All posts by Richard Klaus

celebrating the value of free speech!

*Note: The following was a piece I wrote to highlight the free speech atmosphere on the campus of GCC. After shopping it around for publication on various websites, no one picked it up–I think because it is too positive and in our time negativity sells. I believe it is relevant here in light of our quest for diversity and our desire to have difficult conversations with more light and less heat.

Celebrating the Value of Free Speech!

With the recent release of Dennis Prager and Adam Corrolla’s documentary No Safe Spaces, the American public has again been reminded of the dangers threatening free speech on college campuses.  Considering the examples of Berkeley, Middlebury College, and Evergreen State College, one might be forgiven for thinking that all college campuses are roiling with the desire to quench the free exchange of ideas that are deemed too controversial.  

There is, however, good news to be shared in that there are institutions that choose a different path from closing down free speech and, rather, pursue a path of reasoned discourse.  I participate at one such institution and wanted to share some of the events we sponsor which exemplify a free campus.  This exercise is useful for at least two reasons—celebration and emulation. The free exercise of speech and the open dialogue on complex cultural issues ought to be celebrated by those who long to see such things prevail.  Furthermore, by highlighting specific examples, this provides an opportunity for others to emulate and follow suit with similar types of events and opportunities.

Glendale Community College and Free Expression

Glendale Community College (AZ) in Glendale, Arizona has approximately 20,000 students and is part of the larger Maricopa County Community College District which comprises ten colleges in total. Being situated in Arizona is beneficial in that the laws of Arizona are very conducive and protective of free speech.  The Arizona Revised Statutes even have a bit of rhetorical flourish when they state:

“It is not the proper role of an institution of higher education to shield individuals from speech protected by the first amendment, including, without limitation, ideas and opinions that may be unwelcome, disagreeable or deeply offensive.”

GCC takes this admonition to heart and offers prime opportunities to engage in controversial topics in a civil manner.  Here a few examples from the past few years.

Glendale Community College broaches controversial topics every spring in their panel discussion series, “Critical Dialogues.”  In February 2018 this forum’s topic was entitled “Gender and Sexuality: Current Controversies and the Common Good” with a specific focus on the issue of Transgenderism. This was a controversial topic and it engendered (no pun intended!) a robust time of question and answer. However, at no time was there an attempt to shut down the discussion nor did the event devolve into the incivility of the “heckler’s veto.”  

Our last Critical Dialogues event examined the issue of religious freedom and civil rights in relation to the issue of gay marriage.  The 2019 Critical Dialogues panel was appropriately titled “Religious Freedom and Civil Rights: Balancing Competing Claims in the Courts and the Public Square”.  In light of the Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage the issues surrounding religious freedom came to the fore in a number of cases around the country.  Glendale Community College invited participants from both sides of the divide on this controversial issue.  Alessandra Soler (the Arizona Executive Director for the American Civil Liberties Union) and  Jonathan Scruggs (Senior Counsel and Director of the Center for Conscience Initiatives with Alliance Defending Freedom) were our featured guests with other faculty and staff filling out the panel. The timeliness of this topic was seen in that just the previous month prior to the panel discussion, Jonathan Scruggs had argued on behalf of religious freedom and artistic free expression before the Arizona Supreme Court in the case Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix.  The relevant issues were, again, discussed in a civil manner with no one attempting to shut down the dialogue.

It was ironic that the same month that GCC was holding its Critical Dialogue panel, the Yale Law School was experiencing controversy over a similar type of speaking event. The Yale Federalist Society had invited a lawyer from Alliance Defending Freedom to come and speak about the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights CommissionSupreme Court decision.  This caused a number of student groups to call for a boycott of the event.  This did not speak well for their commitment to free speech and the free exchange of ideas.  Glendale Community College has chosen a different path in approaching controversial cultural issues—a path of civil dialogue and freedom of expression.  

The promotion of free speech is found not only in what GCC promotes but also in what it allows on the campus from outside voices.  In October 2018 the Center for Bioethical Reform( CBR) came to GCC for two days sponsoring their Genocide Awareness Project.  This consisted of huge billboards of, at times, graphic photographs of the aftermath of abortions which are thematically linked to other acknowledged instances of genocide.  Although the display was controversial to many, the administration of GCC, under the leadership of the president of the college, Dr. Teresa Leyba Ruiz, upheld the right of CBR to be on the campus.  Nor was there any attempt to stipulate an artificial “free speech zone” like other campuses have done.  Rather, the most prominent place on the campus mall was used by CBR and there were two days of peaceful interaction and education.

The Need for Vigilance

The culture of free expression and civil disagreement is healthy at Glendale Community College. This is partly a function of the laws enshrined in the Arizona statutes as well as the legal precedents handed down in defense of the Maricopa County Community College District.  For example, in a 2010 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit—Rodriquez v. Maricopa County Community College District—these powerful words are found:

“Without the right to stand against society’s most strongly-held convictions, the marketplace of ideas would decline into a boutique of the banal, as the urge to censor is greatest where debate is most disquieting and orthodoxy most entrenched.  The right to provoke, offend and shock lies at the core of the First Amendment. This is particularly so on college campuses.”  

Laws and legal precedent are necessary but not sufficient.  There is always the need for vigilance.  There must continue to be a firm commitment to freedom on the part of individuals who inhabit our institutions of higher learning.  As Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate remind us, “Freedom dies in the heart and will before it dies in the law.”  It is for this reason that institutions like Glendale Community College with their commitment to the free exchange of ideas ought to be celebrated and emulated.

 

reflections on student engagement–Part three

In my previous two posts, I focused on the theory and structure of the Student Engagement Staff position created less than two years ago in the Philosophy and Religious Studies department.  In implementing the program we chose to take a two-pronged approach that focused on (1) Classroom presentations and (2) Individual student assistance.  In this post, I will focus on the classroom aspect and its impact.

Classroom

Recognizing that many students are unaware of the many resources for student success available on our campus, I put together a 15-presentation that would introduce students to some of these resources as well as acquaint them with my role as Student Engagement Staff.  I have been modifying the list of resources we highlight in these presentations each semester but the list of resources we used this semester was as follows:

  • Advisement:  I always ask how many of the students have ever seen an advisor and I am amazed at how many have never seen an advisor on our campus.  I stress the need to be connecting with an advisor every semester they are here.
  • Basis Needs Support Site: This is the relatively new link which highlights access to resources regarding food, housing, safety, transportation, and paying for college.  I stress the fact that, although there are all sorts of issues outside of the campus that can get in the way of your education, there are resources available on this campus and through this campus that can potentially help.
  • Disability Resources and Services (DRS): I make quick mention of DRS and the kinds of issues they can help with in students’ lives. 
  • Brainfuse Online Writing Lab: I provide a step-by-step tutorial on how to access this resource and how to use it to produce better papers.  By taking the time to go over this tool I’m attempting to do a number of different things—(1) Give the students an immediate takeaway resource they can begin to use, (2) create the potential for students to become better writers, and (3) help professors by making it easier on them when they have to grade the writing of their students!  I know of at least one professor outside of the Philosophy and Religious Studies department that invites me to his classes just so his students have access this to training on this resource.
  • Raise Me Micro-scholarships: I end with this resource and explain that they may qualify for some monies from four-year institutions simply based on the work they do here at GCC.  (If you are not familiar with Raise Me I would encourage you to check out this link and click the “Student Overview Tutorial.”)  I like to tell students about one student on our campus who has qualified for $32,000.00 from a participating institution in another state.  I, then, like to ask, “Based on what I told you about Raise Me, how many of you think you might create a profile?”  Usually, 80-90% of the hands are raised.

I recognize that there are a myriad of other resources on our campus for the promotion of student success.  I have chosen these resources in consultation with others to respond to the twin issues of urgency and immediacy—some of the resources may be urgently needed at some point (e.g., food issues) and others can have an immediate pay-off (e.g., the online writing lab).

Presentation Impact

We have been excited to see the reach and impact of these presentations.  For the spring 2019 semester, I was able to present in 23 classes with a total of 353 students.  In the fall 2019 semester, I was in 34 classes with a total of 776 students.  This semester, spring 2020, I was able to present in 39 different classes to a total of 691 students. 

Semester Classes Students
Spring 2019 23 353
Fall 2019 34 776
Spring 2020 39 691

A further development has been the expansion of these presentations beyond the Philosophy and Religious Studies department.  I have also presented in classes in the Mathematics, Psychology, and the Public Safety Sciences departments.

We have also seen some good trends in those metrics we can track.  At the beginning of the fall 2019 semester (August), there were 280 Raise Me profiles.  After presenting in 34 classes to 776 students the number of Raise Me profiles on January 8, 2020, was 711!  As of this week, there are over 865 Raise Me profiles that have been created by students.  Of course, my presentations are not the sole cause of this increase in profile creation, but we do have confirmation that a number of students have created profiles in response to the presentations—I’ve even had students create a profile while I was presenting!

Another area we have seen an increase of activity concerns the online writing lab use through Brainfuse.  Going back to figures from the school-year 2017/2018 in which there was a pre-Brainfuse electronic writing lab, there were 320 uses—remember, that is for two semesters.  After the spring 2019 semester, there were 222 uses of the Brainfuse online writing lab.  After the fall 2019 semester, there were 327 uses—which is more than the entire school year of 2017/2018. 

As excited as we are to see the scope and impact of the classroom presentations, we are even more enthusiastic about the individual lives we have been able to help.  In my next post, I will detail some of these stories.

 

Reflections on Student Engagement–Part Two

In my last post on Student Engagement, I laid out some distinctions in the term “student engagement” comprising techniques, practices, and modalities.  I ended by mentioning the modality of Student Engagement Staff that we implemented in the Philosophy and Religious Studies department.  In this post, I want to outline the nature of the Student Engagement Staff (SES) endeavor.

As an initial attempt at providing a working definition for this modality of Student Engagement Staff we came up with the following points:

  • Student Engagement Staff is dedicated to student advocacy; promoting students’ success and completion of their education at GCC.
  • Student Engagement Staff is dedicated to educating all instructors about the importance of early intervention when students begin to slacken in their attendance and/or coursework.
  • Student Engagement Staff is a coordinating link in the process of connecting faculty and students to resources that further their educational goals.
  • Student Engagement Staff is committed to enhancing the general awareness of Student Engagement across the campus through various events and programs.

A key component of student engagement is a focus on the triangulation of three key elements: students, professors, and resources. 

A reasonable set of questions to ask is: “What is unique about SES?  Aren’t there many people, departments, and staff devoted to the same agenda?

In considering the nature of Student Engagement Staff we have come to recognize two distinctive elements.  The first element is that of being a generalist modality.  Most of the modalities on campus are specialist in nature.  Think of the following departments and the specialized help they offer:

  • Advising
  • Counseling
  • Disability Resources and Services
  • Center for Learning
  • Financial Aid
  • Enrollment

The desire and design was to have SES be more general in nature.  Student Engagement Staff would, thus, seek to accumulate information on a number of different resources available on campus.  What was given up in depth of specificity was compensated by a greater breadth of coverage.  SES was designed to be a sort of clearing-house of information regarding resource as well as a point of contact into the more specialized departments. 

This generalist modality was to work in tandem with the second key element—fluidity and flexibility.  Being situated in the Philosophy and Religious Studies department allows for increased response time in intervention as well as a closer connection to professors who are the frontline in seeing those students most in need of help.  We like to refer to this as “Bringing the institution to the student.”  A quick example may help illustrate this.  An adjunct professor came into the department office asking for help regarding a student in his class expressing suicidal ideation.  I was able to immediately come to his class, meet the student, and offer to walk this student over to the Counseling Center.  I am not trained as a specialist in counseling but as a generalist I knew enough about what resources we had on campus that could help.  Being able to respond immediately and personally helped the professor maintain his focus on his duties while also allowing the student to get personalized help.

In my next post, I will detail the specifics of what we are doing with Student Engagement at both the classroom level and the individual level as well as highlight some of our success stories.

 

Reflections on Student engagement–Part one

Having been a participant in establishing a pilot program in the Philosophy and Religious Studies department regarding student engagement, I wanted to write up some reflections regarding student engagement and the role of Student Engagement Staff we have created.

The phrase “student engagement” can have differing meanings and connotations depending on the context.  One way to conceptualize these differing conceptions is to orient the concept of student engagement around the following three categories.

  1. Techniques
  2. Practices
  3. Modalities

The following analysis attempts to bring out the varying emphases in the ideas of student engagement.

Techniques

A quick perusal of online search engines for the phrase “student engagement” often brings up specific classroom techniques that are offered to engage the student’s interest and attention in the classroom.  In fact, a recent article stressed that one of the best things to emphasis for student engagement is for students to study![1]

Practices

The Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) issued a report in 2013 that covered twelve high-impact practices for student engagement.[2]

  1. Experiential learning beyond classroom
  2. Class attendance
  3. Alert intervention
  4. Supplemental instruction
  5. Academic goal setting and planning
  6. Orientation
  7. Accelerated/fast-track developmental education
  8. First year experience
  9. Student success course
  10. Tutoring
  11. Assessment and placement
  12. Learning community

This list of high-impact practices can be divided into two distinct arenas of implementation.  First, there are those practices that can be implemented by the professor in the classroom.  Second, there practices which are more administrative and operate at the level of the larger institution.  The following delineates this breakdown:

Professor/Classroom Level Administrative/Institutional Level
Experiential learning beyond classroom Academic goal setting & planning
Class attendance Orientation
Alert intervention Accelerated/fast-track dev. ed.
Supplemental instruction First year experience
  Student success course
  Tutoring
  Assessment & placement
  Learning community

The main difference between these practices is that some are directed by the individual professor and are much quicker to implement.  The second set of practices requires auxiliary departments and specialization beyond the individual professor’s control.

Modalities

“Modalities” refers to the modes in which student engagement manifests itself.  Think of modalities like vehicles.  Modalities are the differing configurations of personnel and structures that allow for practices and techniques to be expressed.  Consider, for example, the modality of the professor.  The professor is uniquely situated to be the vehicle for implementing specific student engagement practices listed above (e.g., alert intervention).  Beyond the individual professor there are also institutional and structural departments organized around implementing student engagement practices.  Think, for example, of the advisement department.  This is an organized collective of people structured toward the end of giving students effective counsel regarding course selection in light of the student’s stated goals.

The pilot program we have developed in the Philosophy and Religious studies department centers around the creation of a new modality we have called “Student Engagement Staff.”  In my next piece I will give an overview of the specific dynamics of this modality and how it has functioned over the past three semesters.


     [1] “Another form of student engagement is also linked to educational progress and post-graduate success.  It’s called studying.  And its effects include what some may now regard as old-fashioned—even quaint—notions that serious reading increases the understanding of factual and fictional worlds, that intentional writing improves the ability to think clearly, and that mathematical analysis promotes better use and evaluation of data.  Even memorization-often denigrated as rote trivialization—has the value of enabling one to know something without always having to look it up.” Michael T. Nietzel, “A Best Practice for Student Engagement: It’s Called Studying” Forbes (January 10, 2019)—online: https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaeltnietzel/2019/01/10/a-best-practice-for-student-engagement-its-called-studying/#6b4cc38e54ab.

     [2] Center for Community College Student Engagement. (2013). A Matter of Degrees: Engaging Practices, Engaging Students (High-Impact Practices for Community College Student Engagement). Austin, TX: The University of Texas at Austin, Community College Leadership Program.