Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 9, 2013

Purdue University's Calumet regional campus is planning layoffs for seven faculty members, most of them assistant professors, The Journal and Courier reported. At least another 12 faculty members have accepted early retirement packages. The size of the faculty will shrink by about 7 percent, as part of a response to a deficit brought on by lower than expected enrollments.


August 9, 2013

Faculty members at Pennsylvania State University aren’t giving up their fight against “Take Care of Your Health.” They’ve launched an online petition against the university’s controversial new health care plan and its punitive surcharges for smoking, not completing annual biometric exams and online screenings, and covering spouses or domestic partners eligible for insurance through their own employers. Those monthly surcharges range from $75 to $100 each. More than 1,300 people, including faculty, staff and family members had signed the petition as of Thursday. “We the undersigned request, indeed, we demand, that the Office of Human Resources put an immediate end to the implementation of these programs, and open a conversation with their constituents (including both faculty and staff) in order to develop more equitable and less intrusive strategies for containing health care costs,” reads the petition, addressed to President Rodney Erickson, the Penn State Board of trustees, and human resources officials.

In contrast to positive incentive-based wellness programs at numerous other institutions, the petition reads, Penn State “has adopted what can only be called a harsh and coercive punishment system, in essence requiring employees to submit to intrusive questions and comply with medical procedures, or else pay significant fines.”

Penn State says it has offered positive wellness incentives in the past, such as Weight Watchers, but they did little to bring down the ballooning costs of its self-funded insurance system. It announced the surcharges this summer. They take effect in late fall and early winter. In an e-mail, Susan Basso, vice president for human resources, said the university was aware of the petition but would proceed with "Take Care of Your Health," a plan that's admittedly "bold for a university." The number of employees who have signed the petition make up just five percent of the benefit-enrolled population, she added.

Brian Curran, the professor of art history who authored the petition, said he was surprised by how many names he’d gathered and how diverse the signatories’ backgrounds were. Many also left comments. In almost every note, Curran said in an e-mail, “there is a sense, more or less explicitly stated, of the great burden that the past two years of [the Jerry Sandusky child abuse] scandal has placed on the morale of both faculty and staff. There is a common thread of ‘enough is enough,’ [and] ‘this is the last straw.’" That said, he added, “I continue to hope that the administration will do the right thing, and at least delay the imposition of the surcharges for the next year, so that a full airing of grievances and proper consultation can take place.”

The university consulted with the Faculty Senate's Benefits Committee on the plan, but the body as a whole was never asked to vote on it.

August 9, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Maria Uriarte of Columbia University’s Earth Institute examines the use of fire as an agricultural tool in South America. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


August 9, 2013

A former doctoral student who worked as a psychology intern at the University of California at San Francisco was awarded more than $14,000 in back wages after filing a complaint with the California labor commissioner over uncompensated work, the International Business Times reported. While the internship was paid, Johanna Workman was only allowed to log 17 of 40 hours per week, she said, and although she had expected a stipend, she was paid hourly and did not make minimum wage. Workman was not a student during the six months for which she sought back wages – August 2012 through January 2013 – having graduated in 2011. But the case is unusual in that interns who have sued over violation of labor laws in recent months have worked in the private sector. In ruling against the university, the California Labor Commissioner cited the U.S. Department of Labor’s guidelines for unpaid internships, the same guidelines that were applied in the recent court victory of unpaid interns – also non-students – over Fox Searchlight Pictures.

August 9, 2013

The National Collegiate Athletic Association got slammed – perhaps even more aggressively than usual – online this week after the ESPN men’s basketball commentator Jay Bilas pointed out an apparent hypocrisy: The NCAA staunchly prohibits athletes from profiting off their own images, but the association was selling jerseys on its ShopNCAASports.com website that seemed to do just that. While the jersey wouldn’t include a name, if a shopper searched for “Johnny Manziel” – the 19-year-old Heisman Trophy winner who is now under NCAA investigation for selling autographed photos – up popped jerseys featuring the Texas A&M University quarterback’s number and team colors.

The NCAA responded quickly, removing the search bar but staying silent when people noticed. Its officials couldn’t escape the questions during an NCAA Executive Committee press call Thursday, though, where NCAA President Mark Emmert said the association would no longer sell university jerseys or memorabilia. Adding that he didn’t know how the practice began and that it was “a mistake,” Emmert noted that the website is an aggregator for other retailers and that the NCAA did not profit off the sales. Nonetheless, the NCAA is “exiting” the business.

“I can certainly understand how people could see that as hypocritical,” Emmert said of the sales.

Officials noted that the website will still sell NCAA-branded apparel.

August 8, 2013

It's time for Inside Higher Ed's monthly Cartoon Caption Contest.

There are multiple ways to participate. Suggest a caption for a new cartoon; the three entries that our judges deem most clever or chuckle-inducing will be put to a vote by our readers next month, and the winner will receive a $75 Amazon gift certificate and a copy of the cartoon signed by Matthew Henry Hall, the artist.

You can also choose your favorite from among the three finalists nominated for best caption for last month's drawing.

And congratulations to the winner of the Cartoon Caption Contest for June, Donald Larsson, professor of English at Minnesota State University-Mankato. Find out more about him and his submission here.


August 8, 2013

A new poll by Citi and Seventeen looks at which expenses related to college students handle themselves and which ones their parents handle. For most items -- including tuition -- the results are mixed. There is one item on which parents are far more likely than students to pay the bill: monthly phone bills.


August 8, 2013

What it all will eventually amount to is far from clear. But the agitation over the perception that colleges and the National Collegiate Athletic Association -- and pretty much all parties but athletes themselves -- profit from the sale of merchandise bearing the likenesses of players continues to grow.

USA Today reported Wednesday on the filing of another lawsuit by former players against two photography companies, arguing that they "conspire with numerous colleges and universities that participate in the NCAA … to market and sell thousands of photos of active and former collegiate athletes without offering compensation to or obtaining consent from these student-athletes." The lawsuit is the latest in a string related to the use of players' images in video games and other profitable enterprises.

And the sports Twitterati and blogosphere continued to explode Wednesday with discussion prompted by Jay Bilas, the ESPN men's basketball commentator, who noted in a series of Twitter posts that the NCAA website's own store sells jerseys that lack players' names, in line with NCAA rules that bar the sale of equipment that identify specific athletes. But Bilas noted that punching the names of certain players into the search engine on the ShopNCAASports.com site brings up jerseys with those players' colors and numbers. Excoriating the NCAA's hypocrisy, Bilas's stream of tweets ended by suggesting that if you punched "NCAA Executive Committee" in the search engine, the image that would show up was of a group of clowns.

Within a short time, the NCAA had disabled the website's search function.

August 8, 2013

France is considering a proposal from its High Council for Integration that Muslim headscarves be banned at universities, Reuters reported. A ban is already in place in schools and many French leaders place a high priority on promoting secularism in public institutions. Muslim groups are speaking out against the proposal. "This is one more step in the legal stigmatization of Muslims,” said a statement from the March 15 Liberty Committee, a Muslim group opposed to the proposed ban. "The separation of church and state cannot be reduced, as some want it to be, to an arsenal of laws against Muslims."

August 8, 2013

Hood College, in Maryland, and Regis College, in Massachusetts, have both announced that they are ending requirements that all applicants submit the SAT or ACT. Hood suggests that those who do not wish to submit test scores have a minimum high school grade point average of 3.25 and schedule an on-campus interview. Regis says that it will still require the SAT or ACT for applicants to its undergraduate nursing program, and for home-schooled applicants.



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