Higher Education News

When a major donor can't complete a pledge

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 08/26/2016 - 07:00

It’s hard to watch $38 million melt away.

But that’s effectively what Marian University in Indianapolis has had to do. The small Roman Catholic university on the city’s west side secured a very public $48 million pledge from a wealthy donor at the beginning of the decade as it sought to expand with a new medical school. Then a series of business troubles hit the donor, drastically cutting his wealth and his ability to pay.

Today, Marian says it has received just under $10 million of the pledged donation. It’s budgeting as if no more is coming. Now university leaders are arguing Marian stands as proof institutions can weather the loss of large, high-profile donations if they’ve put the right financial plans in place. The university is operating in the black, they said.

“Any institution that builds a financial plan off of one thing is being reckless,” said Daniel J. Elsener, Marian’s president. “Anything can go wrong. What’s guaranteed in the world?”

The fact remains, however, that the pledge’s evaporation has raised some uncomfortable issues for Marian -- as it would for any university. It’s opened the question of slowing an ambitious construction schedule. It has eaten into endowment growth. Perhaps most visibly, it has left Marian with a medical school building named after a donor who could not fulfill his $48 million pledge.

Marian has been respectful of the donor, Michael Evans, in its response. That reaction is worth examining, fund-raising experts say. It deals with an element that’s more difficult than the financial books -- the human element. And future donors are watching.

Evans was the CEO of locally based toxicology tester AIT Laboratories. He pledged the $48 million gift in 2010. The gift became public in 2011, when Marian was breaking ground on a new building to hold its medical and nursing schools. The university announced at the time it was naming the building the Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences.

Since then, however, Evans and AIT have run into financial trouble. Much of Evans’s wealth was in AIT, even after he sold the company to its employees. But the company fell on hard times amid a decline in Medicare reimbursement rates, and it was recently sold to a private equity firm in Texas. Earlier this year, Evans also settled a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Labor alleging that he sold AIT to employees for more than it was worth. He did not admit wrongdoing.

Evans’s lawyer, Andrew McNeil, declined to comment on his client’s finances for the Indianapolis Business Journal but told the publication Evans “just wants to move on.”

Yet there are no plans to remove his name from the medical school building at Marian. Evans ultimately gave about $10 million toward the construction of a $44 million building. The gift was critically important because the money came when Marian was trying to get construction off of the ground, according to Elsener.

“There’s no building without him,” said Elsener, who has been president at Marian since 2001. “I can’t see how we could have done it without him.”

Elsener has also seen no indication that Evans planned to walk back his loan pledge. The parties had done their due diligence, only to have several unlikely events combine to derail the pledge, he said.

“We didn’t do this on the back of a napkin,” Elsener said. “When Mike Evans made this pledge, the world was different. He showed me, he showed us: ‘Here’s our books.’”

No one knows for sure how common it is for major donations to evaporate, said Paul Schervish, professor emeritus and retired director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College. Such events are usually kept private.

They do leak out from time to time under various circumstances, though. For example, Duke University recently made a claim on Chesapeake Energy Corp. co-founder Aubrey McClendon’s estate, alleging he did not fulfill $10 million in pledges before he died. When such situations do become public, it’s important for institutions to remember they can be a blow to individual reputations, Schervish said.

“I think it’s important to understand the terrible embarrassment and reluctance of the donor to cancel the pledge,” he said. “It’s one thing to drop it because you don’t like what the institution has done with the first part of the pledge. It’s another thing to drop it when you simply can’t afford it.”

Parties will typically do what they can to salvage a pledge, Schervish said. But when there is no way to salvage it, the institution has to pick up the pieces and move forward.

Confidence is key, said Elizabeth Herman, a consultant and former executive in several institutions’ fund-raising departments. An institution will have to project confidence, she said. It will need the confidence of its donors, particularly in a time when there is already widespread hand-wringing about higher education finance, she said.

“What is the story, how is the donor handled, how is the institution perceived?” she said. “That’s so critical, because you can’t go about backstopping unless everyone is quite clear and full of integrity about what happened and why. The story is everything in a situation like this, or it could be catastrophic.”

Any impact on future donations is uncertain. Experts were split about whether a pledge evaporating could help or hurt fund-raising, agreeing it depends on the situation and individuals involved.

Marian is putting forward a confident face, sharing information on its financial situation. The university built contingencies into its financial plan, insulating it from unexpected events, Elsener said. Plus, the $48 million pledge was to come in over eight years, meaning the lost revenue doesn’t hit home all at once. Marian is also able to absorb some financial blows because its other fund-raising is up, as are enrollments. The new medical school has opened and is operating at capacity, adding millions in revenue.

Marian plans about $40 million in new construction in the next 35 to 40 months as it continues to grow enrollment, Elsener said. It’s not clear yet whether the evaporation of Evans’s gift will force Marian to change its construction schedule. At the moment, the university plans on moving forward as scheduled but could slow plans if necessary.

The loss of the gift could also have an impact on Marian’s rate of endowment growth. The endowment has grown since 2001, when it was $2.9 million. Net assets were $67 million in the 2016 fiscal year and are expected to jump to $80 million in 2017. By 2025, Marian wants to be at more than $200 million.

The large gift would have made it easier to grow the endowment, Elsener said. Yet although the endowment is important, it is not driving the college’s core operations, he said.

“If our fund-raising was way up, or enrollment is way up, and the gift comes in, then our endowment is quite bigger,” Elsener said. “We use it almost solely on scholarships.”

Because of the amount already paid and after accounting adjustments for factors like inflation, the loss of Evans’s pledge required Marian to write a $30 million reserve into its books. It’s a lot of money for an institution of Marian’s size, even if it is a number living only in an accounting ledger. But Elsener said successful fund-raising and enrollment growth can help offset the number.

“It’s an anomaly, but you’ve got to plan for anomalies,” he said.

Marian posted a record $24 million in fund-raising in the fiscal year ending June 30. It expects revenue to rise by more than $10 million in 2017, pushing total revenue above $100 million. Total enrollment is projected to grow to more than 3,000 students, up from 2,750.

The medical school, which opened in 2013, is also now up to 600 students. Tuition from the school is a major source of income, roughly $30 million.

Editorial Tags: Business issuesFund-Raising/DevelopmentImage Source: Marian UniversityImage Caption: The Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences is likely to keep its name at Marian University, even after the donor it is named for could not fulfill a large portion of a major pledge.Is this breaking news?: 

Notre Dame de Namur professors protest academic cuts flowing from program prioritization

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 08/26/2016 - 07:00

Faculty members at yet another college are fighting what they say are unilateral, sweeping cuts to academic programs following a round of academic prioritization. The cuts announced at Notre Dame de Namur University in California also follow the institution’s unusual decision to recognize its tenured faculty union.

“The cuts that have been announced go well beyond the faculty recommendations” made during the recent prioritization process, or formal review of the educational and financial viability of academic programs, said Kim Tolley, a professor of education at Notre Dame de Namur and chair of its Faculty Senate. “Faculty who teach on nine-month contracts just returned on Aug. 15 and were instructed to submit teach-out plans by Aug. 22. There are real questions here about the extent of these cuts and how they’ll impact students, along with the faculty.”

This spring, Notre Dame de Namur surprisingly agreed to allow its tenured faculty members to join an existing part-time faculty union affiliated with Service Employees International Union. Legal precedent holds that tenured faculty members at private institutions have managerial responsibilities and are therefore not entitled to collective bargaining. But Notre Dame de Namur said in a statement that its Board of Trustees made a "considered decision" to allow tenure-track and tenured faculty members to obtain “status as labor” if they so chose. And they did, 35 to 6.

Notre Dame de Namur’s statement about the decision made several references to the faculty members’ choice, in kind, to give up their status as managers in exchange for the recognition. “Going forward, internal university governance processes will be changed to adapt to their voting choice,” the university said.

But faculty members maintain that they didn’t understand those references, because they never agreed to give up any managerial rights in exchange for a union. They continued to celebrate the victory until July 29, when Judith Maxwell Greig, university president, sent a seemingly innocuous email entitled “Results of Spring Program Prioritization Process; Cost Reductions in Administration.” The body was blank, causing some faculty members to overlook it for days.

But the attached memo was significant. It said the board already had approved Greig’s recommendations to terminate bachelor’s degree programs in philosophy, theater arts and English, along with the French, dance and theater arts minors and several other concentrations.

Master’s degree programs in musical performance and systems management also were terminated, as was a certificate program in clinical gerontology.

The board also voted to terminate the women’s tennis programs but to add men’s and women’s track and field, and to sell or otherwise derive income from the theater building.

Greig said the university suffered last year from declining enrollment and lower than expected revenue from gifts, and has "substantive issues to resolve." Fixing that "requires sacrifice by all participants and clear alignment with our common objective of serving students with access to an excellent education," she wrote.

Professors knew some program changes were coming, as a faculty panel had been one of three on-campus groups to make suggestions during the formal academic prioritization process last year. Indeed, the faculty panel submitted a plan it estimated would cut academic program costs by 6-8 percent. That included terminating clinical gerontology, theater arts, musical performance and the master of science in systems management.

But as far as other programs, and especially those in the liberal arts, it suggested creating a new, multidisciplinary Department of Humanities and Culture and other tweaks -- not cutting philosophy or English outright. Moreover, Tolley said, Notre Dame de Namur’s polices and procedures dictate that curricular changes be vetted by a faculty body.

Specifically, the Governance Handbook says that the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee "is the chief body for implementing the undergraduate curricular goals of the university. The committee reviews any pending decisions that may impact the curriculum and/or educational aims of the university."

Yet Greig presented the changes as final. The course catalog already has been updated to the reflect them, Tolley said.

Asked if the changes could be related to the faculty’s new union status, Tolley reiterated that the faculty never signed away any managerial rights. “When [Greig] made that statement, no one really knew what she meant,” Tolley added, referring to the faculty's alleged exchange of rights. “We say that we’ve never been managers here but we do have shared governance -- we have a Faculty Senate and faculty committees that provide curricular decisions and so on. And shared governance is very important to us.”

Tolley noted that a recent report from WASC Senior College and University Commission, the college's accreditor, recommended more shared governance, not less. 

SEIU has filed an unfair labor practice claim on behalf of the faculty union, alleging that Notre Dame de Namur unilaterally changed faculty working conditions ahead of collective bargaining. It had explicitly asked the university not to make any changes to the curriculum before contract negotiations.

A spokesperson for Notre Dame de Namur referred questions to the office of the president. The office did not respond to specific questions but forwarded a recent statement to faculty and staff. It says, in part, that it is "absolutely essential to the survival of Notre Dame de Namur University and our Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur small private universities that serve the needs of so many modest-income families and ethnically underserved students that the university conserve its resources and limit its spending on courses and programs that are not expected to attract student enrollment."

William Herbert, executive director of the Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said there was no reason, legal or otherwise, that being part of a union would preclude faculty members from being key players in curricular changes. In a higher education setting, he added, it's expected that faculty members guide that process.

Some faculty members suspect that Notre Dame de Namur pushed the curricular changes through ahead of collective bargaining. Herbert said it's common for questions about faculty curricular control to be discussed during collective bargaining and eventually written into union contracts.

It’s also possible that the outcomes of prioritization had nothing to do with the union, since a number of colleges and universities with profiles similar to Notre Dame de Namur’s have made major academic cuts following formal program reviews in recent years.

The College of Saint Rose’s process, in New York, resulted in the elimination or curtailing of American studies, art education, economics, geology, philosophy, religious studies, sociology, Spanish, and women’s and gender studies, as well as a number of graduate programs. Twenty-three tenure-line faculty members, about half of them tenured, received notices of termination.

And Felician College in New Jersey cut approximately 15 percent of its faculty some time after what the institution called a “reprioritization process.” St. Joseph’s University in New York also is in the midst of a prioritization process that has roiled faculty.

The American Association of University Professors has since 2013 censured Saint Rose and Felician, along with National Louis University and the University of Southern Maine, over alleged violations of tenure and academic freedom during academic prioritization. The association maintains that the curriculum is the primary domain of the faculty and that academic changes should result in the firing of tenured faculty members only in cases of true financial exigency, or for sound educational reasons backed by the faculty.

Academic prioritization, proposed in an influential book, Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance, isn’t always so controversial. Author Robert Dickeson, president emeritus of the University of Northern Colorado, said earlier this month that some 300 institutions already have tried prioritization for reasons including balancing the budget, informing future budget decisions and improving overall efficiency and effectiveness.

Editorial Tags: FacultyIs this breaking news?: 

Education Department bars ITT Tech from enrolling new students with federal aid

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 08/26/2016 - 07:00

The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday prohibited ITT Educational Services, the parent company of ITT Technical Institutes, from enrolling new students who use federal financial aid.

The devastating ban, along with a set of increased federal oversight of the for-profit institution, continues several years of federal scrutiny of ITT Tech, which has more than 130 campuses in 38 states and enrolled approximately 45,000 people last year. It could mean the end for the institution.

"Our responsibility is first and foremost to protect students and taxpayers," U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said during a phone call with reporters. "Looking at all of the risk factors, it's clear we need to increase financial protection and it wouldn't be responsible or in the best interest of students to allow ITT to continue enrolling new students who rely on federal student aid funds."

King said the ban and the increased oversight was due to ITT's accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which determined that ITT "is not in compliance and is unlikely to become in compliance with [ACICS] accreditation criteria." According to the department, ACICS questioned ITT's compliance with standards such as financial stability, management, record keeping, admissions, recruitment standards, retention, job placement and institutional integrity, in an Aug. 17 letter sent to the department. (The letter has not been released publicly.) ACICS held a hearing earlier this month on whether or not to sanction ITT, however, that decision has been placed on hold until after a December hearing. The national accreditor is also facing scrutiny.

Some see the department's move as pushing the for-profit institution one step closer to bankruptcy and closure.

Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, described ITT as a "dead college" and said the department's actions were necessary and appropriate.

"In many ways, this decision further shows ACICS probably should've revoked ITT's accreditation," Miller said. "ITT's closure has felt for a long time like a matter of when, not if, and this is the department showing the courage to step in when ACICS didn't."

In addition to the ban, the department is prohibiting ITT from awarding raises or paying bonuses or severance to the company's executives. The department also increased the company's letter of credit requirement from about $124 million to approximately $247 million, or 40 percent of all federal aid ITT received in 2015.

A letter of credit is collateral the government asks colleges to set aside when officials have concerns that an institution may be unable or unwilling to pay back money it owes the government. The letter also protects students and taxpayers if the institution can't cover federal student aid liabilities. The company will have to provide the letter of credit from a bank ensuring the availability of those funds, which may be difficult. Last year, ITT reported about $850 million in total revenue, with about $580 million coming from federal aid.

The department has also placed ITT on a tighter form of the financial oversight known as heightened cash monitoring, which requires the institution to use its own funds to cover federal aid disbursements for current students. The department would later reimburse those funds after verifying the students.

According to the company's most recent financial filing, it has about $78 million in available cash.

"At this moment, ITT poses a significant risk to students and taxpayers," said U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell in a phone call with reporters. "If you're a current ITT student, you have some options. You can continue your courses at ITT with federal student aid, you can transfer credits to a new school, and you can pause your education and wait to see how this matter resolves. If ITT closes before you finish the program and you don't transfer credits, those students are likely to discharge their loans."

ITT didn't respond to a request for comment.

Although the department is citing ACICS's censure as the driving force behind the increased oversight, Trace Urdan, a research analyst at Credit Suisse, questions if it was instead ITT's decision to cut back on marketing and the company's announcement that new student enrollment could drop by as much as 60 percent that forced the department's hand. The move by ITT could have signaled that they were freeing up cash to satisfy the department or that they were winding down their operations. It was hard to tell the difference, Urdan said, adding that the ACICS censure had been in place for a while but ITT's projected enrollment decrease was new.

Urdan said the department's actions against ITT are a signal to other for-profit institutions with regulatory issues, like DeVry University, for instance, that the department is taking bold actions against the sector.

"There's no one else whose balance sheet is as challenged [as ITT's] among the larger companies, no one in quite the same situation," he said. "But I also read into this a certain level of aggressiveness."

As for ITT, the company did free up some cash by cutting back on marketing, he said, but considering the new financial restrictions placed by the department -- doubling the letter of credit requirements, being placed on the more stringent cash monitoring level, the new enrollment problems, any accreditation disclosures, the negative publicity -- the additional financial restrictions imposed by the department may be too much to handle.

Several state and federal investigations and lawsuits against the company also continue, including lawsuits from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

"It definitely makes it very difficult for them to live through this," Urdan said.

For-Profit Higher EdThe Policy DebateStudent Aid and LoansEditorial Tags: Federal policyFinancial aidFor-profit collegesIs this breaking news?: 

Q&A with director of new documentary about NCAA

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 08/26/2016 - 07:00

The new documentary The Business of Amateurs argues that the National Collegiate Athletic Association generates billions of dollars for big-time college sports programs while compromising the education, health and futures of the unpaid athletes it profits from. It’s a familiar argument that has gained more traction in recent years. But The Business of Amateurs is billed as the first documentary that challenges the NCAA “from the perspective of former student-athletes.”

The documentary features interviews with former college players who feel they have been let down by the NCAA and the colleges they attended, with one former player, Scott Ross, becoming the film’s emotional center. Ross, who showed signs of dementia believed to have been the result of repeated head injuries, died before the documentary was completed.

The film, which is available today on streaming platforms including iTunes and Amazon, also showcases the artistic skills of many former athletes. A former Oregon State University football player animated segments of the documentary, a former Princeton University baseball player composed the film’s score and a former University of Minnesota wrestler -- who lost his NCAA eligibility for using his own name when promoting his music career -- wrote the song that plays over the end credits. The documentary was directed by Bob DeMars, a former football player for the University of Southern California.

DeMars responded to questions about his film and the current state of big-time college athletics.

Q: Your film is very critical of the NCAA and how college athletes, particularly those playing revenue sports like football and basketball, are treated. As a former athlete, what led you to make this documentary?

A: About nine years ago, my roommate asked if his buddy could crash on the couch for a while. My roommate’s buddy was USC legend Scott Ross, the linebacker who played next to Junior Seau at USC 10 years before I played there. He was a legend and a human wrecking ball that played in three Rose Bowls, and his pictures lined the halls and defensive meeting rooms at USC. When I met him in person, he was a shell of his former self. He was struggling with depression and anxiety, and at the age of 39 he was diagnosed with dementia.

That was the first time I really began to question the long-term repercussions of football.

I still had several lingering injuries -- knees, neck, back, shoulder -- from playing college football, and I realized that the cost of my injuries might one day outweigh the benefits of my education. Many would respond to this aspect with, “You signed up for it.” I understood the sentiment when it came to my other injuries, because football is an inherently violent sport, but I completely disagreed when it came to the head injuries and potential risk for chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Scott Ross was a legend at USC, but his condition made me take a hard look at how we arrived at this point. That’s when I started researching for the film.

Q: As your research progressed, was there anything you learned that surprised you?

A: When I started the film I was really focused on the hypocrisy of the system. The more I researched the history of the NCAA, the more I discovered how far the organization had really wandered from the initial purpose it was founded on. The NCAA was originally created to protect the welfare of the college athlete, but the NCAA now denies this responsibility.

The NCAA was also founded to prevent commercial exploitation, but I discovered that their current intent is to prevent others from exploiting the talent that they are commercially exploiting. While we were initially focused on the hypocrisy of the NCAA, we ended up with a story about college athletes and the undermining of their rights. I hope their compelling stories will resonate and help spark long-overdue changes in the flawed system.

Q: This film joins a growing body of work criticizing the NCAA and the idea that college athletes must be amateurs. Do you think people are starting to become more aware of some of the problems that might be inherent in this system?

A: When we started making the film, we received some pushback from fans who thought that the intent of the film was to pay players. Many people still want to believe in the fairy tale of amateurism and that these guys are playing for the love of the sport. If that’s true, then the coaches aren’t playing because they love it, because they are very well paid. America is a capitalistic country, but somehow paying a college athlete has become the exception to this ideal.

Recently, with the PBS documentary League of Denial and Sony’s Concussion with Will Smith, many people have learned that these young men are risking their long-term mental health. This has caused many people to reconsider the fairy tale.

Q: At the same time, the immense popularity of these sports points to the fact that many fans are not losing much sleep over these issues. Do you think too many people are happy to keep just watching football and basketball games without really considering the human costs?

A: There are some fans that don’t want to know where their meat comes from and how the cow gets butchered.

While the film has had an immensely positive response from viewers, there has also been a lot of ambivalence after viewing the film. I think that these mixed emotions are the signs of growing pains in a system that is long overdue for an overhaul. As the money continues to grow at an exponential rate in college sports, athletes’ rights are becoming harder and harder to ignore.

Q: When people talk about the NCAA and amateurism, many think of the conversation in terms of paying athletes. Is this about more than just swapping a scholarship for a paycheck?

A: The Northwestern athletes [who attempted to unionize] were not seeking a salary; they were seeking rights: financially, academically and medically.

Financially, the film shows the billions of dollars made by universities, coaches and administrators, which shows the discrepancy and gap that exists when 80 percent of big-time college athletes live below the poverty line [while enrolled]. Academically, many schools are motivated to keep athletes eligible rather than for them to receive a real education and degree.

Many athletes that come from impoverished backgrounds with minimal academic resources have no soft step into college or remedial classes to prepare them to be college students. But their academic shortcomings are often the excuse a school uses to get rid of an athlete that doesn’t pan out athletically.

Medically, the NCAA is far behind professional sports. In recent years, we have seen the National Football League provide protections for its athletes, like [hiring] independent medical staff and minimizing contact practices. This is because the NFL players have a union and a voice to fight for these rights. While high schools and Pop Warner leagues have followed in the footsteps of the NFL, at the college level it’s still up to a university’s coach how many times that school’s players bash their heads in every week.

Q: Do you think this is a system that is broken beyond repair, or are there some things that can be done to fix it?

A: There are many ways to change the system. There is the unionization effort that we saw at Northwestern, which would be on a school-by-school basis. Litigation is another factor, as we’ve seen with the recent O’Bannon lawsuit [over athletes’ name and likeness rights], concussion lawsuits and antitrust lawsuits. Legislation could provide changes at the state or federal level if the government tries to step in and take the reins at some point.

But I believe competition is the fastest way to positive changes in the flawed system. When schools start competing for athletes with rights and protections, other schools will be forced to follow suit. There are very simple solutions to empower and protect college athletes, and we offer many of them in the film.

I believe that there are many values that come with being a college athlete and that college sports is something worth saving. Like many athletes in the film, I love my school. And this film is really made out of love. When you really love something, you push it to be better. I hope this film will educate fans, players and families so that we can make college sports better. And I believe that change will ultimately start with the players.

Editorial Tags: AthleticsNCAAIs this breaking news?: 

Study examines role of family ties in helping scientists advance

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 08/26/2016 - 07:00

Academe may often seem mercifully free of the nepotism that is rife in other industries.

But a study suggests that the supposed meritocracy of higher education is not as free from family favoritism as many imagine, with some scientists quite happy to give a leg up to a relation.

According to the analysis of more than 21 million papers in the health sciences, scientists are more likely to collaborate on a journal paper with a family member than they were 50 years ago.

Those who published a paper with a relation were also more likely to enjoy an “important position” among other co-authors, such as being the lead author, says the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study, titled “Kinship of co-authorship in five decades of health science literature,” tracked how often authors from the world’s top 25 publishing countries shared a surname with another co-author. The results were filtered for the most common surnames in each country to give an indication of levels of “kinship” found in the scientific publication in each country.

Italy, Poland and post-Soviet Russia had some of the highest kinship scores, according to the paper, suggesting that family ties were particularly helpful for getting published in these countries.

Kinship scores were well below average in the Netherlands and Britain and slightly below average in Canada, Australia and Switzerland. Scores were above average in Brazil and had seen an increasing trend in Greece.

“We found a very small amount of kinship in papers in most countries, affecting about 5 percent [of papers] in most countries,” said Sandro Meloni, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Zaragoza’s Institute for Biocomputation and Physics of Complex Systems, and one of the report’s authors.

“In some countries, however, this rose to 8 percent,” Meloni added.

Those who shared a surname with another co-author also tended to have a larger number of collaborators than those who did not, suggesting that they were more able to tap into broader academic networks than less well-connected scientists, the paper says.

“Those researchers [with family members on the same paper] tend to have a more central position in the publication, which was quite different to those who were not part of any kinship group,” Meloni said.

However, the analysis also showed that some countries had managed to crack down on nepotism in academe, Meloni explained.

The level of co-authorship of people with the same surname has significantly fallen in France and Spain since 1980 and, to a lesser extent, in Britain, he said.

“These figures confirm what I have seen myself in higher education over the years,” said Meloni, who said that the study suggested Spain’s efforts to root out nepotistic hiring appeared to be bearing fruit.

Editorial Tags: Sciences/Tech/Engineering/MathIs this breaking news?: 

U Michigan has one of the country's oldest graduate student unions and that hasn't held it back

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 07:00

Graduate students generally celebrated this week’s decision from the National Labor Relations Board saying that graduate assistants at private institutions may now form unions because being students doesn’t preclude them from also being employees.

But the decision elicited doom and gloom from others, including the board’s one dissenting member, who said classifying graduate students as employees could “wreak havoc” on their educations.

Philip A. Miscimarra wrote in his dissent in the case involving student workers at Columbia University that for “most students including student assistants, attending college is the most important investment they will ever make … I do not believe our statute contemplates that it should be governed by bargaining leverage, the potential resort to economic weapons and the threat or infliction of economic injury by or against students, on the one hand, and colleges and universities, on the other.”

The American Council on Education followed suit in criticizing the decision, along with some Republican lawmakers. Top concerns were that a proliferation of private university unions would drive up tuition, to compensate for associated cost increases, and would compromise the mentor-mentee relationship central to graduate training.

Critics also said the decision was too sweeping, in opening the door to unions not only for graduate instructors but externally funded research assistants and even other kinds of student workers, such as graders.

But is the sky really falling? Acknowledged throughout but not central to this week’s decision is the fact graduate students are already unionized on several dozen public campuses, which -- unlike their private counterparts -- are governed by state law. A look at the American Federation of Teachers-affiliated graduate employee union at the University of Michigan, one of the nation’s oldest, suggests that identifying students as workers hasn’t held the institution back.

Michigan is one of the country’s top graduate institutions, with international recognition for many of its departments. Indeed, other top public institutions -- such as the University of California System and the University of Washington -- have graduate assistant unions. And while Michigan is public, it receives the vast majority of its general funds from tuition and fees. State support made up just 16 percent of that budget in 2015. Most research support is from the federal government.

“It’s a specious argument to say that graduate employees are really a driver of costs in higher education,” said John Ware, a Ph.D. candidate in applied physics at Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus and president of the Graduate Employees’ Organization. “Graduate employees are doing huge amounts of instructional work and enormous of amount of research work. So compared to how much work of the university we are doing, what we make in pay and benefits is a fraction of the budget.”

As far as relationships between graduate students and professors go, Ware pointed to research suggesting that unionized graduate students on public campuses actually report better levels of support than their nonunionized peers. That same paper was cited in Tuesday’s NLRB decision concerning the graduate student union bid at Columbia.

Faculty members seem to agree that the union hasn’t negatively affected Michigan, with a few caveats.

“What we have at Michigan works OK, where graduate student instructors are in the union and graduate student research assistants are not,” said Bill Schultz, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Ann Arbor campus and president of the Faculty Senate. “I understand and respect that some students are represented by a union and I think it’s done good things for them.”

At the same time, he said, “it’s different and it doesn’t work well if everyone -- including research assistants -- were to unionize. … And that’s certainly not the minority opinion.”

Michigan’s graduate student union was founded in 1970. It’s gone on strike only once, before it secured its first contract in 1975. It represents about 1,800 graduate teaching and staff assistants on three campuses in collective bargaining, and advocates for about 2,050 additional graduate research assistants who are not formally included in the union.

The Graduate Employees’ Organization has battled over the years to formally represent research assistants, and there was a union organizing drive for those assistants in 2011-12. But state labor officials -- similar to the NLRB since 1974, until this week -- have argued that research assistants’ work pertains too much to their own educational goals for them to be considered employees. That became law in Michigan in 2012, even though many graduate assistants argue their intellectual work and long hours still benefit the university.

Minimum full-time equivalent, eight-month pay for graduate students at the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses was set at $18,200 in 2013, and has increased 2 percent in each year since, according to the union’s current contract. The 2013 study cited in the recent NLRB decision in favor of graduate student unions at private institutions found that graduate students on unionized public campuses enjoy better pay than their nonunionized peers, in additional to better support, but Michigan’s salaries aren’t even near the top of the national graduate employee pay ladder. For reference, the annual national median salary for graduate teaching assistants was $30,810 last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Beyond pay, the Michigan contract ensures important benefits, such as heavily subsidized health insurance; dental coverage; a child care subsidy up to about $4,350, depending on the number of children; parental accommodation and bereavement leave. Class limits are supposed to be set by department, according to the contract, and there are provisions for due process.

A Michigan spokesperson provided basic information on the union. Schultz, the Faculty Senate president, noted that there was significant faculty opposition to the research assistants’ union push around 2012.

While individual research assistants who take up instructors’ assignments can be accommodated, he said, trying to work researchers into a union setting is lot more complicated than teaching assistants. External funding is never guaranteed, for example, he said, and potentially taking students away from their immediate research to do other kinds of work could significantly slow down their progress to a degree. Moreover, he said, overseeing an assistant’s research makes him feel much more like a mentor than an employer.

To the research assistant question, the NLRB said in its decision that Columbia, “while advancing the assistants’ doctoral theses, also meets research goals associated with grants from which the university receives substantial income.” And because Columbia “directs the student research assistants’ work and the performance of defined tasks is a condition of the grant aid, we conclude that the research assistants in this case are employees” under the National Labor Relations Act, it said.

Ware, the president of Michigan’s union, is a research assistant, not a teaching assistant. He’d like to be part of collective bargaining, and noted that research assistants on some public campuses are covered by union contracts. At the same time, he said, the presence of the Graduate Employees’ Organization has bettered working conditions for all graduate assistants at Michigan. They have access to the same health care plans, for example, he said.

“It’s also true in terms of the quality of the work environment -- unions can help to improve workplace climate, and that makes a difference for everybody,” Ware added.

Adrienne Eaton, associate dean of the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, co-authored the widely cited paper on graduate student union outcomes. She said her research doesn’t address costs of graduate student unions directly, but underscored the finding that graduate student employees are paid relatively more than their nonunionized peers. However, she said, “my sense is that the economic issues are not the central concern of many of the grad students organizing in private sector universities, so it's not clear that unionization will push up costs much.”

Editorial Tags: Teaching assistantsIs this breaking news?: 

Iowa regulator agreed with Ashford University's complaint about meddling by federal and California agencies

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 07:00

Ashford University says the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and two California agencies improperly pressured regulators in Iowa to drop the university’s eligibility to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, a decision that kicks in next month and would affect roughly 6,250 military and veteran students.

A new court filing from the for-profit Ashford shows at least one official at the Iowa Department of Education shared that view, according to a trove of email records the Iowa agency released in response to a public records request by the university.

“It seems only VA wants to interrupt veterans and military students enrolled,” Thomas Beasley, an education program consultant for the Iowa department, wrote in a May email included in the filing. “It is a power grab on VA’s part that will do little more than produce a lawsuit.”

Beasley holds a full-time position with the Iowa agency, said a spokeswoman for the department. He played a prominent role in the Ashford discussion, and said in another email that he was "being asked, directed, informed to withdrawal [sic] their GI Bill approval." Beasley expressed frustration with the VA, saying the agency's actions with the for-profit institution were unprecedented and would “purposely create stress, drama and havoc.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs did not respond to requests for comment. But emails from the federal agency, which were included in the filing, make clear that officials there have been firm in their belief that Iowa should no longer authorize Ashford’s GI Bill eligibility.

The key issue, according to the VA, is that Ashford is based in California and approved by the regional accreditor in that state.

“Bottom line up front: it is our view that the Iowa State Approving Agency does not have the authority to approve Ashford University Online effective June 30, 2016,” Bill Spruce, assistant director for oversight and outreach for the VA’s education service, said in a May email to Beasley. “Therefore, absent an approval from the California State Approving Agency for Veterans Education (CSAAVE), it will be VA’s intention to cease paying for veterans enrolled at Ashford University for terms that begin on or after July 1, 2016.”

The university vigorously contests that claim, arguing that it maintains a substantial presence in Iowa, with 150 employees, an online center it intends to keep in the state and plans to enroll students in face-to-face courses in Iowa until at least next June.

Ashford also released behind-the-scenes emails indicating that state officials in California encouraged their peers in Iowa to drop the university’s GI Bill eligibility, while also saying they would reject Ashford if it attempted to apply for similar approval in California.

“California is antagonistic to online education in general and the university in particular,” the university’s lawyers wrote in the new court filing.

In May the Iowa Department of Education told Ashford it would not be eligible for GI Bill benefits after June. Shortly thereafter Ashford filed a lawsuit to block the department’s action. Iowa later granted a stay until Sept. 18, when the eligibility is now set to expire. If the decision holds, Ashford’s veteran and military students would no longer be able to use GI Bill funds to attend the university.

“Veterans are our first priority and we want to ensure that they receive educational benefits without interruption,” said Staci Hupp, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Education.

However, Hupp said, the department also is subject to federal and state laws. She said the final decision to suspend Ashford’s eligibility was made with input from Iowa’s attorney general and the VA.

“We do want to continue to work with Ashford to make sure that veterans receive the benefits they deserve,” she said.

Moving West

Ashford’s latest dilemma traces back to the 2005 purchase by its owner, Bridgepoint Education, of a struggling religious college in Iowa.

When it bought the Iowa campus of the Franciscan University of the Prairies, the California-based Bridgepoint also got the university’s regional accreditation, then with the Higher Learning Commission. Bridgepoint used the campus anchor and accreditation to create Ashford.

The university grew quickly, mostly online, earning big profits for its publicly traded parent company. In 2012 Ashford enrolled roughly 90,000 students, all but 1,000 of them in online-only programs.

Ashford drew the ire of consumer groups and Democrats in the U.S. Congress, who claimed the physical campus was merely a prop for the fast-growing online university. That criticism led to a crackdown on for-profits’ attempts to buy small colleges and their accreditation.

After a failed first attempt, Ashford in 2013 received approval to move its regional accreditation to the WASC Senior College and University Commission, which accredits colleges based in California, where most of Ashford’s operations are located.

Like most for-profits with a national footprint, the university lately has struggled with slumping enrollment, having dipped to roughly 49,000 students in June.

Last year the university announced it would close its physical campus in Iowa and only offer online programs. Yet while Ashford’s presence shrank in the Midwest, it still enrolls a small number of students at its physical location in Clinton, Iowa. Ashford is teaching out these in-person programs, with plans to offer classes through next June.

The university also runs an online center and other administrative functions in Clinton. Some of its 150 employees in Iowa work with veteran students and administer their educational benefits, the university said. And Ashford plans to keep those operations in Iowa past next June.

While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs funds the GI Bill, state agencies are tasked with approving colleges’ eligibility to receive the federal benefits. Iowa’s Department of Education has long handled Ashford’s approval, without complaint.

“Since 2013, in every move we have made regarding our operations in Iowa and California -- from moving to a new accrediting body to transitioning our locations and seeking approval for a teach-out plan for our students in Iowa -- we did thorough due diligence and consulted with appropriate authorities in the Iowa State Approving Agency and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs,” Vickie Schray, senior vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy at Bridgepoint Education, said in a written statement. “Throughout those discussions, we were given no reason to believe that these changes would jeopardize our approval to provide education benefits to our veterans.”

'Regulatory Whipsaw'

The university’s problems in Iowa appear to have begun last year, when officials from two California agencies wrote to the department in Iowa.

A division of the California Department of Veterans Affairs wrote to officials in Iowa to tell them the university was a California institution, according to email records in Ashford’s filing. And Angela Muñoz, the state’s deputy attorney general, in August wrote to the Iowa Department of Education to discuss her office’s concerns about Ashford. The California AG has sought evidence about student recruiting and financial practices by Ashford and the University of the Rockies, another Bridgepoint-owned institution, as part of a wider investigation of for-profits.

The Iowa emails released by Ashford indicate that the California inquiries helped trigger a review of which state should approve the university’s GI Bill eligibility. The VA got involved later, writing to Iowa officials in March to say that Ashford’s “online operation moved to California and you should have conceded jurisdiction.”

The VA is one of several federal agencies that participate in an interagency task force the Obama administration created last year, which is charged with coordinating efforts to oversee for-profits. State attorneys general have also participated in the task force.

The flurry of interest from California and the VA rankled Beasley. He later sent an email to a colleague saying he’d long asked the VA for guidance on Ashford and other for-profits, only to have his questions relegated to a “parking lot.”

In addition, Beasley said he found it hard to believe Ashford was operating any differently from other large, online colleges. He also said he’d written to both the VA and California when Ashford began its attempt to move to WASC.

“VA informed me it was a state issue. California informed me they would never approve Ashford in their state,” he wrote, adding that “no other reason was given” for the California agency’s opposition to the for-profit.

Ashford in June applied for GI Bill approval with the California state approving agency. But the university later withdrew the application, saying it had no possibility of being approved.

Paul Sullivan, a deputy secretary of communications for the California Department of Veterans Affairs, said the agency, known as CalVet, in June had requested additional details from Ashford to establish the university’s “compliance with the standards for approval.” Later that month the university withdrew its application without providing a response to CalVet’s request for more information, he said.

With Ashford having dropped its effort to get approved in California, and with Iowa standing firm in its decision, the for-profit’s last option appears to be in the courts. And the clock is ticking, with three weeks left before Ashford’s GI Bill eligibility expires.

“For the past several months, the university has been stuck on a regulatory whipsaw,” Ashford said in its latest court filing, “while the VA and California have improperly interfered with the Iowa Department of Education’s authority and placed unlawful roadblocks to the university’s continuing provision of educational services to its veteran students.”

For-Profit Higher EdEditorial Tags: AccreditationFederal policyFor-profit collegesState policyIs this breaking news?: 

Gunmen Attack Campus of American University of Afghanistan

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 07:00

The American University of Afghanistan was attacked by gunmen Wednesday. Major media outlets described an explosion and gunfire on the walled campus in Kabul.

Several news accounts reported that 13 people -- seven of them students -- were killed. More were injured. Seven hundred people were rescued.

The New York Times reported that one of those killed was Naqib Ahmad Khpulwak, an assistant professor of law who returned to Afghanistan after studying in the United States -- as a Fulbright scholar -- at Old Dominion University and Stanford University. On Facebook, one of his friends wrote, "I just can't believe we lost one of our own, Fulbrighter Naqib Ahmad Khpulwak, in the last night's attack at American University of Afghanistan. Someone who chose to stay in Afghanistan and serve his country while had all the opportunities to live elsewhere. Totally in shock."

Another colleague posted Khpulwak's photograph to Twitter:

I'm broken. My friend, fellow Fulbrighter & #AUAF lecturer Naqeb Khpalwak killed. Didn't answer my messages & calls. pic.twitter.com/Cc1T4Vr34M

— Bashir Ahmad Gwakh (@bashirgwakh) August 25, 2016

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on the campus.

As the attack unfolded on Wednesday evening into Thursday morning, news media described a scene in which some students and staff remained trapped for hours.

Reuters quoted one student who said he escaped, injuring his ankle in the process. "Many students jumped from the second floor, some broke their legs and some hurt their head trying to escape," the student, Abdullah Fahimi, told Reuters. "We were in the class when we heard a loud explosion followed by gunfire. It was very close. Some students were crying, others were screaming."

On Thursday morning (U.S. time), the university announced on Facebook that "needless to say, because of the recent terrorist attack on the university, the university's Kabul campuses will be closed until further notice. The provincial centers are open and will operate normally."

Also on Thursday morning, the university sent a statement to reporters: "The American University of Afghanistan suffered a serious attack by armed militants on the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. The university administration is working closely with relevant authorities to assess the damage and to ensure that everyone is accounted for. 'My No. 1 priority at this point is the safety and security of all faculty, staff and students,' said Dr. Mark A. English, president of the American University of Afghanistan. The university extends its sympathy to all affected by this despicable attack. We also want to thank the Afghan government and Afghan National Security Forces for their response to the attack and their ongoing assistance to AUAF. We look forward to being able to continue our important work in service to Afghanistan."

Wednesday’s attack comes just two and a half weeks after two AUAF faculty members – one American and one Australian – were kidnapped by armed gunmen, raising the question of whether the university was being targeted. The university closed the evening the professors were abducted, on Aug. 7, and reopened Aug. 10. “We remain undeterred in our vital mission of providing a quality higher education experience for all our Afghan students,” English said in a press release then.

In January 2014, two AUAF employees -- a student affairs specialist and a political science professor -- were among 21 killed in a Taliban attack on a Kabul restaurant.

The American University of Afghanistan was founded in 2006 and is heavily funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It offers English-language, Western-style education -- including coeducation -- to Afghan students. A report issued in 2015 said the university at that point enrolled 1,151 students in degree programs and 934 students in professional development certificate programs, and employed international faculty and staff from 15 countries. A number of AUAF faculty members are American or hold degrees from American universities.

The U.S. Department of State advises U.S. citizens against travel to Afghanistan due to the “continued instability and threats by terrorist organizations against U.S. citizens.” A State Department spokeswoman, Elizabeth Trudeau, said Wednesday that the department is working to locate and assist U.S. citizens affected by the attack.

"We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms," Trudeau said. "An attack on a university is an attack on the future of Afghanistan."

GlobalEditorial Tags: International higher educationImage Source: Wikimedia CommonsIs this breaking news?: 

U of Chicago warns incoming students not to expect safe spaces or trigger warnings

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 07:00

Looking for safe spaces on campus or trigger warnings on a syllabus?

Incoming students at the University of Chicago have been warned they won't find either in Hyde Park.

They all received a letter recently from John Ellison, dean of students, which went beyond the usual platitudes of such letters and made several points about what he called one of Chicago's "defining characteristics," which he said was "our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression." Ellison said civility and respect are "vital to all of us," and people should never be harassed. But he added, "You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort."

To that end, he wrote, "Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."

The letter referred to a website where Chicago maintains a report on academic freedom and its centrality to the university.

On social media, the letter spread through sites such as Intellectual Takeout received widespread praise from critics of what they see as political correctness. Those wanting views defending safe spaces might consider the essays here or here. And trigger warnings may be less common than critics of the practice assume. One Facebook post about the letter asserted knowledge of a Chicago professor who had used a trigger warning, but another comment pointed out that this would have been the professor's decision to make, under principles of academic freedom.

Chicago isn't the first institution to try to set a tone on these issues early on.

In the fall of 2014, Peter Salovey, Yale University's president, used his welcome speech to freshmen to encourage them to respect free expression.

"In the last year or two, we have seen more than the usual number of events on college and university campuses across this country in which the freedom to express ideas has been threatened. Invitations to provocative speakers have been withdrawn; politicians, celebrities and even university presidents invited to deliver commencement addresses have -- under pressure -- declined to speak to graduates; student protesters have had their signs destroyed by other members of a campus community," Salovey said. "In the most troubling of these 'free speech' incidents, speakers of various political persuasions have been shouted down and rendered unable to deliver remarks to campus groups who had invited them. Although we have not seen these kinds of episodes at Yale in recent decades, it is important on occasions like this one to remind ourselves why unfettered expression is so essential on a university campus."

Last fall, Yale saw heated debates over, among other things, guidance from the university on how to avoid causing offense with Halloween costumes and a letter criticizing that guidance (and the safe space concept). A professor defending the author of the letter (who was also his wife) was shouted down and had expletives yelled at him when he tried to talk to students about the issues.

Here is the Chicago letter.

Teaching and LearningEditorial Tags: Academic freedomImage Caption: U of ChicagoIs this breaking news?: 

Third-party presidential candidates offer contrasting approaches to higher ed

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 07:00

The presidential campaign has featured considerable debate about free public higher education, student debt and other issues related to the cost of college. But Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump aren't the only ones talking. The Green Party presidential candidate is making a play for Bernie Sanders supporters with a plan to cancel all student debt, while the Libertarian Party nominee has promised to end the Department of Education.

Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee, has said she wants to be the “plan B” for Sanders supporters. For voters excited by Sanders's proposal for free tuition at public universities, Stein made even more ambitious promises: free college, yes, but also the elimination of existing student debt. So far, Johnson is attracting more support in the polls than is Stein. Third-party support tends to drop as Election Day gets closer, but this is in any number of ways an unusual election year.

Green Party

Stein, a Harvard University medical school graduate who practiced internal medicine, has said she would go about eliminating student debt through a monetary policy called quantitative easing -- basically asking the Federal Reserve, an independent government body, to buy up student debt and decline to collect it.

"So essentially it's an expansion of the money supply, but in a way that actually unleashes enormous productivity. This is basically the stimulus package of our dreams," she told CNBC’s Squawk Box.

Clinton’s campaign platform has proposed limiting student debt repayments to no more than 10 percent of a borrower’s income and canceling remaining debt after 10 years.

Stein’s plan is more ambitious -- and could have obvious appeal for many with debt. But proposals to cancel all student debt have received criticism from progressive higher ed policy experts for most benefiting the student borrowers who need help the least.

Alexander Holt, a policy analyst at New America, said canceling all student debt would disproportionately affect a small number of borrowers who have high volumes of student debt. Data show that individuals with higher student debt loads -- often holders of advanced degrees -- tend to have higher incomes and those people are for the most part doing fine, he said.

“It would be more progressive for Jill Stein to just hand out the same amount of money to every American than to just cancel student debt,” Holt said.

A paper from progressive think tank Demos argued last year that student debt is exacerbating racial inequality in the United States. But the paper said that eliminating all student debt would increase the racial wealth gap because the typical white family would see a greater net benefit than the typical black family. A progressive debt cancellation plan would target low-wealth households, it said.

Policy analyst Mark Huelsman, the lead author of the Demos paper, said if he were advising a campaign on devising a progressive debt cancellation policy, he would say to target households at or below median wealth and median income -- about $53,000 for U.S. households in 2014, according to the Census Bureau.

"Student debt forgiveness should not be off the table, but we have to be very intentional and somewhat cautious in terms of how we would employ it," he said.

Libertarian Party

Where Stein wants to end student debt, Gary Johnson, Republican governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, would like to end the U.S. Department of Education -- the body responsible for overseeing federal financial aid programs.

Johnson’s higher ed record includes signing into law a New Mexico lottery program that would pay for college scholarships. But the program has struggled to generate sufficient revenue in recent years, and state lawmakers have been forced to make periodic fixes or cash infusions.

Johnson blames federal student loans for the rising cost of higher education. If guaranteed government student loans never existed, tuition today would be half of what it is, because colleges and universities “would have to go out and attract you as a student,” he told The International Business Times in June.

But he has also called for the refinancing of existing student loans -- a proposal put forward by the Clinton campaign as well. Holt said those comments appear contradictory from a candidate who blames student loans for driving increasing costs in higher education. But he said whether policy experts agree with those proposals, they show candidates across the political spectrum are paying attention to voters’ focus on issues of college cost and student debt.

“Voters have decided this is an important issue and politicians are going to respond,” Holt said.

Melissa Byrne, a former Sanders staffer and longtime organizer on the free college issue, said she thought it was helpful to have more candidates talking about eliminating and reducing student debt. But she said winning victories on an issue takes years of organizing and outreach.

Clinton has also moved closer to Sanders’s free college plan, proposing free tuition at four-year public universities for all families making less than $125,000. That makes it even harder for Stein to draw a major distinction with her campaign, many say.

“Hillary has adopted a big portion of Bernie's plan,” Byrne said. “That has advocates in a really good place to push for more next year.”

2016 ElectionEditorial Tags: Federal policyIs this breaking news?: 

New presidents or provosts: Connecticut State GWU Maharishi Richland Santa Barbara/Ventura St. Charles Sciences Scripps South Carolina State Springfield Ventura

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 07:00
  • James E. Clark, a businessman and trustee at South Carolina State University, has been appointed president of the university.
  • John Cook, vice president of academic affairs at Manchester Community College, in New Hampshire, has been chosen as president of Springfield Technical Community College, in Massachusetts.
  • Jackie Gardina, chief academic officer at Vermont School of Law, has been named dean and chief academic officer at Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law.
  • Jane Gates, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Western Connecticut State University, has been appointed provost and senior vice president of academic and student affairs at the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system.
  • John Hagelin, professor of physics at Maharishi University of Management, in Iowa, has been promoted to president there.
  • Paul Katz, founding dean of Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, in New Jersey, has been named president of University of the Sciences, in Pennsylvania.
  • Barbara R. Kavalier, district president of Navarro College, in Texas, has been appointed president of St. Charles Community College, in Missouri.
  • Forrest Maltzman, interim provost at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., has been named provost and executive vice president for academic affairs there.
  • Larissa Z. Tiedens, senior associate dean of academic affairs at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, in California, has been selected as president of Scripps College, also in California.
  • Cristobal Valdez, president of Central Wyoming College, has been chosen as president of Richland Community College, in Illinois.
Editorial Tags: College administrationNew presidentsIs this breaking news?: 

Bard College faces liquidity (and strategy) questions

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 08/24/2016 - 07:00

A ratings agency's downgrade of Bard College has raised anew longstanding questions about the small private college's business strategies, with the spotlight falling on cash concerns at an institution known for prioritizing idealism and expansion over conservative financial models and endowment building.

Moody’s Investors Service issued an opinion Aug. 16 downgrading the credit at the small liberal arts college about 100 miles north of New York City, edging it farther into junk territory. The ratings agency pointed to declining total cash, an increasing dependence on lines of credit and Bard's heavy borrowing from its endowment. In short, the institution’s available financial assets have dropped as it has run up higher debt, increasing the possibility of a cash crunch. That in turn puts more pressure on the college to collect donations to fund itself.

“The ongoing depletion of liquidity and increased exposure to bank agreements heightens the prospects for a liquidity crisis in the absence of extraordinary donor support,” Moody’s said in its credit opinion. “With a cash flow from operations insufficient to cover debt service, prospects for a material increase in liquidity apart from collecting pledges receivable or benefiting from additional gifts remain slim.”

Moody’s analyst Edie Behr put it another way in an interview.

“The college is dependent on its endowment and cash flow from borrowing to pay its debt,” she said. “They are not making enough through their core operations to pay their debt service. That’s fairly uncommon.”

Bard has faced ratings downgrades before, with college leaders retorting that they follow a different financial model from most in higher education. Bard’s outspoken longtime president, Leon Botstein (pictured below), has in the past fiercely defended this alternative philosophy, asserting that institutions of higher learning should not function like banks hoarding wealth but should instead spend their money on projects and education.

The college's leaders are reiterating that argument today. But they’re doing so after many of Bard’s financial indicators have deteriorated over the last several years. Now it remains to be seen whether the institution can continue to deal with its high debt levels -- or whether its finances are a house of cards that will eventually collapse.

Bard continues to raise money from donors, according to Taun N. Toay, vice president for strategic initiatives and chief of staff. It recorded $36 million in new pledges last year, he said in an email.

“While we acknowledge the weight some afford Moody's as it relates to bond buyers, they are not measuring our ability to fulfill our mission as a college and are also comparing us to colleges and universities that appear to focus more on their already large endowments than on innovation and education,” Toay said. “We are a nonprofit private institution operating in the public interest, and will continue [to] invest in programming and maintaining our world-class campus and network.”

Toay went on to say that Bard is putting strategies in place to address Moody’s concern about liquidity, although he did not share details on those strategies. He also said Bard has operated on its current model for more than 40 years without ever missing a bond payment.

In that light, this month’s downgrade looks almost like business as usual for Bard. A Moody’s downgrade at the end of 2013 sparked worries when the investors service dropped Bard three pegs from Baa1 to Ba1, moving it from investment grade into the top of junk territory.

At the time, Moody’s wrote that Bard had only had enough cash on hand in October to fund two weeks of operations. Moody’s estimated Bard had drawn 43 percent of the previous year’s budget from donations and that the institution’s debt, which stood at $185 million, was roughly on par with its operating budget.

Fast-forward to this month, and some financial indicators at the college appear to have improved. Bard has trimmed its reliance on philanthropy for operating revenue by six points -- it relied on gift revenue for 37 percent of its total operating revenue in the 2015 fiscal year, according to Moody’s. Philanthropic support is strong and is a key supporting factor in Bard’s current credit rating, Moody’s wrote. Bard’s cash on hand stood at 22 days as of June 30, up from the two weeks in 2013.

Those indicators aren’t without caveats, however. The 22 days’ cash on hand was down from 30 in 2015 -- and cash on hand can increase as institutions draw on their lines of credit, obscuring larger financial issues. Meanwhile, the reliance on gifts for 37 percent of total operating revenue was still “uncommonly high exposure,” according to Moody’s.

The agency’s credit opinion this month dropped Bard’s rating from Ba3 to B1, moving its debt farther into junk territory and signaling a high credit risk. Moody’s also assigned a negative outlook, citing a “profoundly vulnerable liquidity profile” at Bard.

The negative outlook signals downward pressure on the college’s bond rating. Credit rating downgrades can have significant consequences for an institution by making it more expensive to borrow money.

Moody’s listed Bard’s total financial resources at $191 million. But $111 million is in an externally held trust supporting just a small portion of the college’s operations. Borrowing from the endowment has also accelerated over time. The borrowing totaled $96 million as of the 2015 fiscal year.

At the same time, debt has grown faster than revenue. Bard’s operating revenue grew 1.6 percent year over year, to $190.3 million in 2016. It was outpaced by total debt, which grew 17 percent to $203 million.

One noteworthy driver of the debt increase was a $4 million settlement announced by the U.S. Department of Justice in March. Bard agreed to pay the money to resolve allegations it received funds under the federal Teacher Quality Partnership Grant Program but had not complied with the grant conditions, and to resolve allegations that it awarded, disbursed and received Title IV student loan funds at campus locations before those locations were accredited or before providing notice of the locations to the Department of Education.

The settlement came after a whistle-blower complaint filed by two former students at Bard’s master of arts in teaching program at Paramount Bard Academy, in Delano, Calif. Bard acknowledged no wrongdoing. It pulled out of the charter school in 2013.

A larger driver of the debt was a purchase of the 380-acre Montgomery Place estate in January 2016. Bard bought the estate, which is adjacent to its Annandale-on-Hudson campus and includes a historic mansion, farm and 20-odd smaller buildings, for a reported $18 million. That purchase price includes $1 million for antiquities on the site. Bard used a $13 million seller-financed mortgage to help pay for the acquisition.

The Department of Justice settlement was small in terms of Bard’s total operations, Toay said in his email. He called the Montgomery Place purchase a strategic investment that would be neutral in terms of operating costs.

“The cost of that purchase is far outweighed by the value of the property both in terms of real estate and of programming potential,” Toay wrote. “In setting the stage for Bard’s long-term future, acquiring 380 [contiguous] acres was a wise investment and speaks to the underlying strength of the college.”

Monetizing assets like land can be tricky, however.

“When you talk about buying land, if it’s going to provide the opportunity for growth, you need additional capital to turn that into an asset that’s actually generating revenue,” said Bob Shea, a senior fellow for finance and campus management at the National Association of College and University Business Officers. “Just buying the land and holding onto the land is an expense. Turning it into dormitories or something that’s going to have a revenue stream, that makes sense as part of a strategic plan.”

Bard said when it acquired the land that it would begin creating a master plan. It has received a $100,000 foundation grant for repairs and renovations of a greenhouse on the land.

One more notable 2016 expense concerned the American Symphony Orchestra, where Botstein is the music director. Bard has an agreement with the orchestra to cover any of its unfunded expenses, although college leaders told Moody’s some trustees guarantee those expenses. The agreement led to Bard absorbing $1.5 million from the symphony’s operating deficit in the 2016 fiscal year, according to the ratings agency.

Bard has made a number of other investments in programs in recent years. For example, it acquired the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass., in April 2012. That deal came shortly after it acquired a European institution in November 2011 in order to create Bard College Berlin.

After Moody’s dropped Bard’s investment rating from investment grade to noninvestment grade in 2013, Botstein called financial questions a distraction.

“When you have bond raters peering over your life’s work, it’s like hanging a painting in front of semi-blind people,” he said at the time.

Faculty members see benefits from Botstein’s strategy.

“By all accounts, Bard has been an extremely vibrant intellectual community over Leon’s tenure,” said John Halle, director of studies in music theory and practice at the Bard College Conservatory of Music, in an email. The conservatory was founded in 2005.

There is an argument to be made that Botstein, who took over at Bard in 1975, can keep finding donor support for his college. He’s proven himself to be an able fund-raiser for the institution, bringing in high-profile donors like George Soros, Leon Levy and Richard Fisher. He has wooed donors without ties to the college, an important skill for the president of a liberal arts institution that, with just 2,800 full-time equivalent students and a reputation for idealistic scholarship, does not have the largest pool of wealthy alumni to tap.

Fund-raising, however, can be an imperfect science. It’s generally regarded as a difficult way to reliably fund operations, even though practically every private -- and many public -- institution is banking on building endowments for a sustainable future.

“That really is the crux of the credit issue,” said Behr, the Moody’s analyst. “This college is very unique in that they have tens of millions of dollars of pledges, and there is no certainty with regard to when those gifts will be received. And in the interim, the college operates hand-to-mouth, drawing on these lines of credit for cash flow.”

Fund-raising is also very much driven by personality. Moody’s noted that Botstein, who is nearly 70, has said he intends to remain at Bard for another decade, but it also noted he tightly controls Bard’s management. At the same time, Moody’s said Bard’s board is becoming more involved in financial planning and liquidity management.

Botstein continues to be outspoken about a number of issues. This month he wrote an editorial calling on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to forgive student loan debt and create a new loan program if she is elected. One line in the piece said, “We must underscore the fact that universities are not businesses.”

It’s unclear whether Bard operates differently enough from other institutions that it cannot serve as an early indicator of spreading financial troubles. The college’s strategy may be unique enough that it is in its own class. Moody’s only assigned nine institutions in its not-for-profit higher education arena a rating at or below B1 -- the rating just assigned to Bard.

Still, Bard’s troubles do fit into a broader narrative about head winds many institutions are facing. Colleges and universities of different sizes are running into demographic, cost, technological and economic challenges, said David Strauss, a principal at Art & Science Group, a Baltimore-based consulting strategy firm.

“It’s a real competition, and there are winners and losers,” he said. “Have they carved out a substantive appeal that is compelling enough to draw kids to come and to pay enough of the freight to support the place? So far, the answer you’re giving is ‘Not yet.’ And that’s the answer for a lot of colleges and universities around the country these days.”

Bard’s discount rate in the 2016 fiscal year was in line with the national average -- 48 percent, according to Moody’s. Net tuition revenue per student was $26,000.

So the open question remains whether Bard can find a way to keep its balance sheet in good enough shape to convince bankers and donors to support its ideals.

“They may very well march to the beat of a different drummer,” said Rick Hesel, another principal at Art & Science. “But if you run out of cash, the drummer stops beating.”

Institutional PolicyEditorial Tags: Business issuesCollege administrationImage Source: Bard CollegeImage Caption: Bard College spent $18 million on 380 acres of land housing a historic mansion this year but now faces financial concerns amid a ratings agency downgrade.Is this breaking news?: 

Study finds students benefit from waiting to declare a major

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 08/24/2016 - 07:00

The key to graduating in four years (at least in the minds of many parents) is picking a major early and sticking with it. But a new report suggests students who change their major as late as senior year are more likely to graduate from college than students who settle on one the second they set foot on campus.

The report, published by the Education Advisory Board, a research and consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., challenges the notion that changing majors is keeping students in college past their intended graduation date and driving up their debt. Instead of looking at when students first declared a major, the EAB's study explored the connection between students' final declaration and how it affected their time to degree and graduation rates.

“Maybe the first-choice question is a red herring?” said Ed Venit, a senior director at the EAB. “Maybe the most important decision is the final major you choose?”

Most students -- as many as 80 percent in some surveys -- will switch majors at one point during their time in college. According to the report, students who made a final decision as late as the fifth term they were enrolled did not see their time to graduation increase. Even one-quarter of the students who landed on a final major during senior year graduated in four years, the EAB found.

Neither did settling on a final major during the second through eighth terms of enrollment influence students’ graduation rates. Students who declared a new major during any of those terms posted a graduation rate of between 82 and 84 percent.

The EAB used data provided by colleges in its Student Success Collaborative for the study. The collaborative is a membership organization for colleges and universities that uses data-assisted research to improve student support, retention and graduation rates.

Ten member institutions of the collaborative supplied at least six years’ worth of data about more than 78,000 students who either graduated or left the institution for the study. The colleges were not named, but the EAB said they were selected to “provide a representative snapshot of national major declaration trends.” The sample included both public and private institutions -- all of them on the semester calendar -- with enrollments ranging from 5,800 to more than 42,000.

The study looked only at students who had accrued 60 or more credits to avoid including students who dropped out as freshmen or sophomores in the final data. It also focused on when students settled on a final major, ignoring any other times they may have switched.

Most colleges have policies in place governing when students need to declare a major, but few have firm policies saying how many times a student can switch. The data suggest switching majors can be a positive experience for students, as opposed to an acknowledgment that they initially made the wrong decision.

For example, students who never switched majors had a slightly lower graduation rate than did students who made a switch. While graduation rates hovered around 83 percent for students who finalized their major during their second semester or later, students who declared a major during their first semester in college and stuck with it were four percentage points less likely to graduate.

The EAB did not explore the reasons behind that gap in this study, but Venit speculated it could have something to do with students who enroll in preprofessional programs -- law, medicine, nursing and so on -- but aren’t admitted and drop out as a result.

Alternatively, Venit said, some students who declare a major as freshmen may feel obligated to do so -- perhaps because of pressure from family members -- and end up not graduating.

“They’re pursuing it, and they don’t necessarily feel that they’re in love with it, but they’re also not sure if they can leave it,” Venit said. “They’re just making a choice to continue on.”

Students who change their majors, meanwhile, may be responding to their own changing interests and maturation as they move from being teenagers to young adults. Like transfer students, who make a decision to move from one college to another, “the act of major switching itself is a positive indicator of engagement,” Venit said.

Other than a reminder that “policies that encourage or force students to make choices early on in their careers may not be doing much to help students,” the report doesn’t make any policy recommendations to colleges. Venit said colleges should continue to allow students to switch majors and instead focus on encouraging the act of exploration in the first place.

Georgia State University is one institution that does that. The university is one of several that offers “metamajors,” clusters of courses in the same general field -- business, humanities or STEM, for example -- that let undeclared students discover areas of interest while at the same time giving them a somewhat structured pathway toward graduation.

The university, which enrolls mostly first-generation students from low-income backgrounds, used to require students to pick one of its roughly 90 majors as freshmen. About six years ago, the university realized students went through about 2.5 majors before they graduated.

“We were not doing a good job of fitting students into the right major,” said Timothy M. Renick, vice provost and vice president for enrollment management and student success. “It was overwhelming, especially for first-generation, low-income students … to try to wade through these choices and options. In most cases students were making the wrong choices.”

Now, students choose from one of seven metamajors. A student who wishes to become an accountant, for example, enrolls in the business metamajor, and every course that student takes in that metamajor applies toward graduation. If, down the line, the student decides to switch from accounting to management, previously earned credits still count toward that degree, Renick said.

After enrolling in the metamajor (which for some students lasts for one semester; for others, two semesters plus the preceding summer term), students then go on to select majors. At that point, “Most freshmen are prepared to make a much more informed decision,” Renick said, though they are still free to delay that decision if they remain undecided.

Georgia State has offered metamajors for the past three academic years. During that time, the university has seen a 32 percent drop in the number of major changes among its undergraduates, Renick said. Additionally, students who graduated this spring took on average about half a semester less time to finish their degree requirements than students in the class of 2013, he said.

“There’s no value to try to force a student’s hand as they enter the university,” Renick said. “An ill-informed choice is worse than no choice at all.”

Student EngagementEditorial Tags: Graduation ratesAcademicsIs this breaking news?: 

Stanford's ban on large containers of hard alcohol sparks debate about sexual assault

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 08/24/2016 - 07:00

Stanford University on Monday announced a new policy banning large containers of hard alcohol from undergraduate housing and events. The policy bans containers 750 mL and larger of distilled liquor, spirits and hard alcohol -- a standard-size bottle of vodka or whiskey -- for all undergraduates on campus, including students who are over 21.

The university says the policy is aimed at reducing “the availability and accessibility of hard alcohol” and the “high-risk behaviors” that can accompany heavy drinking, including those that might lead to sexual assault. But victims’ advocates argue that the policy -- which comes after the university was the site of a high-profile rape case in which alcohol was consumed -- puts the onus on victims to avoid drinking rather than on would-be attackers to not assault.

“These policies don’t work,” Anna Voremberg, managing director of the organization End Rape on Campus, said. “They don’t prevent sexual assault. Schools definitely have a responsibility to prepare students for safe drinking habits. That’s important. But putting such policies in the context of preventing sexual assault misses the mark. Alcohol doesn’t cause rape. It’s a weapon used by rapists to rape women.”

In March, Stanford’s president, John Hennessy, wrote in a letter to students that “hard alcohol is implicated in a variety of problems that continue to be present in the Stanford community,” including alcohol poisoning, sexual assault and relationship violence.

“We need new solutions,” he wrote. “Solutions that reduce risk for students, that reduce the pressure on students to drink and that meaningfully change our culture around alcohol.”

The university said its new policy is an outgrowth of Hennessy’s letter. In that letter, the president cited research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that estimates nearly 100,000 college students experience “alcohol-related sexual violence” each year. A paper presented earlier this year at the Research Society on Alcoholism’s annual meeting concluded that “increases in daily estimated blood alcohol content were associated with a greater likelihood of being a victim and with being a perpetrator of coercive sex.”

At the same time, there’s little evidence that indicates campus alcohol policies do much to prevent sexual violence, and the research on campus drinking bans, more generally, is mixed.

"The research on limiting availability and access focuses on reducing alcohol outlet density and increasing alcohol taxes and costs," Ralph Castro, director of Stanford's Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, said in a Q&A about the new policy. "The approach of limiting container size accomplishes both of these empirically proven strategies. "Most alcohol retailers only sell large-volume containers, 750 mL and above. Only select retailers sell hard alcohol containers smaller in volume than 750 mL. Therefore, the outlet density of establishments that sell hard alcohol around campus will be greatly reduced."

According to a 2001 survey conducted as part of Harvard University’s College Alcohol Study, students at colleges with complete drinking bans are 30 percent less likely to be “heavy episodic drinkers” and more likely to abstain from alcohol. Among students who still drink, however, heavy drinking is just as common as among their counterparts at colleges without alcohol bans.

The report has other caveats: the survey found a correlation between banning alcohol and lower rates of heavy drinking, the authors wrote, but that the lower rates could be due “to other factors, such as self-selection of students to these schools.” The report also focused on colleges that have banned all alcohol, not just hard liquor.

Dartmouth College similarly banned hard alcohol last year. A recent survey conducted by the student newspaper, the Dartmouth, found that 85 percent of the 1,745 students who responded said they had consumed hard alcohol since the ban went into effect.

Sending a Message to Women

Victims’ advocates argue that such polices do little to prevent sexual assault and address the behavior of rapists, and instead emphasize telling potential victims, especially women, to change their own behavior in order to avoid being assaulted. They worry that such policies might push students to drink more off-campus and at fraternity parties.

In a series of tweets Monday, Michele Dauber, a law professor at Stanford, criticized the university for adopting a partial hard alcohol ban before taking other preventative safety measures, such as installing lighting in the darkened area on campus where a woman was sexually assaulted behind a dumpster last year.

That rapist, a former Stanford swimmer named Brock Turner, was convicted of the assault but famously received a relatively light sentence for the crime, sparking outrage across the country. In a letter that helped the judge decide his sentence, Turner blamed the assault on him being drunk. “I’ve been shattered by the party culture and risk-taking behavior that I briefly experienced in my four months at school,” Turner wrote.

“The new policy is like the university giving in to Brock Turner’s assertion that he somehow fell victim to this drinking culture, and that’s not the case,” Voremberg, of End Rape on Campus, said. “He raped her. It’s­ not alcohol’s fault he raped her.”

Dartmouth and the University of Virginia faced similar criticism when they announced alcohol bans last year.

As part of their criticism of the policy, advocates pointed to a webpage that Stanford included alongside its announcement of the new rules. Called “Female Bodies and Alcohol,” the webpage explains how alcohol affects women differently than men. The page originally stated that “research tells us that women who are seen drinking alcohol are perceived to be more sexually available than they may actually be,” and that “men who think they have been drinking alcohol -- even when they have only consumed a placebo -- feel sexually aroused and are more responsive to erotic stimuli, including rape scenarios.”

The webpage is not new, and the information is based on a webpage created by Cornell University, but it received renewed attention this week after the university linked to it from the new policy. The above passage has since been removed.

“Many universities have specific programs to educate women about alcohol,” Lisa Ann Lapin, a spokeswoman for Stanford, said. “At Stanford specifically, the majority of our emergency medical calls related to alcohol involve women and this was posted quite some time ago to help with education efforts.”

Students and ViolenceEditorial Tags: Sexual assaultImage Source: iStockIs this breaking news?: 

Average ACT scores drop as more people take the test

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 08/24/2016 - 07:00

Average ACT scores are down this year. ACT officials attribute the drop to the increasing percentage of high school seniors who have taken the test.

The average composite score for those who graduated from high school this year was 20.8, down 0.2 points from last year and representing a five-year low. (The highest possible score on each part of the ACT is 36, and the composite is an average of the four scores.) ACT data show that 64 percent of high school seniors in the Class of 2016 took the ACT this year, up from 59 percent last year and 52 percent in 2012. Generally, when a larger share of students take a test -- in some cases encouraged by state requirements more than the students necessarily being college ready -- scores go down. Score drops were the largest in states that have just started to require all students to take the ACT.

Average ACT Scores and Number Tested, 2012-2016

Year Number English Math Reading Science Composite 2012 1,666,017 20.5 21.1 21.3 20.9 21.1 2013 1,799,243 20.2 20.9 21.1 20.7 20.9 2014 1,845,787 20.3 20.9 21.3 20.8 21.0 2015 1,924,436 20.4 20.8 21.4 20.9 21.0 2016 2,090,342 20.1 20.6 21.3 20.8 20.8

ACT has benchmarks for predicting college success for each section of the test. These too are showing declines.

This year, 38 percent of test takers met the benchmarks in at least three of the four subject areas tested (English, math, reading and science), which according to ACT shows that they have "strong readiness for college course work." That's down from 40 percent in 2015. The percentage of test takers who did not meet any of the benchmarks increased to 34 percent from 31 percent.

Many educators have worried about the lingering (and in some cases growing) gaps among different racial and ethnic groups on the ACT and also on the SAT (average scores for which won't be released until next month).

In the last five years, only the ACT scores of Asian-Americans (on average) have improved, while other groups have remained level or dropped. The average scores of Asian-American test takers are higher than those of all other groups on each of the four parts of the ACT.

ACT Score Average by Race and Ethnicity, 2016

Group English Math Reading Science Composite Black 15.8 17.0 17.4 17.2 17.0 Native American 16.3 17.7 18.2 18.1 17.7 White 21.9 21.7 22.8 22.1 22.2 Latino 17.6 18.8 19.2 18.9 18.7 Asian 23.3 25.0 23.7 23.6 24.0 Native Hawaiian 17.4 18.9 18.9 18.6 18.6 Two or more 20.4 20.5 21.6 20.9 21.0 No response 19.3 20.0 20.6 20.0 20.1 Standardized TestsEditorial Tags: AdmissionsIs this breaking news?: 

NLRB says graduate students at private universities may unionize

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 08/24/2016 - 07:00

In a blow to private institutions and a boon to their graduate student employees, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that graduate research and teaching assistants are entitled to collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act.

Graduate student unions at public institutions are common, as students’ collective bargaining status on public campuses is governed by state law. But the NLRB oversees graduate student unions on private campuses. Tuesday’s decision in favor of a graduate student union bid at Columbia University effectively reverses an earlier NLRB ruling against a graduate student union at Brown University, which had been the law of the land since 2004. The decision also overturns a much longer-standing precedent against collective bargaining for externally funded research assistants in the sciences.

Graduate students at Columbia and elsewhere celebrated Tuesday’s decision, saying they planned to move forward with their union drives. While many professors applauded the decision to recognize students as legitimate workers, other groups described it as reckless, with the potential to transform -- for the worse -- the relationship between institution and student. Columbia or other universities could move to challenge the ruling in federal court.

Columbia’s graduate assistants are affiliated with the United Auto Workers, but there are active drives on a number of other campuses affiliated with different unions, including the American Federation of Teachers and Service Employees International Union. The latter was a key player in a wave of recent adjunct faculty union drives.

Graduate student union momentum at Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Northwestern, Saint Louis and Yale Universities and the University of Chicago, among others, had only increased in anticipation of Tuesday’s decision. Graduate students gathered at Duke to celebrate the NLRB ruling and to demand a union (at right). Research and teaching assistants at the University of Rochester and Syracuse University also announced organizing drives following Tuesday’s decision.

“We are excited we have finally reached this important milestone and look forward to a speedy, fair election so we can demonstrate our majority support and get into bargaining as soon as possible,” Olga Brudastova, a Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering and mechanics at Columbia, said in a statement.

Aaron Greenberg, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Yale and chair of its would-be graduate employee union, affiliated with Unite Here, called the decision “really exciting,” and said it’s “making history for graduate students at private colleges across the country, in that the law is recognizing the work we do and that we have the right to unionize.”

Columbia’s graduate student union held a union vote in 2002, but ballots were destroyed following the 2004 NLRB decision concerning Brown. On Tuesday, student workers sent a letter to the university’s central administration asking it to honor the new decision and allow a fair and free election.

Columbia, along with its Ivy League peers, has opposed graduate students’ right to unionize, including in a joint amicus brief filed with the NLRB as part of the United Auto Workers case.

The university said in a statement Tuesday that it’s reviewing the ruling, but that it “disagrees with this outcome because we believe the academic relationship students have with faculty members and departments as part of their studies is not the same as between employer and employee.”

First and foremost, Columbia said, “students serving as research or teaching assistants come to Columbia to gain knowledge and expertise, and we believe there are legitimate concerns about the impact of involving a nonacademic third party in this scholarly training.”

Whatever the outcome, it added, “we will continue our ongoing efforts to make Columbia a place where all students can achieve the highest levels of both intellectual accomplishment and personal fulfillment.”

Peter Salovey, president of Yale, said in a separate statement that the “mentorship and training that Yale professors provide to graduate students is essential to educating the next generation of leading scholars” and that he’d “long been concerned that this relationship would become less productive and rewarding under a formal collective bargaining regime, in which professors would be ‘supervisors’ of their graduate student ‘employees.’”

Although “I disagree with the NLRB’s decision announced today,” Salovey continued, “it presents an opportunity for our campus to engage in a robust discussion about the pros and cons of graduate student unionization. We should embrace the chance to debate this important issue, and we will conduct this campus discussion in a manner that is proper for a university -- free from intimidation, restriction and pressure by anyone to silence any viewpoint.”

While the NLRB has historically flip-flopped on whether graduate student assistants are employees or students, Tuesday’s 3 to 1 decision asserts that they can be both.

"The board has the statutory authority to treat student assistants as statutory employees, where they perform work, at the direction of the university, for which they are compensated. Statutory coverage is permitted by virtue of an employment relationship; it is not foreclosed by the existence of some other, additional relationship that the [National Labor Relations] Act does not reach," says the decision.

As to Columbia’s argument that being legally recognized employees could interfere with students’ education and training, the decision asserts that’s simply not the case. The idea "is unsupported by legal authority, by empirical evidence or by the board’s actual experience," the decision says. It cites a 2013 study suggesting that unionization did not have a negative effect on student outcomes at public institutions, for example. Unionized graduate students reported higher levels of professional support, better pay and similar academic freedoms, according to the study.

Past bans on the unionization of graduate students at private universities "deprived an entire category of workers of the protections of the act without a convincing justification," the NLRB decision says. It not only reverses the Brown ruling concerning graduate teaching and some research assistants, but also a board decision dating back to the 1970s asserting that externally funded research assistants in the sciences are ineligible for collective bargaining. The case, known as Leland Stanford, concerning physicists at Stanford University, excluded externally funded research assistants from union membership on the grounds that they were largely pursuing their own research agendas, as required to obtain their Ph.D.s -- not performing any specific service for the university.

“The premise of Columbia’s argument concerning the status of its research assistants is that because their work simultaneously serves both their own educational interests along with the interests of the university, they are not employees under Leland Stanford,” the new decision says. “To the extent Columbia’s characterization of Leland Stanford is correct, we have now overruled that decision. We have rejected an inquiry into whether an employment relationship is secondary to or coextensive with an educational relationship. For this reason, the fact that a research assistant’s work might advance his own educational interests as well as the university’s interests is not a barrier to finding statutory-employee status.”

Nothing in the board’s decision precludes even undergraduate students who perform some kind of service for the university in exchange for compensation from seeking collective bargaining. Of course, most research positions and assistantships are held by graduate students.

The three board members who backed the decision were Mark Gaston Pearce, chair, Kent Y. Hirozawa and Lauren McFerran.

Philip A. Miscimarra voted against the decision and issued a dissent.

“My colleagues disregard” the enormous expense faced by many students these days to finance higher education, he wrote. “Congress never intended that the [labor relations act] and collective bargaining would be the means by which students and their families might attempt to exercise control over such an extraordinary expense.” Miscimarra warned of the "havoc" that could be wreaked as the board, in his view, changed the fundamental nature of studentship at a university. For example, he said, graduate students could engage in teaching strikes.

The American Association of University Professors, which argued in an amicus brief in the Columbia case that collective bargaining could improve graduate students’ academic freedom, applauded the majority decision Tuesday.

“This is a tremendous victory for student workers, and the AAUP stands ready to work with graduate employees to defend their rights, including rights to academic freedom and shared governance participation,” Howard Bunsis, chair of the association’s Collective Bargaining Congress and a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University, said in a statement. “Graduate employees deserve a seat at the table and a voice in higher education.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, said that graduate student employees at private institutions, “just like their peers in public universities across the country, deserve the right to organize to have a real say over their wages and conditions.” The NLRB “took a hard look at the flawed reasoning in Brown and concluded, rightly, that grads should be afforded exactly the same workplace rights as their colleagues.”

The National Association of Graduate and Professional Students argued in its own amicus brief that graduate students need to be recognized for the work and service they provide their institutions. At some members’ universities, the brief said, graduate students shoulder 30 percent of the teaching load.

“Today is a good day,” said Kristofferson Culmer, president and CEO of the association. “It has been long established that employees in this country have a right to have a voice in their workplace, and today that right has finally been extended to all graduate-professional student employees.”

This is a huge milestone for graduate workers across the country! pic.twitter.com/RLVpuCNcLY

-- GWC-UAW (@GWCUAW) August 23, 2016

But others sided with Miscimarra, criticizing the decision.

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said the NLRB is “completely confusing the entire reason students enroll in the first place; if I’m earning [a university degree] my primary purpose and benefit during my time there is to gain the skills I need to launch myself into the career and the future I want -- not to garner wages as an employee of the university.” He called the decision “a shameless ploy to increase union membership rather than a genuine attempt to help students.”

Peter McDonough, vice president and general counsel of the American Council on Education, said his organization was “greatly disappointed” that the NLRB “overturned decades of legal precedent and academic practice with a ruling that represents a sweeping expansion of federal authority.”

The “misguided decision turns all students into potential employees who could be organized, even undergraduate students in federal work-study positions,” McDonough said. “Such a development would decrease opportunities for campus jobs that help students, particularly those from low- and middle-income families, finance their education and drive up administrative costs. … In an era where so many are worried about the costs of college, this is a big step in the wrong direction.”

Joseph Ambash, managing partner with Fisher Phillips in Boston, successfully argued the Brown case before the board back in 2004. He said in an interview Tuesday that NLRB decision was reckless in scope.

“The NLRB basically identified any student -- whether an undergraduate or master’s or Ph.D. candidate -- at any private-sector institution as an employee so long as that student provides some institutional service for which they receive some form of compensation,” Ambash said. “The sweep of this decision is so broad that it’s really likely to transform many, many academic institutions into, quote, workplaces.” Regarding the research assistant determination, he added, “this is the first time universities are going to have to collectively bargain about curriculum requirements.”

Other critics pointed out what they saw as a discrepancy -- or a hypocrisy -- between the board’s 2015 decision not to assert jurisdiction over Northwestern's football team in its bid to form a union and today’s ruling. But William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said the cases defy comparison -- and that the board actually observed in a footnote in the Northwestern decision that its lack of jurisdiction there did not bear on the question of the graduate student workers.

Herbert said he thought Tuesday’s ruling read as a “back to basics” approach by the board about what Congress’s intent was behind the original labor relations act. Herbert said it would be some time before any official challenge to the ruling could arise in court, since process dictates that a union election would first have to be held.

Ambash said some kind of challenge is “highly anticipated,” and that -- in his view -- “the courts would likely have a different opinion on the appropriateness of collective bargaining among students.”

An NLRB ruling affirming the right of graduate students at private universities has been a major goal of academic labor during the Obama administration. Prolonged fights over NLRB nominees, however, slowed down the process by which the board could rule. Many have expected a ruling in favor of the UAW. In July, Columbia awarded an unprecedented pay increase to its graduate workers ahead of the likely ruling. Cornell promised its graduate employees a fair and expeditious election in the event of an NLRB decision in favor of these unions.

Here is a timeline on the NLRB and graduate student unionization:

2000: NLRB -- in case involving NYU and UAW -- rules that graduate teaching assistants are eligible for collective bargaining and can be considered employees.

2002: NYU recognizes the UAW union for its graduate students, becoming the first private university to do so.

2004: NLRB -- in case involving Brown University and the UAW -- reverses the 2000 ruling and says graduate students cannot be considered employees entitled to collective bargaining.

2005: NYU withdraws recognition of the UAW.

2005-6: Graduate teaching assistants go on strike at NYU, seeking to force the university to restore recognition, but strike fizzles out without such recognition.

2011: Regional NLRB official, in response to new petition from NYU graduate students to unionize with UAW, rules that the 2004 decision that grad students lack collective bargaining rights is still in place, but questions logic of that ruling, which is then appealed to full NLRB.

2012: NLRB announces it will use the appeal on behalf of NYU grad students to reconsider the 2004 ruling.

2013: NYU and UAW announce compromise under which the appeal to NLRB will be withdrawn.

2015: NLRB agrees to reconsider whether graduate students have collective bargaining rights.

2016: NLRB rules that graduate students have the right to collective bargaining.

Editorial Tags: Graduate studentsTeaching assistantsImage Caption: A December 2014 protest by Columbia grad students seeking union rightsIs this breaking news?: 

Federal judge rejects academic freedom challenge to campus carry law

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 08/23/2016 - 07:06

A federal judge on Monday denied a preliminary injunction sought by three faculty members at the University of Texas at Austin to block a new state law that permits concealed weapons on campus.

Specifically, the professors sued to define a right of faculty members to bar weapons from their own classrooms and argued that their First Amendment right to academic freedom gave them that right. The judge rejected that claim.

The ruling is only on a request for a preliminary injunction, and the professors' lawsuit remains alive. Likewise, the ruling is only about the Texas law, not other laws or legislation in other states on campus carry. But the judge's ruling on the academic freedom issue -- one cited by faculty members in Texas and elsewhere to oppose guns in classrooms -- suggests that the professors nationwide could face long odds in making the case as a matter of federal law that academic freedom gives them the right to keep guns out of their classrooms.

The academic freedom argument made in this lawsuit and by many professors nationally is that the presence or potential presence of guns in a classroom effectively limits the ability of faculty members to discuss controversial topics.

Judge Lee Yeakel rejected the argument.

He noted that federal courts have generally respected the right of academic freedom, but his ruling said that this was not an absolute right. He cited the Supreme Court's 1990 ruling in University of Pennsylvania v. EEOC. In that case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sought documents from Penn about its review of the tenure bid of a faculty member who believed the review included illegal discrimination. Penn argued that release of the materials would limit academic freedom by discouraging professors from expressing frank opinions on their colleagues.

Judge Yeakel noted that the Supreme Court rejected Penn's argument, finding that since EEOC was not in any way encouraging or requiring a point of view in the faculty documents, it was not limiting academic freedom.

"Similarly in this case, neither the campus carry law nor the [University of Texas] campus carry policy is a content-based regulation of speech, nor can either reasonably be construed as a direct regulation of speech," the judge ruled. "Plaintiffs assert that classroom discussion will be 'circumscribed by the near-certain presence of loaded guns' and that their ability to 'make [their classrooms] truly a marketplace for the robust exchange of ideas will be impaired.' They argue that they are now 'incentivized to err on the side of "trimming their sails," academically speaking, when they push for classroom debate.' Perhaps they are correct. But the campus carry law and policy do not direct plaintiffs either toward or away from any particular subject or point of view. The provisions do not prohibit, require or even mention any form of speech by professors of the university. The burden of which plaintiffs complain therefore does not fit within any recognized right of academic freedom."

The judge added that he "searched" for evidence of an academic freedom right as asserted by the professors -- going back to the ratification of the Constitution. He wrote that he could find "no precedent" for the idea that faculty members have "a right of academic freedom so broad that it allows them such autonomous control of their classrooms -- both physically and academically -- that their concerns override decisions of the Legislature and the governing body of the institution that employs them."

The professors made a number of other arguments in their request for an injunction, and those were also rejected by the judge. In many ways, however, their assertion of faculty rights to control their classrooms was one of great interest in academe in and beyond Texas. Administrators of the University of Texas (and much of the rest of public higher education in the state) opposed campus carry. But administrators have said that they must comply with the law now that it has been enacted. Some faculty members have complained that administrators haven't focused enough on the issue of faculty rights and the dangers of teaching in a classroom with guns. And it was such complaints that led to the lawsuit.

The views of the professors who sued have wide support among faculty members nationally. Twenty-nine scholarly societies have opposed campus carry laws.

Renea Hicks, a lawyer for the Texas professors who sued, vowed in an email message to The Texas Tribune to provide the judge with additional information to win the case, even though the injunction was denied.

"We'll just have to pull together more facts for trial and hope things go smoothly on campus in the meantime," Hicks said. "Sometimes, public policies are so terrible and extreme that it takes the law and courts a little while to catch up."

Editorial Tags: Academic freedomIs this breaking news?: 

New rules at IU allow officials to enter fraternities, sororities with probable cause

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 08/23/2016 - 07:00

This fall, for the first time, fraternities and sororities at Indiana University must sign an agreement that would allow university employees, including police officers, to enter and search their houses whenever there is reason to suspect laws or university rules are being broken.

The agreement is similar to those at many private universities. At Carnegie Mellon University, for example, fraternities and sororities agree “to permit Carnegie Mellon or its designees, including Carnegie Mellon security personnel, to enter the public areas of the facility at any time to determine whether any laws or Carnegie Mellon rules or regulations are being violated therein.”

Such policies are uncommon at public universities, however, and IU’s rules go even farther than those typical at private institutions, extending the university’s right to enter not only common areas, but also private rooms. The University of Maryland at College Park, a public institution, has a similar policy, allowing university officials to enter chapters at any time. Maryland owns its 21 Greek houses, however, while most of IU’s houses are privately owned.

“It is part of a growing trend for universities to exert more and more control over off-campus life,” Steve Graham, a Washington defense attorney who frequently represents fraternity chapters, said. “It seems lots of schools would just as soon kill the Greek system. But since the alumni won’t let them, they just want to regulate the Greek system out of existence.”

The new rules come at a time when institutions are getting tougher with fraternities and other single-gender student organizations. In recent years, many colleges have created new rules about what kinds of alcohol fraternities may serve and possess and what types of events they can host, as well as more aggressively punished chapters that have broken the rules.

In 2014, Johns Hopkins University temporarily banned open parties at all fraternities. Earlier that year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology banned all fraternity gatherings larger than 49 people after a woman fell from a window at an MIT fraternity house. That September, Clemson University suspended all fraternity activity after several incidents, including a sophomore falling from a bridge to his death.

Last year, after three chapters caused nearly $500,000 of damage at two resorts, the University of Michigan pressured its fraternities to begin hiring live-in advisers to better monitor members’ behavior.

Attempts to rein in fraternities have been more aggressive at some private institutions.

Last year, Wesleyan University suspended its chapter of Psi Upsilon, shutting down the one remaining fraternity on campus. In an email sent to students and faculty, Michael Roth, Wesleyan’s president, stated that the chapter was under investigation by state and federal prosecutors for “illegal drug activity,” including group purchases of narcotics.

A year earlier, Wesleyan had ordered its fraternities to become coeducational. At the time, the university only had two fraternities on campus. Delta Kappa Epsilon was suspended five months later, the university said, for failing to “take any meaningful steps or make any reasonable commitments toward residential coeducation.” An unofficial off-campus fraternity called Beta Theta Pi was also made off-limits to students earlier that year. Psi Upsilon agreed to become coeducational, but the house was closed before any female students moved in.

Though small, Wesleyan’s Greek scene had become increasingly reviled by other students on campus, who accused the chapters of rampant drug and alcohol use and sexual violence. In a blog post, Roth wrote that it’s “clear that many students see fraternity houses as spaces where women enter with a different status than in any other building on campus, sometimes with terrible consequences.”

Similar allegations preceded the new rules at Indiana University. Last year, IU suspended or placed on probation nine fraternity chapters and four sorority chapters over charges of hazing, drug use, alcohol abuse and sexual assault.

In October, the university suspended its chapter of Alpha Tau Omega after a video surfaced online that allegedly showed members forcing other members to perform oral sex on women. The explicit video was posted online and shared widely on social media. It shows a group of men cheering on a young man -- clad only in boxer shorts -- as he engages in oral sex with a fully nude woman on a mattress. Other men, also wearing only underwear, sit on the floor nearby as the man on the mattress appears to struggle to push away from the woman.

The following month, IU officials first proposed the new rules.

Margie Smith-Simmons, a spokeswoman for Indiana University, said the policy will not change how fraternities and sororities interact with the university, adding that that the agreement is just the first time the policy has been written out.

“The new Greek agreement is codifying a practice we have already had in place,” Smith-Simmons said. “We want to make sure that the Greek life on our campus can thrive and can continue to play a role in developing our students, while protecting them. The provisions in this agreement really are just in regard to the health and safety of our students.”

As part of the new agreement, fraternities can no longer serve or possess hard alcohol. Beer and wine are allowed for those over 21, but only if the wine is poured in plain sight by a sober member and if the beer is in its original unopened can or bottle. Greek chapters must also hire a professional resident adviser to live in the house.

“Authorized university personnel may enter common spaces and private rooms when there is probable cause to believe that violations of this agreement, Indiana University policy or law are being committed and that a delay to procure a search warrant would endanger the health and safety of the residents, or result in the probable destruction of evidence,” the agreement states.

University officials, including campus police, conducting the searches are “free to seize illegal materials in plain view,” and any evidence observed or seized during such inspections can be used in university disciplinary hearings.

While the rules do not apply to any other student organizations on campus, the policy is similar to the one used in IU’s residence halls. The university’s residence hall guidelines guarantee “the right of individuals to be secure in their persons, living quarters, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizure,” but it also notes that, like with the Greek agreement, “authorized university officials may enter a room or apartment when there is probable cause to believe that violations of university or civil regulations are being committed.”

Even so, fraternity and sorority members at IU argue that they are being unfairly singled out by the rules and that such searches of their privately owned houses -- compared to the university-owned dorm rooms -- violate their rights under the Fourth Amendment.

“Although I understand the university’s desire to keep tabs on the Greek system, disregarding the Constitution is not the way to do so,” Steven Aranyi, a fraternity member at IU, wrote in the student newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student. “At the end of the day, upstanding students should not have their rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, thrown to the side in order to maintain the image of our school.”

A writer for the website Total Frat Move pessimistically declared “at least half of the houses [will be] stripped of their letters” by next year. The North-American Interfraternity Conference is also worried about the new rules, and Heather Kirk, a spokeswoman for the NIC, said the organization is “working with Indiana University to address concerns” with the policy.

Though laws differ by state, the argument that warrantless searches of privately owned fraternity and sorority houses are unconstitutional has some merit, said Joe Cohn, legislation and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

In 2013, the Supreme Court of Kentucky concluded that “a fraternity house should be treated as a home for purposes of Fourth Amendment protections,” a determination that has also been shared by the Ohio Court of Appeals and the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which includes Indiana. Those cases involved police officers entering houses unannounced, however. The law is less clear for a situation like Indiana’s, where chapters must sign an agreement that pre-emptively allows the searches.

Cohn said he found the rules at Indiana University to be “deeply disturbing.”

“A policy like this raises very serious questions about privacy,” he said. “And it raises some very serious constitutional questions. It’s a contract that essentially singles out people who decided to exercise their freedom of association under the First Amendment. It’s one thing for law enforcement to enter private homes when there is a serious danger, but it’s another thing when you’re talking about destruction of evidence. Evidence of what? Rule breaking?”

John Foubert, a professor of higher education and student affairs at Oklahoma State University and founder of the sexual assault prevention program One in Four, said that while some fraternities and sororities do own their homes, they benefit from being officially recognized as university-sponsored student organizations. If Greek organizations want to keep that formal connection, he said, the connection should include allowing university employees to enter the houses.

“If a university employee has probable cause to enter, they absolutely should do so,” Foubert said. “Too many institutional employees over time have taken a hands-off approach to all kinds of illegal behavior in fraternity and sorority houses. The new policy at Indiana is one small step toward helping provide a safe, secure and legal residence for college students who choose to attend Indiana and who choose to be involved in fraternities and sororities.”

Editorial Tags: Fraternities/sororitiesImage Source: ATO | FacebookImage Caption: Alpha Tau Omega's former house at Indiana UniversityIs this breaking news?: 

Email from historians' group sparks debate about individual liability insurance offered by professional associations

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 08/23/2016 - 07:00

Networking, subscriptions to journals, the opportunity to present at and attend conferences -- membership in a professional association offers lots of benefits. But should access to third-party liability insurance be one of them?

A recent set of emails from the Organization of American Historians, or OAH, offering such insurance startled at least a few members, who started asking questions about what exactly the product was and who needed it. Aren’t professors covered by their institutions, they asked?

“When it comes with the imprint of the OAH itself and is sent out in an at least official-appearing email to members, that sends mixed messages about how you should be thinking about this issue and using your time,” said Andrew Urban, an assistant professor of American studies and history at Rutgers University at New Brunswick. “Should you be involved in and working with your university to increase protections for, say, adjuncts, or should you just cover your own ass, for lack of a better term?”

Urban added, “Then there are additional questions about whether this provides anything of value."

The email in question advertises “triple-threat protection” for “work-related errors and omissions” of up to $1 million; “job protection benefits” of up to $5,200 for legal advice and representation to appeal an unfavorable job change or dismissal; and criminal defense support of up to $50,000 for charges including sex assault -- provided you’re found not guilty. (Protection from civil claims is offered regardless of the outcome.)

Plans are available to full- and part-time and student employees, and start at about $9 per month, according to Forrest T. Jones and Company, which administers them. Sample claims include a teacher being sued for alleged lack of supervision in class that resulted in a student’s injury, an administrator challenging a professor’s tenure recommendation and a professor accused of unfairly putting a student on academic probation that resulted in the student’s dismissal.

Who would need such insurance? Any educator, according to Forrest T. Jones. The insurer says getting individual liability coverage is a matter of interests -- the insured and the institution’s, which don’t always align -- as well as an additional safety net.

“While most likely your district will have liability insurance, this policy must protect the district, school board members, trustees, administrators and teachers and must defend everything from their student admissions policies to their employment practices,” product information says. “If the district's policy is not broad enough -- or exhausts its liability limits -- you may find yourself personally and financially liable for alleged actions or inactions.”

It’s true that institutions are loyal first and foremost to themselves. But time and again they’ve taken the financial fall for employees accused of everything from malpractice to assault. That’s because they’re generally liable for work-related claims against employees and -- because they’re typically much richer than their employees -- nearly always named as defendants or co-defendants in civil suits.

Katherine Finley, executive director of the OAH, said individual liability is one of the many insurance products offered by the Trust for Insuring Educators, to which the OAH belongs. Historians’ uptake on the liability product is relatively low -- just about 48 of OAH’s members 7,500 have enrolled, Finley said -- and more popular with K-12 teachers than college and university ones. But it holds value for those who want it, she added. (The OAH is distinct from the American Historical Association, which does not offer individual liability plans.)

“Although a large number of our members do work at universities and colleges, we also have a growing number of adjuncts/part-time, high school teachers, and those working totally outside the academy who don't have the benefit of quality, low-cost insurance programs,” she said via email. “We have continued to offer this because some of our members (especially those not associated with the university) may not have one or all of the products they offer.”

Does OAH profit off of these plans? Finley said some associations do make money on them but that no one in the trust profits significantly, in order to keep costs low for members. The trust this year started giving 5 cents per insurance marketing email sent, amounting to about $50 for OAH, she said.

While OAH’s recent emails caused some chatter among historians, it’s not the only professional organization to offer its members this kind of insurance. The National Council of Teachers of English, also a member of the trust, recently sent its members information on the same plans from Forrest T. Jones. Like OAH, the council offers other insurance products in addition to individual liability, such as life and health plans.

Unions often offer this kind of insurance, as well. The American Association of University Professors offers its members liability coverage, though the association’s Institutional Responsibility for Legal Demands on Faculty statement recommends that colleges and universities adopt their own “comprehensive general policy on legal representation and indemnification for members of their faculties.”

That statement, last updated in 1998, notes an uptick in legal challenges against faculty members, and it’s safe to say that the trend has continued in the years since. New responsibilities continue to arise from recent interpretations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prevents gender-based discrimination in higher education, for example.

So is individual liability insurance worth it?

Brett Sokolow, an expert on campus legal issues and executive director of the Association of Title IX Administrators, said it is “facile to dismiss such insurance as a racket, but it all depends on the nature of the coverage and the peace of mind it may afford.” Those considering it might ask how well protected they are by their specific employers, which might vary from institution to institution and from private to public ones in particular -- as well as a series of other questions.

“Are the employee’s interests coextensive with their employer’s?” he asked. “Might the employee be scapegoated or let go by their employer once a suit is filed, in which case their interests are rather divergent? Do they want to be defended by the institution’s counsel or insurer, or have their own?”

Sokolow also cautioned that taking on additional liability coverage could make a university employee a target in a lawsuit. “If an administrator is of modest means and assets, they might not be worth suing,” he said. “If they have $500,000 in insurance, suddenly they are worth suing.”

Robb Jones, senior vice president at United Educators, which writes university insurance policies, also said individual liability could expose someone to liability risks. At the same time, he said, there’s nothing “nefarious” about such policies, and that they can do some good.

For example, Jones said, employee indemnification polices vary from state to state -- meaning institutions aren’t always responsible for faculty members. Many university-specific insurance policies say nothing about protecting employees from criminal claims, he added, and conflicts can arise between professors and their administrations when it’s alleged that faculty conduct and professional polices were not followed.

Jones also said that sometimes employees’ home owners’ insurance might cover slander or libel, but that these policies are often more narrow than specific liability products. Ultimately, he said, the question is one of comfort, kind of like automobile insurance. “Some people get the state’s required minimum, and others get $500,000.”

Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy organization, said she thinks individual liability is primarily a marketing strategy by which professional associations and unions attempt to lure members who think they need it.

On the other hand -- and to Urban’s original concerns about adjuncts and, more generally, what the availability of such products signals about the state of faculty rights -- Maisto said the issue raises a question often raised by semester-to-semester adjuncts when they try to make use of institutional grievance procedures.

“If you are basically unemployed at the end of each term, are you covered by the school’s policies once your employment with them ends?” she asked. “I’d think each adjunct should check their institution’s policies to find out whether or how they are covered.”

Editorial Tags: LifeIs this breaking news?: 

Court's decision on U.S. transgender policy could threaten other Title IX rules

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 08/23/2016 - 07:00

Disagreement over the legality of the 2011 guidance that spurred the U.S. Education Department's toughened enforcement of campus sexual assault has been building in recent months, with many college officials, Republican members of Congress and others questioning the legitimacy of the federal guidelines and dozens of legal and advocacy groups defending the guidance.

Now a federal judge has weighed in -- sort of -- with a ruling that several legal experts say could have significant implications for the Obama administration's attempts to regulate education issues, including sexual violence.

On Sunday, a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction that bars the administration from enforcing its May guidance requiring schools and colleges to give transgender students access to facilities and services in a way that's consistent with their gender identity.

The judge's ruling, which came in a lawsuit brought by officials in 13 states, focuses narrowly on the transgender guidance that has become a major cause for social conservatives. The issue has been much more controversial at the K-12 level than in higher education, where many colleges have for several years been steadily expanding the services they provide to transgender students.

But the 38-page opinion by Judge Reed O'Connor may be most noteworthy for its critique of how the Education Department promulgated the guidance on transgender students and the nature of the guidelines -- which arguably share much with the 2011 guidance on Title IX and sexual assault.

O'Connor concluded that in issuing the transgender guidance without giving notice and seeking public comment about it, the agency violated the terms of the federal Administrative Procedure Act, which requires such steps for federal guidance that is legislative rather than interpretive. While the Education Department has described the transgender guidance as merely interpreting existing laws and rules, O'Connor wrote, the effects of the rule on schools and colleges proves it to be otherwise, since they could lose access to federal financial aid if they violate the guidance.

"The information before the court demonstrates defendants have 'drawn a line in the sand' in that they have concluded plaintiffs must abide by the guidelines, without exception, or they are in breach of their Title IX obligations," O'Connor said.

Blueprint for Challenge to Sexual Assault Guidance

Several lawyers who work with colleges say the parallels between the transgender guidance and the department's 2011 guidance on sexual assault are many -- such that O'Connor's ruling could give colleges or others unhappy with the requirements of the latter a playbook for challenging them.

The 2011 Dear Colleague letter, which urged institutions to better investigate and adjudicate cases of campus sexual assault, was, like the transgender guidance, issued without going through a formal comment period. Critics, echoed by many college officials, have argued that it imposes requirements on them that did not exist before then, such as relaxing the burden of proof they must use when adjudicating cases of sexual assault. (Many law professors contest that view.)

"This provides ammunition to those parties that are looking to shoot holes in DOE's regulatory efforts on Title IX," said Jim Newberry, a lawyer who heads the higher education practice at Steptoe & Johnson. "There's a pretty good road map of the issues to raise, the arguments to be made, the legal authorities to cite."

"If I was a school in the northern district of Texas, I would take this decision and run with it," said another higher education lawyer who requested anonymity. "I would not feel uncomfortable bringing this into court, and feel that I would have a very good chance of success" based on the precedent in the transgender policy case.

Kent Talbert, who was general counsel in the Education Department under President George W. Bush, said the legal issues in a potential sexual assault case around the burden of proof standard are not nearly as clear-cut as they were, in O'Connor's estimation, anyway, concerning transgender policy.

But he said the transgender policy case represents the "first time that you've had a Dear Colleague guidance letter come before a court, and the judiciary is saying here's our view of the law, and the department's wrong and the challengers are correct." It is unlikely to be the last, he said.

Editorial Tags: Sexual assaultTitle IXIs this breaking news?: 
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