Higher Education Quick Takes
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.
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.
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."
Gaither Loewenstein quit as president of Modesto Junior College after song lyrics he wrote, featuring off-color humor he used in a singing career, became public, The Modesto Bee reported. Loewenstein had been in office less than a year when his music website (under his stage name) became known. "When somebody takes the job as the president of a college, they are no longer responsible for just themselves. They're responsible for the students, the faculty, the staff, the board of trustees, the chancellor and the district," Loewenstein told the Bee. "In taking on that responsibility it was incumbent on me to take down that web site, and I did not do that. That responsibility lies with myself."
Indian students for years have considered the United States, Britain and Australia as the top study abroad destinations. But The Economic Times reported that the "red hot locations" today are new: Continental Europe, Canada, Singapore, New Zealand and China.
A deaf football fan is suing the University of Kentucky in hopes of forcing it to caption all game-related announcements on scoreboards at Commonwealth Stadium. The complaint, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Lexington, cites the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and argues that Charles Mitchell, a Kentucky football season ticket holder, "does not have equal opportunity to enjoy, benefit from, or participate in home games or athletic events, equal to that of individuals without disabilities." Among other actions demanded, the complaint argues that the university should provide captioning on "Jumbotrons and video monitors" at its football stadium for "all of the plays that just occurred, all of the penalties called, safety and emergency information, and any other announcements made over the public address system." Kentucky officials declined to comment on the suit to the Associated Press Thursday. The AP also reported that the suit against Kentucky resembles suits recently brought against Ohio State University and the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Ohio State settled the matter out of court last year and has agreed to provide captioning; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a decision in March requiring that the Redskins provide captioning.
A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a lower court's ruling dismissing a whistleblower's lawsuit alleging that three private student loan providers violated the False Claims Act by defrauding the government. The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit came in a suit brought by a former loan adviser at Nelnet, who sought to hold the lender liable under the False Claims Act for regulatory violations that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in federal overpayments to the Nebraska lender. But the appeals panel agreed with the lower court that the former employee had failed to show that Nelnet and two other lenders, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, had made false claims to the government, as the law requires.
The University of Texas at Austin has largely resisted the controversial higher education reforms being pushed by Texas Governor Rick Perry and others close to him, but Texas A&M University -- the governor's alma mater -- has been more open to the ideas. For instance, Texas A&M has published rankings of professors' "productivity." But this week, 22 prominent A&M alumni, all of whom have been been designated as "distinguished alumni" for their contributions to the university, are circulating a letter calling for Texas A&M to oppose the governor's ideas, The Houston Chronicle reported. The letter refers to "an extraordinary level of political intervention in our university" that could hurt the university's standing. In particular, the letter questions "proposals to fundamentally change how research universities in Texas fulfill their educational responsibilities."