Summertime and the livin’ is busy

Although it’s a mistaken belief that most professors have “summers off,” the welcomed flexibility of the job is especially present during this time of the year. For those of us with active programs of scholarship, the summer months typically yield the biggest chunks of concentrated time to engage in research and writing.

I’m working on a couple of writing projects this summer, including a law review article that expands upon my ideas about the linkages between theory, research, and social action, informed considerably by my ongoing work on workplace bullying, worker dignity, and unpaid internships. I’ve also got several out-of-town speaking appearances.

In addition, I’m completing an in-depth training course in personal and organizational coaching, the benefits of which will complement the work I’ve been doing on employee relations from a law & policy angle. I’ll have more to say about this during the months to come.

Consequently, I may be blogging slightly less often this summer, perhaps one or two times a week rather than the two to four posts that are my norm.

A post with “Summertime” in the title is an easy excuse to serve up that George Gershwin classic, so here’s an incredible Ella Fitzgerald rendition that’s worth a few soothing minutes of your day.

Exorbitant student loan debt: The biggest “duh” crisis ever?

Natalie Kitroeff reports for the New York Times on the impact of student loan debt on the ability of graduates to rent or buy real estate in New York City:

For young people, moving to New York City hasn’t made much mathematical sense for decades. The jobs don’t pay enough, the internships don’t pay at all, and the rents are prohibitive by any sane standard.

But now add a new economic fact of life to that list: soaring student loan debt. More students are taking out bigger loans than ever before, and in the last 10 years alone, education debt tripled, reaching over $1 trillion. A record number of college students are graduating knee deep in a financial hole before they begin their adult lives.

She adds that some big-name economists are weighing in on the broader implications for the economy:

Economists are worried. Last month, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said that student loan debt was taking the life out of the housing recovery, and the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz called the rising debt “an educational crisis” that is “affecting our potential future growth.”

I’m not criticizing the article — a good piece that includes profiles of recent graduates struggling with NYC’s real estate market and their student loan payments — when I say this:

We are at least two decades late in labeling the student loan debt situation a “crisis.”

Today, you’ll find plenty of news and commentary covering the student loan debt crisis. Elected officials are considering policy options as well. But the problem was in the making years ago, and the implications were clear to anyone who was paying attention.

In the 1980s, tuition levels began to soar above the rate of inflation, while grants and scholarships gave way to student loans as the primary form of financial aid, often at high interest rates. These trends continued largely unabated through the current economic meltdown.

Yeah, I take this one a bit personally. Over the years I’ve experienced a lot of eye rolls and sighs in faculty meetings when I’ve warned about a looming crisis in student loan debt and the role of legal education in stoking it. I’ve also been vocal on the impact of heavy debt on graduates who want to enter public service.

As with most overlooked crises, so much of the damage already has been done, placed on the shoulders of heavily indebted graduates. We’d better act quickly and meaningfully if we want to stop this one from getting even worse.

Tennessee directs commission to develop workplace anti-bullying policy for state’s public employers

Bill signing ceremony with TN Gov. Haslam (Photo: Rep. Parkinson's Office)

Bill signing ceremony with TN Gov. Haslam, with sponsor Rep. Parkinson in gray suit on the left (Photo: Rep. Parkinson’s Office)

Tennessee has enacted legislation directing a state commission to develop a model workplace anti-bullying policy for use by public employers within the state. Here’s a brief summary from the Healthy Workplace Bill national campaign website:

Public sector agencies (all branches of state, county, metropolitan and municipal governments) are given an incentive to adopt the model policy to prevent abusive conduct in the workplace, which will be created before March 1, 2015 by TACIR, the Tennessee advisory commission on intergovernmental relations. Alternately, government employers may create their own policy if it (1) assists employers in recognizing and responding to abusive conduct, and (2) prevents retaliation against any reporting employee.

State Representative Antonio Parkinson, joined by State Senator Jim Kyle, were lead sponsors of the legislation, which originally was filed as a more comprehensive bill including most elements of the prototype Healthy Workplace Bill. I appreciate the productive discussions that Rep. Parkinson held with Gary Namie (Workplace Bullying Institute) and me about the legislation, and while the final result is not as substantial as the original bill, it exemplifies the growing recognition that law and public policy must respond to bullying in the workplace.

Here’s what Dr. Namie said about the legislation and Rep. Parkinson’s work:

We praise passage of Rep. Parkinson’s bill, making Tennessee the first state to acknowledge the dangers of abusive mistreatment of public employees — state agencies to municipalities — by taking the policy-driven approach adopted by a growing list of local ordinances throughout the country. During his consultations with us, he proved to be a true champion for working people.

I’ll have more to report about this legislation and related developments in a future post.


Related post

Georgia’s Fulton County draws from Healthy Workplace Bill in adopting anti-bullying policy (2012)

APA on health insurance and Mental Health Parity Law

The American Psychological Association has put together a brief video (click above) and resource page about the Mental Health Parity Law, which requires coverage for mental health treatment to be at least as comprehensive as treatment for physical conditions. From the APA’s resource page:

Mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States. . . . Yet, an overwhelming majority of Americans remain unaware that health insurers are required to provide coverage for mental health, behavioral health and substance-use disorders that is comparable to coverage for physical health.

. . . (O)nly four percent of Americans say they are aware of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which requires mental and behavioral health coverage to be equal to or better than coverage for physical health, with no annual limits or higher co-pays or deductibles for treatment of mental health disorders or substance-use. The law applies to most employer-provided health plans and to individual plans purchased through the new state and federal health insurance exchanges.

Especially for readers of this blog who are experiencing negative mental health consequences due to their work environments, this information may be helpful.

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