Friday, December 13, 2013

Retail Sit-Down in 1937 Detroit: Lessons for Today’s Low-Wage Strikers | Labor Notes

Retail Sit-Down in 1937 Detroit: Lessons for Today’s Low-Wage Strikers | Labor Notes

n 1937, Woolworth’s was the Walmart of its day. The company had transformed the retail marketplace by creating a national chain of stores staffed by low-wage workers, mostly young women. The lunch counters in these stores, serving inexpensive food, were in some ways a precursor to today’s fast food mega-corporations.
So the story of a successful sit-down strike at a Woolworth’s in Detroit gives us some useful parallels for low-wage workers today. In the wake of the Walmart and fast food strikes on Black Friday and December 5, it’s worth asking where the movement is going. What are its goals? Are workers getting organized for the long haul? Are we on a path to victory?
The Detroit sit-down electrified the nation at the time. A recent pamphlet by history professor Dana Frank should resurrect this history and its lessons.

No Ordinary Saturday

“On the surface it seemed like the most ordinary of Saturdays at the most ordinary of American institutions,” Frank begins. “It was February 27, 1937, at Woolworth’s Five and Dime store, the big four-story red brick one in downtown Detroit…
“Like all Woolworth’s stores, this one was painted with red and green trim, with the chain’s name out front in big bold letters”—displaying the company’s corporate brand identity in a way that was new at the time, though omnipresent today.
But it was not the “most ordinary of Saturdays.” General Motors auto workers in Flint, north of Detroit, had won a historic victory just days earlier, after occupying their factory for several weeks, ignoring court orders to leave, and fighting off police assaults.
The workers had received so much sympathy and support that the governor actually sent in the National Guard to protect the strikers from the police. In the end, General Motors capitulated and recognized the then-fledgling United Auto Workers. Auto workers flooded into the UAW, helping to propel it and the new CIO to even greater victories.
Inside Woolworth’s was “a vast array of small, low-priced goods: hair combs, knitting needles, lampshades, safety pins, pie plates, face creams, and crisp new shoelaces … Tidily printed signs poked up from displays throughout the store to reassure customers that almost all the goods … cost only five or ten cents, just as the store’s name promised… Shoppers who were white could indulge in a banana split at the lunch counter.”
The women who staffed the store knew their place in the scheme of things. Frank Woolworth, the company’s founder, had put it bluntly: “We must have cheap help or we cannot sell cheap goods.” Bing Crosby provided a counterpoint with one of his hit songs, “I Found a Million-Dollar Baby in a Five-and-Ten-Cent Store.”

Strike, Girls, Strike!

The young women in the Detroit Woolworth’s undoubtedly had their meager paychecks and the victory at Flint on their minds that Saturday morning. And then “Floyd Loew, an organizer with the Waiters’ and Waitresses’ Union of Detroit, strode to the very center of the store’s first floor… blew a screeching whistle as loud as he could and yelled ‘STRIKE! STRIKE!’ (Or by some reports, ‘STRIKE, girls, STRIKE!’)
“Voices shouted out and cheers rose from different parts of the store. First the women in the white uniforms at the food counter stopped working. Then they moved quickly through the whole store, and soon almost all the women workers on all three sales floors had stepped back from their counters or rushed out from the kitchen, folded their arms, and stopped working.”
According to the Detroit News, “The jangle of cash registers stopped, and bewildered customers found themselves holding out nickels and dimes in vain… [But] not a girl tried to wait on a customer.”
Within minutes the store’s manager appeared. All the women, plus the stock boys, were ushered into a conference room.
The strikers gave the manager a list of demands: union recognition, a 10-cent per hour raise over their current 25 cents, an eight-hour workday, time-and-a-half after 48 hours per week, 50-cent lunches for the food counter workers, free uniforms and laundering, seniority rights, hiring of new workers only through a union hiring hall, and no retaliation.
The manager hemmed and hawed, but promised nothing. The strikers then said they would occupy the store until their demands were met.
“A hundred and eight ordinary young women had done a huge, astonishing thing: they were not only on strike, right in the depths of the Great Depression, but they were occupying the property of one of the largest transnational companies in the United States and refusing to leave until they won,” Frank writes.
“It was a classic sit-down strike, but for the first time the strikers were all women working in a variety store, not men in a factory. Within hours the eyes of the nation would be riveted on these young women and their strike. They had, after all, taken on one of the biggest corporate and consumer icons of the century, with two thousand stores in five countries—it was like striking Walmart, the Gap, and McDonald’s all at the same time.”

Organized to Stay

Frank tells us how the women organized themselves in the days ahead—using the store’s kitchen to prepare food, bringing in mattresses, keeping the store tidy using some of the on-hand cleaning supplies, occasionally helping themselves to candy and headache tablets—all the while partying pretty hard as well. The store’s three telephones were used to communicate with friends, supporters, and the press. They even formed a “Cheer-Up Committee,” which “watched for the first curling lip and… soon had all sadness chased away.”
On Monday, two days after the strike began, organizer Mira Komaroff with Local 705 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees met with some workers at a second, smaller Woolworth’s in downtown Detroit.
Before long, a second store had been occupied.
That night, Secretary-Treasurer Louis Koenig of Local 705 threatened Woolworth’s: if the strike was not settled by the following Saturday, he said, “I will ask the executive council of our association to call a national sit-down” at all Woolworth’s in the country.
That Koenig would do this was quite astonishing. He was known as a “typical, old-guard business unionist,” and led a union with all of about 600 workers at a few big downtown hotels and elite clubs. But the times called out for militant speeches, and he was happy to oblige.

Solidarity from All Over

As the strike escalated, solidarity efforts kicked in with a vengeance. Regular picketing of the stores was organized, in large part by local hotel workers. National labor leaders rushed to express support.
Telegrams hailing the women strikers flooded in from around the country, as did money for food and supplies and for the women themselves. Newspapers headlined the story; movie theaters showed newsreels. People were talking about the strike.
On Tuesday, the Retail Clerks’ International Protective Association in New York dispatched a telegram promising funds and saying the union would “open a boycott of the Woolworth stores in New York pending the outcome of the strike” at a demonstration Saturday—the same deadline Koenig had proclaimed.
In Detroit, other service workers got into the act. At Stouffer’s, 60 waitresses and kitchen workers occupied their restaurant on Tuesday in the middle of the lunch rush. Workers at Huyler’s Cafeteria in the Fisher Building sat down, then barricaded the doors. Unfortunately, Frank does not tell us the outcomes of these actions.
All the while, local store owners were falling over themselves to hand out wage increases in order to forestall more sit-downs.
On Wednesday, Woolworth’s finally agreed to negotiate. The workers were represented by Koenig, Louis Walters from the cooks union, and Louis Salter from the retail clerks—all men. None of the strikers was present. Woolworth’s was represented by some big shots from New York.
At 5:30 pm on Friday, the strike’s seventh day—just in time to beat the Saturday deadline for expanding the strike and the boycott in New York—Woolworth’s and the unions announced an agreement.


“No question, it was an absolute and clear-cut victory for the strikers,” Frank reports. “They won an entire laundry list of demands, including the laundry. First, the company agreed to a five-cent an hour increase for all female employees… Everyone would get time and a half for overtime, after a 48-hour work week. Future workers would be hired through the union’s offices. Uniforms would be furnished and laundered by the company for free…
“And, most amazing of all, the women would be paid at 50% of their usual rate for the time they were occupying the store (though not, presumably, for 24-hour days)… Moreover, the agreement covered not just the two stores that had been taken over, but all forty Woolworth’s stores in the city.”
Woolworth’s got nothing but a promise that union workers wouldn’t harass non-union workers.
As word of the agreement spread, striking workers from both stores gathered inside the main store. They sang and cheered; when they went outside, they found more than a thousand people jamming the sidewalks. They marched to a local hotel, where Koenig read the agreement. He didn’t bother to ask for a vote. Nobody seemed to care.
“On Saturday,” Frank writes, “Woolworth’s announced a special sale.”
The Woolworth’s strike produced a series of copycat actions. There were sit-down strikes at retail stores in Detroit, St. Louis, New York, and San Francisco, in Akron, Ohio; Superior, Wisconsin; St. Paul and Duluth, Minnesota; Tacoma and Centralia, Washington. “Unions today… all over the country,” Frank writes, “owe their existence in part to the Woolworth’s strike.”
She sums it up this way: “All this from a hundred and eight very young, entirely ordinary young women who one day in Detroit decided to stage a sit-down. That was the brilliance of it—it wasn’t some mythical superheroes who had pulled it off, but regular young women with no experience of striking, let alone of occupying a major chain store twenty-four hours a day for seven long days.
“They took on one of the biggest corporate powers of their time and won big, inspiring hundreds of thousands of other ordinary salesclerks—and who knows who else—to stand up (or sit down) for their rights, to claim a living wage… And they taught the arrogant Woolworth’s corporation an enormous lesson.”


Frank posits that the Woolworth’s workers won, first and foremost, because of “their own sense of audacity… and of faith in themselves.” I would add courage, closely related to audacity.
She also argues that “they won because they had an enormous array of powers behind them: the example of the General Motors workers [in Flint], the force of public opinion, neutrality from the mayor and the governor, [and] spectacular solidarity from thousands of allies.”
Few would argue that these conditions exist today for the labor movement. Many are hoping that low-wage Walmart and fast food workers will become the example like the Flint workers. But we are certainly not there yet.
Even under their favorable conditions, the Woolworth’s victory was fleeting.
In an epilogue, Frank notes that the Detroit Woolworth’s workers lost their union contract when it came up for renewal in October 1937—just a few months after their victory.
“As individual women left the store,” Frank tells us, “management deliberately replaced them with anti-union workers who didn’t then fight to keep the union.” There is obviously a story of its own here, including why the union failed to enforce the agreement that required hiring to come through the union. It’s not hard to imagine how an anti-union campaign by the Woolworth bosses, a union unable or unwilling to hold them to account, and the transitory nature of low-wage work could take their toll.
Sort of a like a fairy tale where everybody lives happily ever after, but only for a little while. One has only to look at the nightmare for working class people that Detroit is today to understand that a victory is never final—at least not while capital rules.
Ironically, Woolworth lunch counters would become the scene of yet another triumphant fight involving sit-ins in 1960—this time by black folks and their allies, demanding the right to eat at them. That fight was won, or so the received wisdom goes. But look again at Detroit, today over 80 percent black, and that civil rights victory seems a lot less than what it is cracked up to be, even with a black president in the White House.
Workers and exploited people everywhere fight back. That happens whether unions, activists, and politicos organize it or not. Rebellion is a fact of life. But to make rebellion into victory, and to maintain that victory, takes organization, plus vision and daring. And that means a lot more than Facebook postings, Twitter feeds, press releases, and the assorted media hype.
The Woolworth strikers fought hard and well. They won. Their audacity and courage can be an inspiration to us all, especially to low-wage workers. But the lessons of the failure to hold on to that victory need to be learned also.
Marc Norton has been a rank-and-file member of UNITE HERE Local 2, the San Francisco hotel and restaurant workers union, since 1976. He also belongs to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). His website is
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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Proposed budget cuts will harm PSU's mission: Guest opinion |

By Mary King
The Portland State University campus is in an uproar, reacting to a directive to all academic units to identify 8 percent of their budgets for possible elimination by fall term 2014.
PSU faculty members are skeptical of the necessity for such drastic cuts and alarmed by the destruction slashing budgets would entail.
Battered by Oregon’s 20-year spiral to the bottom for state support for public higher education, another 8 percent cut represents an unsustainable blow to PSU’s ability to provide a quality academic experience for its nearly 30,000 students.
PSU’s faculty members are already far more likely to be part-time “freeway fliers” than the rest of Oregon’s public universities.  Fifty two percent of PSU faculty members are part-time, as compared with 35 percent on average for the Oregon University System.  Part-timers teach a third of the student hours at PSU. 
While part-time faculty may be well qualified, they can’t promise anything beyond the 10-week quarter.  Students can’t count on part-time faculty for advising, for a future letter of recommendation, or a commitment to serve on a Ph.D., masters or honors project committee.
Even PSU’s full-time faculty isn’t stable.  Forty-one percent of full-time faculty members teach on short contracts, two thirds of them for one year or less.
PSU faculty salaries are in the bottom tenth for faculty in public, research universities, and in the bottom 7 percent of all research universities, including the privates.  As a result, we struggle to recruit and retain a strong faculty.
PSU is spending on upper administration.  The number of executives – variants of presidents, provosts and deans – grew 65 percent, from 31 to 51, from 2002 to 2012.  Executive salaries have soared.  Even after adjusting for inflation, the provost’s salary grew by 46 percent in 10 years and the combined vice provosts’ salaries by 43 percent.
Tuition dollars are subsidizing secondary activities that by rights should support the academic mission.  Millions of dollars are diverted each year to prop up bad real estate deals; athletics, which should be supported by donations; and odd giveaways, like the subsidies for business start-ups in the Business Accelerator.
Some PSU budget moves appear counterproductive.  PSU abruptly cut 79 courses this summer, within a week of the start of the summer session. As reported in The Oregonian, Provost Andrews and Dean Beatty explained that all of the cancelled courses would be taught in the regular academic year, and that “PSU professors …can't refuse to see their student loads increase.”  The problem is that many PSU summer students are in town only for the summer, returning to other schools in the fall, and others are people attracted by the opportunity to squeeze in a short, intensive course.
In another example of questionable budget decisions, key projects helping students improve their writing skills, the drop-in writing center and writing intensive courses, are on the chopping block.  Meanwhile, the Provost’s Challenge initiative will use student tech fees to develop a “badge” to certify that students can write, but will not fund writing instruction.
Three-quarters of PSU faculty responding to an on-line survey conducted by the PSU-AAUP this last month indicated that they “somewhat disagree or completely disagree” that “PSU Administrators have a good feel for our mission, understanding of conditions at PSU and are taking us in a positive direction.”
Fifty six percent of faculty surveyed disagree that “PSU Administrators are visible, effective advocates for PSU and public higher education in Oregon,” and another 22 percent are “unsure.”
Oregon must stop accepting its current rank as 47th in the country in per-student higher education funding. The consequences are skyrocketing tuition rates, unconscionable levels of student debt, diminishing access to higher education and mediocre universities.  For the sake of Oregon’s college students and our state’s future, we need to get our priorities in order, at PSU and in the State Legislature.
Mary King is a professor of economics at PSU and president of the PSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the union representing full-time faculty.

Proposed budget cuts will harm PSU's mission: Guest opinion |

Friday, November 22, 2013

University of California Workers Strike Against Harassment | Labor Notes

University of California Workers Strike Against Harassment | Labor Notes

More than 22,000 University of California campus workers and service and technical workers in the system’s medical centers are striking today, claiming harassment and intimidation by management. They are joined by 13,000 sympathy-striking graduate students in a one-day strike.
UC tried a last-minute legal maneuver to stop the strike—claiming it would put patients at risk—but a Sacramento Superior Court judge upheld the right to strike. The union’s 50-worker task force will be on call to fill in during the strike in case of medical emergencies.
The medical center workers—including X-ray, laboratory, and surgical technicians, patient care assistants, housekeepers, and cafeteria workers, among others—previously struck for two days in May. This time, they joined forces with university campus workers such as custodians and groundskeepers, who are in the same union but have a separate contract.
Both groups have been in negotiations for almost a year. The union, AFSCME 3299, says it is the only side showing movement at either table.
Management implemented its last, best, and final offer—pay freezes and benefit cuts—on campus and medical center workers in September. Management has since returned to the table but remains unwilling to address staffing concerns.
The union alleges management began pulling workers aside and interrogating them for their union activity before the May strike, even threatening disciplinary action for workers participating. These unfair labor practice charges are the basis for today’s strike.
As AFSCME 3299 president Kathryn Lybarger put it: “The point of the ULP strike is, we’d like to see them change their behavior.”
The university campus workers joining the medical center workers in the ULP strike have also had similar concessions forced on them. Campus workers struck in 2005 and sympathy-struck in May, but this is the first time both groups have struck together. Unionized graduate students, members of UAW 2865, are sympathy-striking this time.

Skeleton Crews

Campus and hospital workers have offered pension concessions during negotiations, including higher employee contributions, in exchange for wage increases—but UC rejected the offer.
The university system, which includes five medical centers and 10 campuses, boasts $7 billion in operating revenue. While it’s true the system experienced enormous state funding cuts, Lybarger said, it has since recovered; now it’s just taking advantage of the excuse.
“They can absolutely afford it,” she said. “The UC has taken $900 million in cuts [between 2009 and 2012] but they recouped it by increasing student fees and implementing service cuts.”
“It’s not like we are asking for the jewels on the crown,” UC-Berkeley custodian Maricruz Manzanares said. “We are asking for a way to survive.”
The service workers now coping with the imposed cuts, Manzanarez pointed out, are already the lowest-paid workers in the UC system. Many qualify for public assistance. Adding insult to injury, the UC system is increasing parking fees along with pension and healthcare costs.
UC says its pay for service workers meets market standards—but “what’s their market?” Lybarger counters. “If their market is McDonalds, that’s not very difficult.”
Another deal-breaker for workers is the university’s refusal to agree to contract language to ban subcontracting and to convert temporary and per diem workers to fully benefited employees. Many are working steady part-time or even full-time hours.
Workers want the university to commit to a full-time workforce and create staffing committees to address concerns that are piling up about safety and workload.
The union says cost-cutting is endangering care. Workplace injuries have increased almost 20 percent in five years.
“It’s getting to the point where we are working on skeleton crews and people are getting hurt,” said Manzanares.
In the spring UC faced criticism when they eliminated 300 jobs at UCSF and paid $1.2 million to settle a whistleblower suit that charged patient neglect at UC Irvine.

Nurses Set Good Precedent

This time the striking medical center workers don’t have nurses and professional units striking in sympathy with them, as they did in May.
The California Nurses Association (CNA) was originally planning to walk out too, but reached a last-minute contract settlement with 4 percent wage increases over four years and protection of a single-tier pension with retiree benefits. The university had been pushing for a two-tier pension.
The Union of Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE), representing the medical center’s social workers, lab scientists, and pharmacists, is still in negotiations. UC threatened to implement similar terms on them, but was willing to go back to the bargaining table instead—so UPTE too opted not to strike. They, along with nurses, are turning out to support striking workers on the picket line on their breaks and after work.
On one hand, the nurses’ victory meant AFSCME lost a powerful picket line ally who could have put a lot of pressure on the hospital system during the strike. But on the other hand, CNA’s settlement set a strong contract standard for the other unions: the hospital agreed to preserve pension standards and raises for nurses.
“It’s definitely higher than what UC has maintained they can offer us,” Lybarger said.
Lybarger and the 3299 bargaining team hope the university system’s new high-profile president, former Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano, will improve the relationship in negotiations.
At their most recent round of bargaining in early November, management showed movement for the first time on economics, but still wouldn’t budge on the staffing issues the union has continued to raise.

Grad Students Join

Unionized graduate students are striking in sympathy with the UC workers—a showing of support separate from their own negotiations, where they are not yet at the point of striking.
In their contract, graduate students are seeking to increase financial support for research and teaching assistants, have the university offer childcare to graduate students with families, and win stronger anti-discrimination language.
“We are challenging the UC’s priorities,” said Josh Brahinsky, a graduate student at UC-Santa Cruz. “They are paying attention to executive compensation. They are not paying attention to quality of care or education.”
Though she works at the elite Berkeley campus, Maricruz said, the low wages hurt her ability to send her own children to college. “It’s ironic, working for a university for almost 19 years that my kids have not been able to attend,” she said.
“It should be a place I can send my kids. Instead, they work here. They have to go to community college.”
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

PSU Faculty Union Protests Budget Cuts | Blogtown, PDX | Portland Mercury

Portland State University’s administration is once again looking to slim down the school’s budget. Needless to say students, faculty and the faculty union aren’t happy.

Yesterday at noon, around 260 individuals, many from the PSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP)—the union representing the university’s faculty—along with students and other supporters, marched from PSU at SW Broadway to the Market Center Building, where PSU President Wim Wiewel keeps an office.

The protesters’ beef was with the university’s administration, their high salaries, and the budget-cutting knife they’re now wielding.

University higher-ups recently issued an administrative directive ordering all “academic units” identify eight percent of their budgets for possible cuts. The cuts are expected to take another bite out of student services. But the rub, says AAUP reps, is that this starvation diet might not be necessary at all.

“There’s this history of uneven investment on the campus,” Mary King, economics professor and president of the PSU chapter of the AAUP, told the Mercury.

On King’s wish list of possible cuts are what she says are some of PSU’s more ill-conceived investments. Not the least of these is the University Place Hotel—the former Double Tree at 310 SW Lincoln Street that PSU bought and has been running since 2004. King says the hotel has sucked money from student tuition and should be sold.

Of course, union members have their own more personal complaints against their bosses, and—surprise! surprise—it’s over money. But before you think the teachers are greedy bastards not pulling their own weight, consider their argument. (Which, if you wanted to incite class resentment, isn’t a bad one).

The AAUP claims there’s a lot of fat at the top of PSU’s food chain. According to numbers compiled by the union, over the last decade, the average administrator’s salary has gone up substantially. The provost’s salary shot up 46 percent. For vice provosts it was 43 percent. For vice presidents it was around 29 percent. To give this some perspective, consider PSU President Wim Wiewel’s salary.

According to a Chronicle for Higher Education study released earlier this year—and partially disputed by the Oregonian—during 2011-2012 accounting period, Wiewel was paid $627,000 in salary and compensation. The Oregonian’s Betsy Hammond puts the number closer to $513,000. Ranking him somewhere between 42nd and 70th highest paid university administrator in the country.

During the same period, according to Oregon University System numbers, salaries for PSU faculty were $92,800 for full professors, $73,600 for associate professors, $60,300 for assistant professors, and $41,700 for instructors. PSU also has a lot of part-timers, about 52 percent of its faculty, well above the OUS average of 35 percent. In fact, the school has about 173 adjuncts compared to 409 tenure-track faculty members, and 100 “fixed term faculty” (whatever that is).

Yet, in its on-going negotiations with the university—the union’s current contract with the university expires on November 30—AAUP rep Marissa Johnson says PSU administration has asked the faculty to take just a one percent cost of living increase despite the fact, she says, cost of living has gone up by more then two percent recently, and administration salaries went up by 13 percent in the last biennium.

The context for this bickering is, of course, a slow and steady divestment of state funds away from PSU and other Oregon universities. As a result, much of the financial burden for propping up Oregon’s higher ed—and, if the union is right, its well-paid administrators, and an occasional hotel—have fallen on the backs of students in the form of tuition hikes.

King tells the Mercury the AAUP is planning on releasing a study with a larger set of numbers that’ll further break down and compare the salaries of PSU administrators with that or its faculty. (And, presumably build more resentment against the school’s administrators).

On November 25th—that’s next Monday—the AAUP will also be hosting a meeting to further discuss the budget, and nail home its point. The meeting will be at Cramer Hall from 3-5PM. And it’s open to the public.

PSU Faculty Union Protests Budget Cuts | Blogtown, PDX | Portland Mercury

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Citing Series of Conflicts, San Jose State U. Asks for Governance Review - Wired Campus - The Chronicle of Higher Education

November 19, 2013, 4:59 am
Academic leaders at San Jose State University on Monday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution asking the chancellor of the California State University system to review governance at the university, where unease over the introduction of massive open online courses has exacerbated difficulties caused by tight budgets.
The resolution cited “a series of conflicts over the past year” that have highlighted “communication and transparency” issues and “opened serious rifts in our shared sense of community.”
The Academic Senate passed the resolution by a vote of 38 to 2, with five abstentions, but delayed until its December meeting a vote on another measure related to the president’s push to adopt MOOCs.
“In my 24 years at SJSU—most of that time on the Senate—I have never heard such widespread and deep concern about the direction our campus has been taking,” said Kenneth B. Peter, a professor of political science, in a prepared statement provided toThe Chronicle.
Mohammad H. Qayoumi, San Jose State’s president, spoke at the meeting and endorsed the resolution.
“As I said during the meeting, communication is the basis for effective governance,” Mr. Qayoumi wrote in a blog post on the university website. “I am hopeful that today’s Senate conversation, and others to come, will bring us closer together and help us exceed our individual and collective aspirations.”
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Citing Series of Conflicts, San Jose State U. Asks for Governance Review - Wired Campus - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Berklee College of Music launches first accredited bachelor's degree programs in music | Inside Higher Ed

October 31, 2013
The Berklee College of Music will next year become the first nonprofit institution to offer fully online accredited bachelor’s degree programs in its field. Since the online degree can only replicate so much of going to college in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, it comes with an incentive: It costs 60 percent less than a residential degree.
The move is unusual among colleges that offer both online and in-person versions of the same programs -- not simply because of the academic discipline, but also because of the substantial online discount.
Berklee’s online degrees are more than a decade in the making. The college began to offer individual noncredit courses about 11 years ago, and later bundled those courses together in certificate programs. The college has also published free content through YouTube, BitTorrent and its Berklee Shares portal, and provides massive open online courses through Coursera and edX. The two 120-credit degrees launching in fall 2014 -- music business and music production -- represent the next gradual and logical step, said Mike King, chief marketing officer at Berklee Online.
“It’s something that people have been asking for ... since we started offering single online courses. It’s taken us a while just to move in that direction,” King said. “Over all, our goal is to be able to provide a range of different options no matter how people want to experience Berklee’s curriculum.”
Berklee Online students starting next fall will pay $14,500 in tuition, compared to the $36,514 residential students pay this year (the cost of attendance for the 2014-15 year has not yet been set). But online students also save on optional charges like room and board and health insurance, which can tack on another $20,000 to the bottom line. When factoring in indirect costs like books, transportation and living expenses, the gulf between the two degree options widens to nearly $45,000. Put another way, 120 credits online could cost less than what a student pays for one year on campus.
Aside from eliminating the optional charges, the lower cost reflects Berklee's assessment that -- for these programs -- online isn't identical to in-person.
"There are things that the physical school has that we don’t,” King said. “There’s an infrastructure that happens at the physical school. If you were to come into Berklee, we’re walking by all these practice rooms, we’re walking by Studio A and Studio B -- all of those things do not exist online.”
Another intangible missing from the online school is the atmosphere. “There are plenty of reasons to come for a residential experience, not the least of which is being surrounded by 4,000 musicians every day,” said Jeanine Cowen, Berklee’s vice president for curriculum and program innovation. “There’s just no feeling like being on campus every day.”
Online collaboration tools and music software -- Berklee uses a heavily modified version of the course management system Moodle -- can emulate parts of the residential experience, King said, “but there are very real things happening here at Berklee that are very positive that we can’t do online.”
The online degrees therefore cater to musicians whose careers prevent them from moving to Boston. Applicants with professional experience can submit their portfolios and receive up to 30 prior learning credits.
“The sweet spot for this online degree are the people who have professional careers, and they’re looking for a way to extend their capacity,” Cowen said. “So they’re not looking for the quad, as you will, but they’re looking to study with these fantastic faculty members.” (Note: Cowen later clarified that Berklee does not have a quad.)
Faculty is one element shared by both arms of Berklee. Most of the instructors in the online school also teach residential courses, Cowen said.
Berklee Online settled on music business and music production due to demand, as the college has seen the number of applications to those programs almost quadruple in the past decade. There is nothing massive about the online degree programs, however. The inaugural cohort will be capped at 300 students.
The two programs were not chosen because they are easier to teach online than vocal performance, for example. In fact, King said guitar is the most popular of Berklee Online’s certificate programs.
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges will conduct a full review of the online programs in spring 2016. Degrees in arrangement, orchestration and performance are “definitely in consideration,” said Carin Nuernberg, Berklee Online’s dean of continuing education, but the expansion plans hinge on a positive review from NEASC.
Berklee faces sparse competition in the online space. The for-profit Full Sail University, which also offers a bachelor’s degree in music production, is one of few rivals. ​Its program is priced at $11,200 a semester -- more expensive than Berklee -- but only lasts for five semesters. A spokeswoman for Full Sail said the university has yet to see Berklee's entry into the market impact its application numbers.
"I think there are a lot of people who say ‘Well, how can you teach music online?’ ” Nuernberg said. “Developing the curriculum for a degree program is not something easily done -- it’s years of investment. I think those two pieces together may make anyone skittish.”

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Inside Higher Ed 

Berklee College of Music launches first accredited bachelor's degree programs in music | Inside Higher Ed

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

States Demand That Colleges Prove Their Students Are Learning - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

At Northwest Missouri State U., students must take the Proficiency Profile, assessing their skills in math, reading, and writing. The university, among others in the state, has chosen to be evaluated on the basis of the test.
Some of the hallmarks of No Child Left Behind are creeping into higher education.
The 2002 law was intended to hold elementary and secondary schools accountable for improving the academic achievement of all students. It has come to be reviled by many teachers for what they see as a narrowing of the curriculum to the material covered on standardized tests, and for punishing schools for their students' performance.
Professors often invoke the law in objecting to calls for increased oversight—which they fear will come from the federal government or accreditors—as a cautionary tale of accountability run amok. But it is in the states, some of which are requiring colleges to demonstrate what their students are learning, that the real action is taking place.
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States Demand That Colleges Prove Their Students Are Learning - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Friday, October 11, 2013

Rutgers U. graduate school faculty vote to block Pearson partnership | Inside Higher Ed

October 11, 2013
The effort to offer more graduate degree programs online at Rutgers University at New Brunswick hit a snag on Wednesday, as faculty members in the Graduate School voted to block new programs from being approved. While faculty union representatives claim a “slam-dunk victory” against corporatization, the rest of the university plans to proceed.
The clash between Rutgers’ administration and some of its faculty members resembles similar debates at other institutions. Last September, the administration signed a contract with eCollege, a Pearson division, to develop and manage online degree programs with the goal of enrolling more than 22,000 additional students by 2019. The New Brunswick campus currently enrolls about 41,500 students. Faculty members, concerned about academic freedom and intellectual property rights, on Wednesday passed a procedural roadblock that automatically withholds approval from any new program to be managed under the agreement with Pearson.
“There’s nothing about this online business model that saves students money,” said David M. Hughes, professor of anthropology. “This is not about Rutgers trying to increase the access and affordability of its offerings. In fact, it’s supposed to bring in a great deal of revenue for both Pearson and Rutgers.”
According the agreement, Pearson will receive half of the tuition revenue in the first academic year. The share drops as more students enroll; if Rutgers were to meet its 2019 enrollment goal, for example, Pearson would take 45 percent the next academic year. Hughes said a growth in enrollment and tuition revenue should be accompanied by more tenured faculty members, not corporate profits.
The resolution, which passed, 39-22, doesn’t bring the agreement to a full stop, but covers all new and existing degree programs managed by the graduate school. That includes the degrees offered by the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the Professional Science Master's Program, but not the School of Engineering or the School of Social Work, for example. Hughes estimated there are about 120 Ph.D. and master's degree programs in the School of Arts and Science alone.
“We haven’t entirely closed the barn door, but we've made it a lot narrower,” said Hughes, a member of the executive council of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT, which represents more than 6,600 faculty members there. “Symbolically what this signifies is that it’s a movement among faculty to boycott this Pearson agreement. None of it will work if faculty don’t teach under the limitations of the contract.”
In a statement, Jerome Kukor, dean of the Graduate School, said the university accepts the vote, but that degree programs not managed by the Graduate School will still be free to participate.
“The resolution approved by 39 members of the approximately 1,500 member graduate school faculty is not binding on the university,” Kukor wrote. “It was their decision to reject the option of participating in the program to develop online course offerings. The university will not ignore the vote and will implement its result -- which limits the choice for graduate programs in the Graduate School [at] New Brunswick."
Kukor said the contract was reviewed by a 15-member committee that "included a wide representation of faculty, staff and administrators from all Rutgers campuses.... Faculty unions are not part of the university's contract negotiations with vendors, but Rutgers faculty were represented and consulted throughout the entire process."
Susan Aspey, Pearson's vice president of media relations, said in a statement the company was awarded the contract after a competitive bidding process.
"In the spirit of academic freedom, faculty are free to choose the content they want for their course, including Pearson content," Aspey wrote. "All academic decisions have and continue to be made by the university."
Hughes said the faculty critics have concerns about Pearson and the university. The contract with Pearson stipulates the content featured in online courses can’t include “obscene, threatening, indecent, libelous, slanderous, defamatory or otherwise unlawful or tortious material, including material that is harmful to children” -- a clause that Hughes said could threatens faculty members' academic freedom. For example, he said he was unsure if a course on human eroticism would be deemed harmful to children, thereby violating the contract.
Pearson addressed the "obscenity clause" in a letter to Rutgers in late July. 
"The sole purpose of the contract language is to act as a safety net for Pearson in the extreme situation where Rutgers is unable to resolve the claim through its internal procedures and the user presses a claim against Pearson," the letter reads. "As a point of reference, no issue has ever reached the point where we had to consider taking that route in the 15+ years the platform has been used by universities and their students."
Faculty members have to sign a separate contract with the university to create an online course, which Hughes said strips them of their intellectual property rights. A draft of the agreement states that “Due to the particular requirements of an online program, this license specifically includes the right to have the course taught by others.”
“A lot of faculty see red when they read that,” said Hughes, who pointed out the clause would allow the university to “unbundle” the role of an instructor. In a worst-case scenario, he said faculty members could in the future be replaced by an underpaid “drone army of course facilitators” hired to teach course material created by their predecessors.
Kukor dismissed the claims in his statement. “There are no threats to academic freedom, no corporatization of Rutgers education, no influence by Pearson as to who teaches courses -- that remains solely a Rutgers decision, and there is no claim on any faculty intellectual property rights,” he wrote.
Even though the administration will not reconsider the partnership with Pearson, Hughes said the move was an invitation to debate the involvement of outside firms in online education at Rutgers.
“I think a resolution is a resolution,” Hughes said. “This may go into extra innings. The resolution was not meant as a recommendation. It was not meant as advice. It was meant as a decision.”

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Rutgers U. graduate school faculty vote to block Pearson partnership | Inside Higher Ed

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Faculty Coalition: It's Time to Examine MOOC and Online Ed Profit Motives -- Campus Technology

  • By Dian Schaffhauser
  • 10/09/13
  • A coalition of faculty groups has declared war against online learning, particularly massive open online courses (MOOCs), because it said it believes that the fast expansion of this form of education is being promulgated by corporations — specifically for-profit colleges and universities and education technology companies — at the expense of student education and public interest.
    The question at the heart of the battle is whether higher education is worthy of public investment or better suited to be an offering of big business. A report issued today by advocacy group Campaign for the Future of Higher Education examines the motives behind much of the current push for online education.
    The report, "The 'Promises' of Online Higher Education: Profits," examines how the rhetoric used to describe new online offerings — "innovation," "expanded access," and "reduced costs" — should be interpreted "through the lens of corporate interest and influence." Specifically, corporations and investors have a major interest in the adoption of education technology to deliver online classes.
    The challenge is communicating the role of online formats and other technological innovations in higher ed in a more nuanced way in order to make more fully informed decisions.
    The campaign coalition includes 65 faculty, student, teacher and union associations from across the United States. The stated mission of the campaign is "to guarantee that affordable quality higher education is accessible to all sectors of our society in the coming decades; and to include the voices of the faculty, staff, students, and our communities — not just administrators, politicians, foundations, and think tanks — in the process of making change."
    According to the campaign, the report is a "first step in looking at who is making money, how much, in what ways, and with whose assistance in online higher education." Only by understanding those aspects of the evolving formats of education, the report explained, will the public be able to "assess the full 'value' of the seemingly endless stream of technologically related innovations in higher education and make the best policy decisions for the future of higher education in our country."

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    Faculty Coalition: It's Time to Examine MOOC and Online Ed Profit Motives -- Campus Technology
    Can University Administrators Nullify A Supreme Court Decision?

    They can certainly try. That’s what Defending the Freedom to Innovate: Faculty Intellectual Property (IP) Rights After Stanford v. Roche, () a newly released draft report from the AAUP, documents—the year-long effort by many of our most distinguished research universities to nullify the US Supreme Court’s historic 2011 Stanford v. Roche ruling. Spearheaded by the entire University of California system early in 2012—and since joined by public and private universities like the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois—this multicampus effort aims to take away the faculty patent rights established by two hundred years of patent law and reinforced by the nation’s highest court in 2011.

    In Stanford v. Roche, the Court ruled against a coalition of universities that had been asserting that the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act not only gave institutions the right to own faculty inventions but also mandated they do so. Faced with a firm rejection of this claim, many institutions responded by trying to nullify the decision. They typically chose one of two routes: either making all faculty sign a new form giving away all present and future patent rights or simply declaring university ownership on a campus website.
    Faculty are beginning to protest, but many are afraid of retaliation. Interestingly, the dispute is not about money. For decades most universities recognized that faculty members owned their inventions and had the right to decide whether they should be commercialized. If they were marketed, a faculty inventor and the campus would usually share any profits. That is still the case. But faculty are losing the power to decide whether and how their inventions should be disseminated. And that right is covered by academic freedom.

    The dispute is no longer only about patents. The MOOC revolution is leading some institutions to demand ownership of online instructional materials as well. For generations, course lectures were covered by copyright and owned by faculty unless they voluntarily chose to grant ownership to their university. As the AAUP’s draft report points out, all a university needs is a license to distribute an online course, but many are pressing unnecessarily for ownership as well.

    The AAUP is launching an educational campaign to inform faculty about their rights and to encourage faculty senates and contract negotiating teams to secure the rights the Supreme Court has confirmed. There is no evidence that university administrators understand inventions better than faculty members do. The AAUP believes the public good is better served by those who know these scholarly products best deciding whether to give them away for free or seek commercialization.

    The draft report—and supporting documentation—is available at It will be followed by a January 2014 book to be published by the AAUP and distributed by the University of Illinois Press, Recommended Principles to Guide Academy-Industry Relationships.

    Cary Nelson, chair, subcommittee on intellectual property
    Henry Reichman, chair, Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure

    Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    Survey compares views of graduate students at unionized and non-unionized campuses | Inside Higher Ed

    October 8, 2013
    Graduate student unionization is very much in the news these days, with the National Labor Relations Board expected to rule soon on whether graduate assistants may unionize at private universities. New York University on Friday offered a deal to the United Auto Workers unit organizing graduate students at the university under which NYU would accept a vote on a teaching assistant union but not a research assistant union. The debates over unions frequently deal with whether the nature of the student-faculty relationship deteriorates with collective bargaining, and whether unionized graduate students earn more.
    Currently, there are no private universities with graduate student unions. But many public universities have them, and the authors of a paper released this year surveyed similar graduate students at universities with and without unions about pay and also the student-faculty relationship. The study found unionized graduate students earn more, on average. And on various measures of student-faculty relations, the survey found either no difference or (in some cases) better relations at unionized campuses.
    The paper (abstract available here) appears in ILR Review, published by Cornell University.
    "These findings suggest that potential harm to faculty-student relationships and academic freedom should not continue to serve as bases for the denial of collective bargaining rights to graduate student employees," says the paper, by Sean E. Rogers, assistant professor of management at New Mexico State University; Adrienne E. Eaton, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University; and Paula B. Voos, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers.
    For their study, the researchers surveyed graduate students at four unionized and four non-unionized universities. Each unionized university was paired with a similar institution, based on geography, size and research spending. The unionized campuses all had been using collective bargaining since at least 1983, so they were campuses were the culture of graduate student relations had not recently been changed by a union election. The graduate students interviewed crossed disciplinary categories -- with 695 graduate students providing enough information for the project to use.
    When controlling for a range of factors (discipline, campus, etc.), the study found unionized graduate students earned more, and were more likely to report that they were paid fairly.
    Much of the study focuses on student-faculty relations, and whether -- as union critics fear -- the presence of collective bargaining turns a mentoring relationship into an adversarial one. The graduate students were asked to respond to a series of statements about their professors as a measure of how they perceived their relationships. On many issues, there were not statistically significant differences. But on a number, the differences pointed to better relations at unionized campuses. Unionized graduate students were more likely than others to say their advisers accepted them as professionals, served as role models for them and were effective in their roles.
    Via e-mail, Rogers said that even if many ratings of professors were the same in union and non-union environments, that backs the idea that collective bargaining need not end supportive student-faculty relationships. And he notes that past studies have made similar findings with regard to professors' experiences. He said that NYU professors may well view unions negatively, but that this study suggests the potential for long-term positive relations.
    Rogers currently teaches at a university without faculty unions. But he was a graduate student at Rutgers, where his co-authors teach, and where grad students and faculty members are unionized. "We simply wanted to test what the NLRB and others have been projecting about grad unionization for 30-odd years." he said. The researchers are now doing a larger study to see if their findings hold when more campuses are included.

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    Survey compares views of graduate students at unionized and non-unionized campuses | Inside Higher Ed