The University of Illinois at Chicago has agreed to a tentative contract with the United Faculty Union, whose members went on a two-day strike in February seeking what they called a living wage for full-time, non-tenure-track professors and better pay for tenure-line faculty, among other goals. The union, which is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers, announced the agreement Wednesday but said details are embargoed through the end of next week, when members put it to a vote. In a news release, the union said "[m]any aspects of faculty work life and professional conditions are dramatically improved under the new agreement," and that it "averted" the possibility of a second strike planned for April 23.
University Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares and Provost Lon Kaufman said in a joint statement: "We are pleased that the university and the union representing bargaining units for tenure-system and non-tenure-system faculty have reached tentative agreement on final contracts. Both sides in this long process have been focused on the teaching, research and service missions of the university, and this agreement will allow us to move forward together to serve the city and the state and, most of all, our students." The statement noted that the agreement is tentative is "subject to ratification and approval by both sides."
I approach the topic of the appropriate reach of government regulation into higher education in very much of two minds. On the one hand, I am the president of an independent-minded private college that has been in continuous operation for 139 years and delivers strong outcomes in terms of access, persistence, graduation, employment and post-graduation debt. Regulation from the federal government isn't likely to impose higher performance thresholds than we have already established for ourselves (and consistently achieved), or to improve our performance, but added regulations will very likely impose new costs on us related to compliance, in addition to being just plain irritating.
On the other hand, I serve on the Board of Trustees of the Higher Learning Commission, and that service has opened my eyes both to the broad variety of institutions that the Commission serves and, very frankly, to instances of institutions that have gone awry, that are not serving their students well, that are not good stewards of the federal dollars that flow through their budgets, and that are either unwilling to admit their shortcomings or unable to address them.
The investment that government -- both federal and state -- makes in financial aid to students, who then pay that money to us so that we can use it to deliver our programs, is certainly considerable, and we need to be good stewards of it, so that students are well-served and taxpayers' dollars well-spent. If those ends are to be achieved, some regulation will be necessary.
So, how much is just right? Here’s an answer: the minimum amount necessary to achieve the two goals I just mentioned: ensure that students are well-served and that tax dollars are well-spent
As the reaction from the higher education community to the Department of Education's talk about a federal rating system for colleges and universities demonstrates, those seemingly simply goals I just articulated aren't simple at all once you get into any level of detail in specifying what it means to be "well-served" or "well-spent."
Does "well-served" for example tie out to a minimally acceptable four- or six-year graduation rate? What about open-access institutions whose mission is to prepare underserved students to succeed at a different kind of institution? What about institutions in a situation where graduation may not be the most important goal?
"Well-spent" raises similar questions. If you are an institution with a graduation rate in the 90 percents, but the percent of Pell-eligible students in your student body doesn’t reach the number of Pell-eligible students that somebody in an office in Washington decided was minimally acceptable, does that mean the federal dollars that flowed to your budget through student tuition payments weren't well-spent because they weren't supporting certain policy goals, despite evidence that your program is effective?
These problems aren't new. Every regulated industry faces them, and perhaps as we think about proposed increases in the regulation of higher education a wise thing to do would be to study those industries -- if any -- where the right balance between the actors in the industry and government regulation has been struck.
In the meantime, here are a few thoughts about how much government regulation is just right:
It's too much if it imposes compliance costs and burdens on institutions that plainly are serving students well and being good stewards of tax dollars.
It's not enough if there's demonstrable evidence that there are numbers of institutions with clearly articulated and appropriate mission statements that are not delivering on those missions but are nevertheless consuming significant resources.
It's not enough if there is clear and demonstrable evidence that self-regulation, and by that I mean accreditation, is ineffective.
It's too much if regulation requires an institution that is otherwise flourishing to change its mission in response to the policy goals of whoever happens to be running the U.S. Department of Education at the moment.
It's too much if the net effect is to narrow the diversity of types of higher education institutions in America, the diversity of their missions, of their entry points, and so forth.
It's too much if a compliance industry grows up around regulation.
It's too much if it can't be demonstrated that the net effect of the regulations, after the costs and burdens it imposes, has been to make institutions better serve students and steward tax dollars.
Many institutions of higher education in America don't need more regulation to help or force them do their job. Some do. Regulation that starts from that simple fact is most likely to be good for students, good for higher education, and good for the country.
David R. Anderson is president of St. Olaf College, in Minnesota. This column is adapted from remarks made at the panel on “How Much Government Regulation of Higher Education is Just Right?” at the 2014 Annual Conference of the Higher Learning Commission.
Virginia Intermont College announced Tuesday that its planned merger with Webber International University would not go through. The two institutions "have reached the joint and difficult conclusion that we do not have a viable model for merger in July. This deeply saddens the administration and the boards of each school, as we have very high regard for one another and we both strongly believe in Webber’s goal of uniting small colleges in order to preserve their identities," the statement said. Virginia Intermont has been struggling financially and hoped that linking up with a larger, business oriented university like Webber would allow the liberal arts program in Virginia to survive. Tuesday's statement said that the university would finish the semester and offer a summer session that ends June 27. But the statement did not indicate how the college plans to operate after that.
The Washington Post noted that Virginia Intermont's enrollment in the fall was 378, a 35 percent decline since 2010.
Liberty University has removed some job duties from its provost, who will no longer serve as vice president of academic affairs, The Lynchburg News & Advance reported. The actions follow upon criticism that Provost Ron Godwin, in a video, appeared to endorse an unauthorized partnership between the university and a Texas-based faith healer. A statement from Liberty said that Godwin "will spend the next few years grooming his successors and guiding the team responsible for Liberty University’s pending 10 year accreditation reaffirmation report." Godwin said he should have verified the relationship before appearing in the video, and that “I have apologized to President Falwell for this error and am grateful that I can continue to contribute to Liberty University’s health and success."
Invoking the National Labor Relations Act. the president moves to terminate a shutdown of the major Bowl Games following work slowdowns, student riots and threatened strikes by college football players. Ending the lockout may be good news for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, local economies in cities with major bowls, those counting on television revenues and football fans, but leaders of the United Auto Workers, Teamsters, United Electrical Workers, unions already representing graduate and undergraduate students, and a host of public unions say the president’s move will enable them to rally voters for midterm elections.
Does this scenario sound plausible? Given the recent ruling of a National Labor Relations Board regional office to back a bid by football players at Northwestern University to unionize, the answer is yes, in theory at least, although we are years away from resolution of this case. The accelerating trend toward unionization in higher education — far beyond athletics — suggests that public officials, policy makers, corporate leaders, legislators and especially educators might take a second look at why academic institutions are proving fertile grounds for organizing efforts.
History provides some context. Undergraduates working in resident halls, libraries and other ancillary units of universities have been organized for over a decade. For example, at the University of Massachusetts, the UAW overcame opposition at the state labor board and successfully organized over 300 undergraduate residence hall workers. At the University of California, undergraduates are found in unions representing teaching assistants, readers and tutors, although the majority of members are graduate student employees. Graduate student unions have been successful at many public universities including the Universities of Michigan, Wisconsin and Oregon, and union organizing drives are nascent at many elite private universities, pending a ruling of the NLRB on such unions. , one more sympathetic to organizing. Over the years, labor management conflict with graduate students has involved New York, Yale, Brown, and Columbia Universities, among others.
While those who oppose graduate student unions regularly talk as if the sky would fall at their institutions, it’s also the case that places like the University of Michigan – unquestionably one of the best places in the country to earn a Ph.D. – have had T.A. unions for years, with no notable diminishment of the graduate school.
Across a wider landscape, adjunct and part-time faculty have organized successfully and, according to the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education located at Hunter College CUNY, nearly 40 percent of full-time U.S. faculty (and many athletic coaches), primarily in large public state and city systems, have been unionized for decades. Particularly in states with enabling public sector labor legislation, whether red (Alaska) or blue (New York), the determining factors are administrative agencies, legal support and legislation allowing public employees to organize.
In the private sector (Northwestern) bargaining falls under the National Labor Relations Act, where the situation is more complex in academic organizations following a 1980 Supreme Court decision involving Yeshiva University, which effectively denied tenure-track faculty at private institutions the right to bargain. Here again, however many who work in food services, craft and laborer units, transportation and libraries, have been organized.
In the last 45 years, higher education has become one of the most heavily unionized sectors in the U.S. Why?
Although U.S. postsecondary education is emulated throughout the world, and our universities are clearly associated with greater productivity, economic vitality, upward mobility, democratic values, and higher career incomes, there has been, unfortunately, a decline in public support and resources. As resources are scaled back institutions identified alternative ways to generate new revenue streams and lucrative competitive sports contracts have been one such approach. Think about how much time leading university presidents have spent on conference realignment in recent years – does anyone really think the motive wasn’t money? And at the same time, there is more and more evidence that playing college football may not add up educationally (look at the low graduation rates at some institutions) or even physically (think about the emerging research about concussions). Is it really a surprise that some football players look at their role through an economic prism?
While many will shake their heads about the implausibility of student unions and labor conflict (the latter has been relatively rare in higher education), the questions we should be asking ourselves concern what we value, and what the purpose of education should be. Constituencies within postsecondary education have been organizing, first into crafts and disciplines, followed by union affiliation, for over 100 years. They have done so to assert control over what they view as their professional prerogatives, to achieve better working conditions, and as a reaction to external authorities who fail to appreciate the nature of shared authority in colleges and universities.
And this applies across the board. Do you think that if Ph.D. students earned their doctorates in five years, and had a good chance at a tenure-track job, and had decent health insurance and stipends, that they would be spending time on unionization?
The idea that unions and professionalism are incompatible is not substantiated, nor do unions by themselves hurt competitiveness or profitability (professional sports, an extremely profitable industry, is organized wall-to-wall). To date it has been difficult to say what exactly the impact of unions in higher education has been. What the Northwestern case presages is that we might have to look carefully at the roll of the NCAA and better-separate terms and conditions of employment from academic matters. Ultimately, universities may have to stop leveraging faculty time with the employment of part time, casual, and adjunct employees and students or face additional union drives.
It is our responsibility to ensure students and employees an ethical and transparent working and learning environment and we should also be cognizant that organized labor in America, particularly unions in shrinking industries where traditional members are disappearing, will vie with colleges and universities for the allegiance of students and employees. The alternative to lockouts rests in our ability to adequately fund and manage higher education while responding intelligently, respectfully and effectively to all, be they students or represented or non-represented employees.
Daniel J. Julius is a visiting scholar at the Center for Higher Education Studies at the University of California Berkeley and is an affiliated faculty member at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
The University of South Carolina Upstate has been under attack by legislators lately over a book on gay themes that was assigned to freshmen and a scheduled appearance (since called off) of the comedy show “How to Be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less.” On Sunday, Chancellor Tom Moore published a short essay called "On Being a University," trying to put the events in context. He noted that the university offers a range of programs for all kinds of students -- for students with different academic majors, of different religious groups, for veterans and so forth. Moore wrote that, if one looks at the totality of the programs at the university, issues related to gay students and gay issues "definitely" do not dominate, and are only a small fraction of what is offered.
But he also defended the idea that these programs need to be part of the mix. "If public universities do not offer programs and conferences that deal with cultural dynamics related to LGBTQ and other societal issues, where will such programs occur? Wherever we stand on issues of gay rights and same-sex marriage, denying the presence and importance of these issues in contemporary American culture is tantamount to burying our heads in the sand," Moore wrote. "As a public university, we must engage important issues in our culture, even when doing so makes some uncomfortable."