San Francisco State University has reached an agreement with its embattled College of Ethnic Studies. The college, the only one of its kind in the country, has said it is chronically underfunded, to the point that it can barely sustain operations beyond paying full-time personnel. Facing student protests, President Les Wong said the college was overspending.
The agreement, reached late last week between the university and student hunger strikers, says that central administration will make an additional $482,806 investment in the college, in addition to an earlier $250,000 additional commitment for next academic year. That’s upward of the approximately $500,000 faculty members at the college estimated they needed to close their budget gap earlier this year. The investment includes support for two full-time, tenure-track faculty lines in Africana studies, four work-study positions and the development of a Pacific Islander studies program. The agreement also provides for more regular communication between the college and the university about funding and other needs. All parties have agreed to a silent period through the end of the year.
At Hobart and William Smith Colleges, the end of the semester is marked by performances of the President’s Garage Band, including President Mark D. Gearan (keyboard) and many faculty and staff members, including Bill Waller, an economics professor (trumpet); Mark Deutschlander, a biology professor (guitar); Rob Carson, an English professor (guitar); and many others. Below, the band performing "Sweet Caroline" last week.
A regional National Labor Relations Board judge this week dismissed a petition from full-time faculty members at Marywood University to form a union. Using a framework for assessing the merit of such bids laid out in a 2013 decision regarding Pacific Lutheran University, the board officer found that the Marywood professors did not perform specific religious roles that would exempt them from NLRB oversight, as the Roman Catholic university had argued. But the judge did find that the instructors’ jobs were sufficiently managerial in nature to preclude them.
“At most, the documents and testimony introduced by the employer suggest that faculty members are generally expected to support the university’s mission and core values, much of which is expressed largely in nonreligious terms, including respect, empowerment, service and excellence,” Harold A. Maier, a Philadelphia-based NLRB officer, wrote in his decision regarding the religious exemption question. “More critically, [Marywood] did not produce evidence suggesting that faculty have a specific role in promoting its religious mission and values.”
Yet Marywood’s full-time faculty “exercises effective control” over some aspects of university operations, Maier wrote. “The faculty has extensive control over academic programs and a lesser, but still meaningful role in enrollment management and personnel policy and decisions.” And the NLRB has “never required that total faculty control is a prerequisite to finding managerial status.”
Maier’s conclusions are similar to those reached by a separate NLRB office regarding a union bid by full-time faculty members at Carroll College, in January. The two decisions taken together suggest a continued trend against full-time faculty unions at private institutions, even though some onlookers said the Pacific Lutheran decision may have opened doors to them.
Juneann Greco, Marywood spokeswoman, said via email that the decision “provides positive guidance going forward, encouraging our faculty, administration and staff to continue to work together, guided by our Marywood values, in the best interest of our students.” A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which is part of the National Education Association and with which the proposed union is affiliated, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Moody's, the credit ratings agency, this week said it changed its financial outlook to negative for three of the seven public universities in Kansas. This year the state's budget will strip $17.7 million from public higher education, which represents about 3 percent of the universities' total state support. State government is proposing a further cut of 3 percent next year.
Universities in Kansas are relatively reliant on state funding, Moody's said, which accounts for between 20 and 35 percent of their revenue. Moody's gave the negative outlook to Kansas State University, Wichita State University and Pittsburg State University. The flagship University of Kansas already had that designation.
"The proposed funding reductions by themselves are manageable with continued careful expense containment," Moody's said in its report. "However, declining numbers of in-state high school students and aggressive regional competition are also applying pressure on tuition revenue, the largest source of revenue for all Kansas public universities."
University of Missouri at Columbia graduate employees are suing the university system’s Board of Curators for union recognition, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Graduate assistants voted last month 668-127 to form a union affiliated with the National Education Association. But Hank Foley, interim campus chancellor, reportedly called the vote a “straw poll more than an official tally,” and said that formal union recognition and students' employee status was a matter to be settled by the courts.
The lawsuit asserts that graduate assistants are public employees, and that such workers “have a constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.” Christian Basi, a spokesperson for the Columbia campus, didn’t comment on the legal issue but told the Post-Dispatch that graduate employees are “an integral part” of the university, and that administrators have “continued to work collaboratively with graduate students to address many of their ongoing concerns.”
The university’s sudden -- and almost as suddenly revoked -- announcement last year that it was cutting health insurance subsidies for graduate students built on-campus momentum for a union. Emails recently obtained via open records requests by the Missourian, Columbia’s student newspaper, show how administrators scrambled days before students arrived on campus last summer to understand whether and how new federal guidance on the Affordable Care Act conflicted with health insurance subsidies for graduate student employees.
Leona Rubin, associate vice chancellor for graduate studies, proposed a series of options for dealing with the problem in one email, including, “We can just eliminate the subsidy program, save $4.5 million, and have everyone hate us (more). Legally we can do that since providing the subsidy is breaking federal law and we don’t need to adhere to our offer letters.” She added, “We need to move pretty quick on this as students are arriving and some may be enrolling in the insurance thinking it will be 100 percent paid. Also, our currently enrolled students with health care will lose it in 15 days.”
Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich resigned Thursday following allegations that the state agency he headed misled lawmakers who were seeking to change state college and university funding formulas.
Klaich submitted his resignation at a special meeting of the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. The meeting was called after the Review-Journal wrote about emails obtained under a public records law, saying they indicated the Nevada System of Higher Education -- which oversees the state's public colleges and universities -- misled lawmakers studying state higher education support in 2011 and 2012. Klaich said he was resigning to avoid becoming a distraction but that the emails were taken out of context. The Board of Regents approved an agreement including no admission of wrongdoing that will allow Klaich to keep his pay through June 2017, which includes a base salary of $303,000 plus automobile and housing allowances.
Any day now the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on Fisher v. University of Texas. The case concerns a lawsuit filed by Abigail Fisher, a white applicant who was denied admission to UT. Fisher argues that her race played a role in the admissions decision, and this, she claims, constituted a violation of her rights.
The higher education community is waiting apprehensively for the Supreme Court’s verdict. Many worry that the decision could drastically limit the ability of colleges and universities to be racially diverse.
Yet one feature of modern college admissions practices in the United States that can often be overlooked in this discussion is that white applicants receive a significant boost relative to Asian-Americans. This is among the findings of a major study by Princeton sociologists Thomas J. Epenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, who also observe that Hispanic and African-American applicants receive a boost relative to whites.
According to the authors’ models, an Asian-American applicant must score 140 points more on the SAT out of 1600 than her white counterpart, all other things equal, to stand a comparable chance of admission at an elite institution.
The finding here is not just that the average admitted Asian student has a higher SAT score than her white counterpart. If that were all the data showed, then it wouldn’t support the inference that whites receive a boost relative to Asians, for the data would then be consistent with the hypothesis that despite having lower SAT scores, the average white applicant has better credentials in other areas.
On the contrary, what the data shows is this. Consider two applicants, Claudia and Alice, who have very similar applications for the most part. They both come from equally good high schools, have the same GPA, neither of them is a legacy or an athlete, and so on. However, Claudia is white and Alice is Asian-American. In light of this, Alice will have to score 140 points more than Claudia if she is to stand an equal chance of getting into an institution like Harvard or Yale Universities. And if their SAT scores are equal, then Alice’s application better be much more impressive than Claudia’s in some other respect(s).
Many see these statistics as a consequence of elite institutions using implicit quotas to limit the number of Asian students on campus. This charge forms the basis of an ongoing lawsuit filed against Harvard by Students for Fair Admissions, an anti-affirmative action group. The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights recently cleared Princeton University of a similar charge. Notably, some Asian-American civil rights groups -- including Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Chinese for Affirmative Action and others -- have opposed these challenges, writing in an open letter, “Our universities should reflect our diverse democracy and expand opportunities for those students who have overcome significant barriers.”
Regardless of whether elite universities make use of an implicit quota system, it is still important to consider whether the boost given to white applicants relative to Asians is justified. Is the admissions process fair to applicants like Alice in the example above?
One prominent defense of preferential admissions appeals to historic injustice. If a group has historically faced unjust barriers to higher education, or other forms of systematic discrimination, then perhaps society has a reparations-based duty to correct for this. One way of doing so might involve taking reasonable steps to reduce underrepresentation of the said group in higher education.
It’s difficult to see, however, why this would apply to white Americans when contrasted with Asians. If anything, considerations of historical injustice militate in the opposite direction. America has a long history of explicitly discriminating against Asians. For example, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which arose as a result of anti-Chinese agitation, incorporated strict regulations to reduce immigration from China, and made it near impossible for resident Chinese laborers to obtain American citizenship. This policy continued in one form or the other until around World War II. Japanese-Americans have also had to suffer from policies directed against them, the most blatant of which was the directive to place large portions of the population into internment camps during WWII. Reparations-based justifications for white applicants are thus extremely hard to sustain in light of these and other historical facts.
A second justification for preferential admissions policies appeals to ongoing discrimination or implicit biases. If a particular group suffers from demonstrated implicit biases, then society presumably has a duty to correct for these biases -- a key part of which might involve preferential admissions to elite institutions. However, while studies report, for example, that African-Americans continue to face significant implicit biases in various contexts, it’s again hard to believe that American whites suffer from harmful biases relative to Asian-Americans.
Indeed, a major recent study suggests the exact opposite. Researchers sent emails to more than 65,000 professors at 250 highly ranked colleges and universities pretending to be students interested in their work. The results show that emails with Indian or Chinese names were much less likely to get responses. Moreover, the biases were found to be stronger in more lucrative fields, particularly in business academe.
The third, and possibly the most elusive, justification for preferential admission in this context appeals to the ideal of promoting diversity. If white applications were not given a boost in admissions decisions, one might argue, the campus would look too Asian. This outcome would be bad, and thus elite institutions should take steps to avoid it.
This argument raises an important question: How should we define “diversity” for the purposes of college admissions? There are many, many ways of dividing up a student body. Hence, we can think of a population as being diverse along many dimensions, including socioeconomic diversity, ideological diversity, religious diversity and so on. Why prioritize racial diversity?
Indeed, we don’t seem to care about a number of dimensions of diversity, and rightly so. Thus, suppose it turns out that men with beards, or Republicans, or heavy metal enthusiasts, are underrepresented in the Ivy League. That shouldn’t bother us. Why? Because plausibly, there is no duty based on considerations of social justice to “correct” for this underrepresentation.
In contrast, social institutions might have good reasons to prioritize racial diversity as such, if this is a necessary means of correcting past injustices or ongoing biases. If a racial group has suffered from discrimination in the past or continues to suffer from harmful biases, it is reasonable to argue that seeking to rectify underrepresentation of that group is a matter of social justice.
Often, the rationale behind seeking to correct for under- or overrepresentation of particular groups has to do with promoting equality of opportunity. However, as brought up earlier, the claim that whites in America are systematically disadvantaged relative to Asians is not very plausible.
Moreover, Epenshade and Radford find that if admissions policies were designed to give a boost to applicants coming from backgrounds of low socioeconomic status, without consideration of race, the number of admitted Asian students would rise substantially. This further undermines the notion that employing more demanding admissions criteria when it comes to Asian applicants promotes the goal of ensuring equal opportunity.
Regardless of the outcome in the case between Fisher and UT, the issue of whether preferential admissions policies based on race are justified in their current form merits further examination. While adequate justification may well be available in other cases, it is hard to see how giving a boost to white applicants relative to Asians is defensible in light of America’s historical and cultural context. And if no justification is forthcoming, social justice demands that these policies be significantly reformed.
Hrishikesh Joshi is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, focusing on ethics and political philosophy. Follow on Twitter @RoundSqrCupola.
The University System of Georgia Board of Regents adopted a new policy on Tuesday that will limit how much money from student fees and tuition can be used for athletic programs at the state's public colleges and universities. The cap won't affect the state's athletic powerhouses, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, as athletics subsidies at both institutions are well below the new policy's limit of 65 to 85 percent of a college's athletic budget. UGA relies on student funding for 2.5 percent of its athletic spending, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, while Georgia Tech relies on 7.2 percent. Six institutions in the state are over the new subsidy cap, including Georgia State University.