Author discusses his book, 'The Chicago Guide to College Science Teaching' - Inside Higher Ed

Terry McGlynn is constantly promoting better teaching of science in American colleges and universities. A professor of biology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and author of the blog Small Pond Science , he believes that good teaching is essential at every kind of college. But to achieve that, he thinks some of the incentives of American higher education (think of what generates raises at research universities) need to change. He's put his ideas together in a book, The Chicago Guide to College Science Teaching (University of Chicago Press). McGlynn answered questions about his book via email. Q: What are the major flaws of science teaching at colleges in the U.S.? A: A lot of us have never been trained how to teach. Doesn’t it seem fundamentally absurd that graduate students and faculty all over the country are teaching science without even having taken a single course in science teaching? We jump through an absurd number of hoops to become college faculty, ye

Syracuse grapples with how to meaningfully educate students about diversity, equity and inclusion - Inside Higher Ed

Syracuse grapples with how to meaningfully educate students about diversity, equity and inclusion - Inside Higher Ed

Syracuse grapples with how to meaningfully educate students about diversity, equity and inclusion - Inside Higher Ed

Posted: 06 Feb 2020 12:00 AM PST

Syracuse University saw a spate of racist incidents last semester -- some 16 over a few weeks in November alone. Students reported hearing ethnic slurs shouted from dorm windows and otherwise being harassed, along with seeing hateful graffiti and a swastika drawn in the snow. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also looked into a white supremacist manifesto that was posted to an online Greek life forum.

Students protested, including by occupying a campus building for a week, as faculty members pushed for change. In response, Syracuse announced a list of new diversity, inclusion and security initiatives. The university also promised to rethink its one-credit first-year seminar, SEM 100, and to work toward building a complementary, three-credit requirement for more advanced students.

Many professors believe Syracuse's response should go further, however. They believe the moment demands a deeper rethinking of the curriculum, universitywide.

Seeking an 'Extensive Liberal Arts Core'

Their idea is that a liberal arts education steeped in discussions of human differences is the best defense against ignorance. But at the very least, said Biko Gray, assistant professor of religion, "if we're doing this, no one can feign ignorance about these issues. 'That was a joke' is no longer a defense."

Gray, along with his department colleague Virginia Burrus, the Bishop W. Earl Ledden Professor of Religion, co-wrote a faculty statement to this effect. It has since been signed by 146 other professors.

The statement, sent to Syracuse's central administration for consideration, says that the university is caught up in a moment of "great anguish" but also "unusual clarity and possibility." That moment "clarified that this institution struggles with -- and therefore suffers from -- a woeful lack of attention to, if not outright neglect of, the critical, conceptual, and ethical importance of the humanities, arts and social sciences."

The "obligation to teach our students to think critically and constructively about the complexities of human difference can be best addressed through an extensive liberal arts core curriculum attuned to issues of difference and diversity and required university-wide for all undergraduates," the statement asserts. "Anything less, such as the single-course solution represented by SEM 100 in whatever guise, will be inadequate as other than a transitional measure and ultimately ineffective in shifting the campus climate of discrimination."

Currently, arts and sciences students must take two courses from a list of approved classes to satisfy a requirement in critical reflections on ethical and social issues. This is not standardized across campus programs and colleges, however, and what the faculty statement proposes -- though not in any detail -- is a larger core curriculum.

Crucially, the faculty statement says, "Support for such a liberal arts core curriculum requires nurturing, strengthening and expanding the faculty in the humanities, arts, and social sciences." It requires "actively cultivating a diverse and inclusive faculty across the university, since the bodies and identities of teachers are a crucial part of any curriculum," and it requires overcoming barriers to this kind of change.

In particular, the statement expresses concern that the university's cluster hiring initiative favors the natural sciences and steers "resources away from the humanities, arts, and social sciences, as well as from efforts to build faculty diversity." Further, Syracuse's responsibility-centered funding model, "which encourages the various schools to compete with one another for students, impedes a university-wide commitment to a liberal arts core curriculum."

Finally, the statement reads, "we believe that opening up lines of communication between the faculty and the Board of Trustees is crucial to the success of the university in effecting needed change."

While "no group can claim to represent the voices of all faculty members," there are "some of us who feel an urgent need to think, speak and act collectively."

Although the statement ends with an invitation for all faculty colleagues, "across schools, divisions, departments and disciplines" to "join us in our efforts," almost all the statement's signers work in the arts, humanities, social sciences and communications.

Gray said the statement was shared network-style, not formally sent to every professor on the faculty. This likely explains, in part, the lack of signatures from faculty members in the sciences, technology, engineering and math. Still, for a letter calling for universitywide engagement in discussions about the liberal arts and diversity, the resulting gap in signatures is hard to ignore.

Discussions about diversity and inclusion with respect to the curriculum are, on so many campuses, taken up by humanities and social sciences faculties. The STEM fields have clearly stepped up in terms of valuing diversity in terms of representation, or who is doing the math and science, with hiring initiatives that aim to increase the share of underrepresented minority faculty members. But this kind of diversity is one part of the bigger puzzle, and one that is complicated by the concern -- expressed in the faculty statement -- that STEM hiring is diverting institutional resources away from the fields most obviously equipped to teach students about human difference.

Another question is whether the STEM fields should be doing more to directly engage students in these issues.

Two Cultures?

"The assumption is that the sciences are value-neutral set of disciplines," Gray said. And yet the histories of so many fields, from technology to medicine -- think Henrietta Lacks, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and nuclear testing in the Pacific -- are rife with discrimination. While Gray said he didn't expect his STEM colleagues to fundamentally alter the way they run their programs, he said students might benefit from being asked to "wrestle" with some of these issues, as they do in other disciplines.

Steven Diaz, a professor of math and a member of Syracuse's University Senate curriculum committee, said he was familiar with the statement but didn't sign it. He also said it wasn't the first time that a universitywide liberal arts core had been proposed, but that it would be very hard to fit more requirements into certain pre-professional programs. This, of course, is a common problem for curricular revision committees, as students in engineering and other fields that are accredited by outside disciplinary bodies typically have little room for additional requirements.

Diaz said that he isn't personally a fan of large core curricula. As for incorporating questions of diversity and inclusion into math, Diaz said he often teaches a history of math course that demonstrates how math emerged in many world cultures. Unfortunately, he said, there isn't typically time in the course to grapple in any depth with how the field came to be dominated by white men in the modern era.

There's another problem with asking nonexperts on diversity and inclusion to embrace discussions of it, Diaz said: they might not know how, or even be afraid, to do it. That goes for students, too, he added, in that those who don't want to take liberal arts courses might resent having to do so under any new framework, and thus not absorb the point.

"I don't really know how to cure the problems we have, but I'm not sure taking more courses would help," Diaz said. "It's also easy to develop an attitude that if everyone would just study more of this, then the world would be a better place. There's a lot of that going on with humanities. I think the world be a better place if everybody did a lot more math, but I don't think that's the way to go."

A Diversity Requirement

As was noted in Syracuse's announcement about the new initiatives, the university is currently revising the one-credit freshman seminar that has been required since 2018. Jeffrey Mangram, an associate professor of education who is leading that effort, said the focus now is "trying to make the material more developmentally appropriate for students." Earlier iterations of the seminar used books such as Trevor Noah's memoir on growing up interracial in South Africa, Mangram said, but future versions will be based more on podcasts, TED talks and articles, "trying to think about diversity, inclusion, equity and excellence in different ways."

Starting in 2021, students beyond their freshman year will be required to choose a three-credit diversity requirement from a list of preapproved courses within departments.

As for diversity and inclusion in STEM, Mangram said it's important to think about how equitable pedagogical practices round out other goals. Even in those fields that don't automatically lend themselves to learning about diversity, he said, it's important that all students feel included, able to participate and that there is room for diverse perspectives.

Gareth Fisher, an associate professor of religion who signed the faculty statement, said he understood SEM 100 to be something of a "stopgap" answer to the university's ongoing diversity concerns, but that any real answer "has to be built in the curriculum more."

Already, he said, SEM 100 has seen staffing shortages, and some Chinese students have reported experiencing discrimination by instructors within these very courses. So instead of a "force-fed" take on diversity, students need the kind of depth and nuance that is embedded in a universitywide liberal arts core. That is true for arts and sciences students and pre-professional students alike.

"What they come away with is knowledge about the world and how to cope, and the important questions about diversity that anyone who is a professional in our society is going to be forced deal with," he said.

Syracuse did not comment directly on the faculty statement.

Beyond Syracuse

While things at that campus took an especially dark turn earlier this academic year, most institutions are dealing with questions of diversity and inclusion and how they relate to the curriculum.

Yale University, for instance, recently announced that it was ending a longtime survey course in art history, HSAR 115, which covers Western art from the Renaissance onward. 

Some commentators have criticized the decision, suggesting that Yale cowed to a deconstructionist mob. This fits in with larger critiques of changes to the curriculum as students demand diversity, equity and inclusion.

The National Association of Scholars recently published a report, written by Stanley Kurtz, asserting that both Western civilization and American exceptionalism are very real things, not constructs. It makes a case for reading the great books and restoring our "lost history."

David Randall, director of research at the national association, said that losing a Western art history survey means the loss of "knowledge of the tradition itself, the continuous conversation of Western artists with their predecessors, and their assimilation of and influence upon rival artistic traditions." Enjoying art for art's sake also loses out to the political and issues of identity, he said.

Tim Barringer, Paul Mellon Professor of Art at Yale, in a brief email pushed back against what he called "inflammatory" framing of the survey issue in other news coverage. He also shared a department statement about the survey course, explaining that the program is now committed to offering four different introductory courses each year.

"All of these courses, current or future, are designed to introduce the undergraduate with no prior experience of the history of art to art historical looking and thinking," the statement says. "They also range broadly in terms of geography and chronology. Essential to this decision is the department's belief that no one survey course taught in the space of a semester could ever be comprehensive, and that no one survey course can be taken as the definitive survey of our discipline."

What's interesting about the Syracuse proposal is that it suggests decentralizing the Western perspective, while at the same time exposing many students to the liberal arts who wouldn't otherwise take these courses. The question for the critics, then, becomes whether it's a win to have more students studying the great books -- or at least some of them -- even if they're doing so from a critical perspective.

Study: Concept of faculty fit in hiring is vague and potentially detrimental to diversity efforts - Inside Higher Ed

Posted: 14 Jul 2020 12:00 AM PDT

Faculty search committees often pick candidates based on their supposed fit. But rather than a defined metric, fit is a highly subjective concept that opens the door to racial and other biases, according to a new study in The Journal of Higher Education.

Beyond providing a novel analysis of faculty fit and its implications for diversity, the paper is also a fascinating window into the pre-COVID-19 hiring process in general. The study confirms what many already believe or suspect about academic hiring: that it typically privileges perceived research impact over all else and that it runs on what's been called cloning bias, or homophily.

Still, the paper doesn't vilify the concept of fit altogether. Instead, it advocates standardizing fit, such as through the use of jointly designed rubrics, to uncover and calibrate search committee members' preferences and to promote diversity.

A 'Poorly Suited' Criterion

Author Damani K. White-Lewis, a postdoctoral scholar in counseling, higher education and special education at the University of Maryland at College Park, said recently that fit, "both as coded language and an overall model of candidate evaluation, is poorly suited to justify academic hiring decisions."

At the same time, he said, "If we can get away from using [fit] so blanketly, there may be opportunities to use design thinking to promote more equitable hiring."

Calibrating hiring rubrics and identifying "realistic, agreed-upon thresholds can promote equity by ensuring fair standards are applied that don't disproportionately penalize marginalized candidates," he said.

Other suggestions: updating search committee training to go beyond implicit bias and making sure that search committees understand how marginalized scholars' credentials "may be suppressed by the gendered racism they experience in academia regularly."

White-Lewis's study found, for example, that search committees generally used basic organizational concepts of fit -- such as whether candidates' credentials matched language in job ads -- to weed out about 25 percent of applicants.

The rest of their winnowing process was what White-Lewis calls highly idiosyncratic. And while scholars' ethnic or other identities were discussed in terms of compliance with institutional diversity goals, often to avoid delays in the search, committees often discounted marginalized scholars' identity-driven work on or with specific populations as too "narrow" or not generalizable.

In a social science committee, for example, one professor said that a candidate's research on U.S. immigration and marriage patterns was topically "narrow," despite describing the candidate's data set as novel.

"Across every search, research was considered narrow if any aspect of the study or research agenda -- topic, sample, theory, or implications -- was purposefully constricted to attune to a certain population, region, or form of identity," White-Lewis found.

In a life sciences committee, for instance, a candidate conducting research on antigay bias was critiqued for not being "as much of a scientist as some of the others [conducting] basic science," and at the same time praised as having an "amazing, long track record and [being] really very influential."

In this way, candidates' social identity transformed from a competitive advantage when they applied or were courted to apply, to "non-factor" during the review phase, with "many faculty members having different -- albeit still color-blind -- perspectives on considering identity."

White-Lewis uses the term "color-convenience" to describe a perspective -- espoused by participants -- that is not quite "color-blindness," but "rooted in ideals of administrative compliance and egalitarianism." 

Methods and Results

For his study, White-Lewis gained access to four search committees looking to hire early-career professors, all at the same unnamed university. The committees spanned four divisions: social sciences, humanities, life and behavioral sciences, and the physical sciences. He conducted semistructured interviews with 23 faculty members, chairs and deans involved in the searches and studied related search documents.

All search committee participants were interviewed twice, once after formation of a candidate short list and once against after department votes for candidates. Questions pertained to department features, judgments based on characteristics committee members believe made applicants highly fit, poorly fit and borderline, and to considerations of racial and ethnic diversity in hiring.

Determined that faculty fit merits more than a Potter Stewart-style approach (the late U.S. Supreme Court justice famously said he knew obscenity when he saw it), White-Lewis found evidence of fit assessments across the various disciplines he studied. But the assessments were limited to subject matter expertise and the department's research infrastructure.

The rest of the candidate winnowing process "lacked sufficient measurement, consensus, and/or relationship to the department, making [for] idiosyncratic preferences rather than criteria-based fit," White-Lewis wrote. "Fit," then, shields irregularities and biases throughout the faculty hiring process, and may "perpetuate racial aversion, neutrality and convenience."

Indeed, White-Lewis found that "racially averse faculty constructed new standards such as 'impactful' and 'narrow' to evaluate and demerit research credentials, while integrating identity when it was most convenient and least impactful to do so."

Faculty searches "are as much about the department and faculty than the candidates themselves," White-Lewis continued, "casting doubt on meritocracy and demonstrating how searches are far less about fit than they are about elevating status, minimizing identity, and mitigating perceived risk for the department."

Focusing on search committee preferences instead of fit reveals the "entire cast of characters responsible for weeding out otherwise qualified and talented racially minoritized candidates," he said. That includes aversion to certain "identity-driven research agendas that are considered narrow, perceived collegiality, institutional pedigree, failure to adequately integrate identity into evaluation" and more.

While the study is limited to one institution, White-Lewis said that failing to frame individual departments as primary settings for these kinds of decisions "fails to explain how academic units bound by the same university policies and guidelines -- implicit bias trainings, equity office interventions -- still reach such different faculty diversity outcomes, even when comparing disciplines with similar levels of racial diversity."

Recommendations and Reactions

White-Lewis recommends that institutions adopt criterion-based fit processes and, more generally, equity-driven evaluation procedures. While using hiring rubrics did not eliminate biases in some of the searches studied, he wrote that "jointly creating and calibrating rubrics allows faculty to explicitly state and defend their own leanings, expose their biases, and ensures that equal and fair criterion is applied consistently."

Rubrics must also include equity considerations, he said, to challenge the status quo of "guarded discussions around racial equity" and "convert biases related to engaged research, teaching, and service into competitive advantages necessary to support twenty-first century learners."

White-Lewis wrote that committees should also define their searches beyond mere subject area expertise and research considerations. This, he continued, "begs a greater question that would strengthen rubrics and achieve fit: just what is the department and institution about? Is there a common bond that unites the department beyond simply wanting qualified researchers, and what are important institutional and departmental goals that candidates may also satisfy?"

On research, faculty members across departments unevenly applied phrases such as "stand out," "impactful" and "interesting" to describe what constituted original research that merited hiring, according to the study.

Jeff Buller, a consultant who recently retired as director of leadership and development at Florida Atlantic University, and author of Hire the Right Faculty Member Every Time: Best Practices in Recruiting, Selecting, and Onboarding College Professors, said the potential problem with fit is, "Fit with what?"

If the answer for search committees is "fit with people like us," he said, that approach "too often becomes an obstacle to diversity."

If the answer is "fit with the needs and aspirations of the program," however, "then fit can actually encourage diversity," he said.

In reality, "most people in faculty searches regard the fit issue as a proxy for collegiality," Buller said. Someone fits, then, "if they don't create interpersonal turmoil."

Hinting at why the American Association of University Professors opposes collegiality in faculty evaluation, Buller said there's a difference between "someone who challenges others and someone who demeans and disparages others."

George Justice, professor of English at Arizona State University and author of How to Be a Dean (and an opinion contributor to Inside Higher Ed), said he doesn't believe in fit, as it's "almost always an excuse to make a bad hire."

"I always believe in hiring for excellence, which I believe strongly will increase diversity. I also believe strongly in some kinds of targeted hiring for diversity and excellence," he said.

Justice said that he views fit as "always idiosyncratic," and that instead of fit, search committees should set "explicit criteria of excellence."


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