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How Sweet Briar Can Save Itself

Whether the “Saving Sweet Briar” campaign succeeds in bringing the college back from the brink of closure, the announcement last month of its imminent demise is still a harbinger of tough times ahead for other private liberal-arts colleges. In a conflict between closing with dignity and fighting with every last breath and dollar, how Sweet Briar College prevails or fails will be instructive for all small colleges, single-gender and coed.

As one aligned with fighting to the end (and as a former p…

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My Nomadic Class

My course this past semester began like so many others: 14 students and I arrived every Tuesday and Thursday morning in an uninspiring space of concrete-block walls and fluorescent lighting, with few windows and fixed desks all facing forward, ill suited to the discussion-based, flipped format of the class. So, a couple of weeks into the semester, we decided to go nomadic.

We had pedagogical reasons for doing so. The course focused on how the built environment both reflects and affects our ideas…

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The ‘Story Behind the Story’: Making Lit Matter

In one of the first courses I took as an undergraduate, the English professor walked into class one morning invoking the name of Faulkner as if it were a sacred incantation: “Today, ladies and gentleman, we are going to read Faulkner.”  We students shivered at the sublimity of the name.  Since this trick seemed to work with his students, I figured I, now some 20 years later and new professor in my own right, would try the same trick with mine: “Today, ladies and gentleman, we are going to read—F…

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A Field Guide to American Higher-Ed Reformers

This short and easy-to-use field guide is designed to help both academics and lay audiences quickly identify some of the important species and subspecies that now occupy the higher-education landscape in the United States. Recognizing these various species, many of which are new to this environment, has become particularly important in this period of drastic university climate change and species migration.

1. Venture philanthropists and foundations

Species: Benevolentia disrumpo

Habitat/range: F…

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Institutions’ Misplaced Fear of Fossil-Fuel Divestment

The campus divestment movement is losing. The wealthiest, most prestigious colleges and universities are declining to divest. News reports indicate that Harvard actually increased substantially its holdings in oil and gas companies in the fall of 2014. The message is clear. Market logic rules. Profits come first, even for not-for-profit institutions.

Well-publicized estimates of endowment-income losses at Swarthmore, Wellesley, and Pomona, coupled with threats to financial-aid and compensation b…

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A New Era? The Outlook for U.S.-Cuba Academic Relations

A new era in U.S.-Cuba relations was ushered in on December 17th when the presidents of both countries announced they were prepared to end nearly six decades of estrangement. I had nearly lost hope that in my lifetime there would be a rapprochement between my adopted nation and the island where I was born and which I left 55 years ago with my parents.

I have made the study of my homeland my academic career, so I could not be more thrilled about the prospect of a normalization of relations. I als…

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New Rankings Paint a False Picture of Arab Universities

Even people who complain that university rankings do not provide very useful information are still inclined to look at them.

On many levels, rankings appear valid: Princeton (ranked first by U.S. News & World Report, seventh by Times Higher Education) is really good; Rutgers (ranked 70th and 144th, respectively) is just plain good.

Recently, however, two university rankers decided to venture into new territory by ranking universities in the Middle East. U.S. News released its list of Best Arab R…

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Gagged in Kansas? Bill Would Deny Free Speech to Public-College Employees

Oh Dorothy, we are indeed in Kansas. Under a bill pending in the state’s Legislature, public-college and public-university employees in Kansas would be barred from using their official titles in newspaper opinion articles written in their capacity as private citizens.

The bill would prohibit public postsecondary employees in the state from “providing or using [the] employee’s official title when authoring or contributing to a newspaper opinion column.” But … don’t worry. The restrictio…

The Silencing of Harvard’s Professors

Today Harvard faces a serious governance problem that requires institutional change. When we first came here, the university was organized on the constitutional principle: “Each tub on its own bottom.” This meant first of all that each of the component schools (arts and sciences, medical school, law school, and so on) had not only a high degree of budgetary independence but also that its faculty and dean had a large measure of autonomy. And at the level of the schools such administrators as ther…

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Let This Satirical Campus Newspaper Live

In 2007, a group of students at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln fought to establish the first satirical newspaper on the campus. Eight years and nearly 70 issues later, the paper still hits the newsstand every other week. Recently, however, a committee charged with allocating student fees proposed defunding it — saving students a mere 15 cents annually — for the one reason that scares and baffles me the most. “While it does create a number of opportunities for students,” the commit…