Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 12, 2016

Graduate students who are teaching and research assistants at Columbia University have voted, 1,602 to 623, to unionize and to be represented by the United Auto Workers, the union announced Friday afternoon.

“Today, 3,500 [research and teaching assistants] like me have won a voice to make sure Columbia University is the best place possible to learn and work,” said a statement from Addison Godel, a teaching assistant in the Architecture School at Columbia. “This marks a major victory for the entire Columbia community -- we care deeply about the world-renowned teaching and research that happens at our university and are ready to tackle the issues that matter most to us, our students and our neighbors.”

Columbia’s graduate students were the group that urged the National Labor Relations Board to rule in August that graduate students at private universities have that right. In something of a surprise, the voted to allow not only teaching assistants but research assistants to vote to form unions. The board has historically flip-flopped on graduate students’ status as employees, but the recent decision overturned a much longer-standing precedent against unions for externally funded research assistants in the sciences.

Last week’s vote is a big win for those seeking to unionize student employees at a number of other private research universities. It’s possible that some of those votes could be challenged, however. Some administrations have openly opposed the idea of graduate student unions, but institutions can only legally challenge the NLRB decision following a successful union vote.

Columbia did not respond directly to a question about whether or not it would challenge or begin to negotiate with the union, but sent a statement from John Coatsworth, provost.

Since the NLRB “reversed its position and decided that students at private universities may be treated as employees, Columbia’s administration has communicated two principal messages to our university community and to eligible voters: we have always believed that the magnitude of the decision at issue in this election, in combination with Columbia’s values, required an open and respectful conversation that explained the arguments for and against unionization. Having heard those arguments, the research and teaching assistants who voted have chosen to be represented by the United Auto Workers.”

December 12, 2016

Colby-Sawyer College, a private college in New Hampshire, has announced cuts in staff positions and is also eliminating some majors. A message last week from Sue Stuebner, the president, said that seven faculty members and 11 staff members had been told that their positions were eliminated. An additional 19 faculty and staff members who are leaving will not be replaced. Stuebner said the college has been operating at a loss of $2 million the past two years, and this year's projections are for another loss, of $2.6 million. Enrollment has fallen from 1,500 four years ago to 1,100 this year, and the president's message said consultants have said the "optimal size" for the college is closer to current than past enrollment levels.

The Valley News reported that other cuts include five majors: English, philosophy, accounting, health promotion and health care management.

December 12, 2016

The Association of American Medical Colleges announced Friday that it has written to President-elect Donald J. Trump and congressional leaders to urge them not to repeal the Affordable Care Act (widely known as Obamacare) unless there are systems put in place to provide "current coverage levels" for those who rely on it. The letters follow reports that the Republican congressional leadership plans to try to repeal the ACA without a new system in place, but simply to delay the end of ACA coverage.

The AAMC letters say this would not work. "Repealing the ACA without a replacement, even if the implementation of such a repeal were delayed, would be very disruptive. For example, recently insured patients with complex conditions require stability and continuity in their care. If the exchange marketplace is disrupted, their inability to afford other coverage could cause them to forgo or delay necessary medical care. In addition, delayed alternative coverage and stability could harm teaching hospitals’ ability to provide complex, coordinated care to the nation’s most vulnerable patients," said a statement from the association.

December 12, 2016

Students occupied the president's office at Georgetown University Thursday night and stayed until Friday night, when they reached an agreement with the university. The protest was to demand that Georgetown end a contract with Nike because of a report by the Worker Rights Consortium indicating inhumane working conditions at a Nike factory in Vietnam. While the university didn't agree to commit to ending its ties to Nike, it did agree to discuss the conditions in the factory and to renew its contract with Nike only if there are systems in place for independent monitoring of factories. In addition, the university said it would discuss with students how these issues would be addressed in future contracts with Nike. The university also indicated that Nike has already pledged to make major improvements in working conditions at the factory.

While some students occupied the office, others held protests outside (at right).

December 12, 2016

Jody Smith (at right), a police officer at Georgia Southwestern University, was killed last week while providing requested backup to local police officers in Americus, Ga., investigating a domestic violence complaint. An Americus police officer was also killed. A Georgia Southwestern spokesman said police officers there routinely provide backup for cases that do not involve the university when help is requested.

Last month, a Wayne State University police officer was shot and killed on the job.

December 12, 2016

Numerous studies have questioned the conventional wisdom that first-year college students gain an average of 15 pounds. But research just published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior finds that the average senior weighs 10 pounds more than he or she did as a freshman. The research found that the mean weight of students at the beginning of their college careers was 147 pounds and it had gone up to 157 by senior year. Further, while only 23 percent of the students in the study were overweight or obese as they started college, 41 percent were in that category by the end of senior year. The lead author of the study is Lizzy Pope, assistant professor of nutrition and food sciences at the University of Vermont.

December 12, 2016

Three University of Louisville students were shot early Sunday while at a party off campus to celebrate the awarding of the Heisman Trophy to Lamar Jackson, The Courier-Journal reported. Two of those shot were football players.

 

December 12, 2016

Academics and senior administrators at the University of Cambridge have voted in favor of keeping the centuries-old tradition of publicly posting "class lists," including student exam results by name, The Telegraph reported. Student campaigners had argued that the public display of grades was "damaging" to student welfare and promoted "a culture of shaming." But 55 percent of students who voted in a referendum were in favor of keeping the lists, "albeit," the Telegraph reported, "with an easier 'opt-out' process."

December 12, 2016

Today on the Academic Minute, Leiden University’s Elaine Lucassen discusses the importance of the circadian rhythm on our natural processes. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

December 9, 2016

Graduate students who are teaching and research assistants at Columbia University have voted, 1,602 to 623, to unionize and to be represented by the United Auto Workers, the union announced Friday afternoon.

“Today, 3,500 RAs and TAs like me have won a voice to make sure Columbia University is the best place possible to learn and work,” said a statement from Addison Godel, a teaching assistant in the Architecture School at Columbia University. “This marks a major victory for the entire Columbia community – we care deeply about the world-renowned teaching and research that happens at our university and are ready to tackle the issues that matter most to us, our students and our neighbors.”

The outcome is a big win for those seeking to unionize teaching assistants at private research universities. Columbia's graduate students were the group that urged the National Labor Relations Board to rule in August that graduate students at private universities have that right.

 

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