Facing a planned graduate student worker walkout over its decision to drop health insurance subsidies for teaching and research assistants, the University of Missouri at Columbia on Friday announced it will reinstate the subsidies indefinitely. Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and other senior administrators said in a statement that the university consulted external experts and peer institutions in trying to “navigate a complex health insurance regulatory environment,” and ultimately decided to “defer implementation” of its plan. “As a result, the university will pay for health insurance for eligible graduate students,” they said.
The university told graduate student workers earlier this month, with one day's notice, that it had to stop providing health care subsidies to the workers because their Aetna health care plan was a market plan, not an employer-sponsored plan as other, unaffected university employees at Missouri and graduate student workers on many other campuses have. A recent Internal Revenue Service interpretation of the Affordable Care Act prohibits large employers from giving workers subsidies specifically to buy health insurance on the individual market, the university said. It planned to give student workers stipends to close the coverage gap in the fall, but graduate student workers would have had to seek coverage on their own after that.
The university faced intense criticism for its approach and the late notice it afforded students. Graduate student workers planned a walkout over this issue, among others they outlined in a letter delivered to the university last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The university said Friday that “continuing the previous practice will allow time for a clearer understanding of federal guidelines and consideration of options and incorporation of input” from a new task force that includes students.
Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri and a graduate of the university, reportedly intervened on behalf of the graduate students, asking the chancellor to change course. She is also asking policy makers in Washington to find ways for graduate student workers to be covered that are in compliance with the Affordable Care Act. In a letter to the Treasury Department sent before Missouri announced its reversal, McCaskill said there are graduate students who aren’t eligible for Medicaid under Missouri law but who don't make enough money to qualify for federal subsidies under the health care act. “These students are now in danger of losing access to affordable, quality health care without a viable alternative,” she wrote. “Therefore, I request that you act expeditiously and come up with a solution to allow universities to comply with IRS regulations and the Affordable Care Act, while ensuring that health care is accessible for all students.”
Louisiana State University reportedly sent similar notices to their graduate students in late July. But several other universities that provide health insurance subsidies to graduate students haven't moved to revoke them.
Following a spate of recent clashes between student newspapers and administrations, a group of national journalism organizations on Thursday announced a boot camp-style training project for student journalists facing censorship or other kinds of adversity. The Student Press Law Center, the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters & Editors will deploy what they’re calling the J-Team to work with student journalists on investigative reporting and other skills. The team’s first mentoring session is next week at the University of Iowa, where members will meet with student journalists from Iowa’s Muscatine Community College. Editors from Muscatine’s student newspaper, The Calumet, are currently suing the college for allegedly removing a journalism adviser and otherwise retaliating against them for writing about a faculty committee member who reportedly voted to give a scholarship to a family member.
“The most effective response to colleges that try to intimidate journalists is to do even more aggressive, impactful journalism,” Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center and a team member, said in a news release. “The J-Team will send a clear message to colleges across the country that, when you attack student journalists, you are awakening the entire journalism community and your efforts to silence inquisitive journalism will only backfire.”
Muscatine College officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
U of Alabama sorority faces questions for a recruitment video that appears to suggest it is a home for attractive white women only -- but the video is hardly unique among sorority recruiting efforts in emphasizing blondes in bathing suits over time in the library.
M. D. Anderson Cancer Center is taking steps to increase shared governance and due process following its June censure by the American Association of University Professors. U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven, retired, the University of Texas System’s new chancellor, directed the center to establish a shared governance committee to serve as an advisory body to President Ronald DePinho as he establishes a more “democratic” system of governance, The Cancer Letterreported. In a letter to DePinho, McRaven asked the president to address long-standing concerns about due process in the center’s “term tenure” system, which were at the heart of the AAUP censure in June. (Many critics also maintain that M. D. Anderson’s seven-year, renewable tenure policy is not tenure at all.)
DePinho and Gary Whitman, professor of radiology and radiation oncology and chair of the Faculty Senate, announced the formation of the committee to faculty members last week. Michael DeCesare, a professor of sociology at Merrimack College and chair of AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance, wrote in a post on AAUP’s “Academe” blog, “Hopefully, the administration’s moves toward improving academic due process and instituting a shared governance model indicate that it is actively working toward getting itself removed from the AAUP censure list.”
Adjuncts at Seattle University may count their impounded union election ballots, a local National Labor Relations Board office said in a decision released Tuesday. The university is planning an appeal. The NLRB office's decision was issued several months after the national board sent a string of cases involving adjunct union bids at religiously affiliated colleges back to their respective regional offices for re-evaluation. The re-evaluation was based on a new framework for determining the NLRB’s jurisdiction over religious colleges and universities established by the board in its December decision regarding Pacific Lutheran University. In that case, the board decided that based on a number of factors, the adjuncts who wished to form a union could do so because their jobs were not religious in nature. Over all, the decision asserted that just because a college or university has a religious affiliation doesn’t mean non-tenure-track faculty can’t form unions.
Local boards have ruled similarly in recent months in cases involving adjuncts at Duquesne University and St. Xavier University, which, like Seattle, are Roman Catholic. SEIU and pro-union adjuncts took the ruling as good news. In a statement, Anne Hepfer, an instructor of English, said she expected the national board to reject the request for review that the university signaled it was planning to file. “Why is our administration continuing to waste precious tuition dollars in an attempt to impede my colleagues and me from forming a union?” she asked.
Via email, Dean Forbes, a university spokesman, said Seattle wasn’t surprised by the decision and intends to file a request for review with the national board -- which could be the first step in a court fight over NLRB jurisdiction over the university. “The petition is a necessary procedural step that preserves the university’s options to seek court review of the newly established criteria by a divided NLRB for determining whether it has jurisdiction over religiously affiliated colleges and universities,” Forbes said. “The issue is not whether employees may unionize. Rather, the issue is whether the government should have influence or control over the religious mission of Seattle University.”
The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities had no immediate 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 it’s “probable that at least one of the at-issue religiously affiliated colleges will challenge the NLRB’s assertion of jurisdiction in court” if the national board eventually rules in favor the adjunct unions.
Wright State University officials said Monday that the institution is being investigated by federal authorities over its management of H-1B visas for some employees, The Dayton Daily News reported. The H-1B allows certain specialized professionals from outside the United States to work in this country. Wright State officials said that there was "credible evidence" that between two and five years ago, not everyone sponsored for a visa by the university actually worked at the university.