- Sexual harassment allegations have been reported against at least one faculty member at the institutions of nearly half of provosts and chief academic officers in a recent survey by Inside Higher Ed. Program cuts and overemphasis on professional programs at the expense of the liberal arts were also concerns.
- Two-thirds of the 475 respondents agreed "higher education has tolerated sexual harassment by faculty members for far too long." While 80% said colleges should ban romantic relationships between students and professors, only 58% said their institution has such restrictions.
- Nine in 10 respondents said strong liberal arts departments are important for a high-quality undergraduate education, but many said they feel pressured to emphasize other academic programs.
Sexual misconduct scandals have drawn colleges and universities such as Michigan State, Dartmouth College and the University of Southern California into the spotlight, though as Inside Higher Ed's survey indicates, the issue is not isolated to a handful of high-profile cases. One professor has created a list of more than 700 substantiated cases of sexual misconduct at colleges and universities across the country. While the earliest dates from 1917, most occurred from the early 2000s to the present.
Yet many colleges face conflicting guidance from the federal government and the courts on handling sexual misconduct allegations in light of draft rules on the matter from the U.S. Department of Education. The proposal, which would scale back college's accountability, has itself led to confusion.
Concerns about the growing focus on professional programs over the liberal arts is another topic gaining attention of late, particularly regarding an oft-cited mismatch between college training and employer needs. One recent study, based on a survey of 600 human resources professionals, found half of them think colleges aren't sufficiently preparing students for the workplace. One-third said doing so was a college's responsibility.
An October report from the Education Commission of the States called for higher ed to do a better job aligning curriculum with workforce needs. It said access to more federal and industry funding was one of a handful of elements critical to doing so.
Others contend the skills developed when studying the liberal arts are important for graduates, even those in tech fields. "Tackling today's biggest social and technological challenges requires the ability to think critically about their human context, which is something that humanities graduates happen to be best trained to do," wrote Vivek Wadhwa, an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley, in The Washington Post.
To that end, some colleges are formally integrating and assessing the soft skills often attributed to the liberal arts across their curriculum, such as critical thinking, intercultural fluency and oral communication.