Education Summit Highlights Challenging Climate on Campuses

by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

With threats of deportation, efforts to restrict travel from certain countries and looming cuts to finance at both the state and federal level, the world of higher education currently faces one of the most uncertain periods it has ever faced.

That is the assessment of Dr. Robert L.

Dr. Robert L. Jones

Jones, a veteran research university leader and newly installed chancellor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“The mood on campus during the six months that I’ve had the pleasure of serving as the 10th chancellor has been one of uncertainty,” Jones said Tuesday at an education summit.

“Our students have to deal with a climate that often time makes them feel unwelcome,” Jones said. “It creates a climate of fear.

“They’re really concerned about the deterioration of the climate on campus in ways that most of us have not experienced,” said Jones, an internationally respected authority on plant physiology.

Jones said when student fears are coupled with budgetary problems at the state level — Illinois is currently grappling with a budgetary gridlock — and federal budget proposals that would “dramatically impact the issue of affordability and accessibility for students,” it leads to even more uncertainty.

“It’s one of the most uncertain periods in higher education that I’ve experienced in my narrow 37 years at this work,” Jones said.

Jones made the remarks Tuesday at The Atlantic’s third annual education summit held at the Newseum.

Issues in higher education figured prominently at the summit, which touched on topics that ranged from diversity and inclusion to free speech on campus.

Gregory Fenves, president at the University of Texas at Austin — a focal point of the nation’s affirmative action debate and a hotbed issues of race on campus — stressed the need for university leaders to strike a balance between condemning acts that are deemed offensive to others and…

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