Category Archives: Education

A College Athletes Players Union? Like The Min-Wage Fight, It’s The Result Of Abuse

by Categorized: Economy, Education, Labor, Politics Date:

As it happened on Tuesday, the same day that President Obama proposed the largest minimum wage increase in history, football players at Northwestern University petitioned federal labor officials for the right to form a union.

The College Athletes Players Association, with Northwestern’s co-captain and standout quarterback Kain Colter as its face, submitted registration cards to the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board.

It’s a bad idea but it’s about time this happened.

There will be many steps and many battles before the players gain collective bargaining rights. The NCAA is saying they’re not employees so they have no right to organize.

The would-be union, headed by a former UCLA player and represented by the United Steelworkers, says it’s not looking for big money, or any money at all, other than the basic, low pay that most people agree players should receive.

Rather, the union’s demands include “financial coverage for sports-related medical expenses, placing independent concussion experts on the sidelines during games, establishing an educational trusts fund to help former players graduate and ‘due process’ before a coach could strip a player of his scholarship for a rules violation,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

This has been brewing for decades, as big-time college football and basketball programs reap billions, larding up coaches’ salaries and university coffers. Players do get an education and a 4-year tryout for the NFL or NBA but that still leaves plenty of room for abuse, especially for the non-stars.

This will be a great fight, just as the national battle unfolds over Obama’s push for a $10.10 an hour minimum wage, up from $7.25 an hour.  And they are linked, in that both are developments that would not happen in an ideal world, but have merit simply because the abuse has gone too far.

The whole point of a minimum wage is to set a floor that gradually rises, below which workers can’t get by without some form of outside help. Raising it radically might be jarring to the economy, but it hasn’t changed in five years and it was historically low even in 2009.

Likewise, NCAA athletes in big-time programs such as the Big 10 have seen everyone else get rich while they sacrifice not only every hour of free time, but their health.

Colter, a great natural leader, was among the players who wore the letters APU on their wristbands — for All Players United — in a Sept. 21 home game.  That week, he told reporters the movement was not players vs. Northwestern, but teammates exerting their rights. “It’s players coming together for a better cause,” he said in a video posted by the Northwester News Network, run by students.

In a written statement, the NCAA said “This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education….We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.”

In the old system, boosters illegally snuck envelopes of cash into athletes’ hands and while that was corrupt and insidious, it took care of a few problems. Now we need a modern system to take care of players, just as the minimum wage needs to be indexed to inflation once and for all, so we don’t have to go through this charade of a debate every three years.

Instead of modernizing, Congress and the NCAA screw around doing nothing, so we get a president fighting for a 40 percent hike in the minimum wage and a college players union petition.

Flawed ideas whose time has come. Enough is enough.

 

With Goldie Hawn At Davos, Aetna’s Bertolini Brings Mindfulness To Mainstream

by Categorized: Education, Health Care, Insurance Date:

You could say Mark T. Bertolini knows about stress, not only from his 24/7 job as Aetna CEO but also as a kidney donor to his son who nearly died, and survivor of a ski accident that left him partly paralyzed.

He’s arguably the most prominent advocate of naturopathic medicine, yoga and meditation in corporate America.

Now Bertolini is bringing Hollywood glitz to the science of de-stressing, teaming up with Goldie Hawn, a fellow mindfulness maven who also believes in the evidence behind emotional awareness for improved health.

Hawn, left, with Julia Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow at the San Penn & Friends HELP HAITI HOME gala in Beverly Hills Jan. 11.  Getty Images

Hawn, left, with Julia Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow at the San Penn & Friends HELP HAITI HOME gala in Beverly Hills Jan. 11.
Getty Images

At the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland on Thursday, the CEO and the Academy Award-winning comedic actress will advance meditation and mindfulness in a discussion moderated by Arianna Huffington, who’s written a book on the topic.  Aetna and Hawn will launch a partnership designed to expand an education-based stress reduction program called MindUP that’s sponsored by The Hawn Foundation.

Hartford-based Aetna and The Hawn Foundation, of Miami Beach, London and Santa Monica, don’t have a formal plan for their collaboration, dubbed “Mindful Works.”  “It’s in the very preliminary stages of the relationship. It’s open-ended at this point,” Aetna spokesman Ethan Slavin said.

What’s all this about? “MindUP consists of tools and strategies based on neuroscience, social and emotional learning, mindfulness and positive psychology to help people center, focus and thrive,” Aetna and the foundation said in a joint release.

Mindfulness, with its roots in Buddhist meditation, is a hot topic in psychotherapy. Basically it teaches people to maintain hyper-awareness of their feelings and sensations, and to focus intensely in the present moment.

Bertolini, a regular at Davos and other global forums, typically talks about health care technology or changing over to a results-based payment system for medical services, but audiences have certainly heard him on alternative health.  He’s also scheduled this week to speak about “hyperconnectivity,” the fast-advancing world of apps and other ways to link medical information.

HC ct-Mark-Bertolini.jpg

He’ll still be the straight man in the Thursday show as he pushes the science behind mindfulness, which Aetna is leading.

It’s not a new push. Back in 2010 and 2011, Aetna divided employees into quintiles by stress markers such as heart rate, and found that the most stressed group had average medical costs $2,500 a year higher than the least-stressed group, Bertolini said at a conference in Arizona last month:

We put them through mindfulness and yoga training for 12 weeks and we saw the costs drop like a rock in the post-testing, so we know this stuff works,” Bertolini said.

The company pegged the added cost for the most-stressed employees in the study of 458 people at “nearly $2,000″ in a 2012 press release, but the point is made. That figure even seems a bit low if you consider that obesity could be linked to stress.

The company has had 6,000 employees go through its “Mindfulness at Work” training, and offers it to all of its clients, including employers that use Aetna to administer self-insured plans. So far, mindfulness has not changed the way Aetna actually approves medical procedures but that could happen.

“We’ve got to pioneer somewhere…We’ve got to challenge the norm,” Bertolini said on a video of the Arizona conference. “And so we believe in this, it’s just building the evidence base.”

And building the fan base. I see Warren Beatty playing Bertolini in the movie and Hawn playing herself. Daughter Kate Hudson can play the over-stressed young professional.

It’s a modern sequel to Shampoo. Call it  “The Mindful Conditioner.”  The storyline: On the day Obamacare goes into effect, a health insurance executive comes to terms with his love of alternative medicine as he’s confronted by multiple yoga partners.

 

 

Donations Surface in Yale Honorary Degree Case, With Famous Connection

by Categorized: Education, law Date:

A foundation controlled by Stephan Schmidheiny, the billionaire global environmentalist whose 1996 honorary degree from Yale University is under protest, donated money to Yale at least three times in the years around that event, documents show.

Those donations — in unknown amounts — are raising eyebrows among victims, family members and supporters of former asbestos workers in Casale Monferrato, Italy.  The groups say Yale should not have feted Schmidheiny 18 years ago and should revoke the degree, now that an Italian appeals court has upheld a criminal conviction of the former industrialist and sentenced him to 18 years in prison.

At least two of the donations were to the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, then headed by Daniel C. Esty — a Yale professor now serving as Connecticut’s Energy and Environmental Protection commissioner.

Schmidheiny from 1976 to 1986 controlled Swiss Eternit, a producer of asbestos-girded construction products with several plants in Italy.  He exited the 80-year-old family business and dedicated his efforts and much of his fortune to advancing ecologically sustainable business methods, especially land use in Latin America — for which Yale conferred the honorary degree.

Yale said in October, after the victims’ group presented a petition calling for Yale to revoke the degree, that “there are no records of any substantial gifts to Yale” by Schmidheiny or by charities that Schmidheiny controls.  Yale did, however, describe collaborations between Schmidheiny and the Yale
School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where Esty’s center was jointly located.

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Social Change At Wesleyan, For Real

by Categorized: Economic Development, Education Date:

Many students gravitate toward social change in the economy in a sincere but unfocused way, at Wesleyan University as much as anyplace. For one class at the Middletown college, economic activism was very real on Wednesday night as students ended the semester by handing out checks to four local groups.

“Money and Social Change,” the course taught by Haddam social enterprise consultant Joy Anderson, is not about the theory of how the economy does or does not make people’s lives better — it’s about how to actually use money to change the world in organized, measurable ways.

No better way to do that than to do it, so students in Anderson’s class set out to find four groups worthy of $2,500 each, money from the Learning By Giving Foundation of Doris Buffett, sister of the billionaire Warren. They targeted the goal of  “equal access,” then compiled a list of more than 250 community organizations, profiling 100 of them before voting.

“Alliances were formed,” said Wesleyan senior Alex Cantrell, at Wednesday’s event on the campus — offering at once an understatement and a three-word distillation of how the world works.
In the end, the class chose the winners based on publicly available information without conducting any interviews. Winners were Vista Vocational & Life Skills Center, an arts and education group for people with disabilities; CPEP, the Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program, which helps under-represented students learn about science, technology and math fields with hands-on projects; the Business/Industry Foundation of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, which does a variety of grants and funding; and ITNCentralCT, a ride service for seniors and visually impaired people.

All of them thanked the class not so much for the money, though it matters, but for the recognition. When it comes to social change, which by definition requires an evolution in the way people think, “that, as much as anything, is what matters,” said Anderson, a Wesleyan graduate who also holds a Ph.D in American history, and whose Criterion Institute is prominent in the world of social investing and entrepreneurship.

It’s notable that at the hour-long event, and in a classroom afterward as each of the students presented a project supporting his or her “theory of change,” I didn’t hear a single word against the prevailing corporate market system. Clearly and increasingly, the U.S. economy is not working as well as it once did for most people and it’s not expanding access to education and jobs as well as it did in years past.

But “Money and Social Change,” which Anderson taught in 2012 and plans to repeat again next fall, is about managing and creating change in practical, doable ways, not about fighting the system.
Full disclosure, I’m an active Wesleyan alumnus and have moderated a discussion there about social enterprise with Anderson and others.

For the groups who came away with the checks — almost came away, as Anderson quipped, “The checks are not quite in the mail yet” — this was a chance to talk about their projects.

Vista is staging a performance of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” with half the cast disabled, half not — part of the group’s goal to “bring the community to the individuals” in the programs, executive director Helen Bosch said.

CPEP’s CEO Bruce Dixon described the active summer and after-school program, which recently included Hartford Public High School students modifying and sending a wind turbine to a remote school in Nepal.  Dixon described the message he heard in the grant from the Wesleyan class: “You guys are on the right path, keep doing what you’re doing.”

The Hartford Welcomes Junior Achievement To Asylum Hill In Historic Style

by Categorized: Education, Financial Services, Real Estate Date:

A grand, wood-paneled space in a 1925 building in Asylum Hill that once served as the main hall of a bank is coming back to life in a new financial role, this time to draw youths into the world of money and business.

The two-story room dominates the historic building at 70 Farmington Ave. in Hartford, which has long been owned by The Hartford. Now the insurance company has renovated it for Junior Achievement, which recently moved from cramped quarters on Main Street.

Click here for a photo gallery showing the building

Lou Golden, president of Junior Achievement of Southwest New England, in an office overlooking the main room at the group's new digs.  John Woike/The Hartford Courant

Lou Golden, president of Junior Achievement of Southwest New England, in an office overlooking the main room at the group’s new digs.
John Woike/The Hartford Courant

The move gives Junior Achievement a 6,100-square-foot location not only for offices for its 13-person staff, but a central place in a neighborhood on the edge of downtown for programs that bring thousands of volunteers together with tens of thousands of students. These programs, such as start-up enterprises and financial literacy events, happen largely in schools and at agencies such as Boys and Girls Clubs.

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In Rare Gathering, Lawyers Celebrate Their Man At UConn

by Categorized: Education, law Date:

They compete by day and they don’t usually gather at night as a group, but late Wednesday some of the most prominent partners of greater Hartford’s 17 largest law firms united for a cause — joined by the governor, attorney general, state treasurer and the UConn president.

Their purpose: Not to raise money for a charity, though there was a pitch. They came to honor one of their own, Timothy Fisher, who just left his job as a partner at McCarter & English to become dean of the UConn law school — and to make the point that law schools in general, and UConn especially, must be tied ever closer to the region’s law firms as the profession fights through a siege.

UConn law school Dean Timothy Fisher jokes with Dan Papermaster of Bingham McCutchen, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Marie Herbst, the UConn president. Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

UConn law school Dean Timothy Fisher jokes with Dan Papermaster of Bingham McCutchen, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Susan Herbst, the UConn president.
Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

Most law school deans come from the ranks of legal scholars and educators, so it was something of a surprise that UConn president Susan Herbst and the search committee plucked a partner in corporate practice.

“This is nothing short of remarkable that we’re all here together,” said Dan Papermaster, managing partner at Bingham McCutchen LLP, which held the reception, co-hosted by all 17 firms, at its office at One State Street. “We’re here to speak with one voice to let the UConn community know that you made a great choice in selecting our colleague, Tim Fisher. He’s going to lead this law school with distinction as we navigate a new normal in legal education.”

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Shiller’s Economics Nobel Based On Market Understanding, Not Ideology

by Categorized: Economy, Education Date:

Exactly two years ago, as Occupy Wall Street protesters took to the streets, six Yale economists including Robert J. Shiller gathered at the Yale law school to talk about what’s wrong with the American economic system and what ought to be done about it.

Schiller and Richard Levin, an economist who was then the Yale president, talked about a New Deal-style authority, a quasi-public agency that could spend money on infrastructure improvements needed to spur business activity. Shiller also talked about a federal “employment reserve authority” that could support job creation, and he generally defended public intervention, saying it’s not right for government-bashers to slam all federally backed solutions.

“I think the government can do a good job. It’s not the government, it’s the people of this country,” Shiller said.

It’s hardly the case that Shiller is known as a wide-eyed progressive who favors government investment and supports as a last resort.  He was far more pessimistic than Levin about the recovery, and even suggested, “We could be in a 15-year decline.”

More than a political philosophy, his comments in October 2011 illustrated that Shiller is concerned with the complexity of markets, what makes stock prices rise and fall over a long time, what drives housing values and how human behavior plays into all of this.

Shiller shared the Nobel Prize for Monday with two University of Chicago economists, Eugene F. Fama and Lars Peter Hansen, for advancing understanding about what makes asset prices move. Famously, he predicted the 2000 tech stock collapse and the 2007 housing market collapse, based on understanding that their price run-ups were unsustainable bubbles.

The title of Shiller’s 2000 book, “Irrational Exuberance,” picked up on then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s much cited 1996 remark that stock markets might be based on just that, a herd mentality that isn’t supported by fundamentals. Shiller, in the introduction to the second edition of that book in 2005, took pains to point out that Greenspan alone coined the phrase — but that Shiller had testified at the Fed three days before Greenspan’s 1996 speech, and had lunch with the chairman, delivering the message that the markets could be acting irrationally.

More recently the measure of housing prices that Shiller helped to develop, the S&P Case-Shiller Index, which is based in repeat sales in regions rather than median prices, has shown a potentially dangerous run-up of prices in some markets. Economist Edward J. Deak of Fairfield University believes the Nobel is well deserved not because Shiller has a big public presence in current economic events, but because, in part, Shiller’s ideas about current economics is backed by deep understanding of history and behavior.

“He was in the middle of one of the more important discussions about the U.S. economy and the world economy,” Deak said Monday, referring to the housing market issues of the last several years. “He has done some amazing and yet typically Yale-type historical research back into the 1800s and maybe even earlier.”

By that, Deak meant that Shiller’s writings on markets relies on an extremely long view of data, which is part of the Yale economics tradition.

And for years, Shiller has taken action with policy advice that isn’t just big-government vs. small-government, but rather accounts for the need for more and better information and more and better ways of spending public money.

“I would regard him as a conservative economist, one who sometimes takes a contrary view of the current condition and raises  a red flag as to what the consequences may be,” Deak said.

The point is not ideology but understanding of markets. Bloomberg News, in today’s story about the Nobel awards, made the point that Fama won for research showing the efficiency of markets, while Shiller has shown that human behavior makes markets less predictable in the short run, and perhaps less efficient.

Robert Solow, the1987  Nobel economics laureate from MIT, said in the Bloomberg story, “It’s like giving the prize to the Yankees and the Red Sox.”

Head Start: 1,000 Children Shut Out In Bridgeport, Some State Help coming

by Categorized: Education, Government, Poverty Date:

As Head Start classes in and around Bridgeport remain mostly shuttered with nearly 1,000 children locked out, the director of the federally funded early childhood program in that region hopes for state money to bring back 200 next week.

Some of the Head Start funding does come from the state, and that enabled Action for Bridgeport Community Development, which runs the local Head Start program, to bring back 256 children and reopen two of the 13 locations that were closed Tuesday.

Sorting out the state and federal funding for each site has been “a nightmare,” said Monette Ferguson, who heads the Head Start program for ABCD in Bridgeport.  But not as bad as the nightmare for the affected low-income working families, who count on Head Start to care for their children.

“The ones that I’ve spoken to are really, really anxious and they’re worried about losing their employment,” Ferguson said.

Bridgeport’s ABCD is one of 18 Head Start agencies around the state, and it’s the only one — one of just 20 in the entire United States — that was on an October budget cycle. And so it remains closed, with 313 of its own staffers on furlough.  The staff number seems high for 1,000 children, and that’s because Head Start is more than just a pre-school.

“It’s a two-generational program,” said David Morgan, president of the Connecticut Head Start Association and director of the Head Start program run by TEAM Inc. in Derby.

“While educating the child they’re also working with the family,” he said, on a wide variety of social, health and job-related issues.

Other Head Start programs around the state, are faced with possible closure as their budget dates approach. Morgan didn’t know Friday how many would have to shut out students on Nov. 1.

The program serves a total of 6,600 students, down from 7,300 before the sequester hit earlier this year, Morgan said. So the political squabble has already cost 700 of the state’s neediest children their lifeline to a better education.

These are the poorest of the poor kids and families,” Morgan said, in which a single mother with one child is ineligible if she makes more than $15,500. “That’s who we just shut the door on.”

So you might think Morgan’s memo to the public, issued Wednesday, would show some anger and vitriol. On the contrary, he struck a note of sadness at the lost services for low-income families, and lost work for Head Start employees, some of whom are struggling themselves.

Click here for the Head Start memo

Morgan closed the memo by writing, “Above all else, we should all be mindful of the effects on our mindset in these extremely unsettling times — let’s be good to one another.”

He added, in an interview, “We’re so busy at the front line working with these families and managing people, we don’t have a lot of time to get political…Everyone knows where the problem is.”

Bravo for that attitude. Most of us couldn’t resist a swipe.

As for asking the state to front the entire bill to keep Bridgeport Head Start open, which would come to about $150,000 a week, that’s not in the plan, Morgan and Ferguson said.

“The state is in trouble too, financially,” Ferguson said.

A Federal Grant With Distasteful Logic

by Categorized: Education, Energy, Health Care, Public finance, Trade Date:

Press releases about federal grants are routine news, but here’s a head-scratcher that came in last week.

Two community colleges in Connecticut — Capital (in Hartford) and Housatonic (in Bridgeport) — will receive a total of $4.5 million to train people in health care, information technology and environmental technologies, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The grants are part of a $475 million set of national payments, which itself is part of a $2 billion, multi-year program to funnel money for “innovative training programs” at community colleges.

The $2 billion is through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which helps workers whose jobs are lost through increased imports or work moving overseas.

Nothing odd in any of that, until we look at the explanation behind the local grants, which my colleague Mara Lee noticed.

Capital and Housatonic are part of a “Northern Resiliency Consortium” of seven community colleges “in four Northeastern states (New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts) that have been devastated by crises and natural catastrophes, including: Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and the Boston Marathon bombings.”

The explanation goes on to say that the community colleges will prepare trade-impacted workers, veterans and others in the three named sectors, which “play a critical role in times of crisis.”
A separate press release said the training could be used for skills in manufacturing, transportation and any science-technology fields.

Huh? Let’s get this straight: Two mass crimes and a weather event created the need for training in a vast range of job sectors?

All told, the seven colleges will receive $23.5 million. This could end up being money well spent, and in fact, U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal participated in an announcement about the grants in Hartford on Monday. The value of the training is not the issue here.

The point is, the hurricane and the two tragedies are utterly unrelated to one another, utterly unrelated to the need to train workers in those fields and utterly unrelated to foreign trade. This is “innovation” gone amok, creative wordplay designed to look nifty as an excuse to spread taxpayer money around.

Invoking Hurricane Sandy is fine.  But invoking Newtown and the Boston Marathon as a reason to train workers in a vast range of unrelated job skills crosses the lines of bad taste.

Egan Reich, a spokesman at the U.S. Department of Labor, was not familiar with the programs because he was filling in for colleagues out on furloughs forced by the sequester when I called Friday. Irony noted. Reich thought about it and said using the crises might have just been a “flourish of language” in the effort to advance needed training.

“Those sectors aren’t being targeted because they play a critical role in times of crisis; they are because they’re growing,” Reich said.

At Capital Community College, John McNamara, director of institutional advancement, said the training will not be so broad, but will focus largely on emergency medical response, cyber-security and other areas whose need was highlighted in the tragedies.

“There’s no intent to exploit the God-awful stuff that has happened, particularly in our state,” he said. “It’s a legitimate effort to use these monies to enhance and upgrade what we do in terms of training for responses to these disasters.”

Good plan, poorly expressed in the consortium’s 256-page grant application. If we need more training, it isn’t because of Newtown. That tragedy should not become a catch-all reason for spending money.

Here’s a better idea: Let’s just hand out $2 billion to community colleges if that’s what we want to do, and stop forcing these resource-strapped institutions to stretch the bounds of logic in distasteful ways.

A New Fund For Yale Start-Up Firms

by Categorized: Economic Development, Education, Technology Date:

Yale students and recent students have launched many companies in recent years, from potential game-changers such as forest-monitoring software developer SilviaTerra and Higher One, the financial services firm for college students, to the distinctly urban cardboard furniture maker, Chairigami.

Now Yale is taking a step to speed up the startups, creating a $2.5 million venture fund along with Connecticut Innovations, the state’s technology investment arm. The YEI Innovation Fund will invest as much as $100,000 in companies that launch through the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, a startup mentoring program at the university that runs a summer fellowship.

The institute’s success is starting to add up, with 75 active companies that have raised $66 million and created 300 jobs. But only 70 of those jobs are in Connecticut, in part because firms must follow the money to Silicon Valley, Boston and New York — a commonly heard refrain among entrepreneurs in this state.

The YEI Innovation Fund, inspired partly by a commitment to enterprise by the new Yale president, Peter Salovey, would be managed by Elm Street Ventures, a New Haven-based fund specializing in life sciences — though it would not be limited to that sector.