Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 4, 2013

Service Employees International Union released a report Friday detailing the financial struggles of adjunct faculty at institutions across Boston, as part of its ongoing effort to unionize adjuncts in that city. The campaign is part of a national SEIU effort, called Adjunct Action, to organize adjunct faculty at individual institutions and regionally.

According to the report, called "High Cost of Adjunct Living: Boston," 67 percent of faculty members -- some 15,000 people -- in the Boston area were employed as adjuncts in 2011. Based on median pay per course in New England -- from $3,750 at private, master's-level institutions to $5,225, at private, doctoral-level institutions -- SEIU finds that an adjunct would have to teach 17 to 24 courses annually to enjoy median-priced housing and utilities in Boston, where the cost of living is 32 percent higher than the national average. Teaching 12 courses per year at those rates -- an unusually large course load -- an adjunct may earn $45,000, the report finds. Comparatively, full-time faculty earned from $113,000 to $154,000, on average, in 2011, depending on institution type.

The report is based on data from the U.S. Department of Education Digest of Education Statistics, among other sources, as well as SEIU interviews with adjuncts across Boston. Some tell of living off inexpensive food such as fried potatoes and onions for an entire semester and using credit cards to pay for basic costs, such as Internet and groceries. Many tell of feeling buried by student debt. According to SEIU calculations, an adjunct would have to teach one or two courses per semester to pay back average doctoral student loans alone. SEIU notes that adjuncts who are unionized enjoy on average 25 percent better pay nationally, as well as other benefits, such as increased job security, and, in some cases, access to health insurance.

 

November 4, 2013

A new study -- summarizing 26 previous studies on the scores of female and male students in physics -- has failed to find a consistent explanation for women appearing to start and finish courses, on average, with lower comprehension levels than their male counterparts. Viewing the studies in isolation, there is evidence that some factors -- such as different preparation of levels of men and women before college -- may contribute to the gap. But no one factor studied can explain the overall gap, "suggesting that the gender gap is most likely due to the combination of many small factors rather than any one factor that can easily be modified," says a summary of the study, which will appear in Physical Review Special Topics. The summary of the paper also notes that "several high-profile studies that have claimed to account for or reduce the gender gap have failed to be replicated in subsequent studies, suggesting that isolated claims of explanations of the gender gap should be interpreted with caution."

 

 

 

November 4, 2013

A Kentucky jury has awarded the former director of marketing publications at the University of Louisville $412,000, The Louisville Courier-Journal reported. Laurel Harper claimed in her suit that her job was eliminated because she complained about wasteful spending. Specifically, she had complained about the high costs associated with a kickoff party for a fund-raising campaign. The university said that the job was eliminated as part of a reduction to cut costs, and not because Harper was a whistle-blower.

November 4, 2013

A California Superior Court judge has thrown out a lawsuit from California Competes, a nonprofit group that had challenged the shared governance structure of California's community college system. The group, which is led by Robert Shireman, a former official at the U.S. Department of Education, sued over the legal status of state regulations that allegedly grant veto powers to local academic senates. The judge last week denied that motion. (Note: This article has been corrected from a previous version to fix an incorrect reference to the judge's ruling. The judge issued no written explanation for his decision.)

November 4, 2013

Baylor University's student government adopted a resolution last month that asked the university's board to change the student code of conduct to ban "deviate sexual intercourse"deviate is sic -sj instead of "homosexual acts." The resolution would in fact ban every sex act that two men or two women might perform, but would clarify that the same acts are also inappropriate for straight couples -- and that all sex outside of heterosexual marriage is wrong. Supporters of the measure said that they hoped it would remove some of the stigma felt by gay students at the university. The measure was mocked by some gay people as doing far too little, but the resolution will not even be delivered to the university's board.

The president of the study body vetoed the resolution. Wesley Hodges, the student body president, told The Waco Tribune that his action was not meant as an attack on gay people. “I truly believe that Baylor treats its students with grace, love and truth, and in doing that seeks to accept all students, but does not affirm all student behaviors,” he said. “Simply because the university disagrees with your actions or lifestyle, does not imply that it is seeking to attack you.”

November 4, 2013

College trustees should be informed and engaged with administrators as they work to combat sexual misconduct issues on campus, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges said in an advisory statement. “Colleges and universities are defending against lawsuits, federal investigations, and negative publicity arising from their response to sexual violence on campus,” AGB wrote. “As they do with other issues related to campus culture, governing boards have a duty to become and remain informed about sexual misconduct on campus, and to satisfy themselves that administrators are addressing the issue in a way that protects their institutions against potential adverse financial and reputational consequences.” Specifically, board members should ensure their institution is meeting federal obligations such as identifying a Title IX coordinator, has policies that ensure fair treatment for all parties in a complaint, and is properly training its “various constituencies” on reporting and responding to alleged sexual assault.

November 1, 2013

Strayer Education announced Thursday that it would close about 20 physical campuses, mostly in the Midwest, to cut costs in response to a 17 percent year-over-year enrollment drop that has sharply reduced its revenues. Strayer is the latest for-profit higher education provider (and among the last) to curtail its on-ground presence in the wake of the double whammy of a tough economy and increased regulatory oversight. The campus closures will affect about 5 percent of the company's roughly 50,000 students, Strayer said; those students will be encouraged to shift to the university's online programs, where most of them already study. (An email sent to students at the affected campuses said those who enrolled in spring courses would receive a $500 voucher toward the purchase of a new computer or mobile device.)

Strayer also said that it would cut its tuition price by about 20 percent effective in January.

November 1, 2013

Maryland officials and lawyers for the state's public historically black colleges have agreed to mediation on what to do about a federal judge's ruling that the state has discriminated against the colleges by permitting duplicative programs to be set up at nearby predominantly white institutions, the Associated Press reported. The judge in last month's ruling suggested that the state and the colleges would be well served by mediation, as opposed to the judge outlining a full plan for dealing with the discrimination.

 

November 1, 2013

A group of Northeastern University students stormed the library quad in a flash mob performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” Thursday, in support of the university’s adjuncts’ union drive. About a dozen Empower Adjuncts Student Coalition members broke out in dance and song, changing the lyrics of Jackson’s creepy classic to reflect their cause. Here’s the first verse: “It's after midterms, and we're all gasping sighs of relief/But across campus, injustice has its claws sunk in deep/They're everywhere: teachers without proper compensation/Poverty wages, no offices or job security -- and we don't agree.” And the chorus? “It's time for adjunct, adjunct rights/We're building up momentum, the fuse is set alight/We've got to stand up, fight the fight/Let's organize together to make things better, better tonight.”

Similar events took place throughout the week at campuses nationwide, as part of the United Students Against Sweatshops’ “Hallo-Week of Action” against what it calls low-wage worker “exploitation” in higher education, and Campus Equity Week, a national, adjunct-driven campaign to raise awareness of their working conditions.

But Northeastern students said they were protesting in particular the university’s recent hiring of Jackson, Lewis, a New York-based law firm specializing in “labor and preventive practices,” among other areas, according to its website, as outside counsel for a union drive there. Sophomore Troy Neves said the student group hoped to encourage university administrators to “remain neutral” as adjuncts attempt to organize under the Service Employees International Union. Tufts University adjuncts recently voted to unionize with SEIU, which seeks to organize adjuncts across Boston, but Bentley University adjuncts recently voted down a union effort there.

Mike Armini, a Northeastern spokesman, said the university had met with concerned students recently, telling them the firm had been hired to help the university “navigate” the intricacies of labor law related to the union drive. He referred questions about the university’s position on the drive to a letter to part-time faculty from Stephen Director, the provost. “Ultimately, the decision about whether to support SEIU or not is yours,” the letter reads. “We do want to emphasize that the issue of union representation is of critical importance to every faculty member, including you, as well as to the university as a whole. Therefore, we urge you not to remain uninvolved. However you may feel about this issue, please make your voice count.”

November 1, 2013

Johnson C. Smith University announced 21 non-faculty layoffs Thursday (as well as the freezing of 30 unfilled positions) in response to a significant enrollment decline this fall, The Charlotte Observer reported. A year ago, fall enrollment at the university set a record at 1,801, but this fall it ended up at 1,387. A key factor in the decline, officials said, was tighter rules on loan eligibility that resulted in some students or families being denied loans that they received in the past -- an issue that has been a source of frustration at many historically black colleges this year.

 

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