Graduate assistants at the University of Connecticut, who have organized in affiliation with the United Auto Workers, won union recognition last week from the State Board of Labor Relations. The board verified that a super majority of graduate employees signed cards authorizing the Graduate Employee Union, or GEU-UAW, to represent them in collective bargaining. The unit is made up of 2,135 students, and bargaining will focus on work place issues, not academic ones. Stephanie Reitz, a university spokeswoman, said via email: “The university has been, and will continue to be, neutral with regard to this effort. Individual graduate students are free to make their own decisions.”
Higher Education Quick Takes
A rejected black applicant to the University of Michigan participated in protests last week, charging that the university could increase its black enrollment by admitting students like her, The Detroit Free Press reported. In going public with her story, supporters of affirmative action said that they were trying to focus (as critics of affirmative action have done) on the compelling stories of those turned away. In this case, the rejected applicant is Brooke Kimbrough, who has a 3.6 grade-point average and an ACT score of 23. While supporters said that she could succeed at Michigan, critics said that the university was correct to turn her down, given that her academic record wasn't superior to those getting in. According to the university, the average high school G.P.A. is 3.85 and the 50th percentile of admitted students have ACT composite scores of 29-33.
San Jose State University has been taking a number of steps in the wake of the shock and anger over last fall's incident in which a black student was tormented for months by his suitemates. A special panel was charged with recommending ideas on how to promote a more racially inclusive and non-discriminatory environment and last week it issued its final list of ideas. Among them: create a new office of diversity engagement and inclusive excellence, conduct a campus climate survey every other year, study why graduation rates are low for black and Latino male students and develop a plan to reverse the trend, and require all students to take a diversity and ethnic studies course.
Bryant University has told graduating seniors that they should refrain from taking selfies during commencement, USA Today reported. The president of Bryant, Ronald Machtley, is a social media fan and regularly participates in selfies with students. But officials worry that if many graduates stop for a selfie, the length of the ceremony could get too long.
University of Illinois officials fear a massive wave of retirements across all three system campuses due to a glitch in a recently adopted pension reform law. A wording change -- apparently not intended -- in the law could give people much larger retirement benefits if they leave by the end of June than after that. Officials are working on a fix with the state, and warning that the system could be seriously disrupted by retirements if a solution cannot be found to the problem.
The University of Louisville has agreed to pay $346,844 to Angela Koshewa, who is retiring as the institution's top lawyer, The Courier-Journal reported. Details on why this agreement would be needed were unavailable, but both signed a deal stating that the money reflects a "desire to settle … any and all possible claims and differences among them." The move follows other large payments to departing senior officials.
An article in The Wall Street Journal explores the rise of collegiate table tennis (calling it ping pong apparently offends those who are serious about the sport). Texas Wesleyan has built up a powerhouse team that dominates American college competitions, but Mississippi College -- with recruits from China -- is emerging as a challenger.
The U.S. Department of Education is proposing new eligibility requirements for Parent PLUS loans. Under draft regulatory language sent this week to members of the department’s negotiated rule making panel, parents would generally be barred from taking out PLUS loans if they have any type of debt exceeding $2,085 that is 90 or more days delinquent or that has been sent to a collection agency or charged off. The proposal also changes the look-back period for that “adverse credit” history from five years to two years.
Under a separate policy change that goes into effect July 1, families that are denied a Parent PLUS loan because of an adverse credit history may appeal to the Education Department, which can then provide the loan if there are "extenuating circumstances."
The department’s standards for obtaining a PLUS have been a source of controversy since at least 2011, when officials quietly tightened the requirements. Leaders of historically black colleges and universities and for-profit colleges -- which enroll large numbers of students who rely on PLUS loans -- have said the changes were denying underserved students access to the loans they need to pay for college. Presidents of black colleges, in particular, have pushed the Obama administration to make it easier for families to access the loans. Some consumer advocates and think tanks, on the other hand, argue that the department should keep its credit standards -- or even tighten them further -- so that parents aren’t saddled with large amounts of debt that they cannot possibly repay.
Debit Cards and State Authorization
The department also circulated this week a revised version of its proposal to more tightly regulate campus debit cards. The latest draft keeps in place some of the restrictions on the marketing of campus debit cards as well as the ban on certain account and ATM fees.
In addition, department officials put out a second draft of their rewritten state authorization rule. The proposal would reinstate a requirement -- which a federal judge struck down for procedural reasons in 2012 -- that providers of online education obtain approval from each and every state in which they enroll students.
The new draft of that rule keeps in place a controversial provision that would essentially require states to subject all distance education providers to a formal regulatory review (as opposed to approving the program on the basis of its accreditation or another reason). Some state regulators have said that requirement would impose substantial new burdens on them; it would also likely require many states to change their laws.
The rule making panel will meet in Washington next Wednesday through Friday to discuss the proposals. The department also last week formally added a fourth negotiating session, which will take place May 19-20.
Faculty members at University of Maine campuses, coping with (and protesting) deep budget cuts throughout the system, were frustrated to learn this week of a $40,000 raise for a top financial official of the system, The Bangor Daily News reported. The salary of Rebecca Wyke, vice chancellor for administration and finance, went to $205,000 recently, up from $165,000 -- even as layoffs and other cuts have been instituted. System Chancellor James Page, said "Is it a lot of money? Yes." But he said Wyke was a finalist for a position elsewhere that would have paid her more. And he said that the system would have been hurt by her departure, adding that "you do need to have the right people in place to get the job done.”