FROM OUR ESSAYS
By Mark Bauerlein
The problem is stated bluntly in this report from the American Association of Community Colleges, entitled, "Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation's Future." The report contains an overly-dramatic framing, with dire assertions such as this opening in the Executive Summary: "The American Dream is imperiled. Upward mobility, the contract between one generation of Americans and the rest, is under siege." But the basis for the report is undeniable. A section on "Student Success" notes that only 46 percent of community college students pursuing a degree or certificate earn one, transfer to a four-year college, or are still enrolled after six years. Worse, "Nearly half of all community college students entering in the fall term drop out before the second fall term begins."
Continue reading "The Community Colleges:
High Promise, High Drop-Out Rates" »
By Mark Bauerlein
On most any college campus, first-year courses with more than a few dozen students have a high proportion of bored, disaffected, and/or uncertain students. Sometimes they feel that way because course materials just don't excite them, or because they don't seem relevant to their backgrounds and futures. But another reason is that neither the pace of the course nor the style of the instructor fits their capacities. Some students need the course to move more quickly, others more slowly, and some can't communicate with the teacher while others communicate too much, asking irrelevant questions and interrupting the presentation.
The solution begins with this: instead of asking 35 students to
squeeze into the schedule of the semester and jibe with the manner of
teachers who are often harried and unhappy, customize instruction to
each enrollee. Therein lies the great advantage of digital tools in
higher education, and it's being implemented best by Western Governors
University, the nonprofit online school founded by the governors of 19
U.S. states. WGU has enjoyed tremendous success in recent years (as
detailed in this profile by John Gravois in Washington Monthly
a few months ago). At WGU, students are able to enroll and work on
their own schedule, one that accords with other demands (family, work,
etc.) and adapts to the skills and knowledge they bring to the courses.
Continue reading "What "Western Governors" Does Well" »
By Charlotte Allen
Are the 234,000 students enrolled in the massive University of California system receiving an education or a re-education?
It's the latter--or something fairly close--according to "A Crisis of Competence," a report just released by the California Association of Scholars (CAS), the Golden State affiliate of the National Association of Scholars. The devastating 87-page report addressed to UC's Board of Regents, concludes that leftist political indoctrination represents a significant portion of the curriculum at the nine UC campuses that admit undergraduates. Here are some major points:
-- UC-Santa Cruz offers no fewer than five introductory courses devoted
exclusively to the thinking of Karl Marx. You can take a basic course on
Marx in the politics, sociology, community studies, legal studies, or
history of consciousness departments--or if, you wish, take all five
courses simultaneously in all five departments, several of which also
offer advanced courses on Marx's works. "Adolescent Marxist nostalgia
still evidently reigns on campus and impedes a return to reality--but
where are the adults who might be pointing out that it is time to grow
up and move on to thinkers who have been able to withstand the test of
time and to remain more relevant to modern life?" the report asks.
Continue reading "The Radicalization of the University of California" »
By Mary Grabar
When charges of doctrinaire Marxism are leveled against professors, the standard procedure is to charge the accusers with misinterpretation---they just can't understand the subtleties of the literary and philosophical profundities being dispensed. In English departments these theories have touched deconstruction, new historicism, post-colonialism, gender studies, disability studies, etc. Most in the field--promoters and detractors alike--know that these theories have roots in Marxism. For those of us alarmed by the politicization of literary studies, it's a difficult message to get out to the world because the cloud of academic verbiage obscures the real sources and aims of such theories.
But when announcements for a world literature conference begin with a long quotation from The Communist Manifesto and a co-director approvingly quotes the left's most popular dead Stalinist, Che Guevara, the aim became clear: the conference wasn't really going to be about literature. The first International World Literature Conference at Kennesaw State University in suburban Cobb County, Georgia, on March 16, announced the purpose of the conference in the call for papers and on the English Department's website with the quotation that reads in part, "The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. . . .The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature."
Continue reading "Rallying Around Che at a 'Literary' Conference" »
By Mary Grabar
Freshman composition class at many colleges is propaganda time, with textbooks conferring early sainthood on President Obama and lavishing attention on writers of the far left--Howard Zinn, Christopher Hedges, Peter Singer and Barbara Ehrenreich, for instance--but rarely on moderates, let alone anyone right of center. Democrats do very well in these books, but Abraham Lincoln--when included--is generally the most recent Republican featured.
Take The Norton Reader, for instance. Someone sent it to me,
presumably because I teach freshman composition myself. Much of the
volume is made up of popular writing by ideological writers of the left
and political speeches that strain the traditional standards of
rhetorical worthiness. Among the latter is the instant classic, Barack
Obama's "A New Beginning" speech delivered in Cairo in 2009. It drew
quite a bit of criticism, especially over historical inaccuracies. Yet
none of this was mentioned. Topic questions were also embedded to
trigger predetermined responses from students.
Lincoln, King and Obama
Continue reading "The Terrible Textbooks of Freshman Comp" »
By Steve Kogan
"We can only lean on what offers resistance." So writes the historian Oswald Spengler in The Hour of Decision (1934). Seven years later, Simone Weil incorporated this principle in her declaration that the key to academic studies is an undivided focus on each particular subject at hand, with no concessions to the student's aptitude or preferences.
Weil's term for this effort of mind is attention, which she refers to no less than thirty-eight times in her brief but remarkable essay, "Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God." Comparable repetitions fill the pages of our education establishment, with the crucial difference that it traffics in catch-words that are deployed with all the insistence of a propaganda campaign, such as "self-esteem," "progressive," and "multicultural," whereas "attention" speaks to the actual process of intellectual discipline and throughout Weil's essay remains a real tool of perception.
No such grounding in the life of the mind is possible in what Heather Mac Donald calls academic "Theorese," which serves to inhibit thought through a smokescreen of abstractions and stilted, sterile prose, behind which the big guns of "Theory" take aim at time-tested principles of knowledge and learning and seek to deconstruct, "problematize," or otherwise subvert standard norms of thought and education. For three decades or more, the very concepts of objectivity, correctness, coherence, and logic have been the object of "radical critique," particularly in the field of college composition, which has been targeted for special abuse, since it is the gateway to the entire curriculum, science included.
Continue reading "Simone Weil and the Condition of Schooling Today" »
By Robert C. Koons
The cost of higher education in America spirals out of control. Tuition and fees have increased fourfold in real terms in the last two decades, far outstripping the rise in the cost of medical care. At the same time, the quality of instruction plummets, thanks to declining standards, grade inflation, and the hollowing out of the traditional curriculum through the over-specializing of the faculty and the privileging of abstruse publication over skill in teaching. In a recent book (Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses), Arum and Roksa document the decline in student effort and results. At present, things look rosy, with the perceived benefits of a college degree still exceeding its perceived costs. The higher ed establishment encourages students to overestimate the value added by a college degree (the supposed $1 million earning premium, created by confusing correlation with causation), while students significantly underestimate the real costs of the crushing load of student debt they accumulate. In the long run, perceptions will catch up with reality, resulting in a precipitous drop in demand. All of this fully justifies talk of a "higher education bubble," soon to burst with catastrophic results.
Those of us who care about higher education are looking for solutions that will dramatically lower costs to students and taxpayers, while improving the quality of instruction. Unfortunately, most proposals for reform take the form of top-down, bureaucratic measures, attempting to re-allocate resources from 'research' to 'teaching' (the basic thrust of Jeff Sandefer's "Seven Breakthrough Solutions"). Although well intended, such proposals are doomed to fail. One cannot solve problems created by arteriosclerotic bureaucracy simply by adding more layers of bureaucracy. The only solution is to bring market-oriented solutions - competition and entrepreneurship-- to bear. One vehicle for doing so is the counterpart of the very successful charter schools movement: the creation within state university campuses of charter colleges.
Continue reading "Charter Colleges: A Market-Based Solution " »
By Mary Grabar
English professors have long been straying far afield from literary studies, expanding into women's studies, disability studies, ethnic studies, even fat studies. Recently they have migrated into animal studies.
An ambitious professor might be working on a paper for "Cultivating Human-Animal Relations Through Poetic Form,." a panel scheduled for the November South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA) meeting. She may have been inspired by the quotation by Alice Walker that opens the panel description: "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men."
Continue reading "Literature Professors Discover Animals" »
By Charlotte Allen
It's a constant skirmish between donors seeking to fund specific scholarly projects at universities and the universities' administrators, who would typically like to see as much of that money as possible go to "unrestricted" uses--that is, whatever the administrators, not the donors, deem the best use of the funds. And nowadays, with universities' endowment values falling during the current recession, "best use of the money" can often mean covering deficits in the universities' general operating budgets, deficits sometimes occasioned by wasteful spending on grandiose campus construction projects or--even worse in the eyes of some donors--ideological projects such as "diversity" and "sustainability" offices only marginally connected to the delivery of higher education.
Hence the recent and increasingly widespread phenomenon of the "levy"--a rake-off by administrators of a percentage of the income from endowed programs and endowed professor's chairs, ostensibly to cover overhead and other "associated program costs," as universities call them, but in fact a bit of naked budget-balancing. Such was the case in late May, when top administrators of Dartmouth College announced that it planned to increase, as of the fiscal year that began July 1, the percentage of its levy from 14.29 percent to 19.1 percent. Dartmouth administrators announced that the nearly 33 percent levy hike would raise $2 million that would have previously gone to endowment recipients but now would help close Dartmouth's $100 million budget deficit.
Continue reading "Dartmouth Foils Its Donors" »
By Herbert London
In Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz the Wizard says he wants an educated populace, "so by the power vested in me I will grant everyone diplomas." Welcome to the education system of 2011. Much of what we now observe comes right out of the Baum novel.
When Charles Eliot was president of Harvard, he was asked why there is so much intelligence at this college, He replied, "because the freshmen bring so much in and the seniors take so little out." My guess is if a university president were completely honest today, he might say the freshman bring almost nothing in and leave by taking nothing out.
The question is, if the society spends billions on primary, secondary and higher education, why is so little accomplished? There are many answers to this question, of course, but I would argue the overarching reason is fraud, fraud at every level in order to satisfy political demands.
Continue reading "Fraud Up and Down Our Educational System" »
By Jonathan B. Imber
In 2008, when all the writing was on the wall but the wall was still believed to be surmountable, the various strategies to rescue the nation were largely about putting more money into the economy. Now, up against the wall, the strategy is about taking it out. That counter-movement has begun to reveal a few things that strike us all as very unpleasant, regardless of which political side we may take. Because public and private universities are beholden to very different kinds of constituencies, it is particularly painful to watch, for example, as Harvard recovers from its losses with cuts that are more akin to losing a little weight than losing a limb, while at the same time such public universities as the University of Las Vegas at Nevada struggle with whether to retain some departments in the liberal arts, including philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and women's studies.
It is easy to see how a triumphal politics on the left or the right can weigh in on all this. In Harvard's case, it has been more publicly embarrassing than fiscally consequential that some of its more ambitious programs have had to be scaled back or delayed, including a large development project in the sciences in nearby Allston. But Lawrence Summers, who has returned to Harvard after his stint in the Obama administration, is now feted in the pages of The Boston Globe as a popular and inspiring teacher. This follows his earlier departure as President of Harvard for making remarks confirming that no university administrator should ever risk high position for the sake of personal integrity and candor.
Continue reading "A Minor Cut at Harvard Is an Amputation at UNLV" »
By Mary Grabar
It's rare that poetry explications are done on Fox News, but guests weighed in on the depth of meaning in a line like "burn a [George W.] Bush for peace" and a panegyric to convicted cop-killer and Black Panther Assata Shakur with "May God bless your soul." The "poet" in question was the rapper Common, invited to the White House on May 11 for workshops and readings, along with Rita Dove, Billy Collins, and others. Those on the left trotted out the usual defenses, citing poetry's "purpose" (to "challenge us"), free speech, and a subtlety to the poetry that right-wing critics just are too dense to understand. The White House, of course, cautioned against taking a few objectionable lines out of context and stressed Common's charitable organization (Common Ground enjoys the advice of Cornel West on its council). Some commentators pointed to his appearance on Sesame Street, which airs on publicly supported television stations. Overall, critics were treated like unsophisticated rubes incapable of appreciating the subtlety and depth of his poetry.
But critics wouldn't have been as shocked by the invitation had they known that the often-vile doggerel known as rap enjoys a privileged place in the academy. Syracuse University has offered "Hip-Hop Eshu: Queen Bitch 101" through its English and Textual Studies department; the University of California, Irvine, has offered "Hip-Hop Culture" through African-American Studies; and the University of Washington has offered "2Pac," in Comparative History of Ideas, where students interviewed former Black Panthers, and wrote and performed their own rhymes. While some professors like Harvard's Cornel West have turned away from their academic training to produce rap recordings, some universities are inviting rappers off the stage. At Rice University this spring, rapper Bun B, who wrote "Pop It 4 Pimp," taught Religion and Hip-Hop. At Duke, producer 9th Wonder taught courses on the history of hip-hop. Smith College hosted Dessa from an "underground collective" as artist-in-residence. A 2007 campus publication described Berkeley's hip-hop studies group, represented by departments of education, sociology, African-American studies, and law. Not only do members seek to share scholarship in the field, but some hope to establish formal hip-hop studies programs.
While rap music has long been embraced for its sociological value as a lens into the underclass, of late the genre has been embraced for its purported literary and rhetorical value. This year Yale University Press released an 867-page Anthology of Rap. Classroom use of rap came up at last month's annual meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Atlanta (CCCC). Texas A & M graduate teaching assistant Marcos Del Hierro showed videos for classroom use, in a session that according to the conference program was intended to "interrogate the racist rhetoric of SB1070" (the Arizona statute requiring compliance with federal immigration laws within the state). The session was intended to "assess the potential for digital, visual, aural, material, and embodied protestrhetorics to contribute to a revolution."
Continue reading "Rap in the White House, Rap in the Schools" »
By Robert Weissberg
Let's face it, our noble efforts to detoxify today's PC-infected university have largely failed and the future looks bleak. This is not to say that the problem is incurable--though it is--but it calls for a solution different from the current approach. Here's how.
Begin by recognizing that all our proposed cures impose heavy burdens on foes. For example, demanding an ideologically balanced faculty means fewer positions for PC zealots to fill. Asking them to abandon anti-Americanism requires revising lectures and reading assignment, no small task for those working 24/7 for social justice. And the assignment may be beyond their intellectual abilities. Why should tenured radicals surrender life-time employment to prevent professorial abuses? In a nutshell, our side insists on painful reform from within, all of which have zero benefits to the PC crowd. Victory requires measures that appear as net benefits, not bitter medicine.
My solution arrived one day in a casual conversation with a fellow political scientist. He recounted that when his university initially proposed a separate Department of Women's Studies, the faculty objected. Resistance was futile, however, and the separate department came to pass. There was, however, a silver lining in the defeat--with all the department's strident feminists exported to an autonomous homeland, intellectual life suddenly improved dramatically. No more silly quarrels about inserting gender into international relations, no more struggles over subtly-hidden, invisible sexism and so on. Civility and reason reigned.
Continue reading "Quarantining the PC Pathology" »
By Perry L. Glanzer
"But when humanism became the servant of the political or university establishment it lost its vitality and, indeed, its credibility...
Willem Frijhoff discussing 16th century humanism in
A History of the University, Vol. II (Cambridge U Press), p. 45
The crisis of the humanities officially arrived on October 1, 2010. At least this is what Stanley Fish claims in the <em>New York Times</em>. The fact that SUNY Albany's president announced the demise of the university's French, Italian, classics, Russian, and theatre programs on this date hardly appears to be a significant omen, but Fish believes this event possesses deeper symbolic importance. It represents the empirical reality that numerous scholars have already observed: the humanities are withering away in higher education.
What will revive them? As a consistent postmodernist, Fish suggests politics should be the answer, by which he means "the political efforts of senior academic administrators to explain and defend the core enterprise to those constituencies---legislatures, boards of trustees, alumni, parents and others---that have either let bad educational things happen or have actively connived in them." In a follow-up column Fish specifies that this political solution also includes begging the state to provide more money for the humanities.
Continue reading "Politics and the Demise of the Humanities" »
By J. M. Anderson
I haven't read Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, and frankly, I'm not sure that I want to. Having had high expectations of other widely touted books on higher education---most recently, Hacker and Dreifus's Higher Education?, Martha Nussbaum's Not For Profit, Mark Taylor's Crisis on Campus---and having been sadly disappointed after reading them, I'm afraid that reading this book will be an instance of history repeating itself. Besides, after listening to a great deal of the chatter that it's generated, I keep asking myself, "What's new?"
In his fascinating book, Weapons of Mass Instruction (2009), John Taylor Gatto cites a 2006 study conducted by the University of Connecticut that affirmed that college students weren't learning the things they were supposed to be learning. Having surveyed 14,000 students at fifty intuitions in five academic areas, the study showed that at sixteen of the fifty schools---including Yale, Brown, and Georgetown---negative intellectual growth (meaning that seniors knew less than freshman) had actually occurred among undergraduates. In thirty-four of the fifty schools, no discernable change occurred. This prompted Gatto to write: "after spending an average of six years in search of a BA degree or its equivalent, and spending an average of a quarter million in cash and loans, a great many young people had nothing or even less than nothing to show for the investment."
In the American Scholar (Summer 2008), former Yale professor William Deresiewicz already warned us that even the elite institutions, which used to be the bastions of higher education, have been slouching "toward a glorified form of vocational training" and increasingly graduating more educated ignoramuses. Will another book on the failings of higher education deter students from going to ivy-league schools, even though they will be no better off after graduating than the 35 percent of first-year community college students who don't return for their second year, or the 33 percent of students at four-year institutions who don't complete a bachelor's degree within six years of enrolling, or even those who never step foot in an ivory tower? (Source: A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education, 2006.)
Continue reading "Students 'Adrift'? Don't Blame Them" »
By Kevin Carey
Neither liberals nor conservatives take the education part of higher education very seriously. Instead, college gets used as an arena for special interest promotion and ideological dispute. The right publishes lists of "The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America" while fulminating about post-modernism and the hedonist student culture. The left pours endless billions of taxpayer dollars into student financial aid programs without holding anyone accountable (or at least not traditional non-profit colleges) for how that money is spent. Everyone is simultaneously horrified and entertained by college sports.
This happens in large part because everyone assumes that the core business of higher education doesn't require much scrutiny. Our K-12 schools may be mediocre, but we all know our colleges are the best in the world. Just ask them!
Now Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's landmark study, Academically Adrift, has blown a gaping hole in the wall of assumed competence that has long shielded colleges and universities from criticism. The warranty that accompanies the college degree--that students have undergone a rigorous course of study and emerged ready to tackle the challenges of the workplace and further education--turns out to be, in many cases, a fraud.
During their four years of college, 36 percent of students studied made no progress at all on the most widely-used measure of collegiate critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and written communication skills. The average gain was less than half of one standard deviation. Results for minority students and those from academically disadvantaged backgrounds were even worse.
The list of culprits is long: Poor preparation, lax accreditation standards, faculty incentives that privilege scholarship over teaching, a low equilibrium of mutual expectation where professors ask students to do little and provide little in exchange. The modern university has evolved haphazardly over time to accommodate a huge variety of interests, functions, and concerns. Somewhere along the way, the core business of educating undergraduates faded from view.
But this learning-deficient ecosystem only persists because there is little or no outside pressure to become otherwise. Contrast this with the vigorous national conversation about elementary and secondary education. A whole constellation of organizations from across the ideological spectrum exist to analyze, criticize, and improve schooling for children. Many disagree, often stridently, about the necessary means, with perspectives ranging from big government regulation to wholesale privatization and many points in between. But they all begin from the same underlying premise: too many American K-12 students are failing to learn.
Continue reading "The Book That Shook the Campuses" »
By Jonathan B. Imber
Teaching periodically reaches the public's attention, as in a recent statement by a group of scientists about the failure of research universities to train their students to be good teachers. The New York Times ran a report on a study published in Science that led its lead researcher to contend: "I think that learning is all about retrieving, all about reconstructing our knowledge," said the lead author, Jeffrey Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychology at Purdue University. "I think that we're tapping into something fundamental about how the mind works when we talk about retrieval." This undoubtedly prompts teachers to feel more pressed to teach "to the brain." Is learning finally "all about retrieving"? And the veiled acknowledgment that students might fare better by being tested more regularly, a staple of language learning, for example, can now be imagined as one more panacea for our cultural ADD. I do not think Professor Karpicke and his associates are off-base, I think they are tinkerers at the base of a vast cultural inheritance of teaching and learning that deserves its own acknowledgment.
When my graduate advisor, Philip Rieff wrote Fellow Teachers, which began as a lecture/conversation he conducted at Skidmore College in the early 1970s, few were prepared to read about the vocation of teaching---not about how to teach. The latter has become the ball and chain wrapped around the ankles of so many teachers. No reputable institution of higher education today is without a teaching and learning center. (Curiously at my own institution, it is called the Learning and Teaching Center, suggesting that many carts (i.e. students) are entitled to go before the horse in keeping with a consumer-driven logic that drives up the cost of everything.) Fellow Teachers marked an important point of departure in the culture wars that spread throughout many institutions, first in the American university. It had been preceded a year or so by Robert Nisbet's equally important The Degradation of the Academic Dogma. Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind upped the ante considerably, by then, already fifteen years later, but also by then, the arguments had assumed a life of their own far beyond the university as they do today.
I do not mean to disparage the craft of teaching. The Socratic Method, for example, is intended to engage students effectively in a public setting, insisting that they learn how to think on their feet. A film illustration of this made Orson Welles's early collaborator, John Houseman, the cultural icon of teaching as Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase. The film celebrated the autocratic, distant figure in authority who could drill and humiliate while teaching the law. The film's final scene marked, however inadvertently, the end of that kind of figure. Kingsfield's best student folds his final grade report into a paper airplane and sends it into the sea without opening it. For him the encounter with such an inspiring teacher counted more than the final grade. What more needs to be said today about how much has changed?
Continue reading "What Else Do Professors Do? They Teach." »
By Mary Grabar
What a different scene at Columbia University in the last month of 2010 from the glory days of the 1960s, when student radicals took over the campus! On December 13th, mild-mannered students with pleasant smiles nodded in agreement with establishment politicians and political strategists at the "No Labels" conference. As political analysts have pointed out, the repeated pleading for "bipartisanship" and for moving not "left or right" but "forward" was an attempt to obscure the losing message of Democrats and nervous Republicans in the 2010 elections.
But the phrases of "moving forward" and "compromise" were refrains in a song familiar to more than 300 college students from across the country gathered on campus. At the microphone, these students demonstrated their docile acceptance of the "no labels" pedagogy of "consensus-building," "conflict resolution," and "civil discourse." When explaining "why" they were there, they echoed the words of the organizers and said they were tired of "hyper-partisanship." Then they "pledged" to "speak out against this hyper-partisanship" because "a win for one party is not necessarily a loss for another party." Sometimes making their statements with the timorous inflection of a question mark at the end, they raised---for some observers, at least-- the issue of intellectual decline, and spiritual and psychological decline as well.
Like many of my college students, these students displayed a reluctance to declare anyone--or any idea--a "winner." The notion of there being a losing side, whether in wiffle ball or a mock UN debate, has in effect been outlawed over the last few decades. In part this numb recessiveness is the work of campus "mommies," freshman composition teachers who instruct their classes to shy away from assertion and real debate.
Freshman composition was once known for teaching young adults how to defend a conviction with logic and evidence. Feminists saw the inherently competitive nature of this enterprise, and sought to replace it with the "maternal presence in the classroom," an Orwellian term in circulation at the University of Georgia in the 1990s, where I taught as a graduate teaching assistant. At the time, the English department, known as the last hold-out from the pernicious influence of the various schools of postmodernism, was being taken over by feminists who sought to root out the patriarchy in all its manifestations---including the freshman essay. The "maternal presence" trickled down into our annual fall orientation sessions where we were directed to implement the new strategies as "facilitators."
Continue reading "No Labels = No Thinking, and No Fighting for Principles Either" »
By Charlotte Allen
What if all college professors were forced to be higher-education entrepreneurs, with salaries pegged to the number of students they attract to their classes? That's the model recently proposed by a Texas professor who styled himself "Publius Audax" on a Pajamas Media blog. Publius launched his proposal, he wrote, as the solution to a projected $25 billion budget shortfall over the next two years that is likely to hit the Texas higher education hard. Publius' argument is that his "entrepreneurial professor model," when coupled with other reforms would "harness the power and efficiency of the market" to make public higher education cheaper and better. The other reforms include abolishing tenure, eliminating state subsidies to public campuses, getting rid of "core curricula" (which nowadays are nothing more than pointless distribution requirements, and allowing private "charter colleges" (both nonprofit and for-profit) onto public campuses in order to provide more competition.
Hmm, my own undergraduate alma mater was founded by a highly successful entrepreneur, the railroad baron Leland Stanford. What if college professors were more like Leland Stanford and less like the brilliant but economically illiterate head-in-the-clouds types who taught at Stanford when I went there?
Here is how Publius' entrepreneurial professor model would work: All professors and lecturers would receive a base "living wage" of $30,000 plus benefits. Beyond that it would be up to the professors themselves to generate a "tuition-based bonus" for themselves consisting of 50 percent of the tuition income generated by students enrolled in their classes, "up to a maximum of 320 students (960 student hours)." All instructors would be allowed to teach up to eight classes a year. In order to gin up the price competition further, professors, department heads, and even entire colleges could offer tuition rebates to students, the money to come out of the professors' salary bonuses. Professors with ultra-large classes could hire teaching assistants---but the money would again have to come out of their salary bonuses. And to ensure that professors wouldn't game the system by handing out easy A's to all comers, there would be a strict grading curve. No more than 15 percent of students in any given class could receive an A-grade, and another 15 percent would have to either flunk or receive a D. Professors whose grades deviated from the curve would lose their bonus for every student whose grade exceeded the curve. This would not only keep the professors in line, Publius argues, but would "transform the campus culture, replacing partying with studying" as students scrambled to stay out of the bottom of the class.
Continue reading "Every Professor an Entrepeneur?" »
By Jonathan B. Imber
One consistent challenge in teaching is remembering how little students really know and how much they think they know. This is not a putdown of students. On the contrary, it is a celebration of optimism in the best sense of the word, the same optimism that was supposed to have inspired Winston Churchill to observe: "Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains." Apparently Churchill may have never said this, the original formulation about youth and optimism, and age and realism, being attributed to one of Alexis de Tocqueville's mentors, the historian and political intellectual, Francois Guizot (1787-1874) who concluded that "Not to be a republican at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head." French Premier Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929), is said to have restated Guizot's aphorism: "Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head."
I cannot verify any of these aphorisms attributed to these important figures, but in one way it does not matter because all three speak to a common wisdom about youth and maturity with which most are familiar both in theory and in practice. One of the first lessons of conservatism is to observe how so much of what is familiar to us is not learned in school but rather in growing up in the worlds we live in day to day. Teaching students about the great intellectual tradition of conservatism in a liberal arts college in the northeast has been a personal and pedagogic mission for me for the past decade. If you ask me whether I am "a conservative" or whether I am "conservative" I will insist on at least an hour to explain myself. I ask students whether or not it matters that I profess a conviction about being conservative or being a conservative in order to understand conservatism. By professing to be conservative, does it mean that you automatically assume to know my opinions on everything from abortion to welfare policy, if I even have such opinions? Does it mean my teaching of the subject must inevitably be "biased," a term that has been wielded by both left and right against each other?
Or does it mean that I have a fiduciary responsibility, as a teacher, to present as best I can what those who profess to be conservative understand by that idea? Does it mean that you may learn something less about me than through me about what conservatism professes and how conservatives think? The first day of class I explain that I am a registered Republican (which remains an astonishing confession to more than a few of my colleagues), and I emphasize that my political opinions have been deeply informed by what I read. I tell the students that they have arrived in my classroom not to be turned into conservatives but to understand the relationship between their already developing convictions and what they read. If those convictions are "conservative" or "liberal" my aim is to strengthen both. Whether or not I believe conservatism is superior to liberalism or liberalism to conservatism, the second lesson to remember in my classroom is that disagreement is a good thing, especially when it is founded on principles and facts, neither of which points us always in the same direction in any sure way.
Continue reading "On Teaching Conservatism" »
By Russell K. Nieli
Older readers know how the leading American universities, which had risen to world-class status by the 1930s and 1940s, were upended by the traumatic campus events of the late 1960s and their aftermath. Riots and boycotts by student radicals, the decline in core curriculum requirements, the loss of nerve by university presidents and administrators, galloping grade inflation, together with the influence on research and learning of such radical campus ideological fads as Marxism, deconstructionism, and radical feminism all contributed to the declining quality of America's best institutions from what they had been in the middle years of the 20th century.
Added to these 60s-era trends (some of which have mercifully waned) came two further developments which are still very much with us today and which moved the elite universities further away from the pursuit of excellence and merit which was their greatest achievement after the Second World War: the competitive sports craze and the affirmative action crusade. To these two anti-meritocratic developments, we might add a third: the policy of granting huge admissions boosts to the sons and daughters of alumni -- a practice found almost nowhere else in the world and outside America would be likened to bribery or shady political payoffs.
Minding the Campus readers probably need little instruction on the corrupting effects of the racial balancing game played by almost all our elite universities. The typical African- American and Latino student who gets admitted to the most elite colleges and universities in the U.S. (median admit) has a substantially lower achievement record in terms of high school grades and SAT scores, not only than his white and Asian classmates, but even those white and Asian students at the middle-level of his institution's pool of rejected applicants. The academic achievement gap between the admitted white and Asian students and those designated as "underrepresented minorities" is often huge, in statistical terms often exceeding a full standard deviation (equivalent to a 600 vs. a 700 on each of the sections of the SAT exam).
Continue reading "Why Caltech Is in a Class by Itself" »
By John Rosenberg
One of my professors in college defined an anthropologist as "a sociologist in a tent." His comment was not a compliment --- he was a sociologist --- but it was true in ways that he did not have in mind.
Anthropology has always been a big tent, including as it does what one anthropologist calls "real scientists" as well as "fluff-head cultural anthropological types who think science is just another way of knowing." Similarly, according to Elizabeth Cashdan, chair of anthropology at the University of Utah,
some anthropologists might mine the language and analytical tools favored by such humanities as literary criticism, while others may be more likely to deploy statistical methodology as befits social science. Still others might rely on the biological metrics, hard data and scientific method used by natural scientists. "This is reflective of tensions in the whole discipline," said Cashdan, a bio-cultural anthropologist....
Now, however, that tent appears to be getting smaller; because of a revision in the American Anthropology Association's long range planning document, many anthropologists believe they are being forced out. Inside Higher Ed (from which the Cashdan quote above is taken) has a long article on "Anthropology Without Science," and a similar article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Anthropologists Debate Whether 'Science' Is a Part of Their Mission," begins by asking, "Is anthropology a science? Is it a coherent discipline at all?" One day earlier the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a long piece by Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars and an anthropologist himself, on "Anthropology Association Rejecting Science?"
Continue reading "Rigoberta's Revenge: The Implosion Of Anthropology" »
By John M. Ellis
College foreign language and literature programs have been in decline for some time, first shrinking, then being consolidated with other departments, and now in a growing number of cases actually closed down. But the recent decision to eliminate French, Italian, Russian and Classics at SUNY Albany appears to have struck a nerve, and caused an outcry: "Defend the Humanities!"
It's a cry that has been heard many times in the past. As the segment of the university that has no direct link to a career-providing profession, the humanities have regularly been called upon to justify their usefulness, but the justification is easy to make, and it is an honorable one that instantly commands respect.
The case generally goes like this: exposure to the best of our civilization's achievements and thought gives us the trained minds of broadly educated people. We learn about ourselves by studying our history, and understanding how it has shaped us and the institutions we live by. As European civilization developed it produced a range of extraordinary thinkers who grappled memorably with questions that will always be with us, leaving a rich and varied legacy of outstanding thought on philosophical, ethical, religious, social and political matters. Its creative writers left a record of inspired reflection on human life and its challenges. Studying the humanities make us better prepared for civic life and for living itself, and better citizens.
Continue reading "'Defend the Humanities'--A Dishonest Slogan" »
By Donald A. Downs
Michelle Kamhi is the co-editor of the online arts review Aristos, and a mild-mannered, well-spoken New Yorker with a love of art and intellectual integrity. She is also the cause of a heated controversy that has broken out in the world of art education. The source of this conflict is an op-ed Kamhi wrote in the Wall Street Journal last June entitled "The Political Assault on Art Education." Presenting a condensed version of a longer piece she had written in Aristos in April ("The Hijacking of Art Education"), Kamhi took aim at a movement that merits heightened public scrutiny and discussion: "social justice art," a branch of the broader "visual culture" movement in art education. By thrusting this issue onto the stage, Kamhi has provided us with information about a disturbing trend in art education, and with an opportunity to hold a needed public discussion about education and the arts in a democratic society.
Art education is part of the educational mission regarding the young, which unavoidably entails making normative (and perhaps political) choices about the types of citizens we want to shape. But because liberal democracies are dedicated first and foremost to individual freedom and conscience (Lincoln said we are "consecrated" in liberty), state power and politics are limited. This means that art education in a liberal democracy will eschew the politicization of art, freeing the individual student to learn art for its own sake in a manner that cannot be reduced to politics and the state. This model of art education differs from the art education espoused by such thinkers as Plato and Rousseau, and various activists whose vision of art education is political, not aesthetic and individual. The "social justice" art movement points us decidedly in the direction of Rousseau than James Madison.
Just what is social justice art? In terms of definition and purpose, it is art in the service of such socially "progressive" causes as identity politics ("recognition"); greater equality through redistribution of resources; the environment; and critiques of the present social, economic, and political arrangements in the United States. The movement is propelled by a partnership between "art activists" and education school faculty, and it draws its inspiration from such sources as "critical theory" and the pedagogical theories of Paulo Freire. Freire's classic book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, was written to address the severe repression of peasants in Brazil in the 1960s. Applying Freire's logic to the United States, education activists have come up with such concoctions as "Radical Math," which incorporates radical politics into, of all things, mathematics. (See Sol Stern's "The Propaganda in Our Ed Schools": http://www.mindingthecampus.com/originals/2010/10/the_propaganda_in_our_ed_schoo.html ) The list of potential subjects for radicalization is vast; so enter art education.
Continue reading "Social Justice Art and Liberal Democracy" »
By Jason Fertig
Was there ever a time when college classrooms were completely filled with bright-eyed students eager to absorb knowledge from their sage? When educators deal with unmotivated students, such pipe dreams of halcyon days of education are likely to arise. While navigating student apathy is as old as the teaching profession itself, the apathy displayed by today's crop of higher education seekers is more serious than many think, and it reflects a dangerous trend that will only compound if not addressed.
I make this assertion not from the point of view of a professor who monotonously lectures students to sleep and then wonders why no one responds when the class is asked if anyone has any questions. On the contrary, much of my class period is focused on engaging students through provocative discussions of sensitive topics such as whether affirmative action harms the groups it intends to help or though activities like redesigning the college curriculum as a way of teaching how to teach. This pedagogy requires a certain amount of outside preparation from students; while most of my feedback indicates that I have been fairly successful in my pursuits, the decreasing engagement of the student body constantly forces me to ask why I make my job so difficult.
My concerns with student apathy are frequently greeted with yawns from colleagues, even when backed up with data. Reports of college students studying less than 15 hours per week are justified with noting how involved these students are with other extracurricular activities. I have heard a student with a 3.7 GPA state that "my professor expects three hours per class period of outside studying - I barely spend five hours a week total on all of my classes." I have also had a student with a young child tell me that her essay she submitted was of such poor quality because she only had 30 minutes to work on it for the whole week, and this was the best that she could do.
Continue reading "Student Apathy - Public Enemy Number One" »
By John McWhorter
Should all-black colleges exist in 2010? No, some say. After all, it's been almost fifty years since segregation was outlawed in America. And most Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are of also-ran status, doing their best, but hardly the bastions of excellence that so many were in the old days. Graduation rates are low and not one of them made the top half of Forbes' ranking of more than 600 schools nationwide. Of the "black Ivies"-- Morehouse, Spelman and Howard-- only Spelman made US News and World Report's top 100 list of Liberal Arts colleges in 2010. Graduates of HBCUs don't make as much money, on average, as their equivalents who went to mainstream schools.
To many, all of this means it's time to just shut these schools down. That argument, if based solely on the facts above, is ultimately an ill-considered reaction, unlikely, I suspect, from anyone who has ever spent time at one of the schools.
Yet it is hardly wrong to start conceiving of HBCUs as time-limited. I don't find that easy to write as a black person - but I do find it true. I presume all agree that HBCUs were necessary in the days of legalized segregation, and that they produced legions of top-rate black thinkers and professionals. The question is what their value is today.
Continue reading "Cognitive Dissonance and Historically Black Colleges" »
By Sol Stern
Radical Math held its third annual conference in New York last weekend. Four hundred high school math teachers and education professors attended the conference on "Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Math Education and Social Justice." At thirty-two workshops on Long Island University's Brooklyn campus and in half a dozen city public schools, math teachers demonstrated classroom lessons to help students understand society from a "liberatory," anti-capitalist perspective. For example, one workshop demonstrated how student math projects could be used to "explore the distribution of wealth in the United States and imagine more socially just alternatives." Another showed how math problems could be structured to "empower and inspire students to change their world. This workshop will examine the Personal Proof Project, connecting Geometric proofs and activism." At the Radical Math conference I attended three years ago, University of Massachusetts Professor Marilyn Frankenstein proposed that elementary school teachers who truly care about social justice should instruct their students that in a "just society," food would "be as free as breathing the air."
The Radical Math conference can be viewed as a demonstration of Freirism in action. The organization faithfully follows the doctrines of Paulo Freire, the late Brazilian Marxist and "critical pedagogy" theorist. The official program for the conference I attended was emblazoned with this passage from The Pedagogy of The Oppressed, Freire's seminal work: "There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of our world."
In The Critical Pedagogy Reader, a widely used text in education school courses, Robert Peterson writes about how he plumbed The Pedagogy of the Oppressed as a young elementary school teacher in inner-city Milwaukee, looking for ways to apply Freire's theories to his own fifth-grade classroom. Peterson realized that he had to jettison what Freire dismisses as the prevailing "banking method" of education, in which "the teacher and the curricular texts have the 'right answers' and which the students are expected to regurgitate periodically." Instead, Peterson switched to Freire's "liberating" pedagogical approach, which "relies on the experience of the student. . . . It means challenging the students to reflect on the social nature of knowledge and the curriculum." Peterson seems to have succeeded, turning his fifth-graders into critical theorists and junior scholars of the Frankfurt School.
Continue reading "The Propaganda in Our Ed Schools" »
By Robert Cherry
How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America---the controversial book assigned for freshman reading at Brooklyn College---is, in my opinion, an important but seriously flawed work, and one that should be read, but not as a sole required text for incoming English students.
In the book Brooklyn College English professor Moustafa Bayoumi decries what he sees as the pervasive bigotry that Muslim youth have faced since 9/11. After citing past groups that have been singled out for discrimination, including Japanese Americans during World War II, in an interview Professor Bayoumi concluded, "You would have thought that this would never happen again." A number of New York City newspapers condemned its selection as the required reading for all Brooklyn College freshmen. By contrast, the New York Times claimed that the condemnations were fomented primarily by outsiders and allowed Professor Bayoumi to respond to his critics. In this essay, I will discuss: the inappropriateness of its selection, the inaccuracy of many of Professor Bayoumi's generalizations, and the motivation for the position taken by the New York Times. An accurate assessment will find that Muslim Americans have been treated remarkably well by the American public and that Muslim Americans have a very positive view of their personal situation and experiences, undermining the victimization narrative that Professor Bayoumi promotes.
Continue reading "Sound and Fury---The Bayoumi Uproar" »
By Jonathan B. Imber
I hesitate to criticize sociology or sociologists. After all I am now at nearly a lifetime in the discipline, which I have taught for more than thirty years. But I would be dishonest if I did not acknowledge that throughout that time I have been a dissident in the field, a role, protected by tenure, which has challenged a complacency that some--mistakenly--now put at the doorstep of tenure. The problem for sociology was never complacency, but rather irrelevance, a misguided regard for political conviction rarely overcome by facts.
Consider divorce in America: it has taken sociologists forty years to conclude that divorce, in a strictly statistical sense, is not good for children. Many sociologists of my generation were at the forefront of arguing for more liberal divorce laws in the 1960s, and they devoted their careers to studying carefully the consequences of the social changes wrought. The news was not surprising, really. Kids adapt, no question about that, but adaptation is not the only lesson or goal in life. Divorced families are financially poorer; the children of divorced families do more poorly in school, and they suffer more from depression; and the list of collateral damages goes on.
The liberal sentiments of the 1960s did what J.S. Mill's critic, James Fitzjames Stephen, said Mill did in his time: "Strenuously preach and rigorously practice the doctrine that our neighbor's private character is nothing to us, and the number of unfavorable judgments formed, and therefore the number of inconveniences inflicted by them, can be reduced as much as we please, and the province of liberty can be enlarged in a corresponding ratio. Does any reasonable man wish for this?" Sociologists, once responsible for understanding the nature of moral and social life, grew silent in their regard for moral judgment, except as political judgment. Sociology as a field and through its professional association simply became a mouthpiece for progressive politics, sounding evermore peculiar to all but the most elite Americans still enmeshed in the daily problems and struggles of moral and social existence.
Continue reading "The Forty-Year Failure of American Sociology" »
By Robert Holland
About this time of year, faculty members seek relief from their stressful campus existence by flocking to such fun-filled destinations as Orlando and Las Vegas for their annual professional conferences. However, these workaholics never are far removed from their sociopolitical agendas, which are available for the world to see in workshop descriptions laid out in colorful conference programs.
The emphasis plainly is less on raising the professors' own levels of knowledge than on elevating the consciousness of students on the need for radical transformation of society along redistributionist lines. It is evident that political advocacy is not just an outside-the-classroom hobby for the professorial elite but rather a full-blown occupation.
The National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) brings together K-12 teachers and university professors (largely from schools of education) to conduct a large pep rally annually for reshaping education according to multiculturalist dogma. NAME's 20th annual international conference will be held Nov. 3-6 in Las Vegas.
One of the keynote speakers will be Augustine Romero, director of a "student equity" and "social justice" project in the Tucson, AZ, public school system. His project, supported by NAME, may be about to run afoul of a new Arizona law prohibiting ethnic studies with a separatist and anti-American bent. The title of Romero's talk is "Countering Racism in the Time of Obama: Epistemology, Ontology, Intellectualism, Activism, and Academic Achievement through the Evolution of Critically Compassionate Intellectualism." (Pretentiously stringing together long words -- sometimes repetitively -- is a common practice at academic conferences. No points are deducted for absence of coherence.)
Continue reading "Academic Conferences: the Oppressed Versus the Oppressors" »
By William N. Butos
This paper was prepared for yesterday's conference on "Capitalism on Campus: What Are Students Learning? What Should They Know?" The one-day event in New York City was sponsored by the Manhattan Institute's Center for the American University. Charlotte Allen, who writes frequently (and exceptionally well) for Minding the Campus, is preparing a report for us on the meeting. In addition to Dr. Butos, the conference featured Daniel Klein, professor of economics at George Mason; Jeffrey A. Miron, professor of economics and director of undergraduate studies at Harvard; Ryan Patrick Hanley, professor of political science at Marquette; Jerry Muller, professor of history at Catholic University; and Sandra Peart, dean of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. Howard Husock, vice president of the Manhattan Institute, served as moderator, and the luncheon speaker was Robert P. George, director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton.
For all the hand-wringing about "diversity" by the professoriate and college administrators, one of the more striking features about the academy is the absence of intellectual diversity among instructional faculty, especially in the social sciences and humanities. For example, according to a study by Daniel Klein and Charlotta Stern, only a small minority of the economists surveyed (about 11%) could be considered "supporters" and "strong supporters" of policies associated with free-market principles. Using data from the North American Academic Study Survey of 1999, Stanley Rothman and his co-authors found that 72% of those surveyed considered themselves "left/liberal" while only 15% "right/conservative." Those categories reported in a 1984 study by the Carnegie Foundation were 39% and 34%, respectively, suggesting a strong swing to the left among college faculties since the 1980s.
Continue reading "Toward Curricular Change in the Academy" »
By J. M. Anderson
Mark C. Taylor's Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities (Knopf) is neither as bold nor as innovative as he would like us to believe. What purports "to begin a national conversation about transforming our institutions of higher learning" merely continues the postmodern assault on higher learning that began in the 1960s and aims to dismantle, if not end, traditional liberal education as we know it.
Taylor's thesis is basically this: higher education is failing because colleges and universities are too fragmented; professors contribute to the fragmentation because they care more about overly specialized research and protecting their interests than they do about teaching; in consequence, students are being neither educated nor prepared for the great world. "This endless fragmentation inhibits communication across departmental and disciplinary boundaries, the university dissolving into an assemblage of isolated silos. The curriculum lacks coherence, integration and overall purpose."
Taylor's solution: more interdisciplinary studies, more multicultural education in an age of "globalization," more technology. As the world moves "toward greater interconnections and interdependence," it is increasingly necessary "for people to learn more about other societies and cultures." Higher education exists to "serve the greater social good," but its more important goal is to produce "informed citizens who are aware of and open to different cultural perspectives and are willing to engage in reasonable debate about critical issues." Therefore, "colleges and universities have an obligation to provide an education that will broaden students' horizons, helping them to resist the temptation of oversimplification and bias and to sift through misinformation in a world that is ever more complex." Summing up this point a little later in the book, Taylor writes: "An education that does not provide students with the knowledge, background and perspective to understand the practical impact of ideas and actions is woefully inadequate in the global society that is now emerging."
Continue reading "This Is a Bold New Plan for Higher Ed?" »
By Charlotte Allen
Here is a new trend: college for people who can't read or write. And no, that doesn't mean the one out of three freshmen whose literacy and numeracy skills are so poor that they have to take remedial courses before they are deemed ready to do college-level work. It means students who literally can't read or write because they are severely cognitively impaired by Down syndrome or some other mental disability. Yet an increasing number of campus administrators have decided that even the "intellectually disabled" (as this group is now called) deserve a college education.
Well, not exactly a college education, since even the most egalitarian administrators concede that people with severe cognitive disabilities can't handle even the most rudimentary of course offerings. Instead, what a host of new programs for the intellectually disabled offer is what the people who run them call "a college experience."
Some 250 campuses around the country offer such courses. Students enrolled in the programs sit in on a class or two per semester that regular students are taking for credit, but they don't receive grades, and their assignments are drastically tailored to fit their limited abilities. Batteries of counselors and tutors (the latter are typically volunteers from the regular student population) help them through, and they fill up the rest of their time with "life skills" seminars and workshops designed to help them use a debit card, take the bus, or get through a job interview, with internships at participating nonprofits, and, presumably, with making friends and soaking up the ivy-covered atmosphere. They don't receive actual college degrees---indeed, according to the U.S. Department of Education, no student enrolled in any college program for the intellectually disabled has to date received even a two-year associate degree---but if they complete their programs in a process that can take years, they typically receive certificates of completion that they can show to prospective employers.
Continue reading "College for the Intellectually Disabled" »
By Peter Sacks
College bashing is very much in vogue. A batch of new and recent books portray the campus culture in dark tones: College is an expensive fraud, pandering to its entitled student customers with soft courses and inflated grades; college is for dummies, it's bad for your brain, and it's even worse for your pocketbook, your children's, and the financial well- being of generations to come.
The more level-headed of these books tell us, unsurprisingly, that our higher education system is at a crossroad, badly in need of fundamental reforms. The worst of these titles inflate their claims to hyperbolic levels. An example is Craig Brandon's The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up on Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About it. Brandon, a former journalism teacher at Keene State College in New Hampshire, asserts that American higher education in the last 20 years has degenerated from a stable working model of education into a hedonistic five-year party accountable to nothing but the bottom line.
Mr. Brandon argues that higher education has been seized by profit -mongering administrators who have shaped a corporatized model of education, producing uneducated graduates ill-prepared for the outside world. Mr. Brandon asserts that this transformation has been the result of a "widespread fraud," as America's "subprime" colleges have hoodwinked taxpayers and parents into thinking students are earning an education, when in fact they're getting little more than an expensive five-year entertainment.
Continue reading "Our Colleges and Their Many Critics" »
By Sandra Stotsky
A mesmerizing phrase regularly rolls off the tongues of education experts these days. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan used it in a recent speech to the National Conference of State Legislators, saying that Common Core's new standards will try to make certain that high school graduates are truly "college- and career-ready." Sounds impressive, but he never said what the phrase means.
Duncan's silence on specifics is not surprising. In the final version of the standards released on June 2, Common Core itself (an initiative of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers) made no effort to explain what precisely college and career readiness mean in math or English language arts. Nor did it provide evidence to support the standards or to demonstrate that they were internationally benchmarked. It cagily noted that it "consulted," was "informed by," or made "careful use of" research studies, evidence, and international data. As the National Council of Teachers of English noted in a review of a July 2009 draft version of these CCRS, "the document presently contains a claim that these standards are evidence-based, but we note that none of the evidence has been drawn from peer-reviewed research journals or similar sources. Rather, the evidence offered at present consists of surveys conducted by the testing companies that stand most immediately to gain from the testing of these standards. This seems to represent a conflict of interest in the development of the standards." Nevertheless, over 35 state boards of education--all presumably guardians of the public interest--have voted to adopt all its standards word for word, some before they ever saw the final version.
This is not the first time the public has been enticed into purchasing a pig in a poke (think School-to-Work or small high schools). And it won't be the last; friends of "21st century skills" hawkers are now working full-speed to get them to the head of the line at the public trough. But given the staggering educational implications and costs of requiring all high schools to ensure that every student they graduate is college-ready (a U.S. Department of Education proposal for the next authorization of No Child Left Behind), one might have expected a few state board members to ask for answers about the nature of this pig. Few if any countries expect all 18-year-olds to meet the same set of academic standards--high or low--as if there were no differences in young adolescents' interests, skills, and abilities or in the requirements of varied occupational training programs or types of post-secondary institutions.
Continue reading "Shaky New Standards for College Readiness" »
By J. M. Anderson
Dear Assistant Professor:
Congratulations on your new job! Whether you're a visiting professor or on the tenure-track, consider yourself among of the lucky. As someone who ran the academic treadmill for eight years---I taught at a community college, at two four-year liberal arts colleges, and at a state university until I landed a permanent position at a private university, where I am also Director of General Studies---I can appreciate your accomplishment more than most. Like many in the profession, I went to graduate school bushy-eyed and idealistic (a real-life Mr. Smith goes to Washington) so that I could become a professor and continue thinking about important questions. I wanted to inspire others to think about big ideas and to experience the transformative power of liberal education, as my professors had done for me.
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that teaching is not that important. It won't get you a job, and it certainly won't get you tenure or promoted, even at most so-called "teaching colleges." Chances are that it will not be as intellectually stimulating as you expect, and that after doing it for a few years you will become frustrated if not disillusioned or burnt out. Most college students believe that education is an entitlement and only care about grades and getting a degree. They are indifferent to courses that don't bear on their majors or won't help them get a job or into graduate or professional school. Having been coddled by parents at home and by teachers in grade school and high school, they are demanding, think they have a right to your total attention, and believe that you must always be there for them.
Most of your colleagues will see undergraduate teaching as a burden to escape from whenever possible, but one that must be endured because it's their bread and butter, their meal ticket to do research, which is what they really care about. Research leads to publications, and publications to tenure and promotion and to advancement and recognition in the profession. No one ever gets rich or famous being a teacher. So they exploit the system and resent their students for not taking their courses seriously and interfering with their work. No college or university today, let alone any department, would proclaim what the University of Chicago proudly proclaimed at the beginning of last century: "We come to teach." Professors who come to teach today do so at their peril.
Unfortunately academics don't seem to care how this attitude affects undergraduate teaching and liberal education as a whole. It was, I think, William James who first warned about its corrosive effect more than a hundred years ago. In his essay, "The PhD Octopus," James describes how a brilliant student of Philosophy in the Harvard Graduate School took a job as a teacher of English Literature at a sister-college. When the governors of the college discovered that he didn't have his PhD, he was told that he must get the degree or the appointment would be revoked. The quality of the man and his ability to teach literature meant nothing to the school; the PhD meant everything. The college wanted to see those three magical letters behind the young professor's name. James understood that the PhD, relatively new in his day, was created to stimulate original research and scholarship proper; but he also understood that the fetish for this "sacred appendage" was a "Mandarin disease" that would lead to "academic snobbery" in the profession. "Will any one pretend that its possessor will be successful as a teacher?" The whole thing, he adds, "is a sham, a bauble, a dodge whereby to decorate the catalogues of schools and colleges."
Continue reading "An Open Letter to New Professors" »
By Jackson Toby
In his recent speech at the University of Texas in Austin, President Obama expressed deep unhappiness that the United States is no longer the country with the highest percentage of college graduates in the 25 to 34 age bracket. By 2020 he wants us to regain the top position we enjoyed ten years ago before South Korea, Canada, and Russia forged ahead of us. According to the latest report of the College Board, the United States is now 12th among the 36 developed nations whose college graduation rates the Board tabulated. Should the President have been unhappy? Only if he believes that our lower rate of college graduation reflects a lower rate of genuine educational achievement. If President Obama simply wants bragging rights, the United States can become first very quickly. All that is needed is to reduce graduation requirements or to increase grading inflation in college courses. (Or to give a college degree to every baby born in the United States along with a birth certificate.) The issue is what students with a college degree should know, not whether they have a piece of paper in exchange for all the time and money spent on a campus. It is troubling that only 40 per cent of Americans 25 to 44 have college degrees. It is even more troubling that of the 70 per cent of our high school graduates who enroll in college, only 57 per cent graduate within six years. One rather remote possibility - given studies that show how little American college graduates know - is that American colleges are maintaining high standards and that these high standards necessarily produce higher dropout rates and lower rates of college completion than President Obama would like. Unfortunately high standards do not appear to be the explanation.
Here is how one reader of the Wall Street Journal reacted to an article reporting the President's call for more American college graduates:
Continue reading "Why Remediation in College Doesn't Work" »
By Charlotte Allen
Only a federal bureaucrat could come up with an oxymoron this laughable: "Feasibility of Including a Volunteer Requirement for Receipt of Federal Education Tax Credits." A "volunteer requirement"? Come again? But that's what the Treasury Department said in a call for comments issued this spring on the idea of making community service--volunteer work for charity--mandatory for college students seeking to qualify for a higher-education tax credit made part of the $800 billion economic stimulus bill that Congress passed in 2009.
Fortunately, it turns out grammatical sticklers aren't the only ones who hate the notion of mandatory community service at the post-secondary level. So do many college administrators, who approve of community service and welcome the tax credits that may make their institutions more affordable but adamantly oppose combining the two. The problem is that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 requires the Treasury and Education departments to study the feasibility of forging exactly such a link.
The tax credit in question works like this: Students enrolled in college or some other form of post-secondary training can receive a credit for up to 100 percent of tuition, fees, and course materials up to $2,000 plus 25 percent of the next $2,000, for a maximum credit of $2,500 for each of four years of education. For those students who are too poor to pay income taxes, 40 percent of the credit is refundable. There is a phaseout of the credit for students whose adjusted gross income exceeds $80,000 ($160,000 for married couples).
Continue reading "The Mess of Mandatory Volunteerism" »
By Stefan Kanfer
In full-page newspaper ads, the Kindle displays the first page of an e-book. Its opening is famous: "I am an invisible man." Or is it famous anymore? How many high school seniors---or for that matter college undergraduates---can identify Ralph Ellison's novel? True, the author was an African-American, but he was a male African-American, hence of lesser importance than, say, Maya Angelou or Alice Walker in the PC world of American education. Say the words "invisible man," to most students, and odds are that they'll speak of H. G. Wells's fantasy, or even more likely, that perennial TV favorite, The Invisible Man, a 1933 movie starring Claude Rains in the title role. Or its cinematic sequels, The Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Invisible Woman, (1940), Invisible Agent (1942), The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944) or Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992).
This ignorance is part of a general myth, aided by programs like "Mad Men" and such twisted accounts as Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. According to these shows and books, the 1950's was a decade of American rapacity, sexism, war-mongering, profiteering and mindlessness. In fact, that decade saw a flowering of literary talents that has not been equaled since. J.D. Salinger, Saul Bellow, Vladimir Nabokov, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Philip Roth, John Updike published important books in the 1950's, and in 1952 Ellison put himself on the map with his own Invisible Man, a powerful narrative delivered by a black man who calls himself invisible because he walks unnoticed through the white world.
Continue reading "Is This Book Invisible?" »
By Herbert I. London
This is the slightly edited introduction to the author's new collection of essays, Decline and Revival in Higher Education ( Transaction Publishers ). Dr. London is president of the Hudson Institute, one of the founders of the National Association of Scholars, and the former John M. Olin Professor of the Humanities at New York University.
When I entered Columbia College in 1956, the college had a deep commitment to liberal opinion. Father and son Van Doren (Mark and Charles), the recently appointed Dan Bell, my adviser named Sam Huntington, the legendary Lionel Trilling, and a brilliant lecturer named Amitai Etzioni graced the campus and, more or less, leaned left at the time, albeit over the years several had their political orientation change. Yet there was one constant: These professors eschewed orthodoxies, notwithstanding the fact that in a poll of faculty members Adlai Stevenson won the 1956 presidential sweepstakes hands down.
Different views were welcome. Controversy was invited. "Political correctness" had not yet entered the academic vocabulary, nor had it insinuated itself into debate and chastened nonconformists. I was intoxicated by the sheer variety of thought. For me this smorgasbord of ideas had delectable morsels at each setting. It was at some moment in my senior year that I became enchanted with the idea of an academic career.
Continue reading "The Sad Transformation of the American University" »
By Frank J. Macchiarola
Almost every morning, after taking a shower, I get on the scale to see if I have lost some of the extra weight that I do not want or need. I have tried many ways of shedding the pounds, with diet and exercise at the top of the list. The pounds refuse to disappear. After reading Catherine Rampell's piece, "In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That," in the New York Times, I realized that there is a simpler way. A slight adjustment to the scale, so that the measuring starts at minus 15 pounds rather than zero, could bring instant relief. I could truthfully -- if not honestly -- say that according to the scale, I was now less than 175 pounds.
This droll reverie faded to disappointment as I pondered the implications of adjusting law school grades in the fashion recounted in the Times. Grades entered on students' transcripts at law school were adjusted upward several semesters later. The article told of law schools abandoning traditional grading standards to give their students an edge in the tough job market. Thus, each school's scale was adjusted to give the appearance that students did better than they actually did. The schools named were Loyola, Georgetown, NYU, Tulane and Golden State Universty. When I thought further about these modifications, I was reminded of other instances where expected objectivity gave way to subjective judgments. The New York State Board of Regents, for instance, has begun the practice of determining acceptable grades by assigning a passing grade to a raw score. The raw score required for passage is only arrived at after the tests are rated. Such a system allows the Board of Regents to crow about an 80% passage rate, notwithstanding the fact that the classification was entirely contrived. It has the feel of issuing traffic citations on the basis of a quota and claiming there is an epidemic of bad drivers.
The fact that this practice of grade adjustment has developed in law schools is, I believe, a much more serious matter. The rule of law, when properly applied, embodies honesty, fairness and impartial justice. The behavior of adjusting grades to conceal the truth does damage to our expectation of the rule of law. That the law itself is made to yield to the dollar is particularly troublesome. As a professor quoted in the Times article put it, "if somebody's paying $150,000 for a law school degree, you don't want to call them a loser in the end. So you artificially call every student a success." The result is a perverse version of the golden rule: "he who has the gold rules."
Continue reading "Make-Believe Grades for Real Law Students" »
In the wake of the National Association of Scholars' report on summer reading for college freshmen---the report found many of the assigned books trivial and politically one-sided---we asked Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, to explain his institution's unusually rigorous approach to summer reading.
By Leon Botstein
For the past two years, Bard College has asked first-year students to read works by Kafka and Darwin over the summer. These texts then become subjects of analysis when the students arrive on campus in August for an intensive three-week program of reading and writing before the fall semester begins. Let me explain the thinking behind this approach.
The idea of assigning summer readings to students entering college has three justifications. First, since American high school students usually take more of a vacation from serious thinking and study during the summer months than is warranted, readings remind them that college promises to be demanding and difficult and that it would therefore behoove them to stay in some sort of intellectual shape. This exercise is especially welcome because once high school seniors learn what college they will attend, they often cease to study seriously so that the final months of high school are wasted.
Continue reading "Message to Freshmen: Let's Start with Kafka and Darwin" »
By Robert Paquette
On 19 April, the board of trustees of Shimer College in Chicago, by an 18 to 16 vote, ousted Dr. Thomas Lindsay from the presidency after little more than a year of service. For sixty years, tiny Shimer (about ten faculty and 100 students) has touted itself as a Great Books college on the Robert Maynard Hutchins plan. Students converse about the content of texts with one another, guided by a professorial facilitator employing the Socratic method. The experience, it was believed, would "sustain a life-long passion for learning." Accordingly, Shimer constructed and reconstructed its mission statement to reflect---and to extend--- Hutchins's ideals. Since 1996, the ambitious Shimer educational experience purported to prepare students for "active citizenship," not just in the United States, but "in the world." After four years of matriculation, Shimer's graduates would learn to shun "passivity" for "responsible action" by moving "beyond either unquestioning acceptance of authority or its automatic mistrust."
Dr. Lindsay came to Shimer from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) where he served as deputy director and oversaw We the People, a well-regarded program designed "to encourage and enhance the teaching, study, and understanding of American history, culture, and democratic principles." There he attracted national attention with impressive publications and lectures on how to teach the principles of the founding to the American people. Inaugurated as Shimer's thirteenth president In January 2009, he set to work trying to elevate an institution possessed of noble goals but gasping from slipping standards, radical egalitarian governance structures, a bare-cupboard endowment, and a long history of financial distress, including several bankruptcies. Re-accreditation itself was hanging in the balance. Dr. Lindsay expanded to thirty-four the number of sitting members on the board of trustees to include educators and philanthropists who could help Shimer out of its chronic fiscal woes. Raising money in good times requires persistence and long hours to persuade prospective donors. During a recession, the task can seem Sisyphean. Dr. Lindsay says he spent two out of every three days during his first year at Shimer on the road with tin cup in hand.
Many at Shimer made known their dislike of Dr. Lindsay from the outset. Despite his obvious relish for the Great Books, many saw him as an outsider with a suspicious agenda. They complained when they discerned that he might be moving to make the founding documents of the United States more central to a Shimer education. In The Federalist Papers, a work that Dr. Lindsay would have liked Shimer's undergraduates to read cover to cover, Publius devotes the majority of the eighty-five essays to the republican character of the Constitution. Of the two species of popular government, republicanism had refining, insulating features that democracy did not. In fact, in The Federalist Papers, the word democracy appears less than a dozen times and when discussed in its pure form draws a pejorative contrast. In a society composed of a small number of persons, Publius warns, the "citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction," and they "are continually exposed, by their incapacity for regular deliberation and concerted measures, to the ambitious intrigues" of others. One would be hard-pressed to find in the United States an institution of higher learning with a more radically egalitarian and democratic structure than Shimer's. Three faculty members and two students sit as voting members on the board of trustees. Shimer's representative assembly consists of all students, faculty, and staff, with one vote each. Dominated by activist students, the assembly has set itself up as the moral authority of the college, and members reference the Assembly's majority votes as if they were exquisite expressions of Rousseau's general will. When dissidents protested that Dr. Lindsay was not sufficiently steeped in Shimer's traditions read that he refused to kow-tow to the majoritarian voice of the predominant element in Shimer's Assembly.
Continue reading "The Cave-Dwellers of Shimer" »
By Patrick Deneen
For several decades, conservative critics of higher education have argued against trends toward the elimination of "core" curricula and with equal ferocity against their replacement by "distribution requirements" or even open curricula. They have, in particular, defended a curriculum in "Great Books," those widely-recognized texts in the Western tradition authored by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Mill, and Nietzsche, among others. This curriculum - preserved still in some of the nation's leading universities such as the University of Chicago and Columbia University - as well as at the heart of the longstanding Great Books approach of St. John's College - is seen as a bulwark against contemporary tendencies toward relativism, post-modernism, and political correctness.
More recently, even some faculty who would eschew the "conservative" label have sought to restore sustained study of the Great Books to some place of pride in the curriculum. Some twenty years after the height of the "culture wars" over the Western canon - during which the phrase "Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go" was chanted on the Stanford campus - there seems to be a growing sense among some moderate faculty that the curriculum has become too fragmented, and that something valuable was lost in the politically-motivated elimination of a common core. Notably, at Harvard an ad hoc effort by some faculty to establish a Great Books track in the "Gen Ed" requirement was advanced before crashing on the shoals of Harvard's new fiscal reality (as well as the opposition of some faculty).
This reassessment has been most articulately argued by Anthony Kronman - a moderate liberal - in his recent book Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life. Kronman, a professor and former Dean at the Yale Law School, laments the abandonment of a serious engagement with the Great Books. Their neglect has led to the decline of an examination of "the meaning of life," an activity that he argues should be at the heart of the university experience. He praises a period in the history of American universities which was dominated by what he calls a worldview of "secular humanism." This period of "secular humanism" followed the widespread disaffiliation of traditionally religious institutions and preceded the rise of the modern research university and the concomitant rise of political correctness in the humanities. He urges modern institutions of higher education to adopt something like the Yale program in "Directed Studies" - in which he teaches - which requires students to engage in a concentrated study of the Great books ranging from Homer to Luther, from Machiavelli to Kant, from Plato to Nietzsche - over a two year span.
Continue reading "Why the Great Books Aren't the Answer" »
By Robert Weissberg
In the contemporary battle within the social sciences between free market think tanks and liberal- dominated universities, the former labor under a huge disadvantage: they lack students. Think-tank based scholars may daily issue erudite policy analyses, write incisive op-ed columns galore, dominate talk radio, publish in widely admired magazines like City Journal but the half-life of these missives seldom exceeds a few days. By contrast, a professor typically has fifteen weeks, two to three times per week, for usually 50 minutes, to expound his or her views to a captive audience, two to four courses per semester, and over a thirty-five plus year career. Of the utmost importance, professors can compel students to read stuff and insist on minimal familiarity, a power unimaginable to even the most professional think tank PR department. That these students are of an impressionable age---the pedagogical equivalent of droit de seigneur-- and are hardly in a position to argue, only adds to this built in indoctrination advantage.
In graduate education the propagating-the-faith advantage multiplies, since most Ph.D. students will become tomorrow's teachers. Ideological domination can persist for decades, regardless of events. So, to use a depressing example, the Marxist analyses that first filtered into America's college classrooms in the 1960s are still going strong a half century later and can only continue on as the torch is passed from professor to Ph.D. advisees. Perhaps only centuries from now will Marxism go inert and like spent weapons-grade Plutonium, the last lead-brained but still radioactive Marxist professor will be entombed in a deep Nevada salt mine. And it may require additional centuries for him to be joined by ideologically exhausted feminists, deconstructionists, ethnic studies experts and all the rest.
This monopoly of early access cannot be overcome by think tanks churning out more reports, better public relations, or ensuring that every "important opinion leaders" receives a free copy of their sponsored research (which may not even be read). And keep in mind that professors get to students first (the droit de seigneur), so the glories of free markets, low taxes, and limited government etc. etc. must overcome years of prior exposure. It is no wonder that many free-market think tank scholars must feel like they are trying to push boulder up a mountain. They are---the professors got there first and designed the obstacle course terrain.
Continue reading "Recapturing the University: The Hybrid Alternative" »
By Ruth R. Wisse
On 2 December 2009 the curtain of Harvard's famed Agassiz Theater rose on a production of Avrom Goldfaden's Shulamis, one of the most famous plays in the Yiddish repertoire. An operetta set in the Land of Israel in late biblical times, it was last performed in Warsaw in 1939, and forcibly shut down by the German invasion of September 1. To stage the current production its co-directors, Debra Caplan, a Harvard graduate student of Yiddish and Cecilia Raker, an undergraduate concentrator in drama, assembled a cast willing to learn their parts in a language most of them had never heard. The directors kept all the musical numbers in the original Yiddish and used a new English translation for the dialogue, adding dancers to the production to compensate for the verbal delights an English audience would miss.
Of the dozen plays I had studied with these students in a course on Yiddish drama, Shulamis was by no means the most obviously appealing to contemporary taste. Its theme is trustworthiness: a young man Absolom neglects the vow of marriage he made to the rustic Shulamis, who endures bitter years of waiting until he repents the alliance he made instead and returns to her. Beneath the intricacies of the love story throbs the Jewish national motif of keeping faith with covenant. What most intrigued the student-directors was the moral and psychological fallout of such faithfulness: How do we account for the suffering of the woman Absolom marries, and for the death of their two infant children in apparent retribution for his sin? When Absolom leaves his wife and fulfils his promise, can an audience forgive him as fully as Shulamis does, and is the reconciliation at the final curtain really meant to erase the effects of those intervening years? The excitement generated by such questions among cast, musicians, technical crew, and among scholars and graduate students invited to participate in an intercollegiate symposium on the play seemed to bear out the website's claim for "a resurgence of interest in Yiddish among young people."
Much of that interest is currently stimulated by institutions of higher learning, like Columbia, NYU, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Stanford, Emory, Brandeis, and universities of Indiana, Michigan, Albany, and Texas, all of which offer programs in Yiddish. Harvard's current cohort of eight PhD candidates in Yiddish is its largest and liveliest since the inception of the program in 1993. Yet the field of Yiddish is hardly stable. The University of Maryland has just announced that it may drop its Yiddish position as a cost-saving device, sacrificing an apparently marginal subject---one unlikely to figure prominently in the college ratings of US News and World Report. The news from Baltimore generated anxiety in what had until recently been the expanding sphere of Yiddish studies. Comings and goings of faculty sometimes determine the status of the language, since many university positions in Jewish Studies are open ended, and shift their priorities according to the specialty of the person hired.
Continue reading "How Is Yiddish Doing?" »
By Matt Shaffer
As the senior class of Yale College prepares for its final semester and reflects on the Bright College Years so swiftly gliding by, I have heard one phrase repeated with surprising frequency: "I wish I had done Directed Studies." It's a statement that doesn't accord with the stereotype of Yale seniors as either careerists shaking hands toward Wall Street or activists uninterested in the intellectual foundations of their slogans.
Directed Studies is a full year, freshmen-only Great Books program. The very short, very intense introduction to the Western Canon consists of three courses per semester--one in Literature, Philosophy, and History & Political Thought each. All students together attend lectures by professors like Harold Bloom, Dave Kastan, Donald Kagan, Charles Hill, and others less famous but equally revered by their students. Afterward, students break out into smaller discussion seminars.
The program has a reputation for being demanding, and a quick look at the syllabus shows why. The spring semester in Literature alone includes Don Quijote, War and Peace, Swann in Love, Paradise Lost, Faust, and more. The fall semester in History and Political Thought covers Thucydides' and Herodotus' histories, The Republic, Aristotle's Politics, Livy, Tacitus and Augustine! And both are just one out of three for the semester.
Continue reading "Yearning For Great Books" »
By Peter D. Salins
The Obama administration - along with many in the opinion elite - is looking to the nation's two-year community colleges as the primary vehicle to ramp up future Americans' level of post-secondary educational attainment. A down payment in this direction are the billions of dollars of direct and indirect community college aid included in the administration's "stimulus bill." However, before we get carried away with enthusiasm for community colleges as the best place to extend the frontier of higher education, there's a question to consider: how well have these institutions actually succeeded in their mission to provide an inexpensive but effective college education to our millions of academically under-prepared high school graduates?
A cursory look at the data is not encouraging. Although 41 percent of America's college-bound students enter community colleges each year , only 28 percent of this cohort actually complete their studies and earn a degree , an even more dismal outcome than that displayed at the nation's baccalaureate colleges, where 56 percent manage to graduate . These depressing statistics haven't dampened the general consensus favoring support of community colleges because proponents appear to believe that college "access" trumps successful college completion and that "some college is better than none." Refuting the latter point, U.S. community college non-graduates have only marginally higher earnings and lower unemployment rates than high school graduates and do far less well than their counterparts that manage to complete their studies .
The disappointing outcomes at community colleges are to some extent hard-wired into four aspects of their design. These institutions are proudly and aggressively "open admissions" which means that there are no academic criteria to get in except, in most places, a high school diploma. They are indifferent to the extent to which their students are diverted from their studies by work or other outside obligations, convinced that such distractions are an unavoidable and immutable aspect of "nontraditional" student profiles. Their abundant array of courses (including ones for English and math remediation that a majority of their students test into and often fail) are taught primarily by low-paid part-time faculty who have little time for interaction with students beyond classroom hours. Finally, community colleges view their mission in strictly vocational terms. They offer majors geared to every occupation that their "environmental scanning" process identifies as having job openings, while slighting the kind of general education offered by baccalaureate institutions that may contribute more to post-collegiate success than narrow (and quickly obsolete) occupational skill sets. While educators and the media tend to be scornful of the academic pretensions of proprietary, often on-line, "universities" like Phoenix and DeVry, the public community colleges are not operationally very different or in their academic results any more successful.
Continue reading "A New Kind of Community College" »
By Sandra Stotsky and Ze'ev Wurman
Every year seems to produce a burst of attention to a particular crisis in education. In 2009, the most publicized crisis is likely the staggering number of post-secondary students with severe debilities in reading and math. Estimates of those needing remedial classes before taking credit courses range from 30% of entering students to 40% of traditional undergraduates. According to a 2008 report by the CUNY Council of Math Chairs, 90% of 200 City University of New York students tested couldn't solve a simple algebra problem in their first class at a four-year college.
A 2004 U.S. Department of Education study reports that 42% of freshmen in public two-year institutions need remediation. While there are many adult (non-traditional) students in remedial classes, those 21 or younger make up approximately 80% of remedial class enrollment, according to a 2009 policy brief from the Charles Houston Center for the Study of the Black Experience in Education.
More than half of all college students will not earn a degree or credential, according to a 2009 Gates Foundation report drawing on national education statistics. For community college and low-income students, it notes, the numbers are much worse. Only about one-quarter of the African-American students who enrolled in a community college in 2004 graduated within three years. Immediate enrollment in credit courses that accumulate rapidly towards completion of a degree program is not possible for under-qualified young adults who need to spend at least part-time on remedial courses.
Continue reading "College Students Who Can't Do Math Or Read Well" »
By Barry Strauss
If there's anything uniting faculty on different sides of the aisle nowadays it's disapproval of large lecture courses. To the Left, lectures are authoritarian; to the Right, they are lowbrow. Better the egalitarian or members-only atmosphere of the seminar, they say. To anyone who is just "agin' the guv'ment," lecture courses suffer the stigma of administrative approval, because deans and provosts love lectures as cheap and efficient ways to deliver information.
That is, if the courses succeed: many alumni remember only the professor's yellowing notes or the students' back-row shenanigans and not any actual learning. Nor is the future of lecturing bright, according to some experts, who say that nothing so prehistoric as a lecturer's voice could possibly penetrate the digital habits of Generation Net.
But that's not been my experience. Course evaluations--and I've read more than a few--show that students love pointed, provocative well-delivered lectures. They appreciate and respect a master narrative (the Left's bugaboo), if only to give them something to rebel against. They can see through a professor's bias and they don't even mind it, as long as the professor acknowledges it. They appreciate common touches such as references to popular culture (the bane of the Right) as long as they are up-to-date. They want their electronic images, but not without a commanding voice behind them.
Continue reading "Big Is Beautiful" »
By Adam Kissel
The University of Chicago met widespread national opposition ten years ago after it instituted a new, less demanding core curriculum to make way for more electives. It was part of a plan to make the curriculum significantly less demanding (more "fun") to attract more students and improve the school's bottom line. Instead of 21 required courses (in the quarter system), there became 15: six in the sciences, three in the social sciences, and six divided among the humanities and civilization studies. The changes were bitterly opposed when they became public, but too late. Over the past ten years, the university's curriculum has slouched farther toward mediocrity.
After 1999, a student could forgo the modern era in the humanities as well as one third of the education in a civilization that used to be required for a bachelor's degree worthy of Chicago's name. While students need not avoid such courses, they may, and many do. In the first year of the new curriculum, only about 20 percent of students chose not to complete the third quarter of their humanities sequences, and it was argued that most Chicago students could be trusted to take their education into their own hands. The situation today is not so rosy.
In 2007-2008, for instance, nearly 47 percent of students chose to abandon their humanities core sequence to study something else. Maybe they were leaving room for more electives or were making hard choices as they tried to fit the core into study abroad and early graduation. But the fact is that half of Chicago's undergraduates now choose to forgo a year-long sequence, which at its best weaves multiple common themes through various changes across the centuries, in favor of a piecemeal education. Some of the humanities sequences have shrunk on the presumption that they can only maintain about 22 weeks' worth of undergraduate attention. Why keep up an integrated three-quarter sequence if students treat the third quarter as an elective?
Continue reading "The University Of Chicago - What's Been Lost" »
By John McWhorter
While this year has become best known as the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock, it was also forty years ago that the first African-American Studies department was established, at San Francisco State University.
Forty-one fall semesters later, there are hundreds of such departments. Has what they teach evolved with the march of time? What should the mission of a truly modern African-American Studies department be?
The answer common in such departments is that the principal mission is to teach students about the eternal power of racism past and present. Certainly it should be part of a liberal arts education to learn that racism is more than face-to-face abuse, and that social inequality is endemic to American society. However, too often the curriculum of African-American Studies departments gives the impression that racism and disadvantage are the most important things to note and study about being black.
Continue reading "What African-American Studies Could Be" »
By Judith Miller
Fourteen Columbia professors are protesting the university's apparent decision to award tenure to Joseph A. Massad, a controversial anti-Israel professor of Arab studies.
The professors are from the schools of law, business and public health. They expressed their concern in a five-page letter to the incoming Provost, Claude M. Steele. The letter asserts that the university's decision to guarantee Massad a life-time teaching post "appears to have violated" Columbia's own rules, thus raising profound questions about the university's academic integrity. The university's administration, weirdly, still refuses to confirm or deny that Massad won tenure, but yesterday the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department let the cat out of the bag---it announced a beginning-of-term party next week congratulating Massad on gaining tenure.
This week Provost Steele belatedly issued a polite, noncommittal response. In a four-paragraph "Dear Colleagues" letter to the fourteen professors, Steele, a former Stanford psychologist, says he would "welcome" a meeting to discuss their concerns. After he learns more about Columbia's tenure process, Steele writes, he may "want to make some changes in our procedures." But nowhere does he state that Massad has, in fact, been awarded tenure. Nor does he acknowledge that the professors raise deeply troubling concerns, that if true, go to the heart of what many regard as the core of a university's integrity.
Continue reading "Massad Got Tenure (Don't Tell Anyone)" »
By Mark Bauerlein
In a recent interview with Mars Hill Audio Magazine, Stanley Fish insists on a distinction bound to vex his colleagues. Professors must remember, he says, the difference between academic judgment and political judgment. In a classroom situation, academic judgment is the application of academic training to materials within the purview of a discipline, for instance, an English professor deciding whether Satan is or is not the hero of Paradise Lost (Fish's example). A political judgment is the application of a professor's political values to, well, anything, such that a "conclusion about action in the world could be immediately drawn."
Continue reading "We Should Applaud Stanley Fish" »
By Stephen Zelnick
Last semester, in an unguarded moment, I did what literature teachers should never do. I told a student her interpretation of a poem was wrong. From that moment I was regarded as an enemy to freedom.
I invited my students to engage with me in online debate on whether an interpretation could be wrong. What follows is their side of the argument. My arguments failed to dent their belief that a poem means whatever a reader thinks.
The debate erupted with Robert Browning's "Fra Lippo Lippi," where Browning, impersonating a Renaissance painter and with much complexity, presents his artist's credo.
My students resolved that complexity by leaping to conclusions. One young woman found the poem disgusting because the wayward monk enjoys a night out with the ladies. For her, this poem was just another male pleasantry purchased at women's expense. That was her personal feeling, and therefore, the class argued, a perfectly acceptable account of Browning's poem.
Another student, who disliked religion, saw Browning's objective to expose the monk's hypocrisy. Religion - he was ecumenical in his contempt - was a lie, and Browning showed how true this was.
Continue reading "The Poetry Wars" »
By John McWhorter
"If I couldn't study something that's about myself then I wouldn't want to be here," the black sophomore once told me, explaining how crucial to him it was to be able to major in African-American Studies.
It always stuck with me.
The African-American Studies department he was a major in was one of about 300 nationwide; this year is, in fact, the fortieth anniversary of the foundation of the first one at San Fracisco State University in 1969. I have never had a problem with such departments in themselves. After all, despite that we hear this so often it has become a cliche, the story of black people is, to a considerable extent, the story of America.
Slavery helped drive the colonial economy and sparked the Civil War. The Civil Rights revolution was a moral advance unprecedented in the history of the species. Today American popular culture is deeply stamped brown and, in that form, has taken over the world, from hiphop through the worldwide superstar status of actors like Will Smith. The swelling numbers of African immigrants are giving the African diaspora to the New World a whole new meaning. The campaign and election of Barack Obama distilled all of this so profoundly that courses could be taught on it alone - and surely will be, nationwide, starting in the fall.
Continue reading "What Black Studies Can Do" »
By Barbara Moeller
Last November, Rob Koons, director of the Program in Western Civilization and American Institutions at the University of Texas, was abruptly fired from that position. In swift succession, the name of the program and its leadership was changed to conform more closely to the ideological tastes of the faculty of the College of Liberal Arts. It was reminiscent of the fiasco at Hamilton College, recounted by Roger Kimball here. The common elements are a tenured, leftist faculty who are ferocious in their pursuit of intellectual homogeneity and the blithe betrayal of donors, alumni, and students.
The College of Liberal Arts (CoLA) at the University of Texas has all of the problems that plague higher education in America, only more, bigger, and with a better football team. It forms its own self-contained and self-referential world of all varieties of leftist thought, with only the occasional intrusion of voices from the right side of the intellectual dial. It's a place where it's assumed that if you are a middle-aged woman, you voted for Hillary Clinton, and would be forgiven, because you were motivated by a sense of solidarity. It's a place where a professor can say, in all seriousness that some of his best friends are liberals, but they are "politically unreliable" because they aren't far enough left. And where Dana Cloud, associate professor of communications, can, without a hint of irony, assert on national radio that there are many conservatives at UT- just look in Aerospace Engineering!
Needless to say, this kind of intellectual conformity, enforced by political correctness isn't good for education generally. It is buttressed by hyper-specialization, so that even at a university as big as UT, a top tier research institution, there are no survey courses in European history, to name but one gaping hole in the course offering. Likewise, the requirements for graduation from CoLA are a Luby's buffet of choices, where your course in "India's Non-Conformist Thinkers" counts toward your general culture requirement, but a survey course on the world's major religions does not, because there is no such course.
Continue reading "The Texas Mugging Of Western Civ" »
By Donald Downs
Forty years ago this week, an armed student insurrection erupted on the Cornell campus. I was a sophomore on campus at the time and later wrote a book on the events, Cornell '69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University. To some the drama represented a triumph of social justice, paving the way for a new model of the university based on the ideals of identity politics, diversity, and the university as a transformer of society. To others, it fatefully propelled Cornell, and later much of American higher education, away from the traditional principles of academic freedom, reason, and individual excellence. "Cornell," wrote the famous constitutional scholar Walter Berns, who resigned from Cornell during the denouement of the conflict, "was the prototype of the university as we know it today, having jettisoned every vestige of academic integrity."
In the wee hours of Friday, April 19, 1969, twenty-some members of Cornell's Afro-American Society took over the student center, Willard Straight Hall, removing parents (sometimes forcefully) from their accommodations on the eve of Parents Weekend. The takeover was the culmination of a year-long series of confrontations, during which the AAS had deployed hardball tactics to pressure the administration of President James Perkins into making concessions to their demands. The Perkins administration and many faculty members had made claims of race-based identity politics and social justice leading priorities for the university, marginalizing the traditional missions of truth-seeking and academic freedom.
Two concerns precipitated the takeover: AAS agitation for the establishment of a radical black studies program; and demands of amnesty for some AAS students, who had just been found guilty by the university judicial board of violating university rules. These concerns were linked, for, according to the students, the university lacked the moral authority to judge minority students. They declared that Cornell was no longer a university, but rather an institution divided by racial identities.
Continue reading "Cornell '69 And What It Did" »
By John Ellis
On February 25, 2009, an article by Patricia Cohen appeared in the New York Times: "In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth." Its thesis was a familiar one: an economic downturn will lead to a decline in the number of college majors in the humanities because in hard times enrollments shift toward majors with direct vocational utility. The article could have been written 25 or 50 years ago---the phenomenon it talks about is well known. For example, English majors made up 7.59% of those graduating with bachelor's degrees in 1968, but as the stock market bottomed in the early 1980's following the Carter economic debacle, that number had sunk to 3.7%. But Cohen's article is not just a tedious rehash of well-known ideas from the past: it has a more serious flaw. For while this argument could have been and in fact was made at many times in the past, it can not be made today. And that is because the humanities have undergone a profound change that makes Cohen's entire argument meaningless.
Let's look first at the statistics. As the economy improved dramatically during the 1980's, the figure for English majors rose with the economy, reaching 4.7% by the end of the decade. But now the familiar pattern broke down: as the economy continued to get stronger, the figures for English majors began to go in the opposite direction, the first time this had happened. By 1995, English majors had declined to 4.3% of all bachelor's degrees, and by 2005 they had gone down to 3.7%, the same figure that was seen at the economy's bottom in the early 80's---except that the economy had now been booming almost continuously for 20 years.
Continue reading "Why Students Flee The Humanities" »
By Frank J. Macchiarola
Dr. Macchiarola, chancellor of St. Francis College in Brooklyn, delivered these remarks on February 5th at a one-day conference in New York on "The Future of the University." The conference was sponsored by the Manhattan Institute's Center for the American University.
If I were making this presentation a year ago, I would not have some of the deep concerns about the future of the university as I do today. Certainly the changes that are occurring within the university today are due, in large part, to some of the real difficulties the university faces in adapting to forces that are internal to it. The presence of the deep economic recession that we face today - and that will be with us for some time to come - significantly adds to the uncertainties that today's university has to confront. It puts solutions to a considerable extent beyond the scope of what some universities can actually manage.
The recession - or perhaps depression- has for private universities hurt their financial condition dramatically. Endowments drop and endowment income which is critical to the university's operations fall as well. In virtually all instances this combination means that universities been tremendously impaired. Endowment income which can provide 5% of market value for operating expenses is less available and this adds to the gap between tuition income and expenses that universities must face. Endowments are affected, especially for the tuition dependant schools which require tuition to fund operations in significant ways. Well endowed universities are the exception, not the rule. Costs also increase, usually by a multiple of the rise in the cost of living. This has been almost the universal rule largely because of factors that have driven universities to give students "more and more." The usual course of action -increasing tuition - is made more difficult by the hard economic times. Fewer students being able to afford college mean a shift to lesser charging private universities and the public ones. The factors that have operated to allow universities to grow are not present in anything like the same way. The decline in the number of high school students exacerbates the problem even further. While students may choose public institutions as an alternative, things are not going well there either. The depression has hit states hard, and while the stimulus plan may be helpful to them in the short term, they will not be able to absorb more students at the subsidized costs that they have traditionally borne. The taxpayer is being hit hard, and the state economies are as well. The public universities will have to charge more and give less. There is tuition relief by the way of increased Pell Grants and tax credits for college tuition, but there is no way that we will be back to conditions ante recession.
Continue reading "How Will The Colleges Cope?" »
By Maurice Black & Erin O'Connor
The current upheavals in the financial markets have left everyone confused. But in the midst of all the confusion, one thing has become crystal clear: A free country simply must be an economically and financially literate country. Amid the waves of failing banks, roiling stock exchanges, massive government bailouts, and wildly fluctuating currency and energy markets, we have become newly aware of how much our nation's wellbeing, and, indeed, our freedom, depends on our financial security. Disturbingly, we have also become newly aware of how little most Americans understand about financial markets, or even about their personal finances. American colleges and universities should take note---and should act swiftly to ensure that their students are economically and financially literate.
State of Ignorance: What Young Americans Don't Know about Money
Younger Americans are deplorably uninformed about economic and financial matters. In 1999, researchers at the Securities and Exchange Commission concluded that 66 percent of high school seniors could not pass a basic economic literacy test. Things have not changed for the better since then. In 2008, the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy administered its biennial thirty-question financial literacy test to 6,856 high school seniors in 40 states. The respondents averaged an overall score of just 48 percent, down four percentage points from 2006. Students were most oblivious when it came to investment strategies: Overall, only 17 percent knew that investing in stocks would probably generate the greatest financial return over an eighteen-year period.
When Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke attended a Jump$tart news conference in 2006, he stated that financial literacy is "vital to the future of our economy" and called for improved financial education in our nation's schools. American parents agree---76 percent say that schools should be required to teach students about money management. But schools are not addressing the problem in any consistent or systematic way. The Young Americans Center for Financial Education recently reported that fewer than 30 percent of students receive even one week's worth of financial training during their entire high school careers. In 2004, only seven states made personal finance education a requirement for high school graduation.
Continue reading "Shouldn't All Students Learn Economics?" »
Roger Kimball, editor of Encounter Books and co-editor of The New Criterion, delivered these remarks at a Manhattan Institute luncheon in New York City on November 19th. The occasion marked publication of the second revised edition of his influential 1990 book Tenured Radicals.
Joining so many old friends from the extended Manhattan Institute family inspires a feeling of what the philosopher Yogi Berra called "deja vu all over again." I know I have been here before, talking about something suspiciously similar to what I am going to be talking to you about today. I am counting on you to agree with me that novelty is a much over-rated commodity and to take consolation, as I do, in the observation of the Sage of Ecclesiastes that "there is nothing new under the sun."
When the first the edition of Tenured Radicals appeared lo, these many years ago, around the time movable type was coming into vogue, the American university, when it came to the humanities and social sciences, anyway, was essentially a left-wing monoculture gravely infected by the stultifying imperatives of political correctness, specious multiculturalism, and an addiction to a potpourri of intellectually dubious pseudo-radicalisms.
Well, that was then. In the meantime, some very talented people have weighed in on the problem. They have written articles and books about the university; they've organized conferences, symposia, and think-tank initiatives; they even managed to place scores of good people in various colleges and universities as a counterweight to the various intellectual and moral depredations I chronicle in Tenured Radicals. Today, two editions and nearly two decades later, we can look at the American university and what do we discover? That it is, essentially, a left-wing monoculture gravely infected by the stultifying imperatives of political correctness, specious multiculturalism, and an addiction to a potpourri of intellectually dubious pseudo-radicalisms.
Continue reading "Still Tenured, Still Radical" »
By Mark Bauerlein
Of the many problems besetting higher education today, perhaps the most intractable is the incentives problem. On hundreds of campuses across the United States, thousands of college professors are being dragged away from their root educational mission. They serve as stewards of knowledge and trainers of citizens to come, but a binding demand makes them act otherwise. And the perverse thing about it is that the pressure comes from within.
Imagine yourself a newly-hired English professor at a university with a research dimension, however minor. You went into the field because you loved to read and a few books hit you hard enough to set a career path. As undergraduate days wound down, you aimed to share the inspiration, to expound and debate and teach the meaning of Dickens and Faulkner, and graduate school was the next step.
But graduate training shifted the focus. Instead of studying with an eye toward undergraduates in class, you came to recognize another audience: professors at conferences, on hiring committees, and in editorial offices. They, not freshmen, would decide your future, offer you a job, publish your work, and grant you tenure. Turning a wayward 19-year-old into a determined thinker might make you feel worthy, but it wouldn't show up on a resume or establish professional contacts. You needed to network and circulate, apply for grants and submit papers to journals, attend symposia. Every minute in office hours with students, you quickly realized, took away from securing a letter of recommendation from a name scholar or writing the final page of a conference talk.
Continue reading "Change Can Happen One Professor At A Time" »
By Roger Kimball
The following is an excerpt from Roger Kimball's introduction to the third edition of his classic book on the humanities, Tenured Radicals.
One of the great ironies that attends the triumph of political correctness is that in department after department of academic life, what began as a demand for emancipation recoiled, turned rancid, and developed into new forms of tyranny and control. As Alan Charles Kors noted in a recent essay,
under the heirs of the academic Sixties, we moved on campus after campus from their Free Speech Movement to their politically correct speech codes; from their abolition of mandatory chapel to their imposition of Orwellian mandatory sensitivity and multicultural training; from their freedom to smoke pot unmolested to their war today against the kegs and spirits---literal and metaphorical---of today's students; from their acquisition of young adult status to their infantilization of "kids" who lack their insight; from their self-proclaimed dreams of racial and sexual integration to their ever more balkanized campuses organized on principles of group characteristics and group responsibility; from their right to define themselves as individuals---a foundational right---to their official, imposed, and politically orthodox notions of identity. American college students became the victims of a generational swindle of truly epic proportions.
What, as Lenin memorably asked, is to be done?
Continue reading "What Can Be Done About Campus Decline?" »
By Robert L. Paquette
Imagine for a moment that you are a senior professor at an elite college with a proud 200-year tradition in liberal arts education. You attend a monthly faculty meeting in the fall 2007 and find yourself for the first time in a quarter century surrounded by seventy or so undergraduate activists who are staging a demonstration for social justice. Several incidents that in all likelihood have little or no connection to the behavior of members of the community precipitate the protest. Faculty sympathizers move to allow one of the student leaders to speak. She issues demands that the college "must make a stronger commitment to diversity in ... structure, institution, and most importantly curriculum." The small college of 200 faculty and 1700 undergraduates, claim the students, needs to do more to promote diversity, although the campus already boasts a Diversity and Social Justice Project, Social Justice Initiative, Associate Dean for Diversity Initiatives, and Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Accessibility, along with a host of well-funded multicultural groups, with access, in aggregate, to hundreds of thousands of dollars of annual funding.
The lengthy student wish-list includes a place of their own, a "Cultural Education Center" that will educate the benighted in "systems of privilege and oppression" and provide a "safe space" in which to "privilege the experiences of non-dominant individuals." The faculty applauds the student initiative like trained seals. The discomfited president and dean of the faculty commend the protesting students for their "powerful and respectful demonstration." The dean, poor chap, who unwittingly doubles as a syndicated columnist for higher learning's lexicon of loonery, endorses diversity as the great "hedge against obsolescence," dismisses talk of political activism in the classroom, and speaks approvingly in the campus newspaper of the idea of "parallel safe spaces"---whatever the hell that means-- for the allegedly marginalized. The senior professor asks him point blank if he is concerned about the lack of intellectual diversity at the college, given that it hosted not one---that's right, not one---conservative speaker on campus during 2007-2008 academic year. In a word, he replies, "No." A few weeks after the faculty meeting, a breathless president, alluding to unnamed threats to inclusiveness, publishes a list of all the benefactions the college is providing and will provide in the name of diversity, a word that she, like her immediate predecessors, refuses to define with so much as a modicum of intellectual clarity. The activist students demand and receive a meeting with the board of trustees, a self-congratulatory, ostrich-like group, whose favored measures of judging the college's well-being revolve around the size of the endowment and the college's rankings in the annual educational issue of US News and World Report. One trustee comes to the rescue and antes up 4 million dollars to renovate an existing building for a new student center to serve as a kind of multicultural "hub" for "expanded collaboration among all student groups." Whether the renovated building will contain sacred spaces for the secret rituals of the diversity cartel remains to be seen, but don't bet against it. The building sits next to an impressive village of yellow buildings previously dedicated to student activities. Diversity, the president insists, "is not a problem to be solved, but "a fact and an ideal." Yes, a non-scholarly ideal, on which, it appears, you shower as much money as necessary to buy political peace and garner favorable headlines in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Continue reading "What Is It About The Liberal Arts?" »
By Charlotte Allen
Brown University is famous for having the loosest graduation requirements in the Ivy League. In fact, there are almost no graduation requirements at all, for although Brown undergrads do have to major in something in order to qualify for a degree, they are free to design their own majors. As for anything else in the way of mandatory courses, forget it. Don't like math and science? You'll never be asked to take a single class in either at Brown. Find learning a foreign language too difficult? No worry---you'll never have to utter a single word en francais or en espanol during your four years on the university's historic campus in Providence, R.I.. You can even bid au revoir and hasta la vista to freshman English while you're there, although you do have to demonstrate some level of competence in writing in order to don your cap and gown at the end of it all Grades? You can elect to take all of your courses pass/fail if you like. And if you do choose to have your professor give you a letter grade, the range consists of A, B, and C; F is not an option. Thus, there's almost no such thing as an introductory survey course designed for non-majors at Brown, whether in biology or history or anthropology or economics. Why should there be? Students at Brown don't have study anything outside their chosen (and often self-designed) fields.
Even given today's rampant grade inflation, especially at the Ivies and other elite schools, and today's lax definition of distribution requirements that allow students to select courses from a smorgasbord of offerings (a little Chinese history here, a little Caribbean poetry there) that usually ensures that they never learn the basics of any academic field outside their major, Brown's requirement-free curriculum is a standout. If it sounds like something left over from the 1960s, well, it is. In 1969 Brown's administrators jettisoned the university's traditional core curriculum, including distribution requirements, survey courses and required sequences that obliged students to learn the basics of an academic field before going on to advanced-level work, in order to focus on an free-form educational philosophy whose goals were variously described as to "put students at the center of their education" and to "teach students how to think rather than just teaching facts." One of the architects of Brown's "New Curriculum," as it is still known almost 40 years later, had been Ira Magaziner, now best remembered as the designer of President Bill Clinton's failed national health plan but then a student activist and antiwar protest leader at Brown. And so, to this day, while Brown says it encourages its undergraduates to "experience scientific inquiry," for example, there is no mandate that they actually do so.
Continue reading "Fixing the Anything-Goes Philosophy at Brown" »
By Anthony Esolen
Whenever anyone asks me what sealed my commitment to teaching the heritage of the West, I recall a minor uprising at my college long ago. In some ways it was tame enough. No sit-ins, no public obscenity. A group of students, led by a newly arrived sociologist, had been roused to indignation at having to study Dante and Homer and Thomas Aquinas. They called themselves Students Organized Against Racism. What they wanted to study instead they never specified. It wasn't math.
So the school organized a panel discussion, attended by a hundred students and a few dozen professors. The panelists were polite. There was a leftist ex-nun in blue jeans, who intoned, "Teaching is a political act," that great first tenet of the academic credo. A history professor tried to defend the old regime, then shrugged and admitted that a little change couldn't hurt. The students included a young lady driven by the cause, petulant and pretty, and a young black man who played the Guiding Star, intelligent, well-spoken, an obvious leader, but ignorant, as most people at that age are.
Back then I too was a left-leaning professor, but I had long fallen in love with Plato, Chaucer, Pascal, and the rest, and so I found myself at an impasse. I figured I'd try to persuade the attendees that if they really wanted to advance their causes a sinistra, studying the heritage of the West would be a fine strategy. So I asked the young lady a simple question: "Why do you study Virgil?"
I expected an ideological reply, with the requisite pepper of scorn: "To confirm the patriarchy" or something similar. What I got instead stunned me.
"I don't know why we study Virgil."
Continue reading "No Western Culture, Please--We're Students" »
By Robert Weissberg
Observers of today's campuses have undoubtedly encountered a phenomenon that I will call "incidentism." Its principle characteristics are as follows:
First, a seemingly minor often obscure, innocuous event, e.g., a student newspaper cartoon, an off-hand remark by the school president, an invitation to a "controversial" outside speaker, among countless other possibilities, triggers boisterous outrage among groups claiming to be offended to the point of incapacitation. Rallies, marches, non-negotiable demands and all the rest predictably follow. Offended parties are almost always African American students, sometimes feminists, gays, even Muslims, but never conservatives. One might guess that sensitivity to "offense," like susceptibility to Tay-Sachs disease, follows ethnic/racial lines. Interestingly, that the triggering incident was a likely hoax, a silly misunderstood joke or even a misconstrued word like "niggardly" is irrelevant. Stating truth is, needless to say, also no protection. Anything suffices for those addicted to being offended.
Second, no matter how ridiculous or even false, the university's administration will treat matters "seriously." Typical are promises of yet more free benefits to help the injured party "heal the wounds" (e.g., mandatory campus-wide sensitivity training, additional faculty hires from "under-represented" groups, more role models and mentors, special "theme" centers where the vulnerable can feel safe, and on and on). At a minimum, the official Flak Catcher (to recall Tom Wolfe's Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers) will issue an official apology, promise an investigation, even suspend classes so student can attend workshops, and assure aggrieved victims that "this will never happen again."
Third, despite all the heartfelt official assurances an "incident" will soon occur, again. It is inevitable on today's campus. Rest assured, some professor will use improper terminology (e.g., colored instead of person of color); some campus restaurateur will slight a rowdy gay rights group or, to recall an outrage-provoking incident whose offensiveness still befuddles me, The Champaign, Il police department used the abbreviation "BM" for black male on their crime reports. These seem to average at least one per year per group, and nothing, absolutely nothing can make universities "incident free." These indignations are not like a frat party gone too wild, mere nuisances. They can entail hefty new expenditures ($50 million in the case of Larry Summers' off-hand remark about women and math) and sully a university reputation for "tolerance for diversity," an especially important cost if universities rely on state funds. There is also the ever-present threat of reputation-destroying violence if campus police over-react or rowdy outsiders join the fray. At a minimum and this is hardly trivial, a parade of incidents contributes to an unhealthy, freedom-killing paranoia---nobody, especially professors, risks triggering a confrontation, so better sanitize everything.
Continue reading "A Guide To Campus Shakedowns" »
By Charlotte Allen
It's July, and there's one safe bet to be made about the 2.8 million or so new high school graduates who will be entering college as freshmen in just six or seven weeks: Few of them are likely to have even started reading the "one book" that the adminstrators at their chosen college have likely assigned them as summer reading. The freshman book programs, sometimes called "one book, one college" or "common reading," mostly date from the mid-1990s, and every year, it seems, more colleges and universities decide to require their incoming freshmen to read a novel or non-fiction work to be discussed in small groups during orientation week, which in many cases also features a campus visit by the book's author. The idea is to introduce 18-year-olds to college-level intellectual life before the fall semester officially begins and also to foster a sense of campus community based upon shared intellectual experiences.
As one might suspect on today's highly politicized campuses, days, the vast majority of freshman summer reading assignments have reflected not so much a commitment to fostering freshmen's intellectual growth---via, say, a literary classic or a seminal philosophical treatise such as Plato's Republic---as an effort to immerse them in the political cause du jour for liberal academics. Such recently published and distinctly left-leaning polemical works as Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001), Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (2001), and most recently, Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change (2006), former New York Times reporter Elizabeth Kolbert's gloom-and-doom treatise on global warming, are current staples of freshman summer programs. Such book choices have sparked off-campus political controversy---as when the public University of North Carolina's Chapel Hill campus in 2003 required its freshmen to read Nickel and Dimed, criticized for its superficial reporting (Ehrenreich typically spent a few weeks at a low-wage job, then walked out in a huff) and its predictably snarky take on capitalism in general and on Wal-Mart and other employers of the working poor in particular. What is most interesting, though, is the on-campus reaction of many freshmen to their summer reading assignments. It turns out that many of them aren't so susceptible to politically correct brainwashing as their college professors and administrators might think, and their responses to the more overtly politicized assignments have ranged from indifference to outright hostility.
Continue reading "Mandatory Summer Reading (Yawn)" »
By John Leo
If I ran the campus
I'd start out anew
I'd make a few changes
That's just what I'd do
Here's a simple suggestion
(Avoiding all fads)
I'd have some professors
Who teach undergrads
I hear you all snicker
I hear you all scoff
But I've got to believe
That many a prof
Would thrill to be meeting
A freshman or soph
TAs are beloved
They're always the rage
Because they all work
For a minimum wage
(But do students want teachers
Who are just their own age?)
I'm sure is a must
For teachers who give
Only A or A-plus
They really must practice
At home, if they please,
Some Bs and some Cs
There's another idea
I can bring to fruition
I know how to cut
The cost of tuition
I really don't care
Whose waters this muddies
But I'd cancel all courses
Whose names end in "studies."
This could irritate
The fuddies and duddies
That's just a start
I'll do better than that
My curriculum changes
Will cut out the fat
No courses on Buffy
The Vampire Slayer
Or Batman and Robin
Who cares which is gayer?
No bongo or bingo
(Remember I said it)
No study of Yoda
No sex acts for credit
No Star Trek theology
No Matrix psychology
No queer musicology
I give no apology
If I ran the campus
I'd start out anew
I'd make a few changes
That's just what I'd do
This originally appeared as part of the National Association of Scholars' "If I Ran The Zoo" series
By Donald Downs
An interesting news item caught my eye last week. The BB&T Charitable Foundation has made a million-dollar donation to Marshall University's Lewis College of Business. The donation comes with a string attached: Marshall must teach Ayn Rand's classic tribute to capitalism, Atlas Shrugged, as part of the curriculum. The BB&T Foundation has made numerous grants to other institutions dealing with capitalism and economics. John Allison, the foundation's chairman and CEO, expressed the logic behind these grants when he announced a $2 million grant to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University last summer. "We believe there needs to be a deeper understanding of the morality of capitalism and its causal relationship to economic well-being," he declared. "This contribution will encourage a thorough discussion of the moral foundations of capitalism with an organization that meets the highest academic standards and encourages students to hear all points of view."
BB&T's actions regarding Marshall and George Mason are part and parcel of a broader movement taking place across American higher education: redesigned efforts by major moderate and right-leaning foundations and sponsors to fund programs, journals, and chairs on campus that provide viewpoints that challenge the left-liberal orthodoxies that prevail in so many institutions. Among other examples, the University of Illinois recently established a major chair in free market economics, funded by a conservative donor. And the University of Colorado is looking for donors for a new chair in conservative studies. Meanwhile, several groups, including the Olin Foundation and other conservative entities, have decided to target limited term grants at specific individuals or groups whom they trust to carry out programs consistent with the foundations' missions.
One motive for such grants could be to influence academic thinking in the direction the foundations favor. Another motive is simply pedagogical: to counter the lack of intellectual diversity on campus, which several studies have shown tilts decidedly to the left at many institutions, especially in the social science and humanities. The pedagogical problem is not that conservative ideas are not being accepted or followed; the problem is the virtual absence of such ideas, which deprives students of a true liberal education that would expose them to all serious arguments and perspectives about social and political life. The right kind of education prepares students to seek the answer to the most fundamental of questions: How should I live?
Continue reading "When Donors Pick The Courses" »
By Edgar B. Anderson
Recently I sat down with a young woman who shared with me the experience of her first year at Thurgood Marshall College, one of the six colleges of the University of California at San Diego. She explained to me that regardless of her major field of study and in order to graduate she was required to take certain "general education" courses, the centerpiece of which is a three-quarter, 16-unit creation called "Dimensions of Culture." What she had to tell me is a warning to both parents and students.
The Dimensions of Culture program (DOC) is an introductory three-quarter social science sequence that is required of all first year students at Thurgood Marshall College, UCSD. Successful completion of the DOC sequence satisfies the University of California writing requirement. The course is a study in the social construction of individual identity and it surveys a range of social differences and stratifications that shape the nature of human attachment to self, work, community, and a sense of nation. Central to the course objective is the question of how scholars move from knowledge to action. - UCSD Course Description
Edgar B. Anderson: So let's talk about Dimensions of Culture. That's vague. What's that mean?
Student: I don't know. Each quarter, the first quarter is called Diversity, the second quarter is called Justice, and the third quarter is called Imagination. So Diversity is we studied everything about minorities - like women, homosexuals, and then Asians, blacks, Latinos.
Q. So what's left out - white males?
A. Yeah, pretty much if you're a white male you're bad, that's kind of the joke among all the students.
Q. Women are not even a minority, they're a majority.
A. But it's more about the workforce.
A. Yeah, that's kind of how they presented it. We didn't really focus on women that much. It was mainly how Asians have been oppressed in history and how Latinos continue to be oppressed and how blacks continue to be oppressed, all of that.
Continue reading "University Of The Absurd" »
By Stephen Balch
Trustees face a quandary in trying to figure out their role in academic governance. As a matter of law, institutional responsibility is squarely in their hands. On the other hand, while few challenge their oversight in matters managerial and financial, they are routinely warned that when it comes to intellectual content, the heart of university life, they should keep their distance.
Trustees should generally avoid getting involved in judgments about intellectual specifics such as individual personnel decisions, the content of courses, and the structure of particular programs, etc. Usually they will be out of their depth here. But they should be actively engaged in matters pertaining to overall intellectual climate, especially the degree to which such core principles of rational discourse as objectivity, disengagement, meritocracy, civility, and pluralism are honored and institutionalized. Here trustee fair-mindedness, ideological coolness, and intellectual distance, can help keep the ideological passions of academics from running discourse off reason's rails.
Like judges, trustees should see themselves as having a responsibility to ensure that the rules of sound intellectual discourse are recognized, that the academic cultures of the institutions they supervise are "lawful" in a manner that preserves the free and effective exercise of reason. This, of course, is a matter of faculty responsibility too, but since the nature of these rules, in many essentials, simply follow the operating principles of a liberal social order, citizens of that order should be able to understand them well enough to backstop compliance. Trustees need not be scholarly experts to participate meaningfully in the university's intellectual governance. They need only be intelligent and watchful products of a free society.
What types of rules are we speaking of and why should members of a liberal society be able to recognize and help enforce them?
Continue reading "What Trustees Must Do" »
By Patrick J. Deneen
Overwhelming evidence attests to the liberal tilt on our college campuses. Studies show that the faculty at most mainstream institutions are overwhelmingly registered with the Democratic party and give a disproportionate share of their political donations to left-leaning candidates. A recent study of donations by faculty at Princeton University during the current Presidential election season shows that every faculty donation went to a Democratic candidate. Were such unanimity to manifest itself for conservative candidates at an academic institution, one can be certain that our leading academics would decry the lack of diversity.
Anecdotal evidence everywhere further attests not only to the liberalism of most "mainstream" faculty, but the disproportionate share of radical professors in our humanities and social sciences. Innumerable stories have been circulated of aggressive efforts to "destabilize" gender, to question "normativity," to challenge backward institutions such as marriage and family, to encourage students to break out of pre-conceived social notions they may have inherited from parents and community. A recent article in my campus's newspaper, The Hoya, reflects this sort of radicalism. In the column, philosophy professor Mark Lance introduces himself thusly:
I'm an anarchist, a rationalist, a feminist, a man, a pragmatist, an evangelical agnostic, a friend, a philosopher, a parent, a teacher, a committed partner of one other person and a nonviolent revolutionary. These labels are all, to different degrees, important to me; they define my sense of self. You could call them my identities, but all are "works in progress," which is to say that the label stays roughly the same, but my sense of what it means changes and grows. (For example, I still have no idea what I mean by identifying as a man, though over the years I've figured out many things I don't mean. Some days, I wish that one would drop off the list.)
Aside from its unbearable self-indulgence, it's a predictable indication that Lance would seek to reject the one form of his "identity" that is actually given by nature. This is the one unbearable aspect of identity, because it is not chosen or willed.
Conservatives are often satisfied to register their righteous anger and indignation at this state of affairs, and have tactically adopted the language of victimhood and demands for diversity as a way of combating this left-wing hegemony. This may be politically effective and may in fact help raise awareness of the current campus culture to potential supporters outside the academy. However, these arguments are only tactical at best, and fundamentally obscure deeper investigation into why this state of affairs has come to pass and what would be required to begin a more fundamental reform of higher education.
Continue reading "Academic Gibberish And The Hermeneutics Of Mistrust" »
By Donald Downs
For years now, college students have been busy committing themselves to extracurricular activities. On the whole, such commitment can be constructive. It contributes to civic engagement by the young and helps them to develop personal responsibility and character. Meanwhile, college officials claim that would-be employers are now demanding that colleges provide evidence that graduates are prepared to deal with real world issues and conflicts that will arise in the workplace. Many educators are starting to respond to this concern.
In recent days, the president of the University of Wisconsin system has risen to the occasion by proposing to the Board of Regents that students have two transcripts upon graduation. The first transcript would be the traditional one, which would list the classes the student took, and the grades that he or she received. The second transcript would depict what the Wisconsin State Journal described as "the student's personal development during college, such as whether the student interned for a company, directed a play, or edited the student newspaper." The University of Wisconsin system would be the national pioneer in this movement. This effort is supported by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, whose vice president recently said that companies seek graduates who can work "with diverse groups and have a sense of social responsibility and ethics," according to the State Journal story.
According to Reilly, the university needs to institute this policy because business leaders want "workers who can work with diverse groups and have a sense of social responsibility and ethics," according to the State Journal story. The second transcript would involve more than a typical resume. It would have to be approved by a faculty member, and show how the student's experiences outside the classroom represented a meaningful application of the student's classroom work. "We know when students get to the end of their time with us, employers and graduate school admissions officers want to know what you did besides get and A or B in philosophy," Reilly told the State Journal. "We think this will capture some of the educational experience."
Continue reading "Beware The Second Transcript" »
By Robert Weissberg
Today's university seems obsessively compassionate about the downtrodden, far more than the usual academic Marxist celebration of exploited workers. Entire departments - African American Studies, Women's Studies, Queer Studies, Latino/a Studies - strive to uplift those suffering from white male heterosexual oppressors. In African and Latin American Studies indigenous people are always blameless "good guys" while under-graduates are relentlessly implored, usually with academic credit, to "make a difference" or "work for social change," i.e., rallying deadbeat tenants against predatory slum landlords. English Departments - even History Departments--increasingly celebrate heretofore repressed "voices" of the forcefully silenced. Schools of Social Work and Education now require taking vows to advance "social and economic justice" in order to graduate. Hard-head Business Schools are hardly immune - mandatory Business Ethics courses might teach that cowboy capitalism must be sympathetic to those unable to compete in cruel marketplaces.
Matters are not, however, as morally black and white as they seem. Fervent compassion for the repressed, suppressed, disadvantaged, disabled, stigmatized, marginalized, exploited and all the rest is selective, and this selectivity is hardly accidental or random. In a nutshell, liberal academics are wonderfully compassionate, caring and sympathetic but only for those who seem eternally mired in dependency to be ameliorated via expanding state power. If victims are disinclined to demand this expanded state power to rescue them from misery, then their consciousness must be raised so these newly "educated" souls can lobby for income re-distribution or some other handed-down benefit.
A class in black politics, for example, rarely dwells on Booker T. Washington's plea for self-reliance or recognizes that black Caribbean immigrants prosper via hard work, thrift and delayed gratification while shunning politics. This message is unspeakable heresy and, "inauthentic." A would-be professor expressing such views would never even be hired. The orthodox recipe for accomplishment is endlessly repeated semester after semester: mobilize, vote for candidates promising government handouts, demand new entitlements and otherwise crave measures to further deepen dependency on officialdom. One does not create wealth; one gets wealth by demanding it from on high. In this odd universe, a multiple choice question: "The best route to college admission is (a) study hard or (b) take political action against elites for stronger affirmative action" will be correctly answered with "b."
Continue reading "A Department Of Hillbilly Studies?" »
By Lionel Tiger
Those who have been operating the managerial levers of the financial system have failed embarassingly and massively to comprehend the processes for which they are responsible. They have loaned money avidly and recklessly to people who couldn't pay it back. They fudged data to get loans approved and recalculated . Then they sausaged fragile figments of moneyreality into new "products" which could be sold around the world to investors eager to enjoy the surprising returns which often accompany theft, managerial incompetence, and fraud.
One result is that our hard-nurtured national assets are being sold to foreign governments, our dollar which represents a share in our whole economy is at a portentous low while shrewd investors make bets on its continued decline. Houses and cars are being repossessed, pension funds shrink like bad shirts, people even hold off buying cheeseburgers it's that bad.
When it comes to responsibility for all this, there appears to be no one here but us spring chickens. Not only that but the overseers of the bitter debacle may lose their jobs for a month but nonetheless fill their wheelbarrows with company money and "severance" when they leave to tide them over until the next corner office becomes available. Surrealists appear to write the scripts for the drama. Stanley O'Neal was the lavishly - paid king of Merrill Lynch who - oops - mislaid about 22 billion dollars before he was shoved out the door. Sad. Shattered dreams. But he was speedily named to the Board of Directors of Alcoa! So you don't have to worry about yet another incompetent member of an increasingly overpaid and underskilled financial ruling class.
Continue reading "Down With Math" »
By Erin O'Connor
When asked about the theme for December's annual MLA convention- "The Humanities at Work in the World" - Yale comparative literature professor and MLA president Michael Holquist spoke of the need "to raise the consciousness of people outside the academy about the importance of the work that's done inside the academy." Acknowledging that the humanities do not enjoy wide public support, Holquist diagnoses the problem as a superficial one of public relations - if humanists simply advertise their worth more effectively, he suggests, the public will accept their self-assessment at face value.
But that's a glib analysis of a problem that goes far beyond appearances. The real problem the academic humanities face is a loss of purpose, imagination, and professionalism. No amount of PR can conceal that or make it palatable to a skeptical public - and efforts to do so risk revealing exactly how intellectually hollow the humanities currently are.
A case in point: Stanley Fish's recent attempt to use his New York Times blog to justify the humanities. A Milton specialist who has written numerous books on literary theory, Fish is a public intellectual who has long been at the forefront of the most influential movements in the humanities. That's why the New York Times gave him his very own online forum, "Think Again." It's also why his posts there routinely draw hundreds of comments from academics and lay readers.
A skilled rhetorician, Fish is exceptionally able to walk finer intellectual lines than most. So it was instructive to see him take up the perennially vexed question of the humanities in two posts at "Think Again."
Continue reading "Fishing For Purpose" »
By Herbert London
In order to fulfill the requirements for a major in history at Northwestern University, my daughter took a course called "The Cold War At Home." As one might imagine in the hothouse of the college system, left wing views predominate. The students read Ellen Shrecker, not Ronald Radosh. Joseph McCarthy has been transmogrified into Adolf Hitler. And victimology stands as the overarching theme of the course.
Communists in the United States are merely benign civil rights advocates and union supporters. The word espionage never once crossed the lips of the instructor.
An extraordinary amount of time and energy has been devoted to the "lavender persecution" - harm imposed on gay Americans. Presumably, this group was more adversely affected by McCarthy's allegations than others.
Despite the recent scholarship on the period such as Alan Weinstein's well researched book on Alger Hiss or Stanton Evanss biography of Senator McCarthy, views that do not fit the prevailing orthodoxy aren't entertained. Pounded into students is the view that America engaged in "totalitarian practices" not unlike the Soviet enemy we decried.
Although the course is entitled the Cold War at Home, you might think the instructor would be inclined to ask who the enemy is, why was the Soviet Union an enemy and what tactics did this nation employ against us. But these issues are not addressed.
Continue reading "Northwestern Makes The Cold War Disappear" »
By Herb London
[a speech originally given at the University of Texas]
What is an appropriate curriculum for our students? What happened to the consensus on which the college curriculum once rested? Together these comprise two of the most urgent questions in contemporary American higher education. It seems to me that the criticisms of Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind of a decade ago are symptomatic of the problems we are facing. High standards are described as elitism, a pejorative of scathing proportions. A call for the assertion of Western traditions is characterized as racist and anti-democratic. And Bloom's critique of radical feminism as a virus let loose on the curriculum is greeted with cries of "phallocentrism."
The college curriculum as the source of youthful enlightenment free of the impediments of bias and prejudice has unraveled. While Stanley Katz, president of the American Council of Learned Societies, recently noted that "scholars are less politicized in the United States than in any country in the developed world," he neglected to point out that a profound and revolutionary change has occurred on American campuses since the 1960's, resulting in the institutionalization of a radical agenda.
For a generation students have been fed on the "studies" curriculum, whether it is women's studies, gay studies, environmental studies, peace studies, Chicano studies that are designed to indoctrinate students about pathologies in contemporary American culture - specifically race, class, gender, and environmental oppression.
Continue reading "A Donkey At Berkeley" »
An excerpt from the new book Education's End, Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life by Anthony T. Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School (Yale University Press)
By the early 1970s, the humanities were floundering. Ideological rifts were widening. Traditional ways of teaching had lost much of their authority, and there was worried talk of a "crisis" in the humanities. To many it seemed less clear than it had a quarter century before, when Harvard published its famous report on the aims of liberal education, what the humanities are supposed to do and why their doing it is important. In this anxious and excited environment, a new set of ideas began to gain currency. The first idea was an outgrowth of the civil rights movement and is associated with the concept of diversity. The second generally goes under the name of multiculturalism, and reflected the deepening suspicion of Western values provoked, in part, by the Vietnam War. The third, which provided philosophical support for the other two, I shall call the idea of constructivism, though its supporters have given it a variety of other names ("postmodernism", "antiessentialism," and the like). Loosely inspired by the work of philosophers as different as Marx, Nietzsche, and Foucault, constructivism affirmed the artificiality of all human values and the absence of any natural standards by which to judge them. It insisted, in particular, that the values of the West have no inherent superiority over those of other civilizations and are merely instruments of power in disguise that must be unmasked and resisted as weapons of colonial oppression. Together, these three ideas are the source of the culture of political correctness that has dominated the humanities for the past forty years.
Each has something to recommend it. Each has a core of good sense with intellectual and moral appeal. And each draws its appeal from a feature it shares with secular humanism, which also acknowledged the diversity of human values and the need to construct one's life by making a choice among them. Together these ideas have helped to maintain the confidence of many in the humanities that they do in fact have something special to contribute to the work of higher education. They have helped define a new and distinctive role for the humanities, organized around attractive moral and political values - one that fills the void that opened up when teachers in these fields abandoned their role as guides to the question of life's purpose and value in favor of the research ideal. And they have done this in a way that appears consistent with the values of secular humanism itself.
Continue reading "The Humanities: A Laughing Stock?" »
By Anthony Paletta
Many college freshmen face their first academic task before they even set foot in a classroom - the freshman summer reading project. Many colleges now select a single volume for all incoming freshmen to read, and construct discussion groups and attendant orientation activities around the book. Temple University's explanation of its program is fairly representative: "the goals of the project are to provide a common intellectual experience for entering students" and to "bring students, faculty and members of the Temple community together for discussion and debate." At a time when core programs and required courses grow increasingly infrequent, it is surprising to find such strong language about "common intellectual experience" from universities. This all sounds encouraging, right? Perhaps, until you find out what they're reading.
An overwhelming favorite of these reading programs is Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed - it's a perennial from Baruch to Slippery Rock to UNC Chapel Hill. Nickel and Dimed appears a perfect class-conscious selection to expand students' minds. Poverty is a running theme in recent years' assignments, from Case Western Reserve's The Working Poor: Invisible In America to One Nation Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All at Washington University to a variety of Kozol readings across the nation's campuses. These assignments have not always been received happily - the 2003 Nickel and Dimed assignment at UNC Chapel Hill inspired a protest coalition, arguing that the book was an inappropriate assignment, as a radical and left-inclined critique of the American economy.
Continue reading "The Unseriousness of Freshman Summer Reading" »
Posted by Herbert I. London
A mantra fills the airways from the White House to the NCAA and from there to California governor's mansion: keep graduating students from American colleges and universities. Keep the system of higher education humming. But what precisely does a graduate rate measure other than the completion of thirty, perhaps 32, courses whose quality is unknown and whose instructors have varied talents?
Continue reading "What Does a High Graduation Rate Prove?" »
Posted by Mark Bauerlein
The first sentences of Jeffrey Williams' essay in the Chronicle
of Higher Education, "Deconstructing Academe: The Birth of Critical
sounds like an introduction to the many conservative and libertarian critiques
of higher education that have appeared in recent decades, starting with Allan
Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, Martin Anderson's Imposters
in the Temple, Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals, Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal
Education, and Richard Bernstein's Dictatorship of Virtue. The
"Over the past two decades in the United States, there has
been a new wave of criticism of higher education. "
But the second sentence dispels them all.
Continue reading "On "The Birth of Critical University Studies"" »
Posted by Daniel L. Bennett
"Academically Adrift", a study by two sociologists - Richard Arum of NYU and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia - demonstrated that 36
percent of our college students graduate with little or no measurable gains in
their core academic skills - areas like expository writing and analytical
reasoning. Their diplomas are literally tickets to nowhere. No, I
take that back. With an average student debt of $25,250, they are tickets
to long-term financial crises that can curtail their opportunities for
The higher education establishment assures us that this
poor showing is due to the underfunding of colleges.
Not so. The average per-pupil expenditure on higher education in America is
more than twice the average of other industrialized nations. No, the
problem is not too little money. It is too little attention to what
matters. What do students learn during those expensive college years?
Continue reading "What Will They Learn? Maybe Not Much" »
Posted by KC Johnson
Prompted by the NAS' intriguing--and commendable--decision to use Bowdoin as a case study to explore the liberal arts experience, I took a look last week at the staffing decisions in Bowdoin's history department. Three unusual patterns emerged: (1) a seemingly disproportionate emphasis on environmental and African history; (2) an inconsistent commitment to scholarship as a requirement for promotion and/or tenure; and (3) a preference for narrowness (history of diet, history of science, two environmental historians of the Pacific coast) in U.S. history, all while running away from any approaches that could be deemed "traditional."
So how do these staffing decisions translate into curricular choices?
Continue reading "Notes on Bowdoin's Curriculum" »
Posted by Mark Bauerlein
Herb London and KC Johnson have already posted on the disappointing findings of the ACTA project What Will They Learn? But it is worth pondering some of the implications of the report. One of the more striking of them is the "Slightly less than 20% [of colleges surveyed] require U.S. government or history." As KC noted, the bar for qualification was set pretty low, with ACTA reporting that it
gives schools credit for U.S. Government or History if they require a survey course in either U.S. government or history with enough chronological and topical breadth to expose students to the sweep of American history and institutions. Narrow, niche courses do not count for the requirement, nor do courses that only focus on a limited chronological period or a specific state or region.
Note that breadth is the only requirement. If within that requirement a teacher emphasizes racial or gender issues, if he or she highlights the guilty record of politicians, business leaders, or religious organizations, or if he or she emphasizes any other theme with sufficient scope, then the course would count and the school would get credit. But less than one in five schools qualified.
Continue reading "Why Don't Progressives Support U.S. History for Freshmen?" »
Posted by Mark Bauerlein
One of the frequent complaints one hears from humanities professors and figures in the “softer” social sciences is that students and a growing number of higher education officials, consultants, and commentators regard college more and more as a job-training program. While driving across the country this week, I heard Rush Limbaugh declare that the only point of going to college was to find a job—nothing about general knowledge and skills that go with citizenship and being an adult of taste and discernment and historical understanding.
The economic crisis makes their workforce-readiness arguments even stronger, and this story in The Fiscal Times adds an aggravating component to it. It bears the headline “The Lost Grads: Born into the Wrong Job Market,” and it focuses on graduating classes of '08-'10 who left school only to find that employers weren’t hiring. The result, according to the Economic Policy Institute: college grads under 25 have an unemployment rate of 9.9 percent, while older grads have a rate of 4.4 percent.
Continue reading "After Graduation, Get a Job Immediately, or Else" »
Posted by Anthony Paletta
Here's another bit of wisdom from the Columbia Spectator, this time on the repulsive noose incidents. Here's the first sentence of the op-ed. See if anything strikes you as odd.
In the past weeks' furor about nooses and graffiti, which dramatize age-old concerns about our Eurocentric curriculum, paternalistic gentrification efforts, and feelings of marginalization from students and faculty, Columbia has had to defend and confront its legacy of diversity and inclusion more so now than ever before.
The furor dramatizes "age-old concerns about our Eurocentric curriculum"? Really? As there's so much lynching in there? Eurocentrists did hang Tess of the D'Urbervilles, didn't they? One comment at the Spectator site wonders:
What other ills does Eurocentric curriculum, now an 'age-old' concern, cause? Police beatings? Teen age pregnancies? Baldness? Yeast infections?
The author winds the piece up with a sustained call for a robust ethnic studies department, which "would do wonders to elevate and enhance dialogue, understanding, and scholarship when it comes to power and privilege." Ethnic studies departments as universal palliatives. It might prove tempting to dismiss this as mere student op-ed puerility, but her sentiments possess broad and considerable weight in the modern university. To determined critics, any and every instance of individual racial wrongdoing is proof of the core depravity of western society. Just ask the Group of 88.
Posted by John Leo
Many universities try to indoctrinate students, but the all-time champion in this category is surely the University of Delaware. With no guile at all the university has laid out a brutally specific program for "treatment" of incorrect attitudes of the 7,000 students in its residence halls. The program is close enough to North Korean brainwashing that students and professors have been making "made in North Korea" jokes about the plan. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has called for the program to be dismantled.
Residential assistants charged with imposing the "treatments" have undergone intensive training from the university. The training makes clear that white people are to be considered racists - at least those who have not yet undergone training and confessed their racism. The RAs have been taught that a "racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture, or sexuality."
Continue reading "Indoctrination At Delaware" »
Posted by Anthony Paletta
Courtesy of the Harvard Crimson, the worst justification for a class I've ever seen:
I understand that there are a number of students on this campus who think that FemSex is unnecessary, but what class or organization isn't? Extracurriculars aren't built out of necessity; they are created out of desires - to do what we love, to find common ground, to help others. If a student doesn't like it, she doesn't have to take it, but the need for it on this campus is no lesser because it's not for her.
FemSex is unnecessary in the same way as an African-American studies class is unnecessary; it's easy for us to look at this campus, at our seemingly liberal society and say there are no problems left to fix. It's easy to say that the solution lies in finding a better boyfriend or just shutting up and learning to live with it. But some people see study and exploration as a stronger way to approach the problem. The more we learn about ourselves and others, the more likely we are to feel happy and safe. And in a world of meaningless drunken hook-ups, perhaps it's time we started getting more of what we wanted out of sex.
Here Here! All that floundering about the purpose of the modern academy could be cleared up so easily if it simply honed its focus on sex. "FemSex" was a female sexuality class on offer last semester. A prior Crimson op-ed pointed out that eight of the ten class sessions focused on "sexual and/or anatomical exploration." They're not even bothering with theoretical trappings for hedonism anymore.
Finally, take a look at the close:
We are all consistently changing throughout college, and Harvard is not always the most warm and supportive place to do so. Now, as a senior (dear God), I would describe my overall experience at Harvard as a positive one. I love the friends I have made and the extracurriculars I have taken part in, but I have found no place where I have felt more welcome, respected, safe, and open than I have in FemSex. Why anyone would want to deny another student of that is beyond me.
From Veritas to "Warm and Supported."
Posted by John Leo
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute released its second annual survey of civic awareness among American college students, and the results are just as depressing as last year's. "The average college senior know astoundingly little about America's history, government, international relations and market economy," according to the ISI report, "Failing Our Students, Failing America."
Harvard seniors scored a "D+" average on a 60-question multiple choice exam. That was the highest school score among seniors at 50 colleges surveyed - 25 elite universities and 25 other randomly selected schools. Some 14,000 freshmen and seniors took the test.
Among the questions were these:
The line "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.." is from
A. the Federalist
B. the preamble to the Constitution
C. the Communist Manifesto
D. the Declaration of Independence
E. an inscription on the Statue of Liberty
The dominant theme of the Lincoln-Douglas debates was:
A. treatment of Native Americans,
B. westward expansion
C. whether Illinois should become a state
E. slavery and its expansion
The Constitution of the United States established what form of government:
A. direct democracy
C. indirect democracy
The survey, conducted by the University of Connecticut's department of public policy, generally found that the higher a college was listed in US. News & World Report rankings, the lower it ranked in civic learning. At the eight worst-performing colleges-including Cornell, Yale, Duke, Berkeley and Princeton, the average senior did worse than the average freshmen, an example of what the report calls "negative learning." The worst-performing college, Cornell, the report said, "works like a giant amnesia machine, where students forget what they once knew." Only 28 percent of Cornell seniors knew or guessed that the Monroe Doctrine discouraged new colonies in the Western Hemisphere.
The ten colleges where civic knowledge increased from freshman to senior year were mostly lesser-known institutions: Eastern Connecticut State, Marian College, Murray State, Concordia, St. Cloud State, Mississippi State, Pfeiffer, Illinois State, Iowa State and the University of Mississippi.
Surveyed colleges ranked by Barron's imparted only about one-third the civic learning of colleges overlooked by Barron's.
One reason why civic knowledge lags is the trend away from teaching dates and factors in general, in favor of analysis, trends and a student's personalized take on the past. And with the rise of postmodern theory and cultural relativism, many students have been taught to scorn the traditional values of the west - equality, freedom, democracy, human rights - as masks for the self-interest of the rich and powerful. If follows from this view that history, particularly American history, is mostly propaganda inflicted on the young.
ISI asks: "Is American higher education doing its duty to prepare the next generation to maintain our legacy of liberty?" The answer in the report is no. In 1896, at Princeton's 150th anniversary, Woodrow Wilson argued that a central purpose of higher education is to develop citizens capable of steering the nation into the future because they have a steady grip on the past. "The college should serve the state as its organ of recollection, its seat of vital memory," he said. But in the survey, Princeton ranked as the fifth-worst school for civic learning. And most of the other 49 schools weren't much better.
Posted by Anthony Paletta
Harvard seems to be chugging in all the right directions as of late. Now that Harvard has escaped the nightmare-state of Summers apartheid the University is free to.. improve its standing in the field of hip-hop studies. The Crimson reports:
Marcyliena Morgan, a scholar of global hip-hop culture who was denied tenure under former University President Lawrence H. Summers, will be returning to Harvard in January with her husband, Lawrence D. Bobo, a prominent sociologist of race.
The couple left Harvard's African and African American Studies Department in 2005 for Stanford, where they have both held tenure-level positions. At Harvard, Bobo was a full professor, while Morgan held an untenured associate professorship.
"Since the day they left, it has been my dream to get them back," said Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr., the former chair of the African and African American Studies Department and the Fletcher University Professor.
Af-Am Chair Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham said that the change of leadership in the University was one factor that made Morgan and Bobo's return possible.
University President Drew G. Faust contacted the couple in person to urge them to return to Harvard, Gates said....
Good to see President Faust hard at work for a modern Harvard. While the President is wheedling hip-hop scholars, it's surreal to see that it remains to The Crimson , in an editorial today, to note that military studies are woefully slight at the university:
Continue reading "Harvard Wins Hip-Hop Scholar, Is Unsure What Military History Is." »
Posted by Anthony Paletta
Peter Berkowitz appears today in the Wall Street Journal writing on "Our Compassless Colleges."
At universities and colleges throughout the land, undergraduates and their parents pay large sums of money for -- and federal and state governments contribute sizeable tax exemptions to support - "liberal" education. This despite administrators and faculty lacking, or failing to honor, a coherent concept of what constitutes an educated human being.
To be sure, American higher education, or rather a part of it, is today the envy of the world, producing and maintaining research scientists of the highest caliber. But liberal education is another matter. Indeed, many professors in the humanities and social sciences proudly promulgate doctrines that mock ...
And then the rest of the article vanishes, tragically, behind the subscription wall. Yet all is not lost - you can read the full piece from which the op-ed was adopted - in Policy Review - right here in our Must Reads.
Berkowitz, incidentally, is among the luminaries who will be appearing at our Center for the American University's Allan Bloom Conference "The American Mind: Opening Or Closing?" on October 3rd.
Posted by Anthony Paletta
The Chronicle today reports on Harry Potter in the modern academy. It seems inevitable that Harry Potter would crop up in campus role-playing clubs, but now he's being taught in the classroom?
Universities across the country are adding Harry Potter to the curriculum in a variety of disciplines - English, philosophy, Latin, history, and science - and professors say courses fill up as quickly as Honeydukes on a Hogsmeade weekend. When Sara C. Boland-Taylor, 21, picked up next year's course schedule at Stephen F. Austin State University, she turned straight to philosophy. "I just saw 'H Potter,' and I completely flipped out," she says. "I called Dr. Anne [Collins Smith], and I left a message - I was like, I will be there and I will bring all my friends."
Philip W. Nel, an associate professor of English at Kansas State University, began teaching "Harry Potter's Library" in 2002, advertising the course with fliers, "which now seems sort of quaint," he says. Edmund M. Kern, an associate professor of history at Lawrence University and author of the reader's guide The Wisdom of Harry Potter, says he could probably enroll more than 100 students in this fall's course, but unless he falls under the sway of an "imperius curse," he would like to preserve the university's small class size.
Harry Potter's Library - why, that must be just like Prospero's books!
Education's End: Why Our Colleges And Universities Have Given Up On The Meaning Of Life
Inside American Education: The Decline, the Deception, the Dogma
Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education
Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More
Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk
Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe
Bonfire of the Humanities
The Sokal Hoax: The Sham That Shook the Academy
A House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths About Science
The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering Our Past
Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science
Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities
Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education
Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law, and Education
Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science
Essays on the Closing of the American Mind
War Against the Intellect
The Closing of the American Mind
Teacher in America
Liberal Education Then and Now
What Colleges Forgot to Teach
The Left University
The Ideological Corruption of Scholarly Principles
Don't Fund College Follies
Retaking the University
The Coming Crisis in Citizenship
The Chronicle Survey of Public Opinion on Higher Education
The Hollow Core: Failure of the General Education Curriculum
Becoming an Educated Person: Toward a Core Curriculum for College Students
Today's College Students and Yesteryear's High School Grads: A Comparison of General Cultural Knowledge
Restoring America's Legacy: The Challenge of Historical Literacy in the 21st Century
Losing America's Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century