New paper finds evidence of name discrimination for Ph.D.s

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Name sticker with "Hello, my name is" written at the top on a blue field.

Prior studies have found evidence of name-based discrimination in hiring. But while such research often used fake applications to examine how would-be employers responded to names distinctively associated with a particular race or gender, one new preliminary study looks at name fluency: how long it takes to a pronounce an applicant’s name.

In addition to studying name discrimination from a new angle, this working paper is also based on the real-world employment outcomes of some 1,500 economics job candidates from about 100 Ph.D. programs following the 2016–17 to 2017–18 market cycles, not hypotheticals.

Ultimately, the authors found that having a name that takes longer to pronounce is associated with a significantly lower likelihood of being placed into an academic job or obtaining a tenure-track position. Having a hard-to-pronounce name—from the perspective of native English speakers, that is—also is associated with initial job placement at an institution with lower research productivity, as measured by the research rankings in the Research Papers in Economics database.

These findings generally held true when the authors tried different ways of measuring pronunciation difficulty, including a computer algorithm based on common letter and sound combinations. These disparate outcomes also persisted when controlling for factors such as candidates’ Ph.D.-granting institution and their home country.

Across the two Ph.D. cohorts, the paper says, there is “strong evidence for labor market discrimination against individuals with names that are hard to pronounce. Job candidates with difficult-to-pronounce names are much less likely to be placed into an academic job or to land a tenure-track position, and also are placed in jobs at much lower ranked institutions, as measured by research productivity. These results are statistically significant and economically large in magnitude.”

According to the paper, one standard deviation increase in the median time it takes to pronounce a candidate’s full name lowers the likelihood of obtaining an academic or tenure-track job by roughly eight percentage points and results in placement in an institution that is nearly 100 spots lower, as ranked in the Research Papers in Economics database.

The magnitude of effects for first and last names is roughly the same. The researchers didn’t find the effect was about the candidates’ qualifications, as there was no relationship “between name pronunciation and outcomes related to research quality such as the publication status of one’s job market paper or Google Scholar citation counts.”

What’s going on? The researchers say their work doesn’t allow them to pinpoint a mechanism of discrimination. But they offer some guesses. For job searches at academic, governmental and research institutions, the paper says, an initial screening “generally involves committees getting together to discuss names of potential candidates, which may lead to some subconscious discrimination against names that are harder to pronounce and/or remember.”

Beyond this screening stage, the authors venture, it’s possible that candidates with “easier names are viewed more favorably during the initial and final stages of interviews, as discussed in prior research.”

The paper suggests that this kind of name discrimination possibly goes beyond—or begins before—hiring. So the results “may in fact be underestimating the true long-term impact of discrimination based on difficulty of name pronunciation.”

Co-author Stephen Wu, Irma M. and Robert D. Morris Professor of Economics at Hamilton College, said Tuesday that he’s in the process of incorporating more data into the paper, namely from prior experimental studies that used fictitious résumés to see if perceived race based on names would impact callback rates for job applicants. “We find that even within ethnic-sounding names, those with harder-to-pronounce names are less likely to get called for a job,” he said.

Asked about implications for academe, such as expanding the use of blind reviews of CVs, Wu said such a change might be “difficult,” but that it “certainly that would be a way to combat this type of bias.”

Even the awareness that this type of bias exists “might be helpful for hiring committees to know,” he said. “While you can never totally eliminate these types of unconscious biases, the initial awareness may help limit it.”

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Gun violence research is deeply underdeveloped but growing

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A display of handguns for sale.

Firearm-related deaths in the U.S. reached a new peak across age groups and surpassed motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in 2020, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and as noted in a May letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine calling for an update to how the field understands youth mortality.

These data are subject to some qualification: the peak designation refers to number of deaths, not rate of deaths, for instance. Yet however one approaches the statistics, gun violence is undeniably a leading cause of preventable death and a grave public health issue.

Despite this, the research landscape on guns and gun violence is seriously underdeveloped. One 2017 study found that in relation to mortality rates, gun violence was the least researched cause of death and second-least funded cause of death after falls; while gun violence killed as many people as sepsis, funding for gun violence research was 0.7 percent of that for sepsis, and the relative publication volume was 4 percent, that study found. There’s still no dedicated scholarly journal or association for gun and gun violence research, either.

A dearth of available funding and data for research on guns and gun violence have contributed to this gap in knowledge. The politically charged nature of the topic and academe’s tendency to frame complex problems as within specific disciplines present additional barriers to development.

There are signs that things are changing, however. Funding for gun violence research is increasing. The number of published health sciences articles involving firearms jumped by 327 percent between 2000 and 2019, according to another study. And later this year scholars will gather for the first ever National Research Conference on Firearm Injury Prevention.

“I really see this as a time of growth where the field is starting to strengthen,” said psychologist Andrew Morral, leader of the RAND Corporation’s Gun Policy in America initiative and director of the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, a philanthropy that funds non-RAND researchers, including those in academe.

Of the upcoming conference, in particular, which Morral is co-chairing, he said, “It’s going to be the first time there’s been a meeting where all these people are coming together, and we’ve got all these funded projects now that we’ll be able to talk about and see what they’re learning and what they’re doing.”

Research on Ice

Why is research on guns and gun violence so far behind? Most trace the fallback to a 1993 article in NEJM by Arthur L. Kellermann and a group of colleagues that strongly and independently associated having a gun in the home with increased risk of homicide, nearly always by a family member or intimate acquaintance. The paper (and others like it) made a splash and helped establish gun violence as a major public health concern. But many gun advocates didn’t like the paper’s conclusion. The National Rifle Association, in particular, lobbied for the closure of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC, which funded Kellermann’s study, on the grounds that it was biased against guns.

The center survived, but NRA-friendly federal lawmakers—led by late Republican representative Jay Dickey of Arkansas—specified in a 1996 omnibus funding bill that none of the money could be used “in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.” Congress also earmarked $2.6 million of the CDC budget’s—the amount spent on firearm injury research in 1996—for traumatic brain injury research.

Gun violence research went from an up-and-coming field in the early 1990s to a relative dead zone, fast, and stayed that way for decades. Some gun research was still happening, but much of it was funded by private philanthropies such as Arnold Ventures. Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy and a core faculty member in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins University, estimated in 2017 that there were just 30 dedicated gun policy researchers in the country.

What’s known as the Dickey amendment is still in effect. Congress extended this language to other funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, in 2011.

Dickey told NPR in 2015 that he regretted the Dickey amendment in retrospect for how it effectively stalled research on guns. “It wasn’t necessary that all research stop,” he said of his original intent. “It just couldn’t be the collection of data so that they can advocate gun control. That’s all we were talking about. But for some reason, it just stopped altogether.”

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, then president Obama directed the CDC and other agencies to conduct or sponsor gun violence prevention research. The NIH in 2013 announced plans to fund research on violence with a focus on firearms through 2017, citing Obama’s guidance. But Science reported in 2017 that the NIH had quietly let funding for program lapse. Follow-up reporting from Science based on internal NIH emails revealed that the decision had been influenced by politics.

Congress clarified in 2018 that the Dickey amendment doesn’t ban research on gun violence. But lawmakers didn’t couple that message with any funding for such work.

Jennifer Carlson, associate professor of sociology and government and public policy at the University of Arizona and the author of several books on guns and politics, told Inside Higher Ed that the Dickey amendment effectively “created a very, very strong incentive for the CDC to not fund research related to guns.” It also had a broader “chilling effect” for research on guns and gun violence, she said, even if some of that chill was based on the perception—not necessarily the reality—that the federal government doesn’t fund this research.

“I’ve never been motivated by what will give me the biggest grant—I’ve been motivated by research questions, which I think most people are,” Carlson said. “But there is definitely a sense that in terms of what’s fundable, gun research is probably not at the top of that list. Though I think that’s changing.”

The funding climate is warming. In 2020, the federal Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill included $25 million for the CDC and NIH to research gun safety. Many grantees in academe benefited. The federal government designated the same amount for this research in 2021, and again this year.

The Missing Data

Now that funding is opening up, some scholars say they’re hoping for a similar breakthrough on data about the prevalence of guns.

Morral, of RAND, said, “There’s a lack of good data being collected by the federal government and others on gun ownership. And in the absence of that, which is critical for understanding things like the effects of gun laws, and lots of other things, we have produced estimates of gun ownership.”

RAND’s state-level estimates of household gun ownership are based on a model that draws on a variety of sources, including survey data. These estimates help researchers and the general public make educated guesses as to how many guns are in circulation. Many researchers have also used various proxies for legal firearm prevalence, such as licensing and background check data, to the extent that they are available. These researchers aren't using actual market data because this information is not tracked and reported for guns in the way that it is for so many other goods: most states don’t register legal firearm transactions. (This is to say nothing of the complicating factor that is illegal weapons sales, though researchers argue that transparency regarding legal sales would be a vast improvement from the current situation.)

Both model-based estimates and proxies are imperfect measures of how many guns there are in a certain area at a certain time, and therefore not ideal for producing the kind of evidence that gun scholars want to be able to share. A 2019 report from NORC at the University of Chicago found that the “firearms data environment is disordered and highly segmented,” and that data on “the movement of firearms from first purchase to a criminal actor [are] highly restricted by laws, regulations and real-world politics.” A related 2020 report from NORC says that “Data collection is haphazard and disorganized and it is of no surprise that our baseline understanding of the relationship between firearms and firearms injury and death are equally incomplete. A conceptual framework is an important starting point for a cohesive firearms data strategy.”

Kenneth Wilbur, professor of marketing and analytics and the Sheryl and Harvey White Chair in Management at the University of California, San Diego, co-wrote a recent study in which he tested various proxies for legal firearm prevalence and determined that invalid proxies can lead to false research conclusions. Ultimately he recommended that the Federal Bureau of Investigation publish its background check data, which are currently published monthly, by state, “at more granular levels, such as county, city, zip code, week and date.” Those few states that collect firearm acquisition data, such as California and Massachusetts, could also publish “granular counts of firearm transactions,” he said, while states, counties and cities that do not collect firearm acquisition data could begin to do so and publish them.

Firearm retailers, retail chains or retailer associations could publish aggregate sales data by place and time, the paper also recommends, and digital platforms, advocacy groups or researchers could track and report online firearm sales.

Regarding confidentiality concerns, the paper argues for “transparently safeguarding individual privacy,” and notes that there are precedents for the handling of sensitive data for research purposes.

Wilbur said recently, “I don’t want to know who bought what. I want to know the societal-level effects of what drives firearm purchases and what happens as a result of these firearm purchases.” An increase in murders in San Diego may contribute to a lack of feeling of safety that drives guns purchases, while it’s also possible that an increase in guns in the city could increase or decrease the number of murders there, for example, he said. But without detailed data by time and space, causal relationships between gun sales and effects can’t be established.

Comparing the market data for guns to those for almost anything else, Wilbur said, “Look, if I want to know how many jars of peanut butter are sold in Connecticut last month, I have that at my fingertips. If I want to get how many trucks are sold in Texas last year, it’s easy. But if a researcher wants to know how many guns were sold, that’s generally not available, and it’s almost never been. And so if we want any form of science-based evidence—not to set policy but to help to inform policy—we need to start understanding and counting how many guns go into circulation.”

Carlson said, “I open every class that I teach on guns in America at the University of Arizona with the fact that we lack basic facts about many things involving guns in the United States. I think it’s important to be up front that because of a confluence of law and data transparency and a variety of other things, we do not know how many guns are actually in circulation among private civilians in the United States. And so there are definitely gaps in what I think most people would consider basic knowledge regarding the social life of guns in the U.S.”

Scholar Advocates?

Following the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Tex., some scholars have called for increased activism from the field. Mary Ellen O’Toole, director of George Mason University’s forensic science programs, in her capacity as editor in chief of the Journal of Violence and Gender, issued an immediate call to action for superior gun control legislation.

“We’ve waited long enough,” she in a statement. “This political football must stop. Our children are being killed and the laws must be changed now. We can no longer normalize these behaviors or expect our children to be the victims on the front lines. The research is clear and we must continue to stay educated, relentless, and vigilant in our quest for the future of our country.”

Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, Bartley Dobb Professor for the Study and Prevention of Violence and professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, said it was his sense that researchers are “increasingly sharing their voices to advocate for policies and practices that, based on scientific evidence, have a good promise of saving lives and preventing firearm injuries.” This kind of activity is “valuable,” he said, and has taken different forms: providing testimonies, writing op-eds, talking with journalists and more.

At the same time, many scholars advise caution on this kind of engagement, as to avoid further politicizing the topic.

Morral, at RAND, said, “I think it’s pretty clear that this is an area where researchers have very different ideas about what their responsibilities as researchers are: I have heard people say, ‘This is why I’m a public health researcher, you know—it’s my responsibility to inform the public about ways of being safer or protecting themselves, and if I don’t, then I’m not doing my job.’ And, you know, from that perspective—which I totally get—they need to be out there advocating for what they believe is the right solution to gun violence.”

Morral continued, “And then there are other people—and I think I’m more in this camp—who feel like the most effective thing they can do is provide information that is objective and can be heard by people on all sides of this issue, to the extent that they’re open to hearing anything.”

By being “an advocate,” he also said, “my fear is that I will lose a big part of the potential audience for good science, because there will be an assumption that I’m pushing for this or that kind of policy that means that I’m biased, and how I analyze the science is biased." Morral doesn't know "that my approach persuades more people than the other approach. I don’t know that I’m doing it right. But I am very aware there is a divide in the field between these two kinds of perspectives on advocacy.”

Asked about his views on advocacy, Wilbur, of UC San Diego, said that he tends to focus on points of consensus.

“Surveys indicate that large majorities of Americans support common-sense policies, such as restricting sales of weapons with military applications and preventing criminals and mentally unstable people from purchasing weapons,” he said. “These are not controversial topics, and a lot of times the degree of actual debates over these topics seems to be exaggerated.”

From Data to Policy

According to a survey last year by the Pew Research Center and Gallup, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans support preventing those with mental illnesses from purchasing guns and subjecting private gun sales and gun show sales to background checks. Majorities in both parties also oppose allowing people to carry concealed firearms without a permit. But other proposals reveal a persistent ideological divide, according to the survey: some 80 percent of Democrats favor creating a federal database to track all gun sales and bans on both assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, for instance. A majority of Republicans oppose both notions. Public opinion is further divided along gun-ownership lines.

What has been shown to reduce harm from guns, including violent crime, unintentional injuries and death, and suicide? RAND’s Gun Policy in America project says there’s supportive evidence that child-access prevention laws and waiting periods make a difference, moderate evidence that background checks and prohibitions associated with domestic violence work, and some limited evidence to support prohibitions associated with mental illness, licensing and permitting requirements, and minimum age requirements. There’s also some evidence that stand-your-ground laws and concealed carry laws may increase violent crime.

The bipartisan legislation that President Biden signed into law Saturday reflects some but certainly not all of what’s known about gun policies and death and injury prevention. But it does represent the federal government’s strongest action on gun violence in nearly 30 years. (The effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s weakening of concealed carry laws last week remain to be seen.)

The Way Forward

Another challenge to the development of the field has been a siloed approach. Morral said that in his experience, “the field has been sort of divided” among public health researchers, criminologists and public policy experts, all of whom share their work within their disciplines at annual meetings. He said that the upcoming conference he’s organizing is intended to “mix” these researchers and efforts for the first time.

Team-based approaches to gun and gun violence research are promising. The University of Michigan, a leader among universities in securing federal research funding to study firearm injury prevention, in 2019 announced a Firearm Injury Prevention Research Initiative connecting researchers in public health, medicine, social sciences, engineering, public policy and the arts while respecting the Second Amendment, for instance. The university launched the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention last year. California’s state Legislature also established a $5 million center for gun violence research at the University of California, Davis, in 2016. A few other states followed suit.

Carlson, at the University of Arizona, said that gun research hasn’t just suffered from a siloed approach but also from limited framing, meaning a focus on gun violence to the exclusion of other questions about guns in this country. This is partly because sociologists historically have not engaged in gun culture research, she continued. But if gun researchers want to understand why and how the U.S. arrived at this point, they need to consider sociologists’ methods and perspectives, as well.

“My point isn’t that we shouldn’t be talking about firearms violence, but rather that that is one element—a core element—but one element of how firearms are significant sociologically in this country,” Carlson said. “If you want to understand gun violence and ameliorate gun violence, you have to engage the question of not just what gun policies should we have, but also why we have the gun policies that we do have. And that latter question cannot be addressed solely by focusing exclusively on gun violence itself.”

She added, “It’s our duty as scholars to create expansive spaces to think through the many ways that not only gun violence, but guns themselves matter and are impactful within American society. I’m not arguing against any approach. I am arguing that we need to create spaces to not only have multiple approaches and multiple ways of engaging this issue, and also that we talk across those approaches and those disciplinary perspectives.”

Rowhani-Rahbar, the epidemiologist, agreed that paying close attention to the “cultural aspects of gun ownership and firearm-related behavior are very important if we want to be effective as credible messengers.” He and colleagues have received a $1.5 million grant from the CDC to study the culture and patterns of handgun-carrying rural adolescents.

As the field continues to grow, Rowhani-Rahbar said, “my hope is that the new generation of scholars will have the resources and training needed to sustain rigorous levels of research while working with communities most affected by firearm injury and violence to disseminate the findings and translate them into action.”

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Study: Women’s credit in science doesn’t match contributions

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Illustration: The outline of a woman's head with various scientific symbols sketched in her hair, such as a planet and an atom.

James Watson and Francis Crick (not Rosalind Franklin) getting all the initial glory for unlocking the structure of DNA may be the most famous example of how women’s contributions to science get overlooked. It certainly isn’t the only instance, however: many women scientists report having their work go un- or undercredited, and some say they’ve left science altogether as a result.

While these anecdotes are powerful on their own, a new study pushes the conversation far beyond individual accounts: the paper, published in Nature, finds that women are significantly—and systematically—less likely to be recognized than their male peers.

Input vs. Output

In one finding, women were 13 percent less likely to be named on articles and 58 percent less likely to be named on patents than their male collaborators, controlling for factors beyond gender, such as job title.

This effect is most pronounced for highly cited papers, the authors found: when controlling for field, career position and team size, there is no significant difference between the likelihood of a woman being named relative to a man on an article with zero citations. Yet on a paper with 25 citations, women are 20 percent less likely to be named than are men, relative to the baseline.

Another finding: when scientific credit is defined simply as ever being named an author, women account for only 35 percent of the authors on a team, even though they make up 48 percent of scientists studied.

The new paper is based largely on information about some 9,700 research teams, as reported to the Institute for Research on Innovation and Science at the University of Michigan. This data set includes information on payments and job titles for everyone working on a given grant, allowing this study’s authors to compare who was doing what—call this scientific input—to the credit the scientists eventually got on related papers and patents: scientific output. (Outputs were linked to a science team if an article or patent acknowledged one of the team’s grants, or if a member of the team was listed as an author on that article or patent.)

Co-author Britta Glennon, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, said that much of the existing literature on the underrepresentation of women in science starts “from the standpoint of counting patents and publications and trying to understand it from there. And what our data set allows us to do is look under the hood and actually see how science is being produced.”

Glennon added, “If you’re only looking at the output, you miss a lot of people, right? This is the first time that we’re actually able to look at who’s not visible. And so it’s a very different kind of type of explanation for this gender gap.”

To better understand the mechanisms by which women are being denied credit, Glennon and her co-authors also analyzed quantitative data from a survey of 2,446 scientists regarding scientific credit. Seemingly confirming the input-versus-output findings, responses to the survey varied by gender: reported experience with exclusion from authorship is common, but more common for women than men, at 43 percent versus 38 percent. Significantly more women (49 percent) than men (39 percent) also reported that others had underestimated their contributions to science.

In open-ended statements from survey respondents and additional personal interviews, scientists said that the rules of credit allocation were frequently unclear and left up to senior investigators.

One woman said, for instance, “I did not push to be listed as an author.” Another woman respondent said that “Being a woman [means] that quite often you contribute in one way or another to science but unless you shout or make a strong point our contributions are often underestimated.” Yet another respondent said, “Senior authors shamed me in front of group for asking for recognition (trying not to be a female-doormat stereotype backfires pretty much every time I have tried …).”

An overarching theme here, the paper says, “was that the rules governing scientific contributions were often not codified, not understood by all members of the research team, or simply ignored.”

Fighting Implicit Bias

Co-author Matthew Ross, associate professor of economics and public policy and urban affairs at Northeastern University, whose work centers on discrimination, said that the survey revealed in some cases women had stepped back from their work for various reasons and saw a corresponding reduction in credit. But the survey revealed that the “much larger reason” for women getting less scientific credit was “basically that their contributions were underestimated,” he said.

Reasons for crediting issues, by genderWhere there is “discretion in terms of decision making and not an explicit, codified set of rules,” Ross continued, “that’s where things like implicit bias tend to creep in.”

In presenting such findings, the paper also pushes the conversation about how credit is determined to solutions. Several possibilities emerge, either from the paper itself or in conversations with the authors, including: requiring formal training for principal investigators about how to manage group science and properly recognize contributors, and encouraging funding agencies to insist on transparency as to who does what on a grant.

Ross credited Nature, for example, with requiring article author contribution statements that specify the role of each author, and he suggested that this practice could be adopted not only by journals but grantors.

Glennon said that initiatives such as CRediT, a contributor roles taxonomy, are helping scientists navigate assigning credit. But the credit-assigning system as a whole remains “fractured.”

Other ideas: push back on academe’s publish-or-perish culture and the jockeying for authorship that it encourages, and acknowledge the power structures that exist in any laboratory so that all scientists feel free to speak up. (Indeed, while gender is at the heart of this new paper, academic science is rife with stories of abuses of power across various social lines, not always involving authorship disputes.)

Such changes are long overdue, said co-author Julia Lane, economist and professor at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

“There’s a maniacal focus on publishing metrics, which has been quite detrimental,” said Lane. “Trying to think through the mechanisms and the incentives that generate science is what’s important—not this focus on outputs, which I think distorts the processes.”

From the persecutive of a PI, in particular, she continued, “We all think of ourselves as having flat organizations, but in reality there is a power dynamic that you’re not conscious of. And we need to be mindful of that career dynamic and make sure that junior people do feel empowered to speak up.”

Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, co-wrote a 2018 article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences arguing for journals to adopt greater transparency requirements surrounding authorship, including the CRediT system. Asked about the new paper, McNutt said Wednesday that the “overrepresentation of men is consistent with the oft-observed phenomena of men overestimating their contributions to an effort and women underestimating the worth of their contributions.”

Moreover, she said, the “consistent failure in attribution can lead to a longer-term reduction in contribution. So the two explanations for why women’s contributions to science aren’t sufficiently recognized are connected.”

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AAUP: Inflation underlines years of stagnant faculty pay

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Composed photograph illustrating the concept of inflation: an arrow is inching upward, and various consumer goods are suspended in the air around it.

Average salaries for full-time faculty members increased 2 percent from 2020–21 to 2021–22, according to an analysis out today from the American Association of University Professors.

This is consistent with the flat wage growth seen since the Great Recession. But 2021–22 wasn’t just another year: taking 40-year-high inflation into account, real wages for full-time faculty members fell 5 percent. This is the largest one-year decrease on record since the AAUP began tracking this measure in 1972.

Average salaries for full-timers also fell below Great Recession levels in 2021, with the average salary falling to 2.3 percent below the 2008 average, after adjusting for inflation.

This real wage cut was relatively consistent across institution types and faculty ranks.

The AAUP released a preliminary version of this analysis and other faculty salary data earlier this spring.

Glenn Colby, senior researcher for the AAUP and author of both reports, said Tuesday that he’s fielded an unusual number of inquiries this year from AAUP chapters and other faculty groups seeking salary data and advice. They all want help making the case that their institutions must meaningfully respond to inflation.

“I would just encourage institutions to make adjustments that maintain the standard of living so they don’t lose talented people,” Colby said. “That’s the market comparison to make.”

Some colleges and universities have attempted to address inflation with short-term measures. Carnegie Mellon University said this month that it’s offering eligible employees a one-time $1,500 payment to help pay for gas, food and more, for instance. (It’s also adopting a merit increase program for fiscal year 2023.) But while such ideas are generally welcome, they’re insufficient to many professors who have faced any combination of frozen wages, actual or effective pay and benefits cuts and workload increases during the pandemic—all as endowments have grown on many wealthy campuses.

Jeffrey Williams, professor of English and of literary and cultural studies at Carnegie Mellon, who is not affiliated with the new AAUP report, said Tuesday that instead of a $1,500 payment, “the more progressive thing to do would be retroactive raises.” Without that, he said, pay freezes and effective cuts accumulate over the course of one's career.

Context

The AAUP’s new report is based primarily on the group’s annual Faculty Compensation Survey. Data collection for the survey ended in March, and preliminary results were released in April so that colleges and universities could use them as benchmarks in setting their own salary data for next academic year. The message here, Colby reiterated, is that as institutions think about their costs going into next year, they should think about “what it costs to keep faculty, as well. That means maintaining their standard of living, not just keeping the campus open. Because after a while, people start going into other careers.”

An April report from the College and University Professional Association–Human Resources also found that the “soaring inflation rate has far outpaced pay increases for the higher education workforce.” Based on CUPA-HR’s own annual workforce surveys for 2021–22, overall median salaries for administrators increased 3.4 percent year-over-year, while salaries for tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members increased 1.6 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively. That was compared to a 6.8 percent inflation rate that was still climbing. Inflation is now above 8 percent.

In one bit of good news for faculty members, 97.2 percent of full-time instructors were covered by retirement plans this past academic year, a 2.8-percentage-point increase from a year ago. According to the report, after last year’s 2.4-percentage-point decrease in coverage from 2019–20, “this year’s increase indicates that some institutions may have restored benefits that were eliminated or reduced in 2020–21 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The average expenditure for faculty members who were covered was $11,835, equivalent to 11.3 percent of the average salary for all full-time faculty members. The average institutional expenditure toward retirement plans was $11,788 per full-time faculty member, including those not covered, equivalent to 11 percent of the average salary of $104,092 for the 850 institutions reporting benefits data.

The share of full-time faculty members eligible to participate in medical insurance plans was steady year over year, at 94.5 percent of full-time faculty members, with an average expenditure of $12,461 for faculty members who were covered (or 11.9 percent of the average salary).

The AAUP’s new analysis, formally called the “Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2021–22,” includes additional findings on gender and faculty rank and more.

Gender Matters

Continuing a long-term gap in pay between men and women, institutions reported full-time faculty salaries for women that are 81.9 percent of those for men in 2021–22, on average. The gender pay gap is greatest at the full professor rank.

While some attribute this gap to “market factors” and the overrepresentation of women in lower-paying disciplines, the report says, “little is known about how such market factors operate, and there are many other factors contributing to gender-based pay disparities in academia, including biases in hiring and promotion practices, lack of institutional resources and support, and caregiving responsibilities. In any case, when gender pay gaps are identified, they must be corrected.”

The report includes an additional “Gender Equity” analysis, which notes that the number (not share) of full-time women faculty members increased 1.6 percent over the last two years, in contrast to a 2.5 percent decrease for men. This difference was greater at the full professor rank, where the number of full-time women professors increased 5.9 percent over two years, compared with a 1.9 percent decrease for men. The AAUP cautions that this statistic is drawn only from institutions that responded to its Faculty Compensation Survey in each of the past three years, and that men still greatly outnumber women at the full professor rank.

Still, the AAUP offers a hypothesis for the increase in the number of female full professors: because men are more likely to hold appointments at the full professor rank, “it is possible that COVID-19 risks, budget cuts and changing working conditions caused more of them to retire early.”

Part-Time Faculty

Some 907 institutions responded to the AAUP’s salary survey, but just 355 of them reported per-course salaries for part-time instructors (this is typical, as colleges and universities struggle to collect and share adjunct faculty data for a variety of reasons). The per-course salaries collected also lag a year, reflecting 2020–21 rates, to ensure a full year’s worth of data. All that said, the average per-course pay for a three-credit course last year was $3,843 per section, an 8.1 percent increase from 2019–20, when average pay was $3,556.

Average rates of pay varied widely among institutional types, ranging from $2,979 in public associate degree-granting institutions without faculty ranks to $5,557 in public doctoral institutions, the report says. It calls all these wages “appalling.”

Beyond pay, most adjuncts paid per course did not receive either retirement or medical benefits contributions in 2020-21. Some 34.7 percent of institutions reported contributing to retirement plans for some or all part-time faculty members, and 30.9 percent of institutions contributed to medical insurance premiums.

Adjuncts were actually more likely to receive benefits at associate institutions, with 53.5 percent of these colleges contributing to their retirement plans. Doctoral institutions were most likely to contribute to adjuncts’ medical insurance premiums, with 55 percent of them doing so.

Based on a supplementary AAUP analysis of the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, the number of contingent faculty appointments decreased 6.9 percent from fall 2019 to fall 2020. This includes a 2.9 percent decrease in full-time non-tenure-track appointments and a “staggering” 8.7 percent decrease in part-time appointments.

Regarding the ongoing pandemic, part-time faculty members appear to have experienced a “much larger adverse impact than full-time faculty members,” the report continues.

Based on the AAUP's own data from 383 institutions that shared counts from both years, the number of part-time faculty members employed during the entire academic year decreased 10.6 percent from 2019–20 to 2020–21.

The number of full-time faculty members increased 1.9 percent among the 889 institutions that completed the survey for fall 2019 and fall 2020.

“It’s clear that contingent faculty were hammered” with personnel cuts during COVID-19, Colby said. Meanwhile, assistant professor numbers plummeted, likely due to hiring freezes, he added.

Seth Kahn, professor of English at West Chester Univeristy in Pennsylvania and an advocate for non-tenure-track faculty rights, said it made sense to him that "contingent faculty have had it harder for lots of reasons. Enrollment fluctuations have made unstable workloads even more unstable."

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Study: Retractions take too long to curb misinformation

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Retraction is not effective in reducing online attention to problematic research papers, according to a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study doesn’t support the idea that retraction risks the Streisand effect, or that it inadvertently amplifies bad research. Instead, the study demonstrates the limits of what retraction can do in terms of curbing the spread of poor science.

Most significantly, the study found that by the time a problematic paper is retracted, public attention has been reduced to a relative trickle, and focuses on the retraction incident itself, not the research in question. (Retraction timelines vary widely, but they generally take months or years, even when the early evidence for retraction is compelling.)

“Retractions come too late to intervene in uncritical mentions of problematic papers,” said co-author Emőke-Ágnes Horvát, an assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. “By the time the retraction notice is issued, there are either hardly any mentions of the paper or the mentions are overwhelmingly criticizing the paper.”

Illustration of the research process that compares the online attention received by retracted and control papers. (A) We match five control papers to each retracted paper using the Altmetric database. (B and C) We track the change in mentions over time on four different types of platforms and in top news outlets. As an example, we show here the retracted paper “Effect of a program combining transitional care and long-term self-management support on outcomes of hospitalized patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A randomized clinical trial” published in JAMA (DOI: 10.1001/jama.2018.17933) and one of its matched control papers: “Vitamin D, calcium, or combined supplementation for the primary prevention of fractures in community-dwelling adults: US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement” (DOI: 10.1001/jama.2018.3185). (D) We compute the average cumulative number of mentions across all platforms within 6 mo after publication (and before retraction) for all retracted and control papers in the dataset. (E) Similarly, we compute the average cumulative number of mentions within 6 mo after retraction. Error bars indicate 95% CIs.Co-author Daniel Romero, associate professor of information at the University of Michigan, underscored that the study did not analyze attention to retractions, just attention to articles after publication and soon before and after retraction. And a key point is that retracted papers receive more uncritical attention before they’re retracted than comparable unretracted papers, across platforms, he said.

That said, retracted papers also receive relatively more critical mentions (negative attention) on social media ahead of retraction, suggesting that social media users are able to identify problems with them. 

Implications for Public Discourse

Crucially, this new paper does not look at academic citations, only attention to research on social media (Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and more) and on “highly curated” platforms such as news websites, Wikipedia and other repositories and research blogs. (Previous studies have shown that retracted research continues to be cited, in many cases because retractions go unnoticed.)

Of course, many academics use social media, so they are generating some of the attention the study addresses. But in focusing on platforms for the public, the study has implications for important social debates that may be influenced by misinformation.

Most retracted papers don’t get much attention, good or bad, but some do get visibility that extends across social media, news, knowledge repositories and blogs, Horvát said. Retracted research linking childhood vaccines to autism, for example, or more recently retracted COVID-19–related papers suggest that “the harms of highly shared problematic research can be substantial,” she added.

Critical and Uncritical Attention

Using Retraction Watch’s database of retracted papers, Horvát, Romero and a third co-author, Hao Peng, analyzed the amount and type of attention (“critical” or not) that 3,851 retracted papers from the last 10 years received. Then they looked at attention to unretracted papers from the same journals, published around the same time, with the same number of authors and author research impact, to compare.

As for how much attention eventually retracted papers get upon publication, the study found that across 2,830 retracted and 13,599 control papers with a tracking window of at least six months, the retracted papers received more attention after publication on all types of platforms studied. On average, papers obtained mentions most frequently on social media, followed by news media. They received roughly similar amounts of attention on blogs and knowledge repositories. (The researchers tracked attention levels via Altmetric, which follows the spread of scholarly content online.)

Across different types of platforms, retracted papers were not discussed significantly more often than control papers immediately before their retraction, according to the study. Some 94 percent of them received no mentions in the last month before retraction.

Twitter accounted for 80 percent of mentions in Altmetric. Compared with control papers, the eventually retracted papers received a higher fraction of critical tweets, suggesting that Twitter may be an effective tool for highlighting troublesome research.

Ivan Oransky, co-founder of Retraction Watch, said Wednesday that “it makes complete sense that the papers that ended up getting retracted have had more attention, in general.” Prior research has shown that retractions occur most frequently among highly cited articles published in high-impact journals, he said (this is also mentioned in the paper), and his experience over 12 years at Retraction Watch “is that that the best predictor of whether a paper will be retracted is how much attention it gets.”

Oransky said a corollary to the new paper's findings is that “journals and peer reviewers really aren’t doing a great job of ferreting out the problems that they should be ferreting out.” He added, “It’s another reminder that prepublication peer review is wholly inadequate. And I would argue it’s getting worse, because there’s so many papers that need to be peer reviewed, and not enough peer reviewers.” (Oransky also said he’s concerned about how and to what extent journals explain why a paper has been retracted.)

It’s true that publication volumes keep increasing, and many peer reviewers are declining referee requests due to burnout and other issues. Regarding the peer-review crisis, James Stacey Taylor, associate professor of philosophy at the College of New Jersey, proposed an unusual solution in his recently published book, Markets With Limits: How the Commodification of Academia Derails Debate (Routledge): require authors to pay journal referees a “bounty” for each error they detect in the manuscripts they’re reviewing, whether or not the paper gets accepted for publication.

“Maybe as little as $10 for a bibliographic error, to, say, $100 for a source that has been misrepresented,” Taylor explained. “Of course, researchers could reduce their liability to zero simply by being very careful.”

Asking academics to be bounty "hunters" is "unlikely to eliminate error, but it will definitely reduce it,” Taylor said of the idea, which is sure to be controversial, given that the idea of paying reviewers in any way remains controversial. 

Of the PNAS paper, Taylor said that he’d be interested to know more about papers pulled for plagiarism versus falsified research results, with the latter arguably having a bigger tendency to “pollute” public debate (the causes of retraction have been studied elsewhere, but not quite in relation to the amount of attention these papers get).

Beyond that, Taylor said he remained unsure that such "online sources with their shelf lives are really what we should be concerned about.” Retractions—when noticed—do effectively serve their purpose in academic discussions, he added.

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Conversion therapy apology statement raises questions

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The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies last week formally expressed regret for the field’s past involvement in what’s now known as conversion therapy. But the written apology—which acknowledged that therapists continued to study conversion therapy in LGBTQ people even after the American Psychiatric Association first said in 1973 that same-sex attraction was not a disorder, and after the association passed a similar resolution a year later—fell short for some.

One criticism: members felt that the statement shouldn’t have just encouraged therapists to “educate themselves about the history” of conversion therapy in their field. Rather, these critics thought that the statement should have named past practitioners of conversion therapy—namely those who signed the apology statement in their capacity as past presidents of the association.

These discussions continue, raising questions about the extent to which past research can be excused as a product of its time and—unexpectedly—questions about student privacy.

A Detour Into Privacy

Starting with the latter set of issues, one of the academics who criticized ABCT’s statement publicly was Aaron Fisher, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. On Twitter, he pointed out that a 1979 paper on conversion therapy for transgender individuals co-written by David Barlow, a past president of ABCT who signed the apology letter, was still published and available for download via the major journal that is now called JAMA Psychiatry. (The paper says its findings “point to the possibility of psychosocial intervention as an alternative to surgery in the treatment of transsexualism.”)

In a public response to Fisher that she later deleted, Bonnie Brown, a nurse who is the head administrator of Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (of which Barlow is the founder and director emeritus) said this: “If you knew [Barlow], you would understand his regret. No need to publicly crucify. Interesting that you applied to that graduate program years ago but were not accepted. Guess you weren’t feeling that strongly then? Beliefs change over time.”

Fisher then said that Brown had apparently “dipped into” BU’s admissions records to disclose information about him, so as to retaliate against him for discussing someone else's published research.

“Strikes me as a pretty egregious abuse of power,” he added.

Numerous onlookers told Brown that she was wrong to disclose private admissions data under any circumstance. Some suggested that it was a violation of the set of federal student privacy laws known as FERPA.

Brown tweeted back at Fisher that she “didn’t dip,” and said that he'd “interviewed” with the lab where she worked at BU. “Full of unfounded accusations, aren’t you?” she said.

Fisher told Inside Higher Ed Monday that he did apply to BU but never interviewed there because he hadn't been asked to do so. In retrospect, he said, he was seriously “underprepared and underadvised” for the graduate school application process back in 2005 and was consequently asked to interview at just one of the institutions to which he’d applied, Pennsylvania State University, which he attended.

If Brown didn’t “dip," it remains a mystery as to how she knew Fisher applied to BU and was rejected: Brown did not reply to a request for comment, nor did her husband, Timothy Brown, who is a professor of psychology at BU, where Barlow is a professor emeritus.

Setting that question aside, is publicly discussing admissions decisions illegal? The answer here is clearer: no, as FERPA applies only to records of matriculated students, not potential students who are rejected or those who are accepted but do not end up enrolling.

One campus security expert who spoke on background (who did not want to be quoted in a story involving BU), said that another caveat to FERPA is that it only protects information gleaned directly from student records, not information about a student heard from someone else. Except in cases of legal orders, such as subpoenas, institutions generally treat admissions records for non-students as if they're private anyway, as a best practice, however, the expert said.

Rachel Lapal Cavallario, a BU spokesperson, said that she was previously aware of the incident. “While this exchange is not a violation of FERPA as Mr. Fisher was never a Boston University student, we do take matters of privacy seriously. We will further examine this matter to learn more,” she said.

As for Brown’s point on opinions changing over time, Fisher told Inside Higher Ed that while he was interested in Barlow’s research on neuroticism when he applied to BU, he didn’t know about Barlow’s conversion therapy research until years later.

“Like many graduate school applicants, there were a lot of things I didn’t know when I was applying,” he said. In any case, Fisher said the purpose of his original tweets about the ABCT statement was to argue that it “effectively launders Barlow et al.’s behavior by masking their involvement and giving them the appearance of progressive reformers.”

Disclaimers vs. Retractions

Fisher said that Barlow, along with two other past ABCT presidents who signed the letter having published their own conversion therapy research, “should have issued their own personal apology.” 

Moreover, he said, “I believe much of their work on conversion therapy and related topics should be retracted due to the harmful effects the work has had and continues to have.”

ABCT’s statement does not address retraction but says that the organization’s publications committee has been tasked with the creation of “disclaimers,” to be added to flagged articles previously published in ABCT journals.

The ABCT statement itself hints at what might be included in such a disclaimer, denouncing “the ongoing use of so-called ‘conversion therapies’ given (a) the lack of empirical support regarding for such interventions, (b) existing evidence regarding the significant risks associated with these practices, and (c) the fact that [sexual and gender minority] identities are normal expressions of human diversity and not a type of psychopathology that needs to be ‘treated.’”

More specifically, the apology continues, “research indicates that so-called ‘conversion therapies’ and attempts to change sexual orientation and/or gender identity are associated with increased internalized stigma and discrimination, self-harm and -hatred, decreased self-esteem, depression, anxiety, isolation from social support, and suicide attempts.”

Barlow previously expressed regret for his role in conversion therapy in a 2016 book he edited called Introduction: A Career in Psychology (Routledge), calling it the “most regrettable initiative in my clinical research career.” Barlow wrote that decades earlier he’d treated and evaluated “individuals with what came to be called paraphilias but what was then called sexual deviation,” including “participants presenting with same-sex arousal patterns with consenting adults.” At the time, he said, “homosexuality was considered a disorder in all systems of nosology and, under extreme pressures from society and the associated stigma, these individuals sought out treatment; so very few clinicians even gave it a second thought.”

“Looking back on that period from today’s vantage point it is very hard to even conceive how we could not have realized the inherent conflicts in attempting to treat harmless consenting adult behavior involving love and affection," he wrote. "But, the lesson learned by most of us is that definitions and classification of psychopathology do not represent qualitatively different entities but rather are embedded in the continually shifting landscape of cultural values and mores and that these ethical and moral issues must be transparent, debated and occupy a central role in all of our endeavors.”

Barlow said in an interview Monday that he wasn’t closely involved in the drafting of the ABCT apology statement but referenced his earlier words of regret. He said that he’d published “maybe eight” papers on conversion therapy in his career of some 650 articles, and that his work in this area had been based on people asking him for this kind of therapy. (For context, Gerald Davison, a professor of psychology and gerontology at the University of California and a past ABCT president, is widely credited with arguing in a 1974 address to association members that they should not engage in conversion therapy, even if patients asked for it, because doing so sent mixed, harmful messages about sexuality.)

Barlow also said that he’d worked closely with Brown and called her a longtime friend. 

Regarding Brown’s assertion that he feels regret for his role in conversion therapy research, Barlow said, “I think regret is the best word. I wish I hadn’t, knowing what I know today. I wish I hadn’t done that.”

As for whether his articles should be retracted, Barlow said no. But he proposed a broader “disclaimer” solution than the one pertaining to ABCT’s journals alone: that publishers in general find a way to adding warnings to these papers indicating that they do not reflect current science.

“The only reason you can really retract a journal article, based on my understanding, and I’ve been an editor myself, is if you have some evidence that the data was manipulated or fabricated or false, and the science is wrong,” he said. “I don’t think you can retract an article because times have changed, or have a different view of it now and you don’t like the conclusion. But you can put a disclaimer on it. And that disclaimer is that we know a lot more about this now. It’s not that the science then was faulty. It’s that we have additional science that now shows that engaging in this type of conversion activity does more harm than good.”

Noting a recent instance in which a group opposing legal bans on conversion therapy had cited his decades-old work, alongside more recent research on sexual fluidity, to “disingenuously” support its own arguments, Barlow said, “Seeing that people are taking research and misinterpreting or using it to kind of suit their own purposes—in other words, not really using it the way it was intended—I think there probably should be like something like a ‘black box’ warning.”

Steven Hayes, Foundation Professor of Psychology at the University of Nevada, also signed the ABCT statement as a past president who has published research on conversion therapy. He said via email Monday that his involvement in this work was limited to one case during his medical internship, which he wrote up several years later, in 1983, as part of broader study. He also said he’s published since in the area of gay rights, including on reducing “self-stigma” around sexual orientation.

Still, Hayes said he posted a video apology earlier this month because he felt it was needed.

“All of this work was ethical and fit with the [APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] categories and treatment standards of the time, but I believe that this case was morally wrong,” he said of the conversion therapy research.

On retraction, Hayes said he’d asked the editor of the journal that published the work if it can be retracted.

“There is no precedent for moral retraction, and she said she would have to research the topic,” Hayes said of that conversation. “I think we as a field need to have a thorough conversation about that issue, and I look forward to that dialogue.”

Jessica Peters, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University and member of ABCT, also argued for retraction. 

"The research on conversion therapy, regardless of the context in which it initially happened or intent behind it, has caused immeasurable damage to the LGBTQ+ community," she said Monday, adding that it continues to be cited as evidence in support of this ongoing practice. "While medical associations have uniformly denounced the practice and some much needed state-level legislation passed against it, there are many places in the world where these therapies are being used to traumatize people right now. While nothing can undo what has happened, retraction by the authors sends an unambiguous message that these works should in no way influence modern practice."

 

 

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Peer-review crisis creates problems for journals and scholars

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Gale Sinatra, professor of psychology and the Stephen H. Crocker Professor of Education at the University of Southern California, is stepping down as associate editor of the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. Officially, it’s because she’s becoming an associate dean for research and won’t have as much time to devote to her editorship. But the new job is part only part of it: like so many other journal editors, Sinatra is facing a serious shortage of available scholars to review submitted articles, and it’s a problem she can’t solve on her own.

Worse Than Ever

This issue isn’t new: academic publishing has long been a delicate system that operates—tenuously—on goodwill, in the form of comprehensive, unpaid article analyses from expert volunteers. But the pandemic has pushed this system to breaking, or close to it. With academics’ professional and personal lives disrupted in so many ways for years now, this kind of labor is increasingly harder to source: journal editors across fields say scholars are significantly less likely to accept article-review requests, if they respond at all, and (to a lesser degree but concerningly nonetheless) they are more likely to return reviews that are late or even rushed.

At the same time, journals’ overall submission numbers haven’t decreased to the extent many anticipated during COVID-19, and they have actually increased in many fields, especially those in which researchers were studying the pandemic in some way.

“I’ve had a good run. I’ve done three journals, [and] I’ve enjoyed all three of these experiences. But I’ve peaked out because it’s just become too difficult,” Sinatra said of trying to find reviewers, chasing down late reviews and, worst of all, apologizing to the scholars who understandably want to know if and when their delayed articles will be published. These are often scholars who are looking for jobs, going up for tenure or facing other high-stakes decisions that turn on their publication records. (This is not to mention the fundamental problem of delays in the timely publications of valuable research.)

Using very rough estimates, Sinatra said an article that may have taken three months to get reviewed before the pandemic—a turnaround time for which many journals strive—could take six months now. And in some cases, Sinatra hasn’t been able to find a third reviewer at all and had to offer more extensive editorial comments to make up for having only two.

“I just don’t know what we’re going to do. The model has to change,” Sinatra said.

Ken Hanson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wyoming and managing editor of Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, an open-access journal from the American Sociological Association, said it used to take three or four tries to find a willing reviewer for an article. Now it takes around eight, he said. At the same time, the journal is busier than ever in terms of submissions.

Consistent with other reports, Hanson said that the real downturn in reviewer availability happened not at the beginning of the pandemic but this past academic year. (One study of ecology journals actually found no drop-off in reviewer participation in the first six months of the pandemic, and that reviewers actually replied more quickly to invites and agreed to return their reviews more quickly then.)

In 2020, Hanson, said, “I think that people were excited to review COVID papers, and there was a sense of, ‘This is important. This is going to help us get out of this and better understand the pandemic.’ So there wasn’t that reviewer lag. Plus, I think people were more actually locked down. So people that weren’t burdened with having children or having the disease—whatever the situation was—were like, ‘I can review a paper because I’m just sitting at home.’”

Yet as things have “gotten closer to quote-unquote normal,” Hanson continued, “the burnout has kind of caught up to people. The 2021–2022 academic year has been particularly bad. And I would say since March it’s been severe.”

Tanya Joosten, co-director of the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, said she recently served as a special editor for a project and asked “everyone in the U.S. that was doing research in this area” to review a particular article on digital learning, to no avail.

“Every single person said, ‘No, we would love to help out in this sort of thing, but we just don’t have the time,’” Joosten said, noting that the digital learning field has been especially flooded with submissions since and about COVID-19. Joosten said one of her own articles was stalled at a journal, as well: after she inquired about it multiple times, an editor told her they’d only been able to secure one reviewer. She’s since pulled the article and seen it accepted elsewhere, but she said the experience delayed her study results getting out by a year.

“It’s delaying the dissemination of scientific knowledge across the board,” she added. “It’s like our knowledge creation as a society is slowing down and speeding up at the same time.”

In Joosten’s experience, junior faculty members are often motivated to review because they’re enthusiastic about being at that stage in their careers, she said, and she’s personally motivated to review because she’s trying to build the “rigor” of the digital learning field. But for many others in academe, she asked, “What’s the motivation to review?”

Paid Reviews

One possible answer? Paying reviewers for their work.

Roland Hatzenpichler, assistant professor of environmental microbiology at Montana State University, said it’s been about a year since he started refusing to review for for-profit journals for free. In response to one journal’s recent request that he review an article, for instance, Hatzenpichler thanked the editor for the invite but said that because the publication is owned by a major for-profit company with high profit margins, “my consulting fee of $200 per hour applies. Please let me know if these terms are acceptable and I will consider whether I can accept the invitation and/or suggest alternative reviewers. Please note that I will charge a one-time fee of $50 for the latter because I would be effectively doing the work you are being paid for free otherwise.”

No journal has taken Hatzenpichler upon his offer thus far. He doesn’t necessarily expect any to do so. He won’t stop asking, however.

“I’m not saying I have the solution to the problem, I’m just saying that I cannot offer my services to a company that gives nothing back to the community,” he said. (Hatzenpichler said his lab publishes almost exclusively in open-access journals and that he remains happy to review for publications run by nonprofit organizations such as scholarly societies. Although he started demanding payment from for-profit journals during COVID-19, he said the timing of his decision was much less about the pandemic than about his personal maturation as a scientist.)

Just as problems with the peer-review system aren’t new, only worse, paying reviewers for their work is an old idea that’s gotten a lot more attention during the pandemic.

One example: scientist James Heathers wrote in a widely read late 2020 essay—with some irony and perhaps more foresight—that it was only after leaving precarious academic employment for a secure, well-paying job at a technology start-up that he realized it makes sense to pay reviewers for their time and expertise.

In “our bold new astonishingly tenuous academic hellscape, this is a straightforward matter of commerce. Fiscal reality,” he wrote, warning that “the plague” would make it harder than ever for many to “afford” being an academic.

Heathers explained that his own corporate consulting rate was $250 per hour, and that his academic consulting rate is far lower or even free, even though “journal groups have more money than God.” Considering the taxes that consulting work is subject to, Heathers estimated that his peer-reviewing fee would be about $50 to $150 per hour. He spends anywhere from three to nine hours reviewing a paper from start to finish, he concluded, so “if we put the low with the high, and the high with the low we get … $450, actually, both ways. Give me $450” per article.

Heathers’s “450 Movement” was debated at last year’s Researcher to Reader conference on scholarly communication, where Heathers had a perhaps-unexpected ally: Brad Fenwick, senior vice president at Taylor & Francis, one of a handful of major for-profit publishers.

“Some editors are well compensated for their efforts. So why would the same approach not be applied to peer reviewers?” Fenwick said during the debate, according to Science. “Universities provide faculty with the freedom to supplement their income as paid consultants and/or by being involved in for-profit businesses. There’s no reason that their contribution to the publishing industry should be treated in a lesser fashion.”

On the other side of the debate, Alison Mudditt, CEO of PLOS, the nonprofit publisher of open-access articles, said at the event, “There is no practical way to pay reviewers without wrecking peer review. Reviews vary wildly in length, quality and complexity. Where would we start with assessing an appropriate fee? Why pick $450? There are some articles that are so intricate that perhaps only a handful of experts on earth can review them. One large society publisher tells me that [a fee of only $350] would wipe out the surplus they returned to the society—no more investment in the society’s research and researchers.”

Mudditt also cited a 2018 survey by Publons, a website where academics can track their editorial contributions, which found that cash payment is not a significant incentive to review, ranking No. 6 in a list of initiatives that would make researchers more likely to review (the survey specifically addressed reviewing grant proposals, but this in many ways parallels peer reviewing publications). More professional recognition for this work came in at No. 1. The same survey found that the reviewing workload is not evenly distributed, with just 4 percent of reviewers doing 25 percent of reviews.

A separate Publons survey on global peer review found that 85 percent of respondents think institutions should more explicitly require and recognize peer review. This survey also found that article submissions grew 6 percent between 2013 and 2017, and article publication volumes grew by about 3 percent over the same period.

Sinatra, of USC, also disagreed with the idea of paying reviewers, saying she worried it would introduce perverse incentives into the work and result in poorer-quality reviews. Instead, Sinatra proposed that that academics with a paper under review at particular journal should be required to complete one review for that same journal, in a kind one-to-one exchange of labor: “If you’re under review, you should be expected to complete a review. I think it’s only fair and that would help alleviate the backlog.”

To increase the pool of reviewers, Sinatra said she’s also been on Twitter encouraging journal scholars to join editorial review boards and to write to editors in their areas of expertise saying, “‘I’m available,’ because it is sometimes an issue of not knowing who’s out there.”

Sara Shulist, an associate professor of linguistic anthropology at Queen’s University in Canada, said her own philosophy on peer-review requests is that “I try to accept more often than not,” but she didn’t like the idea of reviewing requirements based on submissions.

“I don’t love a hard rule,” in general, Shulist said, “and I also think it depends on the people submitting. I think there’s a big difference between tenured people and securely employed people and contingently employed people. Contingent-employed people may want to submit but shouldn’t be asked to do reviews. I think that should be distributed among senior scholars more.”

A corollary of this is whether the work is paid or not, Shulist said—most urgently for non-tenure-track scholars who are compensated for teaching only, not for the research and service tenured jobs are understood to involve.

“I can reasonably argue that service of this type is covered under the broad category of my tenured job, whereas other people who don’t have such a job are doing this completely for free.”

Regarding Fenwick’s participation in the $450 debate, Taylor & Francis Group said at the time that it was an intellectual exercise, not company policy, and that there were no plans to broaden a company practice of paying for accelerated reviews for a small share of journals focused on pharmaceutical development.

Hatzenpichler, at Montana State, said that while he understood some academics’ concerns about payment resulting in sloppier or biased reviews, he argued that it’s important to remain at least “agnostic” about the issue until it’s been studied extensively.

Other Solutions—and a Bigger Problem

Ken Kolb, chair of sociology at Furman University, said he got some pushback this month for tweeting that “if you are tenured, you’ve gotta do some peer reviews, like pretty regularly,” as “junior folks’ lives are on hold, waiting on reviewers.” He remained unapologetic, saying it’s increasingly challenging to help junior scholars in his department map out their paths to finding jobs or getting tenure when the timelines for their career-making publications are in flux because journals can’t find reviewers.

“It’s almost like we need an Ice Bucket Challenge of ‘do one review a month, you know, for 12 months,’ just to clear the backlog—whatever it could be,” Kolb said, referring to the successful 2014 fundraising campaign for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis research and care. “I know that’s not the most popular thing, because it’s work. It’s extra work. I’m salaried, so I feel like everything that I do is paid for in such a way, but the number of things that I’ve been asked to do over the course of my career has gotten more and more and more, in terms of service to the discipline, service to my institution—all this other stuff besides my core tasks of teaching and research. But I just feel for human beings who are up against the clock, and they don’t really have time to wait for long-term reforms.”

That said, Kolb told Inside Higher Ed that he’s willing simultaneously to entertain longer-term solutions to the problem. This includes curbing the expansion of—and possibly eliminating—revise-and-resubmits, he said, citing a new paper from sociologist Christine L. Williams called “Abolish the R&R.”

Of revise-and-resubmits, in which journal editors offer extensive feedback on papers but don’t accept them, Williams wrote, “The goal of this labyrinthine and lengthy process is to publish scientifically sound sociology, but it has significant downsides. Many scholars can tell horror stories about revising a paper for years only to have it rejected after multiple rounds of reviews. What can be done to improve the publication process?”

The first step, Williams continued, “is to eliminate the R&R. After peer review, editors should have two options: reject or conditionally accept. A conditional acceptance means that the editor or their deputy commits to working with the author until the paper is published. There could never be a second round of anonymous reviews, which only encourage reviewers to dig in their hills, pick at nits, become combative, etc. There may be occasions when the editor needs to consult with a specific reviewer a second time to verify that the author has correctly answered the questions raised by the review. However, in this case, the editor has already become a negotiator and advocate for the author, not a disinterested arbiter.”

Kolb said other long-term concerns include “the proliferation of journals,” which results in more editors asking for reviews, and the “diminishing amount of tenured faculty to be able to review.”

This last point is the most intractable, given that the vast majority of the academic workforce is now employed off the tenure track. And it’s at the very root of the peer-review crisis, to the extent there is one: when academe’s shrinking share of securely employed professors compensated for work across teaching, research and service becomes suddenly more stressed, forcing them to triage their many duties more than they already do, there is no slack in the system to absorb the work that goes undone. And yet this undone work remains vital, especially for those waiting on their work to be reviewed.

As Ryan Cordell, associate professor of information sciences and English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said on Twitter last week, “The peer review crisis in higher ed may seem narrow, but it’s an example of how COVID exposed the precariousness of broader labor structures—peer review runs almost exclusively on the civic spirit of field professionals—so the systems only work while there isn’t *any* disruption.”

It’s “hard to see a way out because *everyone* is so overextended & burnt out—there’s no secret, massive reserve of refreshed & energized peer reviewers who could sweep in & fix things—it’s burnt out folks all the way down,” he added. “Which means the real answers are, like they are across labor sectors in 2022: hire more people, give them fairer contracts, reduce exploitative workloads. [In other words] real solutions would require labor solidarity across academic tracks & ranks because everything else is a bandaid.”

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AAC&U and PEN America oppose divisive concepts bans

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The recent wave of educational “gag orders” restricting the teaching of race, gender or other so-called divisive concepts is a dire threat to what makes American higher education unique and sought after. Such legislation is a far greater threat to free speech than any problem it might be trying to solve, and it also risks colleges’ and universities’ accreditation. Institutions must speak out against this kind of government censorship, which is not politics as usual.

These were the major themes that emerged during a Wednesday panel organized by the free expression group PEN America and the American Association of Colleges and Universities. The occasion was the release of a new joint statement from the two groups opposing legislative restrictions on teaching and learning, which notes that 70 such bills affecting higher education have been introduced in 28 states, and passed in seven states, since January of last year. (More states have passed bills affecting K-12 education.)

“These legislative restrictions infringe upon freedom of speech and academic freedom, constraining vital societal discourse on pressing questions relating to American history, society and culture,” the joint statement says. “Legislative restrictions on freedom of inquiry and expression violate the institutional autonomy on which the quality and integrity of our system of higher education depends. In the U.S., the content of what is taught and discussed in higher education classrooms is shielded from direct governmental control.”

This isn’t the first time these groups, or others, have publicly opposed educational gag orders (PEN, in particular, has an ongoing legislation tracking project and regularly speaks out). But the joint statement expresses new “alarm” at the advancing trend toward censorship—as did panelists in their comments.

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN, said that her organization has for years worked to “articulate how we believe that the drive for a more equal and inclusive campus and society cannot, must not, need not come at the expense of robust protections for free speech and academic freedom. And what we’ve seen over the last year and change is just this startling and fierce backlash against what is seen as a kind of orthodoxy emanating from the left.”

Nossel and others on the panel agreed that higher education must grapple with the speech climate with respect to what’s been called campus “illiberalism” or, more pejoratively, the “snowflake” problem. But all panelists were in full agreement that legislating what can and cannot be discussed on college campuses is not the answer.

Said Nossel, “As a free speech defense organization, we recognize not all threats to free speech are created equal. If you’re going to make a hierarchy of which ones ought to be most concerning, it’s the ones that go directly to what our First Amendment protects against, which is intrusions on and impairments on freedom of speech emanating from the government.”

Regarding critical race theory, gender and other concepts that this legislation targets, Nossel said, “It’s a very specific perspective that’s being called out and made illegal. This is an affront to open discourse, to the values that we stand for as an organization. For me personally, I find this, as an American, something I never expected to see or witness in my own country. And I think it’s extremely important to point this out this is not just part of the culture war. This is not just a tussle of sorts between the right and the left. This is a real turning of the backs of our governors and legislatures away from fundamental constitutional principles.”

‘A Clear, Unambiguous Voice’

Panelist Eduardo Ochoa, president of California State University, Monterey Bay, said, “It’s critical for us to speak with a loud voice, a clear, unambiguous voice on this issue. As my colleagues have pointed out, this is a fundamental aspect of strength of American higher education—indeed, of American democracy. The ability to express your views regardless of whether they’re popular or whether they meet the orthodoxy of the established power is critical to the strength and the flexibility of this nation.”

Of college and university leaders, Ochoa said “this is something that’s a real easy issue for presidents to be on the side of the angels about.”

Not all presidents have openly opposed such legislation, however. Kent Fuchs, president of the University of Florida, for instance, recently told faculty members not to violate a new state law that he said governs “instructional topics and practices.” The law, known as HB 7, is better known among its supporters as the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, which Republican governor Ron DeSantis introduced in December as a bulwark against the “state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory.” Faculty members were also warned that running afoul of this new law could result in "large financial penalties" for the university, based a separate new law enforcing HB 7.

Panelist Ronald Crutcher, president emeritus of both the University of Richmond and Wheaton College of Massachusetts, said that while some politically motivated actors, including those in the news media, “try to position universities as these places where professors are trying to poison the minds of young people,” higher education leaders must use “real stories of students and student voices representing a broad swath of perspectives to help people understand what’s really going on on our campuses.”

Jeremy Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN, said that these divisive concept bans don’t even appear to reflect broad public opinion, citing a 2020 poll by the American Historical Association finding that 77 percent of Americans (and 74 percent of Republicans) say it’s acceptable to teach about the harm some people have done to others, even if that subject matter causes learners discomfort. And while some bills and laws don’t explicitly implicate college teaching, he said, their effect in certain states has chilled administrators into changing the curriculum anyway.

The specificity of these laws varies, but threatened speech ranges from historical content about racism and slavery to student organizations that represent gender or racial identities, Young also said.

Undermining U.S. Higher Ed

Addressing how the recent divisive concepts bans are part of an even larger trend toward legislators and other figures interfering in long-held higher education norms, Lynn Pasquerella, president of the AAC&U, said, “There’s certainly a growing sense of urgency around responding to and indeed redressing the overreach on the part of legislators, governors and state governing boards into curricula, hiring, tenure and promotion decisions and accreditation, alongside the monitoring of faculty and student perspectives and viewpoints that threaten to undermine academic freedom and shared governance on college and university campuses.” (Some recent examples: Florida introduced a mandatory survey on the climate for college viewpoint diversity and passed a post-tenure review law, the University System of Georiga made it possible to fire tenured faculty members without clear faculty input, and Mississippi’s Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning changed how faculty members get and maintain tenure in near secrecy.)

What’s special about the joint statement, Pasquerella continued, is that it “highlights the distinctiveness of the American higher education system, whose strength is derived from its independence from direct governmental control, and it showcases the ways in which America’s global leadership in higher education is grounded in colleges and universities being self-governed and self-regulated through accreditation processes that are designed to ensure academic quality and integrity, as well as freedom from undue political influence.”

Per Pasquerella’s point, the statement says that colleges and universities “are self-governed and self-regulated according to widely accepted principles that are safeguarded by a well-established network of seven regional accreditation agencies.”

Not mentioning by name but certainly evoking yet another new Florida law requiring colleges and universities to change accreditors and to sue those accreditors whose oversight they don’t like, the statement says that accreditors “monitor institutions’ adherence to a series of self-governance principles, including freedom from undue political influence” and that colleges and universities “forced to comply with political edicts governing curricula and classroom discussions may forfeit their eligibility for accreditation, a drastic result that could compromise students’ eligibility for federal financial aid and place the institutions themselves in jeopardy.”

Educational gag orders imperil shared governance, the statement also says, as the “imposition of political restrictions on college and university curricula usurps and unduly constrains this faculty prerogative, substituting ideologically motivated government dictates for subject matter expertise and undermining the integrity of the academic enterprise.”

On academic freedom, the statement says that in “teaching and learning, as in scholarship and research, the freedom to engage in intellectual debate, and to share ideas and raise questions without fear of retribution or censorship, expands the boundaries of knowledge and drives innovation.”

An effort to curb this process therefore “undermines our society’s democratic future.”

The Way Forward

Asked during the event how colleges and universities might address outstanding concerns about illiberalism in the classroom speech environment on their own, Ochoa said they can promote effective teaching, versus “preaching,” along with critical thinking. Crutcher suggested the Bipartisan Policy Center’s campus free speech “roadmap” report, which he helped write. PEN has a separate report on classroom free expression in a “divided America.”

The University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement offers resources, as well, including a newly released paper by one of its fellows, Lynn Comella, on best practices for navigating campus controversies. Michelle Deutchman, center director, was not involved in the new joint statement or panel, but she said Wednesday that there are a "number of things that universities can do, and some of them require going back to basics—education for students, staff and faculty about the First Amendment; discussion about why there is value in protecting offensive and ugly speech; formal guidance for graduate teaching assistants on how to facilitate challenging conversations in the classroom; and training about the distinction between academic freedom and free speech and why that matters. These things are essential in building a foundation that sustains open discourse and free inquiry.”

Deutchman “absolutely” agreed with the new joint statement itself.

“Legislative encroachment on university autonomy is one of the greatest threats to expression and academic freedom," she said. "When the government attempts to determine what can or should be taught in our nation’s classrooms, it undermines the principles upon which higher education depends—the unbounded pursuit of knowledge and the unfettered exchange of ideas. This, in turn, shakes the foundations of our democracy.”

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UMass Boston faces questions about its commitment to DEI

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Earlier this year, a faculty-led committee at the University of Massachusetts at Boston presented first drafts of updated mission and vision statements, both of which declared the university “an anti-racist and health-promoting” institution.

“Diversity, equity, shared governance, and expansive notions of excellence are core institutional values,” the draft vision statement said, in part. “We hold ourselves and each other accountable to ensure these values drive all decision-making in research, pedagogical innovations, resource allocation, and the development of policies and practices.”

Some faculty members strongly supported embedding these ideals in the racially diverse, urban research university’s mission and vision. Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco also has committed to helping make UMass Boston the “leading anti-racist and health-promoting public research university.” But other professors, concentrated in the university’s College of Science and Mathematics, objected: in a statement, science and math professors (along with supporters from elsewhere in the university and at other institutions) said that DEI and related values “have very distinct ideological interpretations” and asked what would happen if, say, “your research on quantum computing is not perceived as promoting climate, environmental, or racial justice—will you be held accountable and your resources re-allocated?”

These critics also argued that the mission and vision statement drafts’ focus on DEI amounted to “diminutive support for knowledge creation” at a research university.

UMass Boston said last week these were only first drafts of the statements and that others have since been circulated for feedback. In any case, the conversation about whether the university should commit itself to becoming an antiracist institution has attracted significant attention.

Yet some on campus believe the debate over what UMass Boston says it values distracts from what the university actually does value, as demonstrated by its actions.

Africana Studies

Case in point? The university’s Africana studies department. Since 2017, the nearly 50-year-old department has gone from seven full-time, tenured and tenure-track faculty members to 1.5. Despite that attrition, the department has seen two faculty searches canceled by the administration. Professors also say the department has been threatened with receivership and pushed by UMass Boston to merge with the campus’s William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture, which is currently directorless.

UMass Boston has now hired three outside lawyers to audit Africana studies, telling professors that it seeks to understand how to “best make a significant investment” in the department and Trotter. That’s despite the fact that most of the department has resisted absorbing Trotter’s mission, fearing it will foist more un- or underfunded service work on the dwindling faculty, at the expense of teaching and research—for which professors and academic programs are often more harshly judged, and rewarded, than for service.

“It’s absolutely disgraceful that we could come upon the 50th anniversary of our department in this condition,” said Jemadari Kamara, department chair. “It is clear the department is in desperate need of full-time, tenure-track faculty.”

Arguing that losing 5.5 full-time, tenure-track or tenured faculty lines by attrition since 2017 represents a $1.5 million “disinvestment” in Africana studies by UMass Boston, Kamara said this “suggests a strategy of destabilizing the department to replace it with far fewer full-time, tenure-track faculty and part-timers.”

Kibibi Mack-Shelton, the department’s most recent former chair, who described being undermined by the provost’s office throughout her chairship and who has since transferred to the history department, said, “It’s like they’re treating Africana studies like it’s a stepchild. They treat the department like it’s a department of children, where they need an overseer, like they need a guardian. And I think it all goes back to the master plan of integrating Trotter and the department.”

Mack-Shelton said that Provost Joseph Berger threatened the department with receivership after it did not reach a unanimous vote (what Berger allegedly called a “consensus”) as to who would succeed her as department chair, for instance. Mack-Shelton said two professors—including one whom the university appointed as Trotter’s director without consulting her—did not vote for Kamara, but that the issue hardly demonstrated the department’s inability to govern itself. (Both of the dissenting professors have since left the university.)

Berger did not respond to a request for comment. He said in a May memo to the faculty that both the institute and Africana studies “remain essential and are a high priority to UMass Boston.” He committed the university to making “current and future investments totaling approximately $1.2 million" in both entities, with more to follow pending the findings the university’s inquiry into the department. This includes hiring a senior scholar and for two tenure-line faculty positions in Africana Studies, one open in rank and one assistant professor, Berger said.

Regarding Trotter, a committee on the institute’s future co-led by the campus Black Faculty, Staff and Student Association recommended a minimum operating budget of $70,000, Berger said, plus the appointment of three academic faculty members, three permanent professional staff members, and two graduate assistantships, at a cost of approximately $800,000 per year. A new director will be named following a broad national search.

DeWayne Lehman, a university spokesperson, said via email that there has been a “significant increase in funding of $1.2 million to the Africana studies department and the Trotter Institute for investment in hiring senior scholar leadership and staff and funding to solidify the long-term sustainability of these important elements of our university.” He did not respond to a series of follow-up questions about the stalled faculty searches, the nature of the audit or just when or how the $1.2 million will be realized.

Canceled Searches

As the department’s faculty has shrunk, two full-time, non-tenure-track professors, Anthony Van Der Meer and Keith Jones, have shouldered a large share of the teaching load. They’ve also led multiple campus diversity initiatives, for which they were honored with the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Service in 2021 (presented this spring). In an announcement about the awards, UMass Boston said Van Der Meer and Jones “have played a landmark role in contributing to building a university that lives up to its mission.” But the university canceled one of the aforementioned faculty searches this spring after Van Der Meer’s and Jones’s names were included on lists of finalists for two open tenure-track positions.

In a March email to the department calling off that search, Tyson King-Meadows, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, accused the search committee of having “ranked” the list of finalists and said that he’d asked for but not received “a more robust pool of finalists by converting all semifinalists to finalists.” And although the search had already proceeded to the finalist stage, King-Meadows cited “delays due to concerns about the original job text ad and due to questions about the robustness of the overall applicant pool.”

“Resuming a search in the future will also afford time to attend to other issues: e.g., design and implementation of an effective mentorship plan for junior faculty, managing the operations of the department, and advancing new and longstanding endeavors that enhance curricular and co-curricular offerings,” King-Meadows wrote.

Members of the department say calling off the search was part of a long pattern of administrators treating Africana studies in ways that challenged its ability to be effective. But this time, many faculty members outside Africana studies took note, arguing that King-Meadows and UMass Boston more broadly had flouted the norms of shared governance.

In an email to King-Meadows, two search committee members from outside Africana studies with 80 years’ combined experience at UMass Boston wrote that any of the faculty candidate “rankings” were preliminary. More than that, they said, “Committee members feel that the recommendation to cancel the search is calling into question their integrity, and is consciously or unconsciously disrespecting the time, energy, rigor, and thoughtfulness that went into putting forward the final slate of candidates.”

A ‘Failure of Leadership’?

The two search committee members, psychologist Cuf Ferguson and anthropologist Tim Sieber, shared their concerns about the stalled search with UMass Boston’s broader faculty and staff union in a memo, saying “How Africana studies and their needs are being treated today is unjust and a threat to faculty rights everywhere and to whatever is left of our supposed campus ideal of ‘shared governance.’”

If the administration “is truly serious about doing anti-racism work,” they continued, “it is imperative, beyond rhetoric, for them to support and work with the many vibrant grassroots faculty and wider campus anti-racism initiatives and struggles that we actually have here, and to honor those who have been in the trenches on this issue for decades—like the faculty in our Africana studies department.”

The Faculty Senate for the College of Liberal Arts passed a related resolution faulting the administration for twice canceling Africana studies searches, in 2020 and 2022, respectively. The last search committee had submitted a list of semifinalists from a pool of more than 50 national applicants to be screened, to create a list of finalist candidates for campus interviews, following “normal procedures of all UMB searches,” the Senate said.

Also last semester, in a campus memo that still mystifies many, Suárez-Orozco, the chancellor, and Berger, the provost, said that members of the Faculty Council had acted in a “racially charged” manner and had trafficked in “racial stereotypes and tropes” when they suggested at a meeting that the administration had been less than transparent in recent dean searches, including the one that resulted in the appointment of the liberal arts dean, King-Meadows, who is Black.

According to a transcript of that meeting, one faculty member discussed “majority” and “minority” opinions with respect to gathering data and increasing administrative transparency in the search process. Another faculty member suggested that naming King-Meadows chair of the new search committee for a dean of education was problematic because King-Meadows “is fairly new on campus and hasn’t really had a chance to build goodwill with the faculty,” and because he “came in under some fairly intense, and I’ll just say it, stressful circumstances.”

Mack-Shelton, who was at the meeting in question and spoke herself about search process transparency, said that the criticism of the university and its search processes had nothing to do with race. The faculty and staff union agreed, saying in a written response to Suárez-Orozco and Berger that “No member of the Faculty Council said anything that was racially charged or trafficked in racial stereotypes at the [meeting]. Not only is it clear from the transcript of the meeting, but the false nature of this allegation helps explain why no one objected during the meeting itself and why people who were at the meeting were dumbfounded when the Chancellor and Provost released the Joint Statement containing such serious allegations.”

The chancellor’s and provost’s comments were designed to “silence faculty while obscuring the administrators’ own failure to practice the shared governance they so often preach,” the union alleged.

Following this incident, Suárez-Orozco, Berger and the Faculty Council’s executive committee announced that the university had hired an external mediator to facilitate dialogue and help establish trust between the administration and the council—something that was widely viewed on campus as a mea culpa by Suárez-Orozco and Berger.

“No question, we have a great deal of work to do,” the parties said in a statement. “But we are eager to forge a better future for all members of the UMass Boston community.”

Jones, one of the two non-tenure-track professors who was lauded by the university for his contributions to DEI and named as a finalist in the second canceled faculty search, has pushed the university to adopt curricular and other DEI interventions in this era of racial reckoning. He is on a visiting professorship. His contract has not yet been renewed for next year.

Quoting James Baldwin’s comment that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced,” Jones said he and his colleagues are “profoundly troubled that at this historical moment, the institution does not understand the urgency to act, the urgency to make different structural interventions, the urgency to move beyond performative rhetoric to actually changing campus culture in a way that would benefit our students, our staff, our faculty and the communities we serve.”

Van Der Meer, the other award-winning professor who was a finalist in the faculty search, has a continuing contract but not tenure. He said that UMass Boston’s actions toward Africana studies over the years, among other choices, amount to a “failure of leadership to meet these times in concrete ways.”

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Canisius accused of ignoring complaints about professor

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Canisius College showed deliberate indifference to sexual harassment complaints about a popular professor and then retaliated against a group of students when it finally took action against him, a new federal lawsuit claims.

The professor in question, animal behaviorist Michael Noonan, hasn’t worked at Canisius since 2019. But the case’s five plaintiffs—all female recent graduates of the Jesuit college—say that they would have been spared harassment, unwanted physical contact and academic disruption if the college had acted on earlier complaints about Noonan dating back to at least 2014.

Canisius denies wrongdoing in the case and said it acted on reports about Noonan according to its policies and procedures.

Noonan did not respond to a request for comment. Canisius removed him from campus in 2019, according to the lawsuit, but told students he’d retired. Noonan’s personal website says he retired. He’s now volunteering in a high school on the West Coast, the plaintiffs allege.

Taking Advantage

According to the lawsuit, Noonan used his position as director of the Canisius Ambassadors for Conservation to select young women to travel with for research. (The overwhelming majority of his research assistants were women, as well, the lawsuit says.) During research trips, he allegedly discussed his personal life with students and asked them intrusive questions about their own lives, calling it "girl talk." He also allegedly insisted on fastening audiovisual equipment to the women’s undergarments during video projects, once commenting that a student was "flat-chested." Noonan allegedly had to approve students' clothes and hair for these video projects, telling students he "owned" them, and sometimes braided students' hair without their permission. 

Noonan "hounded" students with stomach issues during research abroad to let him personally give them enemas and anal suppositories, as well, the lawsuit says. During one trip to India in 2019, Noonan allegedly told a student suffering from constipation that not getting an enema could be "life-threatening," and allegedly he lay down on the hotel room bed to explain in detail how it would work and feel, insisting he'd given a student one before. This student and a plaintiff decided to seek care at a hospital instead, and even though one of them says she told Noonan that he'd crossed a line, he still allegedly insisted on entering the exam room with them when they did not want him there. During a trip to Uganda in 2018, Noonan allegedly offered to "assist" another plaintiff with an anal suppository, and asked her and other students to come to his room to "stretch his knee" by straddling his leg and pulling on it. 

"Noonan moaned in a way that suggested he was deriving more than just physical relief from his students," the lawsuit says.

Another plaintiff says Noonan called her his “daughter,” encouraged her not to wear a bra and said that he’d be interested in dating her married mother. This plaintiff says she drank on the weekends to cope with stress related to the case and that she’s in therapy now. 

Other plaintiffs who reported similar experiences say they’re seeing therapists, as well.

Daniela Nanau, the women’s lawyer, said that her clients’ longtime hopes of working in academic science have all been derailed due to Noonan’s and Canisius’s actions, and that they came forward “because there’s really no other way for them to protect the women who come after them.”

“My clients all went to Canisius College because they wanted to be a ABEC majors,” Nanau said of the animal behavior, ecology and conservation program that Noonan founded and taught in for 40 years. “It’s a very specific program that is not offered in most colleges and universities. They all wanted to be environmental scientists or have something to do with animals in the sciences, and all of them intended to go to graduate school. And now most of them do not feel safe in the academic space after witnessing not only professors’ reaction to their complaints about a colleague—who I believe was a known predator on campus—but also the administration’s reaction.”

Nanau continued, “Rather than follow the policy, Canisius administrators didn’t provide my clients with accommodation, with support, whether it be academic or medical. Nothing was done to make sure that the projects that had started under Noonan were completed the way they were intended.”

Canisius Responds

President John Hurley and Linda Walleshauser, Canisius’s vice president for human resources and former officer for compliance with Title IX, the federal law barring gender discrimination in education, responded to requests for comment via a college spokesperson, who shared a written statement. The statement says Canisius “is and always has been, committed to fostering a safe, secure campus environment, and to the maintenance of robust policies that promote student safety and security free from discrimination and harassment. At this point, the allegations in the complaint are simply that—allegations. Canisius College will respond in detail to the allegations of this complaint in due course, but the college denies that it did not respond swiftly and effectively to the conduct reported by the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.”

Canisius further said that the behaviors described in the lawsuit, “when first brought to the college’s attention as part of internal complaints lodged back in 2019, were promptly and thoroughly investigated and addressed. At all times, Canisius treated the students’ allegations seriously and until the filing of this lawsuit, the college understood that it had acted in full accord with the students’ wishes.”

Canisius “prides itself on its commitment to its Catholic, Jesuit identity and strives to reflect that in all of its policies and practices,” the college said.

In another federal lawsuit against Canisius filed last year, three female students who ran track accused the college of ignoring a culture of sexual assault on the team. According to the Jane Doe plaintiffs, some male current and former students on the team would intentionally get younger female athletes drunk and high in order to assault them when they were inebriated and incapable of consenting to sex. Canisius said at the time that students’ reports about problems on the team “were promptly and thoroughly investigated and adjudicated under applicable college policies.”

Canisius is facing yet another lawsuit from faculty members who allege that the college used the pandemic as a smokescreen to lay them off without declaring financial exigency, granting them right to appeal or consulting any faculty governance body. The professors say that Canisius tried to settle with them but what it offered paled in comparison in lost wages to come. (Canisius laid off other professors in 2020, citing COVID-19, settling with most of them, even as it appointed four new assistant professors and a new dean.)

Hurley, who has overseen all of these controversies, announced his coming retirement last year. He steps down at the end of this month.

Nanau said that while Canisius has elsewhere been accused of tolerating sexual misconduct, Noonan may have been especially insulated, given that he attracted federal research dollars with his uncommon program of study, and because he served as a department chair and was previously married to an administrator at the college.

“When you have all that in the mix, it can embolden people. They don’t feel like they’re necessarily obliged to conform their behavior to the rules,” she said.

Noonan was president of the Faculty Senate, as well, and Hurley thanked him by name in a 2015 convocation speech for being a “catalyst” to improving the college’s commitment to shared governance.

‘That’s Just the Way He Is’

According to the lawsuit, a professor reported Noonan in 2014 to the college’s Title IX office. (Nanau said she interviewed the professor, who has since retired and could not immediately be reached for comment.) Canisius allegedly failed to adjudicate that complaint or others like it until a group of students came forward in 2019. At that time, another professor in Canisius’s biology department, Elizabeth Hogan (who did not respond to a request for comment), allegedly learned that Noonan had sexually harassed someone on his research team. Hogan’s interview with that student led her to another student who had complained about Noonan in 2018 to the ABEC program chair, to no effect, the lawsuit says.

Hogan allegedly referred these complaints to the Title IX office, run at the time by Walleshauser. Within a few weeks, a number of the plaintiffs went to the Title IX office to file a document they’d compiled detailing their allegations. This included accounts of Noonan allegedly intervening in students’ medical treatment without their consent and demanding that he be the one to insert suppositories and enemas. Students also alleged his behavior was controlling and that he’d complained about men who’d been “ruined” by the Me Too movement.

Walleshauser allegedly promised the women that she’d investigate based on their document and that they’d be protected participants during the process. But the women say that promise didn’t play out. Instead, the plaintiffs allege, they had to continue working with Noonan as they wondered if he knew they’d complained about him—and if they’d be punished for it.

A month later, the women say, Canisius abruptly removed Noonan from campus and prohibited him from contacting anyone there. A few months after that, the plaintiffs say they went back to the Title IX office to ask what was going on and were promised they’d soon be able to review and comment on the case report. Yet this never happened, as Canisius never issued any report, the lawsuit says.

In June 2019, the student complainants were notified via email that Noonan had retired from the college.

Regarding an ongoing video project with Noonan involving Indian tigers, that email from Walleshauser said that “you will be afforded access to the film or video work that was created, for use in creating your own finished work.” Walleshauser said Noonan would be finishing his own version of the project with the existing footage, and that if “you elect to have your names and images removed from Dr. Noonan’s finished work, he will also need to remove reference to you in any credits listed in that finished work.”

After this email, the students say they were never given any meaningful help in completing the project. The ABEC chair allegedly failed to obtain the tiger footage in a timely manner, claiming it was “too difficult” to figure out who owned the rights to it, but still insisted that the students produce some work to get credit for a related class. (The students say they scrambled to make a series of podcasts.)

Third- and fourth-year students who’d been advised by Noonan were not given a replacement, the lawsuit says, “thereby depriving them of recommendation letters and information regarding graduation requirements.”

One plaintiff says that when Noonan was still at Canisius, she’d complained to the ABEC chair that she felt trapped, because she needed his recommendation letter to get into graduate school, and that the ABEC chair said there was nothing that could be done because “that’s just the way [Noonan] is.”

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