Columbia College Part-Time Faculty Union Votes No Confidence in Administration

The independent part-time faculty union at Columbia College in Chicago voted no confidence in President Kwang-Ku Kim, Provost Stanley Wearden and the college’s Board of Trustees after a campaign lasting several months.

“The vote by our members illustrates the extremely low level of support Dr. Kim and Provost Wearden have among the adjunct faculty at Columbia,” Diana Vallera, president of Part-Time Faculty at Columbia College (P-fac), said in a statement. “This administration has only taken steps to erode the trust of the faculty.” The union says that the college unilaterally moved to eliminate its first-year seminar department in favor of larger, university-style classes, for example, and that it’s generally moving away from its traditional model of offering small classes taught by working professionals. The union, which voted to disaffiliate from the National Education Association earlier this year, also has accused the college of refusing to honor elements of the collective bargaining agreement it signed in 2013.

Not all faculty groups believe the vote of no confidence was the right move. James Nagle, an adjunct instructor of English at Columbia, and a member of Columbia Adjuncts United -- another part-time faculty association loyal to the NEA -- referred requests for comment to an editorial in the student newspaper, The Columbia Chronicle, which he said summed up his own thoughts about the vote.

“Increasing class sizes, top-down decision making and abrupt program eliminations are issues affecting the entire college community, but the vote of no confidence only reflects P-fac’s opinion of the administration,” reads the editorial. “If P-fac wants the Board of Trustees to acknowledge its grievances, it needs to show that the vote is a strategy to make constructive change, not a tactic to shame the administration. The vote can only be effective when the union proves its outlined concerns affect the greater college community and will eventually have ripple effects collegewide.”

Gregory Foster-Rice, an associate professor of the history of photography and president of the Faculty Senate, a body representing full-time faculty, said in a statement that the senate had never considered a vote of no confidence. “I would rather work at the table to which we have been invited and help change the college based on our expertise rather than dismiss this process or the administration,” he said. “We need to work together to build on our achievements and establish positive change at the college.”

The college has raised numerous concerns about the accuracy of P-fac’s public statements and the validity of the no confidence voting process. For example, the college says that the voting period was extended twice, over several months, and that the average class size went up just 6 percent this year over last. More generally, the college said in a statement that it values its part-time faculty, and that its new strategic plan -- developed last year in consultation with the faculty -- was a source of the controversy. “The plan sets forth key initiatives that support student success and academic excellence while continuing to strengthen the college’s prominence in arts and media education,” reads the statement. “To that end, hard choices must be made and, inevitably, there are those who will disagree.”

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Scrutiny for theological school over Native American artifacts

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Theology school denies allegations it tried to sell Native American artifacts covered by repatriation requirements.

Scholar Boycotts Conference at Brigham Young U

A well-known sociologist is boycotting a scholarly meeting at Brigham Young University based on the institution’s policy regarding students who enroll as Mormons but change their beliefs while on campus. “My decision not to participate is an act of conscience based on BYU’s policy of expelling any Mormon student who leaves the faith or converts to another religion,” Mark Juergensmeyer, a professor of sociology and director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, wrote in a letter to organizers of the International Law and Religion Symposium now under way in Utah. “I have decided that it would be hypocritical of me to participate in a conference in which the issue of religious liberty is paramount when the institution sponsoring it fundamentally violates this principle in its policies towards Mormon students.”

Juergensmeyer said he was unaware of BYU’s policy regarding Mormon students until last weekend, when he was notified by a group called Free BYU, which opposes the university’s policy and has called on other scholars to boycott the conference. Juergensmeyer said that he’s been criticized by some for his decision, and has since released a follow-up statement to his letter saying that there may be “legal acceptance of such discrimination, but it is discrimination all the same, and I suspect that if a university in a Muslim country were to expel a student who wanted to become a Mormon, BYU administrators would regard this as a violation of religious freedom. And they would be right.”

Carri Jenkins, a BYU spokeswoman, said via email that prior to enrolling, all students agree to uphold the BYU honor code, and that “a student who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who formally rejects his or her beliefs can no longer be in good honor code standing.” Regarding Juergensmeyer’s decisions, Jenkins said that “institutional diversity is highly valued in American higher education and is protected by federal law. BYU is very open and clear about its mission as a religious institution. We also strive for academic excellence in an environment of intensive learning and rigor, where students and faculty on a daily basis are exploring, developing and creating ways to make our world a better place.”

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Report Questions Nonprofit Conversions

A new report from the Century Foundation questions the legitimacy of four former for-profit colleges' recent transformations to nonprofit status. Those institutions are "covert for-profits," according to the report, "where owners have managed to affix a nonprofit label to their colleges while engineering substantial ongoing personal financial benefits for themselves."

The report's author is Robert Shireman, a former U.S. Department of Education official who recently joined the foundation as a senior fellow. The report said several for-profits have sought to become nonprofits to avoid federal regulations, some of which Shireman worked to create. By using public information requests, Shireman wrote case studies about the conversions of Herzing University, Remington Colleges Inc., Everglades College and the Center for Excellence in Higher Education (CEHE).

All four of the institutions signed contracts committing them to pay their former owners hundreds of millions of dollars, the report found, while those former owners remain involved in the governance of the nonprofits. For example, Keiser University told the IRS that neither its founder, Arthur Keiser, nor his family members would receive any "nonincidental private benefit attributable" to the newly nonprofit Everglades College. Yet in 2011 Everglades paid more than $34 million to entities owned by Keiser's family members.

Despite what Shireman called the "egregious" examples of covert for-profits, the IRS and the Education Department have failed to crack down. The reason, he said, is a regulatory blind spot where each agency assumes the other is doing the monitoring.

Clifton Wharton discusses his new autobiography

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Cliff Wharton -- who led Michigan State, SUNY and TIAA-CREF -- discusses his new autobiography.

Threat of Violence to Philadelphia-Area College

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have warned Philadelphia-area colleges of threats of violence made on social media to an unspecified college “near Philadelphia.” The threats are for today at 2 p.m. Several colleges have sent alerts to students and faculty members and -- while maintaining regular operations -- have added extra security for the day. Here are the notices sent out by Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania.

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Rutgers professor convicted of sexually assaulting a disabled man

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The Anna Stubblefield case captivated academics when news first broke. But with her conviction of sexual assault of an intellectually disabled man, scholars disagree as to significance of case for disability studies.

Essay providing advice on being promoted into an administrative position

When people take an administrative position for the first time, they and their colleagues may respond in unexpected ways, observes Larry D. Lauer.

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Calls to Oust DePaul Dean Implicated in Torture Report

Some Chicago-area faculty members and students continued their efforts to get DePaul University to investigate the past of its dean of the College of Science and Health, based on allegations that he -- as past president of the American Psychological Association -- may have supported torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. More than 600 people have signed a petition calling for the ouster of Gerald Koocher as dean, and late last week, a group of activists held an on-campus news conference expressing their continued concerns.

“They had one goal in mind, and that was to make sure that psychologists could continue in Guantanamo,” Frank Summers, a professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, said at the conference. M. Cherif Bassiouni, a professor emeritus of law at DePaul, urged the university to independently investigate whether Koocher violated its code of ethics, saying that “an academic institution like DePaul based on its Vincentian values cannot allow for a member of its faculty be involved in such situations.”

The allegations against Koocher come from a recent independent review by the APA, which found that the association seemed to want to please the Pentagon rather than stick up for ethical standards -- and that the activities of key leaders of the association buttressed the argument for using interrogation techniques many consider to be torture. The report mentions Koocher by name numerous times but does not conclude that he personally supported torture of detainees. It does, however, conclude that APA leaders had reason to suspect that it had occurred.

DePaul did not return requests for comment. In July, upon release of the report, Koocher and another past president of the APA wrote a lengthy public response denying participation in or support of torture. “We want to state clearly and unambiguously: we do not now and never have supported the use of cruel, degrading or inhumane treatment of prisoners or detainees,” they said. “We absolutely reject the notion that any ethical justification for torture exists, and confirm that any such behaviors never have been ethically acceptable. … We never colluded with government agencies or the military to craft APA policies in order to justify their goals or the illegal ‘enhanced interrogation’ practices promoted by the administration of President George W. Bush.”

The APA apologized for its actions upon the report’s release, and pledged a series of reforms.

This isn't the first time an academic psychologist’s career has been challenged by past involvement in detainee interrogation policies. Retired U.S. Army Col. Larry James’s 2013 bid to take a new administrative post at the University of Missouri at Columbia died after students protested his work at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo. James, however, said he helped fix a broken a broken system -- much of which is recounted in his book, Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib.

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Barnard College Adjuncts Approve Union Bid

Non-tenure-track instructors at Barnard College voted to form a union affiliated with United Auto Workers, they announced Friday. Some 207 faculty members were eligible to vote in the election; of those who voted, 114 were in favor and 11 were opposed. “We are encouraged by the college’s commitment to neutrality and look forward to negotiating long overdue improvements in our first contract,” Siobhan Burke, an instructor of dance, said in an announcement.

Barnard’s administration said in a statement, “We look forward to working productively with the union and thank all of our faculty for their efforts each and every day to provide the best-quality education to our students.”

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