An e-Portfolio by Kirstin Pantazis

Tag: EDLP704HE

Leading by Example – Gender Equality in Higher Education

Gender inequality is an important issue in higher education and one that will not disappear without concerted effort. I think one of the most important policy changes that can be made is that there must be representation on hiring committees. This must be more than tokenism and should reflect what the institution wants to see rather than what is currently at the institution. Further, when determining where there are discrepancies, data should always be disaggregated so that institutions have clear pictures of where women, and other minorities, are being hired and how much they are being paid. Included in the hiring process should be policy that requires the advertising of all positions in diverse places.

I would like to see the state review and rework its hiring policies and then retrain its Human Resource heads. Currently, many state agencies have very strict hiring guidelines that keep interviews to short timelines and allow no variation in the questions posed to any interviewee. We know that this way is not working to diversify our institutions. I believe that the process should be amended to require diversity training of all hiring committees and then to trust in those committees. To give the committees more leeway than is currently given so that they can ask follow-up questions or pose questions in their own words. Hiring rubrics should consider the many non-traditional (non-white middle-class male) ways in which an interviewee may have gained experience.

Once hired, institutions should work to ensure that they are welcoming places for all their employees. This means being open to the possibility that there are problems on campus and maintaining rigorous systems that encourage feedback and complaints and that root out inequity when it is found. Policy must be made that requires the highest levels of administration to regularly receive bias training that asks them to examine their own behaviors, attitudes, and words. Trust must be built, through the dedicated efforts of all, to ensure that institutions are aware and ahead of any potential inequity or discriminatory actions.

I also believe that there should be institutional policy that requires annual review of pay to check for gender discrepancy and ensure equitable pay across gender. Additionally, higher education should work to move towards a culture that openly discusses pay and benefits rather than one that emphasizes the altruism that is often prized in education. While there are many times when I would argue that education is not a business, in this instance, it is important to treat employees as valued parts of the business and to recognize that they must be compensated for their contributions with tangible benefits rather than with words of praise for their caring/giving natures.

Most importantly, I hope to be the change that I want to see in higher education. I must persist through the disheartening imbalances and inequities that are prevalent in the upper echelons of higher education. My determination must be rooted not only in my desire to improve the higher education system for our students but also in my desire to improve the way the system works for the women that I hope will follow me. I must be willing to endure unequal pay, harassment or discrimination, the ridicule or contempt, and the loneliness of being the only one while I work to pave the way for others. As we have seen in the cases discussed in this class, it is only when we are willing to have our lives made public and to endure the censure that comes from speaking up that we are able to change the larger system for the rest of us. I hope to have the strength to continue to be the change that higher education needs.

Pinning Down an Ever-changing Concept – Title IX Coverage

While I support the new administration’s efforts to broaden the groups that are given protection under Title IX, I believe that the best course of action for Secretary Cardona is a measured and bi-partisan effort of revision that neither maintains the previous administrations strict stance against inclusion and victim’s rights nor reverts back to what the Obama administration had in place. As we see in the readings in this week’s module and in the many recent news stories about Title IX, sex and gender are two terms that have regularly shifting and misunderstood or not commonly agreed upon definitions. I believe that in order to get anything done Secretary Cardona will need to first establish a working definition of each term that is agreed upon by the majority of involved parties. He would then be best served by writing into any future letters, recommendations, policies, or orders, a regular review and update of the definitions. This acknowledgment of the shifting of societal and scientific understanding of sex and gender will allow education institutions to move forward with a set schedule in mind for possible shifts in policy. It is my belief, based on our previous study of leadership, that much of resistance to change is discomfort with uncertainty. Building in a schedule for regular review of base definitions will help all involved to feel confidant in adopting new policy or procedure and will help them to get used to the idea that this is an area that requires regular updates and change. By adopting neither of the previous administrations policies out-right this also furthers the idea that Title IX must constantly make progress and that the Department of Education is willing and able to take on responsibility for improving on itself. As Laura Dunn said in an interview for NPR, consensus is possible, it simply requires work and the will to achieve it (Smith, 2021).

Title IX enforcement will continue to be a mix of “Dear Colleague” letters, regulations, and published policy interpretation. Until the legislative branch of our government chooses to enact a new law that either broadens or more clearly defines what rights individuals have to remain free of discrimination, on the basis of sex, while in educational settings that are funded by the federal government there is no better way to ensure the protection of our students and stakeholders. The OCR and the Department of Education will continue to attempt to get in front of issues but will have to remain largely reactionary as our court system narrows or redefines what our current laws mean. The issue of transgender individuals is currently at the fore of many legal battles, particularly concerning their participation in athletics, once it is settled it is likely that we will see another issue arise to take its place. What of students who don’t want to be given a gender label? I fully expect to see higher education having to deal more directly with gendered bathrooms. I know of many institutions that have designated one gender neutral bathroom on each of their campuses and called this enough. I expect, and hope, that education will see more direct guidance about the availability and accessibility of gender neutral spaces. I also believe that higher education will have to address our reliance on data, including data on sex and gender, in a world that no longer offers only a binary choice. How will we rank institutions or decide on funding if many of our current schemes are reliant upon a strict binary split for clean data?

Moving forward, education leaders will have to be able to live and work within a world where the only constant is that the rule of today will likely not work tomorrow. We will need to learn to find an anchor in our personal frameworks, a reliance on those who have studied and understand the laws of our system, and a belief that our education system is regularly working towards truly equal treatment of all students under the law.

Smith, T. (March 10, 2021). Biden Begins Process To Undo Trump Administration’s Title IX Rules. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2021/03/10/975645192/biden-begins-process-to-undo-trump-administrations-title-ix-rules

Searching for Justice in Higher Education

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce’s report on public colleges and racial privilege is a data filled essay on the continuing need for affirmative action policies within higher education. Unfortunately, the report does not go far enough by stopping its suggestions at affirmative action policies that increase access for historically disadvantaged populations. Further, the reports language is potentially damaging these populations by reinforcing the idea that open access institutions are low quality options. The report does not address the fact that many students in open access colleges do not intend to earn a bachelor’s degree. Are these students being included in the calculations of degree attainment used in this report? In Virginia and across the nation, the majority of open access institutions are community colleges, most of which do not offer bachelor’s degrees. Therefore, bachelor’s degree attainment must be looked at not just as a product of open access quality or initial acceptance at selective institutions, but also as a product of transfer student access and success. The report oversimplifies.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down policies that use quotas in admissions processes. Quota is defined by Merriam-Webster as a proportional part or share. The arguments presented to support affirmative action, such as those in the Georgetown University report, all revolve around the number of students at a given institution not being proportional to the number of that group of students in the general population. At the heart of the affirmative action debate is the issue that our institutions, our government, and all of society, rely on data, on numbers, to define our problems and measure our progress towards our goals.  At the same time, the highest court in our land waffles between not allowing the use of quotas and requiring specific and definitive proof (via data) as the basis for college admissions policies. Higher education admissions procedures are being held hostage by our supreme court.  Our supreme court is well versed in legal practice, but they are not necessarily well versed in current education theory or the current ethical theories that drive our higher education institutions and their policies.

One such current ethical theory that is widely used at higher education institutions is that of justice as fairness. This theory, begun by John Rawls, posits that social inequalities, such as admissions procedures, should exist when they are designed to benefit the least advantaged members of society. It seems to me that our justice system and our education system are working from two ethical theories that are not compatible. What we need is a more widely accepted definition of what justice is, or what ethical framework we use, so that we can all work towards the same goals.

In reviewing the long list of court cases and political policies that narrowly define affirmative action I wonder that higher education institutions manage to function at all. I am amazed that educational leaders are not paralyzed by fear of running afoul of a muddled legal morass that is affirmative action law. Having read and discussed the laws, college policies, how we got to where we are, and arguments for and against affirmative action it is my belief that the only way for an educational leader to move forward is to root themselves in an ethical framework that they believe in, to stay abreast of current legal cases that may affect their institutions, to hire a crack legal team to represent the institution, and then to move forward.  Crafting policy and procedure that align with the institution’s mission and values and with their personal ethics should be the leader’s first concern followed closely by working to ensure that any policy is defensible by current or past legal standards. The law, and the supreme court’s interpretation of it, changes regularly. Leaders must learn to live with uncertainty and be sure of their motives such that they are willing to defend them in a court of law – and then move forward, willing to work towards a better future and unafraid of fighting for their beliefs in court.

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Policy and Procedure in the Pathways Program

It is easy to see yourself as constrained by a master builder rather than as an architect of the box that you chose to work within. I often feel as though I have no control over the rules and regulations that govern how I work as the transfer coach at my local community college.  I am grant funded and I answer to a supervisor at my home institution as well as a grant director who is housed at another institution.  Upon reflection, I have been privileged to assist in the creation and modification of several policies at my institution, within my grant, and at the state level.

At the state level, I represent my institution on the State Committee on Transfer (SCT), a group that is currently working with SCHEV to draft new policy in response to the state legislature’s mandate that transfer between public institutions be ‘fixed’ or made more efficient and less costly for students.  While the legislature has not passed a law or written a statute directly governing transfer policy, they have issued a mandate to public institutions that the situation be resolved upon threat of new legislation.  To avoid new laws being written, the SCT has been tasked with drafting policy and procedures that will fulfill the mandate while still allowing institutional flexibility.  It is interesting to see how higher education institutions are choosing to craft their own policy, working together to align current practices that are often diametrically opposed, rather than submit to new legislation which they all agree would be more confining. Additionally, I find it fascinating that higher education institutions act much like individuals, wanting to be in charge of their fate, bemoaning their lack of power, and yet regularly choosing not to be involved in the process of governing themselves.  For example, before I was the representative to the SCT, there were many state meetings where my institution was not represented and therefore not involved in crafting policy it had to abide by.

My position is funded by a generous grant from a charitable foundation and I was hired as the sole institutional representative at the beginning of the grant.  The Pathways program is small, with only four full-time employees, all housed at different institutions.  At the outset of the program, it was made clear to us that we were to act in an administrative, not legal, capacity, focusing on policy and leaving legal matters to the higher education and grant funding organizations’ legal teams.  Beyond that, we were given few constraints within which to dictate the programs policies.  While the idea of not worrying about legal matters seems freeing, it is important to note that we had multiple layers of both external and internal forces constraining our actions, including federal and state laws that govern all educational institutions.

External forces that guided all Pathways policy worked as boundaries within which we were able to create program policy.  As we added students to our program, we encountered more external guides.  When we began to work with foreign students, we had to adjust policy to abide by the Department of Homeland Securities policies on foreign students.  When we began to offer stipends, we had to adjust program policy to follow federal and state guidelines on who can be paid for work and how this pay must be reported.  The line between external and internal policy is blurry for the Pathways program.  We are our own program, but we work within four institutions.  Each of the four institutions involved in the Pathways program have different guidelines governing diversity, equity, and inclusion, all program policy must meet the guidelines at each of our institutions.  The Pathways program itself now has customs and procedures that are not codified but that govern our daily work.  Additionally, all policies set forth by the program must meet standards held by the grant funding organization.  To this date, more than a year into the start of our program, we have set very few official published policies, preferring to rely on customs and usage, or common law.

The Pathways policies that are clearly articulated are going through a process similar to the six steps detailed by Kaplin and Lee (2014).  We began by identifying potential issues within the program.  Then we designed solutions that would address the issue while leaving the grant director freedom to interpret the policy liberally. Next, the grant director drafted a formal policy and the grant team edited it ruthlessly.  The draft policy was taken to the Pathways program board made up of members from each institution and the funding organization.  Once approval of the policy was granted, the policy was published and implemented.  We are currently in the evaluation stage where we are collecting data to determine if the policy has any unforeseen adverse effects and if the intended goal of the policy has been reached.  The Pathways program incorporates modifications based on the evaluation of the new policy into the policy process.  Policy making is therefore a cycle rather than a linear progression with review and updates being viewed as necessary parts of the process. Pathways is lucky in that we are a small group and easily maneuverable.

Kaplin, W., & Lee, B. (2014). The law of higher education, 5th edition: Student version. Jossey-Bass.

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