Apr 242014
 

newsobserver

By Jane Stancill

jstancill@newsobserver.comApril 23, 2014 Updated 3 hours ago

RALEIGH — Everett Ward, who became interim president of St. Augustine’s University Wednesday, pledged to help put his alma mater on firm financial footing and restore faith among its students, alumni and faculty.

Minutes after being introduced in a campus ceremony, Ward, 55, a former Department of Transportation administrator and state Democratic Party director, gave St. Aug’s a $10,000 donation. It was perhaps an example to alumni who will be asked to support the financially troubled university.

He succeeds Dianne Boardley Suber, who was forced out this month by the Board of Trustees after she had announced her intention to retire in May.

Ward steps into a role stacked with challenges. St. Aug’s has been in crisis, with enrollment declines, administrative turnover, staff cuts and a construction lawsuit. Two federal agencies are looking into the university’s handling of grants, and the regional accrediting agency is reviewing its financial situation. An audit last fall showed accounting disarray, questionable check writing practices and a $3 million drop in tuition revenue.

Wednesday’s announcement was attended by students, faculty, alumni and beloved former St. Aug’s president, Prezell Robinson. It was a homecoming for Ward, who was born at St. Agnes Hospital on the campus, graduated in 1982 and chaired the Board of Trustees from 2009-2011.

“Let the word go forth that the stone gates of St. Augustine’s swing open today and that all are welcome,” Ward said. “St. Augustine’s is alive and well.”

He called his sister, also a St. Aug’s graduate, to the stage to present a check for a Ward family endowment. The crowd cheered.

“We’re looking to reinvigorate St. Augustine’s financially, and I want you to know I’m personally committed to this restoration,” he said, “and to what we’re calling the St. Augustine’s renaissance.”

He said he didn’t have all the answers to the challenges that face the university, but asked others to join him in creating viable solutions for the private, historically black campus founded in 1867. He said he would approach the future with a strategy rooted in ethical leadership.

Option kept open

Trustee Chairman Rodney Gaddy said Ward is a natural choice for his “collaborative yet decisive” leadership style and his genuine care for the institution. He said Ward will be in the position from 12 to 18 months, while the board gears up for a national search.

But Gaddy did not rule out that Ward could be in the role permanently. “We knew he would be a good candidate if he’s interested, so we kept that option open,” Gaddy said.

Dennis English, a 2000 graduate, said he couldn’t think of anyone more suited to lead St. Aug’s at a critical time. He said alumni will be ready to work with Ward to help stabilize the university. “Alumni have been on the sidelines for years,” English said. “He’s going to at least bring back a sense of pride.”

Many students attended the event. Christian Roberson, a junior from Richmond, Va., hopes to see changes. “I’m sure he will do a great job,” she said, but added: “One person can’t move mountains. It’s a collective thing.”

DOT work

Ward was director of the Historically Black Colleges and University/Minority Institutions of Higher Education Program for the state Department of Transportation. Before that, he was the DOT’s director of intergovernmental affairs and special assistant to the deputy secretary for environment, planning and local government.

He is a member of the Democratic National Committee, where he is vice chairman of the DNC Black Caucus. He held several roles with the state Democratic Party and was named its first African American executive director in 1989.

He has a master’s degree from N.C. State University, where he is a visiting history lecturer. Last year, he earned a Ph.D. in leadership studies at N.C. A&T State University.

Ward said that as a son of St. Aug’s, he has a passion and a mission to shore up the future of the university. He joked that his doctor told him blood was not red but “the dark hue of the violet and the snow white lily’s bloom,” quoting the school song.

The ceremony was followed by a chapel service. Then Ward had lunch with students.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/23/3805084/former-democratic-party-director.html?sp=/99/102/110/112#storylink=cpy

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Apr 242014
 

reflector

By BEN STRAUSS
APRIL 23, 2014

EVANSTON, Ill. — A National Labor Relations Board official took a historic step last month in ruling that Northwestern’s scholarship football players should be considered employees of the university and therefore had the right to unionize like other workers.

And then, almost immediately, Northwestern began a wide-ranging campaign to defeat a unionization vote, which is scheduled for Friday.

The president emeritus publicly said that a vote for the union could mean the end of Division I sports at Northwestern. A former quarterback visited the team to encourage players to vote no. Coach Pat Fitzgerald, a former football star who is revered on campus, has framed a vote for the union as a personal betrayal.

“Understand that by voting to have a union, you would be transferring your trust from those you know — me, your coaches and the administrators here — to what you don’t know — a third party who may or may not have the team’s best interests in mind,” Fitzgerald wrote to the team in an email.

The university’s push has not been all ominous warnings, though. Players were given new iPads when they arrived for the first day of practice after the N.L.R.B. decision, though the university said the iPads were unrelated to the union process and had been in the planning for months. That afternoon, players were taken to a bowling alley for a team party.

“What the university has tried to do is to communicate clearly the university’s position to the student-athletes who are going to be voting in the election,” the university spokesman Alan Cubbage said. “We have done so following the guidelines and procedures outlined by the National Labor Relations Board. Our position is that we believe that our student-athletes are primarily students. That has not changed.”

Indeed, since the day of the N.L.R.B. ruling, Northwestern’s message to the players has been consistent and clear: Vote no — for yourselves, for the team and for the university. Northwestern and many others in the college sports world see the creation of a players union as an existential threat to the foundation of the N.C.A.A., and to their athletic programs.

Northwestern’s campaign has been a textbook case of how to aggressively battle a union, labor experts say. It adds up to a lot of pressure riding on the broad shoulders of the 76 football players who are eligible to vote Friday by secret ballot. The results may not be known for months while the full N.L.R.B. deliberates on an appeal.

“These are 18- and 20-year-old kids,” said Earl Jones, the father of running back Malin Jones. “This is a really big decision. As a parent, I’m trying to get all the information I can, and I hope my son is, too.”

No one has accused the university of breaking any law. Northwestern is allowed to express its opinion on unionization, though it cannot make explicit promises in exchange for votes.

The formation of a union would mean that the football players were university employees, not students competing in their free time, and that they could be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment insurance and some portion of the revenue generated by college sports. The College Athletes Players Association is seeking to represent the players.

“Student-athletes don’t have a voice; they don’t have a seat at the table,” Kain Colter, a former Northwestern quarterback who is the leader of the unionization effort, said in January. “The current model resembles a dictatorship, with the N.C.A.A. placing these rules and regulations on these students without their input or without their negotiations.”

For its part, Northwestern has not been content to let the vote play out on its own. As a result, Northwestern officials, from the assistant football coaches up to the university president, have pulled out all the stops to squash the union before it is formed.

Fitzgerald has held one-on-one meetings with players, along with mandatory meetings for the scholarship football players. The coach has written letters to the players and their parents. Position coaches have also been in contact with players’ parents.

“In my heart, I know that the downside of joining a union is much bigger than the upside,” Fitzgerald wrote in the April 14 letter he emailed to his team. “You have nothing to gain by forming a union.”

The fate of the unionization effort at Northwestern has captivated the sports world, labor leaders and elected officials in Washington, many of whom met the union organizers this month.

Several players turned down interview requests, but some stated at spring practice this month that they intended to vote against the union.

“We back Coach Fitz 100 percent wholeheartedly,” wide receiver Kyle Prater said.

Familiar anti-union arguments, that the business will close or move out of town if a union is formed, have been tweaked for the college football setting.

Players have heard warnings that the formation of a union would make it harder for them to land jobs after graduation; that Fitzgerald might leave; that alumni donations would dry up; that Northwestern’s planned $225 million athletic center could be scrapped.

The women’s fencing coach told his team that a union could put the future of fencing in jeopardy, though he later apologized.

“It sounds like a vigorous, strenuous anti-union campaign that employers often employ when they’re determined to defeat unionization efforts,” said Fred Feinstein, a former N.L.R.B. general counsel.

In recent weeks, the university put together a 21-page document for the football team answering questions that Northwestern officials said they had received through an anonymous suggestion box, emails and phone calls.

The document, which was first reported by CBSSports.com, highlighted Northwestern’s track record of strong academics and fair treatment of its players.

And it left no doubt about what administrators believed was in the university’s best interests.

“This is not what we wanted — how can we get back to being students and not employees?” read one question that was apparently submitted by an anonymous player.

Northwestern’s answer: The “process has to go forward, but you can still express your desire to ‘get back to being students’ by voting ‘No.’ ”

Dan Persa, a former quarterback who played for Fitzgerald from 2007 to 2011, has been among the most vocal in urging the players to vote down the union, according to two people who have spoken to the players.

Persa said he opposed a union because it would introduce so much uncertainty, but, in an interview, he insisted that his only goal was to make sure players were informed before they voted. He has visited Northwestern’s football facilities to make his views known. “No one knows what could happen,” Persa said. “That’s scary.”

Several alumni were so concerned with how players were being influenced that they organized a meeting last week at a community center here.

“We decided this is not right because it’s interfering with the process the players voted for, that they established,” said Kevin Brown, a defensive back during the 1980s. “It should be able to play itself out without guys hearing messages that they’re hurting their school.”

The union would be certified by obtaining a simple majority, though the ballots will not be counted while the full five-person N.L.R.B. decides whether it will review the case, or while it prepares its own ruling. That could take months.

Tim Waters, the political director of the United Steelworkers, a union that has supported the players’ organizing effort, declined to comment on whether the union had considered filing a complaint with the N.L.R.B. over Northwestern’s actions.

Meanwhile, college administrators across the country and the N.C.A.A. continue to watch Northwestern closely.

The Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill that said college students cannot be employees. Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A. president, called a union “grossly inappropriate.”

Some of the pressure will end Thursday, according to N.L.R.B. rules, which forbid mandatory meetings the day before unionization votes. Then, the players will have their say.

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Apr 232014
 

livescience

By Agata Blaszczak-Boxe, Staff Writer    |

April 22, 2014 10:04am

Unlike most venomous snakes, which tend to bite people who are either handling them or who surprise them, the large Australian mulga snake has also been found to attack people who are asleep.

In a new study that examined 27 cases of people bitten by the mulga snake, researchers found that seven of the victims were asleep when they were bitten, between midnight and 5 a.m.

Such bites were not common — most of the people in the study who were bitten had intentionally made contact with a snake. For instance, one victim was bitten while playing with a snake in the garden, and another was bitten while feeding a pet snake.

But 10 people who were bitten had encountered a mulga snake unintentionally, and the fact that seven of these victims were bitten while sleeping “is noteworthy since it represents 70 percent of identified cases involving bites without intentional contact, and suggests that bites sustained during sleep may be more common than previously reported,” the researchers wrote in their report.

The mulga snake is the largest terrestrial venomous snake in Australia. The snake’s bites can be fatal; however, the most recent case of a fatal mulga snakebite was reported more than 40 years ago, the researchers wrote.

The majority of the bites in the study occurred between December and March, when the weather in Australia is warmer, the researchers found. Eighty percent of the victims were male.

Snakes don’t always inject their venom when they bite, but in the study, 21 patients had symptoms of envenomation, which means they were injected with venom. Bite victims in the study showed bleeding, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

purplearrow“The thing that was surprising about this study was there was a higher-than-expected rate of envenomation,” said Dr. Sean Bush, a professor of emergency medicine and a snake venom specialist at East Carolina University, who was not involved in the study. The high envenomation rate may stem from the large size of both the animal and its fangs, Bush said.

The high prevalence of bites inflicted while the people were asleep was also surprising, Bush said, because most snakebites occur when snakes feel threatened and try to defend themselves.

The study authors said it isn’t clear why the snakes bit people who were asleep. They speculated that, in one of the cases, “the snake may have been attracted to the victim’s body heat,” or, in another case, the snake was just initially looking for rodents that might have been attracted by a trash can close to a victim’s home.

The study findings were published online on April 13 in the journal Toxicon.

Follow Agata Blaszczak-Boxe on Twitter. Follow Live Science @livescienceFacebook Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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Apr 232014
 

ansonr

Last updated: April 22. 2014 10:56AM

WINGATE — Dr. Jerry E. McGee, Wingate University’s 13th president, announced plans Tuesday to retire in May 2015. McGee is N.C.’s longest-serving university president. At the time of his retirement, he will have served at Wingate for 23 years. McGee’s remarks are available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQUoF3pusr8&feature=youtu.be.Through his leadership, the university has secured hundreds of millions in gifts and grants for scholarships, endowment and campus development. During his tenure, Wingate has achieved university status, nearly tripled enrollment, became a doctoral-granting institution and built a number of new facilities, including The Levine College of Health Sciences and J M Smith Residence Hall. New graduate programs initiated during these years, included: pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant studies, sport management, accounting, MBA, leadership and licensure programs within graduate education (like Ed.D. in School Superintendency and Community College Executive Leadership). Undergraduate programs have been added, like nursing, political science and criminal justice.

Additionally, McGee officiated 404 college football games in 36 years. He is a member of the South Atlantic Conference Athletic Hall of Fame, Wingate University Athletic Hall of Fame, the Union County Business Leaders Hall of Fame and North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

McGee has also found time to be actively involved in the community. He has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Affiliate of Fifth Third Bank, the Wilma McCurdy Trust and the McSwain Foundation. He also is a past district governor of Civitan International. He served as a member of the NCAA Presidents’ Council and twice served as the National Chairman of the Football Issues Committee for NCAA Division II. He served as Chairman of Union County’s Economic Development program and as Chairman of the Presidents’ Council of the South Atlantic Conference, as well as Chairman of the Presidents’ Council of the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities.

purplearrowIn 2008, he was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus of East Carolina, where he received his undergraduate degree. He also holds a master’s degree from Appalachian State University and a doctorate from Nova University. He has completed two books, “The Sitting and Talking Place,” which tells of his special relationship with his maternal grandfather, and “Roberdell — A Village of Grace,” which describes life in the small textile community he grew up in. In 2006, McGee received North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, in recognition of his extraordinary service to the state.

McGee will complete the 2014-15 academic year as president. A search for the next president will begin immediately.

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Apr 232014
 

reflector
By EMERY P. DALESIO

The Associated Press

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The union representing tens of thousands of North Carolina state workers said Tuesday it filed a complaint with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission over how State Treasurer Janet Cowell is managing the $86 billion pension system.

The move by the State Employees Association of North Carolina is an escalation of the union’s years of criticism of pension fund management under Cowell and her predecessor Richard Moore, both Democrats. North Carolina is one of a handful of states in which the state treasurer is responsible for making pension fund investment decisions. SEANC wants an investment board to manage the money.

The union’s complaint to the SEC’s whistleblower program objects to “false/misleading information in official statement documents.”

One of the union’s major objections is that Cowell has the authority to invest up to 35 percent of pension fund holdings into hedge funds, private-equity firms or other alternative investments that don’t have to readily disclose details to retirees or SEANC. State lawmakers last summer raised the maximum that could be directed to those investments.

The pension fund’s quarterly update in February reported about $19 billion in pension assets, about 21 percent, were in alternative investments.

But a consultant hired by the union said the increased cap means that about $11 billion more could be put into hedge funds and other alternative investments if Cowell wanted.

“The assets in jeopardy, at risk, are now $30 billion,” said Edward Siedle, who once worked as an SEC attorney and now runs a firm that investigates the money management industry.

Last fall, Siedle issued a report for the public-sector union that hired him accusing Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina Raimondo of enriching hedge fund managers through management fees at the expense of public workers and retirees. The union was suing the state over pension changes approved by lawmakers and championed by Raimondo. The treasurer called the report’s accusations false and an attack intended to undermine pension overhaul efforts.

Some information on investments by hedge funds and private-equity firms is considered proprietary and not subject to public disclosure, but pension managers are able to monitor holdings, said Kevin SigRist, the chief investment officer for the state’s pension funds.

“We have good access to information,” SigRist said. “The market standard is that because we’re not the only investor — there’s a number of other private-sector investors in these funds — they have rights that need to be protected as well.”

The pension fund is managed so that it produces returns over the long term to keep up with the obligations of paying retirees, SigRist said. Cowell last year sought more investment flexibility to balance years of near-zero interest rates and the volatility of stocks, he said.

The union also contends the $416 million in fees Cowell’s office reported paying investment fund managers in the year ending last June understates the true amount by perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars. For example, Cowell’s annual report notes that it doesn’t report the fees and expenses charged by smaller funds that received pension money from outside investment managers hired by Cowell’s staff.

Fees amounted to 0.52 percent of pension fund market value last year, the report said.

An SEC spokeswoman said its handling of any complaint is confidential unless there is an enforcement action. The SEC’s whistleblower program received more than 3,200 complaints in 2013, the agency’s annual report said.

An outside commission Cowell appointed to examine North Carolina’s public pension funds and determine whether changes are needed to investment governing rules is expected to produce its recommendations on Thursday.

___

Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio

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Apr 232014
 

reflector

By Paul Wiseman

Associated Press

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

WASHINGTON — With college commencement ceremonies nearing, the government is offering a modest dose of good news for graduating seniors: The job market is brightening for new grads — a bit.

But finding work — especially a dream job — remains tough for those just graduating. Many are settling for jobs outside their fields of study or for less pay than they’d expected or hoped for.

The Labor Department on Tuesday said the unemployment rate for 2013 college graduates — defined as those ages 20 to 29 who earned a four-year or advanced degree — was 10.9 percent. That was down from 13.3 percent in 2012 and was the lowest since 7.7 percent in 2007. The drop reflects the steady recovery in overall U.S. economic growth and hiring.

But unemployment for recent grads was still higher than the 9.6 percent rate for all Americans ages 20 to 29 last October, when the government collected the numbers.

“I’m finding that all these entry-level jobs are requiring experience I don’t have or degrees that are just unattainable right out of college,” says Howard Rudnick, 23, who graduated last year in political science from Florida Atlantic University and wound up earning $25,000 a year working for an online shoe company.

“The worst part is that I’m afraid at some point I may have to go back to school to better myself and take on more debt just so I can get a better-paying job.”

Over time, though, Americans who have college degrees are still far more likely to find employment and to earn more than those who don’t. And while opportunities for new college grads remain too few, they’re increasing.

“It really is getting better,” says Jean Manning-Clark, director of the career center at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo. She says more automotive and steel companies are now looking at the school’s graduates, joining energy and technology companies that have been actively recruiting for several years.

Last year’s female graduates fared better than men: 9 percent were unemployed as of October last year, compared with 13.7 percent of men. Analysts note that the economy has been generating jobs in many low-wage fields — such as retail and hotels — that disproportionately employ women

“It seems like the jobs that are growing fastest are jobs that are low-wage jobs, service jobs,” says Anne Johnson, executive director of Generation Progress, an arm of the liberal Center for American Progress that studies youth issues.

Other fields that attract women — including health care — weren’t hit as hard by the recession.

Philip Gardner, director of Michigan State University’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute, says women also “have skill sets that employers want… They have better communications skills. They have better interpersonal skills. They are more willing to work in teams.”

Alexa Staudt’s job search lasted just three weeks. Before graduating from the University of Texas last spring, Staudt, 23, had landed an administrative position at an online security company in Austin.

“I had marketable skills from my internships” in event planning, marketing and copy-editing and experience working as a receptionist for a real-estate firm, Staudt says.

She’s happy with the job and the chance to stay in Austin.

Yet the McKinsey & Company consultancy last year found that 41 percent of graduates from top universities and 48 percent of those from other schools could not land jobs in their chosen field after graduation.

Even in good times, many college graduates need time to find a good job. But researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concluded earlier this year that “it has become more common for underemployed college graduates to find themselves in low-wage jobs or to be working part time.”

The Labor Department reports that 260,000 college graduates were stuck last year working at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That’s down from a peak of 327,000 in 2010. But it’s more than double the 127,000 in 2007, the year the recession began.

“Every way you cut it, young college grads are really having trouble — much more trouble than they used to have,” says Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute. “The labor market is not producing decent jobs.”

In a study last year, economists at the University of British Columbia and York University in Canada found that college graduates were more likely to be working in routine and manual work than were graduates in 2000; technology was eliminating some mid-level jobs that graduates used to take. The result is that many have had to compete for jobs that don’t require much education.

Their sobering conclusion:

“Having a B.A. is less about obtaining access to high-paying managerial and technology jobs and more about beating less-educated workers for the barista or clerical job.”

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Apr 232014
 

newsobserver

April 22, 2014 Updated 10 hours ago

From the beginning, nearly three years ago, when Mary Willingham spoke out about a tutoring program for athletes that was steering some to easy classes that did not meet, her departure from the university was likely only a matter of time. Whistle-blowers are rarely rewarded and often punished.

On Monday, Willingham had a one-hour meeting with UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt. Afterward, she declared her intention to leave the university at semester’s end. Accounts of the meeting vary: Jay Smith, a history professor and friend of Willingham’s, says the chancellor berated Willingham, who has been outspoken about the athletics-academic scandal that has embarrassed the university. A spokesman for Folt said the chancellor believed the meeting to be even-handed and productive.

It’s true that Willingham has been interviewed by national media outlets, and her claims that her research found many athletes who could not read at a proper level stung university leaders. At one point, Willingham told CNN that a former basketball player struggled to read. Coach Roy Williams challenged her, whereupon Willingham offered to meet with him and show him her evidence. Williams then declined.

Folt inherited this crisis, and it remains a crisis of huge proportion, even after former Chancellor Holden Thorp resigned and left the university. For all of the criticism of Willingham by boosters and administrators, the university has had to acknowledge that indeed, the African studies curriculum included more than 200 confirmed or suspected no-show classes, where students were required only to write a paper by semester’s end. Athletes made up 45 percent of the enrollments; they constitute 5 percent of the student body.

But the university has continued to rationalize its claims that the classes were not designed for athletes because there were other students in them. That’s weak logic, at best.

The university also sponsored an investigation led by former Gov. Jim Martin that was inconclusive and weak. Now it has hired a high-priced Washington lawyer, Kenneth Wainstein, to conduct yet another investigation.

Beginning with problems in the football program under former coach Butch Davis, where players were alleged to have had improper contact with agents, and continuing with the revelations about academic scandal, the university has found itself as the latest example, and it has become a national example, of an athletics program grown too powerful.

Folt now owns this crisis. The resignation of Willingham, which a spokesman for Folt said the chancellor did not request, comes after attempts by the university to discredit her, including bringing in three outside experts who challenged the validity of her research on athletes’ reading levels.

But Willingham was an academic counselor; she worked with athletes. She knew the system. And though she is said to be working on a book, she has been a relatively low-ranking employee who stands little to gain from her role in what has happened. The chancellor could have taken a positive step by offering Willingham a position in her office pertaining to academics and athletics and getting constructive advice from someone who had been there. Instead, no matter how the meeting is interpreted, it is going to appear that Willingham was in some way encouraged to leave.

The university, despite multiple investigations, seems more interested in moving on, in believing that if it just treads water the crisis will pass. Instead, there should be a thorough look at how far back these phony classes go and who in the academic administration knew what and when they knew it. Yes, UNC-Chapel Hill has, after this humiliating experience, taken some steps of reform.

But Folt has an opportunity to go beyond reform as a part of crisis management. She must avoid becoming entangled by tangential issues related more to the robust health of the athletics program and focus instead on the university’s hard-won reputation for integrity and academic excellence. In the end, that’s what matters. It is all that matters.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/22/3802939/at-unc-the-messenger-is-gone-the.html?sp=/99/108//#storylink=cpy

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Apr 232014
 

newsobserver

By Jane Stancill

jstancill@newsobserver.com

April 22, 2014 Updated 12 hours ago

RALEIGH — Debra Townsley, the president of William Peace University, is facing intense criticism from students and faculty, who describe a deteriorating academic environment and a fear of retaliation on the downtown Raleigh campus.

Five students who recently circulated a student petition were informed by the university this week that they face disciplinary proceedings for disorderly conduct and violations of Peace’s visitation and solicitation policies. The students say the charges are retribution for their petition, which amassed more than 300 signatures calling for Townsley’s immediate resignation.

The disciplinary hearings were originally scheduled for Thursday afternoon, during a period when a student protest is planned outside the university’s entrance.

“It’s absurd,” said Maigan Kennedy, a 25-year-old student from Durham and one of the organizers charged. “I knew at some point there would be some retaliation from the administration. It’s appalling they would level bogus claims against students for something we have every right to do.”

Meanwhile, Peace faculty sent an eight-page letter to trustees saying they don’t have confidence in Townsley. The unsigned letter, obtained by The News & Observer, cites a litany of concerns, including staff turnover, dropping graduation rates, unsecured student records and university buildings with malfunctioning heat, asbestos problems and infestations of poisonous spiders.

The letter said the administration is destroying Peace’s credibility and taking advantage of students.

“Peace has become an institution driven by mediocrity, suspicion, and fear, a university desperate for tuition dollars but entirely unwilling to provide students with the support and encouragement they need to complete their degrees,” the letter said.

In an interview Tuesday, Townsley said the university is growing and evolving in a difficult environment for higher education, particularly small private colleges. She pointed out that upperclassmen enrolled when the school was a women’s college, Peace College, before it admitted men and changed its name to William Peace University.

“Change is very difficult,” Townsley said. “I am all about academic integrity. We are working very hard on academic integrity and ensuring a strong academic program.”

Townsley said she could not talk about individual students’ disciplinary issues, but she said the hearings are “not about the petition. It is about something else.”

Kennedy’s notification of the disciplinary hearing cited violations of visitation and solicitation policies and disorderly conduct in two dorms at 11:30 p.m.

“We don’t allow solicitation, especially really late at night when students are sleeping in their residence halls,” Townsley said of university rules.

Years of criticism

The latest unrest comes after several years of fierce criticism of Townsley and the trustees by alumnae. Last year, some donors were upset when the university sank millions of dollars from its endowment into the acquisition of Seaboard Station, a retail development near the campus. Critics also complained that the university had removed trustee names from its website; the list has since been posted on the site.

Many faculty have been reluctant to speak publicly, they say, for fear of being fired. The number of full-time faculty at the school has been almost halved in the past five years, while the number of part-time adjunct faculty has grown. Last year, professors were asked to sign arbitration agreements that impose a time limit for disputes and prevent employees from taking the university to court.

Unhappy students, who formed a group called “We Want Peace,” said they were motivated to create the petition after they learned that a popular English professor was not renewed for next year.

Katie Beth Jenkins, 19, a first-year student, said that on her tour of Peace last year, the guide told her that professors had an open door and were always available to support students.

“They’re firing teachers, so that’s no longer available,” Jenkins said.

Now, she added, “they’re hiring more adjunct professors, but they’re only here during their scheduled class times or their scheduled office hours.”

Townsley said the university is in the process of hiring five new full-time faculty members.

Roger Christman, an associate professor of communications, simulation and game design, said he was aware of the faculty letter but didn’t know if it reflects a consensus.

“I support the school, I support the institution,” Christman said. “I believe in our mission. I know that we are a transformational experience for our students. We have wonderful faculty and staff here. I see it every day.”

Beth Cherry, chairwoman of the Peace trustees, said some faculty were not aware the letter was sent on their behalf.

“It is very difficult to put a lot of validity into something that is not signed,” she said. “We don’t know who wrote it.”

Cherry said she was unaware that students were upset and that she had not seen the petition.

“I have not had any conversations with a student who is unhappy,” she said. “This has all come about very suddenly.”

The faculty letter suggested that the university is suffering because of Townsley’s decisions. And it points out that faculty have not had a raise since 2007, with Peace salaries close to the bottom of universities in North Carolina.

Townsley’s total compensation is $391,605, compared to $158,541 for Jo Allen, the president of the larger Meredith College, according to 2011 figures published last year by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The website Gawker named Townsley as one of the top five “most overpaid college presidents in America,” when comparing salaries based on the size of the colleges’ budgets.

Cherry said the president had not received a raise since she came to Peace.

“The board completely backs and supports Dr. Townsley,” Cherry said. “She is well qualified, and the board believes she is the right one to lead William Peace University forward.”

Townsley has fulfilled her promise to significantly grow the university, which had more than 800 students in the day program last fall, compared to fewer than 650 five years ago. The growth has led to a squeeze of student space; juniors and seniors now live in an apartment complex miles from campus.

Asbestos and spiders

The faculty letter made serious claims about problems at the school, including possible compliance issues with nine accreditation standards.

Among the faculty claims:

• Graduation rates falling from 35 percent to 30 percent.

• Three asbestos violations cited by OSHA.

• Complaints of no heat in some dorm rooms and falling tiles, plus “large outbreaks of dangerous brown recluse spiders.”

• Four registrars in three years, resulting in “student transcripts (that) were unsecured, left piled on the floor,” and possible instances of students graduating without completing the necessary requirements.

• Faculty-student ratio that went from 1:15 to 1:34.

• Curriculum decisions that are driven by the administration, not faculty. “The administration intimidated and bullied the faculty, with explicit threats of termination, into accepting curricular changes,” the letter said.

Townsley disputed some of the statistics cited, such as a claim that less than half of student credit hours are now taught by full-time faculty. Of the heating issue, she said a boiler broke and the university supplied students with portable heaters while the boiler was replaced. Of the spiders, she said: “To tell you the truth, I am not aware of that. I mean we live in the South; we have everything treated with pest control. Somebody may have seen a spider and we would have certainly taken care of it. They are here in North Carolina.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/22/3803179/william-peace-university-president.html?sp=/99/100/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy

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