08 December 2016

UTRGV’s accreditation probation details emerge

Local station KRGV and Inside Higher Ed report on what the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has done to get into hot water with the accreditation agency, SACS.

And it’s not just the “timing issue” that president Guy Bailey claimed it was.

The SACC Coordinator of Communications Pamela Cravey explained a few.

“For failure to comply with principle 1.1 integrity, comprehensive standard 3.4.4 acceptance of academic credit, comprehensive standard 3.4.7 consortia relationships contractual agreement,” she said.

Inside Higher Ed calls the list of shortcomings “unusually long.”

(T)o judge by SACS's laundry list of areas in which the new institution is falling short of the accreditor's requirements and standards, UT Rio Grande Valley appears to be a work in progress.

A spokeswoman for SACS cited a full 10 major areas in which the new Texas campus had faltered, including such basic things as assuring that it “operates with integrity in all areas.” Other areas of difficulty included complying with federal financial aid audits and ensuring that the institution's degrees are based on instruction it offers itself (rather than by other institutions).

My reaction might be summarized as: “Holy sh*t.” I mean, to be accused of a lack of integrity? Judging from the quote above, it appears to be section 1.1, which would make it literally the first thing on the list that universities are supposed to do. I have heard, but not confirmed, that there is a lower level of concern, “warning.” If there is, we kind of blew past that.

UTRGV is not the only university on the list, as Inside Higher Ed notes. There are nine others, but UTRGV is unusual in that it is part of a state university system, serves the most students, and was launched with very high goals of creating a new research university.

What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall of the University of Texas System board rooms these days.

At the start of the semester, the UT system was praising UTRGV for its first year, which it called “stellar.”

In the middle of the semester, we learn that the med school isn’t going well and UTRGV mispent millions of dollars.

At the end of the semester, we’re getting warning shots that our legitimacy as an institution is in question.

Update: The campus newspaper, The Rider, has published the full list of ten points of concern:

  • Integrity (Principle 1.1)
  • Acceptance of academic credits (Comprehensive standards 3.4.4)
  • Consortial relationships/contractual agreements (Comprehensive standards 3.4.7)
  • Institutional credits for a degree (Comprehensive standards 3.5.2)
  • Institutional credits for a graduate degree (Comprehensive standards 3.6.3)
  • Financial aid audits (Comprehensive standards 3.10.2)
  • Substantive change (Comprehensive standards 3.12.1)
  • Advertising, Student Recruitment, and Representation of Accredited Status policy compliance, (Comprehensive standards 3.13)
  • Publication of accreditation status (Comprehensive standards 3.14.1)
  • Recruitment materials (Federal requirement 4.6)

The Rider also reports the faculty senate will be meeting with the president soon.

Related posts

Show me what you value
Our med school is not going smoothly
Physics fraud
UTRGV placed on probation by accrediting agency

External links

UTRGV Reassures Students Probation Period Won’t Affect Them
A Watchdog Bites

06 December 2016

UTRGV placed on probation by accrediting agency

This is not good.

University president Guy Bailey sent an email to the campus today informing us that the university had been placed on probation by SACS, the regional accrediting agency.

The reasons for this are not clear. When I went to the SACS website, there are no details about this that I could find. Bailey referred to some “timing issues” around the separation of legacy university, UT Brownsville, from Texas Southmost College. But how that split affects the sort of things accreditation is supposed to measure, like financial stability, instructor qualifications, adequate assessment, it not at all clear.

UTRGV has to stay accredited. It’s just non-negotiable for students, faculty, and administration. A non-accredited university is just a diploma mill, and has no real standing.

More details are supposedly coming next month. So this is a story to watch closely.

External links

Accrediting agency places University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on probation

05 December 2016

Polisplaining science

At the National Review, Julie Kelly says scientists should stop playing politics.

I’d be fine with that if politicians stopped playing scientist.

How many times have we seen politicians expressing opinions about the facts around scientific issues? Not policy issues around science, or funding science, or anything else that is a legitimate domain of politicians, “polisplaining” scientists. Politicians throwing snowballs to claim “global warming isn’t real” kind of stuff.

Hey politicians, you came into my house, and called my work, and the work of my colleagues, “lies straight from the pit of hell.” You routinely hold up the work of scientists for public ridicule as examples of taxpayer waste (even when it cost $48 in spare parts). Don’t antagonize scientists and expect us to say nothing.

Kelly warns that the public doesn’t trust scientists on some issues. The article kind of implies that public trust in scientists is in freefall. But in most polls in developed countries, scientists regularly come out as one of the most trusted professions.

In the United Kingdom, poll results came out today putting scientists as one of the most trusted professions. Politicians in general? Last.

In the United States, the poll phrasing isn’t quite equivalent. Even so, college teachers (which, since most scientists are professors, is reasonably close) got more than 50% of people rating them as very trustworthy, while members of Congress rated 8%.

While public trust in scientists is higher than that of politicians, I do agree that scientists should want to keep public trust. That’s important. But if the public doesn’t trust scientists on some issues, whose fault is that? There are documented cases of deliberate, politically motivated disinformation campaigns to convince people not to trust scientists. And that came from the political right.

External links

04 December 2016

Campuses as sanctuaries

My campus is about 85% Hispanic, and we are one of the closest to the US/Mexico border. So we have an unusual perspective on a lot of issues concerning immigration. I’m mostly just quoting this story because I think it’s going to be an interesting one in the next few months.

The Faculty Senate of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley unanimously passed a resolution Friday endorsing the idea of a sanctuary campus. ... The resolution was passed in response to a recent petition signed by more than 1,500 students that asks President Guy Bailey to prohibit campus police or immigration authorities from asking students about immigration status.

My prediction is that President Bailey will do nothing. Because:

Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted in opposition to “sanctuary campuses” Thursday vowing to cut state funding from any state institution that assumes a sanctuary status.

As far as I’ve been able to observe, money seems to be President Bailey’s major motivator for doing anything as an adminstrator. Even the threat of losing state money will probably be enough to ensure compliance from institutions.

The Vice President of Young Republicans at UTRGV Jaime Garcia called the petition reckless.
“We could have stayed UTPA and UTB but we merged to get access to the funds that the bigger schools get here in Texas,” Garcia said.

Non sequiter. I don’t see how the merger is related to any of these issues. It’s also frustrating to see a petition – names on a piece of paper – one of the most notoriously sedate forms of political activism there is, being branded as “reckless.”

Update, 5 December 2016: Called it.

“There is no problem right now, and so, you stand a much greater chance of creating a problem if you make that declaration,” (UTRGV President Guy) Bailey said in an interview Wednesday.

Let’s not take a stand because something might happen. Gah.

Additional, 5 December 2016: In an email to faculty, the faculty senate noted of its resolution:

We do not use the term “University Sanctuary”, but do support our students, faculty and staff. ... We felt that we needed to step-up and not wait until later. We want everyone to know where we stand on this issue.

Well... they do use “Sanctuary campus” to describe what other institutions have done. Here’s the text:

WHEREAS the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) has a mission to “Transform the Rio Grande Valley” through an “accessible educational environment;”

WHEREAS, UTRGV has a goal to foster sustainable community-university relationships and lists “Diversity, Access, and Inclusion” as values;

WHEREAS the Senate and our academic community and peers across the country are concerned about the recent increase in hate crimes and inflammatory language around the United States since the presidential campaign;

WHEREAS there have been repeated examples of threats against women, LGBTQIA-identified individuals, specific ethnic and religious groups, and immigrants during and after a divisive presidential election;

WHEREAS President Bailey sent out a memo on 11/16 that stated, “Please join me in ensuring that all members of the UTRGV community embrace our commitment to a diverse, inclusive, safe, and supportive learning and working environment.” He referred to this list of University policies that support this commitment:

WHEREAS the U.S. president elect has openly discussed eliminating the DACA program that supports our undocumented students and has championed the rapid increase in the deportation of undocumented immigrant community members which could negatively impact our community, our students and their families, our staff and their families, our faculty and friends;

WHEREAS UTRGV has a goal to “Cultivate a welcoming, inclusive, and nurturing climate for all faculty and staff” including a commitment to “foster a supportive family-friendly climate;”

WHEREAS the internal 2011 memo indicates that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are subject to certain restrictions upon entering college campuses should be affirmed post-election; https://www.ice.gov/doclib/ero-outreach/pdf/10029.2-policy.pdf

WHEREAS the president-elect has campaigned on banning Muslims from entering the United States and his cabinet members have in the past suggested a registry of Muslim American citizens;

WHEREAS UTRGV has a focus on Globalization with a goal to “Foster a globally-connected university culture” with an initiative to “Increase the number of global partnerships that align with university priorities;”

WHEREAS UTRGV and its students have benefitted from the 2001 decision signed by Rick Perry that allows undocumented students to establish residency and enjoy in-state tuition, and later he and the Texas legislature allowed these students some access to the Texas Grant program, decisions which increased access to educational opportunities in our community;

WHEREAS over 28 university campuses have declared their campuses Sanctuary Campuses and many more (over 100) in the process of declaring;

WHEREAS UTRGV has the highest number of Senate Bill students in Texas;

THEREFORE, be it resolved that UTRGV be designated an All-Inclusive Campus, where all Vaquer@s are welcomed and supported.

To that end, the Faculty Senate of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, call upon the university administration to take the following actions and/or make these assurances, to the extent legally possible:

  1. that the university assign a specific administrative office to assist our DACA students and other students who lack the protections of citizenship on a strictly confidential basis.
  2. that the administration send a clear, public message that UTRGV will not tolerate xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, Islamophobic, and racist comments and actions on campus, and that we as a university will not tolerate religious persecution or the trivialization of sexual assault.
  3. that the university continue its efforts towards being an allied campus and continue its trainings and inclusivity initiatives for LGBTQIA-identified students, faculty, and staff.
  4. that the university avoid compliance with a registry of Muslim citizens, and that the university carry on with its pre-election (11/8/16) processes for admitting international students.
  5. that the university make a public commitment to continue protecting student privacy and announce an assurance that it not release any records regarding the immigration status of students and their family members to institutions or authorities who would restrict a student’s opportunity for a quality education.
  6. that the university publicly advocate for the continued resident tuition designation for undocumented students and Texas Grant consideration for Dreamer students at the forthcoming state legislative sessions.
  7. that campus police will not question anyone’s immigration status or religious affiliation, nor will it enter into systematic partnerships or agreements with outside agencies, including ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, to question the legal status or religious affiliation of our students, faculty, or staff.

*We use Vaquer@s to include all gender identities.

This document was aided greatly by the Petition sent by UTRGV’s Minority Affairs Council, LUCHA (La Unión Chicanx Hijxs de Aztlán), Center for Mexican American Studies, Mexican American Studies Program, Center for Bilingual Studies, Muslim Students’ Association, WAKE-UP (Women Artistically Kollecting Experiencias-Unidas Prosperando), Voto Latino, and BESO (Bilingual Education Student Organization) to President Bailey on 11/17/16.

Credit goes to the University of Oregon FS resolution on the same issue for some of the format and language of this resolution.

External links

UTRGV faculty senate unanimously backs 'sanctuary campus' campaign
Bailey: Not a good time to declare UTRGV a sanctuary campus

02 December 2016

Post fact politics catches up to science communication

There was been much hand-wringing in political discussion the last few weeks about how we are living in a “post fact” world dominated by “fake news.”

Well, hi-di-ho, people, welcome to science education and science communication of the last few decades.

Fake news? Evolutionary biologists have been putting up with it people saying things like, “There are no transitional fossils” for-frickin’-ever. Even when you show them Archaeopteryx. We’ve been putting up with the Discovery Institute and Answers in Genesis who attack established science and chug along regardless of scientific facts and countless debunkings.

We’ve been through the argument that “If only people knew the facts, people would act different. The facts speak for themselves,” and seen how that has failed, and failed, and failed to budge public opinion on some of the best understood science out there. Unfortunately, even amoung scientists, this is “The facts speak for themselves” attitude is still common. People who say otherwise, like Randy Olson and Matthew C. Nisbet, have received way more ciriticism for pointing this out than they deserve.

Now the same strategies are not just confined to being deployed in a few hot button scientific topics, they’ve metastasized over the whole body politic in multiple countries.

It’s to our shame that we science educators and science communicators didn’t figure out effective ways to deal with those kinds of issues.

Additional, 5 December 2016: A new piece in the Guardian about how algorithms are delivering news on the Internet convinces me that, in some ways, what we’re seeing in qualitatively different from the misinformation that scientists have faced for the past decade. It’s deeper and more organized.

I think there are still powerful lessons from science communication, though: when trying to persuade, facts alone are not very persuasive.

I worry that policy wonks will go through the same long battles over “facts” and “evidence” that scientists have, and just believe that the facts will speak for themselves. They won’t. Facts need fierce advocates.

External links

Google, democracy and the truth about internet search

Picture from here.

29 November 2016

Tuesday Crustie: Shiny

If I’d known Moana had a giant decorator crab in it, I’d have pre-ordered tickets.

Tamatoa also gets the second best song in the movie, although even it pales in comparison to “You’re Welcome.”

28 November 2016

Are footnotes a way to game the Impact Factor?

One of Bradley Voytek’s 99 problems is strange journal demands:

Major journal said we can’t cite biorxiv papers; instead must reference them via footnotes.

I have been rankled by journals’ refusals to cite non-traditional sources before. But this journal wasn’t refusing to acknowledge to a source. It was refusing to acknowledge a source in a certain way.

This puzzled me momentarily, but I have a hypothesis. Any time a journal talks about fiddling with citations, there is a prime suspect as to why: the journal Impact Factor. I strongly suspect that footnotes aren’t counted in the calculations of journal Impact Factor like terminal references are, even though footnotes and a reference list in this case would serve the same purpose: to credit a source so that people can find it.

What a journal might have to gain by keeping pre-print servers out of citations? It doesn’t enhance the journal’s own Impact Factor. It doesn’t enhance anyone’s Impact Factor, for that matter. Denying citations to pre-print servers seems futile, since pre-print servers don’t have Impact Factors.

While pre-print servers don’t have Impact Factors, including citations to them might make it easier to collect data about their use. There seems little doubt that the majority of citation analysis is done by text mining and algorithms, rather than by hand. (Notwithstanding the contention by Brembs et al. (2013) that Impact Factors are often negotiated.)

For journals, the very act of data collection about pre-print servers might feel threatening to them. There are some researchers who want journals to die across the board and wouldn’t mind if pre-print servers (or something like them) rose up to take their place. If it becomes clear through citation analysis that more and more studies on pre-printe servers are being cited as reliable sources of information, the uncomfortable question for journals arises:

“What are journals for, exactly?”

Update, 29 November 2016: Bradley Voytek reports that the situation has changed:

The journal editors discussed and changed their policies to allow preprints with DOIs.

How interesting.


Brembs B, Button K, Munafò M. 2013. Deep impact: unintended consequences of journal rank. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00291

Related posts

Why can’t I cite Mythbusters?

Picture from here.

No lead is safe

I normally tell people that I hate football. But homesickness makes you do funny things, so I tuned into the last quarter of the Grey Cup last night.

I was rewarded.

At some point, when the lead was still pretty big for Ottawa, one of the commentators said a CFL motto was, “No lead is safe.” I sort of snickered when I heard that. I would not have believed Calgary could score two touchdowns is less than two minutes, with the last coming in with something like 20 seconds left on the clock to force the game into overtime. What a thriller! At that point, it didn’t matter who won, you just had a great championship game.

The Redblacks are new, formed after I moved to the US. I looked a few things up about the team while the game was in progress. When I went to Wikipedia, I wondered if I was on some sort of time delay, because the entry said, “In the 104th Grey Cup, the Redblacks brought the Grey Cup back to Ottawa for the first time in 40 years.” What...? But... but... the game was still going.

When I cam back a few minutes later to get a screen grab of the jumped gun, I saw someone already had some fun with Wikipedia (click to enlarge):

Of course, Redblacks had the last laugh on the irate wiki contributor, pulling off the overtime win.

Even this football hater can’t resist an underdog victory. Congratulations to the Redblacks on their first Grey Cup win!

External links

Redblacks pull off huge upset to win 104th Grey Cup in OT
Redblacks player lays on the field long after everyone leaves, perfectly wrapping up the Grey Cup