Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, May 9, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of California system is debating the idea of charging different tuition rates at different campuses, The Los Angeles Times reported. Proponents say that the idea can bring in badly needed revenue, and is realistic, given that there is much greater demand to enroll at some campuses (Berkeley, for example) than others. Critics see the idea undercutting the unity of the system.

Monday, May 9, 2011 - 3:00am

Students at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee early Saturday morning ended a protest in which they had occupied a study room in the student union nonstop for 67 days, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The students have been protesting Governor Scott Walker's budget plans, which include legislation to deny collective bargaining rights to many state workers. The students attended class during the protests, but kept at least one person in the study room, in which they also slept and ate. Police had to escort some of the protesters out of the room, but none of them resisted.

Friday, May 6, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Rev. James Maher of St. John’s University examines organized labor’s progress in the wake of the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Friday, May 6, 2011 - 3:00am

Faculty members and many others are criticizing the board of the City University of New York for blocking a proposal by John Jay College of Criminal Justice to award an honorary degree to Tony Kushner, the playwright best known for Angels in America. The CUNY board refused to approve the degree after one trustee accused Kushner of being anti-Israel based on statements that Kushner and others say are distorted. At least two other colleges do plan to honor Kushner this commencement season -- and so far these events are free of controversy.

Kushner will receive an honorary degree and deliver the commencement address at Muhlenberg College. And the New School will award Kushner an honorary degree. David Van Zandt, the New School's president, issued this statement: "Discussion and dissent are fundamental strands of New School DNA. Tony Kushner is one of our nation's foremost public intellectuals; his presence at our commencement ceremony reflects the shared values of our university and of this graduating class.”

Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, the CUNY trustee who led the opposition to the degree for Kushner, published a piece Thursday defending himself and calling Kushner an "extremist." Wrote Wiesenfeld: "We can all express dissent where we warrant it – it is our right. However, every nominee that has been brought before the board, during my 12 years at least, has been approved by the full board. Mr. Kushner, however, was opposed because he is an extremist. No extremist from any quarter is a good face for any university – from far left or far right. Honorary degrees are public declarations of esteem by the university community conveyed to the honoree; for the university, they are image-building, advertising and publicity as well."

Friday, May 6, 2011 - 3:00am

About 25 adjunct faculty members at Ferris State University in Michigan held a sit-in in the university president's office for about two and a half hours Thursday afternoon before being asked to leave by police. The faculty members, part of the school's newly formed adjunct union, have argued that administrators have been intractable in negotiations and have been unwilling to address issues such as job security and benefits. The university's administration claims that the union is being unrealistic by using the adjunct union's contract at the University of Michigan as their model. At the time of the sit-in, the university's president was not on campus.

Friday, May 6, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Texas System released data Thursday designed to help the system's regents gauge the productivity of faculty members, The Texas Tribune reported -- one part of an accountability push that has concerned many professors and troubled some lawmakers. The massive spreadsheet -- which system officials insisted was raw and unverified, and should be treated as a draft -- contained numerous data points about all individual professors, including their total compensation, tenure status, total course enrollments, and information about research awards. A similar effort this spring at Texas A&M University -- also undertaken in response to pressure from Gov. Rick Perry -- created a stir there.

Friday, May 6, 2011 - 3:00am

A federal jury has awarded $1.1 million to a former history professor at Madison Area Technical College, finding that he lost his position for complaining about religious discrimination, The Wisconsin State Journal reported. Michael Dubin reported comments that denigrated Judaism. A lawyer for the college said that the institution did not violate the law, and that Dubin's contract was not renewed because of his job performance.

Friday, May 6, 2011 - 3:00am

Graduate teaching and research assistants at Polytechnic Institute of New York University on Thursday filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking union representation. The petition would create a distinct bargaining unit for the approximately 600 assistants who work at the institute, which merged with NYU in 2008. While wages, job security and health insurance were mentioned as concerns, the chief issue cited was lab safety, according to a statement released by the United Auto Workers, with which many graduate student unions are affiliated.

Efforts to organize graduate students at NYU have encountered a rocky road, and this latest bid to unionize looks as though it will meet similar resistance at NYU-Poly. Reiterating previous arguments made by NYU, Kathleen Hamilton, a spokeswoman for NYU-Poly, cited precedent established by the NLRB, which held that graduate, teaching and research assistants at private universities are students, not employees. "We admitted these men and women as students; we didn’t hire them as employees," she said in a statement. "So we don’t think unionization and collective bargaining is the right framework for a relationship between a university and its graduate students." (The UAW is also trying to organize teaching assistants at the main campus of NYU -- and has filed for an election of that unit. The university is opposing the move.)

Different iterations of the NLRB have ruled on the matter in different ways. In 2000, the NLRB held that NYU's graduate assistants were employees, which opened the door to NYU's graduate students to collectively bargain. Unions for graduate students are more common at public institutions, where teaching and research assistants are among the 45,000 higher education employees unionized by the UAW. In 2004, another version of the NLRB overturned the original 2000 ruling. NYU graduate students called strikes in 2005 and 2006 in an unsuccessful effort to force NYU to continue to recognize the union.

Friday, May 6, 2011 - 3:00am

The Department of Veterans Affairs faced significant problems in carrying out the Post-9/11 GI Bill, resulting in significant delays in processing education benefits for veterans and major headaches for college officials, the Government Accountability Office said in a report Thursday. Congress's investigative arm found that the veterans' agency could have improved its performance in implementing the dramatically expanded new program if it had worked more closely with the Education Department and others, and urged it to do so in the future. The publication of the GAO report echoed many concerns that college officials expressed throughout the process, prompting one campus official, on a listserv on veterans' issues, to write: "Duh."

Friday, May 6, 2011 - 3:00am

The former director of financial aid at Ave Maria College was awarded more than $400,000 by a Michigan jury Wednesday in her suit charging that she lost her job for cooperating with a federal investigation into possible financial aid violations at the institution, The Detroit News reported. The college argued that her position was eliminated for reasons unrelated to her whistleblowing.

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