Michael McLendon named interim provost of Baylor

Tower Center Senior Fellow Michael McLendon was named interim provost of Baylor University, effective July 1. McLendon served has dean of Baylor’s School of Education since 2015 and was previously an associate dean at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Development.

“My experience as an undergraduate at Baylor transformed my life, putting my feet on a path toward the study of and service to universities,” McLendon said. “Some 30 years later, I’m honored to partner with President Livingstone and her senior leadership team in cultivating an environment at Baylor that supports our continued progress toward being a top-tier research institution and one that promotes academic excellence and faith development at the highest levels.”

Read the press release here.

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Conference Recap | The State of Latino Education

The Tower Center and Latino Center for Leadership and Development (LCLD) held a conference with SMU Simmons School of Education and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute June 21 to discuss the current state of Latino education in the U.S. and Texas. The conference opened with a keynote address from Dr. Michael McLendon, Dean of the School of Education at Baylor University.

Michael McLendon gives the keynote address at the “State of Latino Education” policy conference June 21.

McLendon opened the conference with a look at where Latinos stand, citing a study conducted by the Pew Research Center. More Latinos are getting degrees and the high school dropout rate is declining, but a gap still persists between Hispanic attainment and the rest of the community. The high school dropout rate is highest for Hispanic students at 12 percent. Hispanic students are also least likely to have student debt, in part because they are more likely to attend two-year programs and community colleges. Why is Latino education so important? Sixty percent of the student body at Texas universities are Latino, McLendon said. When voting, education is considered as important of an issue to Hispanics as terrorism and the economy.

McLendon laid out steps that would improve college access for Latinos. Most important to him was educating families early about college opportunities and various financial plans available to them. “By the time kids are in their junior and senior years of high school, it’s too late for families to plan financially,” McLendon said.

Miguel Solis and A.J. Crabill discuss Latino education in Texas, moderated by Tower Center Postdoctoral Fellow Alicia Reyes-Barrientez.

The first panel of the conference looked at education policy in the state of Texas. Miguel Solis, president of the LCLD, opened the panel noting that 72 percent of students in Dallas Independent School District (DISD) are Latino, and 41 percent of students learn English as their second language. Solis argued that having more Latino representatives on school boards is essential in order to provide students with shared experience and empathy.

“It doesn’t take a Latino to govern a Latino,” Solis said, “but it certainly helps.” Solis was the first Latino to be appointed to serve on the DISD Board of Trustees.

AJ Crabill, Deputy Commissioner for Governance at the Texas Education Agency, followed by saying that student outcomes won’t change until adult behaviors do. Here are two major takeaways from the panel:

1)Early education matters

Both panelists stressed the importance of early childhood education as the primary driver for future success. When Hispanic students arrive at kindergarten or first grade, the majority have heard less words than other students and therefore start school already behind. These students are also much less likely to be literate by third grade, Solis said. For him, this means investing in early childhood is essential.

Crabill agreed. He said that an overwhelming majority of under-performing schools in Texas are elementary schools. His priority is encouraging districts to take advantage of early-learning programs that the state provides. Crabill also advocated for reallocating part of the 9-12 budget to boost early education programs. He said even though it would mean increasing class sizes and reducing staff, it’s those kind of hard decisions that have to be made to solve the problem. He acknowledged that it’s a tough call, but “hard evidence shows it’s the right call for kids.”

Solis and Crabill said that by the time students reach high school it’s too hard to correct what was missing from their early education. For them, it makes more sense to get it right from the start.

2) Students need realistic role models

An audience member asked the panelists about the role of the media and missing colored heroes and heroines in popular films and shows. He wondered if students saw people that looked like them having successful careers in textbooks, brochures, etc., that would help students have greater expectations for their future.

Crabill said that kids get the impression of what is possible for them from people who they routinely interact with, not from what they see on TV or read about in books. He argued that what’s missing from these kids’ lives are good, caring adults who have experienced success being present in their lives. Successful adults need to get personally involved. “When they are personally involved, it’s permanently transformative,” he said.

Denisa Gandara, Gisela Ariza and Aileen Cardona-Arroyo discuss the impacts of federal education policy on Latinos.

The second panel switched focus to federal policy, featuring Gisela Ariza, a policy analyst for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and SMU’s Denisa Gandara, assistant professor of education. Tower Center postdoctoral fellow Aileen Cardona-Arroyo moderated the panel.

Ariza opened the panel by looking at education issues through a human rights lens. President Trump’s proposed education budget slashes funding by $9.2 billion. This would harm Title I funding, which she argued was something Education Secretary Betsy DeVos doesn’t understand. The cut would also wipe out Title IV funding, which is federal student aid programs that help students afford college.

What Ariza is most concerned about, however, is DeVos’s $250 million proposal for a Voucher program, or what Republicans call school choice. The problem with these programs, Ariza argued, is that they open up students to discrimination. She referenced a concerning interview in which DeVos was unable to say whether or not she would protect students from discrimination. In this example, Rep. Clark described a school in Indiana that does not allow gay or transsexual students to enroll but was approved by the state to receive government funding via the Voucher program. DeVos said each school could determine its own admission policies and that she would not interfere to ensure no student, such as an LGBTQ student, is discriminated against.

Ariza also mentioned that June marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling in Plyer v. Doe that declared states can’t deny children free public education because of their status as an immigrant. This decision might be in jeopardy under the Trump administration, but 88 percent of immigrant children are born in the U.S. and are therefore guaranteed access to free education in the Constitution.

Gandara began her portion of the panel with an emphasis on the benefits of higher education — which she says is critical for attainment on both the personal and societal level.

The U.S. has made progress in higher education, but an alarming gap for Latinos persists. Four-year graduation rates for Hispanics is 30 percent, and it’s 40 percent for all students. One primary barrier, Gandara said, is Hispanic families have limited knowledge of how the college system works. They don’t understand FAFSA, or how banks and loans work.

Another persistent barrier is affordability. Tuition is two to five times higher than the median net worth of Latino households. Latinos are also less likely to borrow money to attend college, partly because they attend community colleges at a higher rate, and partly because they don’t understand or trust the loan process. Gandara thinks borrowing could help get more students to college.

Her policy solutions are to simplify FAFSA and allow Federal Pell Grants to be used year-round. She ended her talk looking at free college programs. The obvious benefits are access and increased enrollment, according to Gandara. She said the concerns lie in the question of who is actually benefiting and whether or not increased enrollment also leads to a higher success rate for completion. She suggests free college programs should have an income cap to ensure the funding is going to low income students.

Raymund Paredes, Commissioner of Higher Education for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board issued the closing remarks of the conference.

Raymund Paredes, Commissioner of Higher Education for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board issued the closing remarks. The theme of his talk: “We’re getting better, but we’re not getting better fast enough.”

Even though more Latinos are attending college, the numbers aren’t good enough according to Paredes. Latinos are 41 percent of the Texas population, but only 25 percent of people with a higher education credential are Hispanic. He also noted Latino men are the subgroup least likely to participate in higher education (only 3 percent do), followed by black men at 4.2 percent participation.

He argued the Texas’s youthful population is one of the state’s greatest opportunities; it’s one of the few states that has a growing college-going population. But there’s work to be done. In Texas, older generations are more educated than younger generations. The opposite is true in every other state except California, where the populations are equally educated. This is because California and Texas both have high levels of immigration.

He stressed the importance of getting it right for Latinos — the future success of Texas’s economy is dependent on it. By 2050, Latino workers in Texas will outnumber Anglo workers three to one. And for Paredes, getting it right means getting more Latinos to college. Over 99 percent of job growth during the recovery went to workers with higher education credentials.

See Paredes’s full presentation here and the full report from THECB on its 60x30TX higher education plan here.

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“Texas needs to take the lead on NAFTA 2.0”

Photo: The Dallas Morning News

Texas Representative Will Hurd said Texas should take the lead on the renegotiation of NAFTA at a panel discussion at the Bush Center June 19. The Tower Center cosponsored the panel along with the Mission Foods Texas-Mexico Center.

The 23-year-old agreement has been in the news since Donald Trump called it the worst trade deal in history during his presidential campaign.

“Workers are lacking the skills — we are doing everything we can to get to connect workers to career paths in trade and logistics,” said NASCO President Tiffany Melvin. While the panel agreed the trade agreement isn’t perfect, they each argued for the importance of strengthening the deal going forward.

Read Jill Cowan’s story on the panel here and the Bush Center’s paper on NAFTA negotiations here.

Para leer en español sobre el panel, haga clic aquí.

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Consul General, TC Director discuss NAFTA, protectionism in DMN

Dallas and Fort Worth Mayors returned from a trip to Toronto feeling both hope and anxiety over NAFTA, the Dallas Morning News reported.

DMN reporter Tristan Allman talked to Sara Wilshaw, Consul General of Canada in Dallas, about her thoughts on the Trump administration’s policies. Wilshaw underscored the importance of the trade relationship, saying she believes it should not only be maintained but strengthened as well.

Tower Center Academic Director Jim Hollifield told Allman the problem for trade is at the national level.

“At least at the local level, in these regions like Dallas-Fort Worth, the mayors have no doubt how important this is for the economic growth of the city and the region,” he said.

Read Allman’s story here.

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Luisa del Rosal named finalist for D CEO Latino Business Award

Tower Center and Mission Foods Texas-Mexico Center Executive Director Luisa del Rosal was named a finalist for D CEO’s Latino Business Awards 2017.

“I am so proud and humbled to be a part of this group that D Magazine is honoring,” del Rosal said. “It is so important to acknowledge Hispanic leadership as I feel we are an integral part of the community, and like all leaders, strive to enrich the lives of everyone.”

The awards are intended to honor Latino leaders in North Texas. Winners will be announced in August, and each finalist will be recognized in D CEO’s September issue.

For a full list of finalists, click here.

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Is Russia getting cozy with North Korea?

Tower Chair and National Security expert Joshua Rovner talked to CBS’s Roshini Rajkumar about North Korea and its relationships with China, Russia and the U.S.

Rovner said the Trump administration is trying to isolate North Korea like the administrations before. Moscow, however, sees an opportunity in reaching out to North Korea to put pressure on the U.S. to remove sanctions.

“The United States can’t do this alone. It needs to convince others to put pressure on North Korea as well,” Rovner said.

Listen to the interview (starting at 19:26) here.

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Luisa del Rosal advises forum at SMU to promote gender equality

SMU is hosting the third annual Women’s Ambassador Forum (WAF) June 6-9, which is bringing in 25 young women from 18 different countries to attend seminars and learn how to become leaders and promote gender equality in their home countries.

Tower Center Executive Director Luisa del Rosal has advised the student planning committee, co-chaired by SMU students Gloria Gutierrez and Mirka Serrato, to make the forum possible.

Read the Dallas Morning News’ story here.

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Tower Center experts weigh in on U.S. leaving the Paris climate accord

Photo: Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

Tower Center Academic Director Jim Hollifield and Tower Center Associate Bud Weinstein, also associate director of the SMU Maguire Energy Institute, talked to Dallas Morning News reporter Jill Cowan about President Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

Hollifield argues that this is yet another example of Trump disregarding how things are done in foreign policy, or in his words, Trump threw the global playbook “out the window.”

“Gone are the days when the U.S. would take the lead in pursuing global public goods,” he told Cowan.

Aside from the geopolitical effects of withdrawing from the deal, which is supported by nearly 200 countries and ratified by 144, Weinstein weighed in on the effects on the energy industry in Texas. He thinks they will be minimal. The decline in coal energy is hardly related to the United States’ commitment to a climate deal, he said.

“I look at it this way: Carbon emissions have been falling in the U.S. for the last 20 years, not so much because of regulations at the state and federal level but because we’ve been substituting coal power,” Weinstein said.

Read the full article here.

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TC Director and Associate: Climate Change has displaced millions

President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement that the Obama administration ratified. As of May 2017, 144 countries had ratified the agreement and 195 countries had signed it.

After the agreement was negotiated, Tower Center Academic Director Jim Hollifield and Tower Center Associate Idean Salehyan wrote an article for the Wilson Center on an unspoken consequence of climate change: the displacement of millions of people.

Read what our experts had to say here.

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Navigating Democracy in Tunisia

Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a government building in Tunisia Dec. 17, 2010. Following his death in early 2011, protests and riots erupted throughout the country, unseating President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years of rule Jan. 14. Tunisia has been working to establish a democracy since then, and made significant progress in 2014 by establishing a new constitution and holding elections for parliament and a new president.

Tunisia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Faycal Gouia visited the Tower Center to give the seminar “Navigating Democracy and Open for Business” May 18.

Tunisia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Faycal Gouia visited the Tower Center May 18 to discuss Tunisia’s progress and the country’s goals and ideas for the future during the seminar “Navigating Democracy and Open for Business.”

Gouia is most proud of Tunisia’s public education program. The government offers free education from kindergarten through university and PhD programs to students who can pass a series of tests. Gouia says this is an effort of the to have a fully educated population. But even with an educated public, the small North African country is struggling with high levels of unemployment. The World Bank reports Tunisia’s unemployment to be 15.2 percent, with unemployment for graduates at 19.9 percent. Gouia tags this as the number one social problem the country faces. The government’s goal is to reduce the rate to 12 percent by 2020.

This issue has been compounded by an economy in turmoil. Tunisia’s economy has suffered greatly from the threat and presence of terrorism — especially with Libya as its neighbor. However, Gouia is optimistic that this is changing for the country. It has been 15 months since the last attack, tourism and Foreign Direct Investment are both on the rise, and the military has transitioned from defensive to offensive operations to eliminate the terrorist threat.

In response to a question about Tunisia’s violence-ridden neighbor, he offered insight into Libya’s situation and why establishing a democracy seems to be an impossible mission for them.

The unrest in Libya, according to Gouia, is easier to solve than the unrest in other Arab countries such as Yemen and Syria because its population is homogeneous and tribal. The main problem, however, is that there were no established institutions (such as a military or police force) when Muammar Gaddafi was killed in 2011, unlike the well established institutions Ben Ali left behind in Tunisia. Although Libya is a rich country in terms of resources, it has the largest oil reserves in Africa, Gouia said it has been plagued by the “worst leadership” in the Arab world.

Here is Ambassador Gouia’s four-step solution to Libya:

  1. Reduce the number of weapons circulating in Libya, estimated to be around 30 million.
  2. Develop an army
  3. Open up a national dialogue to get the leaders of the different tribal leaders together around a table. The U.S. and UN should facilitate this.
  4. Establish a roadmap for reconciliation. “They’re navigating without a compass,” Gouia said.

The ambassador left the discussion on a brighter note saying talks with the Trump administration have gone well, and that foreign aid has been granted to Tunisia for 2017. But with talks of budget cuts circulating Washington, he said the world is uncertain what 2018 will hold.

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