Higher Education Quick Takes

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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

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 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.

Friday, May 6, 2011 - 3:00am

The Daily Lobo, the student newspaper at the University of New Mexico, has apologized for a cartoon of President Obama. The cartoon, based on a scene from The Lion King, shows the president holding the head of Osama bin Laden, and the image was viewed as racist by many black students.

Thursday, May 5, 2011 - 3:00am

Britain should consider giving more financial support for private (read: for-profit) providers of higher education and developing a more consistent regulatory framework to monitor them, according to a study reported on by Times Higher Education. The study, by the Higher Education Policy Institute, suggests that the government consider incentives to private institutions to merge with or take over failing public universities. But it also warns that, if Britain isn't vigilant enough in its oversight, it could end up repeating the mistakes of the U.S. higher education system, where for-profit colleges have come under intense scrutiny.

Thursday, May 5, 2011 - 3:00am

Toilet drainage issues appear to be a growing problem in higher education. On Monday we noted concern at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks about people flushing socks down the toilets of the fine arts complex. Now comes word from The Boulder Daily Camera that the University of Colorado at Boulder is suing a company for $40,000 over damage caused by toilet paper "that failed to disperse properly."

Thursday, May 5, 2011 - 3:00am

A legislative committee in Louisiana, after rare testimony from Gov. Bobby Jindal, approved a measure that would combine historically black Southern University at New Orleans into the University of New Orleans, despite strong opposition from black lawmakers, The Times-Picayune reported. The proposal, which Jindal said would create one stronger institution out of two that have struggled, was approved largely along party lines, with only one Democrat joining nine Republicans in supporting it. A Senate panel is due to consider a parallel measure today.

Thursday, May 5, 2011 - 3:00am

Preliminary results from Tuesday’s election show that incumbents on the Flathead Valley Community College Board of Trustees easily held off a surprise challenge from a group of conservative candidates whose views and campaign rhetoric startled many in the rural Montana region who were used to uneventful races. Among other positions, the challengers argued that the college relied too heavily on federal funding and that its faculty and staff unions should not have the right to collectively bargain for their salary or benefits levels. A campaign blog maintained by one of the main challengers offered congratulations to the incumbents in a post Wednesday afternoon. The official results of the election are slated to be released and certified at the next Board of Trustees meeting, May 23.

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