April 18, 2014
The other day, the New
York Times published
a lengthy investigative piece on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.
Much of the article, written by Walt Bogdanich, has little to do with higher
education, per se--the Tallahassee Police Department comes across very poorly. Winston
come across even worse, since the Times reveals
that he was involved in an incident with a second woman. The incident is
described in extremely vague terms, but does not appear to have been an alleged
sexual assault; that said, it's hard to believe that Winston could have won the
Heisman Trophy if this article had appeared last November instead of this week.
treatment of Florida State, however, is more problematic. The Times doesn't challenge the local
prosecutor's conclusion that there wasn't probable cause to bring charges
against Winston--meaning that any fair disciplinary tribunal at FSU could not
have found him guilty, even under the preponderance-of-evidence standard. Yet
the paper seems eager to raise questions about the university's response,
perhaps to fit the article's frame, prepped by myriad pieces from Richard Perez-Pena:
that "the case has unfolded as colleges and
universities across the country are facing rising criticism over how they deal
with sexual assault, as well as questions about whether athletes sometimes
receive preferential treatment."
The Times' lengthy article cites two
additional cases other than Winston's. The first was mentioned only in passing,
but appeared to reveal that the university treated sexual assault allegations
seriously: "A Times review of sexual assault complaints handled by the campus police
last year found that in one case, officers asked for the Potbelly's [a local
bar] video when they were trying to identify a suspected assailant who had been
seen at the bar." The article does not discuss anything more about the case.
The second involved a complaint from a
mother of a student, who claimed that her daughter had been sexually assaulted
at a fraternity. The mother said that "the university should take a harder
stand on the men who are identified as having committed rapes." But the next line
in the article reveals that "according to the campus police, the student had
said she did not want officers to investigate the case." Even in these due
process-unfriendly times on college campuses, universities can't punish
students without even the semblance of an investigation.
also published a chart showing that Florida State reported, on average,
fewer sexual assaults than institutions of comparable size. But the university
had a plausible response, noting that "83 percent of FSU's students
live off-campus, where incidents are handled by the Tallahassee Police
Department and are not required to be reported as part of the university's
annual campus crime statistics." It's not clear why the Times didn't include this information; its chart includes bar
graphs for around 30 schools, but identifies only two of them.
What about the Winston case? At best,
here the Times paints an ambivalent
picture regarding FSU. It describes the incident with the second woman, and
includes the following passage: "A month before the rape
accusation became public, the university's victim advocate learned that a
second woman had sought counseling after a sexual encounter with Mr. Winston,
according to the prosecutor's office. The woman did not call it rape -- she did
not say 'no' . . . The victim advocate
was concerned enough about the episode to have alerted Mr. Winston's first
This isn't the action of a university administration
giving preferential treatment to a student accused of sexual assault; if anything,
it's the reverse, but what would be expected from an administrator
ideologically sympathetic to a claim that rape allegations are always true.
More broadly, the incident raises a question (basically unexplored by the Times): if universities are compelled to
investigate, why aren't they given the tools for the job, such as subpoena
power? In this instance, the Times seems
to chastise FSU for not conducting a more thorough inquiry that the student
herself did not want.
The Times also
criticizes FSU for acting "in apparent violation
of federal law" by not "promptly investigat[ing] . . . the rape accusation." A
bit later in the article, Bogdanich observes, "If cases are reported, the
university is obligated to investigate, regardless of what the police do." How universities are supposed to conduct
parallel investigations (reaffirmed by OCR in the SUNY settlement) to police of criminal events--and the substantial
drawbacks this mandate creates--is not something that the Times cares to explore. That's a story that wouldn't fit into the
April 17, 2014
couldn't miss the eye-catching headline on Diane Ravitch's influential blog: "Schneider Schools Sol
Stern on the Common Core." Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana
teacher, is one of Ravitch's loyal allies in the education-reform wars. Ravitch
thinks she's a great investigator and often cites her work. Actually, what
Schneider excels at is promulgating conspiracy theories and using
guilt-by-association to discredit those with whom she disagrees--such as
supporters of the Common Core State Standards, whom she accuses of being duped
and bribed by a corporate, anti-public school conspiracy led by Bill Gates,
with an assist from President Barack Obama.
denunciation of one of my recent articles
here defending the Common Core characteristically didn't engage with my
arguments, but it did provide a list of my nefarious "connections" and
"involvements" with conservative organizations. With trumpets blaring,
Schneider announced that the Manhattan Institute, where I am a senior fellow,
has "a board of trustees noticeably heavy on hedge fund managers" and
that "it should come as no surprise that MI promotes 'economic
choice'; 'market-oriented policies,' and 'free market ideas.'" (Schneider
doesn't seem to have noticed that most supporters of free markets in education
actually oppose the Common Core.) She also levies the bizarre allegation that
"MI is a cousin to the [conservative] American Legislative Exchange Council
(ALEC)." In another feat of investigative journalism, Schneider offers an
inside scoop about me and my wife: "Stern is not a teacher, nor has he ever
been a teacher. But he is married to a Manhattan, NY, high school teacher.
Not sure if she is under the so-called Common Core State Standards (CCSS)." And
I'm not sure what that even means.
of my defects, according to Schneider, is that I have written favorably about E.D. Hirsch's Core
Knowledge curriculum. She doesn't explain what's wrong with
the Hirsch curriculum but instead alleges that Core Knowledge "was purchased by
Rupert Murdoch's Amplify in 2013." If that were true, it would be considered a
hanging offense in Schneider and Ravitch's leftist circles, because Amplify is
a "for-profit" company and Rupert Murdoch is, you know, Rupert Murdoch. But the
Murdoch allegation is false. Schneider probably borrowed it from Ravitch, who
published it on her blog last year before retracting the claim when confronted
with the truth--that the Core Knowledge curriculum was licensed to Amplify for
the sole purpose of distributing it to schools around the country (a good thing
for American children.)
it wouldn't occur to me to respond to Schneider's fact-deprived attack--except
that it appeared on Ravitch's blog, which reaches tens of thousands of readers
on some days. Ravitch is also the leader of a new left-wing education movement
that has effectively exploited parental and teacher discontent with the Common
Core Standards. It says something significant about the cause Ravitch now
champions that she approves of Schneider's methods and uses them herself in
criticizing my politically incorrect views on education reform.
Schneider, Ravitch believes that readers need to know the highlights of my life
story and my affiliations in order to evaluate properly my position on the
Common Core. She begins by noting that we first met when we were fellows at the
Manhattan Institute, which is true. She then goes on to assert as an
uncontested fact that after serving as "an editor at the leftwing Ramparts"
in the 1960s, I "had a political-ideological conversion experience" and "became
a zealous conservative." My transition from leftist radicalism toward a rather
moderate conservatism took place gradually over many years and involved several
important issues, including the defense of Israel, education, racial politics,
and the failures of the welfare state. Tagging me as a "zealous" conservative
is a calculated move on Ravitch's part. I am no more zealous about conservative
ideas than Ravitch was when she served in the administration of the first
President Bush. Like her, I support gay rights, abortion rights and other
liberal positions. Indeed, if I really were a zealous conservative, I probably
wouldn't support the Common Core.
Continue reading "The Real Common Core Story" »
"As Erin Ching, a student at 60-grand-a-year Swarthmore
College in Pennsylvania, put it in her college newspaper the other day: 'What
really bothered me is the whole idea that at a liberal arts college we need to
be hearing a diversity of opinion.' Yeah, who needs that? There speaks the
voice of a generation: celebrate diversity by enforcing conformity...Young Erin
Ching at Swarthmore College has grasped the essential idea: it is not merely
that, as the Big Climate enforcers say, 'the science is settled', but so is
everything else, from abortion to gay marriage. So what's to talk about?
Universities are no longer institutions of inquiry but 'safe spaces' where
delicate flowers of diversity of race, sex, orientation, 'gender fluidity' and
everything else except diversity of thought have to be protected from exposure
to any unsafe ideas."
--Mark Steyn in The Observer
April 14, 2014
the Campus's recent
on the liberal arts' troubles was enlightening and timely. Many of the
contributors offered stirring defenses of a classical, liberal arts education
that emphasized the indispensability of the humanities to pursuing a rich and
vibrant intellectual life.
I'd like to add several points to the discussion.
Symposium contributors properly shared a deep worry about
the decline of the liberal arts in American higher education. As Cardinal John
Henry Newman so eloquently put it, a liberal education "aims at raising the
intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the
national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed
aims to popular aspiration[.]" A populace that is not liberally educated is a
populace unfit for the demands of citizenship and serious engagement with the
world at large.
Surely, a liberal education is about more than career
preparation, and the notion that higher education is merely vocational training
must be fiercely resisted. But in a world in which workers will hold an average
of 11 different jobs
in the course of their working lives, and in which employers
themselves value a broad-based education over narrow vocational training, a
liberal education is also about
equipping students for productive lives in the workplace.
Finally, it is vital to remember that college and
university trustees, as well as intelligent
donors, can push back against curricular degeneration. By staying informed
about curricular requirements, demanding presidential and faculty action, and
asking for specific curricular changes, boards can exercise their fiduciary
responsibility to preserve a strong liberal arts curriculum. The Beazley
Foundation of Virginia has proven incredibly successful in incentivizing
schools to restore their core curricula and supporting them financially in
their efforts. Several
have strengthened their core requirements after Beazley imposed a moratorium
on its higher-ed grant-making pending colleges' development of a true core. ACTA works with college and
university trustees, as well as intelligent donors, because they can be the
Archimedean points by which we shift a whole university.
Though the status quo can often prove discouraging, it
isn't time to throw in the towel. As T.S. Eliot wrote, there are times when
"Virtues are forced upon us by our impudent crimes." It is still possible to
restore the central place of the liberal arts in higher education, if we will
only fight hard enough.
In an unexpected burst of common
sense, Oberlin College has tabled its new policy on "trigger warnings," the
alerts that were scheduled to be given to sensitive students about upcoming
class material that might traumatize them. The warnings directly concerned sex,
violence and racism, but were called for across the board "to anything that might cause
trauma," the Oberlin policy said. "Be aware of racism, classism, sexism,
heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.
Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have
lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or
Given this broad mandate, it was not
clear how professors could teach at all without delivering a blizzard of
warnings to ease student discomfort. And like many college policies these days,
it's not entirely clear whether the text was inadvertently close to satire or
just satire itself.
This past weekend, the Florida State football team held
its spring football game. Most of the media attention focused on quarterback
Jameis Winston, who had also spent much of his spring playing for the FSU
Winston, of course, is by this point also well-known for
events off the football field or the baseball diamond. In the midst of what
became a national championship season, local media broke the news that the previous
year, when he was a redshirt freshman, a woman had accused Winston of sexual
assault. The alleged event occurred off campus, in a building not owned by
Florida State. The Tallahassee Police Department conducted what could
charitably be described as a less-than-enthusiastic investigation, and the case
Amidst the sudden media attention, the case was turned
over to investigators from the local prosecutor's office; State's Attorney
Willie Meggs announced that he did not believe that he could obtain a
conviction of Winston. More important, he concluded
that there was no probable cause to believe a crime occurred.
The linkage between the criminal standard of probable
cause and the civil standard of preponderance-of-evidence (the requirement of
the "Dear Colleague" letter) isn't exact. But it's hard to argue that someone
whose conduct doesn't rise to the level of probable cause could be found guilty
under a preponderance-of-evidence threshold. So there would seem to be little
reason to believe that through any sort of fair proceeding at FSU, Winston
could have been found guilty.
Yet according to recent news reports, the ever-aggressive
Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has opened an inquiry into Florida State. In at
least one respect, this move is absurd: trained law enforcement officers, who
conducted a competent if belated investigation, concluded that Winston's
conduct did not rise to the level in which a university tribunal could possibly
have convicted him.
There are, however, two ways in which the Winston case
could be troubling. First, the somewhat desultory investigation seemingly
carried out by the Tallahassee Police could be used (at least by defenders of
the academic status quo) to undermine calls
for sexual assault cases to be investigated by competent law enforcement
officers--for rape to be treated as a crime--rather than untrained or poorly
trained college officials, or by college investigators subjected to ideological
pressure from the "rape culture" bureaucracy.
Second, at least based on available press reports
(Deadspin has been the most comprehensive), the Winston affair seems to be an
exception to the general rule on campus sexual assault matters. In general--as
we've seen at Yale, or Vassar, or St. Joe's, or Occidental--the ideological
climate on campus strongly tilts in favor of excessively aggressive prosecution
of sexual assault claims, with minimal or token respect for due process for the
accused student. It's possible, though, to imagine scenarios that go in the
other direction--a claim against the son of a major donor, perhaps; or one
directed against a star athlete at a school where athletics are very important.
to the Tampa Bay Times, the
accuser's attorney has claimed that Florida State held a disciplinary hearing
in the case without informing the accuser, a clear violation of the school's
procedures. (An FSU spokesperson denied the assertion.) Meanwhile, Deadspin
has a source claiming that Winston "basically took the fifth" in a
disciplinary hearing, thereby (it appears) failing to put up any defense--yet
wasn't punished by Florida State. Just as oddly, two of his (less talented)
teammates did receive some sort of punishment from Florida State.
It's possible that FSU's handling of the Winston
allegations did not conform to the university's guidelines. It's also possible
that the reporting--driven by sources, it seems, at least somewhat hostile to
Winston--has been incomplete. Either way, it's hard to argue that the Winston
case bears much resemblance to how the typical university handles the typical
sexual assault claim.
April 11, 2014
an old canard that Asian students outperform Americans on international tests
of math, science, and reading skills because
their schools emphasize rote memorization. In contrast, American schools are
said to foster creative thinking, which supposedly leads to better problem-solving skills.
new research upends this narrative. The New York Times reports that while American students score above the
average of those in the developed world on exams assessing problem-solving
skills, they trail countries like China, South Korea, and Japan. "Critics of
the rankings on international tests have tended to characterize the high
performance of Asian countries in particular as demonstrating the rote learning
of facts and formulas[,]" the Times writes, "But the problem-solving
results showed that students in the highest-performing nations were also able
to think flexibly."
news comes in light of another Times article highlighting the continued
relevance of the SAT to many employers.
Despite criticism of the test from the left and right,
it seems that "elite employers like McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company
and Goldman Sachs" still want to know job applicants' SAT scores.
does all this add up to?
the very least, it indicates that those who oppose higher standards of academic
excellence and standardized testing in the name of fostering critical thinking
and problem solving ought to temper their crusade. Bringing more
standardization to higher education by adopting stronger core curricula doesn't make our students less creative and
adaptive--it makes them better problem solvers.
entrance exams like the SAT and ACT, moreover, don't turn students into
test-taking robots, but unlike the grotesquely inflated transcripts from high
schools and colleges, they provide a reliable metric of academic strength and
weakness. And--remarkably--they do have predictive value that some very
successful and effective industries value. It is no surprise that the
Council for Aid to Education's new CLA+ exam had such
a warm reception from business and media. The nation is hungry for valid
and reliable ways to measure such core collegiate skills as formal writing,
analytical reasoning, and critical thinking.
choice between teaching hard skills and fostering problem solving is a false
one. So let's fight to keep standards high, use clear metrics, and raise a
generation of young people whose skills are rivaled by none.
April 10, 2014
Cross-posted from the Volokh Conspiracy
In a previous post,
I noted that Brandeis University had previously declined to disinvite a
controversial commencement honoree (Tony Kushner), on the grounds that Brandeis
honors people for their achievements without vetting their political views.
This conflicts with Brandeis's stated rationale for disinviting Hirsi Ali;
Brandeis acknowledges that it continues to admire her activism on behalf of
women's rights, but finds some of her public statements to be in conflict with
beyond this embarrassing double standard, let's go to the merits. First, while
I admire Ms. Ali for her personal courage and her devotion to improving the
plight of girls in women in the Islamic world, I can't join those who endorse
her views on Islam. As I've blogged before (though I can't find the link),
unless you believe that a particular version of a religion is "true," it's
foolish to suggest that the religion itself is to blame for human actions based
on that religion. Human beings interpret religious texts, and they should be
held responsible for their actions, including how they interpret inevitably
ambiguous religious tradition.
religions evolve. Rabbinic Judaism, for example, evolved through interpretation
to the extent that it often bears only a tangential relationship to the
purported source material, the Torah. Islam, as mediated through human action,
was historically often more tolerant of Jews living under it than was
Christianity, even though if you compare the Quran to the Christian Bible it
would seem that Christianity would obviously be the more "Love Thy Neighbor"
religion. And so on. A great religion like Islam, with hundreds of years of
commentary and interpretation, can inevitably be interpreted to be more liberal
or less liberal, more tolerant or less tolerant, more belligerent or less
belligerent. To the extent it's been interpreted to be incompatible with
liberalism, we should blame the interpreters who have created "radical
Islamism" and criticize their ideology, not issue blanket condemnations of
"Islam." If the Catholic Church can evolve from what it was in the 19th century to what it is today, a decentralized
religion like Islam surely is not static or monolithic.
because Ms. Ali engages in blanket condemnation of Islam, and has expressed the desire to suppress it by force,
I think she was a poor choice for an honorary degree (though a fine choice as a
campus speaker or honoree in other contexts). Commencement should be a time to
bring the community together, not to make some students, in this case students
of Muslim background, feel like the university is disrespecting them. Of
course, universities do this all the time to students on the political or
Christian right (I had to suffer through a highly political commencement
address by Marian Wright Edelman at my Brandeis commencement-it agitated my
generally quiet, liberal/Democratic grandfather so much that he tried to
heckled her from the bleachers (to the applause of the audience)!), but two
Continue reading "More on the Brandeis-Hirsi Ali Controversy" »
April 9, 2014
Do you need a college degree to get elected president?
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who doesn't have one, wants to know.
As Walker begins contemplating his 2016 presidential bid,
John Fund reports, his incomplete education is raising concerns among
Republicans. Walker started college at Marquette University but dropped out to
join the Red Cross. He never returned. Amidst these grumblings, however,
Walker is now considering finishing his degree.
We already know the answer to Walker's question, as nine of
our Commanders-in-Chief-- among them the greatest (Washington, Lincoln) and most
obscure (Taylor, Fillmore)-- never received a college education. But Walker's
concerns are understandable. Americans today place a much higher premium on a
college degree than they did in the past, and it's quite possible that swaths
of the electorate will write him off as a result.
Walker has indicated that if he does finish his degree,
he'll do it through the University of Wisconsin's FlexOption, which allows
students to obtain a degree at their own pace online. FlexOption relies on a
"competency-based model," which offers credits for subject mastery
rather than in-class seat time. To that end, highly self-motivated students can
complete their degrees as quickly as they can pass their assessments. Such
programs present a worthy challenge to the traditional model of higher-ed,
which places little stock in how much students have actually learned.
If Walker finishes his degree, then, he'll not only improve
his electoral prospects but also bring renewed attention to one of the most
important innovations in higher-ed today. If he's wise, he might even choose to
make higher-ed reform a key campaign promise. He could certainly speak from
Cross-posted from Open Market
we wrote about a Wisconsin town whose ordinance holds parents liable for bullying by
their children, including certain speech. We and
law professor Eugene Volokh noted that this raised serious First
Amendment issues. Now, a New Jersey judge has done the same thing by
judicial construction, by allowing New Jersey school
districts to drag students and their parents into lawsuits
brought against school districts by alleged victims of bullying or
discriminatory harassment. (New Jersey's anti-bullying law is so broad that it
violates the First Amendment by banning non-violent speech, notes the
civil-liberties group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.)
12, a New Jersey Superior Court Judge ruled in V.B. v. Flemington-Raritan Regional School District that that school district, and
the Hunterdon Central Regional High School, "could name 13 students and
their parents as third-party defendants in a bullying suit," dragging them into
a lawsuit against the school districts, and potentially forcing them to share
the massive cost of paying any damages awarded by a judge or jury against
the school district. Judge Yolanda Ciccone allowed the parents to be sued
based on conduct and offensive comments both in school (where teachers and
schools officials, not parents, were in charge) and outside of school. She
based this ruling partly on speech that is protected by the First
Amendment outside the schoolhouse, such as unkind remarks on Facebook, writing that
"Plaintiff's complaint includes several allegations of that acts of bullying
and harassment took place on Facebook, and that plaintiff had to contact
Facebook directly to have to [sic] offending statements removed."
mind that federal judges have ruled that the First Amendment applies
with added force to students' speech outside of school, meaning that
vulgar speech that is banned in school may be protected speech when it
occurs away from school, as cases like Klein v. Smith (1986) illustrate. Similarly, the
federal appeals court in New Jersey has issued two First Amendment rulings
in favor of students disciplined for creating fake web profiles lampooning
their principals, holding that the speech was protected outside of school even
if it would be unprotected in school, in Layshock v. Hermitage School District (2010) and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District (2011).
Jersey state judge, by contrast, allowed all of these students and their
parents to be sued over the students' alleged contribution to a "hostile
learning environment," including student K.I., who was sued even though "there
were no allegations against him after the 2007-08 school year," because other
students harassed the plaintiff student for years thereafter, causing a
hostile environment to develop for reasons largely unrelated to K.I. (The court
did not merely cite offensive speech in allowing the bullying suit to go
forward, but also cited obnoxious conduct totally unprotected by
the First Amendment, such as a bully throwing things at the plaintiff. However,
this does not make the First Amendment problem go away, because
a damage award cannot be based even in part on protected speech, as the Supreme
Court's decisions in Street v. New York and NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. make clear.)
Continue reading "The Anti-Bullying Assault on Free Speech" »
April 7, 2014
Sensibly enough, the Wall Street Journal berated Phil
Hanlon, the president of Dartmouth, for mishandling the two-day takeover of the
university administration building by a small group of diversity-obsessed
students. Instead of the obvious move--having the protesters tossed out--Hanlon
met with them, then announced: "Their grievance, in short, is that they don't
feel like Dartmouth is fostering a welcoming environment...I deeply empathize with
them." He welcomed a conversation about their list of 70 demands, which included
free sex-change operations under the campus health plan, a mandatory
ethnic-studies curriculum, more "womyn and people of color" on faculty,
censoring the library catalogue for offensive terms and gender-neutral
bathrooms in every campus facility. The students also complained about "micro-aggressions,"
those tiny slights that render sensitive students uncomfortable and therefore
militant. Oh, and they asked that college officials stop referring to them as
"threatening," apparently yet another micro-aggression.
After Hanlon said that he welcomed conversations, the
protesters explained that talking had a serious flaw; it would led to "further physical and emotional
violence enacted against us by the racist, classist, sexist ,heterosexist,
transphobic, xenophobic and ableist structures at Dartmouth." Joe Asch, editor
of Dartblog, a running commentary on life at Dartmouth, said "members of the
faculty are wondering whether Phil Hanlon has a spine."
For this exchange I accept Peter's characterization that I
made ten major points in my original rebuttal and will proceed accordingly.
1. The issue of
Peter doesn't really dispute my claim that his critique of
the Common Core was supported by little evidence and no citations from the
actual Common Core document. His explanation is that his articles "were brief,
not dissertations." I don't think he would accept such an excuse from one of
his students who handed in a 5300 word paper lacking adequate sourcing.
Nevertheless, I would be glad to review his book when it comes out.
2. The issue of
the Common Core's provenance
Peter continues his original essay's error about David
Coleman's role by now describing the Common Core as Coleman's "private
initiative." This is foolish and a
serious historical distortion. The idea of developing national education
standards for K-12 schooling began as far back as the George H. W. Bush
administration and was further pursued by Bush's Assistant Secretary of
Education, Diane Ravitch (the conservative Diane Ravitch) in her 1995 book, National Standards in American Education,
written for the mainstream Brookings Institute. The standards' movement
continued to grow throughout the 1990s and was endorsed by, among others, Bill
Clinton and a host of fellow governors, as well by leading national education
organizations, including the Fordham Institute. Finally, The National
Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers created a
consortium and asked Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit headed by
Coleman, to convene a broadly based group of education policy experts to draft
3. The Common Core
is supposedly illegal
again repeats the legal arguments made in the Pioneer Institute's white paper,
which I dismissed as meaningless until an actual claim is made in court. Yes,
the relevant statutes stipulate that the federal government may not "exercise
control" over a curriculum. The trouble is that the Standards do not call for
any particular curriculum. Opponents of the Common Core are entitled to argue
otherwise. But if they strongly believe in the argument of illegality they
should go to court. Please, make my day. By the way, the No Child Left Behind
Act was far more prescriptive for the states, including favoring a reading
curriculum, but I don't recall much opposition to that federal initiative by
many of the same groups now attacking the Common Core Standards.
Continue reading "A Rejoinder to Peter Wood" »
v. University of Texas was the most eagerly (or anxiously) anticipated Supreme
Court case of the last several years. Opponents of affirmative action hoped
(and supporters feared) that it would, finally, fire a silver bullet into the
heart of racial preference policies.
did not, but what it did do (if anything) has been debated about as hotly as
what it should have done. A number of essays on a SCOTUSblog
symposium reflect the ambiguity: "If
you (the Court) choose not to decide, you have still made a choice (at least
for now)," "Fisher's
big news: No big news," "In
with a bang, out with a fizzle." The most optimistic response, from point
of view of the opponents of racial preference, was a tepid two cheers from
Roger Clegg, "Better
off than we were a year ago."
comes Edward Blum and his Project
on Fair Representation, the force behind (and in Blum, attorney for)
Abigail Fisher's lawsuit, determined to prove Clegg correct. In a press release
issued today [April 7], POFR announced a new litigation effort, building on Fisher,
targeting Harvard, the University of North Carolina, and the University of
Wisconsin. "The Supreme Court last year imposed incredibly high hurdles
colleges must overcome when using racial and ethnic preferences in their
admissions policies," Blum stated. "We believe all of these schools are
breaking the law."
POFR believes that thousands of applicants to
these universities have been unfairly and unconstitutionally denied admission
because none are following the legal principles enshrined in the Fisher opinion
and the Supreme Court's decisions dating back to Brown v. Board of Education.
Specifically, the Supreme Court wrote that colleges are bound to use "strict
scrutiny" in the manner they give preferences to applicants by skin color and
POFR believes that Harvard University,
specifically, is discriminating against Asian-American students by using a
"quota" or "ceiling" to limit their admission to the university.
the first stage of what it anticipates will lead to litigation, POFR announced
the creation of three websites: HARVARDnotFair.org;
UNCnotFair.org; and UWnotFair.org.
POFR's director, invited
any student who was rejected by one of these
universities to visit the new websites to learn more about what can be done to
end these practices. We encourage any person with first-hand knowledge about
these universities' use of race in admission practices and policies to come
forward as well.
again opponents of affirmative action hope (and supporters fear) that the
efforts of Blum and the Project On Fair Representation will produce that
long-awaited preference-slaying silver bullet.
April 4, 2014
My friend Sol Stern has published a
I recently published about the Common Core K-12 State Standards. Sol had quite a bit to say and I have
replied point by point
in an essay on the National Association of Scholars website. What follows is an abbreviated
account. Sol makes, by my count,
1. My characterization of the Common
Core is all accusation, no evidence.
These were brief articles, not
dissertations. But as it happens,
I have a book coming out, Drilling
Through the Core, which is chock full of evidence. Those with an appetite
for detail should repair immediately to the long version of this article over
2. The Common Core is a genuine
states-based initiative, not an imposition of the Obama administration.
The Common Core originated as a private
initiative by David Coleman, who pursued the smart strategy of selling the idea
to the National Governors Association (NGA), which endorsed it in 2008. That brought many Republican as well as
Democratic governors and ex-governors into the Common Core corner. Then came President Obama's 2009 Race
to the Top that dangled a $4.35 billion prize to the states if they dropped
everything and signed on to the Common Core. Of course, 45 states did just that in a matter of weeks.
President Obama clearly didn't design the
Common Core. He just leveraged
Stimulus money and an administrative program called the Race to the Top, to
turn another run-of-the-mill educational reform program into a de facto national program.
President Obama found in the Common Core
something that resonated with his view of how government in general and the
federal government in particular should play a greatly expanded role in the
lives of Americans. After 45
states signed on, he did a victory dance in his 2013 State
of the Union Address, and another in his 2014 State
of the Union Address.
3. The Common Core is perfectly legal.
Three federal laws explicitly prohibit the
federal government from establishing a curriculum, programs of instruction, or
instructional materials. As the 1970 General Education
Provisions Act puts it, no
agency, officer, or employee of the United States [can] exercise any direction,
supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction,
administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school
system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed
or published instructional materials...
Similar prohibitions are part of the
Department of Education Organization Act and the No Child Left Behind Act,
which is the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act [ESEA]
of 1965. The ESEA also protects the rights of states to set their own standards
for educational content and achievement.
4. The Common Core doesn't water down mathematics
Continue reading "Common Core: Peter Wood Replies to Sol Stern " »
conventional wisdom among higher education historians is that government was
uninvolved in the development of American higher education before the Civil War.
In "Myth Busting: The Laissez Faire Origins of American Higher Education," published
recently in The Independent Review, I refute this
view using a framework that compares the actual political economy during the
period against a true free market for higher education. My analysis suggests
that the sector was not free from government intervention, but rather the state
was considerably more involved in shaping the trajectory of American higher
education than most scholars proclaim.
constitutes a true free market for higher education? The criterion that I use
involves three broad features: property rights and institutional autonomy,
privatization, and competition.
to the 1819 Supreme Court ruling in Trustees
of Dartmouth Coll v. Woodward, the property rights and autonomy of colleges
were increasingly threatened by politicians seeking to control them. The ruling
in the case is widely viewed as institutionalizing the property rights and
autonomy of colleges, providing an impetus for a proliferation of private
the majority of colleges that emerged during the era were founded by private interests,
this does not necessitate the existence of a private and competitive market.
Many so-called private institutions were subsidized with land, cash, and/or
regulatory protections that provided them with a competitive advantage relative
to institutions that were either philosophically opposed to government
intervention, or were unsuccessful rent-seekers. And many institutions received
an exemption from property taxes, a policy that largely remains intact today
but has recently
many credit the rise of the public sector to the Morrill Land Grant Acts of
1862 and 1890, these policies were essentially scaled-up versions of antebellum
state and federal policies. The original constitutions of several states called
for the establishment and financial support of state institutions, and revenues
were often raised through the sale of land. The federal government's first
endeavor with land grant colleges was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which
called for the creation of a university using proceeds from the sale of land.
subsidization of colleges and the creation of state institutions hardly
constitute a private and competitive higher education marketplace. Instead,
these state interventions altered the natural market process that would have
evolved in their absence. Given that American higher education today is
massively subsidized, heavily regulated, and subject to extensive rent-seeking,
it seems likely that these developments are at least partially attributable to state
interventionism during the sector's infancy. The traditional view that it was
not seems to be propagated by a misunderstanding of the market process.
it is hard to take affirmative action seriously, or to distinguish it from
parody (or often, tragedy). A case in point is a recent
decision by a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the Sixth Circuit upholding the dismissal of a discrimination complaint by
Dr. Marvin Thrash, a former faculty member at Miami University of Ohio. Inside
Higher Ed has a long article on the case that is informative but oblivious to the
humor (or pathos) so obvious that the case could be an Onion satire or
an April's Fool Joke.
Prof. Thrash was an
affirmative action "opportunity" hire in 2004. He
had first applied for and been rejected for a tenure track position but was
then hired under a special program. According to the Dean of Miami's School of
Engineering and Applied Sciences, quoted by the Sixth Circuit, "an 'opportunity
hire' was a hire made pursuant to an 'informal policy' at the University of
obtaining funding to hire candidates who were under-represented minorities even
if the University did not have a position open." Over his several years at
Miami Prof. Thrash was regarded as an effective teacher, but beginning in his
first year and in subsequent years his evaluations noted that his research was deficient.
He was denied tenure and filed a lawsuit charging racial discrimination.
Thrash's charges included the following:
his department chairman, Prof. Shashi
Lalvani, viewed him "as an affirmative action hire who had
received the job based not on his qualifications, but on his race."
"Dr. Lalvani's categorical rejection of external reviewers from HBCUs is
evidence of Dr. Lalvani's racial bias against African-American scholarship."
another professor "had a reviewer from an HBCU, Norfolk State University,
struck from her final list by Dr. Lalvani. Dr. Thrash argues that this is
further evidence that Dr. Lalvani had a bias against HBCUs and African-
American scholarship." (Sixth Circuit opinion,
first charge may not be quite as brazen as the famous if apocryphal defendant
who murdered his parents and then pled for mercy as an orphan, but it comes
close. It suggests that anyone who makes an affirmative action hire -- that is,
who hires someone who would not have been hired but for his or her race or
ethnicity -- and who says or even believes that person would not have been hired
but for his or her race or ethnicity risks a discrimination lawsuit if the
affirmative action hire is not subsequently promoted.
Continue reading "True Affirmative Action Tale--Not an Onion Satire" »
April 3, 2014
Some cautious (and perhaps unexpected) good news from the
Department of Education. Inside Higher Ed reports that the new
DOE rules regarding the Clery Act are not nearly as troublesome as many,
including me, had feared. (I formally commented on the rules here.)
The new rules contain two positive items. The first, and
most important, is a welcome clarification regarding the role of attorneys in
disciplinary cases. As I've noted previously, sexual assault is a serious
crime, and colleges are poorly equipped (if at all) to investigate serious
crimes. In an ideal world, the DOE would have issued a regulation requiring
colleges to turn over investigation of all violent crimes on campus to local
Since that option never was a realistic possibility, the
proposed rule is at least a step in the right direction. The idea that students
accused of a serious crime should be denied the right to counsel in a
hearing--or, in the case of the most extreme institutions, such as Swarthmore,
denied the right even to tell an
attorney about the charges against them--undermines basic principles of due
process and fair play. That's especially true in cases, such as sexual assault
claims, that might subsequently result in criminal charges.
Unfortunately, the proposed rules still deny accused
students the right to full representation by attorneys--that is, to have their
lawyers play a full role in what passes for due process on many campuses.
Instead, colleges will have the option to "establish restrictions" on the
attorney's participation in the proceedings, "as long as the restrictions apply
equally to both parties." But in this case, the accuser is already effectively
represented by the prosecutor (the school), so a restriction on her attorney's
right to full participation would have far less impact than on the rights of
The second important item is what the proposed rules did not do. Emotional and psychological
abuse--undefined--wasn't included as a crime required for reporting under the
Clery Act. More important, the committee didn't recommend including the "Dear
Colleague" letter recommendations (preponderance of evidence to brand a student
a rapist) as part of the rule. As long as the current Education Department is
in place, there seems to be little hope that the "Dear Colleague" letter will
be set aside. But this move retains the option that some future Education
Department will show greater respect for due process.
Much of the remainder of the proposed rule is
unobjectionable or even commendable--with the exception of one provision. As inside Higher Ed notes, "Colleges would be required to report
instances of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking even if the
behavior isn't considered a crime in the jurisdiction where they are located."
This might be known as a permutation of the
Yale rule, in which the university has offered a much broader definition of
sexual assault than what exists in the local jurisdiction (or in any city in
Connecticut). There seems to be little reason for colleges to redefine criminal
All told, however, these draft rules are much better than
April 2, 2014
It seems as if periods emerge where sexual assault issues
tend to focus on a single university. Even in the aftermath of the lacrosse
case, attention remained on Duke--in part because of the civil suits, in part
because the university, rather than learning from its mistakes, adopted a new
policy that could brand a student a rapist based on "perceived
power differentials" that can create "an unintentional atmosphere of
Then the focus turned to Yale--in part because of the
university's mishandling of the Patrick Witt case (still no word on any
investigation of who breached confidentiality at the school), and then because
of the Orwellian definitions of sexual assault ("economic
abuse" as intimate partner violence) offered in the university's periodic
sexual assault report documents.
As of late, the focus has turned to Dartmouth--which,
somewhat unlike Duke and Yale, receives less attention in general from the
national media. The starting point was the odd
"rape culture" protest from last year. Then came the remark of the recently
promoted Amanda Childress, who
mused, "Why could we not expel a student based on an allegation? It seems to me that we value fair and
equitable processes more than we value the safety of our students. And higher
education is not a right. Safety is a right. Higher education is a privilege."
appropriately attracted a good deal of attention; a college spokesperson desperately, and ineffectively, attempted
to walk it back. The episode also brought to light a disturbing lack of respect for due process even in a venue (college disciplinary
tribunals) that generally disregards the concept.
Fueling the outrage was the arrest of a Dartmouth freshman, Parker Gilbert, for raping another
Dartmouth student. Last week, Gilbert was acquitted--after five charges against
him already had been dismissed, for lack of evidence, by first the prosecutor and then the judge who
presided over the case. Criminal cases obviously have a higher burden of proof than
the college disciplinary processes, but remarks by the jury foreman suggested
that the case would have failed even under a preponderance threshold. "(The woman's) story of how the night
played out, the evidence wasn't there to support that," said the foreman, in an interview with the Valley News.
"To the contrary, it was more in Parker's favor . . . There is tons and tons of
evidence that just doesn't add up." The foreman added that the accuser was
poorly served by people at Dartmouth who encouraged her to file the criminal
How did the activists at
Dartmouth respond? With a lengthy statement (still labeling the accuser as a "victim") denouncing the jury,
demanding a "cultural shift" in what could be considered a crime. The statement
also denounced Gilbert's lawyers, noting, "The amount of time and resources
utilized by the defense to break her down is rarely exhibited in a case like
this where so few facts are in question." As a Dartblog commenter pointed out,
the "time" was one afternoon in court, and the Dartblog reporter who covered
the case said there were actually many facts in question.
If Gilbert had been
convicted, the message would have been a need to address "rape culture" at
Dartmouth. With Gilbert acquitted, the message was a need to address "rape
culture" at Dartmouth (and in New Hampshire!). Facts, it appears, don't matter.
March 28, 2014
freshman in a sociology class at the University of Wisconsin (Whitewater)
recorded "a guest lecturer denouncing many Republicans as racist, classist,
sexist, homophobic, and dishonest." To his surprise, he--rather than the Republican-bashing
lecturer--became the issue. Since the 1970s, the university has required
permission to record and distribute classroom discussion, and now seems bent on
reaffirming that policy. The student said: "People should have been upset that
he came into the classroom and said that. but instead they were upset that I
recorded it and made it public."
snippets of speech from close-door meetings are routine these days, and one wonders
about double standards. Would the student have been in trouble for recording an
equally baleful, generic attack on Democrats? How many questioned the
surreptitious recording of Mitt Romney's "47 percent" outburst?
the sociology class described
by the Chronicle appears to have
had ambitions that have been called "political" on the mild side to
"indoctrinating" on the not-so-mild side.
What a video exposé accomplishes is a moment when those not in the classroom can determine where
the line might be drawn between the mild and less mild. Calling someone a racist is hardly the same
as examining the social realities of racism.
modern university classroom is no longer a sanctuary of thoughtful engagement
with ideas and the pursuit of the truth. The problem with a good deal of sociology
taught to undergraduates today is not its touching upon controversial and
morally complex matters, it is how those matters are reduced to simplistic,
often stupid, assertions about right and wrong.
Textbooks and introductory courses in sociology are filled more and more
with judgments rather than analyses, that is, it seems perfectly consistent to
invite Republican-bashers into such a classroom without asking students to
analyze those judgments. That is not
what sociology is for.
March 27, 2014
BuzzFeed is uncritically fascinated with "rape culture."
Combine that with Occidental, a college where a male student can be branded
a rapist even if his partner says "yes," and the result is an article
by Jessica Testa. Her BuzzFeed article, which reads as if it comes from the
Onion, provides an unintentional
commentary into how far from reality many campus "activists" now are.
A quick refresher: despite campus policies that are overwhelmingly
tilted against students accused of sexual assault, campus "activists" (students
and faculty) filed a Title IX claim against the college--with the help of
celebrity attorney Gloria Allred. Fawning press coverage followed, with
reporters repeatedly ignoring Occidental's actual procedures and describing the
accusers (none of whom had even filed police reports) as "victims" or
"survivors." The charade appeared to have
ended on March 14, when the Los
Angeles Times announced that one of its reporters on the case, Jason Felch, had been involved in an
unrevealed romantic relationship with one of the faculty complainers, and had
described minor incidents (such as inappropriate text messages) as unreported
sexual assaults The Times then fired Felch.
But anyone who thought the case had concluded doesn't
follow higher education, where "activists" rarely, if ever, concede defeat. The
result was a lengthy article by Testa, in which the BuzzFeed reporter
uncritically passed along paranoid, borderline delusional, assertions by Occidental
faculty members involved in the Title IX fight.
Consider these items in Testa's article:
- Felch's former paramour (who receives
anonymity, because she seems to believe that someone is out to get her) claimed
that her faculty "workspace
was broken into" and that "pages from her journal that referenced her
relationship with Felch were laid out on her desk." Her alleged stalker, the
paramour asserted, obtained the journal by breaking into yet another place on
campus, "a private locked library carrel" that she had revealed only to "four
trusted colleagues." Why she had her private journal at the library, and why
she didn't report either alleged break-in to local police, remains unclear.
Occidental professor, Caroline Heldman, likewise claimed that her office was
broken into--though she, too, doesn't appear to have reported the incidents to
police. Heldman also included a tagline on her e-mail asserting that "Occidental
College administrators are tracking this email." The Testa article produced no
evidence to corroborate this claim, which college administrators denied.
appears sane, however, compared to the unnamed paramour--who confided that she now
only uses a new phone, which she paid for in cash, because she feared someone
might be listening in to her conversations. Why? Her "personal iPhone had been
acting strangely: flashing every few minutes while she wrote text messages or
emails, as if the phone were taking screenshots, and running the battery down
seven or eight times a day." Rather than consider that the phone simply was
malfunctioning, the paramour appears to believe that someone, Jason Bourne
style, was accessing her personal information. The anonymous professor conceded
that she had no actual evidence that the college was monitoring her, but "whether
or not you're actually being surveilled, if you think you are, it's still
destructive." Well, yes, but it's rather frightening to see that a college
faculty member simply assumes that Big Brother is surveilling her. Does she
believe the Occidental administration has teamed up with the NSA?
- The anonymous professor recalled that she
served as a "faculty advocate" to a student who charged, without
reporting the incident to police, that a tennis player had raped her. The
paramour claimed that "for weeks" a tennis ball was placed and then
removed from her campus mailbox. Why the professor just didn't
remove the tennis ball herself-- and how the alleged stalker could have done
something like this for weeks while evading detection in a busy campus
mailroom--Testa elects not to explore.
are teaching students--and, of course, advising the student "activists" who
filed the Title IX complaint. No wonder the complaint seemed divorced from
Testa never comes out and asserts that Occidental administrators are
responsible for any or all of these alleged incidents. But the article is
framed in such a way to leave this as the obvious impression.
It's possible, I suppose, that a college administration
is essentially a criminal conspiracy. Or it's possible that several Occidental
faculty members are paranoid.
Readers can decide.
Here's some more evidence for those who wonder whether a
college degree is "worth it." The online job portal CareerBuilder announced
last week that more employers are requiring their employees to hold
an associate's or bachelor's degree. 27 percent of the surveyed employers
said that they increased "educational requirements" for obtaining a
job in the past five years, while 30 percent are now consider college-graduates
for positions they used to offer to high-schoolers.
None of this information is particularly novel. For the past
few years the Center for College Affordability and Productivity has warned
about the "underemployment" of college graduates, pointing to the
startling statistic that 48 of American college graduates hold jobs that Bureau
of Labor Statistics believes requires less than a four- year degree. As Career
Builder put it, a college degree "is increasingly becoming the new high
The fact that employers are offering the same jobs to
college students that they once offered high-school graduates indicates that
these jobs haven't become more demanding. Rather, both growth in the number of
college graduates as well as the perception that college grads are more
competent have led to serious This trend sends a paradoxical
message to high-schoolers: you should definitely go to college, but you should hope
your friends don't.
March 26, 2014
If you're interested in the worrisome growth of
student debt, check out my new essay for National
Affairs. I explain how the student debt crisis
came about, explore some of the suggested reforms, and offer my own solution.
In short, I argue that the federal government should stop calculating loan
awards on the basis of individual colleges' cost of attendance, since that
incentivizes administrators to raise costs without consequence. It's behind a
paywall, but if you subscribe you can read it immediately.
Cross-posted from E21
The excitement of the NCAA tournament continues this weekend
with the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, but the final four schools in terms of
athletic subsidies have already been decided. While all of their teams lost in
the second round of the basketball tournament, the universities of Massachusetts
Amherst, Delaware, Western Michigan, and New Mexico State made the final four
of subsidies received by their athletic departments. These four public
universities each gave over $19
million just to run
athletic departments cannot cover expenses, they look for support from
elsewhere in the university budget. The NCAA defines subsidies as everything
not generated by the department's athletic functions. This usually takes the
form of student fees and institutional support. For public schools especially,
this money also comes from taxpayers.
Our final four teams are not alone--the tournament based on
subsidies was highly competitive. Of the 45 public university teams in the tournament, 41 athletic departments received subsidies
that exceeded $420 million in total. Of this amount, $136 million came from
student fees and an additional $284 million came from non-athletic school
Carolina University--a team that made a quick exit from the basketball
tournament--received 82 percent of its $17.6 million budget from subsidies. The
exciting game in which Stephen F. Austin University upset Virginia Commonwealth
University pitted two schools against each other that received a combined $28
million in subsidies--80 and 75 percent of their athletic budgets, respectively.
Even Virginia University, one of the top four seeds in the tournament, received
$13 million in subsidies.
schools subsidize athletics, they divert funds from educational programs to pay
for coaching salaries, athletic scholarships, and athletic facilities
maintenance. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino is undoubtedly successful, but
is his $4.9 million salary the best use of students' tuitions, and taxpayers'
money? Cardinals fans will certainly ask that question if Pitino's team fails
to beat archrival Kentucky Friday night. If Pitino's salary instead went toward
student financial aid, 500 students could have received full-tuition
scholarships to attend a top-rated university this year. Instead, when students
are forced to pay additional fees, their college tuitions increase without
much--or any--educational benefits.
Continue reading "The Real March Madness:
Costly Subsidies for College Hoops" »
March 21, 2014
: A patient police interrogator tries hard to draw some common
sense from the mind of a feminist studies professor.
March 20, 2014
Cross-posted from SeeThruEdu
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently set off a firestorm by saying he wants to reintroduce state-funded college classes in state prisons. He wants classes in 10 prisons as a trial. Such classes were defunded in the 1990s. Meanwhile bipartisan federal legislation would give time credit for prisoners in education programs.
Cuomo's proposal does raise interesting and important issues about the value and fairness of prison-based college.
Much initial reaction has been perhaps understandable. Many ask how it can be right to spend taxes on free college for criminals when law-abiding students in college have to pay tuition and many go deep into debt. He's also been accused of creating a "Club Med" for inmates. For good measure, state advocates of early childhood education say Cuomo is putting convicts before kids.
But there are telling points on the other side of the ledger. Over half of released prisoners end up getting rearrested with many coming back to prison. In part that's because there are so many obstacles to going straight when you have a prison record. The American Bar Association has identified thousands of federal and state "collateral" consequences offenders face, including being barred from most college assistance for even misdemeanor offences. Supporters of college classes argue that these additional penalties and permanent restrictions are an unfair additional "life sentence" of lower earnings, hurting not just the ex-cons but also their families.
If spending $5,000 a year on classes means an inmate is released with marketable college skills and doesn't return and chalk up $60,000 a year in prison costs, says Cuomo, that's a huge saving for taxpayers. Others agree. Indeed, a meta-analysis of many studies by the RAND Corporation and the Department of Justice found that inmates receiving such education programs, including GED as well as college classes, on average "had 43 percent lower odds of recidivating than inmates who did not." While high school/GED programs were the most common, RAND found no differing impact from post-secondary prison classes.
New York already has some privately funded prisoner education programs operated by universities such as Cornell and Bard, and backed by the universities' top brass. Advocates say that not only do college courses prepare inmates for life after release, but also they help to control behavior inside prison, in part by providing role models for other prisoners.
To be sure, Cuomo's college proposal will face heavy sledding in the state Assembly, where politicians from both sides are lining up against it. But it does underscore the fact that if we are to reduce the staggering costs of incarceration, released inmates need skills that will give them a good chance to succeed by working rather than by returning to crime - and returning to prison - and these days college-level skills are increasingly the "must-have" credential. And the opponents' charge of unfairness is a reminder that cutting costly recidivism through education will be hard to enact as long as law-abiding Americans seeking a degree face heavy tuition costs and indebtedness.
March 18, 2014
Cross-posted from the Center for College
Affordability and Productivity
subject matters of arts and humanities, like philosophy and English, are often
viewed as being too far removed from daily life to be useful outside of the
academic world. Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, claims that a student not in a STEM field
(Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) will likely "end up working
a shoe store." Hunter Baker, Dean of Instruction at Union University, however, argues that abilities to think critically and
contextualize new information are necessary to long-term business success;
according to Baker, arts and humanities cultivate such skills.
Korn at The Wall Street Journal lends some credence to Baker's claims:
liberal arts majors with post-graduate degrees make $2,000 more than their
professional and pre-professional equivalents at the peak of their careers. The
Huffington Post provides a list of successful arts and
humanities students, all of whom work outside of academia. In addition, data
from the Educational Testing Service show that liberal arts students score
significantly higher than any other field in both the verbal and analytical
writing sections of the GRE, and philosophy students outperform accounting
students in the quantitative section.
the academic and business success of liberal arts students, they earn on
average far less than engineering students at any equivalent level of education
and experience. They also earn less than physical science students at the peak
of their respective careers. However, the value of STEM degrees might be
overestimated. Robert Charette of IEEE Spectrum claims that the market does not need
STEM-specific skills, as there are 11.4 million STEM degree holders working in
non-STEM fields and only 277,000 vacancies in STEM-specific jobs. Rather, the
critical thinking and problem solving skills taken from those fields provide
value and can be acquired just as well--if not better--through a liberal arts
arts degrees such as English, philosophy, or history are not useless or
esoteric. Although the knowledge gained through their study might not be
directly applicable to any field or job, the frameworks for learning new skills
and information obtained from them are useful in any context. Contrary to
popular wisdom, degrees in arts and humanities can be used as practical tools
for success outside of academia.
March 14, 2014
A college commencement is a splendid time to celebrate student
achievement. But it's "disinvitation season" again, as the Foundation for
Individual Rights in Education observes: the time when intolerant students and faculty
advocate against their school's choice of commencement speaker, sometimes
causing the speaker to be disinvited.
These power-hungry protesters demonstrate how little they have
learned about tolerance in a diverse society where people say and do things
that others dislike. And all too often, as at Harvard and at Rutgers, they have
learned this intolerance from their own professors.
Is former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg so evil that there
is no room for him on Harvard's Tercentenary Theatre stage? Some students think
so, arguing that because they disagree with him on important
issues such as "stop-and-frisk," they feel excluded: "the negative reaction to
his selection has, understandably, been intensely personal. ... [O]ur lived
experiences inform our emotions."
It would be a shame if Harvard University's commencement were to
pretend that the rest of the real world were all rainbows and unicorns--as
though it were students' last chance to stay within the bubble. It is an even
bigger shame that Harvard students have learned intolerance from Harvard
In an almost self-parodying opinion piece in The Harvard Crimson, a student
advocated for the end of free inquiry in the name of "academic justice." Why
"put up with research that counters our goals"? She recalled a dark day for
free speech--to her, a bright day--when Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences
effectively fired one of its own, Subramanian Swamy, in 2011 because of an op-ed he published
in India that had zero to do with his Harvard teaching.
It was far from the only example she could have used. Feelings
have long trumped rationality in certain areas of Harvard Law School, including
the dean's office. FIRE's Harvey Silverglate tells story after story of deans and faculty members teaching
students that certain ideas--even certain areas of academic study--are simply off
the table if they seem too hurtful.
These stories include the 2005 hysteria over Harvard president
Lawrence H. Summers, who was severely criticized for exploring ideas about
gender in a way that made others uncomfortable. Summers himself thus became the victim of a disinvitation by the University of California
in 2007. No matter what good Mr. Summers may have done in and for the world and
for Harvard, narrow-minded and anti-intellectual protesters choose to harp on
their one or two favorite notes of protest.
Making matters worse, Harvard's leadership on the world stage
emboldens intolerant faculty elsewhere, whether the influence is direct or
indirect. At Rutgers University, hundreds of faculty members have been
protesting against the university's decision that former Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice be commencement speaker.
Intolerant teachers like many at Harvard and Rutgers are leading
students down a dark path of anti-intellectual injustice. They are producing a
generation of intolerant students who welcome the use of a university's power
to shut down and shut out the people and ideas they hate.
This week I watched the eighth and
final set of lectures for "Introduction to Sustainability," the Coursera MOOC
I've been taking and chronicling over the past few weeks. This week's topic was
"measuring sustainability." Seated before a camera, a photo of Utah's Arches
National Park behind him, Professor Tomkin opened his lecture just as he's
opened every lecture for the past seven weeks: "G'day. I'm Jonathan Tomkin from
the University of Illinois," pronounced with a smile and an Australian accent.
I'd like to meet Professor Tomkin. He seems friendly and fair-minded, the kind of
professor whose office door would always be open. Periodically glancing at his
notes on a computer screen to his left, he explained a slew of metaphoric
footprints: carbon, water, and so on. He spoke clearly, if a little less
articulately than in previous lectures. I wonder if all eight weeks' lectures
were filmed in one day. This week, he seemed tired and a little worn out, and,
for the first time, less scripted. But he successfully led his audience through
the various ways to measure the "sustainability" of particular actions, as he condensed
the technical jargon we read in our open online sustainability textbook. Every
few minutes, his image would give way to slides showing charts, definitions, or
photos as he spoke.
As I watched the final videos, I
couldn't help comparing those lectures to the close of a semester at my alma
mater. I'm not too long out of college, so the exercise didn't tax my memory
too badly. On the final day of class, seated at a desk, my classmates and I
would listen to our professor's closing thoughts, ask a lot of questions about
the final, and exchange mutual thanks and farewells in case we lacked an opportunity
at the exam.
In the MOOC, not much of that was
the same. I sat at one end of my living room couch with headphones in while my
college-student roommate sat at the other studying for midterms. Whether any of
my classmates were watching those lectures simultaneously, I don't know. Professor
Tomkin didn't talk about the final--which I appreciated, since that left more
time to discuss ideas rather than logistics--but he did summarize the course and
express his hope that our taking the MOOC proved as worthwhile as his making
it. The main difference, though, between the presentation of my college classes
and this MOOC was that I couldn't reciprocate. I couldn't tell Professor Tomkin
what I appreciated about his course or ask him about the times I respectfully
disagreed with him. Nor could I say goodbye.
So will I miss the MOOC? In some ways, yes. I became familiar with a host of sources I might not have otherwise perused, from an open textbook to United Nations reports to TED talks. I read about depleted fish stocks in Alaska and demographic transitions in Asia. I took two multiple-choice quizzes each week--painfully complicated, presumably to make it harder to cheat--that drilled into me the significance of j-shaped and s-shaped growth curves. And I had some valuable discussions, too. After my third post here last week, in which I mentioned a discussion thread I started on fracking, I learned that discussion thread struck a nerve. That thread on fracking eventually attracted 27 posts and 182 views--making it one of the most popular threads in the course--and remained active more than a week after I started it. I heard from residents of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, the United Kingdom, and South Africa who explained their experiences, a number of interested parties who overwhelmed me with links to surveys and studies, and a "Community TA" who intervened to make sure everyone knew that I was wrong and that fracking was too environmentally dangerous to advocate.
But in other ways, I won't miss it. Typing out questions late at night to students rather than asking them in class or over lunch wasn't fun, and corresponding with strangers I've never met whose personalities I can't discern was hard. The conversation took on the tone of students pretending to be experts rivaling each other in the number of sources they could amass; I couldn't read and evaluate every study that got cited in that fracking discussion, nor could I always tell who really knew something about the subject and who was just linking anything that came up in a Google search. On the other hand, nor will I miss the frustration of starting a forum post on a topic I wanted to discuss, only to find few students interested in the same question. But my main regret is the stymied interaction between professor and student. I wish I could knock on Professor Tomkin's door.
(This is part 4 in Rachelle De Jong's series on taking a MOOC. You can find Part 3 here, Part 2 here, and Part 1 here.)
March 13, 2014
In something close to a first-of-its-kind
decision (in a similar case filed against Holy Cross, the judge sided with the
university; comparable cases against Vassar and St. Joe's remain pending), U.S.
District Court judge Arthur Spiegel has upheld much of the lawsuit filed by
former Xavier basketball player Dez Wells against the university. A gender
discrimination and libel case based on an allegation of rigged procedures
against Wells will go forward.
To review the allegation: after what he
claimed was an incident of consensual sexual intercourse, Wells was accused of
sexual assault. In a mere 27 days from accusation to judgment, the university
concluded that Wells was "responsible for rape" after a process
in which Wells couldn't cross-examine his accuser and was deemed a rapist based
on a preponderance-of-evidence threshold. All this occurred while Cincinnati authorities
determined that there was no basis to pursue criminal charges; prosecutor
Joseph Deters deemed the Xavier process "fundamentally unfair."
In the Wells case, "justice" was swift--and
unjust. So Wells filed a federal lawsuit, claiming gender discrimination and
libel, and urging the court to overturn the result of Xavier's disciplinary
tribunal, called the UCB. One advantage universities have in these sorts of
proceedings is that unjustly expelled students often will shy away from filing
a lawsuit, since the mere act of going to court will make public that their
former school branded them a rapist. But in Wells' case, he already had been
subjected to taunting behavior from opposing crowds--including, most shamefully,
from Duke students, who should know something about procedural improprieties and
rape allegations--because of the highly-publicized nature in which Xavier
handled the claims.
Judge Spiegel's order (which you can read here) denied Wells' request to vacate the UCB decision, but solely on
procedural grounds (he cited a statute-of-limitations problem). Wells had
conceded as much in his final pre-order filing. Spiegel also dismissed another
claim, against Xavier president Michael Graham, for technical reasons.
On the nine other claims, however,
Judge Spiegel allowed the lawsuit to proceed--taking, as he must at this stage
of the case, Wells' factual assertions as true. On Wells' Title IX claims, the
order held that Wells' allegations plausibly showed that Xavier was "reacting
against him, as a male, to demonstrate to the OCR that [university officials]
would take action, as they had failed to in the past, against males accused of
sexual assault." Spiegel noted that the university ignored warnings from the
prosecutor that the sexual assault claim was unfounded, and deemed Wells a
By far the most interesting section of
Judge Spiegel's decision came in his discussion of Wells' libel claim--which is
based solely on Xavier having publicly stated that the university dismissed Wells
for having committed a "serious violation of the Code of Student Conduct."
Stepping outside a summary of the
back-and-forth claims between Wells and Xavier, Spiegel made his opinions about
Xavier's judicial process quite clearly known.
Normally, the judge observed, "judicial
and quasi-judicial proceedings are entitled to an absolute privilege, so as to
encourage witnesses to speak the truth." But not in this instance, as "it
appears to the Court that the UCB here, a body well-equipped to adjudicate
questions of cheating, may have been in over its head with relation to an
alleged false accusation of sexual assault." For this reason, and given that
Xavier denied Wells the right to an attorney and the right to cross-examine his
accuser, it's at least plausible to credit Wells' claim that the entire process
A federal judge suggesting that a major
university's sexual assault process might--in its very nature--be "invalid."
March 10, 2014
Another day, another report on "gender inequities" in STEM fields. Early Academic Career Pathways in STEM: Do Gender and Family Status Matter?, just released by the American Institutes for Research, begins by summarizing the familiar litany of laments: not enough women on STEM faculties, and the few there "are more likely than men to be in lower academic ranks and work at less prestigious institutions" than men and receive an insufficient "level of recognition, career affirmation, and resources."
Ho hum. This report, however, does contain one interesting finding: "Not only overall, but regardless of marital and parental status, significantly higher proportions of women than men had secured academic versus nonacademic positions upon earning their STEM PhDs." 79% of women began their careers in academia, the Chronicle of Higher Education noted in its discussion of the new report, while only 67% of men did so.
The fact that a higher proportion of women than men with new STEM Ph.Ds are choosing academic careers, even if they are young mothers, ought to produce some reconsideration of the vast flow of funds now devoted to analyzing and removing the various "barriers" that are thought to turn them away.
Typical of these programs is the National Science Foundation's ADVANCE program, in which NSF has invested "over $130M," whose goal "is to develop systemic approaches to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers." In addition to the ubiquitous "implicit and explicit bias,"one of the barriers -- which the ADVANCE program refers to as "external factors" -- to be overcome is the "differential effect of work and family demands" on women STEM academics. The new American Institutes for Research study, however, finds no such "differential effect" in choosing in choosing an academic career. Any disadvantage from being married and having children, it concludes, exists "for both men and women."
Or take another NSF program, Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), a program I discussed here a week or so ago that is devoted to encouraging "underrepresented minorities"(URMs) to prepare for and enter "academic STEM careers at all types of institutions of higher education," in large part so that they can provide "role models" for other URMs to choose academic STEM careers.
If women STEM graduates are already choosing academic careers disproportionately more than men, is this plethora of gender-based proselytizing programs really necessary?
Someone should do a major study -- and make no mistake: it would be a major project requiring extensive research -- of just how much money the National Science Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and other government agencies and private institutions spend each year -- not on producing more science, technology, engineering, and math but trying to socially engineer the STEM workforce. Add to that sum the amount spent on studies and reports pointing out the "inequities" that demand such spending and in not too many years the result would probably be enough to send a woman to the moon.
is an excerpt from remarks by Professor Robert Paquette, co-founder of
the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization,
on winning the Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick Prize for Academic Freedom, Friday,
March 7, at the CPAC convention in Maryland. The award is sponsored by the
American Conservative Union Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley
At many of the most prestigious liberal
arts colleges in the United States, departments of English no longer require of
its majors the reading of Shakespeare; departments of history mandate that its
majors take multiple courses in non-Western history but have either no
requirement or a token requirement for American history. Faculty,
administrators, and trustees have openly betrayed the finest traditions of
liberal arts education by passing off the swindle known as the open curriculum,
which, in truth, means the no curriculum, as something somehow worthy of a
$60,000 per year price tag.
I have lived in the belly of the beast of
higher education for 33 years as a practicing historian. The animating
principles of that great experiment in republican government, I tell my
students, centered on the defense of limited government, voluntary exchange,
private property, and civil freedom. Does anyone in the audience tonight
believe that more than a tiny fraction of students graduate from college these
days with a deep and abiding appreciation of the worth of these principles?
Or is it more likely that a substantial number of students graduate able to
parrot one or another fashionable and distortional discourses of oppression in
which we see--and here I paraphrase from any number of listings in college
catalogues-- the intersections of class, race, gender, and sexuality.
For the Doubting Thomases, I
say perform this simple experiment: Go to the home page of the website of
any elite college or university in the United States. Activate the
search engine by plugging in such words as social justice, sustainability,
diversity, multiculturalism, sexism, racism, Marx, activist, and identities.
Total the references. Now perform a similar search for, say, conservative,
entrepreneur, Western civilization, Shakespeare, Judaic, Aristotle, and
Christian. Get the point.
A major theme of my Duke
lacrosse blog has been the almost complete lack of accountability for
statements and judgments on the case made by academics and journalists. Duke's
trustees awarded the institution's feckless president, Richard Brodhead,
another five-year term. No fewer than four members of the Group of 88--the
faculty who rushed to judgment in a guilt-presuming ad--left Duke for more
prestigious positions at other schools. (The most recent such announcement came
a mere two weeks ago.) Imagine the fate of professors in the politically
correct academy who had rushed to judgment against more favored groups on
The media experience was
similar. Selena Roberts, the sports columnist who drove much of the Times' guilt-presuming message, was
hired away by Sports Illustrated. (Roberts,
for those with short memories, compared
members of the lacrosse team--"a group of
privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to
belie their social standing as human beings"--to "drug dealers and gang members
engaged in an anti-snitch campaign.") And
Duff Wilson, the chief reporter for the Times'
hilariously one-sided news coverage, went on to become associate editor for Reuters' global enterprise
unit--and, almost incredibly, an adjunct professor at Columbia's School of Journalism, where he'll have the opportunity to influence the
next generation of journalists.
But a lack
of accountability for politically correct campus-related reporting is hardly
confined to the Duke lacrosse case. Take, for instance, the case of Katie
Baker. A few months ago, I critiqued Baker's odd Newsweek reporting about
one of the earliest California legislative efforts to weaken campus due
process. In her article (a hard-news piece, not an op-ed), Baker repeatedly
described accusers as "sexual assault survivors" or the "victim"--suggesting
that she believes that the mere filing of a complaint indicates that a rape
occurred. She also passed along, without critical comment, a highly
controversial Justice Department claim that college women are four times more
likely to be sexually assaulted than the rest of the population. Skepticism
about what the government says doesn't appear to be Baker's forte.
It turns out that the presentation
in the Newsweek piece reflected
Baker's basic beliefs about due process and sexual assault. She had come to Newsweek from Jezebel, where
she labeled the Wall Street Journal's
James Taranto as a "prolific woman-hating troll."
(Those in the reality-based community on this issue know Taranto as author of
perhaps the single best exposé of the effects of a lack of due process on
campus, in his column about Auburn.) For good measure, Baker described Taranto
as a "cockroach," and added--in all caps--"HE IS THE WORST."
Reflecting her commitment to
open intellectual exchange, Baker announced that she was "not interested in
engaging with Taranto."
(or, perhaps, because of?) this record, Baker has just been hired by BuzzFeed. Her
task will be "to cover
criminal justice and other legal and social issues related to college
campuses," and assisting another reporter in the publication's "rape culture
process, it seems, be damned.
March 7, 2014
you stop and think, it's unfair to the many writers at the New York Times who produce columns that don't have an ideological
edge, to tar them with the brush that is rightly applied to its overwhelmingly
unfair and unbalanced editorial pages. Just because the most conspicuous part
of a newspaper is terribly slanted is not a good reason to think badly of the
rest of it. Guilt by association is always a bad, illogical practice.
occasions that introduction is a recent New
York Times piece by writer Eduardo Porter, "The
Bane and the Boon of For-Profit Colleges." Because many liberal politicians
(most notably Iowa's Tom Harkin) have had knives drawn against for-profit higher
education, you might expect that the Times
would take the same stance, but Porter's article is not a hit piece at all.
begins by interviewing Marc Jerome, vice president of Monroe College, which has two campuses
in the New York area. The college is indeed a business, founded 80 years ago by
Mr. Jerome's grandfather. It is emphatically not a degree mill. Porter notes
that more than 90 percent of recent graduates tracked by the school either
continued their education or found employment. (Many well-known, non-profit
colleges couldn't match that record.)
irritates Mr. Jerome is the way for-profits have been singled out for hostile political
attack. Some certainly have scammed gullible students, but not his school.
"Targeting only for-profit institutions and exempting nonprofit institutions
with poor outcomes is ultimately more harmful to the students the
administration is seeking to protect," he states. Clumsy federal regulations
meant to solve one problem (the fact that many students who enroll in
for-profit colleges don't graduate and find "gainful employment") are likely to
have the unintended consequence of harming students who will be lured into
non-profits that will be worse for them.
piece doesn't quite articulate the crucial point, although readers might find
it between the lines: There is nothing necessarily bad about for-profit
education, nor anything necessarily good about non-profit education. In both,
the problem lies in the way we subsidize education.
Friedman often said that when people spend their own money, they're much more
careful than when they spend someone else's money. That's just as true about
education as anything else.
students are mostly spending other people's money through grants or seemingly
benign government loans, they are far less careful about getting good value than
if they were spending their own money. Schools
offering good educational value for the dollar, like Monroe College evidently
does, will do fine in a system without easy federal money. Degree mill scams, on the other hand, will
wither and die, for-profit and nonprofit alike.
has written a commendably fair and balanced piece. Some Times writers do that, just as some for-profit colleges are good
One of the biggest challenges MOOCs
face is facilitating community and conversations among students. The MOOC I'm
taking, "Introduction to Sustainability," has three main kinds of discussion forums
where students can start conversation "threads" and respond to others: 1) one
for general discussion in which people post about anything they think is relevant;
2) video lecture forums where students respond to each individual lecture; 3) forums
devoted to each week, sorting comments by syllabus chronology rather than by recurring
The comments range from
self-interested (an advertisement for one student's start-up wifi provider) to
helpful (advice to Mac users whose operating systems can mess up some comment
formatting) to inquisitive (does cap and trade reduce carbon emissions?). When
I started a thread asking students if they thought environmental devotion was
an ethical duty that trumped economic analysis, I found that the act of writing
and citing sources made my question and its responses more thoughtful than
either one might have been otherwise. But I also found that the anonymity of
the Internet can make it easier for some to ignore civility. The three
discussion "conduct standards" in the forum instructions remind students to be
polite, be sensitive, and post appropriate content. (Nothing about a student's
duty to post true statements or logical arguments, incidentally.)
This week, Professor Tomkin is
giving extra credit to those who post a recommendation for a particular
environmental policy and who respond to other people's recommendations.
Usually, though, there's no reward for commenting; to post or not to post is up
to the student. This lack of incentive makes conversations worse than they
might be in person, where professors' expectations and the instinct to defend
one's opinions can drive students to participate. Online, everything depends on
the student's own initiative. But that laissez faire policy also creates better
outcomes than in most online courses, where students complete trivial
commenting exercises yet have little interest in their distant classmates. In
the MOOC, students comment only when they have genuine questions. Thus there
are fewer discussions, but the students who participate care more about
That can also mean, though, that
more students are posting questions than are responding. Indeed, most of the posts
have been viewed by about 30 students, according to the running counts shown
next to the thread titles, and many have only one post, the original question,
per thread. Several have two to five posts as a couple of students interact. The
longest thread I've seen has 46, and the second longest, 30; that thread was
titled "I'm finding the quizzes difficult. How about you?"
Professor Tomkin himself is beyond
the students' reach, though at the end of each week we get an email from him recapping
that week's content and summarizing what he considered the most interesting
student exchanges. There are notices
posted on the course page reminding us that "the instructor is not able to
answer emails sent directly to his account" and "all questions should be posted
to one of the above forums." Instead, a
number of "community TAs" from the University of Illinois monitor the forums and
post occasional responses.
(This is Part 3 of Rachelle De Jong's series on taking a MOOC. You can find Part 2 here and Part 1 here.)
March 6, 2014
Cross-posted from See Thru Edu
is some sort of poetic justice or perfect symmetry in the recent discovery that
a Duke University student is paying her tuition by working as a porn star.
There are certainly schools with more Bacchanalian social structures than Duke;
many of its students are quite serious about their educations and have enough
self-respect to avoid the worst campus excesses. But Duke's recent
sex-scandal-ridden history, featuring incredibly weak administrative
leadership, makes it the perfect place for yet another such humiliation.
libidinous atmosphere was first hinted at in Tom Wolfe's novel, I
Am Charlotte Simmons, published in 2004 (although Wolfe denied his
fictitious Dupont University was based on Duke, the many parallels and
coincidences were hard to ignore). It became the poster child for campus
licentiousness in 2006 when a scandal erupted over a stripper who
falsely accused lacrosse
team members of rape. The school's response, from president
Dick Brodhead to the Gang of 88 faculty members, was to vilify the
accused students and paint targets on their backs, even though there was
considerable evidence that the woman was lying. (Questions raised then
regarding her mental instability were recently confirmed when she was convicted
of murdering her boyfriend.) Brodhead eventually had to apologize for siding
with the stripper and the radical faculty members, but his reputation as a
cowardly follower of the worst faculty elements was cemented.
2008, a Duke
performance by the
"Sex Worker's Art Show" led to national exposure of the exceedingly raunchy and
antisocial antics of a travelling troupe of strippers and prostitutes. (Due to
that exposure, the Art Show no longer tours college campuses.) The performance
was partially paid for with school funds under the control of the administration.
was followed by the Karen Owens
scandal in 2010. Owens
was a Duke student who created a PowerPoint presentation describing in
cringe-inducing detail her numerous sexual liaisons with athletes. She showed
it to another student who put it on the web for public viewing, where it went
viral. The derision directed toward the Duke community was so great that
Brodhead again leapt into action, this time by admonishing the student body in
a weakly worded email, asking them to behave better.
him appear even more ineffectual, Brodhead's tepid attempt at leadership
coincided with a campus visit by a so-called "sex educator"--again, partially
paid for by funds distributed by his administration--who encouraged young women
to experiment sexually with wild abandon. The expert offered such common sense
advice as suggesting that it was okay for a young woman to go home with a
complete stranger from a bar as long as they could "gaze longingly into each
others' eyes," and that American children should begin having sex as early as
puberty, "like they do in Europe." In fact, such "educators" regularly appear
on the Duke campus, with the administration offering both funding and its
Continue reading "Will Duke President Address Latest Scandal?" »
Rutgers's faculty and campus
newspaper are offering one final lesson for its seniors: don't engage with opposing views.
On the recommendation of its Board of Governors, New Jersey's flagship public university has invited
Condoleezza Rice to address the graduating class of 2014. Dr. Rice, of course,
is both an accomplished scholar and dedicated public servant. Her life story is
remarkable--born and raised in the Jim Crow South, she rose to become Stanford
University's provost, President Bush's national security advisor and America's
first female African-American secretary of state. By any reasonable standard,
she is a fine choice for commencement speaker.
This hasn't stopped members of the Rutgers Faculty
Council from adopting
a resolution urging the university to rescind its invitation. For them,
Rice's role in the Bush administration renders her persona non grata. Rutgers' Daily Targum agreed, proclaiming
"we just don't feel comfortable having politicians as commencement speakers at
Even taking the editorial board at its word, a
no-politician standard is ludicrous. Would the Targum oppose President Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Elizabeth Warren
(who was granted an honorary degree from Rutgers in 2011 with little protest) as
possible commencement speakers because those on the right may find them
Note that the invitation to Condoleezza Rice has already been extended. As the C.
Vann Woodward Report observed, "Once an invitation [to speak] is accepted
and the event is publicly announced, there are high risks involved if a
University official ... attempts by public or private persuasion to have the
invitation rescinded." Why? Because it sends the message that being shielded from
those with whom you may disagree is preferable to hearing what they have to
say--a notion antithetical to the pursuit of truth that is the heartbeat of a
Of course, Secretary Rice is unlikely to touch on
politics in her address. What the Faculty Council is really saying is that pursuing
certain policies can render an individual unfit to speak at Rutgers, no matter
what that individual says. This is rank political discrimination at its worst.
Thankfully, Rutgers's administration is standing firm. The university is
showing that when a principled administration and Board of Governors work
together, they can serve as bulwarks for academic freedom.
March 5, 2014
This is an excerpt from an essay in The American Conservative by
Patrick Deneen on the Harvard Crimson column by Harvard senior S.V.
Doctrine of Academic Freedom" which argued for dispensing with longstanding
commitments to "academic freedom" in favor of what she calls "academic
What is particularly telling in Ms. Korn's article is that
she identifies perhaps the one conspicuous conservative professor on the
Harvard campus for censure, Harvey C. Mansfield (even as she quotes him
quite severely out of
context). When thinking of who should be silenced at Harvard, she can only
think of one person, a single conservative octogenarian. Her call for
"censorship" of conservative views on campus is at this point almost wholly
unnecessary, since there are nearly no conservatives to be found at Harvard, or
on most college campuses today (the University of Colorado has gone so far to
create a Chair in Conservative Studies, since there was no other way to locate
a conservative on that campus). Her call is actually much less controversial
than it appears at first glance, since it effectively describes the de facto political
and social condition on most college campuses today.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page has
been under heavy fire for running James Taranto's February
10 column criticizing the double standard in campus policies that treat the
man as a criminal and the woman as a victim when they have drunken sex--widely
and egregiously misinterpreted
as "if a drunk woman is raped, it's as much her fault as the rapist's." On
February 24, presumably for balance, the Journal
op-ed by an anti-sexual violence activist defending the government-backed
campus crusade against (broadly defined) sexual assault. In a stroke of unfortunate irony, the
activist who delivered the message was in the media spotlight a few years ago
as a rape victim advocate--and, back then, she was defending a notorious rape
The February 24
column by Monika Johnson Hostler, president of the board of the National Alliance
to End Sexual Violence, is a fairly unremarkable recycling of talking points. Johnson
Hostler asserts that acquaintance rape is a "scourge of college life," with one
in five female students becoming a victim of rape or attempted rape. (Her source is the 2007 Campus
Sexual Assault Study--which, apart from its dubious criteria for defining
sexual assault, included non-penetrative unwanted sexual contact.) On the bright side, she seems to steer clear
of the rhetoric that brands the average male college student a rapist, instead asserting
that serial sexual predators who deliberately target incapacitated women "often blend into their schools and student communities with
ease." Of course, if that's the real
problem of college sexual assault, it's not clear why the average college male
must be terrorized with dire warnings that he could be an unwitting rapist if
he fails to ascertain that his apparently willing partner is sufficiently sober
(or sufficiently enthusiastic) to consent.
Rewind to 2006, when the sensational rape allegations
against members of the Duke University lacrosse team were playing out in the
headlines across the country--and when revelations of factual problems with the
alleged victim's account of the events began to raise questions about the rush
to judgment. Johnson Hostler, then executive director of the North Carolina
Coalition Against Sexual Assault, was quoted extensively in a Cybercast News Service story on April 20 lamenting the critical media coverage:
said the woman is being "re-victimized" by the public examination of
her account of the evening's events, and the scrutiny will
"absolutely" discourage future rape victims from coming forward out
of fear of embarrassment.
Johnson Hostler also
brushed off the suggestion that three young men facing charges in the case
might be facing a painful ordeal if unfairly accused:
think they'll be glorified if they're found innocent," she said. "The
sensationalism of this case will go to another level if they're found
added that a not guilty verdict would "allow people to say, 'See, women do
cry rape,'" a reference to the fable of the boy who cried wolf.
The same day, Johnson
on the Fox News show The O'Reilly Factor,
where she reiterated her conviction that the woman had indeed been raped and saying
that her role was "to support a woman or any victim that comes forward to say
that they were sexually assaulted." When
O'Reilly asked, "Even if they weren't?", Johnson Hostler replied, "I can't say
that I've come across one that wasn't."
Certainly, a sexual
assault counseling service should provide support to any person who reports an
assault without investigating the veracity of the claim. However, it's certainly a leap from such
support to publicly defending the absolute truthfulness of any rape claim, denouncing
the media for having the gall to investigate facts that don't match the
"victim's" story, or transparently suggesting that a not guilty verdict would
be bad for women.
Johnson Hostler also asserted at the time that a not-guilty verdict "won't tell
us anything" about the players' actual innocence or guilt, the actual outcome
of the case--a full dismissal of all the charges--was a strong statement of their
It is possible, in
theory, that Johnson Hostler's views have evolved since 2006. Or, more likely, this is precisely the kind
of guilty-by-fiat ideology she would like to see enshrined on college campuses
far beyond Duke.
One would think that
taking such a spectacular drubbing in the Duke case would severely undercut Ms.
Johnson Hostler's credibility as a spokeswoman for rape victims. But evidently, being a warrior against "the
rape culture" means never having to say you're sorry.
March 4, 2014
The "White House Task
Force To Protect Students from Sexual Assault," an initiative that thus far has
elected not to engage civil liberties groups, invited public comment on its
work and the issue of the administration's response to campus sexual assault
allegations. Below is the comment that I submitted:
Since the Task Force has invited public
comment, I write to express my concerns with the administration's lamentable,
consistent, efforts to weaken due process protections on campus. (For the
record: I write as an Obama supporter in both 2008 and 2012.) The anti-due
process crusade began in 2011, when the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a
"Dear Colleague" letter holding, nearly four decades after its enactment, that
Title IX required colleges to substantially weaken the already weak due process
protections for students accused of sexual assault on campus. Now, through the
rule-making effort for an update to the Violence Against Women Act, the
administration is attempting to make permanent this unfortunate change.
Although a number of civil liberties groups,
most prominently the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE),
challenged the provisions of the "Dear Colleague" letter from the start, the
OCR has proven frustratingly unwilling to publicly explain why Title
IX requires colleges to use a preponderance-of-evidence standard in sexual
assault cases or to allow accusers to appeal not-guilty disciplinary finding.
Nor has the OCR even remotely defended its proposition that Title IX justifies
the agency's strong suggestion that colleges forbid accused students from
cross-examining their accusers, despite the obvious threat to due process
caused by such a policy.
Based on statements and policies adopted by
defenders of OCR, however, there appear to be two purported justifications for
the OCR's action. The first is procedural: that civil actions represent the
most appropriate analogy for campus sexual assault hearings, and therefore the
civil standard of preponderance-of-evidence is appropriate.
This line of argument misunderstands the
basics of most college disciplinary processes. As a statement from FIRE
recently explained, "those facing civil
penalties in real courts under the preponderance standard are afforded many
fundamental protections that are typically absent from campus tribunals,
including impartial judges, unbiased juries of one's peers, representation by
counsel, mandatory 'discovery' processes to ensure that all parties have access
to relevant information, restrictions on unreliable evidence like hearsay or
prior bad acts, and sworn testimony under penalty of perjury." Tellingly, while
the OCR has championed the preponderance-of-evidence threshold for students
accused of sexual assault, the agency has declined to demand that universities
guarantee any of the above procedures for accused students.
The civil-suit comparison
also misunderstands the current effects of expulsion. Thirty or forty years
ago, in an era in which many people still blamed the victim for sexual assault,
college rapists could and often did flourish later in life. (Recall the
experience of David Wu, whose college girlfriend accused him of attempted
sexual assault in 1976, and who was disciplined by Stanford, but who
nonetheless went on to be elected to Congress from Oregon.) But in the current
environment, the effect of a guilty finding extends well beyond simply needing
to find another school. Few colleges, for entirely understandable reasons, will
accept as transfer students an undergraduate who has been deemed a rapist by
his previous institution. Even those accused students who manage to graduate
college will find jobs that require background checks (a common phenomenon in
our security-conscious times) foreclosed to them in the future.
For actual rapists, of
course, this fate is a highly insufficient punishment, since even if they're
expelled from school and lose future employment opportunities, they won't go to
jail. But for the falsely accused (and convicted), an incorrect disciplinary
judgment will have a shattering, lifelong effect. That fate applies even to
those convicted for offenses that campuses describe as sexual assault but that
few people off campus would recognize as such. At Occidental, for instance,
affirmative consent can sometimes not be a defense against a rape charge, since
the college holds that in sexual intercourse, "'Yes' may not always mean, 'Yes.'"
Or take Yale, whose definition of intimate partner violence includes "economic
abuse" between roommates. Yet on their transcripts, students convicted under
such standards would nonetheless be branded as rapists.
If weakening due process made
it more likely that college disciplinary tribunals would reach the truth,
perhaps the change would make sense. But the OCR has presented no evidence that
such an outcome is related to adjudicating cases by a preponderance-of-evidence
The OCR's second rationale
appears to revolve around an unusual definition of safety--a hunch that actual
victims will be more likely to report allegations of sexual assault to campus
authorities if they believe it more likely that the proceeding will end in a
guilty finding. While it's conventional wisdom that victims will be more likely
to report sexual assault cases if they are treated with respect by authorities
and if they are confident that authorities will properly investigate their
claims, I'm not aware of any study that suggests victims calculate the odds of
success at trial before reporting a crime. And even if such a study existed,
lowering the burden of proof to encourage more reporting of what remains a
criminal offense is repugnant to American traditions.
In the event, it's hard to
credit the OCR with an ostensible commitment to safety, given the agency's
recent settlement with SUNY. Common sense would indicate that the best way to reduce
sexual assault on campuses is to tighten working relationships between local
law enforcement and the campus community. Such an approach wouldprovide positive assurance to victims (that
their accusation will be considered seriously) without in any way undermining
due process. Hopefully, more victims of crime on
campus would feel comfortable enough to file police reports--ensuring that
trained law enforcement officers, as opposed to untrained academic
administrators, actually investigate sexual assault cases. Since campus
disciplinary panels lack subpoena power, can't override HIPAA restrictions to
analyze the medical evidence that's often critical to sexual assault cases, and
do not generally employ trained law enforcement officers, they are almost singularly
ill-equipped to conduct investigations of what remains a criminal offense.
Continue reading "Task Force Comment" »
February 28, 2014
years, efforts have been made, legal and illegal, to get around the provisions
of California's Prop 209. That's the 1996 measure that prevents consideration of
gender, race or ethnicity in public education, employment or contracting. But
for many weeks, it has seemed likely that the overwhelmingly Democratic
California legislature would vote to exempt education from the law. That
would open the door to race, ethnic or gender quotas, which would reduce the
high student percentage of Asians (and women too, perhaps) at UCLA and
Berkeley, the two flagship state universities. Now a movement is under way by
the 80-20 National Asian American PAC, to persuade Asian-American state
legislators to change their votes on the new measure, known as SCA 5. Yesterday,
the PAC noted that one assemblyman will not vote for SCA 5 with others expected
to follow. "It has been reliably leaked" with others to follow. The PAC site
said the State senate will not proceed without more hearings, presumably
because of the PAC's opposition. "So the dam has been broken," said the PAC.
A Chronicle of Higher Education article
this week was headlined "Minority
Male Students Face Challenge to Achieve at Community Colleges," and it
discussed various successes and failures in that eponymous arena. Particularly intriguing was this passage:
And instead of offering small,
"boutique" programs for minority students that attract just a few
dozen students, [one expert] said, colleges should extend programs like
mandatory study-skills classes, learning communities, and tutoring to all
students. Minority students will benefit disproportionately from such strategies,
she said, but they won't feel embarrassed by participating or feel that they're
being singled out as "at risk."
thought of this in light of President Obama's announcement yesterday of his new "My Brother's Keeper" program, which is
racially exclusive and aimed at the same "at risk" young men of color. The
White House, by the way, uses "of color" to include Hispanics (which is not
a nonracial group) and to exclude Asians (which is), but that's a story
for another day.
and putting aside the constitutional and Civil Rights Act problems of the
president's new program, what kind of a message is being sent when one or two
racial/ethnic groups are singled out for special treatment because they are so
likely to screw up? Or should it be assumed instead that they are being
singled out because The System is so stacked against them?
I'm not sure which message is worse. How difficult would it have been for the
president to have designed the new program so that it was open to at-risk youth
of all colors -- the way even the Chronicle of Higher Education, for Pete's
sake, apparently acknowledges makes more sense?
Are American colleges really the best in the world? One
group that really matters--the business leaders who want to hire college
A recent poll conducted by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation
found that while 37 percent of business leaders believed that the United States
has the best system of higher-education, a sizable 32 precent disagreed. More
significantly, one-third of the survey's participants disagreed with the
statement that American higher-education provided students with "the
skills and competences that my business needs."
In contrast, university adminstrators are far more
optimistic. When Inside Higher Ed asked administrators whether their
institutions succeed at "preparing students for the world of work,"
55 percent said that their schools were "very effective" and 40
percent said they were "somewhat effective." Unfortunately for
students, it's not the opinion of their deans and provosts that matters, but
that of the managers who make hiring decisions.
Fortunately, there's a silver lining--somewhat. The Gallup
poll shows that the despite their misgivings, business leaders will continue to
hire American graduates. 57 percent "strongly disagree" that they
should hire foreign-born workers due the failings of American higher education.
Only 4 percent said they "strongly agree" that they should. This
statistic will reassure the higher-education establishment; however, if the
doubts of business leaders continue to grow, it's hard to imagine them
hiring under-prepared Americans forever.
February 27, 2014
Last week, in the first post
of a series chronicling my experiences in the University of Illinois-Urbana
Champaign's MOOC "Introduction to Sustainability," I noted the Darwinian
structure of the course. Now more than half-way through the class, I tweak that
statement slightly. Survival of the fittest isn't the right metaphor to
describe the winnowing of MOOC students. It's more like survival of the most
The MOOC isn't hard. Each week, I watch approximately 45
minutes of video lectures broken into 5- or 10- (sometimes 15-) minute segments,
each beginning with the reintroduction of Prof. Jonathan Tomkin and ending with
an ad for the UI's digital media program. The lecture would flow much better in
intact segments, but the short lengths are intended to appeal to those with short
attention spans or crunched schedules. I've found that I spend about 1.5
minutes for every 1 minute of footage, adding extra time to pause and take
notes--a task that's harder when the lectures are scripted to make every word
From there I read 1-3 assignments, ranging from Economist articles to UN population
studies to chapters from Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation,
the open online textbook that Tomkin helped compile and write. (I admit that
I'm biased against the textbook: It
cites charts from Wikipedia pages.) This takes about 3-5 hours, depending on
the texts. Initially I completed the reading before watching the lectures,
expecting the lectures to expound upon the texts and challenge me to consider them
in a new light. Two weeks' confusion corrected that mistake. For the most part,
the lectures introduce the readings, summarizing what Professor Tomkin deems
most important and hinting at what he intends to quiz everyone on. If I want to
analyze the texts, or the lecture, for that matter, I must do it myself, or
head to the discussion boards.
The online discussions vary. Sometimes they're lively,
but I haven't had great luck getting any conversations started. Luck seems to
be a relevant factor: much depends on who else happens to be perusing the
discussions and whether they were already wondering the question you've asked
and are inclined to give your comment a thumbs-up. The most "liked" comments
get the most attention. (More on the topic of communication and student
interaction next week.)
At the end of each week's content, I take two quizzes. Knowing
there's no way to enforce a ban on notes, Prof. Tomkin often asks minutely
specific questions and directs students to return to the text and look up the
answers. Often, he assigns another 1-3 readings within quiz questions taken
from these extra texts. This makes the quizzes surprisingly (and painfully) long--often
taking double the time of the lectures.
The toughest part is being diligent when there are no
classmates present, the professor is out of contact, and the grades don't count.
(This is Part 2 of Rachelle De Jong's series on taking a MOOC. You can find Part 1 here.)
speech has finally returned to Modesto Junior College. One can only hope that
other schools will follow suit.
September, MJC students Robert Van Tuinen and Megan Rainwater attempted to
hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution outside MJC's student center. It was
Constitution Day, after all, and Van Tuinen and Rainwater hoped to
educate their fellow students. Within ten minutes, however, campus police
ordered them to stop, since "students were prohibited from distributing
materials without prior permission." When Van Tuinen balked, an MJC
administrator told him that he had to register for his event days in advance
and that his event could only take place in a defined "free speech
the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's Peter Bonilla wrote in
a letter to MJC's administration, such a policy was clearly unconstitutional.
Both case law and the California Education Code say that colleges cannot require
students to either request permission to distribute printed material or confine
free speech to "single small area of campus." MJC failed to address FIRE's
concerns, and it took a lawsuit from a D.C. law firm and FIRE to convince
MJC to end its unconstitutional policies. The college settled on Monday.
to FIRE's efforts, MJC students can now exercise their First Amendment rights
in "areas generally available to students and the community," including "grassy
areas, walkways, and other similar common areas." This is certainly great news
for defenders of free speech. However, it's sad that MJC's commitment to free
expression stems from a fear of financial loss--not principle.
February 25, 2014
In a major victory for academic quality, CUNY students'
ability to complete their degrees in a timely fashion, and basic common sense,
New York Supreme Court judge Anil Singh has
dismissed a lawsuit filed by the CUNY faculty union, the Professional Staff
Congress (PSC), seeking to eliminate the Pathways curricular initiative. (I
wrote about the Pathways
fight previously.) Even more important, Judge Singh's decision affirmed the
principle of shared governance,
rejecting the PSC's demand that the faculty be the sole source of curricular authority
A quick background: Pathways was the final initiative of
former chancellor Matthew Goldstein. Long an advocate of making CUNY more of an
integrated university, Goldstein acted after widespread student complaints with
intra-CUNY transfers, in which CUNY students from one CUNY college found their
general education credits rejected by another CUNY school, forcing them to
re-take introductory courses. Goldstein also wanted to find ways to limit the
overall credits CUNY schools devoted to gen-ed classes (which are often taught
by adjuncts) to allow students to take more upper-division electives, including
from topics outside their major that might nonetheless interest them
Given that the union--whose leadership is trapped in the
intellectual climate of late 1960s Cornell or Columbia--opposed
every major proposal by Goldstein to improve quality at CUNY, it came as
little surprise that the PSC resisted Pathways as well. PSC campus officers
pressured faculty not to cooperate with the initiative, and the union even
rigged a plebiscite with ballots that presented only the union's arguments.
Even then, almost 40 percent of the faculty abstained from the vote; and
CUNY-wide faculty committees designed a new curriculum, which the trustees then
PSC president Barbara Bowen wasn't done, however; the
union filed a lawsuit claiming that adoption of Pathways by the Trustees
violated the CUNY Bylaws, since the faculty has sole power over curriculum at
CUNY. The PSC reached this peculiar argument even though the Bylaws explicitly
state that the Chancellor has the power "to initiate, plan, develop and implement institutional strategy and
policy on all educational and administrative issues affecting the university,
including to prepare a comprehensive overall academic plan for the university,
subject to the board's approval."
While the Bylaws did not
sustain the union's claim that the faculty possesses sole authority on
curricular matters, neither did New York State law. To the contrary: the state's
education law gives the Trustees, not the faculty, "control of the educational
work of the city university"--a power that rests "solely" with the Board of
Trustees. Ironically, Judge Singh observed, the major New York case cited by
the union "firmly rejected" the PSC's erroneous interpretation of the Trustees'
Since the union had neither
the Bylaws nor state law on its side, Judge Singh described the PSC's case as
"devoid of merit."
Even if the PSC's case had merit--which, to reiterate,
Judge Singh said it didn't--poor lawyering eliminated any chance the union had
of victory. Given the plain wording of the bylaws, the PSC had no chance of
prevailing on that aspect of its claim. But the union also alleged that passage
of Pathways violated a 1997 settlement between CUNY and the union on an
unrelated issue. Alas, as Judge Singh noted, to have effectively raised that
claim, the PSC would have needed to have filed a lawsuit within four months of
Pathways' passage by the Board. Instead, for reasons the union has never
explained, the PSC waited nine months to file its lawsuit. Whether there will
be any accountability for what amounts to a massive waste of the faculty's dues
moneys seems doubtful.
The union has created a special website devoted to Pathways.
As of the time of publication, that website contained no mention of Judge
February 24, 2014
An update regarding the issue of campus
due process and sexual assault allegations in California:
FIRE has a powerful
statement condemning SB 967, the California bill designed to codify (and go
beyond) the anti-due process approach of the OCR's "Dear Colleague" letter. FIRE
correctly observes that while campus
administrators "are neither qualified nor equipped to respond properly to
sexual assault allegations," the California legislature seems intent on
entrusting "them with still greater responsibility. Injustice will inevitably
be the result."
The statement calls into question the sponsors'
impartiality, noting that the bill repeatedly uses the term "victim," as if the
mere leveling of a sexual assault allegation makes someone a victim. FIRE also
notes that while SB 967 purports to mandate adjudication of campus sexual
assault claims according to the standard of civil litigation, unlike accused students on campus, civil
trials feature "impartial judges, unbiased juries of one's peers,
representation by counsel, mandatory 'discovery' processes to ensure that all
parties have access to relevant information, restrictions on unreliable
evidence like hearsay or prior bad acts, and sworn testimony under penalty of
perjury." Finally, FIRE observes the
impossibility of enforcing the bill's "affirmative consent" standard.
Hans Bader echoes these sentiments in a letter to the Sacramento
Bee, observing that the bill's allowance of anonymous sexual
assault complaints would effectively deny accused students all right to cross-examine
The sponsors of the bill, however, have shown no signs of
backing down--though they're struggling to offer a consistent argument. The
measure's chief sponsor in the California Senate, Kevin de León, recently expressed his pleasure that
there was now "more attention on this pressing issue - Sexual assault
is 'a crime; it's a simple, straightforward crime.'"
Yet his bill treats sexual assault as
anything but a "a simple, straightforward crime." It mandates conviction
through a preponderance of evidence standard--unlike all other crimes in
California. It defines sexual assault on campus (the "affirmative consent"
standard) differently from the state's general sexual assault statute,
which contains no such provision. It remains silent on whether students accused
of sexual assault on campus have a right to an attorney--a right that would be
constitutionally required if campus sexual assault were, in fact, "a simple,
According to one of the bill's
co-sponsors, however, none of this is problematic: Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson
recently approvingly tweeted an article from Ms. that
claimed SB 967 will make California a "national leader" on how state
governments should legislate on campus sexual assault claims.
To date, no member of the California
legislature has expressed opposition to SB 967.
February 21, 2014
By now, Ms. Sandra Y. L. Korn must be wondering whether
she picked her words wisely. On Monday,
February 17, Ms. Korn, a Harvard senior, published an essay in The Harvard Crimson, titled "The
Doctrine of Academic Freedom," with the explosive sub-head, "Let's give up
on academic freedom in favor of justice."
The Crimson has
now posted hundreds of comments, almost all of them disapproving. And Ms. Korn's article has attracted
attention well beyond the quad, as in Bill
Zeiser's article in The American
Spectator. There doesn't seem to be
much need to add to the growing string of put-downs. Refutation, however, is another matter.
Korn's argument is simply summarized: The freedom of faculty members to pursue
research and to teach has some value, but these activities always and
everywhere reflect political considerations.
A university community rightly has its own political values and when a
faculty member violates them, he should be silenced. "Academic justice" is more important than
Korn unabashedly upholds the priority of opposing "racism,
sexism, and heterosexism" as campus priorities and cannot imagine any valid
reason for compromising this "rigorous standard" for anything as porous as
"academic freedom." She cites various
examples of opinions that she believes the Harvard community could and should
appropriately quash. These include the
late Harvard psychology professor Richard J. Herrnstein's views on the
heritability of I.Q. and the ("hateful") views of an Indian scholar about
Muslims in India. Professor Harvey
Mansfield may have "the legal right" to publish statements about "ladylike
modesty," but Ms. Korn would "happily organize with other feminists on campus
to stop him from publishing further sexist commentary under the authority of a
Harvard faculty position." She
recommends that those who favor an academic boycott of Israel bypass academic
freedom objections and focus on academic justice instead.
Continue reading "Academic Justice and Intellectual Thuggery" »
February 19, 2014
Monday, a columnist at the Harvard Crimson came
out against academic freedom, because it often interferes with "something I think much more
important: academic justice." Her name is Sandra Y.L Korn, class of 2014, and
she is unwilling to tolerate research that threatens her political goals. She
writes: "If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism,
why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name
of "academic freedom?" Indeed, why should any university allow any research it
disagrees with politically? As one Crimson commenter pointed out, Korn's anti-intellectual
notion could be put in the language of a conservative religious college:
"If our university community opposes evolutionism, why should we put up
with research that counters creationism simply in the name of "academic
essay picks up two familiar but still minor threads of thought on the modern
campus: that left activism is more important than actual study and research,
and that censorship will be justified to bat away incorrect intellectual work. Since Korn believes
she is living in "a campus environment dominated by rape culture--a culture that
systematically legitimizes and excuses sexual violence," that would mean working
to stop research that might challenge the idea that Harvard legitimizes rape. So
much research to eliminate. So little time.
February 18, 2014
In a recent string
of tweets, Lindsay Rosenthal, formerly of the Center for American Progress
and now at the
Ms. Foundation for Women, compared concerns about insufficient due process
protections on college campuses to the heavily partisan efforts to impose
increased voter restrictions or to level fact-free allegations of "anchor
babies"--a comparison, she added, that only those embedded in "privilege" could
fail to recognize. When I pointed out to her that--quite unlike "anchor
babies"--a wave of federal lawsuits had been filed alleging violation of due
process, including from plaintiffs whose background in no way indicated
privilege, Rosenthal announced that she would "no longer consent" to continuing
Rosenthal's arguments might have been dismissed as the
rant of a thin-skinned extremist--but for a newly-introduced
bill in the California state assembly. Introduced by Democratic senators Kevin de Leόn and Hannah-Beth Jackson and Democratic assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, and co-sponsored by Democratic senators Jim Beall, Noreen Evans, Cathleen Galgiani, Fran Pavley and Norma Torres; and Democratic Assembly members Lorena Gonzalez and Das Williams. The measure, called SB 967, seeks to mandate a vision of due process even more
hostile than the OCR's "Dear Colleague" letter by linking due process matters
to uncontroversial proposals that virtually colleges already have adopted in
one form or another.
uncontroversial, elements that led Fresno
Bee to hail SB
967 on the grounds
that it would force colleges to "put rape victims first." It contains such
provisions as requiring campus governing boards to cooperate with "on-campus and community-based organizations to make services
available to [alleged] victims." It holds that consent can never occur when an
accuser is asleep or mentally or physically incapacitated. (Does any
jurisdiction, anywhere in the country, hold otherwise?) The bill even contains
one unequivocally positive element, requiring California's public colleges to
develop a protocol for "medical forensic examinations and coordination
with the forensic examiner." Few, if any, colleges even mention an expectation
that an accuser receive a medical examination as part of her case.
Yet whatever benefit
might come from the medical examination provision is more than overcome by SB
967's hostility to due process. The measure seeks to codify as California law
the terms of the OCR's "Dear Colleague" letter, requiring all California public
colleges to use the preponderance-of-evidence threshold in branding a student a
rapist. (Imagine the outcry from many traditionally Democratic constituencies
if these same legislators proposed an across-the-board reduction in the
standard of guilt to 50.01 percent.) Following the Yale pattern, SB 967 also seeks to order all
California public colleges and universities to establish procedures "procedures
for anonymous reporting of sexual assault"--seemingly making sexual assault the
only violent crime that California permits the accuser to have the shield of
Continue reading "A Deceptive California Bill on Campus Rape" »
the college classroom have a "carrying capacity"?
term refers to the theoretical maximum population that a
particular environment can nourish (or carry) for an extended
period. I've been learning about it in "Introduction to
Sustainability," an eight-week MOOC
offered on Coursera by the University of
taking the MOOC both because I'm interested in the sustainability dogma on
college campuses, and because I'd like to know if higher
education can adapt to a digital environment as fluidly as humans
adapted to the Ice Age. Can the classroom intellectually nourish masses
of students? What are the limiting structures that have kept
classrooms small, intimate, and discussion based--and are those
structures important? Over the next several weeks, as I work
through the MOOC, I'll write a series of short articles
chronicling what I find.
thoughts so far: The MOOC is semi-Darwinian--not just in content, but in
form. The completion rate for "Introduction to
Sustainability" remains to be seen, but it's clear the course offers none
of the retention-conducive amenities of a brick and mortar
institution with live, accessible advisors and professors. If I
quit the course now, nobody but Coursera's automated email
system that sends weekly reminder emails would know or care. We
shouldn't be surprised when MOOCs dwindle to fractions of their original
the MOOC weeds out the least-committed students, it also
admits greater numbers. I don't mean underprivileged or
nontraditional students, who are significantly underrepresented in surveys of MOOC users. When perusing
the introductory get-to-know-each-other forums (my first
assignment for this MOOC), I randomly selected a handful of my thousands of
classmates and found only one traditional college student, a young
woman who was studying "social work and community organizing" at a private
college in Wisconsin. I did see a number
of working professionals, though, including a New York
businessman starting a sustainability-inspired restaurant, a denizen of DC
prepping for grad school, and a man from
Bangalore, India, hoping to improve his prospects of
the working professionals, my own post on the
introductory forum highlights another subgroup that MOOCs reach:
latecomers. I told my classmates I was starting the course three weeks
late and playing catch-up, something I probably couldn't have done
in a regular class.
But here it
mattered little whether I started late or on time. Past (but not future) MOOC
lectures and quizzes are available online at the student's convenience. Perhaps
they're too convenient; I could have taken all my quizzes without watching the
lectures or reading any assignments, if I'd wanted to.
only inconvenience of taking the MOOC at my own pace? I missed a
few early discussion forum threads, the opportunity to
join Coursera Signature Track (whereby I could
pay Coursera toverify my identity and award me a "verified
certificate" if I passed the course), and the deadlines to receive credit for
the first few quizzes (which I took anyways). To catch up with
the others, I could watch fifteen-minute segments of lectures over dinner
and read my assignments online late at night.