california state university

If you’re a woman ‘singled out’ for administrative work, that’s a contract violation

The University of Washington’s “academic student employees” are voting this week on whether hurting someone’s feelings should be “grievable” under their union’s contract with the school.

If approved, it would be the first known university union contract in the country to protect teaching assistants, tutors, readers and similar student employees against “microaggressions” in the workplace.

The 78-page tentative contract between UAW 4121 and the university, which covers everything from wages and health benefits to “lactation” and “bathroom equity,” indicates that agreement on microaggressions came at the tail end of negotiations in late April.

According to a summary of the agreement, the university agreed to stronger contract language regarding gender expression and gender identity discrimination.

The language goes beyond procedures for dealing with gender or sexual orientation discrimination. Union members would be able to file complaints about “everyday exchanges – including words and actions – that denigrate or exclude individuals based on their membership in a group or class.”

One example of a microaggression at UW in recent memory involved a female Ph.D. candidate who “was consistently singled out for purely administrative tasks,” a spokeswoman for UAW 4121 told The College Fix in an email.

The spokeswoman said there were “numerous” examples of microaggressions on campus against academic student employees, enough to make it a “pressing” issue in the union contract.

Recognizing microaggressions as grievable represents “the next level of discourse in this country around racism, sexism, and homophobia,” and will advance the cause of “a more inclusive campus for all academic student employees,” the spokeswoman said.

The union chapter did not address questions about what sanctions were possible for university employees who commit microaggressions against union members.

The tentative contract also pledges the university to meet three times a year to “discuss the joint goal of eliminating micro-aggressions and developing trainings for ASEs, faculty, and departments.”

‘The University remains unmoved’ by union demands

It took just a few short weeks for the administration to cave on the issue of microaggressions, according to emails obtained by The Fix.

“The University remains unmoved on micro-aggressions,” the union told members in an April 11 message. “They do not believe definitions and protections belong in a bargaining agreement and they are not open to training despite the preventative and proactive benefits of training.”

Negotiations reached a low point in the next few days: An email dated April 17 shows the union responding point-by-point to a “misinformation campaign to intimidate workers,” in which the school had warned student employees they don’t have the right to strike under state law.

The push for contract recognition of microaggressions goes back to at least this past fall, when the union laid out its “initial bargaining demands,” as The Fix reported.

While this appears to be the first union contract for academic student employees to explicitly make microaggressions “grievable,” it’s not uncommon for faculty unions to address this issue.

The California Faculty Association, which represents California State University professors and lecturers, sponsored a workshop on “unconscious bias” that was pitched as helping members become more “aware of unconscious biases, preferences, and micro-aggressions.”

Addressing these problems will “foster a CSU environment wherein we can recruit and retain a more diverse faculty workforce and decrease workplace toxicity,” the workshop description read.

The University of Washington did not return requests for comment on the tentative contract.

 

School sponsored events against microaggressions

While the administration is accused of dragging its feet on microaggressions, the issue has drawn heavy attention on campus.

The Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies department sponsored a project a year ago to look at how microaggressions are prevalent throughout campus.

The Asian Student Commission at the university sponsored a series of photos called “#NOLONGERINVISIBLE” in May 2014, which address stereotypes of Asian students to bring attention to microaggressions.

In recognition of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month students present a photo campaign of ANTI-STEREOTYPES &…

Posted by ASUW Asian Student Commission on Saturday, May 31, 2014

 

Earlier this year, the school’s Interactive Theater as Pedagogy Project hosted student-created plays dealing with “racial microaggressions” and “white privilege” among other topics. They were cosponsored by the university’s Bothell campus north of Seattle and its humanities center.

“The interactive format allows people to step up, step in, and intervene when the scenario needs to change for the better,” according to the project flyer. “Dive into the deep waters with us and explore” these issues, it urged attendees.

In a bid to achieve “racial justice” at the school, a group of UW law students created “microaggression posters” that they hung around the university this winter, according to their Tumblr account.

The effort had mixed results, as the Tumblr account acknowledged that some students thought the posters “encourage[d] public shaming.”

College Fix reporter Matt Lamb is a student at Loyola University-Chicago.

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IMAGE: ASUW Asian Student Commission/Facebook

Earlier this week, The College Fix reported on a bill before California lawmakers that aimed to repeal the California State University system’s all-comers policy, which currently forces campus Christian groups to accept non-Christians as their leaders.

Unfortunately – after hearing debate on the issue – the California State Assembly’s committee on higher education ended up rejecting the bill, AB 1212, according to Republican Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, who sponsored the legislation.

“California’s public university system has historically cherished freedom of association by offering official recognition to any group of students who want to create a club around shared beliefs, but not anymore,” Grove said Thursday in announcing the development. “Religious clubs like Chi Alpha at CSU Stanislaus decided it couldn’t in principle change their bylaws to let non-Christians into leadership. As a result the club lost its recognition after being on campus for 40 years. That is a travesty.”

“Our public universities should be preparing students for real life,” she added. “Students shouldn’t expect to be welcomed into leadership positions within groups they disagree with, but that is what this policy is teaching them to expect. Real tolerance allows differing groups to hold diverse points of view. But this CSU policy turns this state’s anti-discrimination protections on their head and uses them to discriminate against the very people they were meant to protect.”

The decision to reject the Student Freedom of Association Act came even after testimony from an attorney with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, who told lawmakers that all-comers policies are being used across the country to “interfere with the ability of student organizations to articulate and voice the message of their choice,” according to Grove.

Nate Honeycutt, a 22-year-old San Diego State student who co-founded CSU SOFA, or Student Organizations for Free Association, had also testified that the act would “protect student groups from having to choose between compromising their beliefs and values to maintain campus-recognition, or standing firm on their principles and thereby being derecognized and kicked off campus.”

All to no avail. However the bill has also been referred to the judiciary committee and was granted reconsideration status.

Hopefully Grove, Honeycutt and others will continue to fight on this. It’s a very important battle, because as it stands the policy has prompted campus Christian clubs’ visibility, membership and positive impact on campuses to plummet.

Jennifer Kabbany is editor of The College Fix (@JenniferKabbany)

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Lawmakers pass laws to protect religious student groups’ freedom of association

Some conservative state lawmakers have begun to take a stand against public universities that derecognize Christian groups for refusing to allow non-Christians to lead their campus clubs.

Kansas State Sen. Steve Fitzgerald (R-Leavenworth) recently sponsored SB-175, which passed the Senate handily 30-8. The legislation “prohibits state universities from taking action against student religious groups that require members to adhere to the group’s religious beliefs.”

In Missouri, state Rep. Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield) has proposed similar legislation, which was approved by the house and is now awaiting a vote in the Missouri Senate.

If Missouri and Kansas pass these measures, they will join a handful of others states that have passed laws to protect religious student groups’ association rights in the last few years.

States such as Oklahoma, which passed a law last year that declares:

A. No public institution of higher education may take any action or enforce any policy that would deny a religious student association any benefit available to any other student association, or discriminate against a religious student association with respect to such benefit, based on that association’s requirement that its leaders or members:

1. Adhere to the association’s sincerely held religious beliefs;

2. Comply with the association’s sincere religious observance requirements;

3. Comply with the association’s sincere religious standards of conduct; or

4. Be committed to furthering the association’s religious missions, as such religious beliefs …

But not all attempts at passing such laws are successful. An effort in Colorado to pass a higher education Freedom of Association Act bill was shelved in February.

Supporters say these measures protect religious freedom on college campuses, while opponents argue they allow student groups to discriminate against those who hold beliefs contrary to the group but still seek membership.

Sen. Fitzgerald drafted the bill after universities in several states denied recognition and funding to student religious groups who did not comply with the school’s anti-discrimination policies.

“Animosity against religion, particularly Christianity and most especially Catholicism, is rising and becoming a new orthodoxy. This is caused mostly by a desire to be without rules. It is narcissism and self-indulgence with a vengeance,” Sen. Fitzgerald told The College Fix in an email.

Universities’ anti-discrimination policies, also called “all comers” policies, have wreaked havoc on many Christian clubs across the country.

All 23 California State University schools require that Christian groups allow non-Christians to lead their organizations, even individuals with beliefs antithetical to the clubs’ missions. Subsequently unrecognized, denied free access to university meeting space, and prohibited from advertising on campus and in dorms, among other hindrances, Cal State University Christian clubs have witnessed declining membership.

Rep. Haahr told The Associated Press these “all comers” policies are popping up around the country, adding “these policies are being used for one purpose. They are used to target religious groups.”

Meanwhile, clubs such as Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ, have declined to change their constitution to comply with California State Universities’ all-comers policies.

San Luis Obispo Missionary Leader Jamey Pappas previously told The College Fix that “we have no issue with anybody of any kind of race or religion coming to our weekly meetings and being a part of who we are. It’s a question of who’s going to be leading our students in a Bible Study, mentoring them individually, or deciding what kind of content goes into our weekly meeting, and we want people who agree with what we’re about.”

The controversy is reminiscent of the 2010 case Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, in which the Supreme Court upheld University of California, Hastings College of the Law’s policy requiring student groups to accept all students regardless of their status or beliefs.

The Christian Legal Society required members to subscribe to a “Statement of Beliefs” in which students promised to refrain from certain behaviors, some of which were contrary to the lifestyle of LGBT students. Hastings denied the Christian Legal Society recognition when they declined some students’ club membership due to their unwillingness to sign the statement. The Christian Legal Society ultimately lost their legal battle, and were forced to comply with Hastings’ anti-discrimination policies or lose their recognition.

Sen. Fitzgerald said he believes a pressing need exists to protect student religious groups.

“In Kansas we had a case in which a club was challenged by student government because of exclusivity based on religious belief. The case ended well. But, there are increasing numbers of cases around the country that are resulting in religious clubs and associations being forced off campus. Regretfully, it appeared that something had to be done to protect student rights in Kansas,” Senator Fitzgerald told The Fix.

College Fix reporter Kate Hardiman is a student at the University of Notre Dame.

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IMAGE: Marquette University/Flickr

Like other Christian students groups across the California State University system, Chi Alpha Campus Ministries got kicked off the CSU-Stanislaus campus last fall, where it’s had a presence for 40 years, because it required its student leaders to share its faith.

Now the CSU chapter is accusing the school of violating its promises after the chapter revised its constitution to allow non-Christians to run for leadership positions.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the chapter, says the school objected to a “protest clause” in the revised constitution that says the chapter believes the new school policies are unconstitutional:

When Chi Alpha appealed to the university president, Cal State changed its mind and agreed to allow the protest clause. Yet Cal State is still keeping Chi Alpha off campus.

In a Tuesday letter to the vice president of enrollment and student affairs, Chi Alpha says it’s “simply wrong” to claim the chapter hasn’t submitted an updated constitution. In fact, the letter says, it was submitted four months ago:

That constitution complies in every respect with the requirements you set forth in your letter. …

Since our Chi Alpha chapter has already submitted a constitution that is compliant with your latest request, we ask that you immediately reinstate Chi Alpha as a recognized student group and immediately allow the Cal State Stanislaus Chi Alpha chapter to return to campus for the remainder of this semester.

CSU is practicing baldfaced and selective discrimination, says Becket Fund legal counsel Adèle Keim:

Cal State Stanislaus allows fraternities to limit their leaders and members to men. So why can’t a religious group require its student religious leaders to practice what they preach?

Read the press release and letter.

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IMAGE: Becket Fund

February is an interesting month for Colorado legislation pertaining to student rights and protections, and the Alliance Defending Freedom is testifying in favor of two bills.

One bill would protect religious student groups from being denied “a benefit that the institution provides to a nonreligious student group solely because the religious student group requires its leaders to adhere to the group’s sincerely held religious beliefs or standards of conduct.”

That includes recognition, registration, “use of facilities” on campus for meetings or events, “the use of channels of communication available to the state institution of higher education,” and funding sources “otherwise available” to student groups.

The bill would appear to protect groups such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, whose faith requirements for student leaders have gotten the group blacklisted at California State University campuses and some other schools.

Another bill would reverse current state law that subjects people to discrimination claims if they restrict “access to a sex-segregated place of public accommodation to individuals based on their biological sex.”

It applies most pertinently in situations where students who don’t identify with their birth gender request to use facilities reserved for the other sex, and has already become a heated dispute involving a 6-year-old Coloradan.

Read the alliance’s planned testimony on these and other bills.

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For-profit colleges aren’t ‘voluntarily’ sharing their average debt levels

College students are racking up more debt for school in the Northeast and Midwest than the South and the West, according to a study by the Institute for College Access & Success.

Nearly seven in 10 graduating seniors from public and private nonprofit colleges in 2013 had some degree of student debt, said the press release by the nonprofit group, which promotes more available and affordable higher education.

The average debt for students amounted to $28,400, a 2 percent increase from graduates in 2012. Average debt loads for students at one in five schools jumped 10 percent or more in a single year, and fell at least 10 percent at just 7 percent of schools, the study found.

Reported debt levels may actually skew low because of the limited data set the study used. Only 57 percent of public and nonprofit bachelor’s degree-granting colleges provided data, representing 83 percent of 2013 graduates in those sectors. Too few for-profit colleges “voluntarily” provide their graduates’ debt levels for that category to be included at all.

Though there’s “great variation from college to college, with average debt figures from $2,250 to $71,350” among the 1,000-plus schools the study analyzed, some regions produce graduates with higher debt, it said.

New Hampshire, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island Minnesota and Connecticut topped $30,000 for average student debt in 2013. New Mexico was the only state below $20,000. Average debt tops more than $35,000 at 129 colleges, the study found.

Colleges in Pennsylvania dominate the list of high-debt public schools ($33,950 and up), including four University of Pittsburgh campuses and “multiple” Pennsylvania State University campuses. High-debt private schools are more spread out, with high-profile names including Abilene Christian in Texas and Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

highdebtcolleges.InstituteforCollegeAccessandSuccess

Low-debt schools ($2,250-11,200) are split almost equally between private nonprofit and public, with three California State University campuses and four City University of New York campuses making the list. Princeton is on the list, as are two Appalachian schools specifically targeted at low-income students – zero-tuition Berea College and the College of the Ozarks, where students work in lieu of paying tuition.

“Graduates from New Hampshire colleges are almost twice as likely as Nevada graduates to leave school with student loan debt, and they owe almost twice as much as graduates from New Mexico colleges,” Debbie Cochrane, institute research director and co-author of the report, said in the release. “The importance of state policy and investment cannot be overstated when it comes to student debt levels.”

The study notes that around a fifth of the 2013 graduates’ debt is comprised of private loans from banks and lenders. It describes these as one of the “riskiest” ways to pay for college and “no more a form of financial aid than a credit card.”

“Private loans lack the basic consumer protections and flexible repayment options of federal student loans, such as unemployment deferment, income-driven repayment, and loan forgiveness programs,” the study reads.

To remedy the lack of data transparency for the short-term, the authors call for the Department of Education to track both federal and private loans through its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

The report highlight one school’s wild debt swings year to year to illustrate the data’s weaknesses.

The nonprofit University of the Sciences in Philadelphia reported $71,370 debt for the average borrower in 2013, while the year prior the graduates averaged only $10,620 in debt. “Such a large change in a single year raises questions about both figures,” the study reads.

“This is too important an issue for students, schools, and policymakers to rely on voluntary, self-reported data,” said Matthew Reed, institute program director and co-author of the report. “Federal collection of both federal and private loan debt at graduation is both necessary and long overdue.”

For the long-term, the department should collect data through the National Student Loan Data System – which currently reports every federal loan – directly from private lenders, the authors said. Such a system would “provide accurate and comprehensive data on private loan borrowing while minimizing the reporting burden for colleges,” the study says.

Other policy recommendations include reducing the need to borrow by increasing the federal Pell Grant program, keeping loan payments manageable by raising awareness for repayment options and allowing students to apply for financial aid earlier to determine how much they are eligible for before they apply to school.

College Fix reporter Michael Cipriano is a student at American University.

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