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The House Education and Workforce Committee Investigation into Colleges and Universities 2024



This week, on January 10, 2024, House Representative Elise Stefanik (New York's 21st District) wrote in a New York Post Op-Ed entitled "Penn, Harvard firings are just the start. House to expose ALL the Higher-Ed rot," stating the House intends to investigate more colleges and universities in 2024. "We are looking at foreign donations to our universities, the failure to protect Jewish students, the federal accreditation system, the assault on viewpoint diversity and free speech, the erosion in academic integrity, and the extent to which taxpayers have been forced to bankroll the political indoctrination of young Americans."

Let us start with the obvious. These claims illuminate, on a foundational level, the amount of misinformation that runs rampant in our political system as it relates to the very function of American higher education institutions. Responses to ossified claims must be met with providing balance, contextual knowledge, and, most importantly, a grounded contribution to the ongoing dialogue that has emerged because of recent events.

These claims illuminate, on a foundational level, the amount of misinformation that runs rampant in our political system as it relates to the very function of American higher education institutions.

With over 4,000 Higher Education institutions in this country, we must recognize that all institutions are different. Public dialogue often discusses the variation across access types, from open access and rolling admissions (admitting students throughout the calendar year) to highly selective admission cycles (Fall admittance, spring admittance, etc.) All postsecondary institutions fall somewhere on this continuum. Other variations among institutions include but are not limited to, affiliations, award levels, educational offerings, organizational structures, financial health, and a myriad of other differences. To generalize higher education as a one-size-fits-all is a short-sighted and inaccurate representation of the field.

"We must be willing to meet the moment of criticism and what it requires. In today's educational context, with increased levels of scrutiny and false claims, let us ensure we offer accurate and transparent perspectives of what’s happening on college campuses."

This response is not to prevent postsecondary institutions from shouldering backlash. In fact, I would recommend schools ascertain there own blindspots, becoming more present with the realities of the cultural climate on their campuses. There are certain elements and systemic functions that need to be dismantled. However, we must be willing to meet the moment of criticism and what it requires. In today's educational context, with increased levels of scrutiny and various claims, let us ensure we offer accurate and transparent perspectives of what’s happening on college campuses. As American History has taught us, Colleges and Universities are the bedrock of activism, critical thinking, robust discussion, research, and innovation. We are not required to function solely at the discretion of volatile congressional leaders. We must be willing to rebuttal with clarity, defending academic freedom among all other means of discovery in our higher education institutions.


Top communication priorities every institution should consider reviewing and assessing in the coming months:


  1. Student Affairs Policy/Academic Affairs Policy: Articulate the process for all matters of civic engagement and make it accessible to both the internal community as well as external community.

  2. Reaffirm Your Commitment to Academic Freedom and Institutional Mission: Avoid the laissez-faire approach in discussing your institutional priorities. Be proactive about governing but also supporting students, faculty, and staff in the college environment, leaning into the pluralism, but offering a north star for all. Faculty should feel supported in their classroom and research, without reservation of the potential unintended consequences. Everyone should feel their school works with them, not against them.

  3. Create dialogue where Red Tape currently exists: Privacy and Transparency are the characteristics to consider. If the college is experiencing outcry, backlash, and increased public scrutiny... chances are there are long-term issues that have been brewing, but have been met with silence from meaningful representation. What are the feedback loops for members of the community to share concerns? What is the protocol for redressing issues on campus? Everyone should have access to elevating issues of concern no matter who they are.

Overall, the increased level of attention in the higher education context offers an opportunity to reimagine systemic structures, namely the symbolic and human resource frame, and how they can play a role in the success or failure of the institution's culture of learning.


Book Recommendation:

Bok, D. (1982). Beyond the ivory tower: Social responsibilities of the modern university. Harvard University Press.

 

As it relates to this week's insights, see the following chapters:

Chapter 1: Academic Freedom

Chapter 3: The purpose and responsibility of the University to Society

Chapter 4: Access to the University and the Problem of Racial Inequality

Chapter 7: The Social Responsibility of Research

Chapter 10: Taking Political Positions

Chapter 11: Accepting Gifts



Rebuttals are always welcome,

Jade M. Felder

@felderofficial


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Sad we have to get the students to biggest crossroads in education and not have a clear plan for them to succeed in their goals. (Under grad - grad school students)

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