administrators

New York Ruling on Faculty Handbook as a Contract

A New York State appellate court has reinstated two professors’ lawsuit against New York University, which alleges that the institution broke a de facto contract with them. The ruling, though preliminary, is significant in that it suggests that policies outlined in a faculty handbook can amount to a kind of contract.

The lawsuit in question involves two tenured professors in the School of Medicine, Marie Monaco and Herbert Samuels, who saw their salaries involuntary reduced for not meeting external funding requirements in ways that they argue violated the faculty handbook. Specifically, they say that tenure, as defined by the handbook, ensures academic freedom and economic security and so is incompatible with salary reductions related to external funding metrics. A lower court found that the lawsuit had no merit, as “no writing was submitted to demonstrate that the respondents agreed that its faculty handbook and policy documents could or should have a contractually binding effect.” Moreover, Justice Alexander W. Hunter Jr. wrote in his 2015 opinion, “even if the handbook were contractually binding, the handbook itself is devoid of any provision which guarantees tenured faculty a particular level of support as a condition of their tenure.”

The appellate court, however, ruled earlier this month that, for the purposes of reinstating the lawsuit, Monaco and Samuels “sufficiently alleged that the policies contained in [NYU’s] faculty handbook, which ‘form part of the essential employment understandings between a member of the faculty and the university,’ have the force of contract” and “that they had a mutual understanding with [NYU] that tenured faculty members' salaries may not be involuntarily reduced.”

Monaco said via email, “Since many tenured faculty members at NYU are without individual contracts and rely solely on the faculty handbook to define their tenure rights of academic freedom and economic security, it is essential that NYU recognize their obligation to respect the contractual nature of the handbook. Had the lower court ruling stood, many tenured faculty at NYU would have become at-will employees. … At a time when tenure across the country is under attack, it is nice to have this win.”

An NYU spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said, “Oftentimes, New York courts reject the argument that an employment handbook is a binding implied contract.” The professors' case was supported by the American Association of University Professors.

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Boycott Mocked With 'Dead Poets Society' Spoof

The University of Minnesota football players' short-lived boycott has been parodied in a short sketch spoofing the film Dead Poets Society. In the video, which was created by University of Minnesota undergraduates, male students climb atop their desks as if they are about to take an inspiring stand on behalf of an important issue, only to proclaim they "don't believe rape victims."

The football players said last week they were protesting the suspension of 10 players on the team and threatened to boycott the Holiday Bowl game. The university did not announce a reason for the suspensions, but they are believed to be related to a sex assault investigation in which police declined to bring charges. After the players announced the end of their boycott this weekend, the university's president said the media misinterpreted the team's intent and that reporters "translated" the players' support for their teammates "into support of sexual violence."

The boycott initially attracted sympathy from many alumni, concerned about issues of due process, but support for the university's stance grew as details emerged about what happened to a female student in incidents involving 10 athletes, in particular after a redacted version of the university's equal opportunity office's report on its investigation was published by KSTP News. Contrary to the team's comments, the 80-page report shows that the football players were interviewed, their assertions were considered and they were not all judged equally responsible for what happened. The report also details why the university found that four of the players engaged in sexual assault and that others engaged in forms harassment, such as videotaping the victim without her consent. The report states that some athletes tried to cover up what happened or violated other parts of the student code of conduct.

The Star Tribune reported Sunday that it was the report's details -- many of them read over the weekend for the first time by football players who organized the boycott and by the family members of football players -- that broke the will of players to continue the boycott.

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IT is behind flattening of higher education's wage premium, study finds

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The wage gap between college degree holders and workers without a degree has not grown in recent years, and a new study says the culprit is information technology's displacement of "routine" jobs.

Tenure-Line Professors at SIU Edwardsville Unionize

Tenured and tenure-track faculty members at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville will be represented in collective bargaining by the National Education Association, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board said late last week. A majority of faculty members signed a petition in support of such representation, with many thinking more about the ongoing, statewide budget crisis than campus-specific issues, according to information from the new union. “We organized to ensure a place at the table when hard decisions need to be made,” Kim Archer, professor of music, said in a news release.

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Former Professor Accuses Stanford of Retaliation

A former junior professor at Stanford University says the institution retaliated against her for filing a sexual harassment complaint against a senior professor, which resulted in a finding that he had made an “unwanted sexual advance” but did not harass her, The Guardian reported. Michelle Karnes, who is now an associate professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, says Stephen Hinton, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Stanford, told her he had a “crush” on her and that he was “tormented” by his feelings, once kissed her on the lips, and continually tried to talk to her at the gym even after she said she wanted no further contact.

Karnes says she confided in a fellow professor who was also the wife of her dean but was told to try to appease Hinton based on his position within the university. The dean’s office approved soon Karnes’s tenure but did not renew the position of her husband, Shane Duarte, a lecturer in philosophy for fall of this year. Karnes says that she and her husband had been hired as a “dual-career” academic couple, and the move to not rehire him after years of service and positive reviews was retaliatory. Instead of targeting her, she believes, administrators went after her husband because he was off the tenure track.

Hinton denied the allegations, saying the two had a “platonic, reciprocal relationship.”

Lisa Lapin, a university spokesperson, said the university conducted a “thorough and objective review” of Karnes’s allegations, but declined further comment on what she called personnel matters.

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Judge Dismisses Sandy Hook Denier's Lawsuit

A federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit against Florida Atlantic University brought by James Tracy, the former professor of communication there who repeatedly called the 2014 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre a hoax. Tracy was terminated over failing to complete a conflict of interest policy, but he alleged that he was really fired over the theories he promoted on his personal blog. Judge Robin Rosenberg based her decision in large part on what she called a “lack of clarity” in the lawsuit, which alleged First Amendment violations and other counts.

Tracy’s “narrative intertwines multiple constitutional theories and, as a result, both this court and defendants struggle to define the alleged constitutional injury in this case,” Rosenberg wrote. Regarding Tracy’s free speech violation claim, she said that while "the theoretical possibility exists that the [conflict of interest] form could be used by [the university] to restrict speech or otherwise restrict an outside activity, [Tracy] never reached that particular point as [he] refused to fill out the form.” Tracy will have a final opportunity to rework portions of his lawsuit and possibly resubmit it.

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Barnard explores new divestment option over climate change concerns

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Barnard focuses on companies that deny science as it seeks to balance concern over climate change with financial responsibility and its own values.

Sheriff Will Train Professors as 'Special Deputies'

The Polk County Sheriff's Office will train faculty members at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., in law enforcement tactics and will consider them “special deputies” with the goal of stopping an active shooter, ABC News reported. The training will allow faculty and staff to carry concealed weapons on campus. "We know one more critical thing we can do to reduce the number of lives impacted in an active assailant incident is a shorter response time for the good guys to interrupt and stop the bad guy," Sheriff Grady Judd said at a news conference.

Trained employees will be considered “special deputies” with the limited purpose of providing university security, according to ABC News. “We are excited about this new program that will result in well-trained staff being available on campus to rapidly respond to any active assailant threat,” said Kent Ingle, university president.

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Minnesota football players end boycott as details emerge about why 10 players were suspended

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Boycott by football players focused on issues of due process for 10 suspended athletes. But as university's investigation into sexual assault revealed damning details, support for the athletes ebbed and boycott was dropped.

Alamo Colleges drop required 7 Habits course with reaccreditation at risk

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With reaccreditation at risk, Alamo Colleges drop course based on the 7 Habits self-help book that board had approved to replace a humanities requirement.

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