Quick Takes: New Tactic on TA Unions, Miscarriages of Art, Flags on Floor as Art, Bill to Ban Minority Student Groups, Plagiarism Detection for Journals, Crossing the Pond, Cary Nelson Re-Elected, Controversial Approval in Colo., Loan Bill, Green Values

April 18, 2008
  • Two key Congressional Democrats on Thursday proposed legislation that would allow teaching assistants at private universities to unionize. While many public universities recognize TA unions (which are regulated in the public sector by state laws), private universities' labor disputes are judged by the National Labor Relations Board, which in 2004 ruled that graduate students are primarily students, and not employees, so TA's are not entitled to unionize. The legislation announced by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Rep. George Miller, the respective chairs of the Senate and House education committees, would reverse the 2004 ruling by the NLRB. In a statement, Senator Kennedy said: "Teaching and research assistants are in classrooms every day, educating students in colleges and universities across the country. This bill restores the bargaining rights unfairly denied by the NLRB to these hard-working graduate students.” It is unclear what will happen to the bill; President Bush's appointees to the NLRB have been skeptical of TA unions, as have leaders of private universities. If a law did overturn the 2004 ruling, the impact could be significant. Prior to that ruling, New York University teaching assistants unionized, although after the ruling, the university declined to continue union recognition when its contract expired, and a union strike over the issue fizzled without winning another contract. Several organizing drives of TA's at private universities that were active prior to the 2004 ruling have been muted since the combination of the decision and the defeat of the NYU strike.
  • A Yale University student's senior art project is setting off a furor online. But the university says that the furor isn't about anything that really happened. And after that statement, the student questioned what the university said. The Yale Daily News reported Thursday on work by Aliza Shvarts that features a cube onto which she said she would project videos of miscarriages in herself that she induced with drugs. The student paper also said that Shvarts planned to drape plastic sheeting from the cube and that blood from the miscarriages would be placed between the sheets of plastic. Shvarts told the paper that she artificially inseminated herself repeatedly so that she would have multiple pregnancies to end. Shvarts did not respond to messages. But Yale released a statement Thursday that said she had admitted that the art represented fiction. "Ms. Shvarts is engaged in performance art," the statement said. "Her art project includes visual representations, a press release and other narrative materials. She stated to three senior Yale University officials today, including two deans, that she did not impregnate herself and that she did not induce any miscarriages. The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman's body. She is an artist and has the right to express herself through performance art. Had these acts been real, they would have violated basic ethical standards and raised serious mental and physical health concerns." After the statement was released, Shvarts gave another interview to the student paper in which she said that she didn't know if she had been pregnant, but that she had tried to inseminate herself and had taken the miscarriage-inducing drugs, and she showed the paper video of her bleeding. "No one can say with 100-percent certainty that anything in the piece did or did not happen," Shvarts told the paper, "because the nature of the piece is that it did not consist of certainties."
  • Veterans and others are protesting a student's art project involving American flags at the University of Maine at Farmington. The Morning Sentinel reported that the student -- who described herself as a conservative Republican -- placed large and small American flags on a building corridor so that students would have to make a choice about whether to stop on or around the flags. While flag-waving protesters called the art insulting, the university defended the student's right to show her work. Theodora Kalikow, president of the university, said: "We would not do anything differently. The student had a project, she got all her permissions and we were correct in supporting her. It was a legitimate learning experience." Kalikow added that she personally wouldn't put a flag on the ground, but others had the right to make a different choice. "The flag represents our country, along with the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. But do people want censorship if an idea makes them mad? The highest value is upholding the Constitution, even if it means disrespecting the flag," she said.
  • A bill passed by an Arizona House of Representatives committee would bar students at the state's public colleges and universities from creating organizations based in whole or part on the race or ethnicity of members. The Arizona Republic reported that the bill would ban such groups as the Black Business Students Association at Arizona State University or Native Americans United at Northern Arizona University. The bill would also bar public elementary and secondary schools from teaching anything counter to Western civilization. Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican who backs the legislation, said: "This bill basically says, 'You're here. Adopt American values.' If you want a different culture, then fine, go back to that culture." Rep. Pete Rios, a Democrat, questioned that logic. "There's nothing wrong with being bilingual, bicultural," said Rios. "I like Mexican music. I like Elvis Presley. I'm bicultural. What's wrong with that? I think kids, students, need to learn about their culture."
  • Students may not be the only ones being checked electronically for plagiarism. The company that offers the popular detection service Turnitin announced this week a new service to be used by scholarly journals.
  • Gordon Brown, Britain's prime minister, want more British students to study in the United States and more American students to spend time in the UK. In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Brown said that a committee led by the president of New York University and the principal of King's College London would soon work on plans to expand ties between British and American universities.
  • Cary Nelson has been re-elected as president of the American Association of University Professors and will serve a second two-year term. Nelson -- of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign -- defeated Thomas E. Guild of the University of Central Oklahoma. Nelson has emphasized the need for the AAUP to be more vocal and activist, especially on issues related to non-tenure-track professors and academic freedom. Guild focused on management of the association, charging that the AAUP was not doing enough to support state and local efforts. The vote margin was 3,638 to 2,518.
  • In a divided vote, the Colorado Commission of Higher Education has granted authority to operate in the state to an institution that has generated national, and even international, controversy, the Silver & Gold Record reported. The commission voted 5 to 2 to approve a staff recommendation to let American University for Humanities offer degrees in the state, despite concerns raised by some commissioners about the institution's past, which was recounted in a 2006 article in Inside Higher Ed . A predecessor of the university was shut down by regulators in Hawaii in 2004, and the accreditation of the institution's campus in the Republic of Georgia caused headaches for the accreditor, the American Academy for Liberal Education. During a meeting this month to weigh state approval for American University for Humanities, some commissioners tried to delay the vote to try to get more information about the institution, but staff members said the university had met the state's (relatively few) requirements for for-profit institutions.
  • As expected, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation Thursday that is designed to ensure the continued availability of student loans in the wake of the emerging credit squeeze in the capital markets. The legislation (H.R. 5715), which passed by a vote of 383-27, would raise annual limits on how much in federal loans a student may borrow, defer repayment of federal parent loans until after a student leaves college, and expand the ability of the federal government to support lenders who have difficulty re-selling their loans. Lawmakers adopted several amendments to the legislation on the House floor. (Also on Thursday, Bank of America said it would stop making private educational loans, but would continue participating in the federal loan program.)
  • Students are more likely to act in environmentally friendly ways (or at least to report that they do) at colleges and universities where campus policies emphasize environmental sustainability, according to a survey of 1,700 students conducted by researchers at the College of William and Mary and released today. The survey, released by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, found that students at institutions that received A grades on the institute's sustainability "report card" were likelier than those at colleges that scored D's and F's to report limiting their energy use, limiting their appliances, and turning off their computers when not in use, among other behaviors. "When students perceive climate change to be a priority for their school, it really affects their individual actions," Samantha Weston, co-director of the study and a senior at William and Mary, said in a news release about the survey.
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