Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - 3:00am

The faculty at the American Film Institute Conservatory voted 35 to 8 to express no confidence in Jan Schuette, dean, and requested that he resign, the institution’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors announced Tuesday. Aggrieved faculty members say the vote follows a year of tensions over matters of shared governance, academic freedom and instruction. They allege that Schuette has canceled faculty meetings, unilaterally imposed changes to the curriculum and admissions process, and fired several instructors without due process.

The conservatory said in a statement that it “embraces change to ensure its peerless educational experience evolves with the art form,” according to Variety. “This march to the future is often driven by passionate disagreement, and we have received conflicting opinions from within the faculty and are currently ensuring that all voices are heard in this process.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - 3:00am

In addition to its major decision in favor of graduate student unions, the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday ruled that instructors of religious studies may be excluded from part-time faculty unions at two Roman Catholic institutions. The two decisions, concerning St. Xavier University and Seattle University, respectively, reverse earlier regional board rulings that adjunct instructors in all disciplines at those institutions may form unions because they don’t perform specific religious functions. The regional board decisions were made in light of an earlier NLRB decision concerning Pacific Lutheran University, which paved the way for adjunct faculty unions at religious institutions.

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 Tuesday’s decisions were notable because the exclusion of some faculty members but not others from collective bargaining had never previously been argued in relation to NLRB vs. Catholic Bishops of Chicago. That 1979 U.S. Supreme Court decision asserts that faculty members at religious institutions aren’t entitled to collective bargaining under the labor relations act. “Nobody’s ever articulated that before,” Herbert said of the distinction.

“We find that the university holds [adjunct faculty in the department of religious studies] out ‘as performing a specific role in creating and maintaining the school’s religious educational environment,’” reads the NLRB’s decision on St. Xavier, quoting the board’s 2014 decision in favor of adjunct unions at religious colleges concerning Pacific Lutheran. Tuesday’s decision concerning Seattle used similar language and logic, but it applies to adjuncts in the institution's Department of Theology and Religious Studies, as well as the School of Theology and Ministry.

St. Xavier adjuncts are affiliated with the National Education Association, while those at Pacific Lutheran and Seattle University are affiliated with Service Employees International Union. A spokesperson for Seattle said the university was reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment. A spokesperson for St. Xavier was not immediately available for comment.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - 4:28am

Eight athletes at Texas Woman's University were hospitalized this weekend and one has since been released with symptoms related to rhabdomyolysis, a serious and rare condition involving muscle tissue breakdown. The university and Texas health authorities are investigating.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - 4:21am

Facing growing public outrage over its firing of an instructor for absenteeism when her absences were due to cancer treatment, China's Lanzhou Jiaotong University issued a statement that said it was “deeply sorry” and agreed to pay the instructor back wages, The New York Times reported. Anger over the case has only grown, however, because the instructor -- Liu Lingli -- died before the apology was issued.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, John Cummings, associate professor of physics at Siena College, describes neutrinos and why they are so key to our understanding of the cosmos. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 - 3:00am

An inspiring story from the University of Mississippi: colleagues Charlotte Pegues and Leslie Banahan share a special bond because Banahan donated a kidney to Pegues, whose kidneys were failing. The successful operation was performed June 9 at the university's medical center. Pegues (on the right in the photograph of the two women) is assistant provost for academic affairs and registrar. Banahan is assistant vice chancellor for student affairs. “I feel like Leslie is my sister,” said Pegues. “I want to repay her in some way, but she said this was a gift. It’s a God thing!”

Banahan said, “I wouldn’t have done this for just anyone, but Charlotte is an amazing woman, someone I wanted to help so she could live a full, long, happy life with her husband, family and friends. We have a special connection now -- sisters, really -- as we have shared this journey together.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 - 3:00am

Wells Fargo will fork over more than $3.6 million to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to settle claims over what the regulator called illegal student loan servicing practices, according to a release from the CFPB Monday.

In addition to the $3.6 million civil penalty, the bank will pay $410,000 in restitution to consumers. It will also be required to improve practices involving billing and processing of student loan payments.

The CFPB said Wells Fargo's student lending division violated federal consumer protection laws by processing borrower payments to collect higher fees, providing incorrect information on the value of partial payments and charging illegal late fees, among other practices.

“Wells Fargo hit borrowers with illegal fees and deprived others of critical information needed to effectively manage their student loan accounts,” said the bureau's director, Richard Cordray, in a statement. “Consumers should be able to rely on their servicer to process and credit payments correctly and to provide accurate and timely information, and we will continue our work to improve the student loan servicing market.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 - 3:00am

In Southern California, parking is always a challenge. For community colleges, the start of the semester can make parking even more difficult as people try to register and add classes. San Diego Mesa College -- of the San Diego Community College District -- is helping out this week by providing several days of free valet parking. The college is promoting a variety of forms of transportation for use during the semester, but valet parking will allow an extra 200 cars in the main lot (since double parking will be possible) for a few days this week, when demand for spaces is especially high. Students used the service all day long, as seen in a photograph by Lina Heil of San Diego Mesa.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 - 3:00am

A hunger-striking student activist in Thailand was released on bail Friday only to be detained again on another charge, the Bangkok Post reported.

Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a student at Khon Kaen University, was released on bail in relation to charges that he violated the country’s referendum law by distributing pamphlets critical of a draft constitution in advance of an Aug. 7 vote on the document. Shortly after his release on Friday, Boonpattararaksa was detained again on charges of violating a ban on political gatherings in March 2015.

UPDATE: The Bangkok-based Khaosod reported that Boonpattararaksa was freed on bail today -- "for real this time." 

Thailand has been ruled by a military junta since a successful coup in May 2014. Human rights groups including Amnesty International and Scholars at Risk have written in recent weeks in support of Boonpattararaksa and another student activist, Wasin Prommanee, with whom he was reportedly arrested Aug. 6. Human Rights Watch issued a statement last week raising concerns about the hunger-striking Boonpattararaksa's health and calling for the military junta to release him "and other activists who peacefully protested the proposed constitution."

In response to Inside Higher Ed's inquiry about the student activists' cases, Thanida Menasavet, of Thailand's embassy in Washington, D.C., wrote, "As with any countries [sic], Thailand is trying to strike a balance between civil rights and the need to uphold public order. Over the past years, we have been faced with instability and a challenge to the rule of law. It is against this backdrop that we are now working hard to move our country forward to achieve social reconciliation and sustainable democracy. For those who break the law, we will ensure that they are treated with due respect to their rights and their medical and other needs attended."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 - 3:00am

Ursinus College is making a bid to prove to top students that it can be affordable, starting a new scholarship program guaranteeing tens of thousands of dollars for four years for freshmen who meet certain academic standards.

The 1,700-student private liberal arts college outside of Philadelphia has created a Gateway Scholarship guaranteeing $30,000 per year for four years. To be eligible, students must earn a minimum ACT composite score of 28 or a combined 1260 on the SAT's critical reading and math segments. They must also meet college preparatory-level course requirements.

The $30,000 per year is roughly half of the $61,690 total cost of attending Ursinus in 2016-17. Ursinus charges $49,370 in tuition and fees and $12,320 for room and board. But its 2015-16 discount rate was 57.4 percent, and just 3 percent of its students paid the full cost of attendance.

Students applying for the new scholarship can still apply for additional need-based aid.

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