Answering the Big Questions of Higher Education
Ten regional college presidents weigh in on the challenges and triumphs of a 21st-century education.
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In addition to attracting students, the region’s schools are doing more to keep them safe once they arrive.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 23 percent of female undergraduate students and 5 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault. To remain compliant with Title 9, a law prohibiting discrimination at schools including any form of sexual harassment or assault, any college or university that receives federal funding must establish grievance procedures and designate someone to handle violation reports, among other requirements.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Michael Driscoll
Leaders say there has been extensive cooperation and collaboration among the region’s schools in this area to obtain proper training for faculty and staff and disseminate information to the student body. Driscoll says the key is making sure students both know what resources are available and feel comfortable talking about any concerns they have.
“What had maybe been a hidden issue on many college campuses ... is now more visible in a constructive way that helps us make further progress in protecting students and, better still, educating all of our students about how to behave appropriately and how to address situations that could get out of hand,” he says.
Gormley says it is the responsibility of leaders to foster “a campus culture that is based on respect for all.
“One effort that can and should be taken is to start educating our children at an early age so that we lay the groundwork for a lifetime of treating others respectfully,” he says. “By the time students reach college, many of their attitudes and behaviors are set — so the earlier we educate them the better.”
Grove City College President Paul McNulty
Dealing with assault is a responsibility that can no longer be handled solely within the halls of a campus. “The reduction of reporting barriers coupled with staff training, effective communications and partnership among and between local advocates and law enforcement help keep students safe,” McNulty says.
For many, the college experience includes involvement in Greek life, a community capable of offering both the student and institution many benefits — but whose role in higher education is widely debated any time a tragedy related to hazing or alcohol abuse surfaces, such as the February death of a pledge inside a Penn State fraternity house.
Leaders say members of fraternities and sororities tend to be more engaged overall as students and more generous donors as alums. They also agree that fraternities and sororities belong on campus, provided their actions are properly supervised.
Robert Morris University President Christopher Howard
“Greek life is very good in theory,” says Robert Morris University President Christopher Howard. “It speaks to camaraderie, friendship and togetherness. But you have a bunch of 18-, 19-, 20- and 21-year-olds. When left to their own devices, it can be problematic.
“The key to making it work is supervision from alumni and faculty and staff who are helping them make smart decisions.” Howard explains that problems can arise when those in charge look the other way on Greek traditions. “You have the mishaps when the alumni, staff and faculty say, ‘We’re not going to show up. We know you’re going to do one of our traditions that we’ve always done and don’t talk about anymore, and we’re not going to be there in the place. You guys go off and do it and be careful.’ No. You have to be there with them.”
Gormley says that two of his own children have been involved in Greek life at Duquesne.
“For both of them, it was a fabulous experience,” he says. “It is [up to] campus administrators, resident assistants, advisers, and yes, the Greek students themselves to actively engage in educational and other efforts to ensure that the high expectations for respectful and accountable behavior are met — not just on our campus, but on all college campuses.”