Columbia professor Joseph Massad has made the
news yet again. Small wonder: his recent essay in al Jazeera, entitled "The Last of the Semites," linked Zionism to Nazism and claimed that all of the good, anti-Zionist
Jews perished in the Holocaust, Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg congratulated al Jazeerafor having "posted
one of the most anti-Jewish screeds in recent memory."
Liam Hoare has penned the most complete deconstructionof
Massad's argument, and I can add little to his points. But as Massad has
re-emerged to embarrass his university, it's worth remembering that Columbia
knew exactly what it was getting when it decided to grant him tenure.
Massad's shameful in-class behavior
first came to public attention thanks to the investigative reporting of Jacob
Gershman, then of the New York Sun.
(The Sun, which folded in 2008,
remains very much missed for its consistently first-rate coverage of higher
education.) Already under criticism for allegedly threatening to remove a Jewish
student from class if she did not acknowledge Israel's supposed atrocities
against Palestinians, in 2005 Massad used one of Columbia's "Core" classes to
assign one book about Israel which included "a map of 1967 Israel that
is labeled 'Palestine.'"
What distinguished Gershman's reporting, however, was his ability to bring readers inside of
Massad's classes. (Massad refused to speak to the Sun, and declined to post lecture notes publicly.) One student
noted that Massad had described as Zionist myths the facts that "Ancient Hebrews of Palestine lived
exclusively in Palestine" and "Mod. Euro. Jews are direct biological descendants
of Hebrews." Another student took notes of Massad offering a tasteless joke: "What
makes a Zionist a Zionist? A Jew who asks a Jew to send a third Jew to
Palestine." Even a hopelessly compromised Columbia "investigation" faulted
Massad for his classroom antics.
scholarship similarly substituted blind adherence to ideology for the honest
pursuit of the truth. As Martin Kramer has noted, Massad's heavy
ideological bias distorted his findings from the start of his career, and it
appeared as if Massad's weaknesses were enough to deny him tenure. But Columbia
then granted him a highly unusual second tenure review, and, over the protests
of much of the New York media, he squeaked through. Ironically, Columbia did so
on the basis of a book that earned the following review from the American Historical Review: "If Massad's evidence is to be trusted, then he
is completely wrong in his conclusions."
Massad was then, and still is,
a scholar who cared more about advancing his anti-Western, anti-Jewish ideology
than true scholarship. And despite all this, Columbia went out of its way to
keep him permanently. No wonder the school chose not to comment on his latest
“FIRE is right to note that fair, inclusive enforcement of this mindlessly broad policy is impossible. But I doubt it's intended to be fairly enforced. I doubt federal officials want or expect it to be used against sex educators, advocates of reproductive choice, anti-porn feminists, or gay rights advocates, if their speech of a sexual nature is "unwelcome" by religious conservatives. The stated goal of this policy is stemming discrimination, but the inevitable result will be advancing it, in the form of content based prohibitions on speech. When people demand censorship of "unwelcome" speech, they're usually demanding censorship of the speech that they find unwelcome. They usually seek to silence their political or ideological opponents, not their friends—all in the name of some greater good.” Wendy Kaminer, The Atlantic
“Conservative student groups must flood the systems with complaints about every Vagina Monologues performance, classroom reference to “testosterone poisoning,” and every single “Sex Week” event until reason returns. It’s an Alinsky principle: Make them live up to their own book of rules. And remember: There’s a lot to make conservative and libertarian students feel uncomfortable on almost any campus.” Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit
“So, to say the least, this new mandate will have a chilling effect on sexual speech on campus. There’s no way you could discuss any sexual behavior in class. Not only couldn’t you discuss Lolita, Shakespeare and the racier parts of the Old Testament might have to be purged from the curriculum. I make a big deal of the issue of the relationship between incest and philosophy that Aristophanes brings up in a witty and vulgar way in the Clouds. Students don’t usually welcome the opportunity to have a conversation about incest, and especially about how questionable their revulsion to it is. Book V of the Republic, with the community of women and all that—that always creates a bit of an unwelcoming environment for some students. Well, it’s supposed to; it’s supposed to get them thinking about the possibility that what we regard as natural sexual differences are merely repressive conventions. Once I’ve written that, I realize that we just won’t be able to teach most of the content of “women’s studies” classes anymore. A big objection any professor would have to these Puritanical regulations is that they empower student affairs staffs to have a bigger role in schoolmarmishly regulating the campus environment, including assuming a more intrusive role in determining what goes in the classroom and in ordinary conversations between professors and students, and students and students.” Peter Augustine Lawler, Big Think
…what defenders of free speech on campus, such as the estimable FIRE, among others, may miss is the contradictory place the university has become. Having embraced the sexual revolution and encouraged an atmosphere of promiscuity, much of higher education has now created a legalistic, centralized crackdown on talk about sex. We have become what Tocqueville implied our condition would be without the influence of mores: a bureaucratic nightmare. If we can’t rule ourselves, we will have rules, myriad of them, made for us.” Ken Masugi, Library of Law and Liberty
“Obama promised fundamental transformation. This is part of it. Freedom of speech is sacrificed, and a new army of sexual-harassment “specialists” will descend on America’s campuses to enforce the new dispensation.” Mona Charen, NRO
As the Supreme Court prepares its opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas (in which that school’s use of racial and ethnic admissions preferences is challenged), and as our bien pensants continue as always to agonize about the state of race relations in the United States (which are actually quite good, by the way), a few thoughts.
Racial preferences are becoming more and more unwieldy and divisive as the United States becomes more and more multiethnic and multiracial. But they are thought necessary because without them there would be “underrepresentation” of some groups. The same logic, by the way, is behind the use of “disparate impact” lawsuits: They are attractive because this is another way to address the “underrepresentation” that results from merit-based selection.
But the principal reason for some groups’ failure in the aggregate to achieve will not be solved by using racial preferences and is ignored by them – the principal reason being illegitimacy. That’s the problem that should be addressed, rather than pretending there is something wrong or unfair with merit selection.
Socioeconomic preferences can be a better proxy for race than race preferences, according to an Inside Higher Ed report this morning on a new study to be published this summer in the Harvard Law & Policy Review.
More precisely, the authors, Matthew N. Gaertner, a researcher at Pearson's Center for College and Career Success and Melissa Hart, associate professor of law at the University of Colorado, argue that properly constructed class-based preferences can lead to more racial diversity, i.e., a larger number of underrepresented minorities (URMs) being admitted, than current race-based preferences. A preliminary version of the article is available here.
Analyzing random selection of applicants admitted and rejected at the University of Colorado in 2008 and 2010, the authors describe a complex class-based construct built on a highly complex “disadvantage index” and “overachievement index.” The latter is relatively simple: it measures the degree an applicant’s grades or standardized test scores exceed those typically earned by those in their socioeconomic group.
As everyone but members of the National Ostrich Society now knows, Washington, D.C. is beset by three actual or potential scandals: the Benghazi matter; the IRS’s politicization; and the wiretapping of the Associated Press by the DOJ. These matters are important and call for genuine investigation and concern.
But there is another controversy emanating from Washington that should also be of great concern to citizens who care about the education of the nation’s young men and women and the status of free speech and thought in our country. And once instituted, the policy involved could metastasize into other domains as well.
On May 9, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice wrote a letter to the president of the University of Montana, mandating a broad new sexual harassment standard for that institution. But rather than limiting itself to that institution, the letter portrayed itself as “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country to protect students from sexual harassment and assault.” This would be fine if the standard for harassment were properly defined, consistent with the standard proffered by the United States Supreme Court in 1999 Davis case.
administration is currently embroiled in two political scandals, and a third,
understandably overshadowed by Benghazi and the IRS, is brewing on our
campuses. The Civil Rights offices of both the Education Department and the Justice Department have issued a flabbergasting
and clearly unconstitutional assault on free speech, ruling that colleges must
eliminate and punish "verbal action" (better known as speech) touching on
sexual matters. Rumors (true or not), "unwelcome" requests for dates, off-color
jokes and virtually all sexual discussion will now be (selectively) punishable
as sexual harassment under orders from the Education Department. Here two
well-known civil libertarians react to the ED and DOJ's assault on speech and common
sense: Harvey Silverglate, co-founder of FIRE (above, writing
with Juliana DeVries) and Eugene Volokh of the UCLA law school and the
blog, The Volokh Conspiracy, below.
The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is telling universities to institute speech codes. And not just any old speech codes: Under these speech codes, universities would be required to prohibit students from, for instance,
1.saying "unwelcome" "sexual or dirty jokes"
2.spreading "unwelcome" "sexual rumors" (without any limitation to false rumors"
3.engaging in "unwelcome" "circulating or showing e-mails of Web sites of a sexual nature"
4.engaging in "unwelcome" "display or distributi[on of] sexually explicit drawings, pictures or written materials"
5.making "unwelcome" sexual invitations.
This is not limited to material that a reasonable person would find offensive. Nor is limited to material that, put together, creates a "hostile, abusive, or offensive educational environment." (I think even speech codes that would have these requirements are unconstitutional, but the speech codes that the government is urging would in any event not have these requirements.) Every instance of such material of a "sexual nature," under the government's approach, would be "sexual harassment" and would need to be banned.
Why do I say this? The explanation has quite a few moving parts, because of how the government has articulated its theory. But here's a brief summary.
1. The OCR has long taken the view that, just as Title VII's ban on employment discrimination has been read as prohibiting speech or conduct that is "severe or pervasive" enough to create a "hostile, abusive, or offensive environment" based on sex for plaintiff and for a reasonable person, so Title IX (the educational analog) does the same for speech and conduct in educational institutions. Colleges and universities, according to the government, must therefore institute speech and conduct codes that ban such speech and conduct.
courts that have considered the issue have held that such speech codes in public
universities violate the First Amendment on their face (to the extent they
cover speech), because they are too vague or overbroad (i.e., apply beyond the
few unprotected categories of speech, such as threats or "fighting words").
See, for instance, some of the cases cited in this guest post by
FIRE's Greg Lukianoff. The government's pressuring the
creation of such codes in either public institutions or private institutions
would likewise violate the First Amendment. But the government takes a
different view. Though it agrees that "harassment" codes shouldn't be read in
ways that violate the First Amendment (which is tautologically true), they
apparently think that a great deal of speech "of a sexual nature" on campuses
is unprotected by the First Amendment, as suggested by the materials discussed
a. The government has specifically faulted the University for defining "sexual harassment" as being limited to conduct or speech that is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile environment, or conduct or speech that would be objectively offensive to a reasonable person. "Whether conduct is objectively offensive is a factor used to determine if a hostile environment has been created, but it is not the standard to determine whether conduct was 'unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature' and therefore constitutes 'sexual harassment.'"
b. Instead, according to the government, "sexual harassment" is simply "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature and can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature, such as sexual assault or acts of sexual violence." And what constitutes "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature"? An earlier OCR document, defining, conduct "sexual in nature" as "sexual conduct," says that "Examples of sexual conduct include":
1.making sexual propositions or pressuring students for sexual favors;
2.touching of a sexual nature;
3.writing graffiti of a sexual nature;
4.displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials;
5.performing sexual gestures or touching oneself sexually in front of others;
6.telling sexual or dirty jokes;
7.spreading sexual rumors or rating other students as to sexual activity or performance; or
8.circulating or showing e-mails or Web sites of a sexual nature.
Education Act is up for reauthorization this year, so this is an especially
good time to talk about improvements to it. (We ought to consider repealing it
instead, but almost nobody in Congress would support that.) One idea, recently advanced
here by Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, is to stop
allowing students to use Pell Grants for remedial coursework.
proportion of this $40 billion annual federal investment," Petrilli writes, "is
flowing to people who simply aren't prepared to do college-level work. And this
is perverting higher education's mission, suppressing completion rates and
warping the country's K-12 system."
right. Higher education should not be devoted to attempts (often unavailing) to
catch up on basic material that was not learned during students' K-12 years
(and perhaps not even taught) and the use of federal money to draw them into
college lowers the incentives for students to do well during their primary and
not the first person to connect easy, federally-subsidized college admission
with the decline of K-12 standards. In his 2010 book The
Lowering of Higher Education in America, Jackson Toby (professor
emeritus of sociology at Rutgers), observed that effect. He argues, "Since marginal students know
while they are still in high school that they will be able to be admitted and
get financial aid at some college, they lack an incentive to try to learn as
much as they could in high school...."
subsidies and market interventions always have unintended consequences and federal
student aid is no exception. Transforming higher education from something that
young people had to strive for into a near entitlement has had a lot of adverse
unintended consequences and the undermining of basic learning is foremost among
What if we
could reform Pell grants the way Petrilli and Toby suggest?
admits that one possibility is that colleges and universities would disguise
remedial courses by making them appear to be more than mere repetition of high
school material and thus giving credit for them. I have no doubt but that some institutions
would try that. The steady stream of students and funds they have become
dependent upon makes it tempting for them to play the system.
about the more hopeful prospect - that this change would compel high schools to
raise their standards and stop passing students who haven't really learned
anything? Even if it had that effect only in small measure, it would
nevertheless be worthwhile because the miserable educational results for many
students (and not just inner-city, minority kids) is one of our worst national
problems. Young people who are told that they're doing fine when in fact they
are not learning the fundamentals of reading and writing and mathematics are
put on a bad course. At best, some of them squeak through college after taking
remedial classes; at worst, many fail to develop the personal discipline and
rudimentary skills needed to hold any but the most menial of jobs.
that the federal government should abandon the financing of higher education
entirely, but putting a limit on Pell grants so the money cannot be used for
remedial courses is a good step in the right direction.
University of Virginia prides itself on being "Mr. Jefferson's university,"
where unfettered free speech is both practiced and respected in the manner
called for in his First Inaugural address when Mr. Jefferson (as
locals still reverentially refer to him) fervently urged his fellow citizens to
let misguided and even evil notions "stand undisturbed as monuments of the
safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free
to combat it."
may have had to contend with such unpleasantries as the Alien and Sedition Acts, but at least he was spared having to confront the scourge of political correctness that in recent times has appeared even in his very own beloved "academical village."
the characteristics of political correctness is that it does not content itself
with stamping out error. It also denounces truths and facts that it finds
inconvenient, as a prominent UVa graduate and donor learned the hard way. As
the Washington Postreported this week:
Four legendary investors gathered at
the University of Virginia in late April to share their philosophies and
strategies for success, personal fulfillment and philanthropy. All four were
men, white and aging, and that prompted several audience members to submit
questions wondering: Where are the women?
Paul Tudor Jones II, a 1976 U-Va. graduate and
billionaire Greenwich-based hedge fund manager, took a stab at answering.
According to those who attended, Jones explained how traders must have
extraordinary focus and commitment, working long hours and forgoing personal
time. A lot of women opt out of such a high-intensity career, he said,
especially once they have children.
From the heated response you might think Jones had urged
female business students and graduates to remain barefoot and pregnant. His
comment, as the Chronicle of Higher Educationput it, "upset alumni and faculty members," but
"upset" hardly captures the furor that ensued. The Post reports that Carl P. Zeithaml,
dean of UVa's McIntire School of Commerce where the panel took place, "said that he immediately
received complaints from alumni and faculty members who were concerned and, in
some cases, appalled by the substance and framing of Jones's comments," and he
sent a long email to all students and staff trying to
contain the damage, emphasizing "on behalf of the School" that "everyone,
including women and underrepresented minorities, should enthusiastically and
optimistically pursue the careers in which they have an interest and for which
they have an aptitude" and not "be dissuaded by a few statistics."
apparently didn't offer any statistics, presumably assuming that he was merely
making an uncontroversial observation of the the facts of high pressure
corporate life, but he certainly could have.
In her Fiscal
Timescolumn recently, for example, Liz Peek quoted
Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that the number of women over 20 not in
the labor pool has soared -- "from 40 million in 2000 to nearly 49 million
today." The labor force participation rate of women today is down to 58.8
percent, compared to a rate for men of 72.5 percent. Of the women not working,
Peek writes, the most problematic group "consists of highly educated women who
drop out (or 'opt-out') when they have children." Regarding a relevant subset
of that group, Peek points to a recent article by Vanderbilt law professor Joni
Hersch, who found that "the largest gap in labor market activity between
graduates of elite institutions and less selective institutions is among MBAs,
with married mothers who are graduates of elite institutions 30 percentage
points less likely to be employed full-time than graduates of less selective
is definitely an elite institution, as is UVa's Darden School of Business. I wonder if anyone at
either knows what percentage of female graduates remain in the labor force --
and given the response to Paul Tudor Jones's casual observation, if anyone
would be willing to say.
Here's what happens when you send
a book questioning anthropogenic global warming to the chairman of the
Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University:
The book, The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism, was sent out by The
Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank. Dr. Alison Bridges,
chairman of the department, and Dr. Craig Clements, an assistant professor,
knew precisely how to deal with such transgressive literature. Oddly, it
didn't occur to these Greenshirts that documenting a book burning might raise
eyebrows. However, when Anthony Watts ofWatts
Up With That posted the picture
and invited readers to share their feelings with the SJSU administration, the
picture disappeared from the department's website. Luckily, Watts screensaved
it. The university is declining to comment.
As Watts waggishly commented in his original post, look at the
pictures that adorn the office: Maybe they just couldn't help themselves.
The University of Minnesota has a program of dual enrollment in
which high schools create courses that match selected UM first-year courses in
content and rigor and students earn UM credits. It's called College in the Schools,
and it offers 22 courses in the humanities and social sciences such as Calculus
I, Intermediate French, and Introduction to Psychology. They emphasize
basic content, for instance, the description of the course in Political Science
stating, "Introduction to politics and government in the United States.
Constitutional origins and development, major institutions, parties,
interest groups, elections, participation, public opinion."
There is one clear exception to the introductory, "first-year"
nature of the listing. It is "English Literature (ENGL 1001W--Introduction
to Literature: Poetry, Drama, Narrative)." The heading sounds like a
general entry-point into college-level work in a discipline, and so does the brief
summary that follows: "Basic techniques for analyzing/understanding
literature. Readings of novels, short stories, poems, plays." In fact, though,
the course has a whole other purpose.
The reading list contains 86 titles, nearly all of them
contemporary works frankly multicultural in nature and addressing themes of
race, gender, sexuality, and homophobia. It includes three novels by Toni
Morrison and two by Amy Tan, but none by Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, James,
Crane, Wharton, Fitzgerald, or Cather. Faulkner has one entry, and so
does Kate Chopin, Hemingway, Hurston, and Ellison, but that's about it for
American classics. Apart from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, classic
British literature is completely absent. The first "sample syllabus"
inserts Hamlet among 24 possible readings but adds the remark, "while
not part of the CIS curriculum, we may explore it." For drama, the
list has no ancient or British playwrights and no Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee
Williams, or Arthur Miller, but Tony Kushner's Angels in America and
August Wilson's Fences are there. As for poetry, June Jordan's Kissing
God Goodbye and Billy Collins' Picnic Lightning, but not Whitman,
Dickinson, Stevens, Frost, Eliot, Millay, Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop, or
The reading list and social themes produce something else than an
Introduction to Literature class. The learning outcomes aim at certain
interests and dispositions, as one can see from the "Inclusivity Statement"
from the second sample syllabus, which declares: "Racism, sexism, homophobia,
classism, ageism and other forms of bigotry are inherent in our culture." The
first sample syllabus assumes such sins may happen when it warns, "While
'contested space', i.e. debate and intellectual challenge, are academically necessary
and encouraged, it is inappropriate to promote racism, sexism, homophobia,
class-ism, ageism, or any other forms of bigotry in this classroom." The
course adds a literary theory component as well, which presents to students,
among other things, "Marxist, feminist, postcolonial and LGBT criticism."
How to respond to such a tendentious curriculum? I wrote an op-ed
in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune last week objecting to the course
because of the flaws listed above. My conclusion recommended that UM widen the
reading list, allowing schools that favor a classic literature curriculum to
win college credits for their students. But two days later, the director
of College in the Schools answered my call with an op-ed of
her own which dismissed all the criticisms. It was filled with misleading
The author says that "CIS students read books from the late 19th
century and 20th century," but out of 86 titles, only three come
before 1900, one short story and two novels from 1899.
The author says that I object to the course because it "does not focus on the
authors he believes students should read." Note the dishonest adjustment
of my recommendation from "widening the reading list" to "making students read
other things." This turns me into the restrictive voice, not the CIS
The author says that I accuse CIS of attempting to foster a "negative social
critique of American society," but I wasn't the one who wrote the "America is
inherently racist and sexist" statement, or the one who chose so many books
that do, indeed, allege rampant evil -isms in American society.
There is more to say, but the bigger problem remains. The
University of Minnesota is using the strong enticement of college credit to
inject a social ideology into high schools, one that passes under the false
advertising of introductory literary study. When that project was exposed
and a constructive correction was urged, UM administrators responded with
too long ago CBS MoneyWatch published a list
titled "25 Schools with the Worst Professors," using data which we at the
Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) had gathered from
evaluations published on ratemyprofessor.com (RMP). We strongly believe that
this list of 25 schools is a complete misrepresentation of our work. While it
is true that we use RMP data in the college rankings we develop for Forbes, we do not--and never have--represented RMP data as a
measure of teaching quality; indeed, we have always characterized RMP data as a
measure of "student satisfaction" or "consumer preferences" (see our methodology)
and as a way to answer the question,
"How well do students like their courses?" Therefore, using our RMP data to
construct a list of schools with the "worst professors" is wholly
inappropriate. Furthermore, our RMP data are restricted to a very narrow sample
of 650 institutions (there are more than 4700
degree-granting institutions in the United States), so it is not possible,
using only our data, to determine if the schools in our sample are indeed the "worst"
or "best" in teaching quality.
distinction between "teaching quality" and "student satisfaction," thought
subtle, is an important one. The extant scholarly literature on RMP data--like
the voluminous scholarly literature on student evaluations of teaching--supports
the claim that there is a positive correlation between course easiness (or at
least easiness as perceived by the students) and student evaluations. That is
why we only consider RMP to be a measure of "student satisfaction," since this
relationship between course easiness and overall rating may indicate that
student evaluations reflect something other than true teaching quality.
Nevertheless, there is sufficient support in the RMP literature (see our
methodology for a brief discussion of this) that RMP ratings generally
correspond with the ratings given by students in official student evaluations
of teaching administered by the colleges themselves such that we believe it is
justifiable to consider RMP data as a measure of student satisfaction.
Mr. Cheston, I disagree entirely. Let's start with freedom of association. No, Trinity College is
not a public university, so the Bill of Rights doesn't apply (although some
universities, such as Yale, have issued guarantees of free speech and
association to their students that may have some legal weight). It may well be
that in terms of legality, Trinity has a right to do whatever it wants
regarding fraternities and their property. But there's a difference between a
right to freedom of association and freedom of association itself. It's the
latter that Trinity is impinging. It's telling Trinity students that they can't
associate with other Trinity students (who have, presumably, met Trinity's
stiff admissions standards) except in certain contexts and under certain
conditions specifically approved by Trinity, even when there is nothing
unlawful about those associations in and of themselves.
Now for your claim that fraternities "promote...sexual
assault." Surely you are aware that claims that college campuses are
hotbeds of rape, whether inside or outside of fraternity houses, are hugely
exaggerated, blown up by bogus statistics and feminist ideology that regards
any drunken encounter that a college woman regrets the next morning (or the
next month) as a "rape." I advise reading or rereading Heather Mac
Donald's 2008 article "The Campus Rape Myth" in City Journal.
The Obama Administration Education Department's insistence that colleges use a
lower standard of proof than would be acceptable in any criminal courtroom to
find college men "guilty" of rape (and thus ruin their lives, at
least in the short run) has only exacerbated this problem. I'm sure that
genuine rapes do occasionally occur in fraternity houses, as well as elsewhere
on college campuses, but I've seen nothing to suggest that those crimes occur
more frequently in Greek houses than not.
Same goes for "academic cheating" and "binge
drinking." I've never seen evidence that more of either takes place in
fraternity houses than elsewhere in college life. The big cheating scandal at
Harvard last year occurred entirely outside of a fraternity context.
Finally, about the "political refuge" function of
fraternities and sororities. Sure, it's brave to stand up for your politically
incorrect beliefs on campus, facing down ridicule and even accusations of hate
speech. I encourage everyone to do so. That's not the point, however. The point
is creating and maintaining a culture--a circle of friends, a set of values--that
is a bulwark against the behemoth of enforced conformity to whatever
ideological movement that professors and administrators happen to be pushing:
anti-capitalism, global warming, feminist hysteria about the wicked ways of
men. Fraternity conservatism can often be gross and immature "South
Park" conservativism, but it can also plant in college students' hearts a
respect for individual liberty that will ultimately mature into something more
again, the youth vote--18-30-year-olds--provided Barack Obama a staunchly
reliable bloc in the 2012 election. According to the Center for
Information & Research on civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), the youth
vote went 67 percent for Obama, 30 percent for Romney. If the youth vote
were taken out of the population, Romney would have won Ohio, Florida,
Virginia, and Pennsylvania, a total of 80 electoral votes that would have gone
the other way and made
Romney the winner.
imbalance bodes poorly for Republicans in 2016, though it is unlikely that the
Democrats will come up with a candidate as personally appealing to 22-year-olds
as is Obama. (Can you see Hilary Clinton delivering a speech to college
students in 2016 promising to alter the terms of their student loans in
exchange for their vote?). Still, social conservatism is anathema to most
youths, and we're likely to see more "Julia"-like videos distributed to them in
the months before voting day.
is one trend working in Republicans' favor: the midterm elections. CIRCLE
has another report out this week that warns
of a coming plummet in the youth vote in 2014. A table shows what
happens to the 18-29 cohort in off-years--it plummets by half. In 2004, 49
percent showed up to vote, but in 60 only 25 percent did; in 08, it reached 51
percent, but 2010 only 24 percent. While the 2010 massacre of Democrats
in Congress was attributed to Big Government overreach by the Obama
Administration, the steep drop in the youth vote turnout was a significant
various reasons for dropping out in the midterms, including "too busy," lack of
interest, "didn't feel like my vote would count," and "forgot." Whatever
the cause, though, the general pattern holds, and unless Democrats repeat their
successful get-out-the-vote efforts of last year, a Democrat gain of seats is
then, strenuous "get-out-and-vote" activities on campus next year, along with
more proposals geared precisely to their benefit (and that turn youth
populations into "clients"). Watch closely, too, for civic
engagement programs on college campuses, even those without any trace of
partisanship. One of CIRCLE's consistent findings is that civics-oriented
curricula and extra-curriculars have a decided effect on voter
participation. The more young people are exposed the them, we find, the
higher their engagement. With the youth vote so solidly on the liberal side,
we should examine statements about civic engagement programs and proposals not
simply on the grounds of their relation to the burdens of citizenship in a free
republic, but also as possible sources of support for one political party.
New York Times today has a front-page
story headlined - brace yourself - "In California, Early Push for College
Diversity." But wait! The take-away from this story is that the sky
did not fall when racial preferences in university admissions were abolished in
California. Not only did skin-color diversity "rebound" but - more
importantly - the state was forced to make reforms that helped disadvantaged
students of ALL racial and ethnic groups. The result is that attention is
being paid to REAL diversity in admissions, not the superficial kind. Normally I cringe whenever I imagine a Supreme Court justice reading
a Times article (never mind an editorial) on "diversity," since the Grey
Lady seems never to have met a racial quota she didn't like. But not
today: In fact, I rather hope that Justice Kennedy takes a look at this
piece as he works on his opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas.
speaking of the Grey Lady, what's happening to her? The Times
recently ran a front-page, above-the-fold, lengthy piece on the infamous Pigford
litigation -- concluding that the "compensation effort" against the U.S.
Department of Agriculture for anti-black bias "became a runaway train, driven
by racial politics, pressure from influential members of Congress and law firms
that stand to gain $130 million in fees." "The total cost could top $4.4
billion," the article concluded.)
Update (5/9): The
Wall Street Journal's Jason Riley, as noted here by
John Rosenberg, points out that the California story is even happier than the Times
story would indicate: Not only was there the "rebound"
effect the Times concedes with regard to ENROLLMENT, but with regard to
GRADUATION (the more important number) the number of Latinos and blacks has
James Jones, president
of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., has announced his decision to step down
from his post as of June 2014, a year before his contract ends. Jones's
surprise decision, announced by an e-mail from Jones on May 7, included the
equally surprising announcement that decision by the chairman of Trinity's
board of trustees, Paul E. Raether, will also be stepping down. The scuttlebutt
is--at least according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
(FIRE)--that that the resignations are directly related to alumni outrage over a
new social code at Trinity, announced in October 2012, that will effectively
eliminate fraternities, sororities, and similar social organizations at
Trinity. Let's hope that is the case, and that a new and different top
administration will realize the extent to which the new Trinity social code
severely restricts students' freedom of association.
Since the 1960s college
and universities have waged a never-ending war against college fraternities and
sororities. Greek life has always been a source of suspicion to college
administrators, and sometimes justifiably so: questionable hazing practices,
licentious parties, "Animal House" antics. But in recent years, fraternities
and sororities have represented a political threat as well--a threat to the
desire of college administrators to control and regulate every aspect of
student life, social as well as academic. Fraternities and sororities are
typically single-sex organizations, and that goes contra to the insistence of
administrators that all aspects of college life must be gender-neutral and
gender-blind. Fraternities and sororities also admit their members selectively,
which goes against fashionable anti-elitism. Finally, fraternities and
sororities are often havens against campus political correctness. Inside a
fraternity house men can safely joke about the latest humorless pronunciamentos
from the campus women's center. Inside a sorority house women can be free to
like men instead of viewing them as adversaries as their feminist professors
Many colleges and
universities have simply banned Greek houses outright. The Trinity social code
is more subtle and insidious: It makes it impossible for Greek houses to exist.
First of all, all campus "social organizations" must henceforth meet
nearly 50-50 gender quotas, both in membership and leadership. So much for the
traditional single-sex Greek structure. Then, they must be officially approved
by the Trinity administration--and students who associate with unapproved groups
"will be subject to separation from the College." The houses must
also terminate their affiliations with national Greek single-sex organizations.
Furthermore, Trinity has given itself the right to siezeand sell the houses of
fraternities and sororities that do not comply with the above rules and turn
them over to more compliant organizations. And notably, the code exempts campus
athletic, musical, and academic organizations from its strictures: it's aimed
squarely at the Greeks.
Not surprisingly, many
Trinity students and Trinity alumni are up in arms over the new code, and some
have threatened to withhold donations and also challenge the provisions in
court. The announced resignations of Jones and Raether are a good sign,
suggesting that Trinity might have jumped the shark this time. It's a small and
tentative victory for those who believe that college students, like other
citizens, ought to be able to be able to associate with the friends of their
is always a riveting time for observers of American higher education. Indeed,
the end of the school year portends two time-honored rituals for our colleges:
the announcement of embarrassing information they hope students will forget
over the summer and commencement. The latter is especially exciting because it
lends higher education an imprimatur that has been diminished of late.
how better to shore up one's imprimatur than by having the President deliver
the commencement address, as Ohio State did yesterday? To that end, President
Obama praised the institution as well as is its students, whom he believed
"possessed...that most American of ideas - that people who love their
country can change it." However, the President also demonstrated that these
addresses often serve to bolster the speaker's legitimacy. After praising Ohio
State's ROTC cadets and volunteers, he discussed the concept of
"citizenship": the notion that, in his words, "with rights come
responsibilities - to ourselves, to one another, and to future
generations." He noted that no political party has an exclusive claim to
this concept. With that said, he then argued that fulfilling the obligations of
citizenship required addressing certain issues -- gun violence, climate change,
our moribund auto industry, domestic energy -- that suspiciously resemble his
none of this is at all suspicious: when any elected official has a podium,
they're bound to expound on their agenda. What's more, colleges undoubtedly know
this when they extend their invitations. Since politicians appear to be a
popular choice for commencement addresses, this year's seniors should expect to
hear a good deal more about their elected officials' programs than they might
like. One might anticipate more seniors arguing that commencement should
celebrate their successes rather than those of politicians and
university administrators. Of course, this would assume students paid
The New York Timesreports a relatively small proportion
of young Americans work by international standards, and suggests it may be
because we are lagging in educating college students, since college graduates
have low unemployment rates (3.9 percent in April for all college grads). There
are several problems with this conclusion.
First, while the
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) treats unemployment like pregnancy (you are,
or you are not), in reality there is a world of difference between working 20
hours a week at McDonald's making $175 weekly, or 45 hours at Google or a major
accounting firm making $1,500. Yet the BLS records them the same for employment
Second, college grads are increasingly taking low paying
unskilled jobs -and forcing those with high school diplomas into the ranks of
the unemployed. Increasing further the proportion of young Americans with
college degrees would aggravate this problem. We have more young college
graduates than needed to fill the professional, managerial, and technical jobs
that are high paying and traditionally have required a degree.
Third, increasing the number of college graduates further
would lead to more increases in unemployment of those with lesser education,
not materially increasing the aggregate proportion of young American working. Long term, young Americans are like older
Americans -working less, in large part because various perks of the welfare
state (e.g., Food Stamps, generous disability payments, extended unemployment
benefits, even the Pell Grant/student loan programs) are turning more workers
into wards of the state.
Well, The Chronicle of
Higher Education reports the big news that philosophy professors at San
Jose State have refused to adopt a pilot program centered on the legendary
Harvard professor Michael Sandel's MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on justice. Here are my reflections on their stand:
Watching the Sandel MOOC doesn't add anything of
value to reading a book by Sandel. A
lecture by Sandel might well be better than a lecture by a local professor. It might be better to discuss a book by
Sandel with Sandel. Or maybe not: It's hard to develop a critical perspective
on Sandel with Sandel himself as the authority in the room. Better still would be local professor leading
a discussion on the book by Sandel in a small class. The local professor can hold students
accountable for having read Sandel in the way Sandel himself can't. Better
doesn't mean best: Sandel is more a
first-rate lecturer than a first-rate thinker. Best of all would be a local professor leading a discussion on
Tocqueville and Marx or Aristotle and Aquinas.
The criticism of the teaching-by-lecture as
nothing but pontificating and spouting content contain much truth. But the Sandel MOOC is a series of lectures
than amply displays both those excesses. A more nuanced criticism of the lecture method is that the student finds
the lecture so persuasive that s/he thinks there's no point in doing the
reading. The professor understands Plato
or John Stuart Mill so much better than I do, they say, so there's no way I'm
getting what he's getting out of it when I read it. (Or: This guy is so enthusiastic and so dogmatic about his interpretation of
these authors that getting my own opinion might be bad for my grade.
Consider that a kind of equivalent to the MOOC
has been around for a generation. Most
of the lecture classes of the legendary professor of political philosophy Leo
Strauss were recorded, and the transcripts and, more recently, tapes have been
available to those interested. Reading
the transcript, in truth, is more instructive than listening to tape. It's true in the case of Strauss that paying
an hour's attention to the transcript seems to be more efficient way to learn
what's really going in the Symposium
than actually reading the Symposium. But it's also true Strauss spoke and wrote in
such a way that you understand his lecture or book a lot better if you actually
did the reading. It's not so bad to be
encouraged to read Plato to understand Strauss, although Strauss himself,
unlike Heidegger or Hannah Arendt, worked pretty hard to keep Plato the focus.
Strauss was a great teacher, but his was hardly
a model classroom. A gifted teacher's
class is a lot less scripted or predictable.
How the text is related to the student's lives or current events or seemingly
more random questions depends on the character of students. Many so-called "Straussians" in small
colleges are much better teachers than Strauss was himself. Part of their excellence depends, of course,
on what they learned from Strauss. But only part.
Occidental, a student can be found guilty of sexual assault even if his partner
said "yes" to sexual intercourse. And yet the school has been targeted by
opponents of due process on campus--ranging from celebrity attorney Gloria
Allred to Occidental professor Danielle Dirks to Richard Pérez-Peña's slanted
coverage in the New York Times--for not having a process sufficiently friendly
response to these Wonderland-like complaints, Occidental president Jonathan
Veitch asked two attorneys, Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez, to review
Occidental's policies. (Maisto Smith had performed a similar task the same
after similar complaints emerged against UNC's similarly due process-unfriendly
sexual assault procedure.) The message from the duo's letter to Vietch: the college needs
to appease the mob, due process be damned.
two former federal prosecutors reviewed Occidental's disciplinary procedures
relating to sexual assault. Incredibly, they appeared to have no problem with
Occidental's yes-can-mean-no standard, or its prohibition on accused students
having lawyers in the hearing, or its bizarre claim that the school respects
due process simply because "the College never assumes a student is in violation
of college policy."
purporting to have "entered this conversation with an open mind," the duo's
letter was exactly what would have been expected from figures intent on
appeasing the mob. The Smith/Gomez letter ignored the extraordinary due process
concerns embedded within Occidental's policies, and instead argued that on
matters of both tone and substance, the college needs to bend its campus
procedures even further toward accusing students.
and Gomez urge creation of a new Title IX coordinator, with an unspecified
number of deputies; among the coordinator's responsibilities will be regularly
consulting with OSAC, the self-selected activist group that appears to define
all women who claim to have been raped, even if they never file criminal
charges, to be "survivors" of an assault. The duo's letter also demands that
OSAC receive a role in planning a "coordinated and structured educational
programming" for campus next year.
addition to the Title IX coordinator and deputies, Smith and Gomez also urge
Occidental to create another new bureaucratic position--a "dedicated advocate
for survivors of sexual assault"--who will also play "an integral role in
ongoing prevention and education efforts." They don't explain why the new Title
IX coordinator can't fulfill these responsibilities.
Smith and Gomez suggest they'll be reviewing selected Occidental cases over the
past two years, even those in which an accuser's claims were deemed unfounded,
a type of extrajudicial review of the innocent.
letter, Smith and Gomez claimed to have consulted a wide array of figures on
and off campus. Defense attorneys or civil libertarians were not on the duo's
are phony "hate crimes" so common, particularly on campus? James Taranto took a
stab at answering this perennial question yesterday in his popular "Best of the
Web" column. The occasion was the latest hoax: a women's studies student at the
University of Wyoming sent an aggressive and vile sexual message to herself,
denounced it heartily on her blog as hateful and misogynistic, then had to
admit she had sent it to herself.
why do people do this? Taranto writes:
"One obvious answer is that people do this
sort of thing to get attention. Multicultural identity politics, which is a
dominant force on campus and a significant one off it, creates a perverse
incentive structure by rewarding victims of purported hate and going easy on
hoaxers." He goes on to say that "a shared experience of being oppressed
can be a powerful source of identity."
agree. Since our campuses are currently obsessed with race and gender and the
threat of bigotry, some of that deep feeling of grievance tends to come out in
narratives that just aren't true. To the hoaxer, literal truth is less
important than the need to create a fictional outrage adequate to express the
feelings of an angry student.
wrote here in 2007 (the occasion was the appearance of a rare conservative
hate crime hoax), "The more campus voices are raised against 'institutional
racism' and the alleged sexual dangerousness of all males, the more fake race
crimes and fake rapes there will be. Look into the hoax reports and you will
see an endless parade of students painting racist graffiti on their own cars,
tearing their clothes and writing hate phrases on their own bodies or sending
themselves politically useful death threats. Many campus hoaxes turn out to be
teaching instruments of a sort, conscious lies intended to reveal broad truths
about constant victimization of women and minorities."
downgrading of truth in favor of feeling often shows up in post-hoax comments
by allies of the perp. At a "Take Back the Night" rally in Princeton
in the 90s, a female student told a graphic story of her rape on campus. When
the alleged rapist threatened to sue, she recanted the story and a spokeswoman
for the Women's Center said, "Listen, we can't hope to find truth in all
these stories," meaning that the story line was important, not the truth
of any one rape. As the Nation magazine famously said after theTawawa Brawley
hoax, "It almost doesn't matter" that the alleged crime never happened.
University of Wyoming statement on the hoax wasn't that scurrilous, but the
faking seemed far less important than the alleged need to keep an intense focus
on sexual violence: "This episode has sparked an important
discussion reaffirming that the UW community has no tolerance for sexual
violence or violence of any type. The fact that the Facebook post apparently
was a fabrication does not change the necessity for continued vigilance in
reassuring that we have a campus where everyone feels safe. It's important that
this event does not undermine the progress that has been made in this
would have preferred a more straightforward message, something like this:
"Lying about hate crimes is a serious business and will not be tolerated
on this campus. It's important that this incident not undermine our
university's commitment to truth-telling. Cheating, plagiarism, dishonesty in
research and fake accusations demean any campus and we won't have it here." But
of course that's not what the university wanted to say.
So Peter Sacks, author of the
excellent Generation X Goes to College, explainswhat's
really wrong with the likely MOOCification of higher education.
Studies show that learning through
MOOCS and related online delivery systems isn't worse than that through the
more traditional or personal ways of teaching, at least according to allegedly
reliable quantitative measures.
That "assessment" is more
than enough to lead state schools and poorer private schools to embrace such
efficient and effective enough instructional technology. Students will
get the competencies and skills connected with degree completion at an
affordable price. There's no particular reason why "for profit"
institutions--as long as they're rigorously assessed--shouldn't get involved in
this effort to get as many Americans as possible through college. American education so disrupted will have purged itself of educationally
irrelevant amenities, beginning with tenured faculty lounging about insulated
from the relevant standards of productivity.
Meanwhile, the richer and more
"elite" colleges won't go in this techno-direction. They will
become progressively more personal, emphasizing student "engagement,"
more luxurious amenities from gourmet food to health-club gyms and edifying
internships and study-abroad options that could easily be mistaken for
vacations, and undergraduate research.
The elite schools will get better
and better and the state schools will get more standardized and commodified,
more reliably mediocre. Actually, that's an optimistic scenario. If
we check out secondary education, we can see that the elite high schools are
better than ever, while most high schools are pretty much warehouses for
teenagers. Those two kinds of high schools will pretty predictably feed those
two kinds of colleges. And nobody with eyes to see trusts assessment
rubrics to guarantee quality control.
So you still might say there's nothing
to worry about here. Our elite colleges have pretty meritocratic
admissions policies, and they're all about "diversity." They
also have lots of financial aid. But we can also see that our colleges
are more stratified than ever when it comes to SAT and IQ. And we can
also see that our "cognitive elite" is separating itself more than
ever through choice of schools and all that from the rest of society. Those who have actually looked at the stats see that diversity at our
best colleges is increasingly smart and rich black and white kids being
educated together. Meanwhile, the class divide based on money, education,
and brains widens, and there's no real incentive for our best colleges to care.
It's tougher than ever for members
of our sinking middle class to be able to do what it takes to get into our best
colleges. Meanwhile, we're going to be about stripping our ordinary
colleges with open or semi-open admissions policy of personal features,
beginning with tenured faculty, to cut costs. That means our struggling
ordinary guys aren't going to get the personal attention and possible
"transformative experiences" that have historically been available on
even our ordinary low-tech campuses. Those most in need of and often
deserving of personal encouragement are going to be those least likely to get
So Sacks is right that it should
offend our meritocratic sensibilities that our elite colleges are now, more
than ever, First Class. And our MOOCified colleges might well be on their
way to becoming "steerage" or more and more distant from real higher
Gallup reports today that most
Americans understand the higher-ed crisis at least partially. Indeed, a new
survey shows that 59% "strongly agree" that colleges and universities
should "reduce tuition and fees." While they'd be crazy not to think
this, it's reassuring that a large percentage of the population recognizes that
higher-ed institutions are mostly to blame for skyrocketing costs.
Unfortunately, though, a plurality of respondents "strongly agree"
that "the federal government should provide more assistance." As is
often the case, the American people don't seem to understand that federal
programs designed to "solve" a given problem -- in this case, the
rising cost of college -- often end up exacerbating it.
However, Gallup's report, which
it co-authored with the Lumina Foundation, also gives reason for hope. When
asked whether they agreed that "Online colleges and universities offer
high-quality education," 11% of respondents strongly agreed, 22% agreed,
and 39% were neutral. This statistic might signal a growing acceptance of
alternatives to the traditional higher-ed model. Though Americans still prefer
brick-and-mortar institutions - indeed, larger percentages of respondents
agreed that "traditional colleges and universities offer high-quality
education" -- they seem to recognize that they do not meet everyone's needs. If
this indeed the case, this report might provide an opening for policymakers who
wish to wean America off its attachment to the fanciful notion of "college for
of Higher Educationreports this morning that
study by the American Council on
Education discovered the "stark lack of representation" of Asian-Americans
among leaders of higher education. "Despite leadership inroads made by
other racial minority groups," ACE announced, "only 1.5 percent of college and university
presidents are Asian Pacific Islander Americans."
According to the brief, Asian
Pacific Islander Americans lead all other racial minority groups in the
percentage of full-time tenured faculty at 7 percent, but they occupy just 2
percent of chief academic officer positions and 3 percent of deanships. Thus, a
pool of potential leaders is available, but work remains to be done to move
faculty into deanships and beyond.
study explains this stark "underrepresentation" of Asian-American
academic leaders by pointing to these "barriers to leadership
Racial bias: Like
other minority candidates, Asian Pacific Islander Americans struggle against
the prototype of a college president that some hiring committees hold.
leadership qualities may be viewed as not matching Western qualities that are
typically valued, such as charisma, assertiveness and direct communication
The forgotten minority: Even
though Asian Pacific Islander Americans are underrepresented in senior
leadership, they are rarely recruited in efforts to diversify candidate pools.
"The Model Minority": The
high representation and high success rate of Asian Pacific Islander Americans
in American higher education leave many oblivious to their stark lack of
representation in the field's leadership.
are some potentially interesting issues here that it appears the study did not
address. For example, are the "stereotypes" incorrect? That is, are
the "leadership qualities" of Asian-Americans actually different from
the "Western qualities that are typically valued" or are they
incorrectly "viewed" as different? If Asian Americans are not
different, then how would having more of them as leaders add any actual
"diversity"? In addition, although "Racial bias" and
"Stereotypes" are listed as separate "barriers," it's not
clear how struggling against "the prototype" that Asian Americans
don't fit is different from struggling against the "stereotype" of
fact that blacks and Hispanics also have to struggle against the same
"prototype" but presumably aren't as "underrepresented" as
Asian Americans suggests a much simpler explanation for the demographics of
academic leadership: if you discriminate in favor of certain groups, you tend
to get more of them and fewer of those you discriminate against.
New York Times recently published a fascinating piece
that exposed the fraudulent research of one Diederik Stapel, a professor of
social psychology at Tilburg University in The Netherlands. What we learn from
the piece is applicable to America, where the incentives for producing
worthless research are no different.
had become an academic star for his research. The problem was that his research
was bogus - he made up data to "prove" notions that he thought government
officials and other academics wanted to hear. In one paper, for example, he claimed to show that "a trash-filled
environment tended to bring out racist tendencies in people." In others, he
found that people became selfish and less social after eating meat, and that
people consume more when they have been "primed" to think about capitalism.
managed to construct a stupendously successful academic career on his vaporous
research. And he would probably still enjoy that career if he had quietly slid
into administration at his university and stopped publishing. He did not,
however, and in time some people began to smell a rat. His data were simply too
perfect, leading other psychologists to suspect that he was simply making
everything up. They were right. Stapel admitted to the author of the article
that he "couldn't resist the allure of fabricating new results." Once his
research was carefully investigated, he was found to have committed fraud in at
least 55 published papers. His career was ruined.
To be sure, Stapel's
case is far from unique. The article mentions the high-profile academic frauds
committed by former Harvard professor Marc
Hauser and Korean scientist Hwang
Woo-suk. Not mentioned, however, was the fraud perpetrated by historian
Michael Bellesiles a decade ago. He too wanted to make a splash by telling
people (specifically, anti-gun liberals) what they wanted to hear, and made up
crucial facts for his book Arming America.
(A good summary of that case is available
academic fraud is discovered and punished, but it's easy to believe that much of
it escapes detection. After all, Stapel's "work" would still be considered
valid had he not been so greedy for fame. Other academics are undoubtedly more
careful about their deceptions.
funding came from grants from the Dutch government, which is now investigating him
for "misusing" public funds. But why should public funds have been on the table
in the first place? Why should governments pay academics for research into the
sorts of questions Stapel said he was investigating? What good could possibly
come to the citizenry from finding out whether, for example (this is another of
his faked studies) children are more willing to share their candy after they
had drawn a sad picture?
root of the problem is that most academic research is sheltered from the test
of the market. Indeed, the people who commission and pay for it usually have little
or no actual interest in getting a good product. When government officials buy
research, they don't lose anything if the work turns out to be fraudulent,
foolish, or both. Similarly, when universities give professors light teaching
loads so they will have plenty of time for research, school officials have
nothing to lose if the work is bogus.
Milton Friedman observed, "No one spends other people's money as carefully as
he spends his own." If we applied that wisdom to academic research, the amount
of fraudulent and pointless work would be greatly diminished.
over MOOCs, a different model is coming to town--blended learning. Deep within the
New York Times'article
today on online courses, readers learned of the "striking" success of San
Jose University's pilot blended course. While MOOCs dominate conversations
about the future of higher-ed, it's the blended model, which combines
face-to-face interaction with web based instruction, that delivers the results
time and again. 91 percent of students who took the pilot blended course passed
while only 59 percent of students in the traditional course passed.
blended model makes class time more effective and productive by letting students
use the internet to access course content and independent activities. Not only
are learning outcomes improved, but when blended courses lead to a reduction in
seat time-- time spent in a physical classroom--they
eventually create savings.
University of Central Florida (UCF), recently
ranked as one of the "Up-and-Coming" national universities, has a robust
selection of classes offered in several modalities, including four versions
of blended classes that combine elements of online content, web based
instruction and face-to-face class time in various ratios. Research by UCF's Center
for Educational Research and Development provides evidence of the blended
model's effectiveness. One study examined learning engagement and satisfaction
with students' online and face-to-face learning experiences. UCF found that college-age
students were frustrated with both the lack of immediate responses in online-only
courses and "pointless" class time in traditional courses. Students who
enrolled in blended learning program, however, reported the highest levels of
satisfaction. Furthermore, these students showed a
heightened sense of responsibility and motivation.
mania has dominated the headlines and minds of many, but America's higher
education crisis means that we cannot overlook these alternative models. We can
only hope to hear more about the blended model.
I found much to admire and little to disagree with in Sam
Goldman's defense of liberal education. Well, I was offended that he called my use of "cultural transmission"
postmodern. I wasn't offended for any
good reason, of course. Putting the
techno-phrase in quotes is, of course, a postmodern or cloyingly ironic
"move." It is a way of ironically
appropriating a phrase found in the relevant educational "studies." "Cultural transmission" does call to mind
pomo lit criticism. But it also has
Darwinian overtones, insofar as evolutionary studies show that human evolution
is not only natural but cultural. For members of our species, culture needs to
passed on as surely as genes do. "Cultural transmission," of course, not a
phrase I would use without quotes. I
rarely, in fact, use either "culture" or "transmission." Okay, I do use the
latter prefaced by either "standard" or "automatic."
But there is a sense I think that a properly conservative
defense of liberal education should
be postmodern, as long as postmodernism is "rightly understood." Let me
We conservatives are all for a world that's benefited
from both premodern and modern experiences, although we don't think that
there's anything historically inevitable or even likely about the emergence of
such a world. A genuinely postmodern
world avoids the spiritual and aristocratic excesses of the medieval world and
the material and democratic excesses of the modern world. It's a place human beings can flourish as
material and spiritual beings or, more precisely, as whole persons. We think that the true human progress is
personal and relational. It takes place over the course of particular human
lives in the direction of living responsibly in light of the truth.
For this understanding of postmodernism, I refer you to
the work of the great anticommunist dissidents Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and
Vaclav Havel, as well as to the American philosopher-novelist Walker Percy. For
a genuinely postmodern thinker, a conservative criticism of the excessively technological
orientation of the contemporary West doesn't mean a rejection what we've
learned that's true about our freedom and our productive capabilities from modern
developments. It does mean acknowledging
that our mistaken identification of progress in techno-productivity has been at
the expense of who we are as relational and purposeful beings. "Cultural transmission," from this view,
means discovering and remembering who we are as whole persons, as opposed to
So we postmodern conservatives believe that people these
days can be educated as both beings who work and beings who love--including love
the truth. And, as I've said before, critical thinking about the "how" that
gives us the means to pursue happiness can be combined with reflection about
the "who" and "why"--the self-knowledge and the relational purposes--that make
humanly worthy happiness possible.
The idea, rightly understood, of postmodern suggests, of
course, that education is not merely traditional, if only because our diverse
tradition is composed of elements in tension. The personal appropriation of
tradition is, of course, thoughtful and even creative.
Wednesday's episode of "Law & Order, Special Victims Unit" dealt with fictionalized versions of recent campus rape cases. In the story, a fraternity produces a crude, misogynistic t-shirt (left). The real T-shirt it is based on (right) was far worse. It was produced and sold last year by an unauthorized frat at Amherst College. Jezebel and AVC have the story.
Universities that want to improve their selection
procedures by identifying talented people (of any colour or creed) from
disadvantaged backgrounds should be encouraged. But selection on the basis of
race is neither a fair nor an efficient way of doing so. Affirmative action
replaced old injustices with new ones: it divides society rather than unites
it. Governments should tackle disadvantage directly, without reference to race.
If a school is bad, fix it. If there are barriers to opportunity, remove them.
And if Barack Obama's daughters apply to a university, judge them on their
academic prowess, not the colour of their skin.
It's clear that the return on the investment in
a college education isn't as promising as it once was. To that end, The Chronicle of Higher Educationrecently
wondered how to "assess the real payoff of a college degree." Answering
this question necessitates defining higher education's purpose.
If one attends college simply hoping for an
economic return on their investment, then colleges are clearly failing. With jobs
now in short supply, there is a growing disconnect between degrees and
employment opportunities. At private colleges where the tab often exceeds
$50,000 a year, tuition and other expenses are so steep that one might need to
wait twenty years before one sees a real return on their investment. Based on
this economic cost-benefit analysis, one could argue that a liberal arts
education is impractical. Moreover, given the disappearance of academic
standards in the humanities, one could even say that a liberal arts education
As I see it, the discussion on the investment
in higher education makes some sense since the costs seemingly outstrip the
benefits. Yet it would be a mistake, in my judgment, to assume this is the be
all and end all of an evaluation. Higher education should be more than a rite
of passage or a ticket to employment. It should involve more than the
ritualistic call for personal growth Higher education must also concern itself
with transmission of the intellectual tradition that undergirds Western
If there is growing cynicism about higher
education, it is because many now know that the four years of "study" often
involve banal subjects and bacchanalian pleasure. Educators have lost perspective,
and the academy is adrift in a sea of empty. As such, higher education provides
no guide for students' future.
an instructive exercise: The next time you read an article about
"diversity" (see, e.g., the
interview with the University of Wisconsin's diversity honcho in Inside
Higher Ed today), mentally substitute the letters "BS" for "diversity"
every time the latter appears. It's amazing how much more accurate and
understandable the article becomes! (It's even better if you spell out
the word for which "BS" is theabbreviation.)
and university leaders talk all the time about their commitment to BS. And, on
many campuses, students and faculty question the depth of that commitment. A
new book, Strategic BS
Leadership (Stylus) considers the steps colleges can take to
transform their campuses. The author is Damon A. Williams, vice provost and
chief BS officer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Williams responded
via e-mail to questions about the book.
People in higher education use the term "BS" all the time, yet you
devote a chapter to defining it. Why is it important to define it, and how do
you define it?
While "BS" has become one of the great buzzwords in the academy, it
is rarely defined accurately, and rarely in ways that address its complexity.
The Association for Asian American Studies just
made news by becoming the first American academic organization to support a
boycott of Israeli universities. In case you were wondering, the AAAS did not also
call for a boycott of any other Asian universities
located in countries with less-than-stellar human rights records. They
seemingly believe that Israel is uniquely reprehensible.
The AAAS's resolution left little to the imagination: it
castigated Israeli universities for supporting Israel's "violations of
international law and human rights," including its "denial of the
right to education and academic freedom to Palestinians." This language was
consistent with former AAAS president Rajini Srikanth's explanation for the
boycott. He compared Israel to apartheid South Africa and argued that working
with Israeli universities makes professors abettors of Israel's "discriminatory
What's truly puzzling about this decision is the AAAS's recognition
that "there are Israeli scholars who understand the difficulties that
Palestinian academics and students have and speak up in support of Palestinian
rights." This fact alone should undermine the boycott's rationale. Indeed,
why isolate the very people who share their sympathies? The AAAS attempted
to skirt this point by specifying that this boycott targets "Israeli
institutions and not Israeli scholars" and that they will encourage
"partnerships" between AAAS members of pro-Palestinian Israeli academics.
This distinction, however, is utter nonsense. One cannot
separate these scholars' pro-Palestinian scholarship and advocacy from the
universities that pay their salaries, provide them with research grants, and
lend them institutional legitimacy. The distinction is telling, though. It
indicates that the AAAS believes Israel's institutions are irredeemable. Hence,
they support only those Israelis who are willing to undermine these
It is frightening that the academic boycott of Israel, once
limited to European universities, has found such a prominent sponsor in the
United States. Given the anti-Israeli rumblings on many of our campuses, we can
be confident the AAAS' resolution will not be the last.
Those eager to see a shredding of political correctness on
campus should sample this interview between
HBO's Bill Maher and Brian Levin, a professor at California State-San Bernardino who directs the school's Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism. Levin's apparent goal in the interview was to suggest
that all major religions are equally inclined toward politically-oriented
violence, regardless of contemporary evidence. The most revealing segment came
when Maher cited "Book of Mormon," the Broadway play known for its sometimes
pointed humor directed at the Mormon Church, and asked whether a similar "Book
of Islam" play could be staged. "Possibly so," replied this academic
"expert"--only to be greeted laughter from the audience. "Tell me what
color the sky is in your world," retorted Maher.
While Levin's absurdity generated ridicule from a studio
audience, it's quite mainstream in the academy. A Sunday Chronicle article about Muslim students' fear of backlash veered off into a sampling of
extreme political correctness from the professoriate. Consider this excerpt,
summarizing a discussion with the former chair of Brooklyn's Political Science
Department, Jeanne Theoharis:
"The gun-related killings [in Colorado and Connecticut] are
seen as the work of mentally unbalanced individuals, she said. White people,
like her, don't have to answer for the actions of those white killers in the
way Muslims are generally expected to after horrific episodes of mass violence
of the kind that occurred in Boston.
"'We should be looking at this through the frame of mental
health,' she said of the marathon bombings. 'It's the frame we're comfortable
with for other tragedies.'"
It's possible, as Theoharis implies, that some
responses to these tragedies evinced religious, racial, or ethnic bias. Here's
an alternative explanation: almost immediately after Tucson, Newtown, and
Aurora, credible reports suggested that the perpetrators had backgrounds of
mental illness. But the best reporting after Boston noted that there was no
indication that either of the alleged Boston bombers had a background of mental
illness as well as that virtually all who knew the surviving suspect considered
him a normal, well-adjusted member of the community. Is it possible that
Theoharis' implication that all Muslims who commit violent acts should
automatically be viewed "through the frame of mental health" constitutes little
more than Orientalist condescension?
It's quite true that the right has also made
reflexive and closed-minded statements, such as the joint demand from Senators
McCain, Ayotte, and Graham that the administration treat the surviving alleged
Boston bomber as an enemy combatant. Yet while we expect demagogic statements
from politicians, professors should be held to a higher standard. As the AAUP's
1940 Statement on Academic Freedom noted, faculty members "should remember that
the public may judge their profession and their institution by their
utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate [and] should exercise
This approach to academic freedom, alas, has no
place in an academic environment where figures like Levin or Theoharis
represent the majority viewpoint.
learned this week that Chelsea Clinton
and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky have spent $10 million on a 100-foot-long condo
opposite Madison Square in Manhattan.
seems to be a rare example of an NYU administrator whose lavish housing is not subsidized
by NYU, which has handed out so many questionable loans--$72 million to 168
it does raise the question of why Chelsea Clinton works as an
administrator at our university: she's an Assistant Vice Provost for NYU's
global network. The provost is the university's chief academic officer. It is
quite unusual for such a title to be granted to a student; Chelsea Clinton is
still in school herself, working on her dissertation at Oxford (while also
reporting for NBC News). Perhaps NYU President John Sexton can tell us what she
does in that position, and why he placed her there.
more can the "diversity" movement do to our colleges and universities? How
about mandatory indoctrination? According to an official faculty proposal,
Northwestern University is considering a move "to enhance the educational
opportunities" of students by installing a diversity course requirement for all
undergrads so that the students will "recognize their own positionality in
systems of inequality, engage in self-reflection on power and privilege, and
learn to engage productively with other who are different."
proposal, pushed by some students as well as faculty, would represent the first
University-wide academic requirement for undergraduates. By discussing "student
outcomes" in relation to the diversity requirement, the proposal seem to make
clear what conclusions students are supposed to come to about "systems of
inequality" in America and elsewhere. In diversity-speak, "systems of
inequality" is closely tied to "white privilege," "identity politics" and the
assumption that America is a deeply flawed racist society. If the proposal
passes, a major university will be committed to inculcating this sour view of
week Amherst College rejected
an offer from online education company edX to develop MOOCs (Massive Open
Online Courses) featuring its faculty. Though we do not know the full
details of Amherst's deliberations, it is clear that its faculty recognized
several important implications of this new technology.
faculty members expressed concern that middle-tier and lower-tier colleges
might lose tuition as a result of online education. If elite institutions
can recruit their "star" faculty to teach with this software, these middle- and
lower-schools might reason that these faculty can provide a superior
instruction at a distance than their own teachers can in the flesh. In turn,
such institutions could in the longer term rely less and less on faculty
rejection of MOOCs, moreover, represents an interesting convergence of
liberal/progressive and conservative sentiments. The anti-MOOC coalition on the
left is against corporatization, that is, non-governmental centralization
created by the search for greater efficiencies in the marketplace. On the
right, the objections are simply about the sacrifice of what makes many liberal
arts colleges "special", that is, their faculty commitment to time-on-task work
with students. Long ago, the elite universities were much more like the
liberal arts colleges, but this changed dramatically in the past half century
or more with the influx of large amounts of financial support from the
government and foundations. Robert Nisbet's The Degradation of the
Academic Dogma in the early 1970s anticipated much of what has been wrought
in the meantime.
it is true that some of our colleagues in the special precinct of higher
education have attained something of the quality of being celebrities. Those
who would be MOOC stars are a new breed of celebrity, as they are safely
tenured and increasing their earning potential while teaching before the
camera. But the camera is a spotlight that creates one kind of way of
knowing and being known. Having such knowledge only by way of video assures
less and less emphasis on the personal transmission of knowledge across the
generations. It may prove to be the dumbest dumbing down ever created by
our dominant technocrats.
Two trains carrying loads of conflicting
values, requirements, and prohibitions affecting college admissions and hiring
are hurtling rapidly toward each other, but no one seems aware of the impending
On one track, the Supreme Court is probably poised to impose
new restrictions on race- and ethnicity-conscious policies in Fisher v.
University of Texas and to allow states to eliminate such policies
altogether in Schuette
v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. On the other
track the movement to implement policies and programs specifically targeted to
students based on their sexual orientation is rapidly gathering steam.
"What could I have done differently?" high
school senior Suzy Lee Weiss asked in a funny
but bitter Wall Street Journal OpEd blaming her
rejection by a bunch of elite colleges on rampant political correctness. "Show
me to any closet," she wrote, "and I would've happily come out of it."
Ms. Weiss is not alone. There is now such
widespread (and justified) suspicion that claiming LGBT status would improve
their chances that some applicants are coming out of the closet who were never
in it. On April 15 the Chronicle of Higher Educationreported
that Tammy Johnson, director of admissions at Marshall University, comments in
a paper to be delivered to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars
and Admissions Officers annual meeting next week that
[a] cursory search of online discussion
boards reveals self-identified applicants to top-tier institutions saying they
falsely claimed LGBT status in essays or during campus interviews because they
think this will bestow some type of minority status on their application and
improve their odds of admission. College-admission consultants and high-school
counselors I spoke with have heard of this happening, too.
Ms. Johnson supports the "increasing interest
among admission officers regarding the identification of LGBT students" since
that helps them "advocate more successfully for funding and support." Some
institutions, she notes, need to identify applicants "who would be eligible for
Not to be outdone, Inside Higher Edreported
April 16 that the American College Personnel Association, along with Campus
Pride, released a paper
arguing that in order to develop an appropriate "campus climate" and "properly
implement LGBT-inclusive policies and practices" colleges must develop
demographic data about the "sexual orientation and gender identity" of their
applicants and students.
Also on April 15 the Faculty Senate of the
University of Michigan passed a resolution
calling on the administration to do more to "redirect university resources"
toward creating "a more diverse and inclusive campus," with a special emphasis
on implementing "modern definitions of diversity (not only race, color, and
national origin, but also age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, genes
identity, gender expression, disability, religion, veteran status and economic
legislators appear smitten with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). In
response to the high demand for classes and long waiting lists in California's
public colleges and universities, they have proposed a bill that would force schools to
give credit for faculty-approved online courses completed by students unable to
enroll in lower-division courses. Unfortunately, the bill is a short-term
solution to a complex problem that requires solutions well beyond what
for-profit MOOC providers can offer.
bill's understanding of online education seems limited to MOOCs. The bill asserts that "withrapidly developing innovations to
online course delivery models, California's public institutions have a unique
opportunity to meet critical demands."Senate
President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg made it clear that these
"online delivery models" are really MOOCs; while explaining the bill's
rationale, he asserted that "We can either shape
this MOOC movement or sit back and watch it shape itself."This makes sense given
Steinberg's close relationship with Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera and
Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity.
sponsors suffer from what we might call "MOOC
myopia," which prevents them from exploring other formats of online
learning. One alternative is the hybrid model, which combines face-to-face
learning with online instruction, seminar discussions and/or one-on-one
meetings with course instructors. Several studies, including Blended
Learning from EDUCAUSE, suggest hybrid learning is the best of both
worlds because it can improve educational outcomes and completion rates better than "equivalent fully online courses." Indeed, an instructor
teaching in these settings can lead class discussions and offer extra support
to struggling students. They can also guide peer learning. In contrast, MOOCs
not only lack the conditions necessary for deep learning but also are not
terribly user-friendly. Students must first learn how to learn from a MOOC if
they are to have a useful educational experience.
the purposes of Common Core, the
initiative to draft new standards for math and English, was to align secondary
curricula with the demands of college. The presumption was that high
school expectations simply fell short of first-year college coursework and the standards it set. Further evidence of mismatch came out this week in
of high school and college teachers by ACT that uncovered a glaring division of
opinion. While 89 percent of high school teachers declared their students "well
prepared" or "very well prepared" for college in the subjects they teach, only
26 percent of college teachers agreed.
ACT's recommendation is for high
school teachers to receive more professional development that familiarizes them
with actual college-readiness benchmarks. That means, however,
challenging some of the popular pedagogies of high schools today, for instance,
the preference for topical contemporary readings over traditional offerings of
ancient and modern classics (broad reading of works spanning the ages produces
more cultural literacy of the kind presumed by many college courses), the
emphasis on collaborative projects (one finding of Academically Adrift
was that the more students study by themselves, the higher their achievement),
and more "core" courses and fewer electives (according
to the College Board,
"SAT takers who reported completing a core curriculum
performed better on the SAT than those who did not complete a core curriculum").
investment many secondary educators have in these popular pedagogies, college
readiness may serve as an effective constraint. Instead of saying, "Well,
we should assign more contemporary novels, not old classics, because they are
more relevant to the students," college-readiness forces them to ask, "Which
books will best prepare them for U.S. history 101, freshman comp, Survey of
Western Philosophy, Ancient Art and Architecture, and other common first-year
of the more annoying tropes of the left is that while it may be all right for
profit-oriented businesses to function in many markets - I have yet to hear
anyone demand that dry cleaning, for example, be done by non-profit entities -
they shouldn't be in "helping" fields like health care and education.
Supposedly, it's wrong to profit from the needs of others.
sentiment lurks behind the scenes in the recent regulatory war that Senator Tom
Harkin (D-Iowa) has launched against the for-profit sector in higher education.
The for-profit schools have been singled out for criticism (some of it
perfectly justified) but a blind eye has been turned toward the non-profit
sector. Consequently, Congress has created the impression that for-profit higher
education seeks only to scam clueless students and pocket tax money intended for education and training.
Manhattan Institute has just released a paper by Judah Bellin, "The
Unacknowledged Value of For-Profit Education" that goes a long way toward
leveling that badly imbalanced view. Bellin's study makes it clear that
for-profit higher education can be just as useful for students as non-profit
and is sometimes superior. He observes that the for-profits do a good job of
creating programs that fit the needs and constraints of "non-traditional"
students - that is, older, often married people who are juggling various
responsibilities while attempting to learn new skills.
crucial reason why the for-profits serve their students well is precisely that
they are driven by that bête noire of
the left, profit. Bellin writes that they "can easily change their program
offerings based on market signals; accordingly, they provide training in fields
in which employer demand for skills is increasing." Conversely, non-profits
almost always have trouble adjusting to changing needs because of their
governance structures in which stakeholder groups (especially the faculty) can
thwart changes they don't like.
if for-profit higher-ed is so good, why the perception that it is an ugly
aberration in the lovely realm of non-profit education? Senator Harkin held
hearings last year in which he exposed a lot of deception and fraud by some of
the higher education companies. They
have used high-pressure tactics to lure in people who have little or no ability
to benefit from coursework, much as unscrupulous mortgage originators lured
many people who should never have thought about buying a house into doing so.
a large percentage of the students enrolled by the for-profits are hardly
students at all, many default on their federal loans - money that helps fatten the companies' bottom lines. Despicable behavior, true. But many lower-tier
public colleges and universities operate the same way, attracting low-ability
students with talk about the big earnings premiums that college grads
root of the problem here is not the profit motive but the corrupting
influence of easily available federal money. Bellin argues that the government
should stop subsidizing substandard institutions. Take away the crutch of
federal funds and low-quality schools "would be hard-pressed to stay in
As Milton Friedman pointed out, "No one spends other people's money as
carefully as he spends his own." That applies just as much to education as to
anything else. Bellin suggests that we
phase out federal loans over a ten year period. I'd go along, but we should do
that for the non-profit sector as well.
are the days when the liberal press covered the Federalist Society as if it
were a mysterious and sinister cult. Now (April 17) the Chronicle of Higher Education
features a largely favorable feature
article hailing the Federalist Society's history as "a story of how
disaffection, bold ideas, commitment to principle, and enlightened
institution-building have created a significant conservative shift in the legal,
policy, and political landscape of America over the past 30 years."
Only a few
years ago, ominous coverage of the society was not unusual. In August 2005, The
New York Times ran a long Page
One report on the society under the scary headline, "Debating the Subtle
Sway of the Federalist Society. The story began with an apparently puzzled
George W. Bush appointee saying, "I am a member of the Federalist Society,
and I do not know, quite frankly, what it stands for." This was quickly
followed by a description of the society's influence as "the source of
ever-swelling myth, mystery, insinuation, denial and debate,"with a liberal
blogger calling the society "the conservative cabal that is
attacking America from within."
upbeat, the Chronicle piece frankly expresses some admiration: "Academics
associated with the Federalist Society have educated a new generation of
conservative law students, played a role in the rise of openly conservative law
schools like Pepperdine's and George Mason's, and succeeded in gaining respect
and traction for conservative legal ideas."
Pilon of Cato hails
the Chronicle article as "surprisingly dispassionate,"
but adds that "it takes little imagination to see where they stand," since the
article accuses the Federal Society of having an overall reactionary impact and
a social Darwinist agenda. The Chronicle authors cite unnamed critics who
complain that "By glorifying private property, demonizing government
intervention (particularly at the federal level), insisting that originalism is
the only legitimate method of constitutional interpretation, embracing American
exceptionalism as a reason to remain apart from global governance, and pushing
related policies, these critics say, the society advocates a form of social Darwinism
that has been discredited by mainstream American legal thought since the
Still, "surprisingly dispassionate"
is a marked journalistic advance.
day, and another awful consequence of our student debt problem has come to
light. The New York Fed just released
data showing that growing levels of student debt have impacted
homeownership and car purchasing patterns. In the past, 30-year-olds who at
some point owed student debt were more likely than those who didn't to take out
loans on new homes, since more education is correlated with higher incomes.
However, declining economic fortunes caused by Great Recession has changed all
that: 30-year-olds without student debt are now more likely to take out loans
to finance a new home. Likewise, though borrowers of student debt were once
more likely than non-borrowers to take out a loan for a car, the situation is
now reversed. More than any other factor, then, we can credit the Great
Recession with opening our eyes to the consequences of mounting student debt.
However, it remains to be seen whether these revelations will lead to
The Fed's report contains perhaps the strongest argument for student loan reform. Indeed, borrowers of student debt are increasingly unable to finance the
purchases that will lead them to adulthood. Moreover, given that a strong
housing market is essential to our economy's continued health, this report
suggests that the student debt burden might delay our economic recovery. Many
that student debt will have such ripple effects, and this report adds another
data point in their favor.
If you're worrying about your child's student debt
obligations, you might want to check up on your parents, too. The Chronicle of
Higher Ed reports
that adults over 60 have the fastest growing student-loan debt and that their
growing delinquencies are leading the Department of Education to garnish Social
Security checks. Stung by the Great Recession, many older boomers went back to
school in the hopes of burnishing their resumes. Unfortunately, employers' reticence
to hire older people who are out of work has led to continued unemployment
and an average debt of $19,000 for this group.
The piece includes a poignant quote from an unemployed 65
year old, who laments that he "fully expect[s] to die with this [$70,000]
debt." Tragically, though he might die with his debt, his debt might not
die with him. True, federally-backed loans are always
discharged when then borrower dies. However, this is not
the case with private loans: if family members had cosigned for the
deceased borrower's loan, they can be held liable for his unpaid debt. In other
words, an unemployed 70 year old woman can be made responsible for her now-deceased
husband's loans. Since adults over the age of 40 are taking on private loans in
numbers, we can imagine that this nightmarish scenario will become more
common for seniors. The need for serious
student loan reform couldn't be clearer.
writing in response to Dr. Lawler's post here.
First, to clear up one important point that Dr. Lawler
addresses - libertarians (such as myself) have no desire to make liberal arts
courses be more expensive than STEM course. Indeed, as he rightfully notes,
because liberal arts degrees are associated with lower lifetime earnings,
perhaps they should be priced lower than STEM courses. I wouldn't disagree,
other than to say that the cost should be nothing more (or less) than the
market-clearing price. Were libertarians to have our way, we would likely dismantle
the entire higher-education-government-industrial complex. Yet, this isn't
realistic - so we shoot for second-best.
Because one important measure of how well individuals are
doing is their earnings, we can try to maximize people's welfare by maximizing
their earnings. On the higher-education front, we should be doing so by
offering better deals (read: higher subsidies) to those who pursue degrees
likely to result in higher-paying occupations. Technical occupations requiring
a STEM education take the cake here.
Alternatively, we can simply try to maximize total
employment. Here too, a quick review of the current employment
projections reveals that the occupations projected to be most in demand by 2020
will be those requiring highly technical, specialized skills:
Growth (in number)
training, and library
care & service (no degree)
& financial operations
preparation (no degree needed)
(no degree needed)
maintenance, and repair
Yet, Dr. Lawler makes a point that "making money is easy" but learning to "live
with it" is difficult. Taxpayers, he writes, should be concerned about
"preserving the whole truth about human nature." There's some truth to this. While
we're out there teaching our next generation how to use big data to find a cure
for cancer, or training the next Nobel laureate in economics, we shouldn't lose
sight of some of the less corporeal parts of human existence - those taught in
philosophy and literature courses. The courses that teach us about the deep
dark parts of the human being that can't be seen with a microscope.
For one, understanding these intricacies certainly isn't
exclusive to a liberal arts degree - who's to say that someone with a degree in
physics can't understand Weber's writings? But moreover, saying that "making
money" is easy seems like a bit of a stretch. The ease with which you make
money (and importantly, the amount of money you make with that effort) is
relative. For the 7.6% of Americans unemployed, making money isn't as easy as
Dr. Lawler believes. The student coming out of a liberal arts college with a
B.A. (or even an M.A. or Ph.D) in philosophy or literature with mountains of
debt (courtesy of Uncle Sam, no less) may find it unpersuasive that he is
well-versed in the intricacies of human nature when he needs to couch surf in
his parents' basement.
According to Census data,
someone with a literature B.A. will earn, on average, $2.1 million over their
work-life (about 40-years). Someone with a degree in engineering or computers
and math will make $3.1 million. That amounts to an average wage premium of
$25,000 annually over 40 years. I'm not convinced (and neither are my fellow
libertarians) that the value of "the truth" of human nature is worth quite that
We see more and more libertarian nudging in higher
education. Consider the proposal, coming
out of Florida, to incentivize students to choose the most demonstratively
productive majors. They are, of course,
the STEM majors--science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Tuition for these majors at state schools
should be lower. Intelligent students
should be nudged in productive directions, and there's nothing wrong the
taxpayers subsidizing their acquisition of useful skills. There's also the thought, of course, that
these fields are all about real--as opposed to ideological--learning. One piece of evidence of these fields' seriousness
is their resistance to grade inflation. Their tests assess the acquisition of skills
and facts rather than one's ability to spout opinion. Answers are right or wrong. This is one of the
many reasons why trained engineers are in such great demand and graduates in
the various "studies" majors are pretty much undesirable.
No libertarian would deny that students should remain
free to choose history or literature. However, a good libertarian could argue
that humanities students should be charged differently for their extravagant
preferences. Though liberal arts professors
might argue that their offerings should actually cost less because their salaries
are low and there's generally no need for equipment, libertarians could
respond that students should be discouraged from wasting time and money on
classes that would prevent them from becoming productive members of society.
Our society makes it possible to live as a bourgeois
bohemian--to balance productivity and "the art of living." As libertarians constantly remind us, though,
anyone who thinks that being bourgeois doesn't come first is a fool. Making money requires brains, skills, and
discipline, while the art of living is easy.
We conservatives respond that making money is easy, but living
well with it is hard. Even with better
skills, productive habits, and thus a lot more money, those girls on HBO's Girls would remain pretty clueless. The main character's social ineptitude has
little to do with her poverty and everything to do with the emotional isolation
that comes from her wounded, narcissistic soul.
It's hard to know how to spend your money in a way worthy
of who you are; it's just as hard to know how to spend your "unproductive" time
well. There's no reason why our
taxpayers shouldn't be concerned with preserving the whole truth about human
nature. They have good reason to support
critical thinking about the conditions for the flourishing of free and
responsible men and women.
This past February, in the final act of Brooklyn
fiasco, four Jewish students were kicked out of the talk. (Brooklyn's
Political Science Department had formally voted to affiliate itself with the
talk, which featured two speakers who advocated a nationality-based boycott
against Israelis, divestment from Israel, and international sanctions against
the Jewish state.) An investigation ensued, and CUNY vice chancellor and
general counsel Frederick Schaffer has now issued a report on the expulsion.
The major finding of the report: "It is clear that there
was no justification for the removal of the four students." An initial
college statement that "official reports" indicated that the students had engaged
in disruptive behavior was not accurate. And while there's no reason to believe
that the students were removed because they're Jewish, "a more plausible
inference can be drawn that the removal of the four students was motivated by
their political viewpoint."
The report's key judgment: "The Brooklyn College
administration did not handle this event well. It was probably a mistake,
once the forum became such a large and controversial event, to give the
students (and a few faculty recruited by the students) primary responsibility
for maintaining order unless there was a threat to physical safety. Even
if that was the correct decision, it was not sufficiently elaborated and
communicated either to the student volunteers and faculty marshals or to the
public safety officers. In particular, insufficient consideration was
given to the question of how a verbal disruption would be handled; certainly,
none of the public safety officers received clear instructions about
this. Furthermore, no decision was made as to who would have the
authority to remove members of the audience in the case of a verbal
disturbance. As events unfolded, no senior administrator intervened to
determine what the evidence was for the alleged disturbance or whether the
facts justified the removal of the four students from the room and then the
building. Nor did any of the public safety officers check with a superior
before removing the students. Instead, all of the Brooklyn College
personnel deferred to the request of a single, interested person, who,
unbeknownst to them, was not even a student at Brooklyn College."
To repeat: at a public college, in an event co-sponsored
by one of its academic departments, four students were likely expelled from the
event because of their political beliefs. Presumably this finding will cause
even the president of the college, Karen Gould, to publicly apologize to
Brooklyn's student body. But given Gould's performance to date, this may be
expecting too much.
The Schaffer Report also brought to light at least four
previously unreported facts:
The great scandal of American education is that students
can complete their schooling without learning to write correct prose. Even at
the college level, and at good schools, most students cannot write even a page
of text without committing some error of grammar, usage, or spelling. This is
apart from content. The reason is that their teachers--from kindergarten all the
way through--have little interest in correcting these errors. Either they
themselves don't know how to write, or it's too much work.
Professors have no personal or professional interest in
whether their students write well, so they ignore the problems and pass
students along. College writing programs have little impact on the problem. But
once on the job students quickly discover that the boss is their coauthor as
their teacher was not, demanding that they be able to write letters or reports
that he can sign without embarrassment--or be fired.
I recommend instituting a writing exam that
undergraduates must pass to graduate from college, with rules for grammar and
usage defined in advance. Ask students to respond to some essay question in,
say, five pages, without outside help. Allow students some very small number of
errors, or fail them. Have a nonprofit body--funded by all colleges and
universities--that would operate separately from coursework correct and return
the papers to students with errors indicated.
Allows students to take the test any number of times, but
make the number of attempts to pass part of their academic record. Publicize
these results by school, with the goal that they will eventually be factored
into U.S. News & World Report rankings.
The Manhattan Institute has just published my new report on the promise of for-profit colleges. I argue that though these institutions face greater scrutiny than any other sector of the higher-ed industry, we should celebrate their potential to accommodate untraditional students. I acknowledge for-profits' shortcomings; however, I conclude that if the Department of
Education is concerned about loan repayment, completion rates, and employment
statistics, it should also scrutinize traditional institutions with regard to
these outcomes and not target for-profits exclusively.
Boston University has
demonstrated the success of "holistic" admissions for medical school,
according an analysis published in The
New England Journal of Medicine. Under
such admissions, grades and test scores aren't accorded the same dominant role
they have traditionally played in admissions decisions, and factors such as
empathy, strength of character and cultural sensitivity receive more attention.
At BU's medical school, such a policy was adopted in 2009. As officials had
hoped, the new approach led to more diversity in the class -- with the
percentage of underrepresented minority students increasing from 11 to 20
I hope The
New England Journal of Medicine will publish additional studies investigating
and explaining the remarkable discovery B.U. seems to have stumbled upon. If we
assume -- as I'm sure B.U. would insist -- that its new holistic admissions
criteria are racially neutral both in intent and as applied, then it has
discovered that at least among its medical school applicants "factors such
as empathy, strength of character and cultural sensitivity" are
disproportionately possessed by "diversity"-providing racial and
ethnic minorities. This association of "underrepresentation" with
moral superiority demands further study.
possible explanation for B.U.'s dramatic discovery -- although one that also
calls out for scholarly investigation -- is that those admirable
"holistic" qualities are for some reason sadly and disproportionately
lacking in those applicants with high grades and test scores, so that
decreasing the number of academic high achievers increases the number of those
with high "holistic" scores.
complicating this alternate explanation is that B.U. also found that after the
adoption of the new "holistic" policy in 2009 both the college grade
point average and the MCAT scores of its students increased. Since presumably
those traditional measures did not improve because they were de-emphasized, I
suspect they increased because the GPAs and MCAT scores of applicants increased
across the board over those years. If so, then then those traditional scores
did not increase as much as they would have if they had been accorded their
the concern with "diversity" in the medical profession seems to come
from medical schools, the producers of health care. But what about the
consumers, those on whom the practice of medicine is practiced? Are there any
surveys, for example, for example, that investigate how patients rank such
"holistic" qualities as llempathy and cultural sensitivity compared to more
traditional measures of accomplishment and skill (at least as measured by
grades and test scores) in their physicians? Do medical schools care?
prevalent and persuasive argument against preferential admissions -- whether the
preference is based on race (overtly or "holistically") or on other issues such
as legacy status -- is the stigma that attaches to the preferred as well as
those who "look like" them. In the case of race that stigma often survives long
after graduation, leading some patients to avoid doctors whom they suspect were
held to lower standards.
avoidance suggests an irony: supporters of racial preference justify their
support by pointing to the persistence of bias and discrimination, but lower
standards for the preferred perpetuates that very bias.
"Intellectual Diversity in Legal Academe" was the subject of
an April 5th conference sponsored by the Harvard Federalist Society
at the university's law school. The videos of the one-day meeting are now
available here. You can watch the first panel, entitled "Is There a Lack of Intellectual Diversity in Law School Faculties?," below.
Among the speakers:
Session One: Jack Goldsmith (Harvard), Jack Lindgren (Northwestern), Mark Tushnet (Harvard)
Session Two: Richard Fallon (Harvard), Victoria Norse (Georgetown), Michael Paulson (St. Thomas), Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz (Georgetown)
Session Three: Paul Campos (Colorado), George Dent (Case Western Reserve), Robert P. George (Harvard), Jeannie Suk (Harvard)