Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 21, 2014

Full-time, non-tenure-track lecturers at the University of New Hampshire’s Durham and Manchester campuses have voted overwhelmingly -- 141 to 23 -- in favor of forming a union affiliated with the American Association of University Professors, they announced Thursday. Key issues for UNH Lecturers United-AAUP include clear terms of contract, job security, firm contract renewal deadlines, pay raises in step with lecturers at other institutions, and fair policies for evaluation.


February 21, 2014

Johnny Moore resigned Thursday as president of Philander Smith College after just 18 months, the university said in an emailed statement. Moore became president of the Arkansas historically black institution in July 2012, succeeding Walter Kimbrough, who became Dillard University's president. Philander Smith officials did not offer any explanation for the unusually short tenure, saying only that Moore was leaving to pursue other opportunities.

February 21, 2014

A South Carolina legislative committee has voted to punish two public colleges for assigning freshmen to read books with gay themes by cutting the institutions' budgets by the total spent on the books in programs for freshmen, the Associated Press reported. The College of Charleston was criticized for making Fun Home, an acclaimed autobiographical work by Alison Bechdel, and the University of South Carolina Upstate assigned Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, which is a collection from the state's first gay radio show. Representative Garry Smith, a Republican, said he proposed the cuts to get colleges to take his concerns seriously. "I understand diversity and academic freedom," he said. "This is purely promotion of a lifestyle with no academic debate."

Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a Democrat, said legislators were interfering in academic decisions, and would draw ridicule from outside the state. "We are now in a posture where individual moral compasses and beliefs are being pushed down on our institutions of higher education," she said. "Do you think for one minute some companies are going to look seriously at us, when they think about their workforce coming to a state like this, with members of a Legislature who believe their job is to pass judgment on colleges of higher learning to dictate what books people are going to read?"

(Click here for more on this controversy.)

February 21, 2014

Adjuncts at Seattle University filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board Thursday to hold an election to form a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. SEIU also is organizing adjuncts at Pacific Lutheran University in Seattle, which has challenged the NLRB’s jurisdiction over its campus based on its religious affiliation.

A spokesman for Seattle University, a Roman Catholic institution, directed questions about the filing and whether the university would challenge NLRB jurisdiction based on its religious status to a statement posted on its website from Isiaah Crawford, its provost. It raises numerous concerns about the union drive, including that NLRB "oversight could infringe on our Jesuit tradition and Catholic identity." About 350 full- and part-time non-tenure-track faculty are eligible for union membership.

Also on Thursday, the NLRB said there was no need to review the composition of the proposed bargaining unit at the University of LaVerne, in Los Angeles, where SEIU also is organizing adjuncts on multiple campuses as part of its nationwide Adjunct Action campaign. LaVerne previously had asked that the union election be open to all adjuncts at its satellite campuses; the SEIU-proposed unit is open only to adjuncts working on the main campus.

In a statement posted to its website, LaVerne said:  “We are disappointed that our inclusive approach has been rejected. However, this decision should pave the way for the ballots, which have been cast and returned to the NLRB Regional Office, to be promptly opened and counted.” Voting began Feb. 5 and ended last week. Ballot counting was delayed, pending the national NLRB decision, as well as an unfair labor practice claim related to the union drive filed against the university.

February 21, 2014

Wellesley College's president, H. Kim Bottomly, has announced that she will not remove a controversial statue from a campus art exhibit, The Boston Globe reported. The statue is a realistic portrayal of a man in his underwear, sleepwalking, and many students have said that they find it disturbing. In a message to the campus, Bottomly said that “we cannot destroy the artistic integrity of this exhibition by moving the sculpture, and also, we must do everything we can to support those students who find themselves deeply affected by it.”

February 21, 2014

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the two institutions behind the massive open online course provider edX, on Thursday released a set of tools that visualize the age, gender, location and level of education of their almost 2 million MOOC users.

Called Insights, the tools were developed by Sergiy Nesterko and Daniel Seaton, research fellows at HarvardX and MIT, respectively. In a news release, Nesterko said Insights “can help to guide instruction while courses are running and deepen our understanding of the impact of courses after they are complete.”

A side-by-side comparison of HarvardX and MITx’s enrollment numbers shows Harvard’s MOOCs have attracted more than 1 million users to MIT’s roughly 820,000. More than one-third of Harvard’s MOOC students are in the U.S., compared to about one-quarter of MIT’s. The only other country to register in the double digits among either institution is India, whose students account for 15.5 percent of HarvardX’s total enrollment.

Similar to the student bodies at the physical campuses, MITx students are more likely to be male -- 66.2 percent to HarvardX’s 59.5 percent. They are also younger -- MITx’s median age is 27; HarvardX’s, 28 -- and, by a few percentage points, less likely to hold a postsecondary degree. MOOCs are still dominated by students who hold such a degree, however. Among MITx students, 64.6 percent hold at least a bachelor’s degree, and for HarvardX, those students make up more than two-thirds, or 67.8 percent, of the total enrollment.

Insights will be made available to the member institutions in the edX consortium.

February 21, 2014

SLM (better known as Sallie Mae) is facing increasingly broad investigations from state and federal agencies, The Wall Street Journal reported. Illinois, under Attorney General Lisa Madigan, is leading several states in examining Sallie Mae's debt collection and loan servicing.

February 21, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Michelle Sauther of the University of Colorado Boulder reveals a discovery about the preferred sleeping arrangements of lemurs. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


February 21, 2014

The Texas Faculty Association is suing the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College in federal court on behalf of three tenured professors who say they were fired for being too old, after the two institutions ended a 20-year-old joint operating agreement. Juan Antonio Gonzalez, a professor of modern languages; Dorothy Boven, an assistant professor of English; and Karen Fuss-Sommer, an instructor of nursing, all were granted tenure at Texas Southmost prior to the merger of the college and university in 1992 but had their tenure revoked following their split in 2012.

The lawsuit alleges that was due to an administrative charge that prioritized the retention of non-tenure-track faculty members with master’s degrees over tenured faculty without master’s degrees during downsizing related to the split. But the professors, all over 40, say their positions weren’t even eliminated, and that they were replaced with younger professors without due process.

"Tenure is a property right, and it is not to be taken without good cause or due process, and these individuals were denied both,” said Mary Aldridge Dean, executive director the Texas Faculty Association, affiliated with the National Education Association, in a news release. Some 80 tenure-line and non-tenure-track faculty lost their jobs following the institutions' split.

A spokeswoman from Brownsville said the university does not comment on pending litigation. Texas Southmost did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

February 20, 2014

Six female faculty members in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder have issued a statement expressing concerns about the impact of a recent report detailing instances of sexism and unprofessionalism in the department. The statement, published on the Feminist Philosophers blog, doesn't take issue with the conclusions of the report. But the statement notes that the report (which was released by the university although the authors of the report didn't intend for it to become public) could unfairly damage the reputations of some in the department. To avoid that problem, the statement says the following: "Despite differing perceptions regarding both the report’s details and the overall impression it gives, all of us are united on a few things. First, we are all distressed that the report may damage the reputations of male colleagues who are completely innocent of sexual misconduct. It could also harm the prospects of our male graduate students currently on the market. We faculty women strongly believe that none of our currently untenured male colleagues or current male graduate students has engaged in sexual misconduct (nor, indeed, have most of our tenured colleagues). We believe that many have heard about the problems, if at all, only through the rumor mill. The second thing that unites us all is our determination to rebuild the department and its reputation."



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