Nevada Faculty Alliance
 

NFA News Archive

  • 22 Nov 2011 2:12 PM | Anonymous
    Don’t blame Elliott Parker for the so-called super committee in the U.S. Congress not reaching a deal on deficit reduction by its Nov. 23 deadline. The University of Nevada, Reno, economics department chair gave his input with plenty of time to spare for a compromise.

    Parker was part of a select group of about a dozen economists – and the only academic among them – invited to Washington, D.C., for a Nov. 2 meeting on job creation and deficit reduction with the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, and Senator Mark Begich, of Alaska, invited Parker and the rest of the group, which included chief economists for FedEx Corporation, the American Bankers Association, the National Association of Home Builders and the AFL-CIO.

    Parker, who last to speak at the meeting, described it as a tremendous honor. He said: “It was reassuring, listening to all these chief economists describe what’s going on and finding it more or less agreed with what I thought was going on. The depressing part was the extent to which the senators we were talking to were frustrated. What matters most is who’s going to win the next election. It’s all about doing nothing until then.”

    The meeting took place in anticipation of the Nov. 23 deadline for a select committee of 12 members of Congress to present its plan for deficit reduction, or risk triggering automatic spending cuts. The committee resulted from Congress’s raising the debt ceiling earlier this year.

    Parker contributes analysis of economic issues to the Las Vegas Sun, Nevada Appeal and Reno Gazette-Journal, as well as Fox Business News. He teaches in Nevada and abroad on international trade and finance, China’s economy, comparative economic systems, economic development, intermediate microeconomics and micro- and macroeconomics.
  • 22 Nov 2011 1:55 PM | Deleted user
    In the winter issue of The Alliance, we report on the most important development in Nevada higher education news this fall: the Interim Committee on the Funding of Higher Education. This is good news, especially for students, who have faced significant increases in fees and tuition due to reductions in state investment in NSHE. These students have a right to know that the money they pay stays on campus and is not funneled indirectly back to the General Fund or to another campus through a flawed formula that holds back state support as tuition revenue increases.

    Beyond fairness to students, what does this mean for faculty?

    First and foremost, we should support this effort. It is our best chance for the state to consider seriously how it can address the education deficit. Just as Nevada trails the nation in economic recovery, we lag behind in the proportion of our population that attends, and graduates from, institutions of higher education. We all know that the Nevada System of Higher Education cannot hope to improve on that score without a serious conversation about how to better allocate scarce resources. Because the challenge is so great, faculty ought to support a thoroughly new approach to higher education funding, not just a revision of a formula that has been in place, with only modest changes, since the 1980s.

    We also ought to support a formula that better reflects the real cost and the real diversity of the work we do. The existing formulas are both too imprecise in their calculations of cost and too rigid in how they fund instruction. In current form, the formulas are supposed to allocate resources to match the type of instruction and the cost of the program. However, they are not based upon the actual cost of instruction of any program (in terms of either capital expenses or the actual market cost of hiring faculty in that discipline). Nor do they make any allowance for what we might call the "value added through instruction" -- that is, what students learn. So the formula ought to address the actual cost of instruction and the value added; because this will vary from campus to campus, introducing those factors will help support our differentiated missions. Our System is much too large – and more importantly our faculty is much too diverse in its training, its job responsibilities, and its performance – for a one-size-fits-all formula.

    Although faculty-to-student ratio is a part of the current formula on paper, no campus currently actually targets its faculty size to the faculty-to-student ratio for which it is funded. This results in a negative incentive for a campus to under-staff and over-enroll programs designated as “high cost” – and more generally to achieve the highest enrollment with the fewest and cheapest faculty. That incentive to overburden faculty is no formula for student success, and the new formula must correct this.

    Moreover, there is at present no component of the current formula for faculty work other than instruction, meaning the costs of a research infrastructure that supports economic development and technology transfer is not reflected. The lack of a research component to the formula burdens all faculty at all levels, and worse, it holds back Nevada’s economic recovery.

    Finally, the Chancellor has made it clear that Nevada will move at least some of its formula to performance-based allocations, which reward campuses that produce more graduates. Faculty ought to support that goal, since graduating students is our vocation as well as our mandate.

    But we ought to be cautious about performance-based allocation based not on total number of graduates but metrics that are believed to correlate with graduation rate. Such "progress measures" have not been studied sufficiently, in Nevada or nationally, for us to know which variables contribute most directly to degree completion. We need to study the data to know, for instance, if the ratio of students who complete their first year courses or who enroll on a full-time basis, actually correlates, on NSHE campuses, to more graduates.

    Until we can study what the data concerning retention, first-year course completion and other progress measures actually tell us about how we help students succeed, faculty will rightly be wary of a performance-based formula with too many progress measures. Unintentionally, it could create administrative pressure to inflate grades and otherwise “water down the drinks,” in terms of student outcomes, in order to raise retention rates.

    That said, NSHE faculty ought to embrace and support a data-driven overhaul of our funding formula that makes student success, rather than just enrollment, our priority.

    Gregory Brown is president of the NFA.
  • 18 Nov 2011 9:08 AM | Anonymous
    Last month, the National Governor’s Association, or NGA, announced Nevada was one of six states selected to participate in a policy academy on strengthening accountability systems in postsecondary education.

    The NGA holds policy academies on a variety of topics that states face. They are interactive strategy-development sessions in which leaders in a certain field address public policy issues and recommend best practices for all states.

    According to the NGA, the policy academy on accountability in higher education came about because of the need for more skilled workers in the U.S.; states’ long- and short-term limits on education spending; and the continued hurdles low-income, working adult and minority students face in completing college. In such an environment, “a stronger focus on performance and outcomes is necessary,” an NGA statement said.

    Besides Nevada, other participating states are Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Missouri and Utah. They are charged with finding ways to graduate more career-ready students with the money they have, and to improve their accountability systems to that end.

    Dane Linn, director of the NGA Center for Best Practice’s Education Division, said, “Governors and other policymakers must be equipped to use performance measures, whether in developing budgets, approving or evaluating programs or deciding how or whether to regulate administrative and academic services. This Policy Academy will help states focus on those measures.”

    Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval appointed the following team to participate in the policy academy on higher education performance measures: Heidi Gansert, Sandoval’s chief of staff; Julia Teska, Department of Administration budget analyst; Denice Miller, vice president of government relations for MGM Resorts International; Nevada Assemblyman Marcus Conklin; Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education; and Neal Smatresk, president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

    “Nevada is diligently working to improve accountability systems and measures throughout the K-12 system, and this policy academy will enable us to expand that work through the higher education realm,” Sandoval said. “The work our team will be able to accomplish will complement the Legislature’s interim funding study and inform decisions in the next biennium.”

    The NGA policy academy includes two workshops, technical assistance from NGA Center staff and grants of up to $30,000 per state for additional expertise. Lumina Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided funding for the academy.

  • 16 Nov 2011 3:07 PM | Anonymous
    The legal defense committee of NFA is engaged in several issues that affect faculty directly, and which raise serious questions for faculty indirectly everywhere.

    In October, two tenured professors filed lawsuits based upon their termination from their institution as a result of the curricular review process. The curricular review determination sought to end the professors’ administrative assignments by sending both individuals back to academic departments that were slated to be closed. The litigation is predicated upon violations of the Nevada System of Higher Education Code and policy interpretations that do not appear supported by code language or precedence. NFA is providing legal and financial support for both professors.

    In a related matter, the legal defense committee is studying instances of tenured faculty being terminated because of curricular review when there are legitimate positions available within the institution for which the faculty are qualified and willing to serve.  Reassigning the affected tenured faculty to other positions within their institution is a guiding principle of American higher education, and has been a cornerstone of AAUP policy for 100 years.

    The committee is also studying the manner in which the curricular review process has been interpreted and administered across NSHE. There appears to be no uniformity of the process or of the intended results. On most campuses, curricular review has been a transparent process by which faculty and administrations sit and determine collaboratively how painful cuts to programs and departments are to be made. Other campuses enjoyed no such transparency or collaboration. NFA Legal Defense has responded to these complaints of inequity on several occasions.

    The collective bargaining agreement at Truckee Meadows Community College will be opened for renegotiation formally in March 2012. Faculty at several NSHE institutions are contemplating collective bargaining during this period. NFA as the legal bargaining agent will provide logistical support for the renegotiation and to other institutions that request assistance.

    The NFA legal defense committee is available for legal support to NFA members as recommended by their respective campus chapter committees. This process is outlined in the NFA legal defense policy, which can be found on our Legal Defense Services page.

  • 14 Nov 2011 5:22 PM | Deleted user
    The Nevada System of Higher Education task force on the Public Employees Benefits program has met twice this semester to continue our work on making recommendations for short-term and long-term benefits issues to NSHE employees. Representatives of the PEBP Task Force have also presented to the PEBP board regarding major issues pertaining to benefits changes since July 1 and the possibility of expanding supplemental benefits for NSHE employees. In addition, the task force, under the direction of Vice President for Finance and Business, has moved ahead with the hiring of a NSHE Health Care Consultant. The current focus of the task force is to:
    1. Examine the impact of PEBP changes to NSHE and its employees.
    2. Further consider alternative plans and supplemental benefits.
    3. Monitor and provide input on further PEBP plan modifications.
    4. Gather input from NSHE employees on significant problems they are experiencing with the PEBP plan.
    5. Work with the new NSHE Health Care Consultant in order to help carry out the specific tasks noted above. (The NSHE Health Care Consultant is expected to be selected by November 2011.)
    During the PEBP board meeting of Nov. 3, 2011, representatives of the task force addressed the board to provide a list of priority items that have been identified by NSHE employees, benefits coordinators and task force members. Those issues, briefly, are:
    • Improving customer services for NSHE employees. With changes in the health care benefits programs, many employees have raised questions regarding their benefits but have had difficulty in contacting PEBP representatives;
    • Lack of information regarding provider contract prices for services. Ranges of prices may be available on the PEBP website, but given the high deductible rates now required by employees, there should be better access for “shopping” health care services;
    • Delays in receiving health care benefits information for new hires.
    UNLV employees, as well as all NSHE employees, should visit the task for website to provide input in improving PEBP services. The website address is below.

    http://system.nevada.edu/Nshe/index.cfm/administration/human-resources/nshe-pebp-taskforce/

    The two most prominent issues being addressed by the task force are the provision of supplemental benefits for the AY13 fiscal year and evaluating options to create an independent health care program for all NSHE employees and retirees. The Task force is also working with PEBP staff to discuss the structure and the creation of a middle tier benefits program for PEBP participants, which would include NSHE employees. The task force is still working to discuss how, if at all, supplemental benefits would be provided. The critical issues for consideration are the amount of supplemental benefits to be provided to employees; flat-rate per employee or sliding-rate based on employee salary; and the qualification of classified employees for the supplemental benefits. Since classified employees are technically state employees with the benefits of transferring to other state agencies, this issue raises the concern that only classified employees working for NSHE would receive the benefits. Another issue is how well the proposal for supplemental benefits will be viewed by other NSHE systems given the cuts that were administered by the legislature during its last session.

    The middle tier option must still be worked out, if adopted by PEBP. They have been looking at this option, but support for such an option is still in question. Other issues regarding a middle tier arrangement pertain to the possibility of adverse selection in which healthier beneficiaries may opt out of a middle tier option thereby pushing higher costs on those who would select the option.

    The task force will continue to meet over the academic year with the new consultant and will present additional information as it becomes available.

    Chris Cochran is an associate professor in the department of Health Care Administration and Policy at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada. He is also a member of the NSHE Task Force on Health Care benefits.
  • 10 Nov 2011 5:08 PM | Anonymous
    Editor's note: The Nevada System of Higher Education Office of Human Resources sent the following message on Monday, Nov. 7.

    Dear Colleagues,

    The Public Employees Benefits Program (PEBP) met yesterday for their regular board meeting.  Renee Yackira, NSHE Executive Director for Government Relations, and Bart Patterson, Interim NSC President made public comment regarding the challenges experienced by NSHE employees related to the changes to the Health Insurance Plan. 

    These included:
    • Lack of information regarding provider cost under the Consumer Driven Health Plan (CDHP)
    • Lack of predictability of costs for medical and prescription services under the CDHP
    • Challenges in recruiting and retaining faculty due to reductions in benefits
    The PEBP Board instructed staff to bring forth the following items for FY13 plan change consideration at the December 15th Board meeting:
    • Proposal for a middle tier, traditional PPO Plan with lower deductibles and co-pays for services
    • A recommended schedule for when PEBP will be depositing seed money into participant's HSA/HRA accounts for those on the CDHP.  PEBP Executive Officer, Jim Wells, indicated that PEBP staff will likely recommend depositing the seed money on a semi-annual basis rather than the current plan which deposited the seed money at the beginning of the plan year
    • A proposal to exclude the preventive dental cleanings from the plan year maximum dental benefit.  Currently, the cost of preventive dental care is charged to a participant's annual maximum benefit ($1000), which reduces the amount you can use for other dental benefits. By excluding the preventive dental cost from your annual maximum benefit, you would be able to use the full $1000 maximum benefit for other dental services (i.e. fillings, crowns, root canals, etc). It is anticipated that preventive dental cleanings would remain available four times each plan year.
    • For participants with the HRA (those individuals who do not qualify for the HSA because they have other coverage that is not a high deductible), PEBP staff will be making two recommendations regarding rollover of funds to the following year.  Employees with HSAs will NOT be subject to these carry-over limits.
      • HRA maximum carry-over of $5,850 from one plan year to the next for participants in the PPO High Deductible plan
      • For retirees in the Medicare Exchange program with an HRA - maximum carry-over of $4,800 from one plan year to the next
    The December 15th PEBP Board meeting will be held in Carson City but will be available via video-conference at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building located at 555 East Washington Avenue, Room 4100. The meeting will start at 9:00 a.m. PEBP covered employees and members of the public can voice comments during the Board meeting. You may also submit your comments directly to the PEBP Board at board@peb.state.nv.us.
  • 01 Nov 2011 4:21 PM | Anonymous
    For-profit colleges have been under the spotlight since at least last summer, when the Government Accountability Office released its report asserting that the schools were encouraging fraud and engaging in deceptive and questionable marketing practices. An in-depth briefing in a recent issue of The Week summarized media reports on the issue.

    The following points from the article should be considered by anyone who suggests for-profit colleges as a viable alternative to community college:


    For-Profit colleges focus on recruitment, not graduation
    . For example, Bridgepoint Education-owned Ashford University of California has 170,000 student recruiters. The school employs only one person to facilitate job placement for graduates.

    Recruitment efforts target people most likely to get loans and least likely to pay them back
    . At-risk, minority and low income students, as well as disabled veterans and even homeless people, are among those favored by for-profit school recruiters, critics say, because these groups of individuals qualify for various federal loans and grants. The GAO report showed that former for-profit students accounted for nearly half of all student-loan defaults nationwide.

    Think for-profit costs tax payers nothing? Think again
    . For-profits receive an average of three-fourths of their revenue from federal grants and loans. In 2010, they got more than $26 billion in federal college loans and grants, a quarter of all such money distributed. Meanwhile, Apollo Group, owner of University of Phoenix, has revenues of $4.9 billion. Bridgepoint, which collected nearly 87 percent of its revenue from federal aid, reported $216 million in profit for 2010. In other words, American taxpayers are footing the bill to fill the for-profits’ coffers.

    Student success is not guaranteed
    . A state government investigation found that 84 percent of students at Ashford dropped out before completing a two-year program. Fewer than 9 percent of University of Phoenix’s students (currently numbering around 400,000) actually graduate within six years. This remarkable failure coincides with the company’s remarkable success as a business.

    Certainly, there are for-profit colleges that operate ethically and in the interest of students. The current crisis in for-profit college management, however, should give pause to anyone recommending that our public institutions of higher education be run more like businesses.


  • 28 Oct 2011 2:00 PM | Glenn Miller
    You might have read recent news coverage of what happened to former University of Nevada, Reno, German professor Valerie Weinstein. Although accurate, it doesn’t include all the details of the story that matter to Nevada faculty members statewide.

    Weinstein, a tenured associate professor in the German studies program (Foreign Language Department), was laid off as part of the closure of the program, for budgetary reasons, and took a non-tenure track position as a visiting professor at Tulane University. At UNR she taught German, but also was the Director of the Gender, Race and Identity (GRI) program the last year she was here. She also taught in the Core Humanities program.

    Unbeknownst to pretty much everyone, right before Weinstein stopped receiving a salary (end of June), one of the lecturers in the GRI program tendered her resignation, and will be leaving in December. The administration then upgraded that position to a tenure-track position, and is offering it as a half-time GRI faculty position with the other half in some other department in the College of Liberal Arts.

    Weinstein found out about this and sent an email to the UNR President and Provost asking how this could happen, since it had been her understanding that such an upgrade from a lectureship was not going to happen. She had been offered a UNR lectureship in foreign languages, but at a reduced salary and higher teaching load. She declined the offer of the lecturer position.

    Thus, a tenure-track position became available that Weinstein could have easily filled, but it was not offered to her, nor was she notified of the position availability. The UNR Faculty Senate and chapter of NFA, both of which Weinstein belonged to when she was here, have gotten involved.

    The Dean of the College of Liberal arts, as well as the Provost, have argued that the tenure-track position is new and has nothing to do with Weinstein. It was created, they say, after she left, meaning it did not qualify as continuous employment. In addition, they claim slight differences between the new position and her previous one, so, they argue, it is not a strict code violation.   

    The UNR Faculty Senate began a vigorous debate on the issue and ultimately asked for a special meeting of the senate, held Thursday, Oct. 13. The UNR President, Provost and Dean of Liberal Arts were present and made their case, followed by questions from the senate. The administrators left after about an hour, and the senate discussed the issue for another 45 minutes, ultimately voting 16 to 9 in favor of requesting that the UNR Administration offer the position to Weinstein at her previous rank and salary. On Monday, Oct. 17, Faculty Senate Chair David Ryfe sent a letter to the administration making this request.

    The majority of the faculty senate basically felt that, at the very least, the spirit of the Nevada System of Higher Education Code was not being followed, and an opportunity to show support for tenure had been missed. Weinstein clearly was qualified for the position, had already gone through tenure and is a high-quality scholar.

    The code requires that, when a faculty member is laid off due to financial reasons, that position cannot be filled for at least two years. Section 5.4.7(c) of the NSHE Code states:
    “If a faculty member is laid off for the above stated reasons, the faculty member's position will not be filled within a period of two years, unless a reasonable attempt to offer reappointment has been unsuccessful or reappointment has been offered in writing and the faculty member has not accepted the same in writing within 20 calendar days of the receipt of the offer."
    The code does not specify what “the position” means, so the administration can simply close one position and open another in order to rehire for that position when it so desires.

    In this case a lecturer in the GRI program had resigned, and the position was upgraded to a tenure-track position, and so it was “different.”  Weinstein was clearly qualified for this tenure-track position, but had left the university for about a month, when this position was opened and a search initiated.

    During these times when faculty are being dismissed, this is an angle most of us failed to imagine. The NSHE Code can be interpreted either way, and, in the absence of a legal fight, the administration gets to make the interpretation.  

    The outcome of this situation was revealed in a memo sent to Faculty Senate Chair David Ryfe at an Oct. 20 faculty senate meeting.The administration denied the request to offer the position to former Associate Professor Valerie Weinstein.

  • 28 Oct 2011 12:00 PM | Anonymous
    Interim presidents have been named for two of the three Nevada System of Higher Education institutions currently seeking new leaders. Last week, the Board of Regents announced their unanimous approval of Lynn Mahlberg as interim president of Great Basin College and Bart Patterson as interim president of Nevada State College. Both will assume their new positions Nov. 1.

    GBC President Carl Diekhans announced his retirement in September. Former NSC President Lesley Di Mare accepted a position as president of Colorado State University-Pueblo. An NSHE spokesman said searches for permanent replacements for both are underway, but no timeframe has been set. A presidential search is also being conducted at University of Nevada, Reno, where Marc Johnson was named interim president in May, following the death of former president Milton Glick.
     
    Mahlberg, who holds a master’s degree in business administration from Golden Gate University, has been GBC’s vice president for student services for 10 years. She joined the college 20 years ago as director of admissions and records, rising steadily through the ranks over the years.

    Jason Geddes, Board of Regents chair, said: "Throughout her long career at Great Basin College, Lynn Mahlberg has played a critical role in the college's growth and success. Her proven expertise in academic excellence and leadership will ensure that all internal and external initiatives at the college will continue during this transition period."

    Patterson left his 13-year private law practice to join NSHE in March 2001. He served as deputy general counsel and assistant general counsel, as well as general counsel for the College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College. In 2006, Patterson became the System’s chief council, and in September 2009 he was appointed vice chancellor of administrative and legal affairs.

    Patterson earned his juris doctorate from Duke University School of Law and is an adjunct instructor in public policy at Nevada State College.

    “Bart Patterson brings a wealth of credibility, intellect and critical thinking to the presidency, as well as his experience as a long-standing advocate for Nevada State College's mission,” Geddes said.
  • 25 Oct 2011 3:56 PM | Scott Huber
    In September the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents received the community college task force report along with its recommendations. Some of these recommendations are obvious and clearly needed, others are novel and still others are untried and controversial.

    The task force was charged by Chancellor Klaich in July 2010 with evaluating whether community colleges were truly aligned with the future employment and learning needs of Nevadans. The task force committee members represented a diverse group of business owners, business executives, K-12 and higher education individuals, and a former regent. The committee was chaired by Bruce James with additional System support by Dr. Magdalena Martinez. The committee visited all of the community colleges plus a number of other entities that either receive or produce students for the workforce.

    The report begins with a number of observations about the status of higher education in Nevada, projected workforce needs within the state, Nevada’s national ranking on these matters, and the character and function of the community colleges. The report then concludes with a number of recommendations. Given the diversity of committee members’ affiliations, and the fact that some of the recommendations represent a fundamental shift in how community colleges are to achieve their mission, there was no consensus on the recommendations by the committee members.

    This lack of consensus, however, should not preclude all of the recommendations from having a fair and detailed hearing. Some of them clearly point to areas that need attention or redress if Nevada is to have an educated citizenry and well-prepared workforce. To date, there is no strategic planning whereby community colleges and employers can comprehensively determine workforce needs now, or for the future. Technology will continue to be a transformational vehicle in all phases of education; this too ought to be implemented strategically and on an ongoing basis.

    Public schools are taking ownership of the fact that a significant number of the high school graduates who attend college for the first time require remedial classes. The System needs to create pathways from K-12 through college to career so that students have clearly defined goals. Avenues for students to gain an associate’s degree while still in high school are novel, as is the concept of variable-tuition pricing. These recommendations need airing, as some are sorely needed.

    Other recommendations in the report are revolutionary. Should public-private partnerships be explored? They should. Should public-private partnerships undermine or compromise the academic integrity of NSHE institutions? They should not.

    As for a Nevada Virtual College, there is arguably a place for it within NSHE. Using the current model, associate’s degrees could be offered online, self-paced. This model would enhance access and flexibility for certain students, reduce duplication of offerings and permit the redirection of resources. A virtual college could also reach out to students beyond our borders – for instance, to those in the military – and conceivably serve as a much-needed resource center for NSHE. Across the country, 22 states have adopted virtual colleges.

    However, the task force’s recommendation that the virtual college be put out to bid undermines the significant amount of work already begun in this area by Truckee Meadows Community College, Nevada State College and College of Southern Nevada. It begs the question of who will assume responsibility for academic integrity. Evidence is mounting that for-profit institutions have significant academic challenges they have yet to recognize, much less address.

    The task force report also recommends that K-12 address remedial issues for recent high school graduates, and that remedial education be outsourced for all others, so that community colleges can focus on preparing students for transfer or certificates. On the surface, this sounds fine… until one recognizes that a significant number of adult students returning to college do not need remedial instruction. These students (and they represent most adult returning students) do not lack specific skills so much as an understanding of the culture of success that is critical for any college student. These adult learners need encouragement, specific explanation and a one-on-one relationship with their professors far more than a basic skill set. For-profit institutions are prepared to offer content, but lack the ability to serve this other, often more important need.  

    While the task force’s recommendations are being discussed, it is imperative to keep the students in mind – not only because it is in their best interest, but also because the training they receive will best serve the needs of Nevada. Revolutionary ideas always contain unintended consequences. Those consequences rarely affect those doing the implementation, but always affect those on the receiving end.
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