Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 14, 2023

Duke University will legally challenge its graduate student workers’ latest effort to unionize.

“In 2016 the National Labor Relations Board decided that graduate assistants at Columbia University—based on the specific facts at Columbia University—were employees and therefore had a right to unionize,” wrote Chris Simmons, a Duke official, in an email to Inside Higher Ed.

“However, a court of law did not review this decision,” he wrote. “Duke provides significant financial and programmatic support for Ph.D. students to help them reach their academic goals. That support is very different from an employment relationship. Duke will seek to present evidence demonstrating that its graduate students in their academic programs are not employees, and that the NLRB’s 2016 reasoning was incorrect.”

WUNC reported Duke’s plan Friday.

The Service Employees International Union–affiliated Duke Graduate Students Union is currently trying to earn recognition after a failed attempt in 2016–17.

Matthew Thomas, a Duke teaching assistant who co-chairs that union, told Inside Higher Ed that “Duke is declaring war on the grad union movement.”

“Undergrads, postdocs, non-tenure-track faculty and academic researchers are forming unions,” Thomas said of the national picture. “Looking at this landscape and then saying that all this should be rolled back and erased is, in a sense, hitting the nuclear button … It’s an attack on grad workers across the country.”

He said the university is effectively “crossing its fingers” and hoping for a future NLRB appointed by Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a leading Republican presidential contender.

A Duke position statement says, “We hope that faculty can continue to interact with students flexibly and creatively, with an eye to what makes the best sense for each individual with regard to teaching, learning, mentoring, research and career development—a freedom that could be lost when these matters are ruled by binding collective agreements.”

March 14, 2023

A jury in Baton Rouge awarded $6.1 million to the parents of a Louisiana State University student who died following a 2017 hazing incident, The Advocate reported.

Max Gruver was an 18-year-old freshman when he died of alcohol poisoning and aspiration after a Phi Delta Theta fraternity ritual in which pledges were required to chug 190-proof liquor.

His parents, Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver, had already received payments from settlements with 16 of the 17 defendants named in their civil suit, which included LSU, Phi Delta Theta and multiple members of the fraternity. The jury found the remaining defendant, former fraternity member Ryan Matthew Isto, 2 percent responsible for the death, meaning the Gruvers will receive $122,000 after the trial.

Both Isto and another former fraternity member, Sean Paul Gott, had previously pled no contest to a misdemeanor hazing charge and were sentenced to 30 days in jail in 2018. Another, Matthew Naquin, who was said to have acted as a “ringleader” during the hazing, was convicted of negligent homicide in 2019.

Gruver’s parents plan to use the money to further the mission of the Max Gruver Foundation, the antihazing organization they founded after their son’s death. Since then, the Louisiana Legislature has passed a bill aimed at defining and preventing hazing called the Max Gruver Act, which the foundation supported.

March 14, 2023

A former University of Wisconsin at Madison anthropology graduate student, Arvin Raj Mathur, was arrested for sending numerous violent and threatening emails to students, faculty and staff members at the university, The Detroit News reported.

Threats included telling an anthropology professor that he would “murder every single person that you have ever been close to.” In the same email, he threatened to kill the children of a fellow in the anthropology department as well as of a former UW Madison staff member and “hide their flesh inside of their burger meat.” At least one victim said he had been receiving threatening WhatsApp messages from Mathur for months.

Mathur sent the emails from Copenhagen, where he was studying. His emails indicated that he was planning to carry out his threats during an upcoming trip to Madison.

Mathur was arrested by federal agents upon arriving at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport Friday.

March 14, 2023

Bay State College, an embattled for-profit institution in Massachusetts, is facing eviction over what its landlord claims is $720,000 in unpaid rent, WBUR reported.

Bay State officials have disputed the amount owed, claiming the landlord, OMV Park Square, didn’t follow through on its promise to lower the rent in exchange for the college vacating part of the occupied premises. The matter will head to court in April if a settlement is not reached.

The looming eviction comes amid other troubles at Bay State College, which was stripped of accreditation by the New England Commission of Higher Education in January, a move that will become official at the end of the current academic year. Bay State College appeared before a panel last week to appeal the decision.

“I expect a decision later this week or early next week; the panel has ten days to notify us of its decision and then we have seven days to notify the college and then one more day to make the decision public,” NECHE president Larry Schall told Inside Higher Ed by email.

Issues at the college have also caught the attention of Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ayanna Pressley, who raised concerns about Bay State in a letter to NECHE in January.

Bay State College is owned by Ambow Education, which has been scrutinized by former employees and students who allege leadership failures and widespread mismanagement.

Ambow Education also owns NewSchool of Architecture & Design in San Diego, which is under pressure from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The accreditor noted last year that the college, which has seen dwindling enrollment and significant leadership turnover, “may not have resources sufficient to ensure long term viability if current trends continue.”

March 14, 2023

Alliance University, a private nonprofit Christian institution in New York, has been ordered by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education to show within a month why the institution should not lose its accreditation, citing a slew of financial and other problems.

The letter from Middle States says that by April 14, Alliance, which had 1,861 students in fall 2021 according to Education Department data, must provide evidence that it “is in compliance with the commission's standards for accreditation, requirements of affiliation, policies and procedures, and applicable federal regulatory requirements.” Middle States cited a long list of problems at the institution, including inadequate financial resources, and required a teach-out plan.

March 14, 2023

The University of Rhode Island removed a partial quote by Malcolm X from the outside of its library building. Black students have been protesting the quote since it was first displayed in 1992, the Associated Press reported. They said that using the partial quote did not convey what Malcolm X said.

The inscription read, “My alma mater was books, a good library … I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.”

The full quote, from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, says, “I told the Englishman that my alma mater was books, a good library. Every time I catch a plane, I have with me a book that I want to read—and that's a lot of books these days. If I weren’t out here every day battling the white man, I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity—because you can hardly mention anything I’m not curious about.”

March 14, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Week: Brett Fajen, associate dean for academic affairs and professor, looks at our eye movements to see how we overcome obstacles. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 13, 2023

The police at Michigan State University on Friday released a note that Anthony McRae wrote before he killed three students and himself.

In the note, he said, among other things, “I’ve been hurt” and “people hate me.”

He also said that he was acting with a group of others. “While McRae states in the note that he was acting with others, investigators from MSU DPPS, Michigan State Police and the FBI have determined through comprehensive reviews and detailed follow-up that McRae acted alone and was not working with other people,” the university said. “This claim is unfounded.”

March 13, 2023

Temple University and its striking graduate students have reached a tentative agreement to end a labor action that started Jan. 31, the Associated Press and NBC Philadelphia reported.

Union members, who rejected a first tentative agreement, will finish voting on the measure today.

The union said it made “meaningful, material gains on every major issue we set out to address in bargaining,” including wages, dependent care, leave policies and working conditions.

March 13, 2023

The former chair of Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology who was convicted of lying to the U.S. government about his Chinese connections and Chinese money has retired from the university.

Charles M. Lieber retired from his professor position Feb. 1, the university said. Torrey Young, one of Lieber’s attorneys, told Inside Higher Ed Friday that he chose to retire “after 30 years of devoted service to Harvard.”

Lieber hasn’t yet been sentenced for his December 2021 convictions for knowingly making false statements to the federal government, willfully filing false tax returns and willfully not disclosing that he had authority over a Chinese bank account.

He was set to be sentenced March 2, but that is being rescheduled.

After his conviction, Lieber asked a judge to acquit him or call for a new trial. But Rya W. Zobel, a U.S. District Court judge for the District of Massachusetts, shot down that effort in September.

“From 2011 to 2015, defendant developed a relationship with Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China and participated in the Chinese government’s Thousand Talents Program (TTP),” Zobel wrote. “His relationship with WUT, and specifically his participation in the TTP, was the subject of investigations by two U.S. agencies that periodically provided substantial grant money to fund defendant's laboratory and research at Harvard.”

Those agencies were the U.S. Defense Department and the National Institutes of Health.


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