The American Association of University Professors announced Thursday that it is creating a special committee to review association policies on "financial exigency" and program closure. The AAUP has historically had a very high bar -- a state of financial exigency in which institutions face a threat to their survival -- to permit layoffs of tenured faculty members. In the current economic crisis, however, many colleges have not followed the AAUP's policies. Michael Bérubé, an English professor at Pennsylvania State University and chair of the new AAUP panel, gave the following explanation in the AAUP announcement of the committee: "The AAUP's Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure make provision for program closings and terminations of appointments when universities face 'financial exigency.' 'Exigency,' however, is defined as 'an imminent financial crisis that threatens the survival of the institution as a whole and that cannot be alleviated by less drastic means.' It is becoming increasingly clear that the financial crises faced by many American colleges and universities are not 'imminent' in this sense, and do not threaten 'the survival of the institution as a whole.' Rather, what we are seeing is a series of slow bleeds, crises brought on by austerity and attrition — especially at publicly funded institutions whose public funding has been dwindling for decades." He added that the new panel would focus on "the question of how the AAUP can best respond to program closings and terminations under such conditions, conditions which may not threaten entire institutions with imminent bankruptcy but which do threaten to transform American higher education as a whole."
Higher Education Quick Takes
Professors at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls voted overwhelmingly Thursday to unionize, the River Falls Journal reported, joining several other faculty bodies that have done so even as the state moves to strip public college faculty members of their recently won right to bargain collectively. The River Falls professors voted 148 to 16 to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers branch in Wisconsin.
The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors has issued a statement decrying the development of a video game that lets the player take on the role of a student who, a la Columbine or Virginia Tech, shoots up classrooms and campuses before killing him- or herself. The game, "School Shooter: North American Tour 2012" is being developed as a modification of Source, a 3D game environment, and its pending development has been gaining notoriety among campus student affairs and legal officials, though they have debated whether drawing attention to the product might lend it credence. The statement from the counseling directors group calls on the makers of the game to stop its production. "As campus mental health professionals who first hand experience the tragedy and devastation that occurs in the aftermath of campus violence," it says, "AUCCCD believes the production of such products is most deplorable and unfortunate."
Marquette University announced Thursday that it will start to offer domestic partner benefits to employees in 2012, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Both faculty and student groups have asked the university to start the benefit. Marquette, a Roman Catholic university, has faced scrutiny over its treatment of gay employees since its move last year to rescind a job offer to a lesbian scholar for a dean's position. Rev. Robert A. Wild, Marquette's president, sent a message to the campus Thursday explaining the decision to offer benefits. "If we are truly pastoral in our application of the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, I asked myself if I could reconcile that with denying health benefits to a couple who have legally registered their commitment to each other," he said. Cura personalis means "care for the entire person."
The Institute of International Education has created an emergency fund to help economically distressed students from Japan who are studying on campuses in the United States. The fund, established with support from the Freeman Foundation, will provide grants of up to $5,000 for students from the regions of Japan most affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami. Accredited American campuses can nominate students on the institute's website.
The University of Texas Board of Regents is ending a special position it created recently for Rick O'Donnell, who in his work at a think tank has questioned why universities spend so much time and effort on research, The Austin American-Statesman reported. Many faculty members and others have questioned why a research university's board would hire someone hostile to one of its key missions. O'Donnell's think tank and most of the regents are close to Governor Rick Perry, a Republican.
Bakersfield College, a two-year institution in California, on Thursday announced a gift of nearly $14 million, most of which will support scholarships. The announcement said the gift was the largest ever to any community college, topping the previous record of $10 million (to Santa Monica City College). Officials of the Council for Resource Development, a group of community college development officials, said that they did not have a definitive list of the largest gifts to community colleges. But at least one community college, Clark College in Washington State, reports that its foundation received gifts that should be counted as the previous top gift at the very least. In the 1990s, Clark received a gift of $12 million and a bequest shortly after of $13 million (from the same donor), and the two donations were so close together that the college has considered them a single gift. But Lisa Gibert, who heads the foundation at Clark, said that they were technically two gifts, so Bakersfield has a claim on the top spot among community college gifts.
Ralph Nader has a new target: athletic scholarships. Nader is planning to seek support for the campaign from college presidents, Congress and the Education Department, the Associated Press reported. "As we near the exciting conclusion of 'March Madness' — which would more accurately be described as the 2011 NCAA Professional Basketball Championships — it's time we step back and finally address the myth of amateurism surrounding big-time college football and basketball in this country," said Nader. A spokesman for the National Collegiate Athletic Association told the AP that it was unfair for Nader to call college athletes professionals. "They are students, just like any other student on campus who receives a merit-based scholarship," he said.
Kent State University, facing deep budget cuts, has limited enrollments in American Sign Language courses to those students who need the language for their majors or minors, The Ravenna Record Courier reported. Students say that the limits are discriminatory because non-majors are still permitted in introductory Spanish and other languages. But officials say that sections of those languages have been cut as well, and that there is no money for more ASL sections.