash in hand I was ready to head back to campus. For my convince my campus sets up almost everyone that I need to pay in a big room so I can take care of it all at once. I stood in line to pick up my ID. I stood in line to pay my fees. I stood in line to buy my parking permit. I know you can see the pattern already but it doesn't end there. I headed to the bookstore. I stood in line to get help finding my books, and then I got to stand in a longer line while I held all of my books and supplies so I could pay for them. I finished up earlier then I expected so I headed over to the advising center to declare my major. Fortunately I didn't have to stand in line there; they had a place for me to sit and wait my turn. Afterward I was understandably famished so I headed to the cafeteria where they have a fantastic assortment of lines.

My intent isn't to complain. Everyone I encountered was pleasant and helpful. Everyone politely asked, “May I help whoever’s next?” instead of just yelling out, “NEXT!” but a cattle call is still a cattle call even if your cowboy is smiling. Since then, I’ve set my paycheck to direct deposit, I can transfer funds online, and I can withdrawal money from the student center, but few of those types of convinces have been sprouting up on campus. As I start seeing behind the scenes of higher education, I’m hearing more and more about the high-tech vs. high-touch debate. As a student I’m troubled that there is a debate at all. I want my university to be accessible to me when I need it. It is not a matter of high-touch at all. Rather, it is a matter of convince, and I'm not concerned with the number of pleasant faces in the process. I want to get it done efficiently, and more often than not I want to get it done in the middle of the night while I'm up doing homework and thinking about it. I'm speaking only for myself of course, but I believe I would make more appointments with faculty and advisors if I could hop online and make the appointment instead of working into my schedule a time between 9 and 4 to reach them just to make the appointment. Student's value ease, efficiency, and a quick turn around. We would rather not play phone tag when we know we can get something accomplished asynchronously via e-mail. We are not shunning human interaction; we are streamlining busy work.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Death of Denotation?

Last week one of my professors off-handedly mentioned that he had been told denotation may no longer exist. Despite his casual attitude, the comment has stuck with me. For those of you who need a refresher, denotation is the literal twin of connotation. Denotation is the written, documented, and defined meanings assigned to words where as connotation is the implied or alternate meanings that are wrapped up not only in the word but also the body language, the situation, the context, and the tone.

What are the implications of doing away with denotation? Well, it might have a bigger impact than Pluto's demotion. I think I should be happy. With out denotation, it should be much easier to embrace language as the living vibrant creature that it is. When we take a moment to think about it, we all know that language isn't static, but so often we forget to remember that definitions change and dictionaries are out of date. If grammar students are no longer taught that Merriam and Webster are the authorities of their language and rather that each individual is responsible for making meaning, shouldn't we become better communicators? If I can no longer assume that my listener is using my definitions, won't I work harder and be more careful to be sure that my ideas are articulated?

I'm not predicting some cosmic fiasco where definitions will be banished and our language will become garble. Our language is too vital and ingrained to undergo an upheaval like that. Rather our understanding will evolve into what Korzybski called for. In the back of our minds will be the constant reminder that language is never stagnant and we'll start turning to the Oxford English Dictionary instead of Roget's. We'll become accustomed to putting statements into context and searching deeper for the 'right' meaning.

So if I truly believe all of that, why do I feel apprehensive about letting denotation die? Well it's not just the experiences that I've had walking around a foreign country with a translation dictionary. I believe that sometimes words shouldn't be allowed to change. No matter how society tries to belittle the word 'theory,' scientists should stand their ground and refuse to let them have their way with it. Laws should be rewritten as the society changes not retranslated. Even for everyday language purposes there needs to be an neutral ground where sender and receiver can go to find a way to understand one another.