Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 13, 2013

President Obama over the weekend touted a new program from the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Veteran Affairs that broadly defines "best practices" for serving student veterans. So far more than 250 institutions, including many community colleges, have signed on to the "8 Keys to Success." The program includes calls for better coordination with government agencies, a uniform set of data tools and an early alert system aimed at student veterans.

August 12, 2013

California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat whose position makes him a member of the University of California Board of Regents, voted (with the minority) against the salary set for the new chancellor of the university's Riverside campus, The Los Angeles Times reported. The salary proposed and approved for Kim Wilcox, the new chancellor, was $354,000, 9 percent more than the previous chancellor received. Brown said he supported the selection of Wilcox, but objected to the increased salary. "I consider the growth in inequality in California, the U.S. and the world in general a problem that is tearing apart the social fabric."

August 12, 2013

Israeli universities for the first time are being allowed to offer some faculty members individual contracts -- with salaries 30 percent higher than the norm -- instead of having all professors covered by collective agreements, Haaretz reported. The goal of the initiative is to recruit back to Israel star faculty members who have left for universities abroad, typically in the United States, where top faculty members earn more than they do in Israel.

 

August 12, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Karim Kassam of Carnegie Mellon University reveals what brain imaging techniques have to say about the spectrum of human emotions. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

August 12, 2013

The board of the University of North Carolina system voted Friday to bar campuses from offering gender-neutral housing, The Raleigh News & Observer reported. The university's Chapel Hill campus had decided last year to start offering some gender-neutral housing, and the board's action stops that plan from taking effect. The board acted without discussing the issue in public, but the Chapel Hill move has been criticized by conservative groups in the state. Advocates for gender-neutral housing have said that it is an important option for transgender students and for some gay and lesbian students who may face hostile environments in traditional housing. Members of Campus Pride, an organization the is an advocate for gay, lesbian and transgender students, protested outside the meeting, with signs that read "Trans Lives Matter."

 

 

August 12, 2013

Medical schools in Eastern Europe are seeing increases in the number of foreign students enrolling, particularly in programs taught in English, The New York Times reported. The programs are less expensive than those in the United States and are easier to get into.

 

August 12, 2013

Four former members of the Vanderbilt University football team were charged Friday with raping an unconscious woman -- also a Vanderbilt student -- in a dormitory, The Tennessean reported. The university, which had already suspended the former athletes and barred them from campus, issued a statement that said: "We are proud of the collective accomplishments of our student athletes over many years and we expect the highest standard of conduct from them. It is a privilege, not a right, to represent Vanderbilt as a student athlete, and when our standards of conduct are not met, we will hold our student athletes accountable. The charges brought today against the four former Vanderbilt football players allege conduct which is abhorrent and will never be tolerated. We will review our athletics program to be sure that it, like all other programs at the university, reflects our culture of community and respect for others and that our student athletes are held to the same high standards of conduct as all our students."

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.

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