Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, June 8, 2015 - 3:00am

Clearwater Christian College announced Friday that it will close due to myriad financial challenges. Clearwater, founded in 1966, is a small Christian college in Florida. It enrolls about 500 students, down from about 600 students a decade ago. Declining enrollment, increased debt and the lack of a sizable endowment precipitated the closing, the college said in a statement posted on its website.

“The board and administration of Clearwater Christian College thoroughly investigated a variety of short-term and long-term viability options,” read the statement. “Unfortunately the related due diligence process did not yield a resourced solution to the operational stress points of the college which could ensure completion of another academic school year.”

Monday, June 8, 2015 - 3:00am

A regional National Labor Relations Board office decided late last week that adjuncts at Duquesne University may form a union affiliated with the United Steelworkers. Adjuncts teaching at Duquesne’s McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts voted to form a union in 2012, but the Roman Catholic university argued that its religious identity put it outside NLRB jurisdiction. The university’s appeal was pending before the national NLRB for some time, but earlier this year that board sent back several similar adjunct union cases to their local NLRB offices for further consideration in light of the recent Pacific Lutheran University decision.

In that case, the national board determined that Pacific Lutheran adjuncts could form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, since their duties were not of a religious nature. The landmark decision also included new guidelines for evaluating such cases, and those guidelines were used to re-evaluate the Duquesne case. The local board office found there was “no evidence” that adjunct faculty are told they have religious duties, or that religion is a consideration in hiring, performance evaluation or course content.

In an open letter, Duquesne President Charles J. Dougherty said federal courts maintain that the NLRB “should not be determining whether we are religious enough by their own standards, and we intend to appeal the local NLRB’s decision” to the national board and federal courts, if necessary. In a news release, the United Steelworkers said the university’s interest in blocking the union appeared to be financially, not religiously, motivated.

Monday, June 8, 2015 - 4:27am

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. has become the latest company with national operations to expand tuition benefits to all employees. Nation's Restaurant News reported that the company will be expanding a full tuition reimbursement benefit that has been limited to salaried employees. As of July 1, it will be available to hourly employees as well. JD Cummings, recruitment strategy manager, said that the tuition benefit would likely appeal to high school and college students, “which is a lot of our target demographic for entry-level positions in the restaurant.”

The move by Chipotle follows a number of national companies -- including Starbucks and McDonald's -- adding or expanding tuition benefits.

Monday, June 8, 2015 - 3:00am

The full University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents voted Friday to adopt a tenure policy to replace the one likely to be stricken from state statute, while rejecting one last opportunity to formally oppose planned Legislative changes to faculty terms of employment.

“The change in tenure policy comes without identification that a problem exists, without any gathering of data, without analysis or any public discussion of something that should be the Board of Regents' to determine,” said Regent Mark J. Bradley, proposing a faculty-backed resolution asking state legislators to eliminate controversial language that would make it much easier to fire tenured faculty members from an omnibus budget motion likely to be passed by state lawmakers by the end of the month. The motion also includes new limits on the faculty role in shared governance.

Bradley’s proposal echoed statements from faculty groups and some members of the regents’ Education Committee the day prior, who argued that the regents’ support for tenure is weakened if language otherwise limiting faculty power becomes law. But Regent Gerald Whitburn immediately moved to table Bradley’s motion. The board voted to table, effectively ending the debate. (The Education Committee also voted 4 to 3 Thursday to pass the tenure resolution without a proposed amendment asking lawmakers to remove the controversial language from the budget motion.)

Other board members said they supported tenure and that they were confident it would be protected by the new regents policy and forthcoming guiding principles to be established by a joint committee, including faculty members.

Faculty members expressed disappointment in the board on social media and elsewhere, saying that board policy will always be second to state law.

According to current state law, tenured faculty members in good standing in Wisconsin may only be laid off or terminated in financial emergencies. Proposed changes to state law would eliminate tenure and allow for the termination of even tenured faculty members under much broader circumstances, or “when such action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision regarding program discontinuance, curtailment, modification or redirection.” The budget motion specifies that individual professors laid off for such reasons would be entitled to a hearing before a faculty body, but that program changes or closures would not be subject to review in the hearing.

According to policy established by the American Association of University Professors, tenured faculty positions may be eliminated in cases of true financial exigency or when academic programs are eliminated for the good of the institution over all, with full faculty input. Faculty members should be reassigned to other programs to avoid termination whenever possible.

In a weekend op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Richard D. Legon and Susan Whealler Johnston, president and executive vice president, respectively, of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, warned state legislators against weakening the University of Wisconsin System through changes to tenure and shared governance.

“We'd be the last to deny the ultimate authority of a governing body of a higher education enterprise,” they wrote. “However, proposed changes that would result in a diminution of educational quality seem shortsighted. We urge caution on the part of the Legislature. Just as the success of any business is largely dependent on the talent of the employees it can attract and retain, so, too, is the success of any university. Don't risk turning the University of Wisconsin into a talent desert, damaging the state and its citizens in untold ways for years to come.”

Monday, June 8, 2015 - 3:00am

Adjuncts at Trinity Washington University voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced Friday. The count was 74 in favor and 54 opposed. SEIU’s Adjunct Action campaign to organize adjuncts across metro areas began in the Washington, D.C., region and the union says 90 percent of the adjuncts in the city -- at five other universities -- are now affiliated with it. A university spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Monday, June 8, 2015 - 3:00am

Stuttgart Media University, in Germany, has scuttled plans to establish a Confucius Institute due to stated concerns over finances, the Stuttgarter-Zeitung reported (in German). The university had signed a contract to found a Confucius Institute with Hanban, the Chinese government entity that oversees and funds the overseas institutes for Chinese language and culture study, in August of 2014.

A spokeswoman for Stuttgart Media University told Inside Higher Ed that plans to establish a Confucius Institute together with Hohenheim University "will not be realized at the moment. After various discussions with representatives of politics and economy we did not succeed in finding the necessary support for this project."

The Students for a Free Tibet organization issued a press release last week celebrating the development as a win for academic freedom and democratic values. The group reports that it has sent nearly 300 letters to senior university officials in 30 countries urging them to close the controversial Confucius Institutes, which have been criticized on the grounds that the universities that host them cede control over teaching to the Chinese government.

Pema Dolma, the campaigns director for Students for a Free Tibet, said that Stuttgart Media was among the universities that activists were targeting -- and that she feels confident the university’s decision was linked to their campaign. “The Confucius Institute controversy is worldwide and a lot of people are talking about it and of course universities and administrators are thinking twice about if they want to be linked to this,” she said. Universities that have announced closures of their Confucius Institutes in the past year include Pennsylvania State University, Stockholm University and the University of Chicago.

This article has been updated to incorporate Stuttgart Media's response.

Monday, June 8, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Lori Hunter, a sociologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, discusses the relationship between human migration and the natural environment. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Friday, June 5, 2015 - 3:00am

Barnard College, the women's college associated with Columbia University, will begin admitting transgender women in fall 2016. The Barnard College Board of Trustees approved the new policy at its June 3 meeting following "a full year of conversations" about the issue. "As expected, a wide range of passionate and deeply held beliefs were discussed and debated," Debora Spar, Barnard's president, and Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald, chair of the Board of Trustees, said in a statement. "But on two main points, the responses were compelling and clear. There was no question that Barnard must reaffirm its mission as a college for women. And there was little debate that trans women should be eligible for admission to Barnard."

Friday, June 5, 2015 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON -- Two lawmakers introduced a bill on Thursday designed to combat sexual assault on college campuses. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Representatives Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, and Patrick Meehan, a Republican from Pennsylvania, would provide $5 million per year in additional funding to the Department of Education's understaffed Office for Civil Rights; require the department to issue stiff penalties for colleges that don't comply with the nondiscrimination law Title IX; increase penalties for violating the Clery Act, which requires colleges to disclose information on campus crimes, from $35,000 to $100,000; and require colleges to conduct biennial climate surveys. The bill, called the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency (HALT) Campus Sexual Violence Act, would also create an interagency task force to increase coordination between the agencies dealing with campus sexual assault, and require colleges to sign memorandums of understanding with local police.

“No student should have to fear sexual assault on campus and no parent should fear their child is in danger when they send them to college,” said Meehan, who is so far the only Republican member among the 27 sponsors of the bill. “As a prosecutor, I worked closely with the victims of sexual assault on campus and I saw firsthand the need to improve protections for survivors. This legislation takes sensible steps forward to strengthen protections for victims and it will help them access the resources they need in the wake of attack.”

Friday, June 5, 2015 - 3:00am

The American Council on Education and Universities Canada have reiterated their longstanding opposition to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s AHELO (Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes) project, an effort to measure teaching quality globally that is often described as a higher education equivalent of the K-12 level Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). In a May letter to OECD’s secretary-general, the American and Canadian presidential associations objected to a “one-size-fits-all” approach to outcomes assessment worldwide.

“The AHELO approach fundamentally misconstrues the purpose of learning outcomes, which should be to allow institutions to determine and define what they expect students will achieve and to measure whether they have been successful in doing so. AHELO, which attempts to standardize outcomes and use them as a way to evaluate the performance of different institutions, is deeply flawed,” states the joint letter from ACE and Universities Canada.

The letter also objects to the process behind the AHELO project and to what the associations describe as an “unwillingness to openly hear the views of institutional leaders.”

OECD’s press office declined to comment on the letter on Thursday. In a blog entry recently published in Inside Higher Ed, the Toronto-based higher education consultant Alex Usher described some of the criticism of AHELO on the part of higher education associations in the West as “a defense of privilege: top universities know they will do well on the comparisons of prestige and research intensity, which are the bread and butter of the major rankings. They don’t know how they will do on comparisons of teaching and learning. And so they oppose it, and don’t even bother to suggest ways to improve comparisons.”

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