Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

July 16, 2014

More than 500 adjunct professors and their advocates have signed a petition calling for the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate their working conditions. The petition's authors, all current or former adjuncts at various colleges and universities, allege that they are being paid for only part of the work they do, and that that amounts to wage theft. The petition is addressed to David Weil, director of the agency's Wage and Hour Division, and urges him to "open an investigation into the labor practices of our colleges and universities in the employment of contingent faculty, including adjunct instructors and full-time contract faculty outside the tenure track." The investigation should be conducted at the "sector" level, they say, rather than individually.

The petition says that average yearly income for adjunct professors "hovers in the same range as minimum-wage fast food and retail workers," since adjuncts typically are paid only for the time they spend teaching -- not the time they spend preparing or meeting individually with students. Ann Kottner, an adjunct professor of English at three New York City-area colleges, says in a photo posted with the petition that she works 66 hours per week but is compensated for only 26 hours, for example. Kottner and her co-authors say faculty unions have helped alleviate the problem in some cases, but that more needs to be done to protect the rights of adjuncts who can't or won't form unions. Many adjuncts lack basic job security and fear getting "blacklisted" for speaking out or organizing, they say.

The Labor Department did not return a call for comment on the petition.

July 16, 2014

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday reversed a Republican proposal to cut funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities by more than 5 percent in the coming fiscal year. The full committee approved an amendment to the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, which sets the NEH budget, to fund the federal humanities agency at the same level as the current year.

Lawmakers on the subcommittee overseeing the NEH budget last week had approved legislation that would have reduced it by $8 million in the federal fiscal year that begins October 1. That would have been a reduction from its current $146 million.

The committee adopted the entire funding measure on a 29-19 vote amid a fight over Environmental Protection Agency climate regulations. The bill now heads to the full House. The U.S. Senate has not yet taken up a version of the spending bill.

July 16, 2014

The nonprofit institute that manages the well-known Semester at Sea study abroad program has signed a “standstill agreement” with a German bank to prevent action by its creditors after it missed payments on an $83.5 million loan for its cruise ship, the Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Va., reported. The May 2 agreement required the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) to pay $400,000 at signing and $100,000 every subsequent month as the institute attempts to sell its cruise ship, the MV Explorer.

The standstill agreement came one month prior to a “mutual" decision on the part of the ISE and its university partner, the University of Virginia, to end Virginia’s academic sponsorship of Semester at Sea programs as of May 2016. A June amendment to the contract between ISE and U.Va., obtained by Inside Higher Ed via an open records request, outlines several other conditions under which the academic sponsorship could be terminated before the agreed-upon 2016 date, including if the institute violates any terms of the standstill agreement or if for any consecutive three-month period the difference between its cash balance and its accounts payable is either negative or 15 percent lower than projected figures. The document requires ISE to consult with Virginia officials no later than 45 days prior to the start of each of its scheduled Semester at Sea voyages to ascertain whether it has sufficient resources to complete the program as planned. 

Lauren Judge, a spokeswoman for ISE, said in an email to Inside Higher Ed that the institute “is not in a precarious financial situation and is current on all financial obligations. ISE has ended its fiscal year (May 31, 2014) with positive operating results, improving the financial condition reflected in ISE’s balance sheet over that of the previous year.”

“The primary purpose of the standstill agreement between ISE and its creditors is to provide an orderly process for the sale of the MV Explorer, as ISE is returning to its original business model of two voyages per year,” she said. “Under this model, ISE no longer requires the use of a ship year-round. In returning to a leasing model for another ship, ISE will be relieved of the financial risks and burdens of ship ownership. The standstill agreement states that ISE is no longer responsible as a guarantor for ship debt and payment. Additionally, upon the sale of the MV Explorer (or at the latest May 15, 2015 if a sale has not been completed by that date), all financial obligations will be removed from ISE’s consolidated balance sheet.”

According to an article on its website, ISE purchased the MV Explorer in 2008 after leasing a ship for the 40 years before that. The article cites escalating fuel costs and the impact of the economic crisis on enrollments as some reasons for selling the ship.
 

July 16, 2014

Academe may be less prepared than the finance, health care and manufacturing sectors to tackle cybersecurity breaches, according to a report from the network security provider ForeScout Technologies, Inc. After interviewing more than 1,600 IT staffers at organizations in the U.S. and abroad, researchers at IDG Connect found higher education lagged behind the other sectors on forming policies and mitigating risk. IT staffers in higher education were also the least confident that mobile device security and network monitoring tools would be improved.

July 16, 2014

Citing procedural reasons, a federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered a lower court to grant a new trial to a Teresa R. Wagner, who has waged a multiyear legal campaign to show that the University of Iowa discriminated against her because of her conservative political views. A jury in 2012 rejected one of Wagner's claims and deadlocked over another, and last year a federal court refused to give her a new trial.

But in its ruling Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit embraced Wagner's assertion that the lower court judge, in refusing to grant Wagner's request for a new trial, had failed to recognize that the magistrate judge in her 2012 trial lacked the authority to accept the split verdict against Wagner after he had earlier declared a mistrial.

July 16, 2014

Gettysburg College has expelled, suspended or otherwise punished 27 students who were found to have violated the Pennsylvania institution's policies stemming from a Philadelphia-area drug ring that ensnared other colleges, too, The Morning Call of Allentown reported.

"It is clear that we are not immune to the problems associated with drug and alcohol abuse among our nation's young people," Gettysburg President Janet Morgan Riggs said in an emailed letter to parents and alumni. "(But) the actions of a few individuals are not reflective of the Gettysburg College community as a whole."

July 16, 2014

Desire2Learn's learning management system now has a name: Brightspace. The company had previously referred to the system as its "integrated learning platform." The name change, along with partnerships with IBM, Microsoft and five major publishers, were announced during Desire2Learn's user conference in Nashville this week.

July 16, 2014

In today's Academic Minute, Artur Ekert, professor of quantum physics at the Mathematical Institute at the University of Oxford, discusses cryptography and efforts to improve security systems. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

July 15, 2014

The financial picture for higher education remains negative, but “green shoots” of stability are emerging, according to a new industry outlook by Moody’s Investors Service.

The usual concerns about higher ed still apply: because students and families worry about price and cost, colleges can’t much raise tuition to increase their revenue; state funding will increase, but not enough to keep up with the growth in expenses; competition for sponsored research will continue to be fierce; and demographic forces will exacerbate stress at weaker colleges, among other concerns.

Moody’s still finds reasons for hope. Among them: long-term demand for higher education remains strong, particularly interest in associate and master’s degrees; rebounds in the job and housing market augur well for the higher ed sector; and endowment returns continue to grow.

July 15, 2014

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Education has not properly overseen the companies it hires to collect defaulted federal student loan debt, according to an audit released Monday by the agency’s inspector general.

The report found that officials at the department did not “effectively” make sure that the 22 companies that the department hired were collecting debt in accordance with federal law missing "rules" or should this be "with federal law"? dl ** should be law. fixed /ms and the terms of their contract. The inspector general also said that the department did not do enough to make sure that borrowers' complaints against debt collectors were properly received and resolved.

Under the terms of the government’s contract with the debt collectors, recurring borrower complaints are supposed to lead to a reduction in their performance scores. The audit says that, in spite of the more than 3,000 complaints the department received between the 2010 and 2012 fiscal years, officials never docked the scores of any of the companies. The department said in response to the audit’s findings that it had taken steps to “close gaps in our oversight” of the companies, including new directions to the debt collectors and a promise to take borrower complaints into account when evaluating the debt collectors.

The department has previously faced other criticism for its oversight of federally contracted debt collectors. A May 2013 inspector general report found that the department had paid out bonuses to the companies without verifying that they had actually been earned.  A leading consumer advocacy group has also criticized department officials for keeping secret how it pays out bonuses to the debt collection companies. The National Consumer Law Center earlier this year filed a lawsuit to force the department to turn over records relating to those bonuses. 

Pages

Back to Top