Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 26, 2017

Vanderbilt University must count all ballots from a June election in which non-tenure-track faculty members in the College of Arts & Sciences voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, a hearing officer from the National Labor Relations Board said. The recent decision could still be appealed by Vanderbilt and must be approved by the NLRB regional director, but non-tenure-track professors in the college described it as bringing them one step closer to collective bargaining.

Some 193 instructors were eligible to vote in the election, with 55 voting for a union and 40 opposed. The university challenged the validity of 28 votes, but NLRB ended up counting 27 of those.

“We call on the administration to accept the NLRB hearing officer’s decision and begin negotiating with us in good faith,” Heraldo Falconi, a senior lecturer in Spanish, said in a statement. “We have lawfully completed the steps required for union certification, and it's time to get started negotiating a clear set of policies and guidelines that's consistent for all non-tenure-track employees.”

The university said in a separate statement that it is evaluating the NLRB hearing officer’s report “and in the process of determining next steps at this time. We continue to approach this process in good faith and with the well-being of the Vanderbilt community and its faculty at the forefront.”

October 26, 2017

A researcher of disaster medicine has been sentenced to death in Iran on charges of spying for the Israeli government, Nature News reported.

Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish resident who earned his Ph.D. at the Karolinska Institute and teaches at the Università degli Studi del Piemonte Orientale, in Italy, and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, in Belgium, was arrested in April 2016 during an academic visit to Iran. He was sentenced to death Oct. 21 and reportedly had 20 days to appeal his sentence.

An Amnesty International official described the trial of the Iranian-born Djalali as “grossly unfair.”

“No evidence has ever been presented to show that he is anything other than an academic peacefully pursuing his profession,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

A letter from the Middle Eastern Studies Association's Committee on Academic Freedom notes that a document circulated by contacts of Djalali "that claims to be a literal transcription of a handwritten text produced by Dr. Djalali inside [Tehran's] Evin Prison" states that Djalali believes he was arrested for refusing to spy on European countries on their critical infrastructures and counterterrorism capabilities. The document states that Djalali never spied for Israel or any other country.

October 26, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Lauren Howard, assistant professor of psychology and scientific and philosophical studies of mind at Franklin & Marshall College, delves into how chimpanzees and other apes pass along and learn information. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

October 25, 2017

The U.S. Justice Department has filed a statement of interest backing a lawsuit against Pierce College over its "free speech zone," which the suit says in fact limits free speech on campus. The Justice Department brief says that this zone represents only 616 square feet and that limiting student expressive activities to that zone, with additional rules as well, effectively squelches expression protected by the First Amendment. The suit was brought by a student whom administrators stopped from passing out Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution. Pierce, which is part of the Los Angeles Community College District, has not responded to the Justice Department statement. Generally, courts have given public colleges some leeway on limiting the time and place of student protests and other activities, but have rejected severe limitations.

October 25, 2017

Radford University has announced that Graham Glynn has been removed as provost after less than a year in office, The Roanoke Times reported. Glynn will be taking a sabbatical and then taking up his tenured faculty job. Faculty members had complained that Glynn was not committed to shared governance. Glynn did not respond to a request for comment.

October 25, 2017

Eleven percent of white Americans believe that they personally were victims of discrimination in applying to college or while in college, according to a new poll by NPR. A larger percentage of white people (55 percent) believe that discrimination against white people exists in the United States today.

October 25, 2017

Faculty members at Virginia Tech are considering holding a vote of confidence in Thanassis Rikakis, provost, The Roanoke Times reported. Surveys and other internal documents suggest increasing faculty dissatisfaction with the direction of the university and communication between administrators and professors, according to the Times. The Faculty Senate has also resolved that a memo from Rikakis suggesting that a negative tenure or promotion review can result in reappointment to another position elsewhere in the university is in violation of the Faculty Handbook, the Times reported. A Tech spokesperson said that the university maintains that the provost “has followed all the policies and procedures defined by the Faculty Handbook.”

October 25, 2017

In today's "Inside Digital Learning":

October 25, 2017

Adjunct professors at St. Catherine University in Minnesota voted against forming a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced Tuesday. ReBecca Koenig Roloff, president, said in a statement that the election result was “an affirmation of the way our adjunct faculty and university leadership have worked closely with one another over the course of the last year to achieve real progress in areas such as compensation, benefits and professional development.” 

Carol Nieters, executive director of the local SEIU, in a separate statement accused St. Kate’s of waging a vigorous anti-union campaign. SEIU continues to stand with “faculty and students at St. Kate’s who deserve better than the current situation,” she said.

October 25, 2017

The University of Notre Dame is today announcing a $100 million pledge from Kenn Ricci, an alumnus. The gift has no restrictions, which is highly unusual for a gift of this size. Further, it will be made in an unusual way -- Ricci and his wife will be making periodic gifts in the years ahead. When Ricci dies, Notre Dame will control the businesses he founded and sell their assets, using proceeds to hit the $100 million pledge, and then turn over other funds to Ricci's estate.

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