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Tackling the 'soft' skills gap

July 29, 2016

Field guide to the safe spaces and trigger warnings debate

Warning: the next four years might be sensitive material

February 17, 2017

Caroline Hopkins, Staff WriterCaroline Hopkins, Staff Writer

"Safe space," "trigger warning," "coddling," "first amendment": In the wake of Donald Trump's shocking victory in the presidential election, these phrases are dominating headlines once again.

Here's what they all mean, in case you missed it

In the weeks following the election, colleges debated whether to meet students' demands for spaces where their views would remain protected. Some lawmakers threatened to cut funding for schools that offered safe spaces to students upset by the election results.

Protests have continued on campuses nationwide. Faculty and staff are looking for the perfect balance between defending academic freedom and protecting students.

If you're in need of a refresher, here's a field guide to the key arguments on each side. 

Supporters of trigger warnings and safe spaces argue:

Supporters of trigger warnings, such as Ika Willis, lecturer of literature at the University of Wollongong, say the alerts encourage learning and classroom participation.

Willis recently wrote for The Conversation that issuing a trigger warning before particularly sensitive class material led to "some of the best class discussion [she has] ever seen." During the discussion, she said all of her students managed to "articulate their intense responses to the novel and to negotiate their profound disagreements respectfully."

Related: Not all educators are opposed to trigger warnings

Notifying students before discussing difficult or potentially sensitive subjects gives students the opportunity to consent or opt out of such discussions, Willis writes. She adds that students who have agreed to and prepared for the material can manage their reactions and articulate opposing views more thoughtfully.

Similarly, supporters of safe spaces say they provide an environment where students can relax and focus on learning, rather than worrying about threats or marginalization.

Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro argued in a 2016 op-ed that safe spaces help students embrace uncomfortable lessons because it gives them more control over where and when challenging lessons will happen. He also noted that safe spaces are more normal on campuses than you may think—for example, you might consider the Hillel House to be a safe space for Jewish students, and the Catholic Center a safe space for Catholic students.

And engagement encourages retention

Opponents of trigger warnings and safe spaces argue:

Critics of safe spaces and trigger warnings tend to see them as two strategies with the same goal: to restrict speech and censor language. In a 2015 op-ed, Judith Shulevitz argued that the practices not only coddle students and allow them to "self-infantilize," but also threaten free speech.

In a letter to incoming freshmen that went viral last year, the University of Chicago's Dean of Students John Ellison wrote: "Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called 'trigger warnings'... and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces,' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."

Are safe spaces drowning out free speech on campus?

Faculty members who oppose trigger warnings and safe spaces say they limit their ability to teach. One professor shared in Vox last year: "my liberal students terrify me." That professor expressed concern that his students' focus on identity politics would distract them from real social change (Ho, Harvard Political Review, 1/30; Jaschik, Inside Higher Education, 1/25; June, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/16/16; Richardson, Washington Times, 11/10/16).    

Stop forgetting your sophomore students

Don't let these students become 'the ones that got away'

February 17, 2017

Sophomore students have a bad case of "middle child syndrome." 

They're too old for the special attention their colleges give to first-year students to ease the home-to-college transition, and not yet old enough to get the focused graduation support that more senior students receive.

To give sophomores a sense of purpose and motivation, several schools have adopted programs and initiatives specifically geared toward their second-year bunch.

These programs can include:

  • Sophomore-specific housing;
  • Special classes; and
  • Social events.

Caleb Peng, the co-director of the Second Year program at Emory University, argues that requiring sophomore students to live on campus is the key to keeping them engaged. He says resident students have more opportunities to connect with one another and faculty members. At Emory, an academic advisor resides in each resident hall and is available to meet with students after hours.

At Trinity University, the Sophomore College program places a strong emphasis on mentoring sophomore students, pairing them with upperclassmen and helping them choose a major.

At Trinity's "Major Meals," sophomore students are able to explore different courses of study over dinner, where they can speak with faculty and alumni about how different majors compare in terms of job opportunities and workload.

Make sure to remind your sophomores that they don't have to double major to excel

University Business' Kate West lists an additional 16 ideas that schools might implement in order to give their "middle children" the attention they deserve—and, in turn, raise retention and graduation rates. West has collected the following ideas from Emory, Trinity, Ohio State University, and Williams College:

  1. A trivia night;
  2. A barbecue night;
  3. Love your major week;
  4. Faculty mentoring options;
  5. A sophomore masquerade ball;
  6. Field trips with faculty members;
  7. On-campus housing with live-in advisors;
  8. Meals with faculty members to discuss major options;
  9. Faculty-to-student cookie deliveries during finals week;
  10. Midnight breakfasts to help students prepare for exams;
  11. An off-campus retreat at the start of the academic year;
  12. A "Sophomore Summit" about majors and study abroad options;
  13. "Halfway to graduation" celebration at the end of sophomore year;
  14. S'mores story time, where sophomores can speak with upperclassmen;
  15. Stipend pay offered to students to conduct projects relating to sophomore-year initiatives; and
  16. Sophomore "pinning ceremony," where sophomores are officially recognized as part of the alumni community.

(West, University Business, 1/27).

Successful sophomore retention efforts have these 4 components

Provosts vs. deans: Who makes better presidents?

The traditional provost-to-president pipeline may be a thing of the past

February 17, 2017

The "traditional path" to the presidency may be a thing of the past, Carl Strikwerda writes for Inside Higher Ed

The provost or academic vice president position is the traditional stepping stone to the presidency, but a 2012 study found that over 20% of college presidents are now hired from outside of higher education.

Other schools—particularly smaller, private colleges—are fast-tracking their deans to the presidency.

So why is the pipeline shifting from provosts to deans?

Internal leadership pipelines could help ease rocky transitions

Strikwerda, current president of Elizabethtown College and a former dean himself, explains that the answer has much to do with a shift in the responsibilities that deans and provosts hold.

Today, provosts serve as managers of their institutions' processes, which makes their role similar to a chief operating officer. According to Strikwerda, provosts usually have "few dealings with external constituencies, such as the news media, trustees, alumni, and businesspeople."

And internal processes have grown increasingly complex as the demands of accreditation, compliance, retention, and so on, grow more demanding. Because of their increasingly inward focus, provosts have "moved away from their traditional role of representing the academic core of the institution," argues Strikwerda. 

See provosts' top concerns

Deans, on the other hand, have grown to be more external-facing. Recently, Strikwerda writes, "deans became fierce advocates for [their] schools within [their] universities, as well as ambassadors to constituencies outside of them."

Deans work with fundraising offices, communications teams, facilities, and countless other outside support systems. "The deanship [proves] an excellent training for being president of a small college," Strikwerda writes. 

Another good place to find your next president? Student affairs

But Strikwerda doesn't mean to suggest that schools and president search firms should discount provosts in favor of deans or outside candidates. Instead, he writes, "We should try to counteract the trend to see provosts as unattractive candidates and instead make their position more of a pipeline."

In order to do so, he recommends giving provosts more opportunities to deal with outside constituencies such as:

  • The news media;
  • Trustees; and
  • Donors.

"The fact is that we should help expand opportunities for leadership for both provosts and deans," concludes Strikwerda. "Both provosts and deans have great strengths, and we should help more of them build on those strengths and progress to top leadership" (Strikwerda, Inside Higher Ed, 2/2).

All the resources new academic leaders need to hit the ground running

Trump administration threatens to deport a DACA recipient

Experts disagree about what it means for students

February 17, 2017

Daniel Ramirez, a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant, is being detained and threatened with deportation—despite the fact that he has a valid work permit and protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Learn more about DACA and higher ed

The event is the first of its kind to take place since President Trump's inauguration, and it is raising fears among undocumented students and workers across the country, Katharine Mangan reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The DACA program began as an executive order in 2012, when former President Barack Obama declared that certain undocumented immigrants pursuing an education or working without a criminal record would be able to stay in the country on renewable, two-year terms.

Trump campaigned on the promise that he would repeal this order and send all undocumented immigrants out of the country, whether they were protected by DACA or not. 

Read more: Protestors demand sanctuary campuses

In the first few weeks of Trump's presidency, the administration focused on immigrants with criminal records. But in the wake of Ramirez's arrest, students are fearful that the administration may broaden its efforts.

Carlos Rodriguez, an undocumented student in his final semester at Seattle University, says, "This is becoming a very real thing for a lot of us. It's happening."

According to Ramirez' attorney, Mark Rosenbaum, the Department of Justice alleges that Ramirez is affiliated with two gangs. But Rosenbaum calls the claims "utterly implausible and wholly fabricated."

Ramirez has a three-year-old child and was working to save up money to get his degree. The agents who arrested Ramirez "informed him that he would be arrested, detained, and deported anyway because he was 'not born in this country,'" according to the petition Ramirez' lawyers filed with the court.

Some officials are calling Ramirez' arrest an isolated incident.

"Hopefully, this arrest is simply a mistake and not a dark harbinger for worse to come," says Rosenbaum. The Northwest Immigrants Rights Project, which is helping with Ramirez' representation, tweeted a similar message to their followers.

But other officials see the arrest as a sign that Trump's administration will put more pressure on DACA recipients.

According to Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard University's Law School contributing to Ramirez' representation, the Trump administration is sending a "dismal and frightening" message to DACA recipients and "telling them that this government isn't committed to living up to the promises the Obama administration made to these recipients to induce them to come out from under the shadows."

Despite fears, there is one glimmer of hope for DACA recipients—a bipartisan bill called the Bridge Act. If it were to pass, the bill would allow "people who are eligible for or who have received work authorization and temporary relief from deportation through DACA to continue living in the U.S. with permission from the federal government," according to the National Immigration Law Center.

But in the meantime, undocumented students and working DACA recipients are in limbo, and they are afraid.

(Mangan, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/16; National Immigration Law Center site, accessed 2/16; McNerthney, KIRO7, 2/17).

Get the answers to your most pressing immigration questions