Professors, Alumni, and Students Sue Cooper Union to Remain Tuition Free!

Dear Commons Community,

Cooper Union, the prestigious university for art, architecture and engineering in Manhattan, is being sued by professors, alumni and newly admitted students over its decision to start charging tuition for undergraduates in the fall. Undergraduates at Cooper Union have not paid any tuition since it was founded by inventor and industrialist Peter Cooper 155 years ago. As reported in the New York Daily News:

“The scathing Manhattan Supreme Court documents accuse the school’s leaders of spending on fancy new buildings, borrowing more money than the school could afford and losing tens of millions by investing in a trustee’s own hedge fund.

The lawsuit also accuses the Board of Trustees of frittering away millions by endorsing another conflict ridden, 40-year, sweetheart deal with Tishman Speyer for the rent it will pay on land that the school owns under the Chrysler Building.

The lawsuit asks the courts to block any tuition — both this year and permanently — and to order a financial audit of the storied institution whose alumni include Thomas Edison, Felix Frankfurter, Nobel Laureate Russell Hulse and One World Trade Center architect Daniel Libeskind.

Last year, the school’s trustees voted to impose a tuition of $19,500 starting with the class arriving in the fall of 2014 saying it was “an option of last resort to prevent insolvency.”



NCES Condition of Education 2014: Good News and Bad News!

College Attainment NCES 2014

Dear Commons Community,

The National Center for Education Statistics released yesterday its annual Condition of Education Report and there is good news in terms of degree attainment but not such good news for blacks and Latinos. As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics released its enormous annual report on the state of education in the United States. “The Condition of Education 2014” is based on 42 national indicators, from preschool enrollment to degree attainment to labor-force participation.
The report doesn’t draw any conclusions, but …the report offers a fairly comprehensive snapshot of both trends and the current state of the education landscape. For example:

The total percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds with at least a bachelor’s degree rose to 34 percent in 2013, from 23 percent in 1990. That might not sound like a lot, but the United States is still above average in terms of educational attainment, compared with other developed countries.
In 2011, 33 percent of Americans age 25 to 34 had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with an average of 29.5 percent among all countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That ranks the United States 12th in postsecondary educational attainment among the 34-member group of developed countries.

However, the gap between the share of white 25- to 29-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree or higher and that of African-Americans at that attainment level widened from 13 percentage points in 1990 to 20 in 2013. The gap between white and Hispanic bachelor’s-degree holders grew from 18 percentage points to 25.”

In sum, American higher education continues to progress and move forward but more so for whites and Asians than blacks and Latinos.


Campaign for the Future of Higher Education: Video on MOOCs!

Dear Commons Community,

This posting was sent by the Professional Staff Congress to its members. The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE) has released a short animated video disputing the overblown and misleading claims made by the online higher education industry about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

CFHE is a national grassroots campaign to support quality higher education; it is comprised of faculty organizations from 21 states, including the PSC and our sister union at SUNY, United University Professions, and the California Faculty Association, representing the Cal State campuses. The video was unveiled formally in front of hundreds of faculty at CFHE’s Seventh National Gathering in Albany, New York the weekend of May 17 – 18.


President Obama on American Military Intervention: “Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

Dear Commons Community,

At yesterday’s commencement at West Point, President Barack Obama told the 1,000 cadets that the U.S. must always lead on the world stage and the military is the backbone of that leadership.

He commented that United States forces are out of Iraq and leaving Afghanistan. He also emphasized that the lessons of Sept. 11 are still with us and terrorism remains the No. 1 threat.

However, he added that “U.S. military action cannot be the only or even primary component of our leadership in every instance.”

“Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”


If only the Bushes, Cheneys, and Rumsfelds in Washington D.C. had even a small inkling of a “nail” we might have avoided the incredible wastage of human life in Iraq and Afghanistan.



North Carolina: Moral Monday Protesters Stage Sit-in at the Office of Thom Tillis!

Dear Commons Community,

Protesters affiliated with the Moral Monday movement rallied in Raleigh, North Carolina, and staged a sit-in at the office of state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), as the U.S. Senate candidate tries to push forward the current year’s legislative session. As reported by The Huffington Post:

“The NAACP and a coalition of other groups returned to the North Carolina General Assembly on Tuesday to protest policy initiatives undertaken by the Republican-controlled legislature last year, including: the refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, reductions to unemployment benefits, cuts to public education, voter identification legislation and legislation restricting abortion access.Local outlets report that about 150-200 people visited various offices throughout the legislature, including Tillis’.

In an apparent violation of new rules barring protesters from speaking or chanting in a way that would disrupt a normal conversation, those inside the legislature sang “We shall not be moved” as they hunkered down in the rotunda outside Tillis’ office.

Last year’s Moral Monday events resulted in the arrest of more than 900 protesters. A renewal of the movement could draw negative attention to Tillis as he works to unseat Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.).

In January, Tillis told The New York Times that he wanted this session to “be the shortest it can be.”

Tillis has said his main priority this session would be addressing teacher pay. State Democrats argue he is attempting to moderate his public profile with a less inflammatory agenda.

“Speaker Tillis may be looking for political band-aids after the damage he did to North Carolina last legislative session, but there’s no escaping his record of public education cuts, raising taxes on the middle class, and rejecting health care for 500,000 North Carolinians,” state Democratic Party spokesman Ben Ray told The Huffington Post in an email.

The Rev. William Barber, who is president of North Carolina’s NAACP, rejected Republican attempts to characterize the movement as a tool of the Democratic Party.
“We are black. We are white. We are young. We are old. We are Democrats. We are Republicans,” Barber said Tuesday, according to WRAL. “We are North Carolina. We are here to stay, and we are not going away.”


For-Profit Colleges Draw a Battle Line Against U.S DOE Gainful Employment Regulation

Dear Commons Community,

As the U.S. Department of Education edges closer to enacting a new “gainful employment” regulation, battle lines are being drawn especially by the for-profit colleges. As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The for-profit-college industry’s trade association, backed by a 100-page report by economists, is coming out swinging against the U.S. Department of Education’s draft “gainful employment” regulation.

The proposal is “flawed, arbitrary, and biased,” and will deny educational access to as many as 7.5 million students over the next decade, contends the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, or Apscu, in documents it is filing on Tuesday.

In a preview of what will be its likely legal challenge should the rule be adopted in its current form, Apscu attacks the department for relying on “discredited sources” in developing the regulation and says the rule would affect and deny access to far more for-profit-college students than the department has projected.”

However, advocates for the new regulations are not backing down:

“…a coalition seeking an even tougher [gainful employment] rule contends that it is necessary because so many low-income and minority students “are heavily recruited” by, and enroll at, for-profit colleges with poor outcomes for students. Apscu’s argument misses the broader point, said Rory O’Sullivan, deputy director of Young Invincibles, one of the groups in the coalition.

“We want to open doors for students,” he said. “We don’t want to open doors that lead them off cliffs.”

The for-profit colleges brought this on themselves. A number of them took advantage of at risk individuals who had little chance of succeeding in their programs and only to leave these students in a mountain of federal financial loan debt.


Turnaround Arts for School Reform!

Turnaround Arts

Dear Commons Community,

The Huffington Post has an article on Turnaround Arts that promotes arts in the schools as a counter-program to the overemphasis on reading, mathematics, and testing prevalent in much of the school reform policies of the past decade. Here is an excerpt:

“Turnaround Arts schools across the country — from a Native American reservation in Montana to the Irish Chanel in New Orleans, educators have been successfully using the arts to move the needle on student outcomes in some of the toughest schools in our country. Decades of research show that, used strategically, the arts are an effective tool for improving school culture and climate, increasing student engagement and building parent and community involvement. Yet, music, theater and other arts programs have been disappearing from public schools, often the first victims of budget cuts. According to the U.S. Department of Education, almost 6 million elementary students – overwhelmingly in our highest poverty schools- have no art or music classes. Far too often, the schools that need the arts the most are getting them the least…
The arts are not the whole solution. We need strong leadership, effective teachers and hard work on many fronts. But arts education gives our schools effective tools to reach and teach students.”

I agree. The arts should be part of the equation in every school. Music, dance, art, and theater provide important emotional outlets for children and teens.   Too often they are the victims of the time and budget cuts in the drill and kill, teach to the test curricula promoted by too many of our education policy makers.


Joe Nocera: The Justice Department’s Inability to Prosecute Big Corporations!

Dear Commons Community,

In his New York Times column today, Joe Nocera, examines the U.S. Department of Justice inability to handle cases involving large corporations especially financial institutions. Here is an excerpt:

“… in the fall of 2009, in the wake of criticism that it was failing to prosecute executives of the companies that had brought the financial system to the brink of disaster, the Justice Department established the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. Its purpose, said Justice, was “to hold accountable those who helped bring about the last financial crisis.” It promised to “prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, recover proceeds for victims” and so on.

A year later, its mortgage fraud effort — “Operation Stolen Dream,” it was called — had collared 1,500 criminal defendants, “with nearly $200 million in civil recoveries ordered.”

But a closer look told another story. The vast majority of defendants prosecuted for mortgage fraud were small-fry — people who had lied on liar loans, for instance, or small-time independent mortgage brokers. As often as not, the “victims” they were supposed to repay were the banks that had accepted, with a wink and a nod, their liar loan applications. Top executives of companies like Countrywide or New Century or Lehman Brothers evaded serious consequences. Fundamentally, the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force was an exercise in public relations.

Now comes the Justice Department’s latest exercise in public relations: the Credit Suisse settlement that was announced earlier this week. The Swiss bank’s crime was systematically setting up, well, Swiss bank accounts, allowing Americans to evade taxes. According to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the bank had 22,000 private accounts for American customers worth as much as $12 billion as of 2006. In meting out the punishment, the Justice Department, for the first time since the financial crisis, demanded that a major financial firm plead guilty to a criminal count. That is what the headline writers highlighted — and what Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. stressed.

“This case shows that no financial institution, no matter its size or global reach, is above the law,” said Holder at a news conference.
In fact, it shows nothing of the sort. Yes, Credit Suisse agreed to pay $2.6 billion; that’s real money, but nothing a bank its size can’t handle. And yes, three years ago, seven midlevel Credit Suisse executives were indicted. But in the just-announced settlement, no one in top management was forced to resign. The U.S. wanted the names of the Americans with private Credit Suisse bank accounts; Justice settled without getting them. And, most amazing of all, pleading guilty to a felony will have absolutely no business consequences for Credit Suisse. For instance, a Securities and Exchange Commission rule forbids a firm convicted of a felony from serving as an investment adviser; the rule was temporarily waived for Credit Suisse.”

Nocera goes on to question other cases but the bottom line is that time and time again, large financial institutions plea bargain for a lesser crime and pay a fine which to ordinary people seems substantial but to these corporations is relatively small change and no one goes to jail.

It is a way of gaming the system that white collar criminals and their corporate lawyers understand well.


Powerful Photos of McDonald’s Workers Protesting For Better Pay!

McDonalds Protest II

Dear Commons Community,

Hundreds of protesters descended on McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, this past week to demand the right to unionize and a $15 minimum wage. Out of the protests came both arrests — 138 for trespassing — and  images of marchers clashing with nightstick-wielding police officers dressed in riot gear. Here are some of the most powerful images compiled by The Huffington Post.   Definitely worth a look.
We wish these workers success in their protest and demand for a decent wage.


McDonalds Protest I