Two Tough Questions for Online Education

Blog Post Author: Bryan Blakeley

Date: March 2017

Title: Two Tough Questions for Online Education


Online higher education has been on a rapid rise in the United States. According to NCES data, the proportion of undergraduate students who took at least one online course during the 2011-2012 academic year more than doubled from just eight years prior (from 15.6% in 2003-2004 to 32% in 2011-2012). Proponents who view online courses as democratizing force in higher education applaud this trend, as do the many institutions that have ramped up production capacity and created new institutional structures through which to deliver online education (e.g., Penn State World Campus or Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America). While the increasing prevalence of online education leads to all sorts of important questions, this article focuses on two specific questions related to the teaching and learning process: Are students succeeding in online courses? How does online teaching change faculty work? While some research exists on these questions – a subset of which is explored below – they are both in need of much more thorough investigation by the higher education research community.

Are students succeeding in online courses? Much of the initial research on student outcomes in online courses compared them directly with face-to-face courses, finding “no significant difference” on average. There is significant nuance hiding behind these averages, however. Certain populations actually perform worse in online courses than in face-to-face courses, particularly male students and students from racially minoritized groups, and the reasons for these outcomes are not well understood. Making this question even more difficult is the fact that online courses are no more monolithic than face-to-face courses, meaning that researchers have found markedly different results in student outcomes depending on the instructional techniques utilized in online courses or the instructional techniques utilized in the face-to-face courses to which they are being compared. What seems possible to generalize from these results is that students can learn as well in online courses as in face-to-face courses, but the ascertaining the reasons for success will require additional research.

Online education significantly changes faculty work. Instructors in face-to-face courses typically incorporate some mix of direct instruction (e.g., lecture) and class activities (e.g., class discussion) on a flexible basis. They receive a steady stream of oral and non-verbal feedback from students and can clear up misconceptions on the spot. In the online context, instructors may still provide direct instruction, but it is more likely to be in pre-recorded video form without the same built-in feedback mechanisms. Class discussions often shift from oral to textual and from immediate to time-dispersed, significantly changing the nature of interaction that instructors have with students. Synchronous video sessions can overcome some of these challenges, but instructors face a learning curve in this environment as well. Producing online courses is a significant time investment for faculty members and must be done months in advance of the term in which the course will be offered. While these changes are not necessarily negative, they still significant change the nature of faculty work.

Perhaps more significantly, many institutions have fundamentally restructured the nature of faculty work in the production of online courses. In typical face-to-face courses, faculty members have substantial autonomy in decisions about methods and content, exercising their professional judgment about how best to instruct students and communicate subject matter. To develop online courses, however, it is common for institutions to hire one instructor to develop the course – usually called a Subject Matter Expert – and then hire a separate instructor to teach the course. Both instructors are typically hired on an adjunct basis and paid accordingly, with all rights to the course held by the institution. While this disaggregation of the instructional role may reduce costs to the institution and ensure that the resulting course can be reused nearly ad infinitum, it also depersonalizes the course and deprofessionalizes the instructor teaching it. Rather than making judgments about the best way to teach a given subject, the instructor uses the pre-built template as a script and takes on a role not dissimilar from a teaching assistant or grader. Understood alongside the increasing prevalence of online education, this approach may exacerbate the continuing decline in the proportion of tenure-line faculty positions in higher education, further weakening the professoriate.

Considering the continued growth of online education, it is even more important to understand its impact on students and faculty members, not to mention American higher education more generally. Researchers need to reckon with the nuances of online education and attempt to understand the structures that promote student and faculty well-being. Perhaps through applying this research online education can become what its proponents hope for: a true democratizing force in American higher education.

Community Awareness Notice

Blog Post Author: Georgiana Mihut

Date: May 2016

Community Awareness Notice

Friday, May 13th at 4:39 p.m. members of the BC community have received a community awareness notice. The email informed the BC affiliates that on the morning of the same day the BC police responded to a call regarding a case of attempted theft on campus. The suspect was not apprehended, but during the pursuit two stolen laptops were recovered. The notice goes on to advise the BC affiliates on steps that could be taken to avoid similar incidents. Broadly, we are encouraged to secure our belongings in various forms. The BC police is legally obliged to issues such notifications.

This is another community awareness notice.

Some readers will observe that the community awareness notice fails to discuss that while one can always do more and better to protect their property, such actions are not enough to avoid the prevalence, and indeed sometimes the need, for theft in our society. If the purpose of the community notice is to facilitate the prevention of theft, then it is appropriate to consider a broader spectrum of suggestions beyond personal protection. My argument here is two fold. First, the prevalence and degree of theft is a complex social phenomenon that will continue to exit even if individuals better protect their personal property. Second, that the university campuses can use future similar incidents as an educational moment that increases awareness about inequality and broader societal problems.

The link between theft and economic and social inequality remains contested. However, at the individual level it is known that various factors ranging from psychological conditions and compulsions to various degrees of economic deprivation compel individuals to steal. While the influence of various factors outside of one’s control on economically motivated crime should not steer the judicial and law enforcement systems away from protecting individuals, those compelled to steal too need protection, sometimes even more that their victims. Friday the 13th’s notices, and others with the same characteristics, are missed opportunities to engage our compassion, promote reflection and motivate us to improve the conditions that lead to crime at least as much as we are motivated to watch our bags closely.

If BC affiliated individuals do indeed form a community, it is because of loose bonds given by an aggregated quest to educate ourselves, to enrich our understanding of the world so we are better prepared to pursue “a just society”. In light of this quest, I believe and advocate that this incident and similar ones be accompanied by an additional note added to the community notice. This additional note is aimed at making community members better aware, would be included at the end of the mandated notice following the steps individuals could take to protect themselves, and would read “Contribute towards creating a just and better society where nobody feels compelled to steal”.

p.s. In a recent act of social justice that may or may not be related to the BC incident, the Italian Supreme Court ruled that stealing food while unable to afford to buy it does not constitute a crime.

March Madness, for the Public Good

Blog Post Author: Jerry Logan

Date: March 2016

March Madness, for the Public Good

The first two rounds of March Madness, the annual NCAA Division I men’s basketball postseason tournament, are in the books, and as usual there was no shortage of compelling narratives. Middle Tennessee pulled off perhaps the greatest upset in opening round history by defeating Michigan State. The Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin and their bearded star player briefly captured the sporting world’s heart when they chopped down West Virginia last Friday. And Northern Iowa stunned Texas on a half-court buzzer beating shot before being stunned themselves two nights later when Texas A&M made up a 12-point deficit in the final 35 seconds of regulation before winning in double overtime. When the madness subsided at the end of Sunday night and only 16 teams remained, however, the underdogs were all but gone and college basketball’s bluebloods had assumed center stage.

Chief among the bluebloods this year is the University of North Carolina, whom many view as the most talented team in the tournament and who, along with Kansas, are the co-favorite to win the year’s final prize. The Tarheels have a narrative of their own, though it is not as compelling as those of the Cinderella teams mentioned above. UNC faces what are likely to be severe NCAA sanctions in the coming year after revelations of academic fraud that spanned 20 years and involved around 1,500 athletes. In its own investigation of the matter, the university uncovered additional pieces of information related to the scandal. The disclosure of this information this past summer prolonged the timeline for the NCAA’s investigation, allowing this year’s athletic teams to avoid sanctions. The irony, then, is particularly strong: by reporting even more wrongdoing, the university increased its chances of winning a national championship.

As scholars have demonstrated, unethical behavior has plagued intercollegiate athletics from their inception, particularly in the commercial sports of football and men’s basketball (Thelin, 1996). The resulting critiques are centuries old, yet they have made remarkably little dent on the shape and popularity of big-time college athletics. If anything, a number of developments over the years, most notably the rise of television, have only increased the temptation to unethical behavior given the profit-making capacity of these sports (Clotfelter, 2011). While arguments for reform remain vital (Lawrence, Hendricks, & Ott, 2007; Shulman & Bowen, 2001), certain scholars also have recognized the need for a reconsideration of the benefits that athletics might represent for American universities (Clotfelter, 2011; Thelin & Wisemann, 1989; Toma, 2003). If intercollegiate athletics are not going anywhere any time soon, they reason, we might as well figure out what they can really be worth to their institutions. Such efforts necessarily involve a thorough economic analysis, especially given the costs of maintaining Division I athletic programs, but they also demand an accounting of the benefits that are not so easily quantified.

Clotfelter (2011) highlights a number of these more fuzzy benefits, among them the unrivaled exposure that athletic success can generate for an institution as well as the sense of community that can form around these teams, especially among students and alumni. Undoubtedly, March Madness could furnish researchers with an annual stock of case studies around just these two phenomena. However, Clotfelter also notes another benefit that is far less often cited when considering the true value of big-time college athletic programs. After all the money that fans shell out in order to support their teams—whether by purchasing tickets, buying merchandise, or traveling to arenas across their country—there remains an additional value to the spectating experience. “Whether the team wins or loses,” Clotfelter asserts, “the acts of following, cheering, and hoping add up to something like happiness” (p. 199). This consumer surplus, as he refers to it, rarely appears in the ledger when athletic programs are under scrutiny, yet particularly for public institutions, it “would seem to be a legitimate part of the benefit a state university provides to its citizens” (Clotfelter, 2011, p. 93). All of the institutions mentioned at the beginning of this post are public universities. And each time the camera scans the crowd during their games, Clotfelter’s notion of consumer surplus screams from the faces of fans decked head to toe in their team’s colors.

There is one other public university from the tournament’s opening weekend that is worth mentioning. The University of Hawaii, a 13-seed, played the fourth-seeded Golden Bears from Cal Berkeley on Friday afternoon. Having taken the afternoon off from work, I settled into watch, hoping for an upset to start the day. Though not a basketball powerhouse by any means, Hawaii learned in December of severe sanctions from the NCAA for a number of violations committed under its previous coach. The sanctions will begin during the 2016-17 season, with perhaps the most notable penalty being a ban on postseason play for that year. For both the team’s seniors and juniors, this game represented their only chance to play in the Big Dance. As the game unfolded, the telecast focused on Hawaii’s coach, Eran Ganot, who had taken the job this year knowing that NCAA penalties loomed. And as is so often the case, as the clock ticked down and it became clear that the Rainbow Warriors would indeed pull off the upset, the cameras found Coach Ganot’s family. His wife was holding a small girl, who was beaming from ear to ear. I assumed she was their daughter, and I was right, though not in the way I expected. The girl was actually their niece; her biological mother—Coach Ganot’s sister-in-law—had been killed in a car accident and they had become her adoptive parents.

That little girl’s smile is, for me, the lasting image of the tournament. And it makes me think that, despite how big March Madness has become, despite how much money is involved and how many ethical dilemmas and embarrassments arise, there is still “something like happiness” that can come from watching a bunch of college kids play ball.


Clotfelter, C. T. (2011). Big-time sports in American universities. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Lawrence, J. H., Hendricks, L. A., & Ott, M. C. (2007, October 15). Faculty perceptions of intercollegiate athletics: A national study of faculty at NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision institutions. Retrieved from

Shulman, J. L., & Bowen, W. G. (2001). The game of life: College sports and educational values. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Thelin, J. R. (1996). Games colleges play: Scandal and reform in intercollegiate athletics. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Thelin, J. R., & Wiseman, L. L. (1989). The old college try: Balancing academics and athletics in higher education. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 4.

Toma, J. D. (2003). Football U.: Spectator sports in the life of the American university. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.


Building Men of Character: An Argument to Forgo the Fraternity Values Movement

Blog Post Author: Adam McCready

Date: October 2015

Building Men of Character: An Argument to Forgo the Fraternity Values Movement

Various stakeholders, including students, alumni, faculty and staff, routinely champion the values espoused by fraternities, and urge fraternity men to act congruently with the tenets of their organizations. While ideals vary from fraternity to fraternity, most aim to advance the intellectual, moral and social development of their members, and they promote values like love, virtue, honor, charity, and truth. Several fraternities outwardly state that they aim to cultivate true gentlemen. Yet, if the continued onslaught of problematic fraternity-related events are any indication of the trajectory of the United States fraternity system, it is evident that the values-based movement has not influenced the everyday behaviors and experiences of fraternity men. This dissonance between the celebrated intent of fraternities and the actions of their members should come with little surprise. The dogmatic rules and values-based expectations that define the ultimate reality of being a fraternity man inevitably do more harm to fraternities than good, because this perceived knowledge of the true fraternity experience impinges our understanding of the evolving nature of membership in these organizations.

The fraternity values movement is problematic for several reasons. First, with the exception of the fraternities founded by and for underrepresented students, and other more modern organizations, fraternities were established by wealthy, white, Christian men attending nonsecular single-sex colleges and universities. The ideals of these organizations reflect those of their founders, and inextricably alienate many of their current members. In other words, these values foster a hegemonic conceptualization of “fraternity man” that no longer matches the demographics or interests of the current student population. To be a true gentleman is an impossible task for many fraternity men, and it is often met with indifference by members.

Second, these values are used by fraternity men to justify their actions and inaction. While many of these actions may be deemed positive in nature, they may also have unintended consequences. The importance placed on social growth serves as a rationale for the next alcohol-fueled party. An organizational commitment to charity, instead of the personal interests of the members, becomes the motivation for an unauthentic community service event. Secrecy becomes a mechanism for members to hide hazing and other insidious behaviors from others. The knowledge of what it means to be a fraternity man, as defined by the member’s understanding of a fraternity’s values, shapes the discourse of the fraternity experiences for these members.

Upon stripping away this values-based mantra, it is clear that fraternities have sustained themselves because of the deep friendships formed by their members. These vulnerable and intimate relationships are the true nature of brotherhood. To alter the behaviors of fraternity men, we must understand the formation and perpetuation of these relationships, and how men make meaning of their identity through their interconnectedness with other men in their organizations. By understanding the actions and behaviors of fraternity men, we can identify the emergent values that underlie their decision-making.

Dewey (1929/1998) wrote, “Philosophy which is willing to abandon its supposed task of knowing ultimate reality and to devote itself to a proximate human office might be of great help in such a task.” To truly understand fraternities, we must forgo the values-based fraternity movement, and instead understand the how men make meaning of fraternity through their experiences.


Dewey, J. (1998). Philosophy’s search for the immutable. In L. A. Hickman & T. M. Alexander (Eds.), The essential Dewey: Volume 1: Pragmatism, education, democracy (pp. 102–112). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. (Reprinted from The quest for certainty, 1929)

What is wrong with free higher education? Examples from around the world

Blog Post Author: Ariane de Gayardon de Fenoyl

Date: March 2015

What is wrong with free higher education? Examples from around the world

In 2011, Chilean students took the street to demonstrate against the state of the educational system in their country. At the heart of their demands was the claim for free education – primary, secondary, and tertiary. The promise of free higher education in Chile became a major stake in the presidential election, and their current president is now trying to set up a solution to honour her electoral promise. More recently, in November 2014, thousands of English students demonstrated against tuition fees, also asking for free higher education. At a time when many countries are struggling with rising tuition, unacceptable levels of student debts, and recurrent cuts on university budgets, the ideal of free higher education is attractive. Wouldn’t free higher education help students access higher education? Wouldn’t it lower debt levels? Wouldn’t it force governments to support higher education in the face of all opposition?

But free higher education might not be the right answer to the problems of today’s higher education systems, it might indeed create more problems than solutions. The longing for free higher education risks only to detract people from the real problems that higher education faces, and ask for an unsustainable solution that few governments seem to be able to implement today. In fact, half the countries in the world claim they offer some type of free-tuition higher education, but they have the same problems as many countries that charge tuition. In short, is fight for free higher education really worth it?

There is no need to say that the past decades have seen more countries institute tuition fees, rather than become free, with some notable exceptions – like Ireland or Germany. Most countries that do not charge tuition for free higher education have difficulty revoking this decision for legal, political and historical reasons. For instance, the Nordic countries are well-known for being the embodiment of welfare state, and therefore citizens agree on paying high taxes for such public services as education to be free. Another example is Latin America, where there is no tuition at public universities as a result of the University of Cordoba student uprising in 1918. In the ex-soviet countries, free higher education is often written in the Constitution, a legacy from the communist ideology.

Notwithstanding the deep roots behind the decision to offer free public higher education, governments in many supposedly free countries are finding loopholes to decrease the burden on the state budget. Some countries, especially from the former Soviet Union, are establishing dual-track mechanism, i.e. reducing the number of subsidies places in public programs, while allowing for universities to enroll extra paying students. The free places are given to students based on merit. In Russia, more than 50 percent of the students in public universities are now paying tuition. Other countries are countering free-tuition higher education by asking for students to pay nominal fees. One stunning example is Ireland, whose current student contribution of €2750 is higher than the tuition fee that was charged to students in 1996 prior to the adoption of free higher education.

Ironically, there are students in the free higher education systems that have similar financial issues than in systems with tuitions. Not only are governments finding ways for most students to still pay for their education, but higher education’s cost is not limited to tuition fees. Cost of living and opportunity cost are major issues in free higher education systems as well. A study from 2005 has shown that more Swedish students graduate with debts than American students, and that the average debt and debt-to-income ratio are higher in Sweden. The difference? Sweden does not charge tuition. Yet, studying in Sweden remains extremely expensive and its cost is comparable to countries that charge high tuitions.

How does this evidence from all over the world inform our thinking about free higher education? If the first and most prominent aim of charging no tuition is to improve access to tertiary higher education, these examples show that this goal is seldom attained. In light of scarcer financial government support to higher education, countries stuck in a free system either restrict the number of free spaces available, or find ways to charge students anyway. In the former case, spaces are filled according to a merit-based system and therefore benefit students from higher social strata. In the second case, the financial burden is simply displaced – either in terms of non-tuition fees or through cost of living – erecting a similar financial barrier for students from low socio-economic status than countries actually charging tuitions.

If free higher education does not improve access, does not lower student debt, does not force government to keep subsidizing higher education, and creates the same issue as tuition-charging higher education, then isn’t it time to stop longing for it and instead find innovative, fair, and equitable ways to finance higher education?

“A Thousand Paper Cuts and a Ton of Feathers:” Microaggessions on College Campuses

Blog Post Author: Kevin Gin

Date: February 2015

“A Thousand Paper Cuts and a Ton of Feathers:” Microaggessions on College Campuses

Addressing a tenuous racial climate on college and university campuses continues to be a confounding issue for higher education educators and administrators. While it has been suggested that the United States has achieved post-racial status, overwhelming evidence from research and scholarship documents the continued presence of racial prejudice and discrimination in settings such as colleges and universities. The costs of harboring such an educational environment leads to concerning academic and social outcomes for students, such as decreased persistence and campus affinity, low classroom engagement, psychological distress, and increased risk for physical harm. Awareness of such consequences should be cause for concern for those situated in campus communities. So, why is there a notion that negative racial climates are no longer an imperative concern in educational environments?

Some claim that if you cannot see and identify racism on a tangible level, it cannot exist in the educational setting. As an example, the physical manifestation of burning crosses, swastikas, and hanging nooses are no longer prominent societal symbols, and therefore equate to a lack of racism within our communities. While studies have confirmed that overt racist acts, such as the ones previously mentioned, have decreased in previous decades, assertions of a colorblind society neglect the fluidity that racial bias, discrimination, and prejudice posses. Rather than revealing itself in observable and concrete manners, racism has evolved into invisible, or subtle discrimination that is grounded in both conscious and unconscious behaviors in contemporary society. These behaviors have been classified as microaggressions, or what Sue et al. (2007) define as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group” (p. 273).

The identification, and study of microaggressions has become an issue of significance within higher education communities, and is a burgeoning area of research. Because of their covert characteristics, microaggressions are often difficult for students and administrators to identify or detect in everyday life. And when experienced, students often dedicate a substantial amount of energy internalizing their negative effects, anguishing about the validity of their encounters. This leads to difficulty in reporting and documenting microaggressions on college campuses. But, numerous studies situate the importance of addressing microaggressions within higher education settings. A recent national study by the Voices of Diversity Project at Harvard University documents this urgency by reiterating the rise of microaggressions cultivates a chilly, and unwelcoming campus environment for many college students, such as women and students of color (Caplan & Ford, 2014). More concerning, the study continues to cite severe consequences of microaggressions, such as “diminished mortality, augmented morbidity, and flattened confidence” (Pierce, 1970, p. 281). And, scholars have symbolically represented the effect of this covert racism as “death by a thousand cuts” (Nadal et al., 2011, p. 234) or “lifting a ton of feathers” (Caplan, 1993, p. 1). These descriptions elicit compelling arguments for higher education administrators to accentuate their knowledge and awareness of microaggressions within campus life.

But, due to the aforementioned difficulties of students identifying, and administrators perceiving the manifestation of microaggressions within social and academic experiences, uncertainties emerge about how to address these behaviors on the physical campus environment. More confounding, little literature and research exists about the emergence of microaggressions within social media platforms such as Yik Yak, Snapchap, Facebook, and Twitter. Current statistics from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life (2015) cite 89% of traditional college aged individuals currently engage within social media sites. This fact, combined with anecdotal evidence documenting regular reports of racial cyber bullying, supports the occurrence of racial bias within these online settings, and further emphasizes the need to advance the study of microaggressions within social media contexts.

These arguments should elicit uneasiness for higher education administrators. While colleges and universities have yet to effectively develop strategies to confront microaggressions within their physical environments, they simultaneously must be cognizant of how the largely unregulated, and expanding context of social media influences the racial climate on their campuses. Through this, questions arise. How does higher education neutralize microaggressions within their communities? What role does/can higher education play in addressing racial microaggressions in social media? How will race, discrimination, and prejudice continue to evolve in changing educational contexts? And, can higher education progress in a fluid manner to effectively answer these questions?


Caplan P.J. (1993). Lifting a ton of feathers: A woman’s guide to surviving in the academic world. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Caplan, P. J., & Ford, J. C. (2014). The voices of diversity: What students of diverse races/ ethnicities and both sexes tell us about their college experiences and their perceptions about their institutions’ progress toward diversity. APORIA, 6(3), 30–69.

Nadal, K. L., Issa, M.-A., Leon, J., Meterko, V., Wideman, M., & Wong, Y. (2011). Sexual orientation microaggressions: “Death by a Thousand Cuts” for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Journal of LGBT Youth, 8(3), 234–259.

Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life (2015). Social networking fact sheet. Retrieved from

Pierce, C. (1970). Offensive mechanisms. In F. Barbour (Ed.), The Black seventies. Boston: Porter Sargent,

Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice. The American Psychologist, 62(4), 271–86.

The Problem of English Dominance in Higher Education Globalization

Blog Post Author: Paul G. Brown

Date: January 2015

The Problem of English Dominance in Higher Education Globalization

On my recent trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, I was struck by the predominance of the English language.  It was certainly a great benefit for me, considering my lack of knowledge of Arabic, but it also made me uncomfortable with the imperialistic overtones it carried.  English has become the global academic language. Recent studies from Hamel indicate that 75-90% of global-level academic papers were written in English. Many nations, most notably China, require or test their students for English language competency before they are admitted to higher education. Once in higher education, some institutions even teach their courses in English, despite it not being the native language of the country. The reasons behind English’s dominance are rooted in history and it is perpetuated by systems of dominance and oppression that started long before the present.  I want to provide a brief overview of the reasons for this as well as the implications of it.

Why English Dominates

English’s dominance has one of its roots in the United States’ status as the first higher education system to achieve what Martin Trow characterized as massification, or a level of participation in higher education reaching over 50%.  As a result, the United States is able to exert an outsize influence on academia globally.  As other nations reach towards massification to be competitive in the global environment, they often look towards the American model of organization.  The United States’ diversified system of higher education ranges from the large research university to the small liberal arts college and the 2-year community and technical and trade schools. These institutions produce a broad range of both pure and applied research at all levels of quality, almost exclusively in English. Further expanding the size and scope of this literature is the participation of the sizeable systems of the British Commonwealth countries, particularly Great Britain itself, and Australia. Acting as regional global higher education centers, these countries spread the use of English globally.

In reaching a level of mass higher education first, the United States was able to create academic literature and research of an unprecedented size, scope, and quality. Possessing the most developed system of higher education achieved over decades, and funded federally and commercially, the United States produces high quality research in sufficient volume to overwhelm the entire system. The publishing industry, and established and respected journals, developed alongside higher education only further cementing the range and quality of research. These publishing houses, predominantly in the English speaking Western world, also produce the rankings of journal quality. Utilizing scholarly article impact and citation studies, which are often a source used in faculty promotion and tenure decisions, these companies (ex. ISI, Corbis) create a closed loop within publishing circles. The companies determine which journals are of the highest quality, which in turn increases competition for these journals (some with acceptance rates below 5%), which results in a further perception of quality and thus cementing these journals at the top of the hierarchy. If developing systems are to achieve a level of quality, they are presented with a choice of participating within these already established systems, or developing their own. The development of these systems takes decades to achieve, and developing systems of higher education across the globe are left with a chicken-egg problem. Developing systems need quality faculty possessing doctoral degrees and advanced publishing systems to produce quality work, but quality work and dissemination methods are needed to produce and sustain high quality faculty and systems in the first place.

General forces of graduate student migration also work to cement English as the academic language of choice. As a result of massification, the United States has a head start in the academic knowledge arms race. Developing systems of higher education, not possessing the resources or infrastructure to produce high quality doctoral students, must often send their citizens to other countries to achieve the education necessary in order to populate their systems. The United States remains one of the top destinations for international graduate study. This forces newly minted academics from other countries to learn English and become socialized in the means of US-centric scholarly production. Those that do return to their native countries (and statistics reveal that this is very few, although the trend is changing and is regionally dependent), often find lower paid positions and infrastructures that are unable to support the level of research to which they have grown accustomed. This further tilts the table toward the United States, and thus English as a predominate language.

Negative Implications of English Dominance:

  • It privileges English and Western ideas over those of the local. Sometimes referred to as neo-colonialism, or cultural imperialism, this position recreates and reinforces the old colonial forces of subjugation and power imbalances through the use of language and culture instead of the industrial and economic forces of old.
  • It affects the educational systems of the peripheral countries by pushing educational systems to be reformed to include English language literacy as a necessary competency. This diverts educational resources that could be used elsewhere.
  • It places higher level learning out of reach for many. Without knowledge of English, high-level academic knowledge is largely inaccessible to vast portions of the world. This results in fewer resources from which to teach and from which to create local knowledge and research.
  • It makes it difficult for non-English speaking academics to produce writing of the quality required to participate in some of the top journals across the globe.  It also often requires those researchers to adopt the predominant paradigms and methodologies of the Western world.
  • It perpetuates English-speaking countries domination of the world higher education rankings, often equating English language use with the quality of an institution. This dynamic further cements English language-speaking nations as the largest hosts to international students. Once studying abroad, many students may face additional adversity and even discrimination due to their status and their language ability. This reinforces the power dynamic keeping native-English speakers in the power position.

Positive implications of a common academic language:

  • It allows for the freer sharing of ideas and a common academic space from which researchers may work.
  • It internationalizes research and the academic profession. If institutions share more freely, a truly global system of higher education may emerge and theoretically academic mobility and quality will increase.

The English language dominates the higher education globally and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The evolution of the United States system of higher education, and the added impact of the vast a diverse British Commonwealth, have created a great source of power from which English has cemented its position as the global language of the University. The publishing industries and systems that grew up alongside them created closed loops of power that maintain the hegemony of the English language . As systems of higher education develop around the globe, they are forced to play within this dynamic. Although a common academic language is not necessarily a bad development, the fact that it is one language currently in use is particularly problematic. The challenge is to create a system that values local knowledge but allows for robust international discourse.

Intersectionality & College Men: Complicating The Single Story

Blog Post Author: Danny Zepp

Date: December 2014

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, TED Talks: The Danger of a Single Story

The single story of today’s college men is the assumption that they are doing just fine, due to their privileged gender identity status and historical dominance in the academy. The foregone conclusion that these factors will ensure success for an overwhelming majority of men is simply untrue and not supported by empirical research. This oversimplification is harmful to all men, particularly those from historically disadvantaged populations who are made up of multiple oppressed identities and groups, and therefore, may experience additional stereotyping due to the multiplicity of their identities.

The single story is often reinforced when scholars and practitioners of higher education focus on men solely as gendered beings, rather than from an intersectional approach. Historically, student development scholars have examined college men in terms of their gender identity, rooted in pro-feminist and anti-sexist aims. This approach had engendered a more robust understanding of the gender identity development of college men, specifically how men come to understand what it means to be a man, how they become socialized as a gendered beings, and contextual influences on this development. As a result, practitioners have appropriately responded with gender-specific programming, resources, and curricula geared towards improving educational access and attainment and behavioral outcomes of college men. This unidimensional approach to identity development, while more complex than previous iterations, is incomplete, as little is known about how gender intersects with race, class, sexuality, religion, and other identities. Therefore, the stories of college men who are made up of multiple oppressed identities and groups have been improperly displaced from larger discourse about college men.

Intersectionality theory, historically rooted in the Black feminist and womanist critique of the feminist movement, has the potential to complicate monolithic assumptions of college men. Intersectionality theory includes a micro level (multiple, intersecting identities) and macro level (intersecting systems of power and oppression) analysis – intrapersonal, interpersonal, intragroup, and intergroup. Intersectionality theory tells us that college men are made up of multiple, intersecting identities that are simultaneously privileged and oppressed depending on social context and location. Therefore, understanding college men from a solely gendered perspective tends to collapse the salience of other identities such as race, class, sexuality, and religion, which are fluid and dynamic across institutional contexts. To this end, a white-located gendered approach to college men may be especially harmful, as ignoring the experiential realities of those from multiple oppressed identities and groups may have the unintended consequence of reinforcing systems of oppression and inequality in the academy.

What Tale Do Surveys Tell?

Blog Post Author: Derek Hottell

Date: November 2014

Surveys and questionnaires are ubiquitous in our modern lives. From consumer product reports to political polls to workplace assessments, our behavioral patterns, values, and internal states are continually assessed. The most cynical explanation for the prevalence of such instruments sees them as a means for capitalist forces to manipulate and control marketplace choices, but surveys are utilized for far less Machiavellian purposes. Surveys and questionnaires are used by marginalized groups to seek social justice, researchers to understand complex phenomena, and educators to inform practice.

A cursory review of higher education-related academic and trade journals highlights the usage of surveys to better understand college student experiences and outcomes. The topics studied through surveys range from the average number of hours students study to the number of alcoholic beverages consumed during an average weekend to the frequency of sexual assaults and other violent crimes occurring on campus. In fact, almost all of the information about student outcomes and environments is derived from self-reported survey instruments. Surveys are relatively low-cost and require little time to implement, which makes them attractive options for collecting data about the student experience. With increasing focus from public figures about implementing evidence-based practices, surveys are seen as essential tools by many administrators and academics for being able to attain this evidence. But, what does the information garnered from these instruments actually reveal about the student experience?

Reports from students about their behavioral frequency patterns are often taken at face-value, as valid indicators of what students actually do with their time, but recent studies from Brenner (2012) and others have started to illuminate the key role identity plays in the survey response process. Beyond simply recalling and reporting, individuals utilize a reconstructive process when supplying information, and this process is influenced by how individuals understand and perceive themselves. With self-reported surveys, participants are asked to accurately observe and report their own behavior, but any information garnered through such a process involves some amount of filtering by the respondent who is acting as the observer. Consequently, how individuals understand their personal identities in relation to their particular environments will in some way inform how they respond on surveys not because they are intentionally being duplicitous, but because we all have a need to maintain and uphold our personally held identity or conception of self. Additionally, we may be more or less attuned to certain events in our lives based upon our identities.

While many events are likely to be encoded for future memory retrieval if the individual perceives them as landmark life events (e.g., weddings, incidents of severe trauma, etc.), the types of experiences most often of interest to higher education researchers and practitioners are common, everyday occurrences, such as studying. As an example, think about how many hours you spent reading for leisure in the last week. If you were considering this question, you would have to determine what qualified as reading for leisure, what the time parameter of the last week entailed, and then attempt to recall all time intervals matching those descriptors. For many of us, the author certainly included, we would struggle to accurately report this number, so why would we expect student responses to be any different when answering how many hours they spent studying, engaging in co-curricular activities, or working for pay?

Since this recall process is often a struggle for individuals, respondents rely upon strategies to attempt to ascertain a probable answer (i.e., what likely occurred). What individuals probably did is inextricably linked to how they see themselves as a person. Am I the type of person who would read for leisure for several hours in an average week? Furthermore, respondents also utilize response options to situate themselves based upon what they perceive as norm-references. In a commonly cited study, the number of hours spent watching television reported by respondents was dramatically different based upon the response options presented to them. When lower range options were presented, the respondents overwhelmingly reported watching less than two and a half hours of television a night, but when the range was raised, almost all respondents reported watching over two and half hours of television. Why? Did these individuals television viewership change? Doubtful – likely the individuals norm-referenced themselves. They asked themselves, “Do I watch an average amount of television?” Then, they mapped their responses onto the available categories.

Similarly, Brenner (2012) found significant differences in how individuals report church-going behavior in the United States based upon the method of instrumentation. According to time-use diaries, approximately 24% of individuals go to church every Sunday, but stylized surveys would place this figure closer to 50% of US Americans attending religious services every week. Why the discrepancy? Brenner (2012) suggests these differences are related to how individuals respond on surveys – not with what they do, but with how they see themselves. They are not answering whether they literally sit in the pew every week, but rather whether they are the type of people who think such attendance is important.

Instead of viewing such differential response patterns as evidence of survey response bias, researchers may be well-advised to consider how such response patterns are evidence of culturally situated behavior. Mark Twain suggested, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” and I would suggest many higher education researchers have fallen into the same trap of viewing surveys as the best tool to study every issue and accepting these instruments as “objective” measures. Surveys provide a great deal of valuable information, and they have been beneficial in shaping our understanding of how and why students persist to graduation and succeed academically in higher education. However, the information surveys provide may be less evidence of what students do than how they see themselves within the institutional environment. Contextualizing and deepening our understanding of the information provided by surveys will only help practitioners, as they attempt to implement evidence-based practices.


Brenner, P. (2012). Investigating the effect of bias in survey measures of church attendance. Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review, 74(1), 361-383. doi:10.1093/socrel/srs042

Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Making human beings human: Bioecological perspectives on human development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Converse, J. M. (2010). Survey research in the United States: Root and emergency 1890 – 1960. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Fowler, Jr., F. J. (1995). Improving survey questions: Design and evaluation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Gonyea, R. M. (2005). Self-reported data in institutional research: Review and recommendations. In P. D. Umbach (Ed.), Survey Research: Emerging Issues (pp. 73-90). San Francisco: Wiley Periodicals.

Tourangeau, R., Rips, L J., & Rasinski, K. (2000). The psychology of survey response. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Willis, G. B. (2005). Cognitive interviewing: A tool for improving questionnaire design. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

How College Men “Do” Gender

Blog Post Author: Scott Radimer

Date: October 2014

Undergraduate men make up less than half of the undergraduate population, and among non-white students, the proportion is even more lopsided. They are less likely to graduate than their female peers, less likely to vote, study, or use career services. While they are less likely to participate in student organizations, they are more likely to hold high-status leadership positions. They are more likely to drink alcohol in excessive amounts, vandalize property, and physically or sexually assault someone; clearly both men and women would be better off if men acted more like women in these respects.

Only focusing on men’s behavior as problematic, however, misses how men are also victims. Outside of being the target of sexual assault, men are the most likely to be the victims of other men’s violence. Men are less likely to go to the doctor for physical illness or injury, and are much less likely to seek help for non-physical problems, like academic assistance or counseling. Men are significantly more likely to have an alcohol dependency, and much less likely to be diagnosed with depression, despite having equal or greater rates of mental illness.

The ways in which men suffer, or cause suffering, are generally made invisible, written off as “unmanly” outliers, or excused as harmless and just “boys being boys.” To ignore the many ways in which gender roles for men can cause harm is to damage the victims of that harm, and make men feel isolated and deviant for having feelings or experiences that do not conform to the ways society expects. To write off the negative behavior of men as just “boys being boys” is to deliberately ignore the ways in which gender is created and performed. It’s not that college men don’t want to go to be healthy or successful, it’s that they often feel like they don’t have a choice. Part of being a man is about acting tough, being competitive, and not complaining. While men are supposed to act like individuals and not be afraid to step out on their own, men will be routinely criticized and demeaned for being different from other men. This is why men in college tend to drink more when they’re around other men (and drink even more the larger the group of men is), and tend not to engage in the type of behaviors that would reduce harm from alcohol consumption.

The danger of alcohol consumption on college campuses isn’t an unknown or an ancillary concern for men, it’s a feature. Men drink because it is dangerous, not because they are ignorant of the dangers. Drinking allows men to prove that they’re tough; that they get to be rule breakers, and most importantly, that they get to conform to what it means to be a man in college. If we want men in college to act in more productive ways, we have to change what it means to be a man at college. When men feel it is normal, or even expected to engage in more positive behaviors, they do. The best predictor of healthy behaviors for a man is the behaviors of other men, coworkers, friends, and family, close to him. This means that if we are able to begin to shift the expectations for what it means to be a man by reinforcing more positive behaviors, not only will individual men change their behaviors, but they will also help encourage other men to act in similar ways as well.

Higher education is optimally situated to help redefine what it means to be a young man to be a more positive, and inclusive identity. Students largely come to college expecting to redefine themselves and become “adults” and we should help guide them through this process, both in the classroom and in co-curricular activities. Although it will not happen overnight, we should begin, as a field, to expect more positive behaviors from our undergraduate men, and communicate these expectations in clearly gendered language. Rather than talking about generic college students, faculty and administrators should explicitly talk about what they expect from men, as men. It is only when we start directly confronting the problems associated with how men perform their gender, and give them new scripts to perform, that we will be able to improve the lives of those men, and everyone they interact with.