B-School Calendar Sparks Battle

"Women of UW" B-school project back on shelves, student loan rates post modest increase, a proposal for a new visa category for interns

Team Project Elicits Controversy

A controversial "Women of UW" calendar created by students in a business class at the University of Washington is back on the shelves of the university's independent bookstore after having been pulled several weeks ago.

The 2007-08 academic calendar features photographs of about a dozen female students wearing bikinis, short shorts, and short skirts, along with descriptions of their academic majors, sorority affiliations, and birthdays. It was created by four students in an entrepreneurship class that required them to create a company, develop a product or service, and then sell it for profit, with the assistance of seed money from a class fund. The profit goes back into a fund for the entrepreneurship program.

The student team behind the calendar strove to create a product that highlighted the female models' intellectual and physical attributes, said Zachary Meissner, a senior in the class and chief financial officer of the student company that made the calendar, Heatwave Media. "We didn't do a full swimsuit calendar because we thought it might be too much for a collegiate calendar," Meissner said.

Still, the racy calendar became the focus of a campus controversy shortly after it hit bookstore shelves, with a handful of female students complaining to UW business administrators that the calendar objectified women.

The company had brokered a deal with University Book Store to sell 288 of the calendars at all seven of its stores for $16.95 each. In addition, the product is sold at the company's Web site, www.womenofuw.com, which bills it as a "collector's item," and at a local store, Dawg Den.

UW Business School Dean James Jiambalvo says that because of the manner in which the calendar was originally marketed, some people interpreted it as having the endorsement of the business school, rather than being a class project. "Nothing could be further from the truth," he says.

Bookstore officials pulled the calendar from the shelves in mid-May after an official at the business school asked them to remove any reference to the school or the class in the sign promoting the item, says Bryan Pearce, chief executive officer of the University Book Store. Without the sign, the bookstore could no longer market it as a student product, he says: "We concluded that this changed the nature of the agreement, and we took the calendar off the floor until we could resolve the issue with the business school and students."

During this time, the students and the bookstore became caught in the middle of a local media frenzy, with rumors of censorship being touted as one possible reason the bookstore removed the product. "It was blown way out of proportion," Pearce says.

Students eventually hammered out a deal with the bookstore to create a new sign for the product that met with the approval of the business school. The calendar was placed back on the shelves on May 30, along with a note that specifies that funds from the proceeds of the calendar will go toward the business school's entrepreneurship program and support future business projects.

Meissner estimates that his company will just about break even, having sold only about half of the 1,500 calendars they produced. Still, the lessons he and his teammates learned from the experience are valuable, he says. "The purpose of the class is to get out into the real world and experience doing business as a company."

Student Loan Rates Increase

The interest rate on federally backed student loans will go up slightly next month, posting one of the smallest increases on record.

As of July 1, the interest rate on Stafford loans disbursed on or after July 1, 1988, and before July 1, 2006, that are not in repayment will increase from 6.54% to 6.62%, or just 0.08%. Similarly, repayment-status Stafford loans will increase from 7.14% to 7.22% and PLUS loans will increase from 7.94% to 8.02%. By comparison, interest rates rose last year by 1.8 percentage points.

Loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2006, will retain a fixed interest rate—6.8% for Stafford loans, 7.9% for PLUS loans in the Direct Loan Program, and 8.5% for PLUS loans in the Federal Family Education Loan Program.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) said in a news release that the "increase should be negligible for most borrowers," amounting to about $1 a month for Stafford loan borrowers with $20,000 in debt." (See BusinessWeek.com, Financial Aid.)

While the increases are slight, Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the FinAid Web site, says that students with loans still in the grace period may benefit by consolidating loans before the grace period expires. That would ensure the borrowers a rate of 6.62%, rather than the new, higher repayment interest rate of 7.22%. NASFAA said such a move could save student borrowers up to $700 over 10 years.

Additionally, Kantrowitz says, some lenders even offer to hold borrowers' consolidation applications until their grace periods are nearly up, allowing students to take advantage of their full grace periods rather than cutting them short by consolidating.

Intern Visa Subcategory Proposed

As internships held by international business students gain importance, soon-to-be grads may have an easier time interning at U.S. companies. Under a new State Dept. proposal, students enrolled in accredited international postsecondary institutions may use a new student intern subcategory in the J-1 visa regulations to gain work experience at U.S. businesses. Students would be eligible to intern up to a year in the U.S. while enrolled in an international institution.

Currently, without a specific category in regulations, foreign students on a J-1 visa are still able to hold internships in the U.S. However, the new proposal will enable students to apply specifically into the intern subcategory and bypass unrelated requirements, the State Dept. said.

Still, the proposal may not mean significant changes for foreign applicants, which favor the F-1 student visa, where regulations are considered more flexible. The proposal for the J-1 visa would force students to comply with a two-year foreign residence requirement after their yearlong internship program, which mandates that interns live outside the U.S. on completion of the internship.

That foreign residence requirement is a definite drawback for U.S. companies that would want to retain interns as full-time employees, says Paul Allaire, the international committee chair for the MBA Career Services Council. "Companies do recruitment-oriented internships and try out the students with the internship."

For that reason, Allaire says, employers will still favor the F-1 visa, which can lead to continued U.S. employment. "Many employers see the J-1 students as pretty limited."

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.