White House Meeting for College Leaders on Climate Change

The White House and the U.S. Department of State are hosting college administrators and student leaders today for a meeting on climate change, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The goal of the meeting is to call for action on climate change, including for a strong agreement at a meeting the United Nations is hosting in Paris in a couple weeks.

"Participating colleges and universities will have already signed a White House Act on Climate Pledge (working title) demonstrating their commitment to carrying out their own sustainability goals and supporting strong action on climate change by world leaders," the association said.

Ad keywords: 

Implications of the NLRB's reconsideration of grad student unionization (essay)

The recent resignation of the president of the University of Missouri System and the chancellor of its Columbia campus followed a strike of sorts by university football players. While the athletes did so without benefit of a union, their success draws attention to the way students who have organized -- for collective bargaining or otherwise -- can significantly alter a university’s policies.

In fact, grad students at Missouri had already successfully campaigned against a plan to terminate summarily their health insurance (the administration rescinded the edict for this year), and they continue to seek a longer-term insurance commitment, better pay and full tuition waivers -- as well as to pursue unionization.

For graduate students at private universities, the real action may occur in the wake of last month’s vote by the National Labor Relations Board to reconsider collective bargaining by teaching and research assistants at such institutions. The groundbreaking case involves the New School University in New York City and the United Auto Workers, and the NLRB’s final decision in the matter could have far-reaching implications.

The issue of grad student unionization at private higher education institutions has a curiously checkered history, reflecting political fortunes since World War II. In 1951, the NLRB declined to offer bargaining rights for private university employees, including academic personnel. Two decades later, however, the board reversed that ruling and declared that the federal labor laws covered academic employees in private institutions. In 2000, when the NLRB ruled that graduate teaching assistants are eligible for collective bargaining and can be considered employees, New York University became the first private university to recognize a graduate student union.

But in 2004, the NLRB changed course yet again, ruling that graduate teaching and research assistants at Brown University were not “employees” because “they have a primarily educational, not economic, relationship with their university.” Thus, when NYU’s initial contract expired, the university’s board declined to renew it in response to the intervening ruling concerning Brown. Keeping the players -- and the rules -- straight during this ever-changing saga has understandably posed a challenge.

To put the issue of grad student unionization at private institutions in a broader context, the legal status of full-time, tenure-track professors has remained far more consistent. Most of those professors are effectively barred from unionizing in the private sector by the Supreme Court’s 35-year-old ruling in the Yeshiva University case, under which faculty members at independent campuses are considered to be “managers” because of their involvement in the governance of their institutions. While there has been much recent discussion of possible reopening of the Yeshiva ruling, such a prospect seems increasingly unlikely.

Indeed, as the Supreme Court in its current term revisits the status of public school unions among K-12 teachers, the primacy of Yeshiva today seems, in most cases, if anything even clearer than it was a decade ago. (I say, “in most cases” because a handful of private campuses, such as Goddard College in Vermont, have voluntarily recognized bargaining efforts by its professors and have simply declined to oppose union efforts. In addition, the labor board indicated last December its potential readiness, specifically in the case of Pacific Lutheran University, to distinguish Yeshiva in certain cases that involve religiously affiliated institutions and non-tenure-track faculty whose role clearly involves less “managerial authority” than that of tenured professors.)

Between the two extremes of graduate students, on the one hand, and full-time faculty members, on the other, lies the anomalous legal status of adjuncts and part-time faculty. Especially in the Boston and Washington regions, aggressive organizing activity by unions such as Service Employees International Union and United Auto Workers has greatly expanded bargaining rights for such contingent faculty, including not only improved salaries and working conditions but even opportunities for promotion to tenure-track positions. Most academic employers at such independent campuses as American University, Georgetown University, Tufts University and a host of others have welcomed such efforts and have been quick to negotiate bargaining agreements.

The legal landscape differs sharply when it comes to unionization in the public sector. Full-time professors, adjuncts and graduate students are mainly either covered by state-enacted public employee bargaining laws or are barred from unionizing by “right to work” legislation. At this point, 28 states have embraced or sanction public employee bargaining, and many public universities have long had unionized graduate teaching assistants. Enjoying hybrid status, some graduate students at three New York private universities (Alfred, Cornell and Syracuse) are already covered by a union contract because they are enrolled at academic units of the State University of New York within those three affiliated upstate private institutions.

The Shape of Things to Come

What will be the long-term implications of NLRB’s recent agreement to reconsider whether graduate assistants at all private institutions are entitled to collective bargaining? Until the board actually rules, the ramifications will remain to be fully appraised. And even then, given the tortured and protracted history of the central issue, it seems unlikely that in this area the board would issue detailed guidance to potential institutions and unions.

Rather, we might expect the shaping of that emerging landscape would generally follow the experience within public colleges and universities. We should also recognize that each state is free to adopt whatever laws and regulations it may choose to govern graduate student organizing, as with full-time and adjunct faculty, including the option to be either more or less welcoming to graduate organizing than it is with regard to other public-sector teachers. The potential for such state-level regulatory variation does not, however, necessarily make the eventual outcome any easier to predict or assess.

Meanwhile, as we await further developments from the NLRB, the higher education community remains sharply divided on this issue. Groups like the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Universities are, for example, diametrically opposed in this respect, despite concordance on many other matters like race-sensitive admissions.

Those boards and administrators (and some faculty groups) that strongly oppose graduate student organizing argue that unionization would inevitably intrude upon the optimally collegial professor-student relationship and jeopardize academic freedom. Harvard University President Drew Faust may have put it most forcefully in a recent Harvard Crimson interview: “We really think that it’s a mistake for graduate students to unionize, that it changes a mentoring relationship between faculty and students into a labor relationship, which is not appropriate [and] is not what is represented by the experience of graduate students in the university.” (It is also worth noting that despite their resistance to unionization, a few major private universities have made commendable efforts to enhance both tangible and intangible benefits for graduated student employees. Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago, for example, won substantial pay raises for its members after a series of rallies and “teach outs.”)

On the other side of the table, proponents of the revised NLRB policy argue with equal force that the universities’ fears are at least exaggerated if not wholly misplaced. Such advocates insist that several decades of experience at major public research campuses simply have not documented such concerns. Moreover, the steady explosion of student indebtedness, increased demands upon the time and energy of already burdened graduates, and diminished opportunities for advancement only underscore the case for unionization.

In fact, amid the seemingly endless debates about graduate student unionization, several practical issues have been somewhat overlooked. For one, the growing costs of graduate education (especially for independent institutions) may well diminish racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity at a time when the higher education community seeks greater inclusiveness and students are demanding it. Graduate student organizers argue that the mounting financial burdens on such students will inevitably and regrettably diminish diversity.

Indeed, graduate student unionization would appear to enhance prospects both for greater diversity and for the mitigation of onerous financial burdens. Speaking in support of organizing efforts for TAs and RAs, Matt Canfield (an NYU doctoral student and member of the Student Organizing Committee) has argued that “academia will become closed off to people of color, and people with children -- and we want to be ensure that NYU reflects the diversity of the city we’re in.”

In addition, while graduate teaching assistants and graduate research assistants are often treated as homogeneous, there may be reasons for separately reviewing their respective statuses. The mere fact of unionization and the evolution of contract negotiations and board approval could well differentiate more sharply the respective roles and responsibilities of graduate teaching assistants, on one hand, and advanced students who aid laboratory research, on the other. The distinction, though subtle, nonetheless offers clarity. For example, under the exemplary personnel policies of the University of California at Los Angeles, TAs “serve an apprenticeship under the tutelage and supervision of regular faculty members who are responsible for curriculum and instruction in the university,” while RAs “are selected on the basis of scholastic achievement and promise as creative scholars and serve an apprenticeship under the direction and supervision of a faculty member.”

Whatever the NLRB’s final decision and its implications, it’s clear that grad students remain relatively overworked and underpaid -- at the bottom of the academic food chain, one might say. The reality is that they make up a significant portion of the instructional workforce in higher education. The Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions ventures that between half and three-quarters of all university classes are actually taught by graduate assistants or contingent faculty.

Thus, as we await further developments in this already complex and contentious field of law and policy, we might invoke the wisdom of Lisa Simpson (of The Simpsons) regarding student unionization.

As Lisa throws bread on the ground to feed some ducks, a hungry student cohort converges, while a professor with a whip appears and barks, “No food for you grad students until you grade 3,000 papers.” Lisa should claim the final word.

Robert M. O’Neil is the former president of the University of Virginia and of the University of Wisconsin System, former director of the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues Initiative, and former general counsel of the American Association of University Professors. He is currently a senior fellow at the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities.

Editorial Tags: 

U of Montana Will Cut 201 Positions

The University of Montana on Tuesday announced plans to cut 201 full-time positions -- 52 of them faculty slots -- to deal with enrollment declines, NBC News Montana reported. Some positions may be currently vacant. Many professors say the cuts appear likely to disproportionately impact liberal arts programs, although other programs face cuts, too. Among the liberal arts departments slated for cuts: anthropology, English, geography, liberal studies, art and political science, as well as graduate programs in foreign languages.

Allegations Lead Louisville to Suspend Official

The University of Louisville has suspended Deborah Dietzler as director of alumni affairs after allegations surfaced that, in a similar position at the University of Georgia, she used taxpayer funds to pay for trips to run marathons, The Louisville Courier-Journal reported. An audit at Georgia found that Dietzler, after signing up to run marathons in several cities, had her staff set up meetings in those cities so she could bill the university for her travel. Dietzler's lawyer said that she “strongly denies any suggestion or claim that she intentionally violated any rule or policy at” Georgia.

Ad keywords: 

Florida State President Criticizes 'Hunting Ground'

The documentary The Hunting Ground "contains major distortions and glaring omissions," John Thrasher, Florida State University's president, said in a statement Monday, comparing the film to Rolling Stone's botched attempt at reporting on sexual assault at the University of Virginia.

"It’s been barely seven months since Rolling Stone retracted its ill-fated University of Virginia fraternity rape story after revelations that it took a victim’s story at face value without getting the other side or checking the details with other sources, including the accused," Thrasher said in the statement. "Columbia University Journalism School, which examined the magazine’s reporting and editing of the piece, concluded that Rolling Stone had 'set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting.' We believe the same is true with The Hunting Ground."

The film, released theatrically earlier this year, received critical acclaim and will air on CNN on Sunday. It examines the issue of campus sexual assault, in particular at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where the documentary’s two primary subjects were students. In the film, the two students travel around the country inspiring other victims to use the gender discrimination law Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to hold colleges accountable for mishandling cases of sexual assault. Along the way, the documentary takes frequent detours to call out a number of other institutions, including Florida State University, for mishandling or ignoring the issue.

The section of documentary about Florida State focuses on an assault allegedly committed by Jameis Winston, a former star player for the university's football team. While Winston was not charged with a crime, the university and local police have received much criticism for their handling of the allegations. The university did not begin a disciplinary process for Winston until nearly two years after the alleged assault. Articles by The New York Times and Fox Sports, citing documents obtained under open-records requests, accused Florida State of taking steps to "hide, and then hinder" the criminal investigation into the allegations against Winston.

The Hunting Ground features the first interview with the student who accused Winston of rape. That student -- who had attempted to remain anonymous during the initial investigation but was later outed by Florida State fans and Winston's lawyer -- is now suing Florida State.

"FSU plays a prominent part in the film in a one-sided segment accusing Tallahassee police and the university of ignoring sexual assault allegations against former quarterback Jameis Winston to protect the athletic program," Thrasher stated. "CNN will be airing a piece of advocacy that is more about blame and emotion than accuracy, fairness and inclusion. This is a lost opportunity to have a full, fair and meaningful discussion on the national stage about the complex issue of sexual assault on college campuses."

In his statement, Thrasher did not specify what the documentary gets wrong about the case. On Monday, the film's official Twitter account tweeted a response, saying the film's producers were not surprised by the president's comments as the "facts make FSU look pretty bad."

This is not the first time the filmmakers have had to defend The Hunting Ground against critics. Earlier this year, several university presidents complained that they were not given enough time to respond to the production team's interview requests. In June, the producers posted a detailed fact page on the film's website after Slate published an article questioning some of the documentary's claims. Last week, 19 Harvard professors released a lengthy statement calling the documentary "propaganda," and criticizing the film's portrayal of an accused student's case.

"It’s obvious that Florida State University does not want the public to see the film because it shows how they protected their star quarterback against allegations of rape," the filmmakers said in a statement Tuesday. "Rather than attacking the film, we encourage President Thrasher to respond as other college presidents have, such as those from Harvard, Montana, Amherst and Alaska, by acknowledging the undisputed gravity of this problem and taking measures to prevent it. Thrasher should stop blaming the messenger and focus on the message.”

Ad keywords: 

Foundation proposes a national transfer pathway partnership

Smart Title: 

Edvance Foundation calls for a national college transfer partnership to improve graduation rates and access to four-year institutions.

Washington College Closed Amid Search for Armed Student

Washington College has remained closed this week while state and federal law enforcement agencies search for a missing student who may be armed. Authorities have filed an arrest warrant for the student, Jacob Marberger, on four weapons-related charges, The Washington Post reported. Marberger, a former student government leader, was suspended for allegedly displaying a firearm on the Maryland campus last month.

The college canceled classes on Monday and asked students and staff to seek shelter.

"There has been no evidence of a direct threat against individuals or the campus community as a whole, but the college and law enforcement ask everyone to be cautious and vigilant," the college said on its website.

Campus officials had announced that the campus would open Tuesday. But they reversed course on Tuesday morning, after receiving new information from law enforcement. On Tuesday afternoon the college announced it would remain closed on Wednesday. A small number of students remained on campus, the college said.

Ad keywords: 

BREAKING: Feds Conclude More Corinthian Campuses Misled Students

U.S. Department of Education officials have determined that a slew of additional campuses owned by Corinthian Colleges misrepresented job placement rates, a finding that could help some 85,000 former students have their federal loans canceled. 

The department announced Tuesday that hundreds of programs at the now-defunct for-profit chain's Everest and Wyotech campuses in California misled students about their job prospects after graduation. Officials also said they found misrepresentation at Everest University online programs based in Florida.

The announcement is essentially an expansion of the scope of the department's April findings against Corinthian-owned Heald College. At that time, the department slapped Heald with a $30 million fine, which sunk Corinthian's efforts to sell off those campuses and helped push the struggling company into bankruptcy several weeks later.

The new findings by the Education Department mean little for Corinthian as a company, which was dissolved in bankruptcy in August. But they could be significant for former Corinthian students who seeking to have their loans canceled.

The department earlier this year said it would "expedite" the debt relief applications for about 40,000 former Heald College students because officials already had enough evidence to process their claims. (As of August, though, only 1,500 of those former students had actually filed claims).

With Tuesday's findings, the department said an additional 85,000 students at the affected WyoTech and Everest campuses will be eligible to have their loans canceled.

The department described its findings as the product of a joint investigation with California Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose office sued Corinthian more than two years ago, alleging misrepresentation of job-placement rates among other wrongdoing.

Harris said in a statement that the "findings will expand the pool of Corinthian students eligible for streamlined student loan relief options." She thanked the department for "joining" her office "to keep Corinthian accountable for their actions and providing debt relief to students who were misled."

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the "results of our joint investigation will allow us to get relief to more students, more efficiently."

Here is a list of the affected Everest and WyoTech programs at California campuses.

Here is a list of affected programs at Everest University's Florida-based online programs.

More Faculty Unrest at Wartburg College

Wartburg College in Iowa has confirmed that it’s laying off three of its tenure-track faculty members. But President Darrel D. Colson objected to the idea that Wartburg is becoming less of a liberal arts institution based on personnel and curricular changes Inside Higher Ed reported on last month. “Notwithstanding our loss of some wonderful faculty, a loss I too feel, we have not abandoned our mission or eschewed the liberal arts,” he wrote. “We are duty bound to serve the students we enroll as best we can within the constraints of our resources, and we will continue to meet their needs -- both by responding to the ever-changing vocational choices they make and by ensuring the intellectual rigor inherent in liberal education.”

Meanwhile, two members of the college’s Faculty Council, a faculty representative body, have resigned in protest of how the college handled recent personnel cuts, according to resignation notices to colleagues obtained by Inside Higher Ed. “This resignation is motivated by behaviors and decisions that have affected our work and the institution as a whole,” wrote one of the former council members, Maria Paula Survilla, a professor of art. “As I watch my colleagues struggle to address the loss of faculty and the decimation of their offerings, I feel that I cannot, in good conscience, continue as a member of the council.” Survilla acknowledged the letter in an email but declined an interview.

The college also held a listening session earlier this month to discuss what’s happening there. According to notes from the meeting circulated via email by Pastor Ramona S. Bouzard, dean of the chapel, and obtained by Inside Higher Ed, the tone of the meeting was “sad, frustrated, angry, betrayed, sorrow[ful] and hurt.” Faculty in attendance also agreed there’s been a “lack of leadership” and that they’re concerned “about not having enough resources to accomplish [Wartburg’s] mission,” according to the notes.

Ad keywords: 

Westwood College Stops New Enrollments

Westwood College, a for-profit chain with 14 campus locations, last week announced on its website that it has stopped enrolling new students. Earlier this month Westwood agreed to a $15 million settlement with the office of the Illinois attorney general, which had sued the for-profit over allegations of deceptive marketing. The company also in 2012 agreed to a $4.5 million settlement with the attorney general of Colorado over a similar lawsuit. And in 2009 it agreed to a $7 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice related to a complaint about filing false claims for federal student aid.

Ad keywords: 


Subscribe to RSS - administrators
Back to Top