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Welcome to the Knowledge Center!

Take a few minutes to explore one of the featured topics below, or check out one of our many HR toolkits, designed with the higher ed workplace in mind. We will continue to add and expand toolkits, so stop by often to see what’s new. And if you have an idea for a toolkit or a resource to recommend, send us an e-mail at

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The NLRB, Adjuncts and Graduate Assistants

In the last few months, there has been a good bit of information in the news about unionization of adjuncts and graduate assistants. Some articles reported successful union elections by both groups; others detail recent NLRB decisions regarding the eligibility of these groups to unionize.

Grad Students: Graduate student unions are primarily located in public universities (a Graduate Student Organizing Committee, affiliated with the United Auto Workers (UAW), is the only graduate employee union recognized by a private university in the U.S.). Whereas state labor laws determine collective bargaining and employee recognition in public universities, the NLRB determines whether graduate students are employees at private universities, the recognition of which will give students collective bargaining rights (currently, graduate students in private universities are not considered employees).

Adjuncts: The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is moving hard and fast to add adjuncts to their roster, organizing at private colleges and universities in several urban areas. The United Steelworkers (USW) is having success unionizing adjuncts in Pennsylvania. UAW took on the organization of academic student employees (ASEs) working at American universities as teaching assistants, research assistants, tutors and graders. As of 2011, UAW represents more student workers than any other union in the U.S. In March 2014, the NLRB, applying for the first time its new standards for weighing whether faculty members can unionize, gave the green light to a union election by contingent faculty members at Seattle University, a private religious institution. Two other Roman Catholic institutions, Manhattan College, in Riverdale, NY, Saint Xavier University, in Chicago, were included in the same NLRB consideration.

On Friday, March 13, the NLRB board endorsed union petitions filed by the UAW on behalf of graduate students at Columbia University and the New School. The union bids had previously been rejected on the basis of a 2004 NLRB decision that graduate teaching assistants at Brown University were primarily students and not employees, and thus could not unionize. In fact, the Board has indicated interest in reviewing and possibly overturning the Brown decision.

Resources and Readings:

CUPA-HR webinar - Will Your Faculty Be Unionized? The NLRB Opens the Door

NLRB Says Adjuncts at Seattle University Can Unionize

Bentley Adjuncts Approve Union Bid in Second Round

Adjuncts at Temple University March for Union

Union Rights at Religious Colleges

NLRB Orders Review of Cases Involving Adjunct Unions at Religious Colleges

Adjunct Job Security Through Tenure Track?

Six Ways to Cultivate Labor Peace With Adjunct Faculty

A New Path for Adjuncts

New Guidance From NLRB Could Pave the Way for More Faculty Organizing on College Campuses

More Routes to TA Unions

Gains for Grad Students at NYU

The ACA’s Cadillac Tax

Starting January 1, 2018, a 40% excise tax, known as the “Cadillac tax,” will be assessed on high-cost, employer-sponsored coverage for health benefits (currently high cost is $10,200 for individual coverage and $27,500 for family coverage). According to the law and the latest IRS interpretation, in addition to the costs of employer-sponsored medical and pharmacy coverage, employers must also include in the calculation of their health benefits flexible spending accounts (including employee and employer contributions), health savings accounts (including employer and employee pre-tax contributions), health reimbursement arrangements, the cost for access to on-site medical clinics, disease or fixed indemnity plans if premiums are paid on a pre-tax basis, and retiree coverage.

The Cadillac tax thresholds are indexed based on general inflation. However, because the cost of healthcare is expected to continue to rise significantly in the coming years and at a higher rate than general inflation, many more plans will hit the tax threshold earlier than originally anticipated when the law was drafted.


The Law – Section 4980I

Guidance Analysis  

Tax Analysis

Congressional Solutions

Impact of Index

ACA Toolkit

Stay Interviews

The high cost of recruiting and training new employees drives HR leaders to look for new ways of bolstering retention rates. One tool that has been gaining momentum in HR and inroads in higher ed HR is the stay interview. Customarily a face-to-face conversation between an allegiant employee and a direct supervisor, stay interviews offer employers the opportunity to gain knowledge and make necessary changes relating to personnel, policies and procedures.

An effective stay interview program will garner employee engagement, assist managers in developing strategies to address concerns that contribute to high attrition rates, and promote shared responsibility between employer and employee to create a positive and productive work environment. The right questions are a fundamental element to fruitful stay interviews. Below are examples of engendering questions for a successful stay interview:

  • What do you enjoy about your work here?
  • If you could change something about your position or work here, what would it be?
  • How do you prefer to receive recognition for a job well done?
  • What skills or talents are being underutilized in your current role?
  • How can we support you?
  • What new skill would you like to learn or what current skill would you like to enhance?
  • What can I do more or less of as your supervisor?
  • What could tempt you to leave your position?


Stay Interview Guide and Action Plan (Gonzaga University)

Engage and Retain Employees (Arizona State University)

Stay Interviews: An Essential Tool for Winning the War to Keep Your Employees (ERE)

11 Great Stay Interview Questions (

How to Conduct Exit and Stay Interviews (Xenium podcast)

Social Media Issues and Policies

While the use of business-related social media on campuses has enhanced communication, led to efficiencies and contributed to the institution’s climate and branding, the individual use of social media in the workplace remains a largely-debated issue. Some argue that individuals accessing Facebook, LinkedIn, personal e-mail and Twitter are less productive and lack focus on work.

Conversely, a study conducted at the University of Melbourne found that employees with access to social networks were actually more productive than employees in companies that block access. There is one relatively new mandate from the NLRB, however, that affects social media policy. On December 11, 2014, the NLRB issued a decision in Purple Communicationsfinding that employees have a right under the National Labor Relations Act to use their employer’s e-mail system for organizing purposes absent a showing by the employer of special circumstances. The decision overruled the Board’s 2007 Registered Guard case, which said employers could prohibit use of e-mail systems as long as they did not do so in a discriminatory manner.

Following are examples of social media policies and guidelines at colleges and universities:

University of Houston

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Vanderbilt University Social Media Manual

University of Colorado-Colorado Springs

University of Kentucky

University of Florida

Rockland Community College

Cornell College


Tips for Creating a Social Media Policy