Data – a Critical Resource for Higher Ed

Also published on LinkedIn:

About a year ago, one of my deans was arguing for a new piece of software to help with one of our accreditation processes. I realized that we should probably try to coordinate any new software purchases that were data related with other parts of campus that were using similar data, i.e., HR, admissions, development and the registrar’s office. When we all sat down around the table, it was clear that our data needs overlapped, but it wasn’t clear how we could meet those needs without dealing with legacy software that would be expensive to update, and any direction we looked was going to cost a significant amount of money. As I have discussed these issues with others in higher ed and in industry, it’s clear that data and how to manage it is a difficult but critical issue that needs to be addressed on a variety of fronts.

When I decided to take the provost position at Menlo College three years ago, I was excited at the prospect of moving back to the San Francisco Bay area, and Silicon Valley, in particular. I had a particular interest in the ed tech ecosystem that was developing and new initiatives that were starting to change the face of education. What I have learned over the last three years is that one of the most important, yet underappreciated resources for academic administrators is the data that we can gather in our programs and how important that data is to the ability of our institutions to thrive in a changing environment. I am also starting to learn the role that ed tech, and Silicon Valley more broadly, is playing in the development of tools to deal with these issues. What I am finding is that there is a need for more collaboration with the players in tech, particularly from those of us in academic administration.

It’s clear that data is important for admissions, assessment, retention and tracking alumni, but what has become more clear to me, particularly over the last year, is the need for academic administrators to have a better understanding of the way that data and software are linked. I admit that until I started dealing in more detail with accreditation issues around assessment and collecting data for program learning outcomes, I was blissfully unaware of the potential and need for collecting data within academic affairs. I knew that syllabi had to let students know what we expected them to learn, and that we should be able to document what our students have learned by the time they graduate, but in the past year I have had to get into the granular details of what it means to actually design academic programs in a way that allows data to be collected, and ultimately for that data to be used for updating courses and making changes to curriculum.

I’m grateful to organizations like who have had the foresight to bring together provosts and presidents to discuss innovation in higher ed in California. When I attended their Higher Ed Summit in Washington DC this past March, I learned a great deal about the wide range of uses of Salesforce and ways that it can be customized through apps. What surprised me was how few academic administrators were there who weren’t in IT, admissions, or development. Administrators who come from the faculty ranks rarely have expertise in data management or software, but given the need to provide our faculty with the tools they need, for assessment in particular, it’s important that we understand where data is coming from, and how it can be utilized from admissions all the way through the processing of alumni data. For example, how can we know if our students are learning what they need to know if we aren’t tracking our alumni and their job outcomes? We need to make sure we are getting feedback and then get that data to our faculty in a way that allows them to understand what is and isn’t working in the classroom.

Of course, we also need to provide more support and give more credit to faculty who are performing well and creating innovations in the classroom. I know many R1 institutions, including my former institution, the University of Texas at Austin, have provided major teaching awards and are doing more to recognize teaching, particularly at the undergraduate level. Small teaching institutions often lack resources to have the software and data management tools that would provide support for faculty, and it will be up to the innovators in ed tech and higher ed to work together to find ways to simplify and support new ways of connecting data, like workforce data, to learning outcomes, perhaps through learning managements systems like Blackboard or Canvas.

Finally, we administrators need to educate ourselves on the appropriate tools for our institutions, and I know this isn’t an easy thing in these lean times for higher ed. However, it is an important piece of the puzzle as we look to increase enrollment and retention of a more diverse student body. It will take collaboration, and I have seen many of these collaborations developing around the country, between colleges and universities, local and state governments, and the corporate sector. Foundations and the Department of Education are funding projects that support evidence based (i.e., data collection!) innovations in teaching and research that will help colleges and universities use data in ways that will fuel innovation in higher ed for the foreseeable future.

From Jews to Syrians, America’s Long History of Rejecting Refugees

Essay by Terri E. Givens, Menlo College

First published in ISSF Policy Roundtable 1-8: Immigration and Refugee Policy in Donald Trump’s America, April 22, 2017

The Trump administration’s Executive Order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into The United States,” raised fears about acts of discrimination and potential violence against Muslim migrants and even citizens in the U.S. The first version of the Order, issued in late January 2017, banned Syrian refugees indefinitely.[2] This led to intense criticism, because barring civilians from fleeing a warzone seemed to be a shocking betrayal of America’s moral responsibility, not least because U.S. military efforts in the Middle East were partially responsible for the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the breakdown in regional security. The initial order also ran afoul of U.S. and international law by discriminating between Christian and Muslim refugees. A Federal District Court judge quickly issued a temporary restraining order that blocked implementation, which was subsequently upheld by a panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The administration responded by issuing a new order in early March that removed the exemptions for Christians and changed the status of Syrian refugees, who would face a 120-day suspension rather than an indefinite ban.[3] But these changes have not convinced critics, many of whom suspect that the order is broadly aimed at Muslims, and federal judges blocked the revision as well.

Unfortunately, there are many historical precedents for discriminatory immigration restrictions that focus on particular ethnic, racial, and religious minorities. Immigration flows into the U.S. were relatively open, particularly those coming from Western Europe, until the late nineteenth century. Between the Civil War and WWI, the United States shifted from a relatively open country of immigration, to one with restrictions, particularly on immigrants from countries that were considered undesirable.  Immigration policy shifted from the state level to the federal level, making national level politics paramount in determining the direction of policy. In New York and the East Coast the focus was on Irish, and Southern and Eastern European immigrants.  However, the main impetus for immigration restriction would truly begin on the West Coast of the United States.  California became the focal point for immigration restrictions as Chinese immigrant laborers came to fill jobs in the gold fields and mines, as well as building the Trans-continental railway. A coalition of unions, Southern Democrats, exclusionists (i.e., nativists) like the Anti-coolie clubs, and pragmatic Republicans supported Chinese exclusion.  After many years of political wrangling and rewriting of the Burlingame treaty[4] with China, the Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882,1888, and 1892 effectively suspended the flow of Chinese immigrants, consolidated federal control of policy (particularly through the Immigration Act of 1875), and would ultimately lead to broader restrictions at the beginning of the twentieth century.[5]

Nativism was also growing beyond the West coast. Increased flows from Southern and Eastern Europe raised concerns that these immigrants from mostly Catholic backgrounds were less intelligent and would be difficult to assimilate. Many of these immigrants were considered to be of ethnic stock that was not desirable, hallmarks of early 1900s eugenicist thought that there was a hierarchy of races.  Similar efforts occurred to restrict the number of Asian immigrants to California. Nativist groups fought for literacy tests and other restrictions that would keep these immigrants from being able to enter the country.[6]

After World War I, a war weary and isolationist Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1921 and the Reed-Johnson Act of 1924, which established a system of quotas based on national origins. The 1921 Act created quotas based on the 1910 census that limited immigration to 3% per year of each European nationality already residing in the U.S. Some felt that this still allowed too many Southern and Eastern Europeans. The 1924 Act limited immigration to 2% per year of each nationality, based on a decades-old census conducted at a time when there were fewer immigrants coming from Southern and Eastern Europe. The predictable effect was a sharp reduction in the number of new entries from targeted countries. The annual ceiling from the 1921 act of 387,803 was reduced to 186,437. This was a huge reduction in levels of immigration, which previously stood at approximately 700,000 per year. By 1925, Japanese exclusion was also phased in along with the already existing Chinese exclusion policies[7]

These decisions institutionalized racial bias in U.S. immigration policy, which had a major impact on refugees, particularly Jewish refugees, during World War II. The refugee issue became a particularly poignant one for the U.S. during the early years of WWII. As the Nazi government began to persecute Jews in Germany, many tried to escape to other countries, including the United States. Unfortunately, the restrictive policies implemented during the 1920s and anti-Semitic personnel in the State Department kept many Jews from getting the papers they needed to leave Germany and other parts of occupied Europe.  As Daniel Gross recently noted, “Most notoriously, in June 1939, the German ocean liner St. Louis and its 937 passengers, almost all Jewish, were turned away from the port of Miami, forcing the ship to return to Europe; more than a quarter died in the Holocaust.”[8]These refugees were not only turned away by the U.S., however. Other countries also turned away Jewish refugees, many of whom perished in concentration camps during the Holocaust [9]

It is important to note that the U.S. diplomatic corps was a key player in keeping Jews from gaining visas to leave Germany. After an investigation by Treasury officials in 1943, the “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government to the Murder of the Jews” found “the State Department guilty of ‘willful attempts to prevent action from being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler’.”[10] Even these highly trained professionals allowed their own racial biases to taint their role in processing visa applications. Today, airlines and border officials play a role along with diplomats in the processes which allow or limit the movement of immigrants into the country. As more people become involved in these processes, particularly airline employees who may not be trained to read the appropriate documents, it is possible that there will be greater reliance on racial and ethnic profiling as people travel across international borders. In fact, the Executive Order may encourage that profiling by targeting specific countries and groups.

The good news, however, is that U.S. allies have not yet followed the U.S. example. Germany has taken the lead in welcoming Syrian refugees in Europe, and Canada has continued to accept Syrian refugees. Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have urged continued support of those fleeing violence in the states covered in Trump’s Executive Order, and from other parts of the world. Apparently the lessons of history have not been lost on all countries, even if the United States is suffering from temporary amnesia.

Even after the devastating terror attack on 9/11, the country did not turn its back on its Muslim citizens and allies. More recently it welcomed Syrian refugees, though in comparatively smaller numbers. These individuals have not been a source of terrorism; U.S. vetting processes have so far proven to be robust. In order to avoid potential negative impacts on the security of the United States it is imperative that the U.S. maintains strong relations with its Muslim allies. Doing so will reduce opportunities for groups like ISIS to recruit new followers. It is thus a security interest and a humanitarian imperative that we avoid the mistakes of the past.

2] Donald J. Trump, “Executive Order: Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States,” The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 27 January 2017,

[3] Donald J. Trump, “Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States,” The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 6 March 2017,

[4]A treaty which ensured a flow of low-wage workers while protecting China from external influence. See State Department, Office of the Historian, “The Burlingame-Seward Treaty, 1868,” n.d.,

[5] Daniel J. Tichenor, Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002).

[6] Tichenor, 2002. See also, Aristide Zolberg. A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America (New York: Harvard University Press, 2006).

[7] Tichenor, 145.

[8] Daniel A. Gross, “The U.S. Government Turned Away Thousands of Jewish Refugees, Fearing That They Were Nazi Spies,” Smithsonian Magazine, 18 November 2015;

[9] See David S. Wyman, 1984. Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945 (New York, Pantheon Books), see also Tichenor, 2002.

[10] Quoted in Tichenot 2002, 167, see also David Wyman, ed., 1990, America and the Holocaust: Showdown in Wasington (New York: Garland).

From Wakanda to Gettysburg

The CrisisSince I saw Black Panther (twice), I have been ruminating on Killmonger’s final words “Nah, bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships. Because they knew death was better than bondage.” When I heard this quote for the first time, I was nearly sobbing. It gave me a great sadness to think of my ancestors who clearly did not jump into the ocean, or else I wouldn’t be here. It brought to mind the great weight of slavery that those of us still bear, generations later.

And yet…the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. Killmonger’s ancestors didn’t jump into the ocean, or else he wouldn’t be alive. Most African-Americans are here because our ancestors didn’t or couldn’t jump into the ocean, and those who did weren’t any braver than our actual ancestors who bore the brunt of slavery. We can’t possibly know what our ancestors did upon enslavement, how they may have fought, or tried to run away from their captors. We do know they survived, and that we are a testament to their ability to make their way through a horror that we can only imagine.

There is much to unpack in the movie Black Panther and the many emotions it evokes in those who feel an attachment to Africa or are just happy to finally have a movie that features mostly black/African characters in a positive light. Africans who can call white characters “colonizers” and who have built a society mostly untouched by European values around beauty and culture.

By chance, I also happened to read the book Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, right after seeing Black Panther. The book evoked a whole new set of emotions in me, as I was pulled into the stories of two families of Africa, divided by an ocean, and ultimately reunited in the present day. I felt that I could finally grasp some of the rationale behind the slave trade for the Africans who were involved – and that understanding was deepened by a recent visit to the African-American Heritage Museum (AAHM) at the Smithsonian. While the colleagues I was with went for an overview of the museum, I spend most of the two hours I had there on the first level, engrossed in the stories of the European and African sides of the slave trade. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn – how race became defined, and slavery justified, then turned into a lifelong sentence not only for the initial person enslaved, but for their offspring.

And then a seminal moment in American history – Gettysburg. Where so many died over this “peculiar institution.” President Lincoln’s short, yet influential address is often the first thought that comes to mind, and I was reminded of the following words from the address:

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


I also couldn’t help but think of the individuals who fought on these fields, and lost their lives, some to save the union, others to maintain a system of chattel slavery that supported an agricultural economy that was destined to fail.

The occasion for my visit to the AAHM and Gettysburg was my son’s 8th grade spring break trip to Washington, D.C. I didn’t expect it to have such an impact on my own journey of discovery. After our visit to the battlefield, we went to a nearby historic tavern, that had been a stop on the underground railroad. The students were entertained by a very talented actor, impersonating President Lincoln. I was particularly impressed with his very clear statement that the cause of the civil war was slavery – with no equivocation. Being at a battlefield where so many had died for this cause, dining at a stop on the underground railroad, and hearing such a clear statement on the cause of the war left me deep in thought.

Particularly over the past year, I feel that I have gained a more spiritual connection to my African ancestors, those who were enslaved in the American south (Louisiana, Virginia and Georgia, best I can tell), my own parents and the trials they must have experienced being born during the Depression era. There are so many stories…including my own, that tell of a world that is much more complicated and dangerous than what I want for my sons.

So I dive deep into the history, trying to find some answers to the hate that I see on display. The brutal beatings and murders that still happen in the America of the 21st century. We dream of a Wakanda where we can be safe, but even Wakanda isn’t safe. Internal strife can divide us, as it did in the America of the 1860s. Of course, it all comes down to power, but slavery and racism is a deep, bitter poison that is still infecting the bodies politic of both sides of the Atlantic today. It is the casual institutional racism that leads to the burnout of an academic. It is the brutal system of incarceration that preys on brown bodies, attempting to maintain the racial hierarchy that fueled industry and the growth of this country for centuries.

I cannot forget Gettysburg – so many dead. The will to keep this country united. The desire of so many abolitionists to fight for the rights of my ancestors. The blood of both white and black bodies that cry out from the soil, asking if their deaths were in vain. Those of us who are still in the fight carry a heavy burden. I dream of Wakanda, but I know that I live in the country that is still bearing a burden that cannot be cast down until we truly come to grips with what we fought for and continue to fight for – what so many continue to lose their lives for. And I must find a way to go on, for my sons, and for those future generations who deserve so much more…and with so many retiring, it will be with new voices in these halls after this November where change must continue…

capitol and cherry blossoms