As student loan debt has almost tripled since 2004, start-up
companies such asUpstartand Paveoffer a solution. These firms allow
those with excess money to invest in people and their careers. Graduate
students from competitive universities are especially attractive targets for
investors. As their business models continue to develop, they could help
alleviate problems in the broader student loan market.
such as Upstart and Pave offer a promising new concept that has already begun
successful operation without using taxpayer money. Upstart raised an initial
round of funding of $1.75 million from such prominent backers as Google
Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, and Kleiner Perkins. This stands in sharp
contrast to the government's $169 billion a year programs of Pell Grants,
student loans, and tax credits.
student debt exceeds $1 trillion and 40 million graduates are saddled with an
average of $25,000. For those who fail to graduate, the burden is even heavier.
Nine percent of graduates default within two years, and overall delinquency is
15 percent. The need for steady income to repay this debt forces young people
to find employment as soon as possible instead of looking for career paths that
are right for them.
Upstart and Pave, investors are repaid through percentages of borrowers'
monthly salaries for a period of up to ten years. To determine individual
rates, the companies use algorithms that calculate likely future earnings based
on university, major, grades, and professional experience. This rate usually
lies between 4 percent and 7 percent of income and enables investors to make
informed decisions while weighing risk and return.
The disappointing early performance of MOOCs has tempered
predictions of academia's wholesale collapse. So where will these behemoths find
their place in the landscape of higher-ed? Well-financed by investors, relatively
popular among administrators, and attractive to millions of course registrants,
MOOCs are not likely to face extinction. Their future probably lies somewhere
between adapting to a niche clientele and rebounding to capture part of the
original demographic they targeted at their genesis two years ago. We can
imagine three possible outcomes:
MOOCs will become advanced technical schools and
outsourced employee training. That's the conclusion
of Walter Russell Mead, and it's the direction Sebastian Thrun is
taking Udacity, after reckoning that MOOCs had "failed" as rivals to brick
and mortar BA programs. The new MOOC-ish master's degree program at Georgia
Tech is an example: AT&T is a major funder of the Georgia Tech initiative,
planning to send its employees through the program and to hire additional
high-performing program graduates. Forbes reports
that a growing number of businesses are authorizing MOOC versions of their
training courses. Others are launching MOOCs to educate their constituents. Maybe
MOOCs don't inspire rapt fascination with Tennyson the way a wizened literature
prof might, but they don't have to. Who said job training was interesting
MOOCs will become a means of popularizing
intellectual culture for a middle-class audience. As University of Michigan
professor Jonathan Freedman writes in "MOOCs:
Usefully Middlebrow," we already had Reader's Digest versions of books,
game shows quizzing our history knowledge, and book clubs for the well-read but
untrained literature enthusiasts. Now we have MOOCs. They disseminate content
in respectable, if watered-down, versions of their counterpart college courses.
Sure, it's not college, but it's not comic books, either.
MOOCs will encourage renewed interest in the
humanities, their techie origins notwithstanding. The liberal arts are a lot
harder to teach to big Internet classes, and student interest in taking and
actually finishing these courses is pretty low ("You can lead a horse to
water..." Edward Luce reminds
us at the Financial Times). But
MOOCs don't need to be a magic bullet. If they can save students some money and
pry at least some of them away from a false financial fascination with science
BAs, they'll be counted a success. MOOCs can become piece of a larger rebellion
against the reign of STEM fields, where job prospects are shrinking.
It's important to remember that MOOCs are mediums, not entities,
and they can be used to convey anything from presidential biographies to
personal finance techniques. Any of these three scenarios, or others, is still
The most common mark given at Harvard College these days is
an A, and the median grade is A-.
This information, from Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay
M. Harris, came out in response to a question from Professor Harvey Mansfield
at the monthly meeting yesterday of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Mansfield is locally famous for issuing two sets of marks--one in accord with
the dictates of modern grade inflation, the other the uninflated mark each
student actually earns.
This new information raises the question of what a Harvard
student would have to do to drop all the way down to the nether reaches of
grading and get a mark of B+.
Michelle Obama would like more students to attend
a speech on November 12, which was immediately recognized by the media as a
major shift in policy emphasis, Mrs. Obama told students at a Washington, D.C.
high school that the administration would work hard to increase the number of
low-income students who pursue college degrees.
Mrs. Obama also revived the
President's call to make the United States the nation with the highest
percentage of college graduates in the world by 2020. President Obama made this goal part of his
first major address to Congress back in February 2009.
Meanwhile, it seems that young people are growing more
hesitant about "investing" in a college education. The same day that Michelle was emphasizing to
the students at Bell Multicultural High School that "my story can be your
story," the New York Times ruminated
about a College Board/National Journal
poll that showed that "more than half of 18- to 29-year-olds...said a college
degree was not needed to be successful."
article by "Economic Scene" columnist Eduardo Porter quickly set the record
straight. "Workers with a bachelor's degree still earn almost twice as much as
high school graduates." But claims like this come increasingly with
qualifications. Not so long ago, reporters
blithely cited the "million-dollar" lifetime premium that allegedly came with a
college degree. That meme, which also
started with the College Board, had been debunked over and over by economists,
but has refused to die. The American
Council on Education (ACE) was still circulating a version of it in
fall 2011. But the supposed premium
has been shrinking in other estimates, as in this Kentucky
study that puts it as $600,000. Porter sets it still lower, at $365,000.
Most parents, college graduates, or even legislators could be excused
for lacking a detailed sense of the state of affairs on college campuses today,
since higher education policy issues rarely emerge in the mainstream media.
This pattern makes the one-sided coverage in the one newspaper--the New York Times--that regularly covers
higher-ed issues especially objectionable.
lengthy item from POLITICO, a publication that until recently has paid
scant attention to higher-ed questions, has done little to improve the
situation. Here's how POLITICO's Caitlin Emma opens her article: "The Obama administration is more aggressive than predecessors in
handling campus-based sexual violence, but advocates say the Education
Department still isn't going far enough on several basic fronts."
It's quite true that the current OCR has been
"more aggressive than predecessors" in seeking to weaken the due process
protection of students accused of sexual assault. But surely Emma can't
suggest--and without supplying any evidence to substantiate her insinuation--that
diminishing due process protections translates into enhanced aggressiveness in
handling "sexual violence."
Like most reporters who have covered this
general issue, Emma doesn't describe the actual campus procedures about which
the "advocates" have complained. She went out of her way to downplay the OCR's agenda.
She described the 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter as merely "stressing that
schools must eliminate sexual violence, prevent its recurrence and address its
effects. They must take immediate action, protect the complainant, provide a
grievance procedure for students and take a number of other actions." No
mention of the lower burden of proof, or the mandate for double jeopardy
through allowing accusers to appeal, or the OCR's discouragement of allowing an
accused student to cross-examine his accuser. These highly controversial
provisions are, instead, itemized as "a number of other actions." And since
most POLITICO readers don't come from the higher-ed world, it's highly unlikely
that they would have recognized Emma's misrepresentation.
As for the second part of Emma's opening, it's quite true that
"advocates" have demanded even more aggressive anti-due process activism from
OCR. In Emma's portrayal, the ideological spectrum on campus matters ranges only
from OCR to these "advocates." Even
Inside Higher Ed's Allie Grasgreen,
who generally serves as little more than a stenographer for the OCR and
anti-due process campus "activists," normally includes a token quote from FIRE
(albeit coupled with negative framing) in her articles.
Yet in 1500 words, Emma couldn't find room to quote one civil
libertarian, or defense attorney, or falsely accused student, or even one
current university general counsel. Instead, POLITICO readers hear from the assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education; an
"advocate" who's filed a Title IX complaint against UConn; the vice president for education and employment at the National Women's Law
Center ("we'd still like to see [OCR] go further"); an AUAW lobbyist; a state
Title IX coordinator; senior director of advocacy at the Women's Sports
Foundation; and attorney Brett Sokolow, who has dismissed FIRE's concern with due process and civil liberties with the claim that "all FIRE has done is to demonstrate that it could stand
up for the rights of rapists everywhere."
Peter Wood is inaccurate when he states
that Mayor Bloomberg conceived of CUNY's Pathways general education framework.
Unfortunately, the writer did not check with CUNY. Former Chancellor Matthew
Goldstein proposed Pathways to CUNY's Board of Trustees in 2011. This was in
response to long-standing problems with students equitably transferring credits
among the University's senior and community colleges, and to invigorate
curricular requirements by enhancing student choice and introducing general
education learning outcome measurements. The writer omitted that Pathways saves
students time and money, hastens graduation without exhausting financial aid
eligibility, and increases course quality. Hundreds of faculty members helped
develop the new credit-transfer framework, incorporated the higher academic
standards they designed, and approved more than 2,000 new general education
courses to meet the new University-wide requirements.
Although Mr. Wood focuses on the CUNY of 1969, he
virtually ignores CUNY reforms in the past 14 years that have attracted a
record number of high academic achievers and produced a bumper crop of
award-winners of highly competitive national scholarships. He writes that
"CUNY is directly under the Mayor's control." Actually, CUNY's Board
of Trustees is comprised of 10 members appointed by the governor and five
appointed by the mayor, plus student and faculty representatives. New York City
contributes 10 percent of CUNY's budget, mostly to community colleges -- and
gets a superb return on its investment given that over 90% of the graduates
remain or work in New York. CUNY receives the bulk of its operating support
from the State, including for its senior colleges, professional schools and
On Pathways, William G. Bowen, the former president of
both The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Princeton University, noted:
"[T]he system-wide emphasis on both fundamentals and flexible areas
defined by rigorous learning outcomes marks Pathways as a truly momentous step
forward for CUNY's dual missions of access and excellence." Mayor
Bloomberg deserves much credit for many accomplishments, but Pathways is a
National Association of Scholars:
I'm grateful to Mr. Arena for adding some details to my
account of CUNY's Pathways program and for providing a tidy summary of the
official story. I did not imagine that
Mayor Bloomberg crafted the details of Pathways. He is a man who delegates. Apparently the teachers' union at CUNY
continues to believe that the driving force behind Pathways is the mayor's
office. That's why the membership has turned
to Mayor-elect de Blasio in an effort to curtail Pathways.
The idea that former Chancellor Matthew Goldstein
proposed Pathways out of altruistic concern for the students who ran into
difficulty when trying to transfer their CUNY community college credits to
CUNY's senior colleges has been part of the storyline from the start. I have spoken to many CUNY faculty members
and have yet to find one who takes this story as anything more than pleasant
humbug. Yes, credit transfer is what Pathways is mainly about, but was credit
transfer a problem? The reason that students had difficulty transferring their credit
is that passing grades in the community college courses seldom provided
reliable evidence that the students had mastered the material at the level required
of all the students in the senior colleges.
This need not be blamed on the students. Generally they were (and still are) passed
through the New York Public Schools and the CUNY community colleges with false
assurances that they are achieving at a reasonably high standard of academic
performance. It is easy to sympathize
with their indignation when they discover they were victims of systematic
misrepresentation. But it is not so easy
to sympathize with Chancellor Goldstein's solution, which was essentially to
lower the academic standards of the senior colleges. The proliferation of new "general education
courses" (2,000) notwithstanding, Pathways lowers standards.
Mr. Arena gives a second reason for Goldstein's advocacy
of Pathways: "to invigorate curricular requirements by enhancing student choice
and introducing general education learning outcome measurements." That's boldness for you. It takes a University Director of
Communications to describe the filleting of academic requirements as "invigorating"
them. "Enhancing student choice" is a
euphemism for garroting requirements in favor of loose electives. "General learning outcome measurements"
essentially means covering your tracks with the snow. The snow in this case consists of fanciful
documentation of "learning outcomes" aimed at showing that students have
learned something--and no doubt they
Mr. Arena's puffery about how well CUNY students have
done academically in recent years just reinforces what I originally wrote. CUNY recovered, slowly and painfully, from
the disastrous 1969 decision to adopt open admissions. The success of the senior colleges with their
strict admissions standards testifies to that.
That success, however, has been jeopardized by Pathways.
Mr. Arena provides an accurate summary of the
arrangements by which CUNY's board is officially appointed. I doubt that any informed observer believes
that the official arrangements vitiate my statement that "CUNY is directly
under the Mayor's control." The way
things appear on paper is seldom a match for the way things are, especially in
New York City.
The endorsement of Pathways by William G. Bowen is a nice
touch. Dr. Bowen, let us say, has made
his career by being a soft touch for anything that involves affirmative action
or racial preferences. He has been
consistent over a long career in his willingness to sacrifice academic
standards to advance his particular view of racial justice. His endorsement of Pathways indeed speaks
volumes, but not the ones that Mr. Arena had in mind.
On two issues a chasm exists between the academic
mainstream and views outside the campus walls. The first, of course, is using racial
and ethnic preferences in faculty hiring procedures and (except for Asians and
Asian-Americans) in elite university student admissions. A virtual article of
faith in the academy, the use of racial preferences attracted a mere
28 percent support in a 2013 Gallup Poll.
The second issue revolves around matters relating to
Israel. A March 2013 Gallup Poll indicated that popular sympathy for Israel was
at an "all-time
high." And there's no reason to believe that college students don't feel
the same way. Among the faculty, however, the situation is much different.
The latest reminder came today, via
an Inside Higher Ed report that
the American Studies Association is seriously considering a resolution endorsing
an academic boycott against Israel. Academic boycotts against Israel are so
extreme that even the AAUP departs from its usual defense of the faculty
majority to formally oppose them. If the measure is adopted, the American
Studies group would be the second academic organization--following the Association for Asian
American Studies, which
did so in a unanimous(!) vote--to urge a nationality-based boycott of the
world's only Jewish state.
Defenders of the boycott proposal cite their distaste for
Israeli national security policies, and argue that the organization should "keep primarily in mind the freedom and ability for
Palestinians to study free of a military occupation." Yet by this line
of thinking--that universities should be isolated based on professors' distaste
for a nation's foreign policy--shouldn't the boycotters also be urging a boycott
against their own academic institutions? After all, the United States currently
is engaging in drone warfare against some areas of Pakistan, which surely
affects the "freedom and ability" for Pakistanis to study. And surely U.S.
backing of sanctions against Iran affects the "freedom and ability" for
Iranians to study. Or could it be that the members of the "Academic and Community Activism Caucus," which
proposed the anti-Israel resolution, apply one standard toward Israeli
professors and another toward themselves?
Over the past several months, another
academic anti-Israel boycott had percolated, this one among members of the Oral
History list-serv. The topic was a proposed international conference organized by the
oral history program at Hebrew University. Oral history offers a way to hear voices sometimes excluded from the
official narrative, so it might have been presumed that campus activists would
have welcomed the Hebrew University proposal. And certainly the conference
outline--which promised panels on such themes as "the subject of
reflexivityin teaching and the place of interviews in
educational research," Minorities Studies, Gender Studies, and Culture and
Identity--seemed sufficiently politically correct. It is, in short, highly
unlikely that this conference will feature a lot of pro-Likud narratives.
Yet the list-serv featured
aggressive calls for American oral historians to boycott the conference. Cal
St.-Long Beach's Sherna Berger Gluck cited the fanatically anti-Israel Bishop
Desmond Tutu and the far-left U.S. historian Robin Kelley to urge U.S. oral
historians to boycott the conference. For "guidelines" in dealing with Israel, Gluck suggested recognizing that "all
Israeli academic institutions, unless proven otherwise, are complicit in
maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights,
whether through their silence, actual involvement in justifying, whitewashing
or otherwise deliberately diverting attention from Israel's violations of
international law and human rights, or indeed through their direct
collaboration with state agencies in the design and commission of these
The conference will announce its
program on January 1; at this stage it's unclear how many oral historians
heeded Gluck's call for a nationality-based academic boycott.
Figures like Gluck and groups
like the American Studies Association and Association for Asian
American Studies have virtually no power off-campus, and are (understandably)
all but ignored by the mainstream media. The result of this lack of attention,
however, is that parents, alumni, and policymakers might be lulled into
believing that campus attitudes related to Israel fall more or less within the
national mainstream (with, perhaps, a few more anti-Israel extremists on campus
than in the population at large). Yet the fact that the campus debate is over
whether to boycott a nation's academics to protest their country's foreign
policy gives a sense of just how out-of-whack campus sentiments toward Israel
An important victory for FIRE in the organization's
efforts to encourage the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to return to a position
of respecting the due process rights of the nation's college students. Last
week, the OCR (which under 1st-term Obama appointee Russlynn Ali
consistently ignored FIRE) sent
a rather churlish letter to FIRE president Greg Lukianoff in which the
agency nonetheless conceded--apparently for the first time--that "the agreement
in the Montana case represents the resolution of that particular case and not
OCR or DOJ policy." In other words: the Montana "blueprint" is a "blueprint" no
Thanks in large part to a public backlash in which FIRE
played a key role, OCR's retreat means that no other universities will be
required by the federal government to adopt a sexual harassment policy that
covers clearly protected speech. No other universities will be required to
report to the federal government the names of faculty members or students who
were investigated for engaging in 1st amendment protected speech
that somehow offended a single person on campus. And, in a major retreat from
the Ali-era OCR, the agency has reaffirmed its commitment to the definition of
sexual harassment that the Supreme Court articulated in Davis v. Monroe ("harassment
that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively
bars the victim's access to an educational opportunity or benefit").
That a willingness to respect relevant Supreme Court
precedent is seen as a new, welcome development gives a sense of how off course
the OCR has gone.
That said, it's worth noting what the OCR response to
FIRE did not do. The letter defended
Montana's practice of handing out punishments to students accused of sexual
harassment before any investigation has occurred. The new OCR letter suggested
that the blueprint-no-more didn't require
Montana to mete out such discipline (even though the blueprint, in fact,
did seem to require this), the agency implied it had no problem with Montana
While retracting the blueprint concept, there's no reason
to believe the OCR has suddenly rediscovered due process, as
seen in the recent settlement with SUNY. That settlement, as noted
previously, repeatedly referred to students who merely alleged sexual assault as "victims" (not alleged victim or
accuser), required SUNY to investigate complaints of sexual assault even in
cases where the local police had determined that the claim was baseless, and
appeared to mandate a double-jeopardy system on four SUNY campuses.
Finally, while the blueprint may be no more, OCR
continues to stand by its 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter, which ordered colleges
and universities to diminish due process protections for students accused of
sexual assault on campus--and which has been used as an excuse by some
institutions (Cornell, Stanford, Yale) to create sexual assault procedures that
all but presume guilt.
In short, the new letter is a victory for due process,
but the OCR still has a long, long way to go.
The Yale Daily News
has an interesting scoop today--it turns out that the university has the
authority to access a student's e-mail account, without informing the student.
The paper interviewed 73 students on campus; only three, according to the Daily News, "were aware of the specifics
of Yale's policy." The paper's report further indicates that Yale student
regulation guides either bury notice of the policy or (in the case of graduate
students) don't mention the policy at all.
Some aspects of the policy, which has existed since 2000,
are not unexpected. For instance, the university can access a student's email
account to comply with the demands of "federal, state, or local law," or when
the university has "reasonable grounds to believe that a violation of law"
But given the general disregard for due process at Yale
since 2011, one component of the policy is highly problematic. Administrators
can access student's email accounts without notice to ensure compliance with "administrative
rules," or to produce evidence when "there are reasonable grounds to believe .
. . a significant breach of University policy may have taken place."
Among these university policies, of course, is Yale's sexual
assault policy, revised in 2011. That policy allows accusers who pursue an
"informal" complaint to effectively control the process (does this mean the
accuser can request Yale snoop on the accused student's e-mail?), and provides
minimal due process protections to students who go through a formal
The Daily News'
revelation suggests that it's within Yale's authority to, without notice,
search the e-mail account of any student subjected to the university's
Orwellian sexual assault disciplinary process. (Given that the university already
is monitoring at least one professor without ever giving him a chance to
even respond to a complaint, this indifference to due process isn't
surprising.) Yale's undergraduate dean refused requests from the Daily News regarding how many e-mail
searches she has approved, and whether she has ever denied a request to access
a student's e-mail.
Not exactly reassuring. But in a university whose
administration seems to care little about the due process rights of its
students, should we be surprised?
Demographics are working against our colleges and universities. The number of graduating seniors, especially those from families who can pay full tuition, is dropping. So colleges and universities have more seats than there will be students to fill them. This story has been told again and again, so it's difficult to make it interesting. But Douglas Belkin of the Wall Street Journal gives it a go.
First, he quotes Michael Horn of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, who tells us that the private-college "business model is fundamentally breaking apart at the seams." We know matters are serious because the business model is not only breaking apart but doing so fundamentally and also at the seams. Horn ventures the prediction that one third of colleges will be out of business in fifteen years. This ups the ante on Sebastian Thrun, who has said that nearly all colleges and universities will be out of business in fifty years. Maybe tomorrow a Vice President of Creative Destruction will make a fresh splash by predicting that forty percent of colleges will be out of business in thirty years. Why not, as long as people in the disruption business making up numbers is standard fare?
Second, he tells us that it's happening already. He names four colleges that have recently gone out of business. One, Lon Morris College, was a junior college in Texas, a state which is experiencing an increase in graduating seniors. Another, Saint Paul's, was a historically black college. A third, Chester College, was a small college devoted to the fine arts. And the last is Atlantic Union College, which had been in dire straits for well over a decade before it finally closed its doors. Never mind; it's a trend. The dominoes are falling.
The economic downturn really has caused some colleges to close, and as I noted, colleges and universities are fishing in a smaller pool of potential students.
Who knows? Maybe one-third of colleges really will be out of business in fifteen years. These are heady days for predictions of doom and gloom. So let me make one: in 31 years and 6 months, 42.9 percent of colleges will go out of business, or maybe it will be 72.9 percent. I'm really not sure.
One of the architects of the MOOC revolution has decided that
the movement should go in a different direction. In a lengthy interview
with Fast Company, Sebastian Thrun, the
inventor of the MOOC platform Udacity, announced that he's shelving his
original goal to displace traditional higher education by delivering free online
courses to millions of students worldwide. Instead, Udacity is moving towards
offering credit-bearing, priced courses (likely smaller in size) that focus on
technical, vocational skills.
Thrun pioneered massive open online courses in 2011, when he
turned his Stanford artificial intelligence course into an online video series
that attracted 160,000 registrants. From the start he struck a pose of bold
confidence, tellingWired that within fifty years, MOOCs would decimate brick-and-mortar colleges
to a mere ten in number. The name "Udacity" is Thrun's portmanteau drawn from
"university" and "audacity."
In the Fast Company interview,
however, Thrun highlights his disappointments with MOOCs' record: 90 percent
drop-out rates with only half of the remaining 10 percent actually earning a
passing grade; the student demographic overwhelmingly populated by
well-educated, college-degreed professionals rather than the underprivileged
students he had hoped to reach; the San Jose State University debacle, in which
San Jose students taking Udacity-delivered MOOCs performed significantly worse
than their peers in physical classrooms; and the unexpected failure of Thrun's
interventions intended to raise passing rates. Thrun tried adding mentors and
TAs to provide personalized attention and interaction with students,
incorporating immediate feedback and rewards in the forms of badges and progress
meters, and partnering with schools such as San Jose to provide college credit,
which Thrun expected to ramp up student interest. "We were on the front
pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we
don't educate people as others wished, or as I wished," Thrun remarked. "We
have a lousy product."
Like a good engineer-entrepreneur, Thrun isn't calling it
quits. He is refocusing his efforts to develop a new MOOC niche for a different
demographic. He predicts a complementary rather than rivalrous relationship
between MOOCs and their classroom counterparts, as MOOCs shift towards
professional development in technical fields while classrooms retain their
market for most academic disciplines, most degrees, and (thus) most of the
students. Besides, Udacity is evidently profitable: the article quotes one of
Udacity's significant investors, who remarked, "The attitude from the
beginning, about how we'd make money, was, 'We'll figure it out.' Well, we
figured it out."
Udacity has been at the forefront of many MOOC developments,
partnering directly with undergraduate programs and Georgia Tech's master's
degree program in computer science scheduled to launch this spring. Udacity's self-reinvention
may foreshadow developments to come in its competitors EdX and Coursera. "We're
not doing anything as rich and powerful as what a traditional liberal-arts
education would offer you," Thrun admits, though he still sees room for
MOOCs to influence the university towards more vocational, utilitarian ends.
"The medium will change."
In Cathy Young's excellent article on the "campus
rape that wasn't" at Ohio University, she referenced an
open letter, penned by 34 Ohio University professors, expressing "deep concern"
about the purported assault. You'd think, in
light of the experience of Duke's Group of 88, college faculty would be
reluctant to pen open letters about sexual assault cases before the police have
even completed their investigation. But the Ohio 34 apparently couldn't resist.
Now that the police have said no sexual assault of any type has occurred, none
of the signatories appear to have backtracked.
is an odd one. On the one hand, by describing the sexual assault as
"alleged," it avoids the Group of 88's blatant rush to judgment. Unlike at Duke,
there's no definitive statement that something "happened" to the accuser, and
no thanking of protesters who had urged the castration of the accused. On the
other hand, the letter doesn't make much sense unless its signatories believed
that a sexual assault actually occurred. It speaks of working "toward long-term
solutions" (the solutions--and even the problem that needs to be solved--remain
unaddressed in the letter). It urges students not to be a "passive bystander: If you see something that's not right,
intervene directly if it's safe to do so."
Who signed this strange missive?
In the Duke case, pedagogical interests overwhelmingly predicted a professor's
willingness to rush to judgment--around 85 percent of the Group of 88
signatories specialized in the holy trinity of race, class, or gender, or in
some cases all three. In the Ohio case, both the accuser and the accused appear
to be white, and race-oriented faculty didn't flock to the open letter. But
gender-oriented ones did. The missive has signatures from eight representatives
of the faculty senate; of the 26 unaffiliated signatories, 16 profess a
pedagogical interest in race, class, or gender, with most of the 16 focusing on
gender. (The list includes one professor who champions "a curriculum that addresses sexual assault prevention issues with men" and another whose most recent publication is "Teaching for Social Justice.") In this respect, like the Group of 88 statement, the Ohio
open letter is a reminder how the pedagogical transformation of the academy affects
what goes on outside of the classroom.
Perhaps because of my experience with the Group of 88 in
the Duke lacrosse case, I'm always a little suspicious when I see an open
letter signed by dozens of professors at an elite school attacking their
institution's student-athletes. Recently, 63 professors at Colgate signed an open letter insinuating--though
never quite coming out and making the charge--a conspiracy between Colgate
coaches and student-athletes to evade NCAA limitations on practice time. The letter
cites reports from unnamed parties ("students," "some student athletes") as
Or perhaps the signatory professors simply have a
defensible, if narrow, view of college life in which students should all but
exclusively focus on academics. Yet I was unable to find any evidence of their
condemning Colgate students whose extracurricular interests tended toward
music, or theater, or the fine arts, even though those activities also consume
significant amounts of time. Indeed, on the same AAUP page in which the
professors posted their open letter, one of the signatories, Theater and
English professor April Sweeney, complained about Colgate alumni willingly
funding an expansion of the school's athletic facilities while not being as
forthcoming to fork over money for a new performing arts center.
The signatories demand "allowing faculty to be part of a
process in which these problems and issues are evaluated and assessed for
the purpose of drawing new regulations concerning the relationship between
academic life and extra-curricular athletic programs." In other words:
transform Colgate into a New York version of Swarthmore, with a Division III
athletics program. The professors' willingness to make vague, unsubstantiated
allegations about their own school's students doesn't suggest they'd approach
this "process" in good faith.
In short, the Colgate professors just seem to rather not
like teaching at a school that--while academics remain strong--also has a
first-rate (mid-major) intercollegiate athletics program.
What's most notable about the Colgate case, however, is
that the document triggered a thoughtful, public response from the very
student-athletes the Colgate professors had targeted. Colgate football player
Mike Yeager, a 2013 graduate, penned an open
letter, currently co-signed by 88 current and former Colgate
student-athletes, male and female, from multiple sports. Yeager's words should
(but probably won't) give the faculty signatories pause.
Yeager's letter points out that the faculty's apparent
demand--downgrading Colgate athletics to a Swarthmore-type level--won't mean
Colgate's current student-athletes spend more time in class. It will simply
mean lots of these students will go someplace else. Student-athletes, he
reasons, don't want special treatment: "People who do not have the will and
discipline to devote their time to succeed in the classroom and on the playing
field do not belong at Colgate." But Colgate's strong athletics program serves
as a recruiting tool, since "the high level of competition that Colgate
student-athletes are able to participate in offer a 'best of both worlds'
scenario where a high school athlete does not have to necessarily choose
whether athletics or academics are more important to him or her because Colgate
offers both." Having good sports teams attracts smart athletes to Colgate.
Perhaps, however, these aren't the type of students the
faculty signatories want at their school. Yeager notes that many decisionmakers
at Colgate seem to regard athletics as "a necessary evil." In a comment that
should, but probably won't, shame the faculty signatories, he recalls that "there
were times that I woke up in the morning and chose not to wear my Colgate
Athletics sweatshirt because I did not want my professors to perceive me in a
way that would be detrimental to my academic standing."
The faculty letter complained about "two cultures"
existing on the Colgate campus, with student-athletes "cut off from mainstream
campus culture." How many of the signatories, Yeager wondered, had ever
attended a Colgate athletics event? If they're so eager about bridging a
cultural gap, why don't they take the first step?
The questions now: will the faculty signatories produce
evidence for the claims in their letter, or will they retract their
insinuations about rules violations and publicly apologize? And will the
Colgate administration take steps to ensure that the faculty signatories who
were so willing to cast aspersions on their own school's students don't
retaliate against the 21 current student-athletes who signed the open letter?
Christina Paxson, Brown's president, is displaying an
admirable commitment to free speech in the wake of the Ray
Kelly heckling incident. In contrast to college presidents who let censorious
protests slide, Paxson is calling for a serious
investigation into the events of October 29, when Brown students and
Providence community members prevented Kelly from speaking. Labeling these
actions "a breach of the University's fundamental value of open
discourse," one that "cannot be ignored," Paxson assured the
Brown community that after the faculty/student committee completes the
investigation, it will "determine whether individuals or organizations
involved should be referred to the University's established processes for
resolving alleged violations of the Code of Student Conduct."
Of course, we don't know if Paxson will follow through. But
so far, her example presents a refreshing contrast to the erosion
of free speech on other prominent campuses across the nation. Fortunately,
it seems her students are following
suit--73 percent disapproved of the protestors' tactics.
spoke Jennifer Hammat, Title IX coordinator for the University of Texas. As
FIRE's Peter Bonilla tweeted, "That quote put differently: 'we should be seeing
250-300 rapes/sexual assaults per week.'" Does anyone (apart, it seems, from
Hammat) believe that there are 300 rapes each week at UT?
To provide some statistical context, consider that FBI crime
figures for the most recent year (2012) indicate that in New York state
(population 19.5 million) there were 2848 instances of forcible rape. In the
state of Texas--including the university, of course, and with a total population
of 26.1 million--there were 7711 instances of forcible rape. Nationally, there
were 84,376 rapes in the United States. So according to Hammat, her campus--all
by itself--experienced an amount equivalent to around 15 percent of the alleged sexual
assaults in the entire United States.
Coming from a crank on the street, such a claim would be laughed off. But
Hammat is a high-ranking policymaking figure. She earns just
under $100,000 anually, and serves as the University of Texas employee
responsible for coordinating
the institution's handling of Title IX complaints.
It's distressing but not surprising that Hammat's assertion
passed without challenge from Daily Texan
reporter Jordan Rudner. (The article provides no statistical context,
either, beyond allowing Hammat to cite unspecified "national studies" claiming
25 percent of college women--and 16.7 percent of college men--are raped.) Far too
often reporters simply accept at face value such preposterous assertions from
campus anti-due process activists.
Three possible explanations exist for Hammat's odd public
(1) The University of Texas is the violent crime capital of
the United States.
(2) Hammat is such an ideologue that she's incapable of
interpreting statistical data that contradicts her preconceived worldview.
(3) Hammat--and the activists that she cites--have redefined
(and broadened) the meaning of rape and sexual assault to such an extent that
it bears no relationship to how these commonly referenced terms are defined
either under most states' criminal law, or in most media/cultural portrayals.
For the record: I don't believe the University of Texas is
the violent crime capital of the United States.
By the way, empowering Title IX coordinators is one of the
key demands of the Office for Civil Rights, both in the 2011 "Dear Colleague"
letter (which orders colleges to erode due process protections for students
accused of sexual assault on campus) and in the Montana "blueprint" (which
seeks, among other things, to institute a requirement that colleges report to
the government protected speech, both inside the classroom and anyplace else on
campus, if that protected speech deals with a sexual topic and prompts even one
person to file a complaint).
It's not reassuring, therefore, to see that the point person
at one of the nation's leading public universities is a figure who seems
incapable of honestly presenting data related to the issues with which she's
supposed to deal.
This is an excerpt from the article, "What Dido Did,
Satan Saw and O'Keeffe Painted," from the November issue of The New
Criterion. The full text is here.
Starting in June, a flurry of reports and commentaries
appeared, projecting a dim present and dark future for the fields (of the
humanities). A Harvard report warned that since the
mid-twentieth century, degrees in the fields have plummeted from 36 percent of
graduates to 20 percent. A June 22 statement in TheNew York Times
by Vernon Klinkenborg bore the title "The Decline and Fall of the English
Major," while Leon Wieseltier's 2013 commencement address at Brandeis opened,
"Has there ever been a moment in American life when the humanities were
cherished less, and has there ever been a moment in American life when the humanities
were needed more?"
In response, those who regretted the numbers offered arguments
against them. The American Academy report praised the humanities because they
help us manage a world undergoing profound change. In Not for Profit: Why
Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010). Martha Nussbaum advocates urgently
for the fields because they provide "skills that are needed to keep democracy
These statements and others on how the humanities foster critical
thinking, cultivate Information Economy skills, help enact social change,
resist utilitarianism in human affairs, etc., may be challenged in one aspect
or another, but they are all reasonable and they pop up in education
discussions all the time. Their commonplace status, however, shouldn't obscure the
fact that they share an extraordinary characteristic. They affirm, extol, and
sanctify the humanities, but they hardly ever mention any specific
humanities content. The American Academy report terms the humanities "the
keeper of the republic," but the names Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare,
Bernini, Leonardo, Gibbon, Austen, Beethoven, Monet, Twain, Frank Lloyd Wright,
and Martha Graham never surface. In the Boston Globe ("Humanities: The
Practical Degree," June 21). The works of the ages that fill actual humanities
syllabi barely exist in these heartfelt defenses. Instead of highlighting
assigned authors, artists, writings, and artworks, they signal what happens
after the class ends: the moral, civic, and workplace outcomes.
In a word, the defenders rely on what the humanities do, not what
they are. If you take humanities courses, they assure, you will become a good
person, a critical thinker, a skilled worker, a cosmopolitan citizen. What
matters is how grads today think and act, not what Swift wrote, Kant thought,
or O'Keeffe painted. The approach resembles the very utilitarianism the
defenders despise, the conversion of liberal education into a set of
instruments for producing selected mentalities and capabilities.
The New York Times has a
Room for Debate forum
on the humanities this week, and one of the contributors, Ben Schmidt,
takes the opportunity to chide those who repeat "the persistent idea that the
humanities are imploding in on themselves." Citing numbers from the U.S.
Department of Education and the Modern Language Association, he announces his
conclusion in the title: "The Data Shows [sic] There's No Real Crisis."
Since they don't have the evidence to back up claims of decline, those who "cry
'crisis,'" Schmidt alleges, have a different motive. They just don't like
all the "liberal focus on race, class and gender," and so they manipulate
statistics in order to insist that "the humanities need to return to an old
Schmidt has made the charge
Schmidt cites some of the same sources to refute those who assert a crisis
condition, and Schmidt even speaks of them as "sell[ing] a crisis."
But take a look at the source
Schmidt terms "the best data about the health of the humanities," and his
contention weakens. It's a table from the education statistics office of
the U.S. Department of Education that calculates bachelor's degrees by field of
student since 1971. Schmidt says that the doomsayers choose a misleading
year from which to date the decline of the humanities, 1971, when the major was
at its height. On that score, yes, English and foreign languages in 2010
(the last year given) look abysmal, dropping from 7.6 percent and 2.5 percent
of all four-year degrees, respectively, to 3.2 percent and 1.3 percent.
Schmidt suggests a different year,
"a quarter-century ago," and notes that history jumped impressively since
then. I presume he means 1986 (the next closest year in the table would
be 1991, only 20 years preceding the last year, 2010). In that year,
English made up 3.4 percent of bachelor's degrees, foreign languages 1.1
percent, which gives us a trend of English only slightly down and foreign
languages slightly up.
But this selection of year 1986
only inverts the previous selection, from a high to a low. If we move
from the mid-80s to the early-90s, we have a striking rise in English from 3.4
percent to 4.7 percent, while foreign languages climb a bit from 1.1 percent to
1.3 percent. Taking 1991, then, we can repeat the claim Schmidt disparages
and regret that English has fallen significantly (while foreign languages have
stayed the same).
This is to say that Schmidt's
sneering dismissal doesn't deserve the confidence he gives it. It also
ignores many other cases of decline, for instance, the market for monographs in
English and foreign language, the closure of foreign language departments, and
the fact that many students select a major that is part of English but
misclassified as one of the humanities, that is, creative writing, which belongs
in the fine arts.
In fact, the creative writing
issue calls out for clarification. Of course, the creative writing major
has exploded since the mid-80s, and if those majors fall under
"English" in the Department of Education classification, then the
decline of English looks a lot worse no matter what year we choose for
In Fisher v. University of Texas the Supreme Court held that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had given too much deference to the university's conclusion that the nature and extent of its racial discrimination in admissions was essential to promote sufficient "diversity," and it returned the case to that court for further review. The brief just filed by the Department of Justice in the Fifth Circuit is an all but perfect example of the can of squirming worms invited by the high court's murky and incoherent holding.
That holding demanded a two-step analysis, ably summarized by veteran Supreme Court journalist Lyle Denniston. In the first step it is fine for courts to rely on a university's "good faith" belief in "diversity" and the necessity of using some racial discrimination in admissions to achieve it, but in the second step it deserves no deference for its choice of the specific implementing steps it takes. Instead it must prove that it has tried but failed to find, as the Court put it, "workable race-neutral alternatives [that] would produce the educational benefits of diversity," that it could not find "a nonracial approach [that] could promote the substantial interest about as well and at tolerable administrative expense."
The Texas two-step analysis thus required makes counting the angels dancing on the head of a pin seem by comparison like rigorous number crunching, but the DOJ brief demonstrates that no needle's eye is too small to thread, no loophole is too narrow, no obstacle is too high for President Obama's lawyers to justify preferential treatment based on race.
In a brief overflowing with low points, here are a few of the more striking:
•In order to justify continuing "diversity"-providing discrimination, all a university need provide is "concrete evidence" and "a reasoned explanation of why that evidence indicates that the University is not providing the educational benefits of diversity."
•In evaluating that explanation, courts should give "due regard" to a university's "multi-faceted educational assessments" because its "conclusion that it has not yet achieved the educational benefits of diversity will necessarily rest in large part on the University's application of its educational judgment and expertise to the available evidence about the educational experience it is providing."
•Courts should thus reject the "strong basis in evidence" standard in evaluating a university's discrimination-justifying evidence because that standard "does not entail any deference to the entity's judgment.... Because that evaluation entails the application of educational judgment, the court cannot simply assess the evidence for itself."
•Courts should defer to a university's determination of the degree and kind of "cross-racial interaction" required to promote an acceptable amount of "cross-racial understanding."
•In order to reach that determination, universities can rely on such "evidence" as "faculty accounts indicating that minority students are isolated in the classroom," a survey to determine "the degree to which minority students feel isolated," or a "demographic breakdown of the student body [revealing] that certain minority groups are too underrepresented to overcome racial isolation."
I could go on (the brief certainly does), but let's pause over that demographic data. The brief appears to acknowledge that such demographic data "is not relevant for its own sake," but it nevertheless argues that "it is an indication of the university's ability to provide the educational benefits of diversity." What this means is that heads, "diversity" wins; tails, critics of "diversity" lose: underrepresentation proves the lack of sufficient diversity, but an absence of underrepresentation is not sufficient evidence of its presence.
As Edward Blum, one of Amy Fisher's lawyers, argued in an email to Inside Higher Ed, the DOJ's brief in effect "instructs the Fifth Circuit to ignore the Supreme Court's recent opinion."
Blum is correct, but the deeper problem is not with the DOJ brief itself but with the Supreme Court's disastrous validation of the flight from a clear non-discrimination standard that began with Bakke, that turned into a full-fledged rout in Grutter, and that, at least so far, has not been curtailed by the Texas two-step temporizing in Fisher.
Georgia Tech gears up for its new MOOC-like master's degree program slated to
launch this spring, the Wall Street
Journalreports that applications from would-be students are dramatically outpacing fall
'13 applications to Georgia Tech's residential program. Offered jointly by the Georgia
Institute of Technology and Udacity, with financial support and "advice" from
AT&T, the two-year, wholly online master's degree program in computer
science parallels Georgia Tech's well-regarded campus-based program. Proponents
say this watershed initiative could spur further innovation.
the courses aren't open to everyone, they aren't truly MOOCs (massive open
online courses). Perhaps we should dub them "MOCs." Credit-seeking students had
to apply to Georgia Tech during a three-week period that ended October 27th
(acceptance notifications go out December 1st) and will have to pay
tuition (a total of about $6,600, versus $44,000 for the regular program). Zvi
Galil, the dean of the College of Computing, says the school hopes, eventually,
to register 10,000 students--more than 60 times Georgia Tech's typical 150,
though smaller than many MOOCs. Students will take proctored exams and complete
other steps to prevent cheating. To make online discussions manageable and
provide more teacher-student interaction, the school plans to hire one teacher
for every 60 or so students--an improvement over regular MOOCs, though a departure
from earlier talk of maintaining a 30:1
to Georgia Tech's admissions department, 2,359 students applied for the
spring's online distance learning program, versus 1,371 who applied for the
current fall semester's residential program. The school will admit every
bachelor degreed student with a 3.0 GPA or better, conditional on the student
earning at least a B in the first two courses. Those plans have raised concerns
from campus-based students about the new program's rigor and the dilution of
their own program's reputation. The policy also raises questions about the
reasoning behind online admissions, since the school originally planned to admit only 200 students per semester. Perhaps the
decision indicates Georgia Tech's financial considerations. As some researchers
have noted, once AT&T's one-time $2 million grant runs out, Georgia
Tech will need over 8,000 full-time students in order to recoup costs and
deliver the profit that it and Udacity hope to secure.
unclear if the 2,000-plus applicants represent a new niche market in higher ed,
or if Georgia Tech's new program will cannibalize existing computer science
master's degree programs. Prior surveys of MOOC users indicate that MOOCs
primarily serve a unique clientele and thus don't rival traditional colleges
and universities in attracting students. If Georgia Tech succeeds in capturing a
substantial market share of students already bound for grad school, it may
indeed rouse the forces of creative destruction. If it opens opportunities to
new students, though, the program will find its function in complementing, not
undermining, higher-ed as we know it.
"As Interest Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry," said
the headline in the New York Times. True enough. But the long front-page story
described only half of the problem--that the rise of the computer culture and
the recession have turned many students away from the traditional curriculum.
On his blog, Via Meadia, Walter Russell Mead discussed the half of the problem
the Times decided not to address:
"The humanities meltdown is a huge indictment of the
academic fads and trends of the last generation. A serious liberal arts
education in the humanities ... is actually the most practical education for many
students. ...20th century French literary criticism, faddish race class and
gender curriculums, jihads against the tradition canon because there are too
many DWEMs (Dead White European Males) in it: those are less useful.
Unfortunately, this is where too many professors in too many humanities
departments focus too much of their energy, and students are beginning to tune
A few months ago, a lawyer for the State University of
New York (SUNY) penned
a startling column about the U.S. Department of Education's Office for
Civil Rights (OCR) "blueprint," introduced for the University of Montana as a
national model for dealing with sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus.
In the "blueprint," the OCR required the university to investigate--and report
to the government--all allegations of sexual harassment, including speech
protected by the First Amendment and potentially in-class discussions of topics
with a sexual theme that happened to make a single student uncomfortable. Despite
the document's egregious disregard for First Amendment and due process
protections, the surprising column by Andrea Stagg, an associate counsel in the
SUNY Office of General Counsel, blithely urged people not to worry.
The OCR is on the side of fairness, she declared--the 2011
"Dear Colleague" letter, Stagg claimed, envisioned "the elimination of the hostile environment, if one exists, and
maintaining a campus climate free from sexual harassment and violence -- not
the termination, suspension, or expulsion of each accused individual." (So she believes that students found culpable under the
OCR's new anti-due process rules wouldn't be punished?) Stagg strangely compared
the mandatory reporting of protected speech under the Montana blueprint to the
"see something, say something" campaign. And Stagg accused FIRE of
misrepresenting OCR's words even as she declined to actually quote from either
the "Dear Colleague" letter or the Montana "blueprint"--beyond noting that the
Montana settlement was, in fact, intended as a blueprint.
At the time, FIRE's Will Creeley lamented,
"Stagg's defense of the blueprint is unpersuasive and depressingly comfortable
with defining protected speech as sexual harassment. Instead of answering
concerns about freedom of expression, her dismissive attitude towards the First
Amendment creates serious worries about how the federal government's mandate
will be received on SUNY campuses this fall."
public universities offer racially restrictive programs and scholarships, i.e.,
for which threshold eligibility is determined by the race of the applicants? No,
the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled inPodberesky
v. Kirwan (1994), based on its "constitutional premise
that race is an impermissible arbiter of human fortunes." Some will regard it
as ironic that Daniel
Podberesky, the plaintiff who had been prevented from
applying for a scholarship limited to blacks (and who is now a successful
doctor in Cincinnati), is Hispanic.
University of Tennessee and many other public universities, however, seem never
to have received that message, perhaps because they are not in the Fourth
Circuit. In a recent puff piece on "A
Diversity Effort That Goes Back Decades," the Chronicle of
Higher Education glowingly describes "an abundance of programs for minority
students" offered by UT's College of Engineering.
four-week Summer Bridge Program,
offered in cooperation with the National Science Foundation, is restricted to
"underrepresented" students ("Hispanic, African-American, American-Indian,
Alaskan Native or Pacific Islander").
Tennessee Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation is restricted to the
same list of "underrepresented students."
Director of UT's Office
of Diversity Programs describes its objective as providing
"recruitment and retention for underrepresented students" by offering "scholarships"
and other services.
UT College of Engineering announces
that it is a "proud member" of the National Graduate Degrees for Minorities in
Engineering and Science, Inc. (GEM) Consortium. GEM, too, offers a number of fellowships
that are "targeted"
to applicants who are "American Indian/Native, African American/Black, Hispanic
claims that "The top
Engineering and Science universities in the nation are members of GEM's
consortium." GEM, as a private organization, may be free to offer racially
restrictive scholarships. But for public universities like the University of
Tennessee to do so is unconstitutional.
under 40 years of age don't remember what it was like in the humanities circa
1990. The academic theater of the
Culture Wars was tense and vibrant, with national publications debating what
was going on in English departments.
Books decrying trends in the humanities by Allan Bloom and Roger Kimball
and Dinesh D'Souza were best sellers, and Bill Bennett and Lynne Cheney
targeted politicization and race-class-gender emphases from the bully pulpit of
the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Within the fields, exotic new formations developed--queer theory,
post-colonialism, ecocriticism, etc.--that looked like a fresh explosion of
thinking equal to the advents of the 60s (structuralism, deconstruction,
Lacanian psychoanalysis, etc.).
Professors were intoxicated with their edginess and roguishness and
notoriety, and the more outside, mainly conservative critics chided them, the
more they proceeded with their transgressions.
on the humanities in the New York Times yesterday, one realizes just how
much that enthusiasm has departed. Reporter Tamar Lewin notes the pertinent
material evidence: at Stanford, only 15 percent of students are in the
humanities, at Harvard and at Virginia humanities majors have declined 20
percent (at Harvard, most incoming students who say they want to major in the
humanities switch their focus); and many universities have closed humanities
sequence of distinguished humanities professors comments on the trend, and here
is where we see the drastic change in tone and attitude. Andrew del Banco notes that the "intellectual power"
seems to lie elsewhere, and that humanities people themselves believe it as
much as outsiders do.
Menand acknowledges that nobody reads books by English professors any more, while
Anthony Grafton compares himself to a "comic strip character whose face is
getting smaller and smaller."
Franco Moretti concedes the dangers to the humanities, but offers this
tepid reply: "you can be threatened, or you can be invigorated. I'm choosing to be invigorated."
Jill Lapore offers a humorous remark on the case of a student who came to her
home for an event focused on Harvard's history and literature program. The student's parents texted her: "leave
right now, get out of there, that is a house of pain."
least Virginia's Mark Edmundson can declare, "In the end, we can't
lose. We have William
Shakespeare"--though he puts in in the negative, "can't lose,"
instead of the positive, "we will win again and again!"
is right in that the humanities will never entirely disappear, and the reason
is that the canonical figures still matter and inspire and entertain. But as a relative question, the humanities
have already lost, having slipped from a central position on the campus and in
public life to a minor one. Defeat and
cynicism and regret have replaced intrigue and excitement. The stimulations of 1990 are gone; the idea
that English professors are at the vanguard of thinking is a comical notion.
evidence is in the article when Lewin cites two programs at Stanford that
exemplify "vigor," one a course in which graduate students use
"Rap Genius," a web site normally devoted to annotations of rap
lyrics, to annotate Homer and Virgil; the other a Literary Lab in which
students study "a database of nearly 2,000 early books to tease out when
'romances,' 'tales' and 'histories first emerged as novels."
yes, but hardly something that will ignite the kind of headiness that
deconstruction did in 1976 and gender studies did in 1992. If the most successful members of the field
can't show more optimism and energy, if reporters can't find better examples of
humanities prosperity, than it is time for the humanities to prepare for a
reduced role in higher education for decades to come.
For over a year, Dixie State University
senior Indigo Klabanoff has been fighting to start a local sorority at her public Utah
university. The sorority would be dedicated to providing services for the
community and learning opportunities for its members. But Dixie State
administrators have flatly stated that Indigo's sorority, Phi Beta Pi, will not
be approved as an officially recognized student group so long as it has Greek
letters in its name.
According to the administration, the school
has no objection to the group's mission or activities, but the university
nevertheless went so far as to retroactively amend the student club bylaws to
prohibit Phi Beta Pi from being recognized. In an email sent to Indigo last
spring, Dixie State Dean of Students Del Beatty even forbade Phi Beta Pi from
distributing flyers on campus--although they chose to exercise their First
Amendment right to do so regardless.
Now Indigo and the women of Phi Beta Pi are
being forced to choose between keeping their organization's name--a
representation of their sisterhood and a beacon for potential members who share
their values--or receiving the benefits of being a recognized organization. If
they choose the former, the group will be charged hundreds of dollars to host
events like their Women's Career Conference on campus. If they choose the
latter, the group's identity may not be clear to the rest of the community.
"It's a pretty basic First Amendment right
for individuals or groups to identify themselves the way they want themselves
to be identified," explains FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program Director
Peter Bonilla in our latest video.
And other groups on campus are fully enjoying
that right. Even though Dixie State's purported reason for banning Greek
letters in organization names is to avoid the "party school" image that can
come with a full Greek system, the school has previously recognized a group
called "The Organization of Good Parties." Indigo relays Dixie State President
Stephen Nadauld's response: "He told me that he would appreciate it if they changed
their name, but he couldn't really force them to."
Yet Dixie State is still unconstitutionally
denying recognition to Phi Beta Pi.
Watch this new video
to learn more about Indigo's fight for free speech and free association at
nauseating combination of ignorance, self-righteousness, entitlement, and
boorishness that characterizes campuspolitics today was on appalling display yesterday at Brown University,
as a massive crowd of students prevented New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly
from addressing the school. Kelly had come to Brown to talk about the New York
Police Department's unmatched
success in lowering New York's crime rate.The students, however, heckled him off the stage, shouting that Kelly
had "institute[ed] systemic racism" in the city through the NYPD's contested
stop, question, and frisk tactics.
protesters of course take for granted that they can go about blithely squandering
their parents' tuition money at Brown without fear of getting shot, robbed, or
raped. Nor do they have to navigate
through a gauntlet of drug dealers on their way to the store or while picking
up their mail. Residents of New York
City's poorest neighborhoods by contrast endured just
such constant fear and disorder until the NYPD embraced proactive policing
and other revolutionary reforms in the early 1990s, reforms which Kelly perfected. When every
criminologist predicted that the NYPD's 1990s crime drop had bottomed out,
Kelly drove crime down another 31%, in the process saving another 5000 minority
Brown students have zero understanding of the massive disproportionality
in crime commission in New York and other American cities. In New York, for example, blacks commit
nearly 80% of all shootings, though they are 23% of the city's population,
while whites, 34% of New York residents, commit around 2% of all shootings. Such a disparity means that policing will be
concentrated in minority areas and will result inevitably in disproportionate
police activity, including stops. The police focus on minority neighborhoods in
order to protect the many law-abiding residents there; if the police ignored
those areas, only then could they rightly be accused of racism.
a federal judge declared the NYPD's stop practices unconstitutional in August. Judge Shira Scheindlin's opinion, profoundly
ignorant of policing and rife with bias against
the department, is now the gospel truth on the NYPD. The Brown protesters (and their sympathetic
professors) undoubtedly ate her opinion up without having the slightest
capacity to evaluate its claims. At a
stop, question, and frisk panel at Pace Law School this month (in which I
participated), a professor read aloud the most egregious passages of
Scheindlin's opinion as established fact.
And so it will go across the country as equally uninformed anti-cop
protesters increase their pressure against any police practice targeted at
crime that has a disproportionate impact on minority neighborhoods. The result will likely be an increase in
Brown protesters disgraced themselves and their school in silencing a selfless
public servant who has done more in twelve years for New York's poorest
neighborhoods than decades of the big government redistribution programs that
the Brown hecklers most certainly support.
Their behavior represents a failure of civic education and of basic
manners, which Brown has apparently failed to correct. (Brown's president Christina Paxson rightly denounced the protesters' silencing of
Kelly; too bad there was not adequate security to remove the hecklers before
Kelly was so brutishly humiliated.) If the
protesters' idea of policing takes hold, however, they better figure out a way
to stay indefinitely in the safe bubble of their Providence campus.
A hundred or more excited students at Brown University shouted
down New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly last night and prevented
him from speaking on "Proactive Policing."
Shutting down speakers whose messages are out of favor with the left is common. On campus, free speech is regularly trumped by leftist concerns--in this case resentment over New York's stop-and-frisk policies.
The protesters don't seem to know much about those policies.
One carried a sign saying "Stop Police Brutality," which may have been left
over from some other rally--stop-and-frisk has nothing to do with police brutality.
Another said, "Stop & Frisk Doesn't Stop Crime." Not so. Reforms led by stop-and-frisk have reduced
murders in New York City from 2000 a year to about 300 today. About 1700 New
Yorkers each year, mostly blacks and Hispanics living in the highest crime areas,
owe their lives to the program.
But as a higher education site, we are primarily concerned
about lessons being taught on campus about the worthiness of preventing
speakers whose views are not approved by the left. We will see how many faculty
criticize the blocking of Kelly's speech. To her credit, the President of
Brown, Christina Paxson, deplored the blocking of Kelly's talk. In a statement,
she said: "The conduct of disruptive members of the
audience is indefensible and an affront both to civil democratic society and to
the university's core values of dialogue and the free exchange of views." Good.
But the next step is obvious enough. If she is serious about free speech, she
will invite Kelly back and provide enough campus police to prevent the yahoos
from shutting him down again.
Thanks to Obamacare, the situation of adjuncts
and other "contingent faculty" has become much more precarious. "Universities
are cutting back on their work hours to comply with Obamacare," the Daily
in order to avoid that law's requirement of benefits to those who work more
than 30 hours a week. "Adjunct college instructors," the Huffington Postnoted
last August, "are caught in purgatory as their employers, which have
increasingly relied on them as a cheap source of labor, decide if they will
restrict the hours the instructors are allowed to work to avoid providing them
with health insurance."
More recent data suggests that the adjuncts
and other contingents are no longer in purgatory but are being rapidly
transported to a much hotter location. According to a major
survey of college and university human resources officers
commissioned by Inside Higher Ed, conducted by Gallup and released
several days ago, "48 percent of respondents say their institutions already
have placed or enforced limits on adjunct faculty to avoid having to meet new
federal requirements of employer-provided health insurance," and of those
institutions that have not "35 percent say they are considering doing so."
Well, of course they are reducing adjuncts'
hours, and that's not all they are doing. In announcing major changes to its
health benefits, the University of Virginia recently explained
that Obamacare is "projected to add $7.3 million to the cost of the University
health plan in 2014 alone," and that "in future years U.Va. could face millions
more in taxes" because of the "Cadillac tax" on plans providing generous
benefits. "Effective in 2018, the 40 percent tax would apply to the cost of an
individual plan with average premiums per employee topping $10,200." Since the
average premium per employee in 2012 was $9,270 and "U.Va. anticipates its
medical plan costs to rise by about 6.8% each year," by 2018 it will be well
above the "Cadillac tax" threshold unless additional major changes are made.
NSA-like surveillance on American campuses? Oh, yes. In a
column for the Guardian,FIRE's Nico
Perrino cites examples ranging from Montana to Occidental to Kentucky to
Valdosta State to St. Augustine's College to Johns Hopkins, noting the
prevalence of the anti-privacy pattern. Perrino leads by recalling events from
earlier this year at Harvard, when university officials eventually confessed to
having snooped on the e-mails of 16 house resident deans. The resident deans are
officially members of Harvard's faculty, and the searches violated Harvard policies.
The searches came after media revelations of Harvard's
largest cheating scandal in recent memory. At the time, then-Harvard College
dean Evelynn Hammonds justified the searches on grounds that "we needed to act
to protect our students." Yet at least some of the resident deans exposed to
the improper searches were also Harvard students (resident deans are often
advanced graduate students). And, in any case, the searches seemed motivated
less by a desire to protect students than to find blame for who might have
exposed a deeply embarrassing event for the university--two of the students
caught up in the cheating scandal were members of Harvard's APR-challenged
basketball team, a fact that got
significant play in media coverage. (APR, or Academic Progress Rate, introduced
by the NCAA, measures the likelihood of graduation by Division I athletes.)
Unlike the NSA, universities don't play any role in
protecting our national security. So the issue of privacy tradeoffs seems far
less relevant to any discussion of privacy rights at college. Yet the Harvard
episode--while extreme--is part of a troubling disregard of privacy on
contemporary campuses. "At schools across the country," Perrino observes, "administrators
use similarly invasive surveillance tools to monitor everything from students'
off-campus behavior to their online speech."
Two broader points are worth mentioning. First, as
Perrino makes clear, universities' assault on privacy comes at a cost--new
companies have been formed to help universities monitor the social media
activities of some of their students, new organizations exist (hired out, at a
price, as consultants) to guide universities on how to restructure their
disciplinary policies to minimize students' due process protections. There's
good money to be made in violating students' rights, and students' tuition
dollars are indirectly subsidizing the assault on their privacy.
Second, disregarding due process and privacy rarely is
limited to the initial targets of the move. Two examples Perrino cites--both of
which are familiar to readers of Minding the Campus--illustrate the point. At
Occidental, college officials seized
the campus computers of several faculty members who had counseled students
involved in the OCR complaint against the school. Yet many of these same
professors had enthusiastically endorsed the same OCR complaint designed to
decimate the due process protections of Oxy student accused of sexual assault.
Similarly, the University of Montana blueprint--defining
sexual harassment as "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature," including
"verbal conduct"--clearly threatens faculty, even politically correct faculty,
as much as students. Yet the same professors who are justifiably concerned with
the blueprint's excesses seemed to have little to say about the OCR's "Dear
Colleague" letter, which reflected a similar viewpoint.
Of all places, colleges should respect due process and
privacy rights. But as the Perrino column makes clear, if anything, the reverse
"How Amherst Raises Money from Alums: Calling Them a Bunch of Drunken
Lechers." That was the headline on the blog Stupid Girl citing a Newsweek report
that Amherst College sent residence counselors an advisory email that included
this warning: "Keep an eye out for unwanted sexual advances. A lot of
alums come back for Homecoming pretty jaded with the bar scene and blind dating
of the real world and are eager to take advantage of what they now perceive to
be an 'easy' hook-up scene back at Amherst. Also, many alums tend to be pretty
drunk all weekend long." We are moved by the college's pride in its graduates.
The college president apologized.
First, I argue in my
piece that higher education suffers from watered-down standards and ideologically-driven
instruction. Lawler agrees, writing, "Political correctness has corrupted the humanities and
education is growing increasingly unaffordable. Tuitions nationwide have jumped
400 percent in the past quarter-century. To keep pace, students have taken on
historic debt ($1.1 trillion).
Third, and most
important, Lawler agrees with me that most students have little choice between
face-to-face instruction and online learning.
Instead, the bulk of courses taught in the first two years at most
universities takes place not in discussion-driven seminars but in lecture halls
attended by hundreds.
At this point we
diverge, and the divergence is instructive.
I argue that online courses can replace lectures at less cost and with
learning outcomes shown
to be at least equal to face-to-face instruction. Lawler objects that I don't "suggest any way of giving more of our students such a face-to-face
experience, " whichwould be "genuinely disruptive" (emphasis
In reality, much of my
and other reformers' work seeks precisely to restore the centrality
of classroom instruction, through championing reducing administrative bloat, rewarding
excellent teachers, reducing publication requirements, and returning to the
higher average teaching loads taught a mere quarter-century ago.
On the evening of 19 September, about two weeks before the
scheduled appearance of Hillary Rodham Clinton as a "Great Names" speaker at
Hamilton College, members of the Hamilton College community received an all-campus
email from Amit Taneja, head of Hamilton's Days-Massolo Center. Mr. Taneja, who had been recently elevated to
the position "Director of Diversity & Inclusion" by President Joan Hinde
Stewart, had designed a provocative, multi-staged event that would begin on
September 26 with an assemblage, "open to people of color only" so as to
provide a needed "safe space" for "dialogue" on "internalized racism."
Mr. Taneja came to Hamilton College by way of India and is a
citizen of Canada. In 2007, he published
an essay entitled "From Oppressor to Activist: Reflections of a Feminist
Journey." In it Mr. Taneja speaks loudly
and clearly about himself and his politics.
He identifies as a gay activist and sees oppression everywhere in the
United States, although, he admits, because he "was born with a penis" he still
has "[a] lot of power." Sounding very
much like any number of left-wing educrats who, having swilled the same Kool-Aid,
now populate almost every college campus in the country, Mr. Taneja pronounced that
corporate types, apparently just like those who while sitting on the Hamilton
College board of trustees decided to enshrine him as head of the Days-Massolo Center,
had done "little to make us examine our assumptions and merely gives us license
to continue to exercise our power while maintaining a superficial front of
understanding and tolerance. True social justice work starts with grassroots
activism and extends in scope from local to national to global."
In the essay, Mr. Taneja's peroration demanded social-justice
activists to undertake a kind of grassroots immediatism to remake the world in
the constructivist image Mr. Taneja rather vaguely outlined for us. Although the two trustee namesakes of the
Days-Massolo Center assured the world years before its headquarters was opened
in 2011 that the lavishly funded center would devote itself to a wide array of
programming related to "cultural education," the events sponsored by Mr. Taneja
and his many allies on the faculty and the administration have predictably navigated
a rather consistent course to the left and far left. It's as if no culture anywhere around the
globe has any conservative representatives worthy of educating the Hamilton
College community about culture. Lest there be any doubt, almost every member of
Hamilton's trustees had ample information about Mr. Taneja's political
commitments before he was elevated to the position of Director, Diversity &
Inclusion; they cannot hide under their desks and claim ignorance of the very
serious educational issues at play here.
journalists from George Washington University have uncovered a piece of
stunning news: Despite GW's claims to the contrary, its admissions office has
begun to favor wealthier students in the admissions process. Essentially,
students who do not rank among the top applicants are wait-listed if admissions officers are unsure whether GW can "afford them."
Students with similar academic profiles who do not require financial aid,
however, are more likely to be accepted. As if to confirm this policy shift,
last Saturday the University removed from its website the assurance that "Requests for financial aid do not
affect admissions decisions."
isn't the first college to use "need aware" admissions policies:
Smith, Colby, Reed and Carleton all acknowledge that applicants' income plays
some role in their admissions prospects. As college enrollment tumbles and schools
become more cautious about their finances, we should expect more institutions
to follow GW's example.
Emily Yoffe, author of
the widely respected "Dear Prudence" column at Slate, has decided that "the
best rape prevention" is to "tell college women to stop getting so wasted." She
argues that drinking is a choice (duh), drinking to extreme excess makes you
unable to protect yourself (duh), and then it gets weird: Yoffe says that
college women just haven't figured this out.
"A misplaced fear of
blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young
women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential
peril." Who doesn't know that binge
drinking is dangerous? This is the basic Bynes-Lohan Principle at work: nobody
looks at a girl who's falling all over herself and thinks "yep, she's got her
life under control."
There are plenty of
reasons to tell young people not to drink to excess. It's bad for your brain,
kidney, and liver. It impairs your ability to make decisions. It's empty
calories. It's illegal. It's not classy. You'll have a hangover tomorrow. None
of these reasons are gendered. To give women a lecture on drinking and assault,
and let the men skip it, is to say that binge drinking is only a female
problem. This also sends the message that only sloppy
drunk women get attacked. So if, heaven forbid, it happens
to you, then you must be a sloppy drunk woman. If only you would quit drinking in college,
you would not have had this problem. See
the slippery slope here?
It's not wrong to ask
women to protect themselves, but it is wrong to
look at a crime committed overwhelmingly more often by one sex, and task the
other sex with preventing it. Don't make us play defense. Go on the offensive
and talk to the men, too.
Yoffe cites a 2009 study,
which says "more than 80 percent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol.
Frequently both the man and the woman have been drinking." If a woman and
a man get drunk, and the man commits a crime against the woman, it is the man's
drinking that is the problem.
Drinking and partying
are behaviors that, according to Yoffe, increases the chances that a college
woman will become a victim of sexual assault. But here are some other behaviors
that increase those odds:
According to RAINN, "73% of
sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger." Minimize your risk by
never meeting anyone new.
Going to college:
100% of sexual assaults that occur on a college campus, happen on a college
campus. Don't want to get attacked in college? Don't go to college!
If you're going to
tell the girls "don't drink so much that you are in a position to get
attacked," you better also tell the boys "don't drink so much that you do the
attacking." Anything less is to put the burden of prevention on victims,
instead of on the perpetrators where it belongs.
Despite a delay caused by settlement talks, Vassar has
now filed its response to Peter Yu's Title IX lawsuit. Unlike St. Joe's, which
at least attempted to defend its actions in a similar Title IX suit, Vassar's
response is blunter: the courts should simply trust that the college correctly
handles disciplinary matters, even though the college is at this stage
unwilling to say why it is entitled to such trust.
The Vassar reply, which you
can read here, mostly consists of line-by-line denials of Yu's claims. Recall
the basic facts of the case: after an aborted sexual encounter between Yu
and Mary Claire Walker, one year passed, during which Walker (daughter of a
Vassar professor) sent Yu several Facebook messages, both apologetic and
seemingly friendly. Then, one year later, on the final day in which she could
file campus charges against Yu, Walker did so. After a stunningly fast
investigation and disciplinary proceeding, Yu was branded a rapist and expelled
The Vassar reply admits one important point: as I
inferred in my previous writing on the case, Vassar expelled Yu through its
Interpersonal Violence Panel--whose procedures the college has declined to make
public on its website. Vassar provides no explanation as to: (1) why students
accused of sexual assault are tried before a different type of panel than
students accused of all other college violations; and (2) why the college does
not make the IVP procedures public, when the school's regular disciplinary
procedures are posted publicly--for examination by students, parents, alumni,
and members of the media.
Vassar's reply does (inadvertently, perhaps) leak one
element of IVP procedures--that either party can object to having a student be
part of the disciplinary panel. Yu wanted a student. Walker didn't. And even
though Walker's father is a professor at the college, the college bowed to her
wishes, subject only to a claim that no professors from the father of the
accuser's department was on the panel. Vassar thus admitted that Yu was denied
the opportunity to be judged by a jury consisting even partly of his peers.
What's notable, moreover, is what Vassar doesn't
admit--it did not claim that the faculty members who deemed Yu a rapist
didn't know Walker's father, or didn't serve on college committees with
Walker's father, or hadn't encountered Walker's father at social or
professional events on campus. Instead, it suggests that there's no problem
with a procedure that allows an accuser to request a panel that consists solely
of her father's colleagues, as long as members of the specific department in
which the father teaches aren't part of the panel.
In justification of its findings, Vassar "avers that the
Interpersonal Violence Panel determined that Ms. Walker was incapacitated as a
result of her alcohol consumption and thus could not consent to the sexual
activity with Plaintiff." (After her encounter with Yu, Walker did not go the
police or hospital to have a rape exam conducted, or to test her blood level
for alcohol content.) Moreover, Yu claimed that he too had consumed
considerable amounts of alcohol. If Walker couldn't consent to sexual
intercourse with Yu on basis of alcohol consumption, how could Yu consent to
intercourse with Walker on the same grounds? Of course, since Walker waited
until the very last moment to file charges against Yu, Yu had no opportunity to
file a counter-claim against Walker. According to Vassar, this isn't a problem,
because--based solely on one-year-after-the-fact testimony from his resident
advisor--Yu didn't "appear" intoxicated that evening.
According to the Vassar filing, the IVP also appears to
have some sort of psychological training. The college asserts that the IVP
dismissed the seemingly exculpatory facebook messages sent from Walker to Yu on
grounds that Walker was "in denial, extremely scared, and in a state of shock
and disbelief" when she wrote the messages. The messages, by the way, began in
March 2012 and continued until October,
and included such matters as Walker apologizing to Yu, and even inviting him to
dinner at her home. The filing contains no mention of the IVP receiving
testimony from a mental health professional or any sort of medical expert who
could evaluate the merits of Walker's plea to disregard the plain meaning of
what she wrote over a period of many months.
The college's conclusions: "Vassar's actions were
justified by legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons." What those reasons are
readers can speculate.
In the end, colleges and universities simply can't have
it both ways: that is, they can't simultaneously deny even the semblance of due
process to students accused of sexual assault and claim that their procedures
provide sufficient due process to render unnecessary judicial oversight. Or, if
Vassar wins this case, perhaps colleges and universities in the 2nd
Circuit will be able to do just that.
TweetLast week I published a commentary
on affirmative action at Inside Higher Ed
that laid down a simple proposal. With 30 percent of first-year college
students terming themselves "Liberal" or "Far Left," 47 percent of them
"Middle-of-the-road," and with only 23 percent of them agreeing that "Racial
discrimination is no longer a major problem in America," a clear course is open.
Those white students who agree with affirmative action and the necessity
of colleges to have a student body roughly proportionate to the overall
population by race should hereby avoid selective colleges that lack those
proportions. They can contribute to the right amounts of diversity by
going elsewhere--my example is choosing UMass-Boston over Williams. The
pool of top white applicants would shrink, allowing for more Black/African
American and Latino/Hispanic students.
In other words, act according to your principles. Youths and their
parents who favor affirmative action should practice it on their own, through
their individual choices. If they don't, if they apply to selective
colleges whose student population is only six percent Black/African American,
and subsequently earn admission and matriculate, they contribute to the very
problem they deplore.
It's not complicated, just a matter of contributing directly toward the
ultimate goal of affirmative action in college admissions. But you
wouldn't think so if you read the comments on the piece. Many of them
insist that there is no hypocrisy in liberal white students believing in
affirmative action mechanisms for diversity and still attending
disproportionately white campuses. "Name" writes,
"Each student who applies is participating in the selection system, and
the selection system includes rules about affirmative action, legacy admits,
athletic scholarships, etc. So, it is simply false to claim that they are not
participating or that whatever affirmative action rules are in effect do not
apply to them. This is the same sort of false hypocrisy charge that
is hurled at anyone who calls for a raise in taxes, no matter the size, who
does not voluntarily pay more in taxes than the law requires."
"Mark Jackson" writes,
"There's nothing inherently hypocritical about wishing to remake society
in a particular way, but not wishing unilaterally to walk away from an
advantage while other people aren't also doing so."
"It is not hypocritical to support affirmative action and apply to an
elite college. As a supporter of affirmative action, here is your obligation:
willingly participate in a hiring/admissions system in which systematic
preference may be given to members of underrepresented groups. Period."
That's the counter-assertion, that is, that attending a selective college with
too many white students (according to their own outlook) does not spell a
contradiction or any hypocrisy. Other commenters chime in, citing the
clear violation of the progressives' own "think globally-act locally"
principle, but the pro-affirmative action voices who defend liberal white
students for attending elite institutions insist on their integrity.
The contrast over how to walk-the-walk highlights a broader divide between
progressives and conservatives/libertarians, that between individual and
collectivist outlooks. As another commenter on the Left, "pickaname,"
". . . this is a collective action problem. A basic awareness of human
nature or economics suggests that there is nothing hypocritical about being
pro-affirmative action and applying to selective colleges."
Conservatives/libertarians think differently. Ethics for them
begins in personal behavior, and if you can't act upon your own
initiative, you shouldn't ask anybody else to, either.
For the progressive, advocating a systemic change is enough; or perhaps simply
supporting it frees one from the responsibility of living by it. As long
as all the others haven't signed on to the program, why should you make any
sacrifices on your own? I find it a bizarre rationale, and it
reveals one source of collectivist failures over the years from Brook Farm to
principle that a university president should not speak about his prior
political experience to political audiences, lest the public cry out for
objectivity, is a strange one.
stranger is the idea, aired recently, that a nonpartisan speech by that president
to a nonpartisan but activist audience is enough to raise concerns about undue
politicization of the president's office.
principles are strange because so many university presidents today argue that
the life of the mind is no longer enough, since the pressing issues of the real
world obligate their universities to be agents of social change.
presidents regularly speak out on political issues. They sign political
statements, testify before public bodies, and make public commitments about
"sweatshops," the world environment, and immigration.
according to critics, it is dangerous for a university president
to give a speech to an organization that expresses political opinions, as though any whiff of politics must sink the objectivity of a president
with a political background.
it one of the huge number of presidents who signed the
American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment?
it Syracuse President Nancy Cantor, who celebrated the visit of President Obama to Syracuse
and praised a "comprehensive plan that President Obama proposed" as "a real
opportunity to bring universities and government together in a strategic and
focused way" to serve "the President's plan" to reform higher education?
it was Purdue President Mitch Daniels, who gave a nonpartisan speech in Minnesotaabout "the centrality of social
mobility and opportunity for the yet-to-haves in our society as goals of public
double standards in and regarding academia are well-known. This is just one of
the latest examples.
The Supreme Court heard oral argument
yesterday in an important Michigan affirmative action case, and the transcript
reveals what a strange argument it was.
The case is on appeal from the Sixth Circuit,
whose eight Democratic-appointed judges had decided,
over the bitter dissents of their seven Republican-appointed colleagues, that
Michigan voters violated the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection
when they amended their state constitution to ban discrimination against or
preferential treatment of any individual based on race or ethnicity. Most of
press somehow neglected to mention the starkly partisan nature
of that decision.
The case is Schuette (pronounced
SHOO-tee) v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, INTEGRATION AND
IMMIGRANT RIGHTS AND FIGHT FOR EQUALITY BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY (BAMN, ET AL.), Writing
on Minding The Campus last spring after the Supreme Court decided to
hear the case, I discussed five fallacies of the opinion by the Sixth Circuit's
Democratic majority. All were addressed in Tuesday's argument.
The government shutdown has brought scant good news, but
there's at least one positive development: the investigators at the Office for
Civil Rights (OCR) have been deemed non-essential. As a result, OCR has been forced
to postpone scheduled inspection visits, including one to Yale.
That said, the shutdown at some point will end, and upon
arriving in New Haven, OCR staffers will confirm the existence of sexual
assault procedures that might make even Duke's Group of 88 blanch. A dual-track
system allows some accusers to select a procedure in which the accused student
doesn't have a right to present evidence of his innocence. At least one Yale
professor is being secretly monitored by his department chairman--even though he
neither had an opportunity to defend himself against a claim of sexual
harassment, nor was informed that such a claim was even filed. And the
university has broadened the definition of sexual assault to such an extent
that according to Yale, the campus grounds have a much higher rate of violent
crime than cities such as Detroit or Baltimore.
When 2013 SAT scores came
out last month and showed no significant change from 2012,many educators
may have felt not disappointed or neutral, but relieved. That's because
the overall trend since 2006, when the writing component was added, has been
downward. Critical reading has dropped seven points, math four points,
and writing nine points. In fact, writing scores have dropped every year
except 2008 and this year, when they were flat.
Apart from the dismaying trend,
something about the decline doesn't make sense. When we look at those SAT
test takers when they were younger, they moved in the opposite direction.
There is no elementary school SAT, but we do have the National Assessment of
Educational Progress long-term trends assessment for 9-year-olds in reading,
and the news is positive.
From 1999 to 2004, scores rose from 212 to 219.
From 2004 to 2008, they climbed from 216 to 220 (the difference in 04 scores
from the first bullet is due to a revised assessment format)
Why would 9-year-olds improve so
much in reading--NAEP researchers estimate that 10 points roughly approximates a
grade-level--then decline on the SAT when they got older? To be sure, we
have two different tests, and if we go apples to apples and consult the NAEP
reading exam for 17-year-olds, we don't see a decline in the selected
years. From 2008 to 2012, the reading score went from 286 to 287--not down
like the SAT trend, but nonetheless begging the question: why did 9-year-olds
rise seven points, but eight years later only rise one point?
It's an important issue because
reading scores for 4th- and 8th-graders don't matter one
bit if they are not reflected in 12th-grade scores. Only the
end of high school counts.
One reason is a change in leisure
reading, which has declined significantly among teenagers. But this week
in the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss opens her education
column to E. D. Hirsch, who offers another explanation, one closer to
schooling and standardized tests. It's a capsule statement that any
superintendent and chief state school officer should heed if he wishes to raise
scores and be a success.
The first fact is this: "Reading
ability is very topic dependent." Given two passages of equal difficulty
in syntax and vocabulary, the same reader will comprehend one better than the
other if the reader knows something about the subject matter of the one and
little about that of the other. The idea of a general reading ability
that functions independently of what is read is "a misleading abstraction,"
Hirsch says. If a reading test has ten passages with 8-10 questions on
each, the same student will perform variably from one to the next depending on
background knowledge. It's an arbitrary system. If, by chance, you
did volunteer clean-up work one summer and one of the passages concerns how
cities and towns dispose of their trash, you will fly through it. A
passage on a sport you never played, though, will slow you down, even though passage
difficulty is the same.
Here is the explanation for
divergent trends among 4th- and 12th-graders.
Passages for older students are more knowledge-intensive than those for younger
Test-prep courses can't help with
this factor. They coach students in how to "scope out the
meaning"--identify main idea, note the evidence, apply to a hypothetical . .
.--but, Hirsch states, "though it gives a boost to scores in early grades,
ceases to have an effect . . . after just six or seven skill exercises."
To spend any more labor on test-prep than those basic tactics is a waste of
The solution is simple, yet
far-reaching. We need the reading curriculum to be more knowledge-aimed
and less skill-based. Hirsch: "A cumulative knowledge-oriented curriculum
will, over time, produce higher verbal abilities than a test-prep
curriculum." That means more set content and common readings in English,
history, and civics, a sharper determination of "cultural literacy" (to use the
title that made Hirsch famous), a narrower and more coherent curriculum.
And one other thing.
Instead of making reading tests a crap shoot, choose topics that correspond to
the core knowledge of the curriculum. Make reading tests like math and
science tests, which state up front the content on the test. If reading
tests were to identify subject matter in advance, Hirsch concludes, "then test
prep would become knowledge prep." Without that curricular/testing reform
in English et al, we shall see more flat lines in annual scores, and more
erroneous and fruitless efforts to lift them.
considerable media attention this past spring, after several students filed
a complaint against the school, alleging that Swarthmore's sexual assault
policy was so faulty that it discriminated against women in violation of Title
IX. Neither the complaint nor most media coverage mentioned the specifics of
the policy, which in fact was extraordinarily one-sided in favor of accusers, in that it forbade accused students from even
mentioning the charges against them to an attorney, and once the proceedings
began, forbade an accused student from cross-examining his accuser--the only
witness so protected under college standards.
Based on two recent stories first publicized by the Swarthmore Independent, it seems that the college is even further
determined to set aside (some of its) students' civil liberties in the name of
political correctness. The first involves a change in the way students are
assigned to the (already biased) sexual assault panels. Following the lead
of a handful of other institutions (Stanford, Vassar, UNC), Swarthmore now is
providing specific training to students who serve on sexual assault panels
(and, it appears, only to these students--not to student judicial panel members
who consider other issues). The training includes"the dynamics of sexual harassment,
... the factors relevant to a determination of credibility, ... evaluation of
consent and incapacitation, the application of the preponderance of the
evidence standard ... , sanctioning, and the College's policies and
Very, very little is known about the precise nature of these "training"
sessions, in large part because colleges do not publicize the material. To the
best of my knowledge, the only training documents that reached the public eye
were Stanford's, thanks to FIRE's efforts. Stanford's training advice--that an
accused student presenting his
argument in a persuasive and logical manner could in and of itself be
interpreted as a sign of guilt--gives considerable pause about what these new
Swarthmore adjudicators will be told in their training sessions.
Then, the college cracked
down on a fraternity that sent out bid invitations that "featured a collage of half-naked women copied from the
Internet." (That is: no students at Swarthmore.) Swarthmore administrators
decried the flier as a violation of the college's community values, and
announced that fraternity members would be required to participate in a Title
IX training session, all as part of a "remedies-based resolution" and a "non
Perhaps, it might be said, Swarthmore's "community
values" are neo-Victorian, or are associated with the religious right (note the
community standards at such institutions as BYU or Liberty). But, as the Independent noted, this isn't at all the
case: instead, Swarthmore is a college that annually hosts such politically
correct--but hardly neo-Victorian--events as "Genderf**k, masturbatory theater,
the Vagina Monologues, andCrunkfest."
At Swarthmore, then, objectionable, even raunchy,
speech is fully consistent with the school's community values as long as the
message of that speech conforms to the ideological predispositions of the
college administration. Yet another reason to distrust the new sexual assault
training instituted by the very same administration.
Ever since Ronald Reagan
tried and failed to abolish the U.S. Department of Education, conservatives
have found themselves in a quandary when it comes to reforming public higher education.
Some continue to insist, rightly, that the Tenth Amendment places the power over
education solely in the hands of the individual states. A different group,
however, embraces efforts to improve higher education within the existing
framework of federal entanglement. They reason that since taxpayers fund the
federal government's massive spending on higher education, we should use
federal power to enhance affordability, quality, and access.
Former Secretary of
Education Margaret Spellings certainly fits in the latter category. In 2006,
her Spellings Commission called for a larger federal presence to enhance affordability
and access through increasing accountability and transparency. Spellings
envisioned boosting the importance of student outcomes in the accreditation
process, reconfiguring federal student aid to encourage lower tuitions, and implementing
federal tracking of individual student performance.
To that end, it is
unsurprising that Spellings has commended President Obama's proposal
to tie federal aid to a new ratings system. She argues that Obama is taking on
"the right issue at the right time," and she couldn't be more correct. Higher
education is in dire need of accountability. In
the past quarter-century, average tuitions have increased over 400 percent, far
outpacing inflation and even healthcare-cost increases. Subsequently, students
have amassed unprecedented debt. Adding insult to injury, around 36 percent of
students show little to no increase in fundamental academic skills are four years of college.
is unclear, however, that the President's proposal would actually increase
accountability. The President's rating system would consider graduation rates,
the percentage of low-income students enrolled, tuition prices, student-loan
debt, and the earnings of graduates, but not the most crucial variable: student-learning
outcomes. A better rankings system might factor in results from the Collegiate
Learning Assessment (CLA), which measures students' academic gains throughout
their college experience. Including the CLA in the federal unit
record system might alert students, parents, taxpayers, and policymakers to how
much, or rather, how little so many college students get out of their four-year
(-plus) investments. This rude awakening may spur another look at Charles Murray's argument that too many students go to
than what's missing from the President's ratings system is what it may one day include.Given the administration's track record, it's possible that federal funding might become tied
to the administration-endorsed national curriculum for collegiate civic
Crucible Moment," which proposes transforming civic education into progressive
activism. Additionally, the federal government might choose to tie aid to
whether universities uphold its "breathtakingly
bold" and almost certainly unconstitutional
sexual harassment mandates.
Doubtless, none of these consequences
would be acceptable to Spellings. However, the ratings system's deficiencies
and possible consequences illustrates that conservatives should question the
value of working within the federal framework to fix higher education.
try to temper my colleagues' enthusiasm for the coming wave of "creative
destruction" that is about to hit higher education. Certainly there are going
to be big changes, but there are also key aspects of higher education that
prove resistant to change. This is especially true about online education: like
it or not, some areas of higher education are more like Home Depot than
Amazon--you can easily send a book via FedEx, but not a cube of bricks.
somebody who is currently taking his fourth online course, I'm finding the most
crucial part of an education--the explanation of difficult concepts--is more of
the Home Depot variety. It is much more efficient for a professor to explain
something that a student is having trouble grasping in person. A man with a
relatively deep voice speaks at about 115 words per minute; an experienced
journalist such as myself who is used to tight deadlines will top out at
writing about 500-600 words per hour--a pace that's hard to sustain
when discussing difficult philosophical or scientific concepts. Instead of a
single teacher being able to be more efficient by going online, he or she will
likely become less efficient when teaching such material to more than a few
students. The advantage of personal contact is even more important when a
student is confused and fishing for the right question to ask.
as somebody who is still entranced by the mystical quality of Adam Smith's
"Invisible Guiding Hand," it seems to me that having a community of learners
gathered in one place can be a case in which the sum is somehow magically
transformed into something greater than the whole.
traditional higher education's defenders--I mean the thoughtful
ones, not the shills for the establishment--are also a little too dismissive of
its critics. Universities--public and private--are unconscionably
wasteful. Higher education is indeed oversold to students who would be better
off choosing other paths. Disengaged students abound; Arum and Roksa's
empirical research in the book Academically Adrift about the lack
of learning on campus matches much of what I see anecdotally. A community
of slackers interested primarily in "beer and circuses" is not the same as a
community of learners.
the defenders are right to insist that there is still ample learning going on
at many schools; I have also met many recent graduates who demonstrate a
considerable grasp of their degree subject and excellent powers of reasoning,
far beyond what they possessed directly after high school.
sides seem to forget that the effects of creative destruction and the higher
education bubble will apply differently to different types of students and to
different institutions and will suit different purposes. Harvard, Swarthmore,
UNC, and Georgia Tech aren't going away because of online learning. Should they
adopt some facets of online learning and blend it in with what they do now?
Certainly. But their residential campuses will be full for quite a long time.
hope that the ensuing years will see all manner of educational innovations, as
well as more truly traditional approaches rather than the current flight to
faddism. Higher education is an institution in great need of reform. And we
need to rethink the purposes of an education--the current system in which
college is an expensive rite of passage is not working. We do indeed have new
technologies that can benefit pedagogy. And we must remember that productive
work should be the end of an education, and that we can easily prepare young
people for adulthood more efficiently than we are currently doing so.
Additionally, we should take advantage of the way that online learning can
benefit lifelong learning, so that we mix work and education better than we
have done in the past.
the same time, it's best to remember that online education is primarily a
delivery system; a salmonella sandwich tastes the same whether it's delivered
to your front door, whether you get it in the drive-thru window, or whether you
sit down and eat it at the restaurant. One higher education innovation
that has received tremendous publicity and financial backing is the Minerva
Project. It's entirely online--but the people involved, including Larry Summers
and Bob Kerrey, are straight out of the liberal establishment. As I wrote in this article,
"one does not generally look to Harvard administrators if the goal is to move
in a fresh intellectual direction."
the other hand, another innovative program, called Praxis,
which was started on a shoestring by an academic outsider, is truly unique and
could initiate further change. I call it a "boot camp" for future
professionals: it's only ten months long and the major component is actually
working at a private firm--the student is at the location performing hands-on
tasks, much like an apprenticeship (only for white collar work). The
educational content, while online, is centered on liberty and free markets--a gourmet
snack, rather than the typical buffet of educational swill.
The debate is too often between those who "want
to throw the baby out with the bath" and those who want to keep washing the
baby in filthy, fetid water. There seems to be a reasonable third way
here--keeping the baby but changing the water once in a while. We might need to
be a little more cautious about every "innovative" panacea that comes up the
road, but we still need to fight on the traditional campus to preserve the good
while putting an end to the excesses and insanity.
Here's another Orwellian intervention at a U.S.
university by the Federal Government: in response to feminist pressure about
the handling (under Title IX and Title IV) of sexual harassment and sexual
assault cases on campus, the University of Montana agreed to accept a resolution
agreement with the Department of Justice and the Education Department's Office
of Civil Rights. The agreement commits the university to "train" its students
and employees, including teachers and administrators, on how to avoid sex-based
violations. In addition, the university is committed to hire a bureaucrat to
oversee the program on campus. (It already has a full-time Title IX appointee
and now must add another bureaucrat known as an "Equity Consultant" acceptable to
the OCR.) Also the university must provide the feds with the names of those who
have undergone the mandatory training and as well as those who have failed or
declined to undergo it.
In addition, in the style of speech codes, definitions of
offenses in the agreement are broad enough to cover even innocent actions and
the university has the power to "take appropriate actions" against a student or
any employee "to prevent the creation of a hostile environment" even after a
university investigation has failed to find anyone guilty of an offense. This
week faculty members complained to University President Royce Engstrom about the
program. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education calls the program "burdensome,
confusing and intrusive." Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE calls it "an
unconstitutional speech code" and gives the university "vast discretion to
silence students and faculty members."
Department of Education released new information about student loan defaults
yesterday, and it isn't pretty. A dismaying 10
percent of student borrowers are now defaulting on their student loans
within two years of repayment, and nearly 15
percent are defaulting within three years. These are the highest default
data bear out a few interesting details. While students at for-profit
colleges continue to have the highest two-year default rates (13.6 percent),
this figure represents a decline from 2009, when 15% of these students were
defaulting. Meanwhile, the rate of students who are defaulting at non-profit
public and private universities has climbed 3.4 percent and .6 percent,
growth in defaults at public universities is even more notable when one looks at
default rates for public college students borrowing through the Federal Direct Student Loan
Program (FDSLP). The percentage of students who defaulted on federal
direct loans nearly doubled--from 4.8 to 9.5 percent--in the same time period.
the weak economic recovery and the resistance of the higher-ed establishment to
reform, it's almost certain that these trends will worsen. Indeed, it's notable that during his speech on the state of American education yesterday, Education Secretary Arne
Duncan devoted ample time to the promising K-12
education reform movement and considerably less to higher-ed reform, because, well, there's none to discuss. He vaguely remarked that "a
number of universities" were "keeping down
costs while maintaining or improving quality." If we want to seriously address
the problem of student debt, we'll need many more than that.
The background: Several months ago, students filed an OCR
complaint, alleging that the school's process for investigating sexual assault
complaints was so biased against accusers that it violated Title IX. That
process (which nearly all news media ignored) denies
the accused student a right to counsel in the disciplinary hearing;
prevents him from accessing any documentary evidence related to his case until
48 hours before the hearing; adjudicates guilt on a preponderance-of-evidence
standard; and includes the possibility of a student being found guilty of
sexual assault even
if his partner says "yes" to sexual intercourse.
Occidental's administration quickly reached a financial
settlement with accusers (some of whom were represented by celebrity lawyer
Gloria Allred) in a related civil suit; risking bad publicity by standing up
for due process did not appear to interest the college. But the OCR
investigation continued onwards. In the process of gathering information for
its response to OCR, the college has seized computers of faculty members who
interacted with sexual assault accusers. OCR issued a carefully worded
statement noting that OCR did not "require" Occidental to seize the computers.
College computers are, of course, college property, but nonetheless seizing computers
used by faculty in their offices is not indicative of an administration that
values due process.
According to Huffington Post's Tyler Kingkade, the
college's actions have aroused intense opposition from some faculty members.
The head of the faculty senate, Nalsey Tinberg,
wrote to the college president that the school's action "will create a chilling atmosphere at the College which
includes fear of retaliation." Tinberg did not say, however, how the college should
handle the legal difficulties that come with the OCR complaint.
The list of angry professors also
included Caroline Heldman, chair of Occidental's
politics department, who describes her interests as the
presidency, media, race, and gender. Heldman oddly claimed to know the identity
of every faculty member whose computer had been seized, a charge that Kingkade
passed along without offering any insight on how Heldman came to acquire this
interesting nugget of information, or why readers should believe that a faculty
member at Occidental has inside information on the administration's
investigation tactics. In any case, Heldman's standing up for due process seems
a little ironic, given that she was one of two Occidental professors who joined
in the original OCR complaint.
The Heldman approach, summarized: due
process concerns aren't implicated at all when the college administration sets
up a system in which Occidental students are denied right to counsel, or can be
found guilty of rape by extraordinary vague, even contradictory, standards. But
due process concerns are very much implicated when the same college
administration goes after faculty members with an ideological agenda she
The Occidental faculty motto appears to be: Due process
for us, but our students are on their own.
Writing at National Review Online about the recent
release of SAT scores, Jason Richwine wonders
whether all the fretting about low college-readiness rates among high school
graduates really makes much sense. He links to an Atlantic
Monthly story on the 2013 scores that bears the title "This Year's SAT
Scores Are Out, and They Are Grim." Scores were flat from 2012, and only
43 percent of students taking the test proved to be college-ready according to
the scale developed by the College Board, which administers the SAT, the fifth
year in a row that less than half of test-takers were likely to reach a B-
grade-point-average their first year of college. In its report,
the Board termed this result a "call for action," especially as it found strong
correlations between students who took a core curriculum in high school and
earned higher scores. Only one cause for optimism emerged: the slight
rise in readiness by African American and Hispanic students.
Richwine finds the episode just one more entry in a routine, meaningless
It's time again for the yearly
ritual: The College Board releases data on recent SAT scores, which show some
large percentage of American students are not 'college ready.' The alarm
is sounded. Much hand-wringing follows. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Underlying Richwine's complaint is the notion that too many high
school students go to four-year colleges: "The costly four-year-college track
simply does not suit the interests and abilities of many young people who are
pushed into it."
Agreed--but that is one reason why the College Board's
college-readiness measures are valuable. They show the ongoing mismatch
between the everyone-should-go-to-college claim and the actual capacity of high
school graduates to handle authentic college-level work. Without that
empirical evidence, the first-year pile-up of remediation placements might pass
unnoticed, allowing an enormous waste and inefficiency in the system to
continue without challenge.
Richwine wonders, too, how the SAT results can be "grim" unless we
already have some "understanding of what constitutes success." Once
more--we agree, but we certainly have an understanding of failure here. It
is a high school graduate who invests time and money going to college only to
end up in remedial courses that provide no college credit and are of limited
benefit, for most of those students who enter remediation don't graduate.
Schools, too, have a gauge of failure in the money and resources they invest in
the programs, educating students in skills and knowledge they should have
learned years before.
For students and institutions, the effort is all-too-often
futile. The College Board aims to use the data to develop programs in
high school to boost the prospects of entering college students. Others
should use the data to inject a bit of realism into the college-going
population, letting them know that a high school diploma is no guarantee of
progress at the next level.
The protesters aren’t claiming (because they couldn’t do so credibly) that a former DCI and commanding general in two wars is unqualified to serve as a visiting professor of public policy. And certainly no one could possibly claim that the Macaulay administration hired Petraeus because they shared his beliefs on foreign policy matters. Instead, the activists are demanding that the retired general be fired because the protesters don’t like Petraeus’ views on national security issues.
On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary
Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for
25 years, passed away at the age of 83. She died as the result of a massive
heart attack she suffered two weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been
the last person she talked to.
On Aug. 16, I received a
call from a very upset Margaret Mary. She told me that she was under an
incredible amount of stress. She was receiving radiation therapy for the cancer
that had just returned to her, she was living nearly homeless because she could
not afford the upkeep on her home, which was literally falling in on itself,
and now, she explained, she had received another indignity -- a letter from
Adult Protective Services telling her that someone had referred her case to
them saying that she needed assistance in taking care of herself. The letter
said that if she did not meet with the caseworker the following Monday, her
case would be turned over to Orphans' Court.
For a proud professional
like Margaret Mary, this was the last straw; she was mortified. She begged me
to call Adult Protective Services and tell them to leave her alone, that she
could take care of herself and did not need their help. I agreed to. Sadly, a
couple of hours later, she was found on her front lawn, unconscious from a
heart attack. She never regained consciousness.
Several years ago, I attended a Liberty Fund conference where one of the readings was Edward Chase Kirkland’s Dream and Thought in the Business Community.What I remember most from the book is that many of the great business leaders of the late-1800s not only regarded college education as unnecessary for anyone who was looking for a career in business, but many (like Andrew Carnegie) believed that it was positively harmful.
How times have changed. Today, most entry-level jobs in business are closed to anyone who doesn’t have a college degree in hand. The trouble is that because such huge numbers of Americans how have those credentials and many of them are perilously weak in basic skills required by even the most mundane jobs, the college diploma has become meaningless.
about the Obama administration's attempt to inject a race-conscious
"disparate impact" provision into colorblind anti-discrimination laws like
the Fair Housing Act, and how that could lead to risky, race-conscious lending,
bad loans, and future bank failures, mortgage meltdowns, and financial crises.
Now, Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder highlights
an additional area where disparate-impact rules may be having a negative
impact: higher education. ("Disparate impact" is a term in anti-discrimination
law for when a neutral policy happens to affect minorities more than whites.
One example is a standardized test that whites pass at a higher rate than some
minority group, even though test scores are calculated the same way for members
of all races. Some civil-rights laws contain language authorizing "disparate-impact"
claims, but others do not, and are phrased in colorblind terms.)
others like George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy believe
the disparate-impact concept is fueling the college-tuition bubble and
artificial competition for unnecessary paper credentials. At Minding
the Campus, Vedder notes that disparate-impact regulations in the
largely destroyed high-quality employer testing of job candidates. Four decades
ago, in Griggs v. Duke Power, the Supreme Court outlawed testing that
had a "disparate impact" on minorities. Such testing was an effective and
inexpensive way of learning about the job potential of students and other job
applicants. After Griggs, educational credentials became the dominant
way of narrowing the pool of applicants for jobs. The problem, of course, is
those credentials are hugely expensive to earn these days, so the information
costs associated with hiring workers is astronomical.
George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy notes
in The Wall Street Journal that the disparate-impact
concept discourages inexpensive aptitude testing of job applicants by
employers, resulting in the "move toward using" unnecessary and costly
credentials as a screening mechanism for employers, a change largely due to the
1971 Supreme Court decision in Griggs
v. Duke Power Co., which made aptitude testing a legal minefield
for employers. It led to a strong movement toward offering the best-paying jobs
only to people who had college degrees under their belts. That trend has
continued and grown to the point where many entry-level jobs that ordinary
high-school graduates could easily learn are open only to college graduates,
even though nothing they studied in college has any relevance to the work. What
appears to be increasing returns to college education is really the gradual
elimination of most good career possibilities for anyone who doesn't have a
In a longer
this link, Leef describes how government regulations and subsidies
helped spawn a looming student loan crisis and skyrocketing tuition.