administrators

Labor Groups Launch Effort on Grad Student Unions

The American Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union, United Autoworkers and Unite Here announced a joint initiative this week to get private institutions to bargain collectively with graduate student workers on their campuses. The National Labor Relations Board decided in 2016 that graduate student teaching and research assistants at private institutions are employees entitled to collective bargaining rights. But a number of private campus administrations have since refused to bargain with graduate students who have held successful union elections. In recent weeks, a group of those unions have withdrawn their petitions pending review by the NLRB, to avoid an unfavorable decision by the Trump-era board. 

As part of the new joint effort, graduate student workers at Boston College, Columbia University, Loyola University of Chicago, the University of Chicago and Yale University delivered letters to their administrations saying, “Despite clear votes in favor of unionization at your university, you have attempted to silence graduate workers by using the Trump NLRB to rig the system against them. Your refusal to bargain with a democratically chosen union both ignores the value of RAs and TAs as workers and contradicts the fundamental values for which your university stands. We urge you to join other university administrations by changing course and respecting the voice of graduate workers.”

AFT president Randi Weingarten said during a news conference that the unions plan to pool resources and expertise gained through decades of organizing graduate students on public campuses, which are governed by state laws on collective bargaining. As one example of the kind of strategies the unions will use, Weingarten cited Georgetown University’s recent decision to negotiate terms of a graduate student union election outside NLRB channels. Graduate students on that campus have since said such an election might provide graduate students more protection than one overseen by the NLRB, since its results could not be later overturned by the board of political appointees.

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20 Scholarly Groups Question Stevens Point Cuts

Some 20 professional organizations, from the American Anthropological Association to the Society of Biblical Literature, on Thursday issued a joint statement opposing the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point’s plan to cut 13 majors -- including those in English, history, political science, sociology and all three of the foreign languages offered. The plan has attracted widespread criticism in Wisconsin and outside the state, as the humanities-heavy cuts are linked to program expansions in what the university has described as more in-demand fields. They include business, chemical engineering, computer information systems, conservation law enforcement, fire science and graphic design. Stevens Point’s initiative, which will likely involved tenured faculty layoffs, is also shaping up to be the first application of controversial changes to state tenure law and University of Wisconsin System policies making it easier to terminate tenured professors. 

The professional associations’ letter of opposition says, in part, “We recognize the reality that effective university leaders today must not only make changes, but in some cases fundamentally reimagine their institutions in order to chart a sustainable course for the future. However, all colleges and universities benefit from strong programs in the humanities, and it is especially important for regional public institutions, which serve large populations of first-generation college students, students of color, and students from families of limited means, to provide access to in-depth education in the full range of humanities and social science programs.” By focusing on preparation “only for narrowly defined jobs,” the associations say, “Stevens Point administrators risk leaving students with considerably poorer preparation for the full range of careers most Americans will experience in a working lifetime.”

Stevens Point has previously defended its plan as one that makes the best of use of scarce financial resources and is most likely to stabilize enrollment. 

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Bridge Collapse at Florida International Kills 6

A pedestrian bridge collapsed Thursday afternoon at Florida International University. The Miami Herald reported that six people were killed in the collapse of a bridge across eight lanes of traffic.

The bridge, newly completed, was designed to make it easier for Florida International students and employees to safely move from one part of campus to another.

A message from Mark B. Rosenberg, president of the university, said that the university will be open today, but with counseling services available. "Today is a dark day in our history," Rosenberg wrote. "Just five days ago, we stood on SW 8th Street, united in celebration. Tonight we grieve for all the victims of the bridge collapse. The bridge that was being built was about collaboration, hope, opportunity, and determination. About strength and unity. About being good neighbors. About goodness. Not sadness. Now we are feeling immense sadness."

A Miami Herald reporter posted these images to Twitter.

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CSU Northridge professor says she hasn't returned to classroom after online threat because university hasn't made her feel safe

Cal State Northridge professor says she hasn't returned to the classroom after an online threat because the university hasn't made her feel safe.

Education Department May Decentralize Budget Functions

Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, is seeking to break apart the department's budget office, Politico reported. The department recently removed at least two top budget officials and plans to decentralize its budget functions. Politico reported that the White House's Office of Management and Budget has opposed the plan. The department budget office has long held a substantial amount of power, a former department official said. It has had a strained relationship with DeVos, according to Politico, possibly in part because The Washington Post last year published the office's budget request before its official release.

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Review of Alberto Manguel, 'Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions'

Alberto Manguel has long since taken the title -- once held by Jorge Luis Borges -- of the bookworm’s bookworm. He is the voice of the species, or the closest thing we have to a celebrity at any rate. The opening pages of Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions (Yale University Press) must elicit feelings of mingled envy and humility from anyone making do with a paltry few thousand volumes packed into any space that can be requisitioned as a shelf.

A critic and an editor of literary anthologies as well as an author in his own right, Manguel lived in rural France in a house next to “a barn, partly torn down centuries ago, large enough to accommodate my library, which by then had grown to thirty-five thousand books.” A private collection, its organization followed a private logic. The basic layout was “determined by the language in which the books were written,” which sounds straightforward enough: “without distinction of genre, all books written originally in Spanish or French, English or Arabic (the latter a language which I can’t speak or read) sat together on a shelf.”

But exceptions had to be made. Books have a way of arranging themselves by affinity sometimes: “Certain subjects -- the history of the book, biblical commentaries, the legend of Faust, Renaissance literature and philosophy, gay studies, medieval bestiaries -- had separate sections … I had on the shelves dozens of very bad books which I didn’t throw away in case I ever needed an example of a book I thought was bad. Balzac, in Cousin Pons, offered a justification for this obsessive behavior: ‘An obsession is a pleasure that has attained the status of an idea.’”

With Manguel, obsession has attained the status of a career: this is at least the 10th volume he has published concerning books, libraries and reading. He calls it an elegy, for the book barn is no more. Obliged to leave France for reasons he suggests it would be too tiresome to relive in writing, he had to box the books up and put them in a warehouse -- hence the book’s title, which also alludes to a well-known lecture by Walter Benjamin, the German critic and cultural historian.

Speaking in the early 1930s about the experience of unpacking his library after two years in storage, Benjamin used the occasion to reflect on being a book collector -- something that Manguel, however prone to hoarding he may seem, very definitely is not.

Benjamin, who was, among other things, one of the earliest and most perceptive critics to write about Kafka, was a very driven reader -- but he was willing to sell off his Kafka volumes in order to afford to add an item or two to his collection of rare children’s books. “The most profound enchantment for the collector,” he said, “is the locking of individual items within a magic circle in which they are fixed as the final thrill, the thrill of acquisition, passes over them.” To the collector, so defined, reading is at best irrelevant, at worst potentially damaging to the printed artifact itself.

Benjamin depicts unpacking his library as an emotional return to memories of finding and acquiring the items he has collected: “It is certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation.” Manguel’s experience couldn’t offer a greater contrast. Packing up his library “is like playing a film backwards, consigning visible narratives and methodical reality to the regions of the distant and the unseen, a voluntary forgetting … If unpacking a library is a wild act of rebirth, packing it is a tidy entombment before the seemingly final judgment.”

And in cardboard coffins, at that. Manguel calls his books “packed and gone,” but the library’s fate is left unclear.

Implied here, I think, is that the Manguel had managed finally to put his books into an order that made sense -- that expressed something meaningful about what he had read and how he’d lived, a pattern that might never be restored.

Packing My Library is more essay collection than memoir. The division into “chapters” and “digressions” seems arbitrary; not even the slightly melancholic tone provides a viable commanding structure. For while the author admits feeling that his days as a writer are winding down, his final pages mark a rebirth of sorts: wherever his boxes of books end up, Manguel himself is now in Argentina, serving as director of the National Library (a position once held by Borges). Settling into the work, he felt at first “like those characters in a Jules Verne novel who find themselves on some faraway island and have to conjure up survival skills they never knew they had.” Packing My Library is a book about the past that seems likely to turn into a prologue.

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Colorado College removes honors for early president, found to have sexually harassed and assaulted many women

Investigation documents how an early president of the college harassed and assaulted numerous women. Board strips his name from two buildings and revokes his honorary degree.

Lutheran Seminary Fires President

United Lutheran Seminary on Wednesday fired its new president, Reverend Theresa Latini, amid continuing controversy over Latini's prior work for an organization that encouraged gay Christians to stop being gay. While Latini has renounced that group's work, many affiliated with the seminary have been questioning not only her appointment but why board members who knew about her background did not share that information widely.

A statement Wednesday by the board said in part, "Guided by our wish to act decisively and seeking God’s blessed guidance, the board voted to end Dr. Theresa F. Latini’s position as president of the United Lutheran Seminary. This decision was made based on the board’s concern that the ongoing controversy surrounding her naming as president made it extremely difficult to overcome the issues related to trust as the president of this institution. With the understanding that there is much work to be done in healing, and recognizing her significant value and gifts, the Board recognized that her ongoing tenure would present a significant obstacle to moving forward."

Latini said via email that she was being scapegoated, and that United Lutheran was facing challenges from its recent creation from merging two Lutheran seminaries. "I had been eager to help this newly-combined organization to flourish," she said. "However, given the longstanding, historic divisions between the predecessor schools and what I believe to have been a politically based whisper campaign against me and other members of the board, it became clear that certain parts of the organization were not going to stand behind me and that I could not be effective as president. I have been scapegoated by an historically divided institution resistant to unification, and have been given little chance to respond to the accusations against me."

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The overcommercialization of university mascots (opinion)

When I was in grade school in the 1960s, my dad took me to a few Penn State football games. And then in the 1970s, I was back in Beaver Stadium as a reporter hanging out in the press box. For a few games, I roamed the sidelines as a part-time sports photographer.

Later, I had the good fortune to work for Penn State. For half a dozen years while serving as vice president overseeing university communications, I watched the games from the luxury suites with donors, politicians, alums, special guests and senior administrators.

All that time, the Nittany Lion mascot was an important part of the game-day experience. In fact, the mascot has held his job for more than a century. And he has been a vital contributor to Penn State’s reputation around the world. The furry mascot is one of the single most valuable images of the 100,000-student school.

When I oversaw the marketing and branding efforts at Penn State, our staff conducted national public opinion surveys to get a good sense how Americans viewed the university. Year after year, the Nittany Lion mascot was always one of the very top mentions by people around the country. We regularly used him in TV, print and social media advertising encouraging high school students to enroll.

And it worked. His image, and the overall marketing program, attracted more applications to Penn State than to just about any other higher education institution in the country.

I don’t go to games any longer, but I do follow the university and the team, and I don’t like what I see the beloved Nittany Lion mascot doing these days. He’s sold out. Literally, he is sold out to commercial companies.

In addition to being one of the key images for one of the largest, most well-known universities in the nation, the mascot now sells coffee and doughnuts in his spare time. He has joined with mascots of other major universities across America to sell home mortgages. And he appears in television commercials selling beef jerky with Sasquatch.

The mascot can be seen in advertisements aired around the country during college and pro football games, as well as on social media platforms like Facebook. The Nittany Lion mascot is not alone in selling out. He appears in the 30-second beef jerky commercial with the University of Iowa’s Herky the Hawk. They are having their portrait painted by Bigfoot. You can view the commercial on YouTube.

And the mascot is showing up on TV and online, promoting Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans. He is in good company. In the 45-second version of the ad that you can view on YouTube, he appears with a tiger, elephant, duck, bull and other major university mascots. They are doing flips, giving high fives and executing their trademark moves every student and alum of their institutions memorized long ago.

The YouTube description says, “When it comes to leading cheers and one-handed push-ups, mascots have all the confidence in the world -- except when it comes to mortgages. Luckily for them, there's Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans. Now they're confident on and off the field. Get your own mortgage confidence at RocketMortgage.com.”

The Nittany Lion appears several times in the ad. Early on, he is seen running past a crowd of cheering fans in Beaver Stadium. He carries a blue-and-white Penn State flag with the university's sports logo past a blue wall also emblazoned with the logo. Fans in the background cheer, “We are Penn State!” In another quick scene in the ad, we see the lion crowdsurfing over a group of fans. In a third scene, he does a backward flip in front of a crowd of fans and the sports logo. The ad ends with a group of about a dozen college mascots, and there again is the Nittany Lion doing his famous (at least among Penn Staters everywhere) frenzied ear-scratching move.

You can even watch a special two-minute behind-the-scenes video that explains how all the mascots were flown in from around the country to film the commercial.

The university mascot has also been deployed to sell coffee and doughnuts. He popped up as an ad in my Facebook news feed last fall clutching Dunkin’ Donuts cups in his paws, promoting $1 cups on Mondays following a Penn State football team win. You can see a photo of the mascot with his coffee standing in Beaver Stadium in news coverage of the deal.

While all this may make for fun television, it is doing the Nittany Lion and Penn State a big disservice. Athletic departments should not be selling out their university mascots. I realize hiring multimillion-dollar coaches and building and operating expansive facilities to train, feed, entertain, tutor and pamper athletes is expensive. Penn State’s athletic budget was $144 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

But a mascot has a bigger role to play for an institution, especially for the best-known institutions. They are a symbol of pride and tradition.

The Nittany Lion mascot has been a central image for Penn State since 1904. He’s wildly popular with students, alums and residents of the state. By any measure, he has been a successful mascot for the institution. He was recently named a new inductee to the Mascot Hall of Fame, a multimillion-dollar facility being built in Whiting, Ind.

If you are an alum or a super Penn State fan, you can book the lion for an appearance at your wedding. I’m fine with that because the lion is doing what he was originally created to do: help promote school spirit.

A good mascot is priceless for a brand. Mickey Mouse, Tony the Tiger, Mr. Clean, Captain Morgan, the Geico Gecko, Colonel Sanders, the Jolly Green Giant and even Burger King’s creepy looking king are tied inextricably with their brands. They are pure pop culture icons.

In higher education successful mascots are a key part of our institutions’ brands. They should not be pitching beef jerky and home mortgages on their days off.

Bill Mahon is president of Ground Zero Ready Communications, a former vice president of university relations at Penn State and a partner of the Ketchum University RepProtect suite of services.

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The Penn State Nittany Lion mascot
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Online Learning Consortium announces Effective Practice Award winners

The Online Learning Consortium yesterday announced eight winners of its annual Effective Practice Awards. The honors reward "effective techniques, strategies and practices" that adhere to the consortium's five pillars of quality: access, learning effectiveness, faculty satisfaction, student satisfaction and scalability.

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