higher education

Faculty claims ‘hostility, intimidation and retaliation’ at Nashville State Community College

Start of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Nashville State Community College maintains such an oppressive climate for its faculty members that it sought to monitor and interfere with efforts to ask them about it, according to a report commissioned by the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Nashville State’s executives sought to surreptitiously identify which faculty members were being confidentially interviewed by investigators from Middle Tennessee State University. Several administrators, including George H. Van Allen, the college’s president, improperly sought to get access to — and interfere in the distribution of — an online survey intended solely for faculty members, the investigators’ report says.

A large share of the college’s faculty members complained of “hostility, intimidation, and retaliation” by the college’s executive leaders, and spoke of working in an atmosphere where “trust is low and fear is high,” the report says. Most, it adds, “view the trend for this negative climate as continuing to spiral downward.”

In an interview with The Tennessean President Van Allen defended his record and described his critics as a “strong minority” of faculty members. He said he had tried to get access to the survey because he was concerned about its security.

Note: For more, see the extensive Tennessean story, HERE.

New TN ‘Campus Free Speech’ law praised as ‘most comprehensive ‘ in the nation

The Tennessee version of a “Campus Free Speech” bill, signed into law earlier this month by the governor after approval by lopsided margins in the legislature, is getting some national media attention – most recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s roundup of similar legislation across the nation.

It starts like this:

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Haslam lauds legislature for passing latest free tuition expansion

News release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today thanked the General Assembly for its partnership in making Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school graduates and adults – the chance to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees and at no cost to taxpayers.

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New outsourcing contract gives JLL a bonus if cost-cutting exceeds expectations

Jones Lang LaSalle’s new contract potentially covers work now performed by about 3,000 state employees who are supposed to keep their positions though the pact gives the company a financial incentive to cut costs as much as possible, reports the Nashville Post.

The contract doesn’t specify an actual number the state will be paying JLL to pay other subcontractors for custodial, landscaping and maintenance work at state universities and agencies across Tennessee, as that will depend on how many campuses opt in or out of the contract. And how much JLL will get paid will also depend on the company meeting benchmark goals and customer satisfaction metrics.

However, the contract also includes a clause that awards JLL 10 percent of any cost savings above and beyond its projected baseline savings in the first year. After that, the percentage decreases each year by one percent, down to 1 percent of savings awards in year 10 of the contract. (The five-year contract has the option of being expanded another five years before the state would have to rebid it.)

…”That’s to reduce operational costs. If you look, it specifically prohibits a reduction in force, period. They cannot reduce the force,” said Mike Perry, the state’s chief procurement officer, during a press conference Thursday.

Yet the terms of the contract include multiple loopholes as to who can be considered “transition employees” and continue on with the subcontractors JLL will hire. Employees must have worked for the state for over 6 months at 30 hours a week or more and be considered to “provide services selected to be performed by the Contractor at a minimum of” 51 percent of their job duties. They must pass whatever background checks JLL deems necessary, along with a drug test. Currently the state does not require either for the majority of its positions.

…Even if employees do pass all the required checks, there’s still no guarantee they’ll be offered the same job, at the same campus. The contract only requires a position be offered in a 50 mile radius. Rehired employees are supposed to be given equitable compensation, but in JLL’s own bid proposal, it admits that an employee with a family of four would have their health insurance premiums double and the out-of-pocket max increase by $2,150. Meanwhile, paid time off will decrease. (A single employee’s health insurance costs will go down, the proposal says.) An employee would ostensibly be paid more to make up for the higher health insurance costs and lack of vacation time, but Perry admitted he had no idea how this would work in practice as far as taxes go.

Note: The post has a copy of the contract posted HERE.

Haslam helps Rhode Island gov pitch free tuition plan

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island’s Democratic governor has invited a Republican counterpart to help make the case for her plan to provide free tuition for two years at public colleges.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam talked with Rhode Island business leaders on a conference call Thursday.

Tennessee three years ago became the first state to make community college tuition-free for new high school graduates, and is considering an expansion to include older adults. Raimondo’s plan would go further, including not just community colleges but the last two years at four-year institutions. She says it’s a workforce development initiative.

Further from Rhode Island Public Radio

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42 legislators ask delay in outsourcing; contract signing ahead of schedule

A week or so after 42 state legislators called for a delay in finalizing higher education outsourcing plans, Jones Lang LaSalle officials signed the company’s contract with the state ahead of schedule.

The Times-Free Press initially reported on the legislators’ letter to Gov. Bill Haslam’s outsourcing czar, Terry Cowles. It asks “that the outsourcing process wait until the General Assembly is able to study and understand the effects on our public services, economy, and state workers.”

The Nashville Post reported Tuesday in an overview of recent outsourcing developments that JLL officials actually affixed their signatures to the contract document on Friday, a week earlier than planned.

The contract is under review by the comptroller’s office before the state can officially sign off on it, but that review could be complete by the end of the day Friday, according to comptroller spokesperson John Dunn. The state’s bond counsel is also reviewing the contract to insure compliance. According to Dunn, that office has been asked to expedite its review but no firm time frame for its completion exists.

But criticism is pouring in from legislators and students, as letters and complaints fly to and fro, and University of Tennessee at Knoxville students held a large protest on Monday.

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House panel spurns in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants

By a one-vote margin, a  House committee today shot down legislation that would grant in-state college tuition rates to undocumented students who have graduated from Tennessee high schools. Seven members of the House Education Administration and Planning Committee members voted against HB660; six for it.

A similar bill passed the Senate last year but failed on the House floor by one vote.

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Sex Week at UT-Knoxville — different this year?

The University of Tennessee’s controversial Sex Week, which got underway Sunday, may have started as a way to address sexual assaults on campus and more traditional issues around sexuality, but this year the event is tackling an even broader range of issues, reports the News Sentinel.

A somewhat contrasting report of the Sex Week events is offered by Tennessee Star. Excerpts from both follow.

From the KNS:

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Fired public radio reporter sues UT-Chattanooga

Fired reporter Jacqui Helbert is suing the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga over her termination from the campus’s public radio station, WUTC-FM, reports the Nashville Scene.

In a lawsuit filed (Thursday) in Hamilton County Circuit Court, Helbert asks for “reinstatement, apology, education and training about the laws violated, lost wages, harm for the emotional distress from the retaliatory firing, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, and any further relief appropriate to the circumstances,” up to $1 million in damages.

The university and and two employees, senior associate vice chancellor of marketing and communications George Heddleston and associate vice chancellor of marketing and communications Chuck Cantrell, are named as defendants.

“Clearly I believe I was fired for reporting a story of important public interest that did not sit well with lawmakers,” Helbert says in a prepared statement.

See also the Times-Free Press report. An excerpt:

Helbert was fired “because she accurately reported the inflammatory and embarrassing words of one legislator and the truthful but unpopular words of another,” the lawsuit states. “Sadly, UTC chose self-preservation through retaliation over honesty.”

And the AP did a brief story on the lawsuit that was distributed nationally.

 

JLL wins higher education privatization contract

Chicago-based real estate giant Jones Lang LaSalle is the winning bidder of a potentially massive government outsourcing contract that could put facilities of all Tennessee higher education buildings under private management, according to the Times-Free Press.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration made the decision public to bidders on Tuesday.

Haslam press secretary Jennifer Donnals said in a statement the facilities management plan “is part of a two-year process. Our job is to provide the very best service for the very lowest cost to taxpayers.”

Donnals said “individual campuses will make their own determination whether to participate in this proposal or not. If they do participate, the proposed contract will protect the livelihoods of current facilities management employees. This is another tool for campuses to keep their costs low while providing high-quality service.”

Jones Lang LaSalle already manages a large number of general state government buildings under a process that generated enormous amounts of criticism from some lawmakers, as well as critical findings in an audit last year by state Comptroller Justin Wilson.

…JLL won the bid over Aramark and Compass Group, which also submitted proposals. All three companies were among an undisclosed number involved in a secretive process in which potential vendors were allowed to have input on how the contract would be shaped.

But the contract is not yet final. JLL and the Haslam administration will have to negotiate final price details before the five-year contract is signed.

According to the proposal, JLL plans to subcontract with Birmingham-based Diversified Maintenance for janitorial and housekeeping services, and with Pennsylvania-based BrightView Landscapes for groundskeeping and landscaping.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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