Monday, June 11, 2018

Why do students want to be treated like children?

In the past, students fought for independence – now they want protection.

The chemistry department at the University of Essex is not the most famous site of student activism. But in May 1968, a lecture given by Dr Inch, a scientist from the notorious military laboratory Porton Down, sparked protests that made national headlines. A small group of students, fresh from protesting against the Vietnam War, challenged Inch and the use of chemical weapons in Vietnam. One student, David Triesman, read out an indictment against Inch; another poured a sachet of powdered mustard over him. The police were called and three students were promptly suspended by the vice-chancellor, Albert Sloman.

Students and many members of staff were outraged at the suspensions. Over 250 students delivered a petition to the vice-chancellor’s house calling for the punishment to be lifted; 1,000 passed a motion calling on Sloman to explain his actions to the university. When he refused, staff and students abandoned all routine teaching and declared a Free University. During this time, more issues came to the fore. Protesters discussed the Vietnam War and chemical weapons, the running of the university, the nature of knowledge, the role of the press, and free speech.

Students wanted to have their voices heard on all these issues. Still Sloman refused to readmit the suspended students. Protesters then occupied the university, drawing widespread media attention to their cause and winning high-profile support from Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell.

Eventually, Sloman was forced to readmit the suspended students. In the aftermath, he initially blamed communist agitation for the events that had occurred. Then he admitted to a breakdown in communication between students and administrators and permitted student representation on university committees. Finally, Sloman came out against institutional in loco parentis legislation and urged the government to recognise students as autonomous adults, free to live their lives as they saw best.

This was a major victory for student protesters. In 1968, protests swept universities around the world and covered a range of issues from war to free speech. But behind every campaign was the demand for students to be recognised as adults, independent from their parents and free from paternalistic institutional directives. Students wanted their views on Vietnam, immigration and the management of the university to be taken seriously, and in order for this to happen they needed to be recognised and treated as adults.

Sadly, it seems many of today’s students no longer consider adulthood and autonomy to be worth striving for, and instead want universities to focus on better caring for them. In 2015, students from Goldsmiths University occupied Deptford Town Hall in south-east London. First on their list of demands was for the university to ‘recruit more counsellors’. They wanted the ‘standard six-session cap’ on counselling sessions to be removed and ‘a permanent additional CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] therapist’. It is hardly surprising that students make such demands: the perception of 18- to 25-year-olds as vulnerable not-quite-adults, in need of colouring books to cope with exams and discount fares to cope with the cost of commuting, is promoted by schoolteachers, academics and politicians – it has come to be seen as common sense.

Currently, academics and administrative staff cannot contact a student’s parents without the student giving their permission. Likewise, a parent cannot expect to discuss their child’s progress or welfare unless the student, a young adult, agrees. But recent headlines about student suicides have further increased calls to overturn the assumption that university students are independent adults.

At Bristol University, where there has been a spate of suicides over the past 18 months, students’ parents will be asked to inform staff if their children are experiencing difficulties. Likewise, the university will contact parents to notify them if students are struggling away from home.

Calls to bring back institutional in loco parentis legislation are now being made explicitly. Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of Buckingham University, has called for the age of majority to be raised to 19: ‘We have to stop assuming that 18-year-old school-leavers are capable of running their own lives’, he said. In February, Sam Gyimah, minister of state for universities and science, said in a speech to launch the Office for Students that for students away from home for the first time, ‘the “uni experience” can be disorientating and demanding, as it should be. But, in this, the universities need to act in loco parentis – that is, to be there for students offering all the support they need to get the most from their time on campus.’

Fifty years ago students fought to be recognised and treated as adults. They knew they couldn’t make an impact on the world if they were patronised and treated as children in need of looking after. Now, adulthood is rarely seen as worth aspiring towards and 18-year-olds enter university having had far fewer opportunities to practice independence at school or at home.

Today’s students don’t just perceive of themselves as vulnerable – they often are less capable of looking after themselves than young adults in previous decades were. As a result, they demand not adulthood but the benevolent, caring regulation associated with childhood. Universities can neither turn back time nor magic children into adults overnight. However, liaising with parents and reintroducing in loco parentis legislation will only prolong childhood further. If students want to be taken seriously, they will need to fight for their independence once more.


U.S. Student Loan Debt Hits Staggering $1.5 Trillion

The amount of outstanding student loan debt just hit a staggering number: $1.5 trillion. An important statistic associated with this number? Women hold nearly two-thirds of all U.S. student debt, according to a report recently published by the American Association of University Women.

CNN Money notes that one reason women hold more debt than men is because more women go to college than their male counterparts. In fact, 56 percent of students who enrolled in higher education in fall of 2016 were women. But that's not all. "More women take out loans, and when they do, they borrow more money. The average woman owes $2,740 more than a man upon finishing a bachelor's degree... Women are also repaying their debt more slowly, which can mean they're paying more in interest over time."

Student loan debt seems to be a bigger source of strain on Americans than other common forms of debt, such as auto loan debt (which is currently at $1.1 trillion) and credit card debt (which currently stands at $977 billion). According to CNN, of the 42 percent of people who took out debt upon going to college, 30 percent of them took out forms of debt beyond just student loans, "like credit card debt or a home equity line of credit," according to a Federal Reserve report based on a 2017 survey.

Perhaps the most unsettling information recently released on student loan debt reveals that 20 percent of those who borrow are behind on their payments. Apparently, people who have not finished their degree have a more difficult time keeping up with payments, but a small percentage of bachelor's degree holders (11 percent) and graduate degree holders (5 percent) are behind as well.


Australia: Cairns’s Trinity Ang­lican School fought bullied-girl case — and lost

In the Bible, King Solomon advises: "Be not righteous over much" (Ecclesiastes 7:16).  The school board would have done well to follow that. It would seem that they were full of themselves.  But their conspicuous efforts to defend themseves may have paid off as demonstrating their innocence of what they were accused of.  They lost their case on a technicality, not on the facts

When Anthony Woolley and Janet Kencian were unhappy with how a top Queensland school had responded to allegations that their daughter was being bullied and ­racially abused, they wrote to the state’s top education bureaucrat.

What they had hoped for was an investigation into alleged bullying at Cairns’s Trinity Ang­lican School. They also wanted an apology for their adopted daughter Gowri, who had survived on the streets of India’s Bangalore and moved to Cairns for a better life. Instead, they were hit with a claim for defamation that has taken 5½ years to resolve and cost them about $850,000 in legal fees.

In April, a jury threw out the defamation claim launched by then principal Christopher Daunt Watney, now deputy principal of private girls’ school Queenwood, on Sydney’s north shore. The jury found Mr Daunt Watney was unlikely to sustain harm because of the circumstances in which the letter was sent.

Back in 2011, the couple, who have four adopted children, had been horrified to hear Gowri had been called a “black bitch” by other students. They allege that her sister was called a “black ­retard” at the school, which bills ­itself as the “leading independent school in far north Queensland”.

It was not part of the childhood they had imagined for Gowri, who had dazzled them with her huge smile when they met her at age nine in a crowded orphanage.

Mr Woolley and Dr Kencian, a pathologist, raised their bullying and racial-vilification concerns with the school in 2011, including at a meeting with Mr Daunt Watney. Dissatisfied with the ­response, which included an external investigation of the allegations, they wrote to the then director-general of education, Julie Grantham, the following year.

The letter, according to a 2017 appeal judgment, was five pages long and headed “Repeated and Systemic Failures of Duty of Care in response to bullying at Trinity Anglican School White Rock”. It alleged the investigator’s reports were deliberately biased and “in effect a whitewash”, and asked the ­director-general to “conduct a comprehensive and transparent investigation into what is going on at TAS”.

The letter was marked confidential and sent to one person: the director-general, who then “republished” it to one other person, the chair of the Non-State Schools Accreditation Board.

In December 2012, the couple received letters of demand from the school and the principal for $75,000 each, citing their letter of complaint. Mr Daunt Watney then filed the defamation action claiming $389,000 in ordinary and aggravated damages.

A jury first rejected the defamation claim in 2016 on the grounds the letter to the ­director-general was not defamatory. But Mr Daunt Watney — backed by the school, which funded his legal expenses — appealed against that decision.

The Queensland Court of Appeal found there had been a “perverse” result from the jury and substituted its own finding that the letter was defamatory, ordering a fresh jury trial on whether any defences applied. The period for lodging an appeal from the second jury decision has now expired but a decision has yet to be made on costs.

Mr Woolley said that although their legal ordeal was over, his daughter — now 19 and working as a pathology laboratory assistant — was yet to receive an apology from the school. “The financial and emotional distress we have endured from 5½ years of litigation against us has been extreme but our resolve to follow through on the issues we raised is undiminished,” he said.

Dr Kencian said that when the couple brought Gowri to Australia, their hope for her was simple: “to achieve her potential and to have a happy childhood.”

She said bullying was insidious. “Gowri came into our family a resilient and outgoing child who had overcome her adverse start in India and enthusiastically embraced life in our family and Australia,” she said. “But the bullying and the school’s terrible response has impacted on her and our whole family.”

Mr Daunt Watney said the legal action was launched in his name, but it was funded “entirely” by the school, and was a decision of the board. “I was the head of the school at the time,” he said. “The decision to proceed with any kind of action is not the decision of the head of the school; it’s the decision of the school board.”

He said he could not comment on whether he agreed with the decision, or argued against it.

Asked if he regretted putting the parents through the trauma of litigation, he said: “I regret the fact that the whole thing got to where it got to in the first place.”

Trinity Anglican School chairman Jason Fowler said the school was “committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for all school children” and had a strict anti-bullying policy. “The school board has at all times been supportive of our former principal, Christopher Daunt Watney, and we were disappointed to learn of the ultimate outcome,” he said. “It was our belief that his good name and reputation, as a top academic leader, had been damaged.”


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