Higher Ed in the News: 6/15/2020

Photo by Max Böttinger on Unsplash.

This week on Higher Ed in the News, more on the structural systems higher education needs to reckon with in the interest of racial equality and how schools are rethinking their relationships with local law enforcement. You can read previous editions of Higher Ed in the News here and here.


Will Higher Ed Take on Structural Racism?

Following protests across the nation, institutional leaders are calling for police reform and an action against structural racism. College presidents have released statements that condemn inequality, yet Liz Willen of The Hechinger Report wonders if schools will actually take the necessary steps to address it.

The article notes that black students and faculty members are underrepresented at schools across the country, a problem that is prevalent in elite, private institutions and major public universities as well.

In some cases, these schools aren’t just ignoring the racial divide on campus, but have policies in place that actively widen the gulf. Universities have been giving more financial aid to “higher-income (usually white) students who can afford to pay at least part of the tuition” and, in Illinois, black students are being “priced out” of public colleges and universities. For black students that do finish with a degree in Illinois, they are often left with more debt than comparable white students.

Though many schools have pledged to make chances in both their hiring decisions and institutional support of black students, Willen believes the results have yet to show dedication to this cause.

“Are they going to reconsider business decisions that hurt black students,” she writes, “such as sorting them into dorms and dining halls that separate rich and poor (which too often means white and nonwhite) by what they can afford to pay? Will they continue to dole out more merit aid money to higher-income students? Will state legislatures maintain their record of big cuts in education spending, which will disproportionately hurt schools with higher numbers of poor students and students of color?”


Colleges & Universities Reevaluating Relationships with Local Law Enforcement

In a recent article for Education Dive, Jeremy Bauer-Wolf explores the contentious relationship between college students and campus law enforcement as calls to “defund the police” ring across the nation. Bauer-Wolf discovered that schools with ties to “police departments they perceive as hostile to people of color and other minority groups” are reactively evaluating their need for an on-campus police force. They have developed a number of potential solutions that involve minimizing interactions with current campus police, expanding training for university-controlled security forces, or a hybrid model that implements aspects of both strategies.

Bauer-Wolf reports that schools are already taking active steps to distance their relationships from local law enforcement. The University of Minnesota decided to no longer employ the Minneapolis PD’s security services for large functions or “specialized services such as K-9 explosive-detection units.” Clark University took similar action after Worcester PD officers attacked students with pepper spray during a recent protest and Ohio State students are pushing for a similar result after protestors were shot with wooden pellets and tear gas by Columbus PD. Some colleges and universities are considering a more aggressive approach like completely severing ties with their local police department.  

A different approach, which was adopted in 2015 by Iowa State University, is to provide adequate training in “cultural awareness and social and emotional intelligence” to officers working at a campus event. ISU’s program emerged after a series of racially-driven incidents occurred and students were wary to turn to their local police due to a lack of trust and fear of targeting. To tear down this barrier, ISU began requiring at least one member of the campus police to receive training in race relations. As of today, over a dozen officers receive that training every year, and the instruction curriculum has expanded into race, sexuality, gender, and implicit biases.