Should we rename buildings that honor flawed historical figures?

How should colleges and universities deal with buildings named for historical figures that supported ideas or positions that today we find reprehensible?  Should we continue to honor the legacy of slaveholders, KKK members, or pro-segregation leaders?  This isn’t an academic argument as many universities, particularly in the South, have faced protests from students and other constituencies.  However, nearly every major historical figures has aspects of their lives that we can take issue with today.  How do we decide which ones stay and which need to go?

One of the hardest things that I have to help students think through in my history of higher education courses is how to consider moral issues and historical circumstances.  For example, how do we consider the arguments of someone who advocated against women in higher education when we would all disagree with that position today?

How to Deal with Student Complaints: The Gap Between Stimulus and Response

As higher education faculty and administrators, we receive a lot of complaints.  Students, parents, supervisors, colleagues… everyone has complaints.  Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about student complaints and how to deal with student complaints.  When should we respond?  How?  In the age of student consumerism (my tuition pays your salary!), the issue of how to respond to student complaints becomes even trickier.  Fundamentally, I believe that just because someone complains doesn’t mean they have a complaint.  The challenge is how do we determine when a situation needs responding to and what response is appropriate.

Photo credit: Chris Goldberg

A few years ago, I took a group of doctoral students on a study abroad trip.  There had been a few logistic problems, but nothing too serious.  Yet, a few students had complained.  I listened to their concerns, but ultimately there wasn’t anything to be done about it.  They felt better just knowing someone listened to them.

Toward the end of the trip, we arrived at our hotel for the evening.  Okay, honestly, hotel is being generous.  It was pretty much a hostel.  I was helping with the check-in process at the front desk when I started hearing whispers among the group.  After a few minutes, a student pulled me aside and said we had a problem.  The accommodations weren’t sufficient.  

Judges and Professors: Why We Need Tenure

Judges and professors are unusual positions in our society for both involve tenure. Although few argue that federal judges shouldn’t have tenure, the practice in higher education has been criticized for decades. Opponents argue that tenure creates unproductive faculty, hurts teaching effectiveness, and costs institutions and students money that might be better allocated elsewhere. Indeed, this is just the tip of the iceberg as there are seemingly as many ways to criticize tenure as there are tenured faculty left. In today’s post, I want to share the arguments of why we need tenure and why it is critical to the long-term success of American higher education.

Photo credit: Phil Roeder

First, why do we give judges tenure or a lifetime appointment? The Founding Fathers wanted judges to base their opinions on the rule of law and not public opinion. To help insulate the judges, a lifetime appointment provides protection from direct political or societal pressure.

The same holds true for faculty. Society needs researchers and teachers that seek and disseminate knowledge free from undue political or social influence. Just as judges should be solely driven by the rule of law. We need faculty who should be driven by data.

The Making of SAE: Southern Universities at the Heart of the Problem

As nearly the whole country knows by now, the University of Oklahoma has closed their chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon after a racist video went viral. The video showed SAE members singing a racist chant with references to keeping black members out as well as lynching. The university responded quickly expelling the leaders of the chant and shutting down the fraternity. Indeed, the university and President David Boren won praise for their speed and decisiveness in responding to the video. Media accounts portrayed the incident as well as others with SAE chapters at other institutions as reprehensible, but also exhibited some surprise at the open racism evident. Without a doubt, individual prejudice and racism contributed to the actions by OU’s SAE chapter. Yet, this explanation is incomplete and too conveniently excuses Southern universities from responsibility. To put it plainly, the actions and policies of Southern universities have fostered and helped create racially segregated campuses.

For much of the 20th century, predominantly white universities in the South explicitly engaged in deliberate practices that systematically limited the access of African-Americans to high quality higher education. Even though many (though certainly not all) of these practices ended by the turn of the century, the legacy of the policies influences the state of racial segregation on campuses today.

The Four Benefits of a Restful Spring Break

My spring break was amazing! I had a wonderful time in St. Lucia enjoying the sun, surf, and just relaxing. The trip was a great experience. Rather than being disappointed about being back at work today, I’m reenergized and ready to tackle the rest of the semester. In reflecting on my week away, I want to share what I see as the four benefits of a restful spring break to hopefully encourage you to take one for yourself.

Photo of our unbelievable suite at Jade Mountain

As I’ve said in the past, I have a hard time letting go of work and just taking time to relax. Yet, last week I spent my work energy on consciously not working. I avoided emailed and even thinking about work. I read some nonfiction books, but didn’t spent a lot of time thinking about how to apply what I was learning.

Thinking back on the week, I’m just now starting to appreciate how tired I was before break and how much better prepared I am to tackle the rest of the semester.  Specifically, I’ve identified four benefits of a restful spring break.