Adjunct faculty members at the University of Southern California’s David and Dana Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences have withdrawn their petition to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union. Part-time faculty members at Dornsife narrowly voted down a union last year, but alleged administrative interference in the election in charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board. The board decided that a second election could proceed, but the union says it can’t hold another election in the current environment. The board also recently ruled that adjunct faculty members at the Roski School of Art and Design are not managers, allowing them to proceed with forming the SEIU-affiliated union they voted for last year.
Provost Michael Quick said in an email to faculty members on Tuesday that the university had now been cleared of all charges related to Dornsife, and that there “are more legal steps ahead concerning Roski, and the final decision will probably be made by a federal appeals court.” He noted that the NLRB had voted 2 to 1, not unanimously, on the managerial issue.
Bob Schoonover, president of the local SEIU, said about the NLRB’s decision concerning Roski, “To cast aside this frivolous appeal marks yet another important victory” for faculty members and “clears the way for faculty to begin the process of bargaining a contract that raises standards for themselves and the students they teach.” Of the Dornsife petition withdrawal, Schoonover said, “Unfortunately, based on our past experience we have come to the clear conclusion that a new election will be met with another onslaught of illegal tactics aimed at dividing faculty and protecting university profits.”
Postdoctoral positions in the biomedical sciences are now considered almost a prerequisite for a permanent position in the field. But a new study published in Nature Biotechnology suggests that postdoc stints don’t yield positive returns in the labor market and likely cost graduates three years’ worth of salary in their first 15 years of work. “A majority of biomedical Ph.D.s enter postdocs that last an average of four years,” one of the study’s authors, Shulamit Kahn, professor of business at Boston University, said in a news release. “These scientists hope that the postdoc will propel them into their ideal career in tenure-track academia. The problem is that 80 percent of them are going to have made this investment for naught and will be sorely disappointed. … They would be much better off if they moved directly into the same industry or staff scientist jobs that they will end up working in anyway.”
For their study, Kahn and co-author Donna Ginther, a professor of economics at the University of Kansas, analyzed longitudinal data from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates and its Survey of Earned Doctorate Recipients, from 1981 to 2013, comparing the later careers of biomedical Ph.D.s who completed postdocs with those who didn’t. The study suggests that opportunity costs of pursuing a postdoc are high over the course of one’s career, in that the median annual starting salary for postdocs four years after earning their Ph.D.s was $44,724 in inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars, compared to $73,662 for those who had entered the permanent work force immediately. And when postdocs did eventually enter the work force, they were not awarded with a higher salary for their experience. Controlling for various factors, the 10-year post-Ph.D. salaries of those with postdoc experience were $12,002 lower than those of their peers without it.
The paper offers suggestions for alleviating the problem, including that universities hire staff research scientists to assist tenured faculty members with research, paying postdocs more to reduce the reliance on “cheap” labor and creating more tenure-track faculty lines for new graduates.
The president of the University of Oregon, Michael H. Schill (right), has weighed in on the continuing controversy over Nancy Shurtz, a law professor whom the university found violated anti-harassment policies when she wore blackface to a party to which she had invited students. Since the university in December announced its findings that she had violated policy, many experts on the First Amendment and academic freedom have criticized the university, saying that it should not be punishing what was an expressive act by Shurtz, regardless of how offended many people were by her act.
In an email message to the campus, Schill -- who is a law professor as well as president -- acknowledged that the issues are complicated. While stressing that under Oregon's procedures, the provost was in charge of handling the case, Schill defended the idea that some sanction of Shurtz was appropriate. "Some of her students felt that they were in a similar situation to students in a classroom being subjected to harassing speech, as they felt pressure to attend and to remain at the event. They felt that they could not leave without jeopardizing their standing in the class, and they also felt that the offensive nature of the blackface was the equivalent of hearing the N-word," Schill wrote. "In these circumstances, should the university have ignored the event or should it have taken action proportionate to the offense? What lesson would we be teaching our students if we let the incident end without even an official letter of reprimand?"
Further, he denied that academic freedom was endangered because of the university's handling of the case, as some have suggested.
"Some commentators have taken to the barricades and suggested that any finding or action taken with respect to Professor Shurtz will ultimately open the door to firing professors for expressing their political views," he wrote. "Really? In law, we call this the 'slippery slope' argument or 'the parade of horribles.' While I have tossed and turned for nights over the fact that the university found that a professor’s expressive conduct constituted harassment, I think the reaction of those commentators is overly dramatic and not supported by anything that took place in this case. Go online and you will find that Professor Shurtz remains a member of the law school faculty. Name a single faculty member who has been punished by the provost for his or her political views. This has not happened, and you have my vow it won’t happen as long as I occupy my office in Johnson Hall."
The American Anthropological Association established a Rapid Response Network on Academic Freedom and affiliated with Scholars at Risk to strengthen its commitment to free inquiry, it announced Monday. The response network is a diverse advisory group of anthropologists with scholarly expertise on academic freedom issues, to be chaired by Marc Edelman, professor of anthropology at Hunter College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. Scholars at Risk is an international nonprofit that works to protect threatened scholars and promote academic freedom.
“The pattern of events in the U.S. and around the world in 2016 indicates a gathering storm that threatens the academic freedom of anthropologists and other academics,” Alisse Waterston, association president and professor of anthropology at CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said in a statement. “Historically, these threats have been most effectively mitigated when scholarly and professional associations like ours have investigated and spoken out against attacks on academic freedom.”
The Labor Department has updated its guidance for temporary unemployment in ways that adjunct advocates say may make it easier to collect benefits between academic terms. The department’s 1986 Unemployment Insurance Program Letter doesn’t mention higher education and has long been used to deny part-time faculty members’ requests for coverage on those grounds. A newly released letter from the department “supersedes” the old guidance “and applies to all levels of education for public and nonprofit educational institutions, including primary, secondary and postsecondary education.”
The document mentions adjuncts specifically, saying that their numbers have increased significantly and that many “have contracts or offers to perform services in subsequent years or terms that are contingent on factors such as funding, enrollment and program changes.”
The New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy organization that campaigned for the updated letter, called it “long-overdue guidance to address the new reality of contingent academic employment in higher education. … [This] is a tool that adjunct faculty can use at the state level, both individually and collectively, to ensure that state agencies are correctly understanding and applying federal law.”