Real Tweets, Fake News … and More from the NEJHE Beat …

By by John O. Harney

Tweeting is getting a bad name under President Trump. But let me implore you to pay attention to NEBHE’s Twitter feed @nebhe. You won’t see any posts at 2:30 a.m. But it’s about the closest thing we have to a news service on New England higher education and the many areas it affects. In that way, it reminds me of why NEJHE was once called Connection. It was a bit too generic a name, but it nicely reflected our mission to explore and advance how higher education in New England touches everything … not just credential attainment, but also economic and cultural development, policy expertise as well as newly overlooked areas such as faculty expertise and interesting physical plants.

Every NEJHE item automatically posts to Twitter. But we also use Twitter to disseminate relevant stories from outside. Not so much communicating personally, but aggregating interesting news or opinion from elsewhere, sometimes juxtaposed with something NEBHE has worked on in the past, sometimes with an original comment but not always. (It’s a contemporary version of my mother’s old system of stashing newspaper articles on everything from local events to cholesterol avoidance under the cushions of the family couch for my siblings and me to check out when stopping by to visit.)

Here are a few examples of recent tweets and retweets from @nebhe …

The post supports both NEBHE’s interest in talent development and particularly tapping nontraditional populations. That’s precisely the focus of the NEJHE piece linked to the tweet, in this case, via its reposting on ERIC, the national indexer of journals. The post also highlights one of the many occupations ripe for exploration by NEBHE’s recently launched Commission on Higher Education & Employability. To be sure, much of the Employability work will focus on tech and digital aspects of future jobs … data and analytics and artificial intelligence. But we also need interventions to ensure that we prepare and reward teachers who understand learning, police who respect the Constitution and EMTs who know the best ways to deal with trauma.

Or this tweet, allowing us a second splash of NEBHE delegate and Trinity College VP Angel Pérez’s excellent NEJHE piece on race and class issues on college campuses …

And more recently …

The host of Mass Innovation Nights #96 was Cramer, the Norwood, Mass.-based branding firm, where creative types work in shipping containers. (Almost as good a use as the idea floated to use containers to house people who are homeless.) Hosts, sponsors and experts kicked off the night with five-minute pitches for their products. Among them: hypnap plugged a product called TruRest to make air travel more comfortable; Tufts MD Nizar Take told of his app called Chronability allowing people to budget their available free time and take action to stay on schedule; Community Rowing Inc.’s founder told of interactive rowing experience, bringing the sport to blind rowers, veterans and kids; and Bobby Johansen told of his Zeal helping companies improve their culture and, as the story goes, their stock returns. Another product that stood out given our interest in key occupations: Know My Patient, the mobile tool from Nightingale Apps LLC that helps nurses minimize communication and handoff errors common when healthcare workers scrawl notes on scrap paper or post-it-notes. Parked outside Cramer was BikeBus—a mobile fitness studio that allows people to work out while they commute.

On a completely different subject. My local library featured a fascinating panel discussion on “The Honest Truth About Fake News: (Mis)information and How It Spreads.” The panelists were: Dan Kennedy, associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University and panelist on Beat the Press, a program of NEJHE partner WGBH; Takis Metaxas, professor of computer science at Wellesley College and co-creator of TwitterTrails; and Melissa Zimdars, assistant professor of communication & media at Merrimack College and director of OpenSources.

Kennedy noted that fake news is based not on ideology, but on “clicks.” Perhaps not ironically, the rise of fake news has been accompanied by a flight to quality media including established outlets such as NPR, the New York Times and Washington Post—which Trump and friends attack as “fake news.” Metaxas, emphasizing his computer science background, showed the audience Google search results for “Pizzagate”—the debunked conspiracy theory that claimed Democratic leaders were running a child-sex ring out of a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor. At first glance, the sources look legit. Metaxas noted that more technically astute students are more likely to believe the fake news. He spoke of a Google algorithm that inventive people learned to get around. He said the answer to overcoming fake news will come partly from librarians. Zimdars pointed out that fake news was riding high at the turn of century as the Hearst newspapers realized  war sells papers. Now, he said, most fake news comes from kids, many in Eastern Europe, who realize saying the pope endorsed Trump means clicks. Sadly, he said, readers also misinterpret satire as real news.

As an aside, a Reading Memorial High School history teacher offered students extra credit to attend the library event. It’s a smart assignment. Watching her taking attendance in the auditorium and trying to focus attention beyond the clearly evident raging hormones reminded me of what a tough occupation teaching is.

Also, what about more traditional fake news driven by biases of advertising or other funding sources (it’s a fine line to walk).

Elsewhere on the NEJHE beat …

Boilermaking. In late April, Purdue University, the Indiana-based public research university, announced it acquired most of the credential-granting side of the for-profit Kaplan University. Roughly 32,000 Kaplan students, 15 campus locations and 3,000 employees will join Purdue in a newly created nonprofit university. Inside Higher Ed noted that the deal would bring more working adult students to Purdue, where the average age of students is 20, compared with 34 among Kaplan students. But a week later, Purdue faculty members passed a resolution calling the deal a violation of common-sense educational practice and calling on Purdue President Mitch Daniels and the university’s trustees to rescind the acquisition. Inside Higher Ed posited that the resolution “could catch the attention of Purdue’s accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission,” as “accreditors generally expect a prominent faculty role in academic-related decisions.”

USM back? University of Maine System officials approved an $80 million capital campaign including a “radical re-imagining” of the University of Southern Maine (USM) Portland campus. The campaign would fund a $50 million, a 1,000-seat performing arts center (which officials note is needed to boost USM’s School of Music, the only public school of music in Northern New England), as well as $15 million in athletic facility upgrades and a $15 million endowed “promise” scholarship program for full-time students with financial need. The $80 million is part of a larger $189 million plan that would include a new $30 million student center, a five-story dorm, a boutique hotel and perhaps an institute for food studies. USM was in financial crisis just three years ago, and 50 USM faculty were cut to close part of a $16 million budget gap. This May, USM reported the number of first-time students paying deposits to attend grew 34% over the same time last year.

Time warp. Mainers will consider a statewide referendum to move the state to Atlantic Standard Time after preliminary approval from both houses of the Legislature. The change would end the twice yearly changing of clocks and, according to proponents, reduce accidents and other health problems. It could be a regional issue whose time has come. The referendum will be held only if Massachusetts and New Hampshire also join Atlantic Standard Time. The New Hampshire House of Representatives has approved switching to Atlantic Standard Time, and Massachusetts and Rhode Island are studying the issue. Nova Scotia and portions of Canada are already on Atlantic Standard Time. Maine Gov. Paul LePage told Auburn radio station Z105.5’s Breakfast Club that the idea is “crazy.”

Free speech. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Vermont has sustained a vibrant debate on free speech and political correctness. In March, Middlebury College protestors shouted down sociologist Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, which suggested that achievement gaps between white and black students may be genetic. A crowd prevented Murray from speaking by chanting slogans, until he and his discussant, a prof at the college, were moved to a private room. Protesters then tried to disrupt that and reportedly bullied Murray and the prof. More recently, University of Vermont President Tom Sullivan penned this compelling piece on Speech and Expression on Campus for Huffington Post, which now wants to be known as HuffPost.

Pub names. Publication names themselves can be risky pc business as well. The College of the Holy Cross has been in the news because its newspaper called The Crusader gets confused with a Ku Klux Klan official newspaper, also called The Crusader. In fairness, references to Crusades and Crusaders have been dangerous language since recent religious wars in Middle Eastern countries have revived associations with their precursors of the Middle Ages.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education.


Painting of “Small Porch Series #5” by Montserrat College professor Timothy Harney.


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