Teaching Newsletter: Immigration and Graduate Students, 9/7/2017

September 07, 2017

Immigration’s Ripple Effects

The Trump administration’s decision to phase out the policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, dominated the news earlier this week. Attention centered on the impact of this decision on students, most of them undergraduates.

But, as our colleague Karin Fischer has been reporting for the past several months, the Trump administration has assumed a strict stance on immigration in general, which has had its share of ripple effects on graduate students in particular.

These policies are bound to have an impact on the college classroom. Nearly one in three doctoral degrees earned in 2015 went to someone holding a temporary visa, according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates. And in math and computer science that year, international students accounted for the majority of doctoral degrees. In all, about 122,000 students from foreign countries pursued doctorates in the U.S. in 2015-16.

Many of them are teaching assistants, particularly at large research universities. It’s often been noted that any large-scale effort to create lasting improvements in the quality of college teaching ought to focus on the faculty of tomorrow. Some institutions have hatched programs to train graduate students to be better teachers, as our Vimal Patel wrote about. At Clarkson University, for example, budding professors found they had a lot to learn. "I didn’t even know this area of education — pedagogy, the science of teaching — existed," one participant said.

Other efforts, like the Delta Program in Research, Teaching and Learning, housed at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, also seek to train the faculty of the future, in this case, in the natural and social sciences, engineering, and mathematics. One facet of the Delta effort is a learning community, which seeks to create a community of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who are focused on the importance of teaching and learning and can, the program website says, “create a foundation for institutional change.”

Academic Freedom and Harassment

Professors have increasingly been in the cross hairs of controversy — sometimes for things they have said on social media or in the classroom, and sometimes for things they haven’t said at all. The controversies can get ugly and involve death threats. The American Association of University Professors, American Federation of Teachers, and Association of American Colleges and Universities released a statement calling on college leaders to “reject outside pressures to remove or discipline faculty members whose ideas or commentary may be provocative or controversial and to denounce in forceful terms these campaigns of harassment.”

Our colleague Steve Kolowich went in-depth to examine one such instance, involving Tommy J. Curry, a philosopher at Texas A&M University. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s well worth your time.

How Much Are Your Students Reading?

Several of us here at The Chronicle have heard from professors over the years that students seem to be coming to college with less experience reading long books. Presumably, digital distractions have made it increasingly difficult for students to persist through 500-page novels — though I’ve also heard the argument that because of smartphones, students may well be reading (and writing) more than they ever have.

I was reminded of these claims when I came across this data point from the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement: Students in lower-division courses are expected to read 2.5 hours a week, and those in upper-division ones are assigned 2.8 hours a week.

What do you think? Have you perceived any drop-off in reading among your students? Or is this story more apocryphal than actual? Send your thoughts about reading habits to dan.berrett@chronicle.com, and I may include them in a future newsletter.

Responding to Hecklers

A few weeks ago we asked for you to share your stories of classroom failure and what it taught you. Robert Bloom, a professor of accountancy at John Carroll University, offered this:

“I had just assumed a senior-level professorship at a major Canadian university in Montreal. I thought that Canadian culture would be similar to American. Was I wrong about that. The classes I taught were ethnically diverse, a far cry from my U.S. teaching experience. I did not know that in some classes at this university in particular it was common for some students to heckle (with hisses, boos, and terse comments) in the classroom setting.”

He was taken aback, and tried to put himself in the place of his hecklers to understand their motivation. His conclusion? They were disengaged from his lectures. And so he started telling them historical vignettes about each accounting concept they covered. For example, he taught the concept of fair valuation of assets by taking the class back to the stock-market crash of 1929. “One of the factors underlying it was the lack of generally accepted accounting principles and the lack of an SEC to oversee their implementation,” he wrote. “As result, too many companies wrote up (fair valued) their assets at will, without any independent, external documentation.”

The strategy worked, he said. “After a while, the heckling stopped as the students in question found these vignettes interesting.”

-- Dan and Beckie