San Francisco Archbishop Asks Teachers to Lead Lives Consistent With Church Doctrine

Protesters held vigil at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco last week to protest the Archdioceses' plan to make controversial changes to the faculty handbook for four local parochial high schools. The document calls on teachers to lead their public and private lives in accordance with church teachings on homosexuality, abortion, birth control and other behaviors. A similar controversy erupted last year in the East Bay when Catholic schools added language to their teacher contracts. Forum will hear from the church, parents and students about the change.

Judge Issues Temporary Ruling in City College Accreditation Dispute

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PBS NewsHour

High school kids call out motivational speaker’s #BeSomebody message

Illustration by Getty Images

Illustration by Getty Images

A school assembly in Texas drew national attention after a startup founder’s message to students was criticized as tone-deaf.

Kash Shaikh, whose company #BeSomebody calls itself “the World’s Platform for Passion,” addressed students at Austin High School on Jan. 5 about the experience of leaving his job to pursue other goals. #BeSomebody has an app that matches users with other people who share their interests and received $1 million from E.W. Scripps last year.

“I called myself out 19 months ago and walked away from everything I once thought was important: money, title, lifestyle, things, a career that started at Proctor and Gamble, the largest consumer products company in the world, and started to blossom at GoPro, the fastest growing camera company in the world,” Shaikh said in a speech at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in December.

Shaikh’s message—to follow your dream without a “Plan B”—failed to resonate with students, who criticized him as ignorant of the privileges that allowed him to follow his passion in contrast to the difficulties facing young students. State data from last year show that 33 percent of students at Austin High School are “economically disadvantaged,” KUT reported.

Student Sean Saldana wrote in The Maroon, a nearby school’s newspaper, that Shaikh’s access to education, access to funding and prior job experience were advantages that many people lack. He wrote:

If Kash Shaikh ever had a doubt that his dream would come true he could abandon his company and find a great job with a nice salary with few issues, I imagine. The average high school student isn’t in the same boat as him. For every Kash Shaikh, there are hundreds and hundreds of minimum wage retail workers who couldn’t find a sustainable way to practice their passions.

Shaikh responded with an online post criticizing students’ attitudes titled “You Have No Idea What PASSION Means” and #BeSomebody content director Alex Dorner lashed out at critics on Twitter, calling one Austin High School teacher a “dork.”

The Austin Independent School District released a statement to KUT on the reaction to the speech.

“Austin High School prides itself on being a safe, respectful forum in which the school community can discuss and debate ideas and opinions,” the statement said. “Mr. Shaikh’s presentation sparked much discussion. Although some of the discussions after the assembly became heated, we are proud of the way our school community handled and responded to the ideas and opinions presented.”

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All-women Sweet Briar College decides to close after 114 years

Sweet Briar College is an all women liberal arts college in Sweet Briar, Virginia founded in 1901. The school announced
         it would be closing at the end of this semester. Photo by Mary Helen Cochran Library circa 1094

Sweet Briar College is an all women liberal arts college in Sweet Briar, Virginia founded in 1901. The school announced it would be closing at the end of this semester. Photo of Mary Helen Cochran Library circa 1940

Sweet Briar College announced Tuesday that it is shutting down at the end of this academic year.

Small colleges close or merge from time to time, more frequently since the economic downturn started in 2008. But the move is unusual in that Sweet Briar still has a meaningful endowment, regional accreditation and some well-respected programs. But college officials said that the trend lines were too unfavorable, and that efforts to consider different strategies didn’t yield any viable options. So the college decided to close now, with some sense of order, rather than drag out the process for several more years, as it could have done.

Paul G. Rice, board chair, said in an interview that he realized some would ask, “Why don’t you keep going until the lights go out?”

But he said that doing so would be wrong.

“We have moral and legal obligations to our students and faculties and to our staff and to our alumnae. If you take up this decision too late, you won’t be able to meet those obligations,” he said. “People will carve up what’s left — it will not be orderly, nor fair.”

The news stunned many in higher education, who assumed that a college like Sweet Briar wouldn’t go under. And the announcement set off debates on whether the Sweet Briar board was courageous — or too quick to give up. Some experts predicted that the demise of Sweet Briar might prompt other boards to take a tougher assessment of their institutions’ own vulnerabilities.

“We have moral and legal obligations to our students and faculties and to our staff and to our alumnae. If you take up this decision too late, you won’t be able to meet those obligations.” –Paul G. Rice, Sweet Briar board chair
At Sweet Briar, while all employees will lose their jobs, the college hopes to offer severance and other support. Students (including those accepted for enrollment in the fall) will receive help transferring. This semester will be the last one at the college, but it will remain officially open through the summer so that students can earn credit elsewhere and transfer it back to Sweet Briar to leave either with degrees or more credit toward degrees. College officials have not determined what they will do with any funds from the endowment or the sale of the campus after various expenses are paid.

Sweet Briar officials cited overarching challenges that the college has been unable to handle: the lack of interest from female high school students in attending a women’s college like Sweet Briar, declining interest in liberal arts colleges generally and eroding interest in attending colleges in rural areas. Sweet Briar is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

“We are 30 minutes from a Starbucks,” said James F. Jones Jr., president of the college.

Jones said that these challenges intersected. Attracting students to a residential liberal arts college may require institutions to have extensive internship opportunities and nearby attractions. He stressed that the college’s leaders and board considered every possible alternative — including coeducation — and concluded nothing would help in any way other than to delay the inevitable.

Sweet Briar was founded in 1901, and has operated as a women’s liberal arts college throughout its history, known for small class sizes and close student-faculty interaction. The college is considered a pioneer in study abroad and operates a leading study abroad program in France. Sweet Briar’s equestrian program is also nationally acclaimed.

But in recent years, the college has been hit hard by sharp increases in the discount rate (the share off of tuition and other fees that students and their families actually pay), while enrollment declined. While applications were going up as a result of intense efforts by the admissions office, the yield (the proportion of admitted applicants who enroll) has been plummeting. Plenty of small private colleges have numbers not that different from some of those on the table that follow, with data provided by Sweet Briar (some figures aren’t available for this year):

Sweet Briar provided this figure, current as of January, after publication of the original version of this article. The
         original data were provided directly by Sweet Briar

Sweet Briar provided this figure, current as of January, after publication of the original version of this article. Sweet Briar provided original data.

At gatherings of private college administrators these days, there is constant discussion of the best strategy on discounting and tuition policy, and some experts believe that a high discount rate can work for a college — if the strategy results in more and more students (ideally students with solid academic ability) enrolling. But as the Sweet Briar numbers show, the discount rate has been rising as both enrollment and yield have been falling. And that’s unsustainable for most colleges.

When the economic downturn hit in 2008, Sweet Briar initially resisted the urge to increase its discount rate, then in the low 40s. But the class that enrolled in the fall of 2009 was 45 short of its target. Most of the missed target was from first-year students, and college officials believe that they lost students by not offering larger aid packages. A total enrollment that is off by a few dozen is a rounding error at many institutions, but at Sweet Briar that fall, the college suspended retirement payments and eliminated a few positions, and the then president worked for two weeks without pay.

Sweet Briar’s overall strategy has been to remain a women’s college focused on the liberal arts. Other women’s colleges in Virginia have taken different approaches — and faced plenty of controversy.

Mary Baldwin College has embarked on a plan to preserve its identity as a residential undergraduate liberal arts college by creating new colleges of education and health professions. College leaders say this approach will make the women’s residential college financially sustainable, but many professors fear that the institution’s liberal arts ideals are being compromised.

Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, meanwhile, renamed itself Randolph College and in 2007 started enrolling men. As has been the case at many women’s colleges making that decision, some alumnae objected. But more women’s colleges in recent years have followed the Randolph model.

Jones said that, at Sweet Briar, going coeducational did not seem like a simple solution. He said that such a move would have required lots of money for scholarships and facilities, and he wasn’t subtle about the purpose of the spending.

“We would need scholarships to basically buy males,” he said.

In addition, the college — while “woman’s” is not in its name — would have had to consider whether its name would work for a coeducational institution.

“The endowment we have never could have supported a move to coeducation,” Jones said.

Jones also said that he was increasingly convinced that it is becoming more difficult to recruit students to colleges in rural locations.

Before joining Sweet Briar (of which his wife is an alumna), Jones served as president of Trinity College in Connecticut, from 2004-14. Trinity is in Hartford, which did enable the college to have internships and programs with businesses and the state government. But even with those possibilities, he said, it was hard to hold on to students on weekends.

“They went to New York or Boston. I had students who would drive to Boston for dinner.”

There are some elite liberal arts colleges — places such as Williams, Amherst, Bowdoin and Middlebury Colleges — that have the prestige to attract students and the financial means to promote both constant campus activities and plenty of opportunities for urban experiences. But Jones said that it is increasingly difficult for other colleges to compete.

“Students want a vibrant extramural environment,” he said.

Jones said that while he believes the Sweet Briar board made the right decision, he is deeply sad about it. It should concern educators that institutions that are small and have specialized missions and identities have so much difficulty surviving, he said.

The loss of a Sweet Briar is part of a change in “the diversity of American higher education,” said Jones. “The landscape is changing and becoming more vanilla.”

A Courageous Decision?

As word spread on Tuesday, Sweet Briar students and alumnae took to social media to mourn an institution they loved. As they did so, many experts on higher education started to consider the board’s actions.

There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.

There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.

Several told Inside Higher Ed they thought the board had made a courageous, difficult decision. Some didn’t want to be quoted by name as they didn’t want to appear to be suggesting that other colleges should make the same decision. But they suggested that they believe some boards may be fooling themselves into thinking they have sound strategies — and that delaying the inevitable would only hurt students, faculty members and other employees.

One expert who did speak with his name attached was Ronald Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell University Higher Education Research Institute. He said that Sweet Briar’s “scale of operation was too small” — such that he wasn’t surprised the college couldn’t find workable strategies.

He praised the board there.

“It seems like a very principled decision,” he said. “If we can’t maintain our fundamental mission, we should get out of the business. I think more small institutions, especially those in isolated areas, may feel similar pressures in the years ahead.”

Another who agreed was Judith Shapiro, president of the Teagle Foundation and former president of Barnard College.

“The point is not to say that every liberal arts college in a similar situation should do the same thing,” she said. “But I happen to think that what Sweet Briar did was both gutsy and principled. They decided that they could not continue to provide the kind of education that accorded with their mission and values. And they wanted to face that fact — and that was responsible.”

The Teagle Foundation supports the work of many small liberal arts colleges with which they collaborate on certain projects. And Shapiro said she expected to see increased interest in such efforts. But as Sweet Briar’s dilemmas illustrated, she said, it’s not enough to collaborate or to be able to offer more programs.

“The challenge is for institutions to get serious about savings on costs,” said Shapiro.

She also said she viewed it as crucial that colleges expand programs to inform professors of the economic challenges facing higher education.

“We have to give faculty members a more sophisticated grasp of how institutions are run.”

Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, cautioned against assuming that the characteristics with which Sweet Briar struggled would necessarily lead other institutions to close. There are liberal arts colleges, women’s colleges and rural colleges (and some with all of those traits) that are doing well, even if others are not, he said.

“No one variable by itself guarantees success or assures doom,” he said.

The worry Ekman has is that as the norm for higher education becomes large public institutions, it becomes harder for many small institutions with missions that don’t look anything like those of a large public. Institutions that are small and “idiosyncratic” matter, Ekman said.

He said he was talking about all kinds of colleges — “women’s colleges and historically black colleges and work colleges and Great Books colleges and colleges of denominations.”

The demise of three private colleges in Virginia in the last two years may demonstrate Ekman’s fears. Besides Sweet Briar (a women’s college), there was Virginia Intermont College (which had Baptist affiliations) and Saint Paul’s College (a historically black institution).

Catharine Bond Hill, president of Vassar College and an economist who studies higher education, said via e-mail that she was disappointed by Sweet Briar’s decision — and she urged struggling colleges to consider changes in approaches before shutting down.

“We need to be educating more students in America at the college level, not fewer, so it is so unfortunate that Sweet Briar is closing its doors,” said Hill. “The economics are challenging, but I wish they could have figured out a way to make them work. Perhaps this involved too big a change in the way they have done things historically, and they couldn’t see their way forward. But closing works exactly against what we need to be doing in America. I wish they had experimented and innovated to address the challenges, demonstrating to others how to productively make education available at lower cost.”

Richard Kneedler, who has been a college president and a consultant, said he expected that the Sweet Briar board would face a lot of scrutiny. Kneedler served for 14 years as president of Franklin & Marshall College and was called out of retirement in 2006 to lead Rockford College when that institution — without an endowment, but with debt — appeared on the verge of going under. (It didn’t.)

Kneedler said he didn’t know the details of what Sweet Briar had tried, and that he assumed many alternatives were considered.

“But I look at the numbers there, and I find myself saying, ‘Gee, aren’t there any alternatives?’”

And Kneedler noted that there is at least one case in American higher education where a board thought it made a decision to shut down and was blocked from doing so.

This case involved the laws of Pennsylvania, not Virginia. So Kneedler noted that there is no precedent for Sweet Briar. And courts in most states have let private women’s colleges — against the wishes of alumnae — admit men.

The Pennsylvania case involved Wilson College, whose board voted in 1979 to shut it down. A women’s college, Wilson faced declining enrollment and a poor balance sheet. But a state judge in essence found that the college’s board hadn’t made good decisions, and he ordered the board to keep the college going, which it did.

For a while Wilson College rebounded, but by 2012, the board determined that it was falling apart financially, and that only admitting men (and making numerous other changes) would make the college financially viable. Alumnae protested, but the plan was adopted.

Inside Higher Ed is a free, daily online publication covering the fast-changing world of higher education.

PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Editor’s Note: The main photo has been edited from the original, which was taken at Mary Baldwin College.

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What are the biggest barriers to educating girls around the globe?

PEACE CORP  let girls learn monitor

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now a look at a new initiative announced today at the White House, to increase the educational opportunities for girls around the world.

Jeffrey Brown is back with that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Sixty million, that’s the number of girls around the world who do not attend school, according to President and Mrs. Obama, who today announced a new U.S. government effort to help.

It builds on a program called Let Girls Learn and increases the training received by Peace Corps volunteers and supports local initiatives aimed at educating girls, beginning first in 11 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia and eventually phased in globally.

Peace Corps director Carrie Hessler-Radelet joins us now.

Welcome to you.

CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET, Director, Peace Corps: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Are the biggest barriers here physical or cultural?

CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET: You know, they could — there are many different kinds of barriers.

They could be physical. It might be that there is not a school for 10 or 15 miles, and so it may be unsafe for a girl to walk to and fro. It may be that there are cultural barriers. Perhaps girls’ education is not valued because the family doesn’t seen an economic return.

It could be that girls are getting married too early, and once they’re married, it’s not considered proper to attend school. Or it could even be economic. They can’t afford the school fees or books or uniforms.

JEFFREY BROWN: So when you have got such a wide range of issues, what specifically do you want to tackle?

CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET: Well, one of the reasons we’re so excited about President and Mrs. Obama’s commitment to girls’ education and specifically the partnership with Peace Corps is because we have learned that the best solutions to girls’ education are really community-based.

And that’s where Peace Corps volunteers come in, because we are working at the very last mile of development, living and working in communities. We know these girls’ families. We know the local leaders. And so we can be in a powerful position to advocate and support girls’ education.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, the initiative talks about retraining Peace Corps volunteers. Retraining for what? What does that mean?

CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET: We’re training volunteers so that they in turn can train local leaders to become champions for girls’ education.

And let me just tell you what that means. For example, Peace Corps volunteers can sit down with a school principal or administrators and talk about why it’s important for girls who are married or pregnant to continue on in school. Or they can sit down with religious leaders or local leaders and talk about why it’s so important to delay marriage until after graduation. Or they can sit down with family and say — you know, ask them about — or to tell them about why it’s so important for girls to be educated because it does represent a strong return on investment.

And then they can talk to the girls themselves and find out the real barriers that they face in their lives.

JEFFREY BROWN: Does this involve new resources? Is there new money coming in? Do you envision, for example, building schools?

CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET: We will not build schools, but we may work in schools that others build.

But what this is actually doing for us is that we’re mobilizing all of our volunteers around the world, starting first in 11 countries. But we’re going to be training our volunteers to be powerful advocates for girls’ education and really working with their communities to identify locally led solutions.

Peace Corps volunteers are already catalyst for actions at the community level. But they will be focusing all their energy on girls’ education and empowering girls.

JEFFREY BROWN: Is there a model or an example that you point to if you want to say, here’s what we want to do, here’s what I want to multiply over the coming years?

CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET: Well, I would love to illustrate it with a story.

And this is the story of Charlene and Kristen (ph). Charlene was the girl who — the young woman who introduced the president today.

JEFFREY BROWN: At the ceremony today?


And Charlene and Kristen were teachers in Liberia. And the first day they walked into the school, they identified two things, first of all, that the boys outnumbered the girl two to one. So that meant that half of those girls’ female peers were not at school. And the second thing they noticed is that girls were really not thriving in the classroom. They were shy. They were intimidated. They were not participating.

And so Kristen and Charlene, along with the Liberian teacher, started an after-school program that became just a powerful place, a safe place for girls to talk about the difficulties they faced in their lives, the barriers to learning. They gained new confidence. They gained new study skills. They saw themselves as leaders. They began to imagine a brighter future for themselves. And they are powerful girls now who are very, very motivated to make a difference in their community.

JEFFREY BROWN: Is this not, though, ultimately up to the governments, the other governments? I mean, one wonders how much could the U.S. push to make this kind of change from the outside, because we have also seen a lot of backlash when the West and the U.S. tries to emphasize…


CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET: Most of our partner governments are very supportive of girls’ education. And Liberia is a perfect example.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf really is a powerful advocate for girls’ education. She saw what a difference it made in her own life.

JEFFREY BROWN: But do you see pushback as well around the — I mean, we do see it in…

CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET: There are in some places, not in the places where Peace Corps works, because we work in places where our volunteers can be safe.

So most of the places where we work actually have a more progressive attitude toward girls’ education. It’s really a question of getting down into the community.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Carrie Hessler-Radelet of the Peace Corps, thank you so much.

CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET: Thank you so much.

The post What are the biggest barriers to educating girls around the globe? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

I’m a queer teacher in the Deep South — how talking about my identity challenges hate

Same-sex marriage supporters rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, on March 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. Today the
         high court is hearing arguments on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which withholds federal benefits
         from legally wed gay couples by defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The current debate over same-sex marriage highlights the struggles of LGBTQ communities in the U.S. Photo of same-sex marriage supporters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court from 2013 by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: As debate intensifies over equal rights for LGBTQ people, research has spotlighted the benefits of a supportive environment for LGBTQ students who are at an increased risk for bullying and violence. Teacher Douglas Ray discusses how educators can find new ways to engage with students’ identities and foster a welcoming climate for all students.

I teach a Queer Literature and Theory class to high school seniors in a small independent school in Birmingham, Alabama. Currently, my class is reading and discussing James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room,” a book that his publisher allegedly told him to burn because of its explicit dealing with queerness. I’m sure that particular publisher would be shocked to know that in a city once known as the “most segregated” in the South, high school students are debating the merits of describing the characters in the book as either “gay” or “bisexual.”

One of my class’s first lessons is that we have to know who we are in relation to each other in the classroom before we can really interpret texts and form knowledge. And so every year, I start off by talking about my own experience growing up queer in the South. When I was in high school, I did not feel safe to explore who I was. School culture was very much shaped by fundamentalist Christian dogma, and I did whatever I could to blend in and survive. My academic growth flourished, but my social and emotional growth were severely, dangerously stunted.

My openness about my own life creates a safe space for my students to be who they are or to explore their many selves.
In the years following high school, I began to own who I was and met people who had grown up similarly to me in Mississippi, who talked about how important acceptance in school is for queer people. And in my early twenties, I lost two friends to suicide, both of whom had been silenced, bullied, or otherwise made to feel unworthy because they were gay.

At that point, I realized that I could either do my best to create spaces where young LGBTQ people felt worthy, or I could wallow in a sense of loss. I chose the former. I knew that I wanted to create welcoming spaces. To do that, I would be honest about my own journey with my students and commit to listening to their narratives and to loving them.

This is my second time teaching this course, and I hope it won’t be my last — but there’s always a concern when teaching material that may be viewed as “radical” or “politically charged” that could silence the discourse you want to open up. After all, Alabama is an at-will state, and anyone can pretty much be fired at any time. I was encouraged, though, that my particular school lists “sexual orientation” in its nondiscrimination policy, unlike many others in the South.

When I created the class, I thought about how people would perceive it, just as I considered whether or not it was the right decision for me to be open about being gay when I first started teaching at this school five years ago. I thought about how I would have felt, as a student in Jackson, Mississippi, if I had known an adult who was gay and also a teacher, or how I would have reacted to seeing queer sexuality as part of a school’s curriculum — worthy to be studied, sanctioned and accepted knowledge.

So I began by being honest about myself. My openness about my own life creates a safe space for my students to be who they are or to explore their many selves.

My hope is that my classroom can build a community of trust among those who enter into conversation here. When we understand who each person is and how that person sees the world, there’s an opportunity for richer dialogue. I feel that my presence on this campus gives permission to students to become who they are without shame or fear, two negative forces especially at play in “Giovanni’s Room.”

It is an act of violence to silence queer people and queer energy in schools. There should be places that affirm an individual’s coming into his or her own. And we, as school professionals, have to be comfortable with talking about queer sexualities and queer people. We have to consider what — and, more importantly, whom — we’re leaving out of our curricula.

I encourage my fellow teachers and school professionals to not only examine our own practices, but to continue discussing what we can do better. Sometimes, it can be the difference between life and death.

douglas RayDouglas Ray is Poet-in-Residence at Indian Springs School in Birmingham, Alabama. He is author of the poetry collection “He Will Laugh” and editor of “The Queer South: LGBTQ Writers on the American South,” an anthology of essays and poems. He is a National Association of Independent Schools Teacher of the Future.

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