Tuesday, November 17, 2015

HSU Students Protest on Behalf of Profs

Posted By on Tue, Nov 17, 2015 at 4:12 PM

Students rallied outside the University Quad. - SUBMITTED
  • Students rallied outside the University Quad.

The Humboldt State University Student Labor Union, a week-old organization, mobilized students to rally in solidarity with the California Faculty Association this afternoon. The rally drew several hundred students to the HSU quad, where they and faculty members spoke about how budget issues have impacted the education of HSU students. The rally mirrored another held by California Faculty Association members outside the California State University Board of Trustees meeting in Long Beach during negotiations today. 

"We're in a listening stage; we're listening for what people want," said Ama Tierney of the Student Labor Union. "Faculty across the CSU are facing a financial crisis. Since the recession happened, they have not gotten a significant raise. Professors are less available: They're getting other jobs to make ends meet. They feel like CSU management has turned their back on them."

Members of the CFA voted overwhelmingly to strike, an action that, according to a letter from HSU President Lisa Rossbacher, will probably not occur this semester.

"I want you to know that the faculty and staff of Humboldt State University are deeply committed to your success," said Rossbacher in letter to students the evening before the rally. "Even if the negotiations become more contentious, I am confident that your faculty members do not want this issue to impact your educational progress."

CFA is advocating for a 5 percent general salary increase. According to its report, HSU has decreased the amount of tenure-track staff by 25 percent over the last 10 years. The percentage of full-time equivalent students who have enrolled in HSU over that period was almost twice the amount of faculty hired, a discrepancy some say has directly impacted students in terms of class size and engagement.

"Classes are getting bigger, there's more workload," said Benjamin Shaeffer, an assistant professor in the HSU Philosophy Department and vice-president of the CFA's HSU chapter. "In my department we have a writing heavy curriculum. It's difficult."

Schaeffer added that although 94 percent of the union members voted to authorize a strike, legally they cannot take action until after the fact-finding process of negotiation, a period whose length is unknown at this time.

"We're hoping to settle before it comes to that," he said, adding that HSU ranks at the bottom of the CSU system for income equality, with only a 1 percent raise in the last 10 years, an amount that is disproportionate to the cost of living. The base salary for HSU's president rose by 29 percent over the same period, and salary for HSU management rose by 42 percent.

From Humboldt State University:

Faculty Association Concerted Activities Update
Dear HSU students:

As you may be aware, the California Faculty Association and the California State University system are in the midst of negotiations about the current faculty contract. These negotiations are conducted at the system-wide level, rather than at the campus level, so the discussions are happening at the Chancellor’s Office in Long Beach, not here at HSU.

Just over a week ago, the California Faculty Association (the collective bargaining agent for the faculty) announced that its membership had voted to authorize its leaders to initiate specific activities, which could include a strike, if no contract agreement can be reached at the bargaining table. The bargaining process is complex, and additional steps are required before any decisions about a strike or other actions will be made. The faculty are not on strike now, so you should not experience any disruption in your classes or exams this semester.

I know that news like this can cause uncertainty about how your studies could be impacted. I want to assure you that this recent vote does not mean that a strike is about to happen – or that one will necessarily happen at all. Additional hearings and negotiations are scheduled for late November and early December. For its part, the CSU has stressed its desire to work through the collective bargaining process and reach a fair agreement.

Most importantly, I want you to know that the faculty and staff of Humboldt State University are deeply committed to your success. Even if the negotiations become more contentious, I am confident that your faculty members do not want this issue to impact your educational progress. In the next few days, you may hear and see reports of rallies at the CSU system office or here at Humboldt State; these events are likely to draw media attention, but they are not part of a strike, and classes will continue to meet.

We will continue to provide updates as additional information becomes available. If you would like more information about the process, the CSU system posts updates at

Sincerely yours,

Lisa A. Rossbacher, Ph.D.


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Sunday, November 15, 2015

HSU Plans to Level the Trinity Annex

Posted By on Sun, Nov 15, 2015 at 1:16 PM

Inside the chapel of the former Trinity Hospital. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Inside the chapel of the former Trinity Hospital.
Humboldt State University is planning to raze the former Trinity Hospital property, which sits on 14th Street between B and C streets and has been mostly abandoned a dozen or so years.

The Lumberjack reports that HSU determined it would be more expensive to restore the annex, and that doing so was a low priority for the university, which has more than $100 million in deferred maintenance on primary academic buildings. The annex was built in 1944 and used as a hospital until Mad River was built in 1972. It housed classes and offices until the early 2000s, but now is just used for some storage. There's no set date for demolition.

The annex isn't on the city of Arcata's online historical building registry, and Associate Vice President of Facilities Management Traci Ferdolage said in an email the university hasn't designated the building historic. She added that university properties are treated differently by the city than other commercial buildings, and said the university has been talking with officials for years about what to do with the annex. 

The Journal featured photos of the annex in the 2013 photo essay "Ruins."

The annex doors facing C Street. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • The annex doors facing C Street.

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

HSU Students Leading In Waste Reduction Program

Posted By on Sat, Nov 14, 2015 at 2:45 PM

HSU Jacks and their mascot Lucky pose with reusable cups. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • HSU Jacks and their mascot Lucky pose with reusable cups.
The rallying cry is "Kill the Cup!" and Humboldt State University students are killing it, literally and metaphorically. The national waste reduction program includes an annual University Challenge which measures how many drinks are served to students in reusable cups at participating coffee shops. Last year's winner, Miami University, measured 5.52 percent participation by students. So how does HSU, one of 16 schools competing nationwide, measure up?

"We were at 35 percent by the second week," says Shohei Morita, education director of HSU's Waste Reduction and Resource Awareness Program (WRRAP). 

Friday was the final day of the competition, and WRRAP spokesperson Meredith Garrett says they are "very confident" of their chances. Results will be announced Dec. 1, and the winning university will earn $5,000 toward the sustainability project of its choice.

WRRAP's endeavors include tabling at the quad, offering reusable cups and free smoothies from a bicycle-powered blender. The HSU Lumberjacks football team also got involved, working with WRRAP to encourage a "zero waste" game day, where attendees received reusable cups and volunteers stood by to encourage recycling and composting. Students were also encouraged to upload photos of themselves with reusable cups to Facebook to boost their chances of winning.  

Morgan King, sustainability and waste coordinator at HSU, says that historically waste reduction on campus has been a "bottom up" effort, with students leading the charge to create a campus recycling program in the 1980s. Since then, the program has been integrated into facilities management and the push to reduce waste has "come from the top" as well. President Lisa Rossbacher, appointed in 2014, has prioritized efforts to create a greener campus, says King.

"It's actually a really exciting time right now," he says. "We continue to see a decline in waste even though we have increased enrollment."

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Friday, November 13, 2015

HSU Prez Calls for Unity, Understanding in Wake of Reported Racial Assault

Posted By on Fri, Nov 13, 2015 at 7:38 PM

Lisa Rossbacher
  • Lisa Rossbacher
Humboldt State University President Lisa Rossbacher sent a campus wide email today denouncing a racially motivated assault against two students that reportedly occurred last Friday night in downtown Arcata.

Rossbacher’s letter states that two black female students were in the downtown area when two unidentified white men in a truck threw a beer bottle at them, spraying them both with beer, before continuing to “taunt, harass and chase them.” The students escaped the situation safely, according to Rossbacher’s letter.

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Anti-Vax Measure Won't See the Ballot

Posted By on Sun, Oct 11, 2015 at 9:21 AM

Efforts to repeal California’s new mandatory vaccination law have failed.

Signed into law in June by Gov. Jerry Brown, the new law requires that all children be vaccinated for a variety of infectious diseases before attending school, closing a long-standing exemption for families that opted not to vaccinate due to religious or personal beliefs. The law has faced a fierce backlash from a parents who fear vaccinating imperils their children’s health or is against their religion, and saw the law as an infringement on their rights. A repeal effort spawned almost immediately.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

HSU Gets Sexual Assault Funding

Posted By on Sun, Sep 20, 2015 at 12:30 PM

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Humboldt State University announced recently that it won a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to reduce sexualized violence on campus. It's part of a $8.5 million nationwide effort at 27 colleges.

The funding will allow the university to expand its Check It program, which the Journal wrote about in February, as well as work with community programs designed to reduce and respond to sexual assault.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sidney Dominitz: 1941-2015

Posted By on Thu, Sep 17, 2015 at 12:27 PM

Sidney Dominitz in Trinidad, the town he called home for 40 years. - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • Sidney Dominitz in Trinidad, the town he called home for 40 years.
Sidney Dominitz, a longtime Humboldt State University journalism lecturer and editor of the Northcoast Environmental Center’s EcoNews, died early Saturday morning of complications from a heart condition. He was 74.

A fixture on the North Coast for roughly 40 years, Dominitz is remembered by friends and colleagues as a man whose sharp wit and warm heart spilled through his editing pen as he improved the work of those around him. A born copy editor, Dominitz devoted nearly three decades of his life to editing the EcoNews, using his mastery of the English language and wealth of newspaper experience to fight for the forests, waterways and wildlife he loved.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Last CAASPP Efforts: How Humboldt Students Scored

Posted By on Thu, Sep 10, 2015 at 10:27 AM

  • stock image

School just started, but test scores are already out in one area — the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP).The test, which measures students' mathematics and English skills, was only implemented spring of this year. How does Humboldt measure up? Not real well.

Over a quarter of students in third through eighth grades do not meet the state standards for English or math. The mathematics number rises to nearly 46 percent of fifth grade students, and a full half of 11th graders. What does that mean? Well, according to the state's website, it means that half of this year's senior class will have to do a lot of catching up if they want to do well in college. Or, as the state's website puts it, these students have "not met the achievement standard and need substantial improvement to demonstrate the knowledge and skills in mathematics needed for likely success in entry-level, credit-bearing college coursework after high school."

But take heart — Humboldt students were on par with students across the state, meaning that if you're grading on a curve, we're pretty okay. The CAASPP website cautions that, since this is the first year the testing has taken place, it's to be used as more of a "starting point," a baseline for future performance. Lori Breyer, school support and accountability coordinator at the Humboldt County Office of Education, said they expected the results to be "a little bit lower, just because this is a brand new test."

The CAASPP, part of new Common Core requirements, is a successor the previously used Statewide Testing and Reporting (STAR) system. One major difference is technology: The days of #2 pencils and bubbles that have to be filled in just so are past. CAASPP testing for English and mathematics takes place online. (Science is still a paper-based test, but an online version is due in 2017.)

Breyer said the CAASPP is an improvement in some respects from the STAR testing.

"What I heard from kids, including my own daughter, is that they had fun with the test," she said. "It's engaging. It's gone away from the paper bubble to an interactive test. It's requiring some skills on how to use a computer. One of the wonderful results is a better emphasis on technology."

Breyer said that the CAASPP test has not had a stifling influence on educational methods.

"I've worked with a number of districts over the summer, their focus is not on test," she said. "The focus is, what are we doing on a daily and a weekly basis? If we're doing a good job there, we know we'll get a good score." 

To see how your district did, click here.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Supreme Court Denies School Contract Case

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2015 at 2:59 PM

The California Supreme Court has denied a Fresno school district’s request to review an appellate court ruling that was strongly critical of its use of no-bid contracts — a ruling that school contractors across the state fear may set a legal precedent that leaves them on the hook to repay millions of dollars in past contracts.

The ruling addressed the topic of newly popular lease-leaseback school construction contracts, which skirt the competitive public bidding process and allow districts to hand-pick the contractors they want to work with. The case and lease-leasebacks — particularly how they both relate to Eureka City Schools’ recent $50 million bond — are detailed in this week’s cover story, which can be found here.

Here’s a quick primer on lease-leasebacks from the story:

Outlined in the state education code, the lease-leaseback arrangement allows a district to lease its property to a contractor for a nominal fee — usually $1 a year. The contractor then finances and builds whatever project the district desires — say a new school — which it then leases back to the district for a monthly fee that covers both the financing and the construction. This allows districts to spread the costs of new building or renovation over decades and, once the final bill is paid off and the term of the lease is up, the property ownership reverts back to the district. But in creating this new funding avenue, the Legislature realized subjecting it to the competitive bidding process could become a nightmare for districts, leaving them to consider too many variables for a low-bid-take-all process to account for. So the Legislature made lease-leaseback construction arrangements exempt from competitive bidding requirements.

Recently, however, districts throughout the state have been using the arrangements specifically to skirt competitive bidding by essentially disguising construction processes that have no contractor-financing element to them as lease-leasebacks. In these cases, the district leases the property to the contractor, who builds out the project, and the district pays off the construction as it’s done using bond revenue. When building is complete, the property reverts back to the districts. But the appellate court said this violates the spirit of the law.

The immediate impact of the ruling is simply that it sends the case — in which a Fresno tax payer challenged Fresno Unified School District’s awarding of a $37 million contract to build a new middle school Harris Construction — back to the superior court that had dismissed it. But the ramifications of the ruling is that there is now case law in California stating two things: that a district’s awarding a contract to a company that previously consulted on the project represents a conflict of interest (akin to a fox guarding the henhouse, according to the plaintiff’s attorney in the case) and that, to be valid, lease-leaseback arrangements need to include both genuine contractor-financing and lease components.

On its face, this interpretation would render scores of contracts throughout the state illegal. Because state law stipulates that a contractor who performed work for a district under an illegal contract can be forced to repay the money gained from said contract, the ruling has caused a sizable stir in education and construction circles, with a host of contractor lobbying firms unsuccessfully launching an 11th hour push to have the Legislature amend state law to retroactively make these contracts legal.

San Diego attorney Kevin Carlin, who represented the plaintiff in the Fresno case, described the situation as follows: “Now that the contractors have been caught with their hand in our schools’ cookie jar, they are asking Sacramento legislators via last-minute gut and amend language that is retroactive to let them keep all the cookies they have taken from our schools under their illegal contracts.”

Carlin hailed the failed lobbying effort and the Supreme Court’s decision as wins for schools, students and taxpayers. Meanwhile, Fresno Unified officials told the Fresno Bee the court’s decision was “unexpected” and that they were huddling with their lawyers to figure out how to proceed. (The Bee story also includes the tidbit that both the FBI and the Fresno County District Attorney's Office have launched investigations into Fresno Unified's handling of the contract.)

In asking the Supreme Court to review the case, Fresno Unified also asked the court to de-publish the appellate court's ruling to prevent it from setting a precedent. That request was also denied.

What this means for Eureka is unclear. District officials have maintained that they crafted their lease-leasebacks — one with Dinsmore Construction for work on the Lincoln campus and another yet-to-be finalized one with DCI Builders for work on Alice Birney — with the Fresno ruling in mind. Carlin, however, reviewed the Dinsmore Construction agreement and said he believes it clearly violates the law.

Read more about the situation in the aforementioned cover story, which also details how Eureka’s school bond campaign is believed to have been the most expensive in county history, raising $68,000. The story also explains that, of the money raised, $67,950 came from 12 businesses, seven of which are currently under contract — or have agreed in principal — with the district to perform Measure-S funded work. Three more have been pre-qualified by the district for future bond work. (See the graphic below for more details.)

Journal attempts to reach Gregg Gardiner, who chaired the Citizens in Support of Eureka City Schools campaign, to ask about exactly how the campaign secured these donations have been unsuccessful. But, we’ll update this post if he gets back to us.


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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Connecting Freshmen to the Klamath

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 1:48 PM

The Klamath River near Ishi Pishi Falls. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • The Klamath River near Ishi Pishi Falls.
A small group of Humboldt State University’s largest-ever freshman class got a VIP-worthy introduction to the county last week through one of the North Coast’s most important resources: the Klamath River.

More than 60 students cut their summer breaks short to head up to Arcata early this year as part of an experimental new program designed to enhance learning and retention rates in HSU’s science programs.

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