April 18, 2014

The Times and Sexual Assault at Florida State

The other day, the New York Times published a lengthy investigative piece on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. Much of the article, written by Walt Bogdanich, has little to do with higher education, per se--the Tallahassee Police Department comes across very poorly. Winston come across even worse, since the Times reveals that he was involved in an incident with a second woman. The incident is described in extremely vague terms, but does not appear to have been an alleged sexual assault; that said, it's hard to believe that Winston could have won the Heisman Trophy if this article had appeared last November instead of this week.

The Times' treatment of Florida State, however, is more problematic. The Times doesn't challenge the local prosecutor's conclusion that there wasn't probable cause to bring charges against Winston--meaning that any fair disciplinary tribunal at FSU could not have found him guilty, even under the preponderance-of-evidence standard. Yet the paper seems eager to raise questions about the university's response, perhaps to fit the article's frame, prepped by myriad pieces from Richard Perez-Pena: that "the case has unfolded as colleges and universities across the country are facing rising criticism over how they deal with sexual assault, as well as questions about whether athletes sometimes receive preferential treatment."

The Times' lengthy article cites two additional cases other than Winston's. The first was mentioned only in passing, but appeared to reveal that the university treated sexual assault allegations seriously: "A Times review of sexual assault complaints handled by the campus police last year found that in one case, officers asked for the Potbelly's [a local bar] video when they were trying to identify a suspected assailant who had been seen at the bar." The article does not discuss anything more about the case.

The second involved a complaint from a mother of a student, who claimed that her daughter had been sexually assaulted at a fraternity. The mother said that "the university should take a harder stand on the men who are identified as having committed rapes." But the next line in the article reveals that "according to the campus police, the student had said she did not want officers to investigate the case." Even in these due process-unfriendly times on college campuses, universities can't punish students without even the semblance of an investigation.

The Times also published a chart showing that Florida State reported, on average, fewer sexual assaults than institutions of comparable size. But the university had a plausible response, noting that "83 percent of FSU's students live off-campus, where incidents are handled by the Tallahassee Police Department and are not required to be reported as part of the university's annual campus crime statistics." It's not clear why the Times didn't include this information; its chart includes bar graphs for around 30 schools, but identifies only two of them.

What about the Winston case? At best, here the Times paints an ambivalent picture regarding FSU. It describes the incident with the second woman, and includes the following passage: "A month before the rape accusation became public, the university's victim advocate learned that a second woman had sought counseling after a sexual encounter with Mr. Winston, according to the prosecutor's office. The woman did not call it rape -- she did not say 'no' . . .  The victim advocate was concerned enough about the episode to have alerted Mr. Winston's first accuser."

This isn't the action of a university administration giving preferential treatment to a student accused of sexual assault; if anything, it's the reverse, but what would be expected from an administrator ideologically sympathetic to a claim that rape allegations are always true. More broadly, the incident raises a question (basically unexplored by the Times): if universities are compelled to investigate, why aren't they given the tools for the job, such as subpoena power? In this instance, the Times seems to chastise FSU for not conducting a more thorough inquiry that the student herself did not want.

The Times also criticizes FSU for acting "in apparent violation of federal law" by not "promptly investigat[ing] . . . the rape accusation." A bit later in the article, Bogdanich observes, "If cases are reported, the university is obligated to investigate, regardless of what the police do." How universities are supposed to conduct parallel investigations (reaffirmed by OCR in the SUNY settlement) to police of criminal events--and the substantial drawbacks this mandate creates--is not something that the Times cares to explore. That's a story that wouldn't fit into the preferred frame.

April 17, 2014

The Real Common Core Story

I couldn't miss the eye-catching headline on Diane Ravitch's influential blog: "Schneider Schools Sol Stern on the Common Core." Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana teacher, is one of Ravitch's loyal allies in the education-reform wars. Ravitch thinks she's a great investigator and often cites her work. Actually, what Schneider excels at is promulgating conspiracy theories and using guilt-by-association to discredit those with whom she disagrees--such as supporters of the Common Core State Standards, whom she accuses of being duped and bribed by a corporate, anti-public school conspiracy led by Bill Gates, with an assist from President Barack Obama.

Schneider's 4,000-word denunciation of one of my recent articles here defending the Common Core characteristically didn't engage with my arguments, but it did provide a list of my nefarious "connections" and "involvements" with conservative organizations. With trumpets blaring, Schneider announced that the Manhattan Institute, where I am a senior fellow, has "a board of trustees noticeably heavy on hedge fund managers" and that "it should come as no surprise that MI promotes 'economic choice'; 'market-oriented policies,' and 'free market ideas.'" (Schneider doesn't seem to have noticed that most supporters of free markets in education actually oppose the Common Core.) She also levies the bizarre allegation that "MI is a cousin to the [conservative] American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)." In another feat of investigative journalism, Schneider offers an inside scoop about me and my wife: "Stern is not a teacher, nor has he ever been a teacher. But he is married to a Manhattan, NY, high school teacher. Not sure if she is under the so-called Common Core State Standards (CCSS)." And I'm not sure what that even means.

Another of my defects, according to Schneider, is that I have written favorably about E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge curriculum. She doesn't explain what's wrong with the Hirsch curriculum but instead alleges that Core Knowledge "was purchased by Rupert Murdoch's Amplify in 2013." If that were true, it would be considered a hanging offense in Schneider and Ravitch's leftist circles, because Amplify is a "for-profit" company and Rupert Murdoch is, you know, Rupert Murdoch. But the Murdoch allegation is false. Schneider probably borrowed it from Ravitch, who published it on her blog last year before retracting the claim when confronted with the truth--that the Core Knowledge curriculum was licensed to Amplify for the sole purpose of distributing it to schools around the country (a good thing for American children.)

Normally, it wouldn't occur to me to respond to Schneider's fact-deprived attack--except that it appeared on Ravitch's blog, which reaches tens of thousands of readers on some days. Ravitch is also the leader of a new left-wing education movement that has effectively exploited parental and teacher discontent with the Common Core Standards. It says something significant about the cause Ravitch now champions that she approves of Schneider's methods and uses them herself in criticizing my politically incorrect views on education reform.

Like Schneider, Ravitch believes that readers need to know the highlights of my life story and my affiliations in order to evaluate properly my position on the Common Core. She begins by noting that we first met when we were fellows at the Manhattan Institute, which is true. She then goes on to assert as an uncontested fact that after serving as "an editor at the leftwing Ramparts" in the 1960s, I "had a political-ideological conversion experience" and "became a zealous conservative." My transition from leftist radicalism toward a rather moderate conservatism took place gradually over many years and involved several important issues, including the defense of Israel, education, racial politics, and the failures of the welfare state. Tagging me as a "zealous" conservative is a calculated move on Ravitch's part. I am no more zealous about conservative ideas than Ravitch was when she served in the administration of the first President Bush. Like her, I support gay rights, abortion rights and other liberal positions. Indeed, if I really were a zealous conservative, I probably wouldn't support the Common Core.

Continue reading "The Real Common Core Story" »

Enforcing Conformity on Campus

"As Erin Ching, a student at 60-grand-a-year Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, put it in her college newspaper the other day: 'What really bothered me is the whole idea that at a liberal arts college we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.' Yeah, who needs that? There speaks the voice of a generation: celebrate diversity by enforcing conformity...Young Erin Ching at Swarthmore College has grasped the essential idea: it is not merely that, as the Big Climate enforcers say, 'the science is settled', but so is everything else, from abortion to gay marriage. So what's to talk about? Universities are no longer institutions of inquiry but 'safe spaces' where delicate flowers of diversity of race, sex, orientation, 'gender fluidity' and everything else except diversity of thought have to be protected from exposure to any unsafe ideas."

--Mark Steyn in The Observer

April 14, 2014

How to Save the Liberal Arts

Minding the Campus's recent symposium on the liberal arts' troubles was enlightening and timely. Many of the contributors offered stirring defenses of a classical, liberal arts education that emphasized the indispensability of the humanities to pursuing a rich and vibrant intellectual life.

I'd like to add several points to the discussion.

Symposium contributors properly shared a deep worry about the decline of the liberal arts in American higher education. As Cardinal John Henry Newman so eloquently put it, a liberal education "aims at raising the intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspiration[.]" A populace that is not liberally educated is a populace unfit for the demands of citizenship and serious engagement with the world at large.

Surely, a liberal education is about more than career preparation, and the notion that higher education is merely vocational training must be fiercely resisted. But in a world in which workers will hold an average of 11 different jobs in the course of their working lives, and in which employers themselves value a broad-based education over narrow vocational training, a liberal education is also about equipping students for productive lives in the workplace.

Finally, it is vital to remember that college and university trustees, as well as intelligent donors, can push back against curricular degeneration. By staying informed about curricular requirements, demanding presidential and faculty action, and asking for specific curricular changes, boards can exercise their fiduciary responsibility to preserve a strong liberal arts curriculum. The Beazley Foundation of Virginia has proven incredibly successful in incentivizing schools to restore their core curricula and supporting them financially in their efforts. Several schools have strengthened their core requirements after Beazley imposed a moratorium on its higher-ed grant-making pending colleges' development of a true core. ACTA works with college and university trustees, as well as intelligent donors, because they can be the Archimedean points by which we shift a whole university.

Though the status quo can often prove discouraging, it isn't time to throw in the towel. As T.S. Eliot wrote, there are times when "Virtues are forced upon us by our impudent crimes." It is still possible to restore the central place of the liberal arts in higher education, if we will only fight hard enough.

Oberlin Pulls the Trigger Warnings

In an unexpected burst of common sense, Oberlin College has tabled its new policy on "trigger warnings," the alerts that were scheduled to be given to sensitive students about upcoming class material that might traumatize them. The warnings directly concerned sex, violence and racism, but were called for across the board "to anything that might cause trauma," the Oberlin policy said. "Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression. Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or understand."

Given this broad mandate, it was not clear how professors could teach at all without delivering a blizzard of warnings to ease student discomfort. And like many college policies these days, it's not entirely clear whether the text was inadvertently close to satire or just satire itself.

The Messy Case Against the Heisman Winner

This past weekend, the Florida State football team held its spring football game. Most of the media attention focused on quarterback Jameis Winston, who had also spent much of his spring playing for the FSU baseball team.

Winston, of course, is by this point also well-known for events off the football field or the baseball diamond. In the midst of what became a national championship season, local media broke the news that the previous year, when he was a redshirt freshman, a woman had accused Winston of sexual assault. The alleged event occurred off campus, in a building not owned by Florida State. The Tallahassee Police Department conducted what could charitably be described as a less-than-enthusiastic investigation, and the case went cold.

Amidst the sudden media attention, the case was turned over to investigators from the local prosecutor's office; State's Attorney Willie Meggs announced that he did not believe that he could obtain a conviction of Winston. More important, he concluded that there was no probable cause to believe a crime occurred.

The linkage between the criminal standard of probable cause and the civil standard of preponderance-of-evidence (the requirement of the "Dear Colleague" letter) isn't exact. But it's hard to argue that someone whose conduct doesn't rise to the level of probable cause could be found guilty under a preponderance-of-evidence threshold. So there would seem to be little reason to believe that through any sort of fair proceeding at FSU, Winston could have been found guilty.

Yet according to recent news reports, the ever-aggressive Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has opened an inquiry into Florida State. In at least one respect, this move is absurd: trained law enforcement officers, who conducted a competent if belated investigation, concluded that Winston's conduct did not rise to the level in which a university tribunal could possibly have convicted him.

There are, however, two ways in which the Winston case could be troubling. First, the somewhat desultory investigation seemingly carried out by the Tallahassee Police could be used (at least by defenders of the academic status quo) to undermine calls for sexual assault cases to be investigated by competent law enforcement officers--for rape to be treated as a crime--rather than untrained or poorly trained college officials, or by college investigators subjected to ideological pressure from the "rape culture" bureaucracy.

Second, at least based on available press reports (Deadspin has been the most comprehensive), the Winston affair seems to be an exception to the general rule on campus sexual assault matters. In general--as we've seen at Yale, or Vassar, or St. Joe's, or Occidental--the ideological climate on campus strongly tilts in favor of excessively aggressive prosecution of sexual assault claims, with minimal or token respect for due process for the accused student. It's possible, though, to imagine scenarios that go in the other direction--a claim against the son of a major donor, perhaps; or one directed against a star athlete at a school where athletics are very important.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the accuser's attorney has claimed that Florida State held a disciplinary hearing in the case without informing the accuser, a clear violation of the school's procedures. (An FSU spokesperson denied the assertion.) Meanwhile, Deadspin has a source claiming that Winston "basically took the fifth" in a disciplinary hearing, thereby (it appears) failing to put up any defense--yet wasn't punished by Florida State. Just as oddly, two of his (less talented) teammates did receive some sort of punishment from Florida State.

It's possible that FSU's handling of the Winston allegations did not conform to the university's guidelines. It's also possible that the reporting--driven by sources, it seems, at least somewhat hostile to Winston--has been incomplete. Either way, it's hard to argue that the Winston case bears much resemblance to how the typical university handles the typical sexual assault claim.

April 11, 2014

Let's Demand More From Students

It's an old canard that Asian students outperform Americans on international tests of math, science, and reading skills because their schools emphasize rote memorization. In contrast, American schools are said to foster creative thinking, which supposedly leads to better problem-solving skills.

However, new research upends this narrative. The New York Times reports that while American students score above the average of those in the developed world on exams assessing problem-solving skills, they trail countries like China, South Korea, and Japan. "Critics of the rankings on international tests have tended to characterize the high performance of Asian countries in particular as demonstrating the rote learning of facts and formulas[,]" the Times writes, "But the problem-solving results showed that students in the highest-performing nations were also able to think flexibly."

This news comes in light of another Times article highlighting the continued relevance of the SAT to many employers. Despite criticism of the test from the left and right, it seems that "elite employers like McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company and Goldman Sachs" still want to know job applicants' SAT scores.

What does all this add up to?

At the very least, it indicates that those who oppose higher standards of academic excellence and standardized testing in the name of fostering critical thinking and problem solving ought to temper their crusade. Bringing more standardization to higher education by adopting stronger core curricula doesn't make our students less creative and adaptive--it makes them better problem solvers.

Standardized entrance exams like the SAT and ACT, moreover, don't turn students into test-taking robots, but unlike the grotesquely inflated transcripts from high schools and colleges, they provide a reliable metric of academic strength and weakness. And--remarkably--they do have predictive value that some very successful and effective industries value. It is no surprise that the Council for Aid to Education's new CLA+ exam had such a warm reception from business and media. The nation is hungry for valid and reliable ways to measure such core collegiate skills as formal writing, analytical reasoning, and critical thinking. 

The choice between teaching hard skills and fostering problem solving is a false one. So let's fight to keep standards high, use clear metrics, and raise a generation of young people whose skills are rivaled by none.

April 10, 2014

More on the Brandeis-Hirsi Ali Controversy

Cross-posted from the Volokh Conspiracy 

In a previous post, I noted that Brandeis University had previously declined to disinvite a controversial commencement honoree (Tony Kushner), on the grounds that Brandeis honors people for their achievements without vetting their political views. This conflicts with Brandeis's stated rationale for disinviting Hirsi Ali; Brandeis acknowledges that it continues to admire her activism on behalf of women's rights, but finds some of her public statements to be in conflict with Brandeis's "values."


Getting beyond this embarrassing double standard, let's go to the merits. First, while I admire Ms. Ali for her personal courage and her devotion to improving the plight of girls in women in the Islamic world, I can't join those who endorse her views on Islam. As I've blogged before (though I can't find the link), unless you believe that a particular version of a religion is "true," it's foolish to suggest that the religion itself is to blame for human actions based on that religion. Human beings interpret religious texts, and they should be held responsible for their actions, including how they interpret inevitably ambiguous religious tradition.


And religions evolve. Rabbinic Judaism, for example, evolved through interpretation to the extent that it often bears only a tangential relationship to the purported source material, the Torah. Islam, as mediated through human action, was historically often more tolerant of Jews living under it than was Christianity, even though if you compare the Quran to the Christian Bible it would seem that Christianity would obviously be the more "Love Thy Neighbor" religion. And so on. A great religion like Islam, with hundreds of years of commentary and interpretation, can inevitably be interpreted to be more liberal or less liberal, more tolerant or less tolerant, more belligerent or less belligerent. To the extent it's been interpreted to be incompatible with liberalism, we should blame the interpreters who have created "radical Islamism" and criticize their ideology, not issue blanket condemnations of "Islam." If the Catholic Church can evolve from what it was in the 19th century to what it is today, a decentralized religion like Islam surely is not static or monolithic.


Second, because Ms. Ali engages in blanket condemnation of Islam, and has expressed the desire to suppress it by force, I think she was a poor choice for an honorary degree (though a fine choice as a campus speaker or honoree in other contexts). Commencement should be a time to bring the community together, not to make some students, in this case students of Muslim background, feel like the university is disrespecting them. Of course, universities do this all the time to students on the political or Christian right (I had to suffer through a highly political commencement address by Marian Wright Edelman at my Brandeis commencement-it agitated my generally quiet, liberal/Democratic grandfather so much that he tried to heckled her from the bleachers (to the applause of the audience)!), but two wrongs etc.

Continue reading "More on the Brandeis-Hirsi Ali Controversy" »

April 9, 2014

Does Scott Walker Need A College Degree?

Do you need a college degree to get elected president? Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who doesn't have one, wants to know.

As Walker begins contemplating his 2016 presidential bid, John Fund reports, his incomplete education is raising concerns among Republicans. Walker started college at Marquette University but dropped out to join the Red Cross. He never returned.  Amidst these grumblings, however, Walker is now considering finishing his degree.

We already know the answer to Walker's question, as nine of our Commanders-in-Chief-- among them the greatest (Washington, Lincoln) and most obscure (Taylor, Fillmore)-- never received a college education. But Walker's concerns are understandable. Americans today place a much higher premium on a college degree than they did in the past, and it's quite possible that swaths of the electorate will write him off as a result.

Walker has indicated that if he does finish his degree, he'll do it through the University of Wisconsin's FlexOption, which allows students to obtain a degree at their own pace online. FlexOption relies on a "competency-based model," which offers credits for subject mastery rather than in-class seat time. To that end, highly self-motivated students can complete their degrees as quickly as they can pass their assessments. Such programs present a worthy challenge to the traditional model of higher-ed, which places little stock in how much students have actually learned.

If Walker finishes his degree, then, he'll not only improve his electoral prospects but also bring renewed attention to one of the most important innovations in higher-ed today. If he's wise, he might even choose to make higher-ed reform a key campaign promise. He could certainly speak from experience.

The Anti-Bullying Assault on Free Speech

Cross-posted from Open Market

Earlier, we wrote about a Wisconsin town whose ordinance holds parents liable for bullying by their children, including certain speech. We and law professor Eugene Volokh noted that this raised serious First Amendment issues. Now, a New Jersey judge has done the same thing by judicial construction, by allowing New Jersey school districts to drag students and their parents into lawsuits brought against school districts by alleged victims of bullying or discriminatory harassment. (New Jersey's anti-bullying law is so broad that it violates the First Amendment by banning non-violent speech, notes the civil-liberties group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.)


On March 12, a New Jersey Superior Court Judge ruled in V.B. v. Flemington-Raritan Regional School District that that school district, and the Hunterdon Central Regional High School, "could name 13 students and their parents as third-party defendants in a bullying suit," dragging them into a lawsuit against the school districts, and potentially forcing them to share the massive cost of paying any damages awarded by a judge or jury against the school district. Judge Yolanda Ciccone allowed the parents to be sued based on conduct and offensive comments both in school (where teachers and schools officials, not parents, were in charge) and outside of school. She based this ruling partly on speech that is protected by the First Amendment outside the schoolhouse, such as unkind remarks on Facebook, writing that "Plaintiff's complaint includes several allegations of that acts of bullying and harassment took place on Facebook, and that plaintiff had to contact Facebook directly to have to [sic] offending statements removed."


Never mind that federal judges have ruled that the First Amendment applies with added force to students' speech outside of school, meaning that vulgar speech that is banned in school may be protected speech when it occurs away from school, as cases like Klein v. Smith (1986) illustrate. Similarly, the federal appeals court in New Jersey has issued two First Amendment rulings in favor of students disciplined for creating fake web profiles lampooning their principals, holding that the speech was protected outside of school even if it would be unprotected in school, in Layshock v. Hermitage School District (2010) and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District (2011).


The New Jersey state judge, by contrast, allowed all of these students and their parents to be sued over the students' alleged contribution to a "hostile learning environment," including student K.I., who was sued even though "there were no allegations against him after the 2007-08 school year," because other students harassed the plaintiff student for years thereafter, causing a hostile environment to develop for reasons largely unrelated to K.I. (The court did not merely cite offensive speech in allowing the bullying suit to go forward, but also cited obnoxious conduct totally unprotected by the First Amendment, such as a bully throwing things at the plaintiff. However, this does not make the First Amendment problem go away, because a damage award cannot be based even in part on protected speech, as the Supreme Court's decisions in Street v. New York and NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. make clear.)

Continue reading "The Anti-Bullying Assault on Free Speech" »

April 7, 2014

Dartmouth Survives Diversity Takeover

Sensibly enough, the Wall Street Journal berated Phil Hanlon, the president of Dartmouth, for mishandling the two-day takeover of the university administration building by a small group of diversity-obsessed students. Instead of the obvious move--having the protesters tossed out--Hanlon met with them, then announced: "Their grievance, in short, is that they don't feel like Dartmouth is fostering a welcoming environment...I deeply empathize with them." He welcomed a conversation about their list of 70 demands, which included free sex-change operations under the campus health plan, a mandatory ethnic-studies curriculum, more "womyn and people of color" on faculty, censoring the library catalogue for offensive terms and gender-neutral bathrooms in every campus facility. The students also complained about "micro-aggressions," those tiny slights that render sensitive students uncomfortable and therefore militant. Oh, and they asked that college officials stop referring to them as "threatening," apparently yet another micro-aggression.

After Hanlon said that he welcomed conversations, the protesters explained that talking had a serious flaw;  it  would led to "further physical and emotional violence enacted against us by the racist, classist, sexist ,heterosexist, transphobic, xenophobic and ableist structures at Dartmouth." Joe Asch, editor of Dartblog, a running commentary on life at Dartmouth, said "members of the faculty are wondering whether Phil Hanlon has a spine."

A Rejoinder to Peter Wood

For this exchange I accept Peter's characterization that I made ten major points in my original rebuttal and will proceed accordingly.

     1.   The issue of evidence

Peter doesn't really dispute my claim that his critique of the Common Core was supported by little evidence and no citations from the actual Common Core document. His explanation is that his articles "were brief, not dissertations." I don't think he would accept such an excuse from one of his students who handed in a 5300 word paper lacking adequate sourcing. Nevertheless, I would be glad to review his book when it comes out.

     2.   The issue of the Common Core's provenance

Peter continues his original essay's error about David Coleman's role by now describing the Common Core as Coleman's "private initiative."  This is foolish and a serious historical distortion. The idea of developing national education standards for K-12 schooling began as far back as the George H. W. Bush administration and was further pursued by Bush's Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch (the conservative Diane Ravitch) in her 1995 book, National Standards in American Education, written for the mainstream Brookings Institute. The standards' movement continued to grow throughout the 1990s and was endorsed by, among others, Bill Clinton and a host of fellow governors, as well by leading national education organizations, including the Fordham Institute. Finally, The National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers created a consortium and asked Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit headed by Coleman, to convene a broadly based group of education policy experts to draft the Standards. 

     3.   The Common Core is supposedly illegal

 Peter again repeats the legal arguments made in the Pioneer Institute's white paper, which I dismissed as meaningless until an actual claim is made in court. Yes, the relevant statutes stipulate that the federal government may not "exercise control" over a curriculum. The trouble is that the Standards do not call for any particular curriculum. Opponents of the Common Core are entitled to argue otherwise. But if they strongly believe in the argument of illegality they should go to court. Please, make my day. By the way, the No Child Left Behind Act was far more prescriptive for the states, including favoring a reading curriculum, but I don't recall much opposition to that federal initiative by many of the same groups now attacking the Common Core Standards.                          

     4.   Mathematics Instruction 

Continue reading "A Rejoinder to Peter Wood" »

The Road From Fisher

Fisher v. University of Texas was the most eagerly (or anxiously) anticipated Supreme Court case of the last several years. Opponents of affirmative action hoped (and supporters feared) that it would, finally, fire a silver bullet into the heart of racial preference policies.

It did not, but what it did do (if anything) has been debated about as hotly as what it should have done. A number of essays on a SCOTUSblog symposium reflect the ambiguity: "If you (the Court) choose not to decide, you have still made a choice (at least for now)," "Fisher's big news: No big news," "In with a bang, out with a fizzle." The most optimistic response, from point of view of the opponents of racial preference, was a tepid two cheers from Roger Clegg, "Better off than we were a year ago."

Now comes Edward Blum and his Project on Fair Representation, the force behind (and in Blum, attorney for) Abigail Fisher's lawsuit, determined to prove Clegg correct. In a press release issued today [April 7], POFR announced a new litigation effort, building on Fisher, targeting Harvard, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Wisconsin. "The Supreme Court last year imposed incredibly high hurdles colleges must overcome when using racial and ethnic preferences in their admissions policies," Blum stated. "We believe all of these schools are breaking the law."

POFR believes that thousands of applicants to these universities have been unfairly and unconstitutionally denied admission because none are following the legal principles enshrined in the Fisher opinion and the Supreme Court's decisions dating back to Brown v. Board of Education. Specifically, the Supreme Court wrote that colleges are bound to use "strict scrutiny" in the manner they give preferences to applicants by skin color and ethnic heritage....

POFR believes that Harvard University, specifically, is discriminating against Asian-American students by using a "quota" or "ceiling" to limit their admission to the university.

As the first stage of what it anticipates will lead to litigation, POFR announced the creation of three websites: HARVARDnotFair.org; UNCnotFair.org; and UWnotFair.org.

Blum, POFR's director, invited

any student who was rejected by one of these universities to visit the new websites to learn more about what can be done to end these practices. We encourage any person with first-hand knowledge about these universities' use of race in admission practices and policies to come forward as well.

Once again opponents of affirmative action hope (and supporters fear) that the efforts of Blum and the Project On Fair Representation will produce that long-awaited preference-slaying silver bullet.

April 4, 2014

Common Core: Peter Wood Replies to Sol Stern

My friend Sol Stern has published a rejoinder here to two essays I recently published about the Common Core K-12 State Standards.  Sol had quite a bit to say and I have replied point by point in an essay on the National Association of Scholars website.  What follows is an abbreviated account.  Sol makes, by my count, ten points.

1.     My characterization of the Common Core is all accusation, no evidence.

These were brief articles, not dissertations.  But as it happens, I have a book coming out, Drilling Through the Core, which is chock full of evidence. Those with an appetite for detail should repair immediately to the long version of this article over at NAS.org. 

2.     The Common Core is a genuine states-based initiative, not an imposition of the Obama administration.

The Common Core originated as a private initiative by David Coleman, who pursued the smart strategy of selling the idea to the National Governors Association (NGA), which endorsed it in 2008.  That brought many Republican as well as Democratic governors and ex-governors into the Common Core corner.  Then came President Obama's 2009 Race to the Top that dangled a $4.35 billion prize to the states if they dropped everything and signed on to the Common Core.  Of course, 45 states did just that in a matter of weeks.  

President Obama clearly didn't design the Common Core.  He just leveraged Stimulus money and an administrative program called the Race to the Top, to turn another run-of-the-mill educational reform program into a de facto national program.

President Obama found in the Common Core something that resonated with his view of how government in general and the federal government in particular should play a greatly expanded role in the lives of Americans.  After 45 states signed on, he did a victory dance in his 2013 State of the Union Address, and another in his 2014 State of the Union Address.

3.     The Common Core is perfectly legal.

Three federal laws explicitly prohibit the federal government from establishing a curriculum, programs of instruction, or instructional materials. As the 1970 General Education Provisions Act puts it, no

department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States [can] exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials...

Similar prohibitions are part of the Department of Education Organization Act and the No Child Left Behind Act, which is the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act [ESEA] of 1965. The ESEA also protects the rights of states to set their own standards for educational content and achievement. 

      4.   The Common Core doesn't water down mathematics instruction.

Continue reading "Common Core: Peter Wood Replies to Sol Stern " »

When Did Federal Intervention in Higher-Ed Begin?

The conventional wisdom among higher education historians is that government was uninvolved in the development of American higher education before the Civil War. In "Myth Busting: The Laissez Faire Origins of American Higher Education," published recently in The Independent Review, I refute this view using a framework that compares the actual political economy during the period against a true free market for higher education. My analysis suggests that the sector was not free from government intervention, but rather the state was considerably more involved in shaping the trajectory of American higher education than most scholars proclaim.

What constitutes a true free market for higher education? The criterion that I use involves three broad features: property rights and institutional autonomy, privatization, and competition.

Prior to the 1819 Supreme Court ruling in Trustees of Dartmouth Coll v. Woodward, the property rights and autonomy of colleges were increasingly threatened by politicians seeking to control them. The ruling in the case is widely viewed as institutionalizing the property rights and autonomy of colleges, providing an impetus for a proliferation of private colleges.

While the majority of colleges that emerged during the era were founded by private interests, this does not necessitate the existence of a private and competitive market. Many so-called private institutions were subsidized with land, cash, and/or regulatory protections that provided them with a competitive advantage relative to institutions that were either philosophically opposed to government intervention, or were unsuccessful rent-seekers. And many institutions received an exemption from property taxes, a policy that largely remains intact today but has recently been questioned.

Although many credit the rise of the public sector to the Morrill Land Grant Acts of 1862 and 1890, these policies were essentially scaled-up versions of antebellum state and federal policies. The original constitutions of several states called for the establishment and financial support of state institutions, and revenues were often raised through the sale of land. The federal government's first endeavor with land grant colleges was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which called for the creation of a university using proceeds from the sale of land.

Discriminatory subsidization of colleges and the creation of state institutions hardly constitute a private and competitive higher education marketplace. Instead, these state interventions altered the natural market process that would have evolved in their absence. Given that American higher education today is massively subsidized, heavily regulated, and subject to extensive rent-seeking, it seems likely that these developments are at least partially attributable to state interventionism during the sector's infancy. The traditional view that it was not seems to be propagated by a misunderstanding of the market process.

True Affirmative Action Tale--Not an Onion Satire

Sometimes it is hard to take affirmative action seriously, or to distinguish it from parody (or often, tragedy). A case in point is a recent decision by a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upholding the dismissal of a discrimination complaint by Dr. Marvin Thrash, a former faculty member at Miami University of Ohio. Inside Higher Ed has a long article on the case that is informative but oblivious to the humor (or pathos) so obvious that the case could be an Onion satire or an April's Fool Joke.

Former Prof. Thrash was an affirmative action "opportunity" hire in 2004. He had first applied for and been rejected for a tenure track position but was then hired under a special program. According to the Dean of Miami's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, quoted by the Sixth Circuit, "an 'opportunity hire' was a hire made pursuant to an 'informal policy' at the University of obtaining funding to hire candidates who were under-represented minorities even if the University did not have a position open." Over his several years at Miami Prof. Thrash was regarded as an effective teacher, but beginning in his first year and in subsequent years his evaluations noted that his research was deficient. He was denied tenure and filed a lawsuit charging racial discrimination.

Specifically, Thrash's charges included the following: 

  • That his department chairman, Prof. Shashi Lalvani, viewed him "as an affirmative action hire who had received the job based not on his qualifications, but on his race."
  • That "Dr. Lalvani's categorical rejection of external reviewers from HBCUs is evidence of Dr. Lalvani's racial bias against African-American scholarship."
  • That another professor "had a reviewer from an HBCU, Norfolk State University, struck from her final list by Dr. Lalvani. Dr. Thrash argues that this is further evidence that Dr. Lalvani had a bias against HBCUs and African- American scholarship." (Sixth Circuit opinion, 11-12)

The first charge may not be quite as brazen as the famous if apocryphal defendant who murdered his parents and then pled for mercy as an orphan, but it comes close. It suggests that anyone who makes an affirmative action hire -- that is, who hires someone who would not have been hired but for his or her race or ethnicity -- and who says or even believes that person would not have been hired but for his or her race or ethnicity risks a discrimination lawsuit if the affirmative action hire is not subsequently promoted.

Continue reading "True Affirmative Action Tale--Not an Onion Satire" »

April 3, 2014

A Partial Victory for Due Process on Campus

Some cautious (and perhaps unexpected) good news from the Department of Education. Inside Higher Ed reports that the new DOE rules regarding the Clery Act are not nearly as troublesome as many, including me, had feared. (I formally commented on the rules here.)

The new rules contain two positive items. The first, and most important, is a welcome clarification regarding the role of attorneys in disciplinary cases. As I've noted previously, sexual assault is a serious crime, and colleges are poorly equipped (if at all) to investigate serious crimes. In an ideal world, the DOE would have issued a regulation requiring colleges to turn over investigation of all violent crimes on campus to local law enforcement.

Since that option never was a realistic possibility, the proposed rule is at least a step in the right direction. The idea that students accused of a serious crime should be denied the right to counsel in a hearing--or, in the case of the most extreme institutions, such as Swarthmore, denied the right even to tell an attorney about the charges against them--undermines basic principles of due process and fair play. That's especially true in cases, such as sexual assault claims, that might subsequently result in criminal charges.

Unfortunately, the proposed rules still deny accused students the right to full representation by attorneys--that is, to have their lawyers play a full role in what passes for due process on many campuses. Instead, colleges will have the option to "establish restrictions" on the attorney's participation in the proceedings, "as long as the restrictions apply equally to both parties." But in this case, the accuser is already effectively represented by the prosecutor (the school), so a restriction on her attorney's right to full participation would have far less impact than on the rights of the accused.

The second important item is what the proposed rules did not do. Emotional and psychological abuse--undefined--wasn't included as a crime required for reporting under the Clery Act. More important, the committee didn't recommend including the "Dear Colleague" letter recommendations (preponderance of evidence to brand a student a rapist) as part of the rule. As long as the current Education Department is in place, there seems to be little hope that the "Dear Colleague" letter will be set aside. But this move retains the option that some future Education Department will show greater respect for due process.

Much of the remainder of the proposed rule is unobjectionable or even commendable--with the exception of one provision. As inside Higher Ed notes, "Colleges would be required to report instances of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking even if the behavior isn't considered a crime in the jurisdiction where they are located."

This might be known as a permutation of the Yale rule, in which the university has offered a much broader definition of sexual assault than what exists in the local jurisdiction (or in any city in Connecticut). There seems to be little reason for colleges to redefine criminal terms.

All told, however, these draft rules are much better than anticipated.

April 2, 2014

Acquittal--and Denial--at Dartmouth

It seems as if periods emerge where sexual assault issues tend to focus on a single university. Even in the aftermath of the lacrosse case, attention remained on Duke--in part because of the civil suits, in part because the university, rather than learning from its mistakes, adopted a new policy that could brand a student a rapist based on "perceived power differentials" that can create "an unintentional atmosphere of coercion."

Then the focus turned to Yale--in part because of the university's mishandling of the Patrick Witt case (still no word on any investigation of who breached confidentiality at the school), and then because of the Orwellian definitions of sexual assault ("economic abuse" as intimate partner violence) offered in the university's periodic sexual assault report documents.

As of late, the focus has turned to Dartmouth--which, somewhat unlike Duke and Yale, receives less attention in general from the national media. The starting point was the odd "rape culture" protest from last year. Then came the remark of the recently promoted Amanda Childress, who mused, "Why could we not expel a student based on an allegation? It seems to me that we value fair and equitable processes more than we value the safety of our students. And higher education is not a right. Safety is a right. Higher education is a privilege."

Childress' remark appropriately attracted a good deal of attention; a college spokesperson desperately, and ineffectively, attempted to walk it back. The episode also brought to light a disturbing lack of respect for due process even in a venue (college disciplinary tribunals) that generally disregards the concept.

Fueling the outrage was the arrest of a Dartmouth freshman, Parker Gilbert, for raping another Dartmouth student. Last week, Gilbert was acquitted--after five charges against him already had been dismissed, for lack of evidence, by first the prosecutor and then the judge who presided over the case. Criminal cases obviously have a higher burden of proof than the college disciplinary processes, but remarks by the jury foreman suggested that the case would have failed even under a preponderance threshold. "(The woman's) story of how the night played out, the evidence wasn't there to support that," said the foreman, in an interview with the Valley News. "To the contrary, it was more in Parker's favor . . . There is tons and tons of evidence that just doesn't add up." The foreman added that the accuser was poorly served by people at Dartmouth who encouraged her to file the criminal complaint.

How did the activists at Dartmouth respond? With a lengthy statement (still labeling the accuser as a "victim") denouncing the jury, demanding a "cultural shift" in what could be considered a crime. The statement also denounced Gilbert's lawyers, noting, "The amount of time and resources utilized by the defense to break her down is rarely exhibited in a case like this where so few facts are in question." As a Dartblog commenter pointed out, the "time" was one afternoon in court, and the Dartblog reporter who covered the case said there were actually many facts in question.

If Gilbert had been convicted, the message would have been a need to address "rape culture" at Dartmouth. With Gilbert acquitted, the message was a need to address "rape culture" at Dartmouth (and in New Hampshire!). Facts, it appears, don't matter.

March 28, 2014

Recording What Goes on in Class

A freshman in a sociology class at the University of Wisconsin (Whitewater) recorded "a guest lecturer denouncing many Republicans as racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, and dishonest." To his surprise, he--rather than the Republican-bashing lecturer--became the issue. Since the 1970s, the university has required permission to record and distribute classroom discussion, and now seems bent on reaffirming that policy. The student said: "People should have been upset that he came into the classroom and said that. but instead they were upset that I recorded it and made it public."

But snippets of speech from close-door meetings are routine these days, and one wonders about double standards. Would the student have been in trouble for recording an equally baleful, generic attack on Democrats? How many questioned the surreptitious recording of Mitt Romney's "47 percent" outburst?

Instead, the sociology class described by the Chronicle appears to have had ambitions that have been called "political" on the mild side to "indoctrinating" on the not-so-mild side.  What a video exposé accomplishes is a moment when those not in the classroom can determine where the line might be drawn between the mild and less mild.  Calling someone a racist is hardly the same as examining the social realities of racism.

The modern university classroom is no longer a sanctuary of thoughtful engagement with ideas and the pursuit of the truth. The problem with a good deal of sociology taught to undergraduates today is not its touching upon controversial and morally complex matters, it is how those matters are reduced to simplistic, often stupid, assertions about right and wrong.  Textbooks and introductory courses in sociology are filled more and more with judgments rather than analyses, that is, it seems perfectly consistent to invite Republican-bashers into such a classroom without asking students to analyze those judgments.  That is not what sociology is for.

March 27, 2014

Irrational 'Rape Culture' Activism at Occidental and BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is uncritically fascinated with "rape culture." Combine that with Occidental, a college where a male student can be branded a rapist even if his partner says "yes," and the result is an article by Jessica Testa. Her BuzzFeed article, which reads as if it comes from the Onion, provides an unintentional commentary into how far from reality many campus "activists" now are.

A quick refresher: despite campus policies that are overwhelmingly tilted against students accused of sexual assault, campus "activists" (students and faculty) filed a Title IX claim against the college--with the help of celebrity attorney Gloria Allred. Fawning press coverage followed, with reporters repeatedly ignoring Occidental's actual procedures and describing the accusers (none of whom had even filed police reports) as "victims" or "survivors." The charade appeared to have ended on March 14, when the Los Angeles Times announced that one of its reporters on the case,  Jason Felch, had been involved in an unrevealed romantic relationship with one of the faculty complainers, and had described minor incidents (such as inappropriate text messages) as unreported sexual assaults The Times then fired Felch.

But anyone who thought the case had concluded doesn't follow higher education, where "activists" rarely, if ever, concede defeat. The result was a lengthy article by Testa, in which the BuzzFeed reporter uncritically passed along paranoid, borderline delusional, assertions by Occidental faculty members involved in the Title IX fight.

Consider these items in Testa's article:

  • Felch's former paramour (who receives anonymity, because she seems to believe that someone is out to get her) claimed that her faculty "workspace was broken into" and that "pages from her journal that referenced her relationship with Felch were laid out on her desk." Her alleged stalker, the paramour asserted, obtained the journal by breaking into yet another place on campus, "a private locked library carrel" that she had revealed only to "four trusted colleagues." Why she had her private journal at the library, and why she didn't report either alleged break-in to local police, remains unclear.
  • Another Occidental professor, Caroline Heldman, likewise claimed that her office was broken into--though she, too, doesn't appear to have reported the incidents to police. Heldman also included a tagline on her e-mail asserting that "Occidental College administrators are tracking this email." The Testa article produced no evidence to corroborate this claim, which college administrators denied.
  • Heldman appears sane, however, compared to the unnamed paramour--who confided that she now only uses a new phone, which she paid for in cash, because she feared someone might be listening in to her conversations. Why? Her "personal iPhone had been acting strangely: flashing every few minutes while she wrote text messages or emails, as if the phone were taking screenshots, and running the battery down seven or eight times a day." Rather than consider that the phone simply was malfunctioning, the paramour appears to believe that someone, Jason Bourne style, was accessing her personal information. The anonymous professor conceded that she had no actual evidence that the college was monitoring her, but "whether or not you're actually being surveilled, if you think you are, it's still destructive." Well, yes, but it's rather frightening to see that a college faculty member simply assumes that Big Brother is surveilling her. Does she believe the Occidental administration has teamed up with the NSA?
  • The anonymous professor recalled that she served as a "faculty advocate" to a student who charged, without reporting the incident to police, that a tennis player had raped her. The paramour claimed that "for weeks" a tennis ball was placed and then removed from her campus mailbox. Why the professor  just didn't remove the tennis ball herself-- and how the alleged stalker could have done something like this for weeks while evading detection in a busy campus mailroom--Testa elects not to explore.

These people are teaching students--and, of course, advising the student "activists" who filed the Title IX complaint. No wonder the complaint seemed divorced from reality.

BuzzFeed's Testa never comes out and asserts that Occidental administrators are responsible for any or all of these alleged incidents. But the article is framed in such a way to leave this as the obvious impression.

It's possible, I suppose, that a college administration is essentially a criminal conspiracy. Or it's possible that several Occidental faculty members are paranoid.

Readers can decide.

'Degree Inflation' Takes Its Toll

Here's some more evidence for those who wonder whether a college degree is "worth it." The online job portal CareerBuilder announced last week  that more employers are requiring their employees to hold an associate's or bachelor's degree. 27 percent of the surveyed employers  said that they increased "educational requirements" for obtaining a job in the past five years, while 30 percent are now consider college-graduates for positions they used to offer to high-schoolers.

None of this information is particularly novel. For the past few years the Center for College Affordability and Productivity has warned about the "underemployment" of college graduates, pointing to the startling statistic that 48 of American college graduates hold jobs that Bureau of Labor Statistics believes requires less than a four- year degree. As Career Builder put it, a college degree "is increasingly becoming the new high school diploma."

The fact that employers are offering the same jobs to college students that they once offered high-school graduates indicates that these jobs haven't become more demanding. Rather, both growth in the number of college graduates as well as the perception that college grads are more competent have led  to  serious This trend sends a paradoxical message to high-schoolers: you should definitely go to college, but you should hope your friends don't.

March 26, 2014

How to Fix the Student Debt Crisis

If you're interested in the worrisome growth of student debt, check out my new essay for National Affairs. I explain how the student debt crisis came about, explore some of the suggested reforms, and offer my own solution. In short, I argue that the federal government should stop calculating loan awards on the basis of individual colleges' cost of attendance, since that incentivizes administrators to raise costs without consequence. It's behind a paywall, but if you subscribe you can read it immediately. 

The Real March Madness:
Costly Subsidies for College Hoops

Cross-posted from E21

The excitement of the NCAA tournament continues this weekend with the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, but the final four schools in terms of athletic subsidies have already been decided. While all of their teams lost in the second round of the basketball tournament, the universities of Massachusetts Amherst, Delaware, Western Michigan, and New Mexico State made the final four of subsidies received by their athletic departments. These four public universities each gave over $19 million just to run sports programs.


When athletic departments cannot cover expenses, they look for support from elsewhere in the university budget. The NCAA defines subsidies as everything not generated by the department's athletic functions. This usually takes the form of student fees and institutional support. For public schools especially, this money also comes from taxpayers. 

Our final four teams are not alone--the tournament based on subsidies was highly competitive. Of the 45 public university teams in the tournament, 41 athletic departments received subsidies that exceeded $420 million in total. Of this amount, $136 million came from student fees and an additional $284 million came from non-athletic school funding. 


Coastal Carolina University--a team that made a quick exit from the basketball tournament--received 82 percent of its $17.6 million budget from subsidies. The exciting game in which Stephen F. Austin University upset Virginia Commonwealth University pitted two schools against each other that received a combined $28 million in subsidies--80 and 75 percent of their athletic budgets, respectively. Even Virginia University, one of the top four seeds in the tournament, received $13 million in subsidies.

When schools subsidize athletics, they divert funds from educational programs to pay for coaching salaries, athletic scholarships, and athletic facilities maintenance. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino is undoubtedly successful, but is his $4.9 million salary the best use of students' tuitions, and taxpayers' money? Cardinals fans will certainly ask that question if Pitino's team fails to beat archrival Kentucky Friday night. If Pitino's salary instead went toward student financial aid, 500 students could have received full-tuition scholarships to attend a top-rated university this year. Instead, when students are forced to pay additional fees, their college tuitions increase without much--or any--educational benefits. 

Continue reading "The Real March Madness:
Costly Subsidies for College Hoops" »

March 21, 2014

She Was 'Triggered,' After All

From VolokhA patient police interrogator tries hard to draw some common sense from the mind of a feminist studies professor.

March 20, 2014

State-Funded College for Convicts?

Cross-posted from SeeThruEdu

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently set off a firestorm by saying he wants to reintroduce state-funded college classes in state prisons. He wants classes in 10 prisons as a trial. Such classes were defunded in the 1990s. Meanwhile bipartisan federal legislation would give time credit for prisoners in education programs. 

Cuomo's proposal does raise interesting and important issues about the value and fairness of prison-based college. 

Much initial reaction has been perhaps understandable. Many ask how it can be right to spend taxes on free college for criminals when law-abiding students in college have to pay tuition and many go deep into debt. He's also been accused of creating a "Club Med" for inmates. For good measure, state advocates of early childhood education say Cuomo is putting convicts before kids.

But there are telling points on the other side of the ledger. Over half of released prisoners end up getting rearrested with many coming back to prison. In part that's because there are so many obstacles to going straight when you have a prison record. The American Bar Association has identified thousands of federal and state "collateral" consequences offenders face, including being barred from most college assistance for even misdemeanor offences. Supporters of college classes argue that these additional penalties and permanent restrictions are an unfair additional "life sentence" of lower earnings, hurting not just the ex-cons but also their families.

If spending $5,000 a year on classes means an inmate is released with marketable college skills and doesn't return and chalk up $60,000 a year in prison costs, says Cuomo, that's a huge saving for taxpayers. Others agree. Indeed, a meta-analysis of many studies by the RAND Corporation and the Department of Justice found that inmates receiving such education programs, including GED as well as college classes, on average "had 43 percent lower odds of recidivating than inmates who did not." While high school/GED programs were the most common, RAND found no differing impact from post-secondary prison classes.

New York already has some privately funded prisoner education programs operated by universities such as Cornell and Bard, and backed by the universities' top brass. Advocates say that not only do college courses prepare inmates for life after release, but also they help to control behavior inside prison, in part by providing role models for other prisoners.

To be sure, Cuomo's college proposal will face heavy sledding in the state Assembly, where politicians from both sides are lining up against it. But it does underscore the fact that if we are to reduce the staggering costs of incarceration, released inmates need skills that will give them a good chance to succeed by working rather than by returning to crime - and returning to prison - and these days college-level skills are increasingly the "must-have" credential. And the opponents' charge of unfairness is a reminder that cutting costly recidivism through education will be hard to enact as long as law-abiding Americans seeking a degree face heavy tuition costs and indebtedness. 

March 18, 2014

The Underestimated Value of Liberal Arts Degrees

Cross-posted from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity


The subject matters of arts and humanities, like philosophy and English, are often viewed as being too far removed from daily life to be useful outside of the academic world. Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, claims that a student not in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) will likely "end up working a shoe store." Hunter Baker, Dean of Instruction at Union University, however, argues that abilities to think critically and contextualize new information are necessary to long-term business success; according to Baker, arts and humanities cultivate such skills.


Melissa Korn at The Wall Street Journal lends some credence to Baker's claims: liberal arts majors with post-graduate degrees make $2,000 more than their professional and pre-professional equivalents at the peak of their careers. The Huffington Post provides a list of successful arts and humanities students, all of whom work outside of academia. In addition, data from the Educational Testing Service show that liberal arts students score significantly higher than any other field in both the verbal and analytical writing sections of the GRE, and philosophy students outperform accounting students in the quantitative section.


Despite the academic and business success of liberal arts students, they earn on average far less than engineering students at any equivalent level of education and experience. They also earn less than physical science students at the peak of their respective careers. However, the value of STEM degrees might be overestimated. Robert Charette of IEEE Spectrum claims that the market does not need STEM-specific skills, as there are 11.4 million STEM degree holders working in non-STEM fields and only 277,000 vacancies in STEM-specific jobs. Rather, the critical thinking and problem solving skills taken from those fields provide value and can be acquired just as well--if not better--through a liberal arts education.


Liberal arts degrees such as English, philosophy, or history are not useless or esoteric. Although the knowledge gained through their study might not be directly applicable to any field or job, the frameworks for learning new skills and information obtained from them are useful in any context. Contrary to popular wisdom, degrees in arts and humanities can be used as practical tools for success outside of academia.

March 14, 2014

'Disinvitation Season' Begins on College Campuses

A college commencement is a splendid time to celebrate student achievement. But it's "disinvitation season" again, as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education observes: the time when intolerant students and faculty advocate against their school's choice of commencement speaker, sometimes causing the speaker to be disinvited. 

These power-hungry protesters demonstrate how little they have learned about tolerance in a diverse society where people say and do things that others dislike. And all too often, as at Harvard and at Rutgers, they have learned this intolerance from their own professors.

Is former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg so evil that there is no room for him on Harvard's Tercentenary Theatre stage? Some students think so, arguing that because they disagree with him on important issues such as "stop-and-frisk," they feel excluded: "the negative reaction to his selection has, understandably, been intensely personal. ... [O]ur lived experiences inform our emotions."

It would be a shame if Harvard University's commencement were to pretend that the rest of the real world were all rainbows and unicorns--as though it were students' last chance to stay within the bubble. It is an even bigger shame that Harvard students have learned intolerance from Harvard professors.

In an almost self-parodying opinion piece in The Harvard Crimson, a student advocated for the end of free inquiry in the name of "academic justice." Why "put up with research that counters our goals"? She recalled a dark day for free speech--to her, a bright day--when Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences effectively fired one of its own, Subramanian Swamy, in 2011 because of an op-ed he published in India that had zero to do with his Harvard teaching.

It was far from the only example she could have used. Feelings have long trumped rationality in certain areas of Harvard Law School, including the dean's office. FIRE's Harvey Silverglate tells story after story of deans and faculty members teaching students that certain ideas--even certain areas of academic study--are simply off the table if they seem too hurtful.  

These stories include the 2005 hysteria over Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers, who was severely criticized for exploring ideas about gender in a way that made others uncomfortable. Summers himself thus became the victim of a disinvitation by the University of California in 2007. No matter what good Mr. Summers may have done in and for the world and for Harvard, narrow-minded and anti-intellectual protesters choose to harp on their one or two favorite notes of protest.

Making matters worse, Harvard's leadership on the world stage emboldens intolerant faculty elsewhere, whether the influence is direct or indirect. At Rutgers University, hundreds of faculty members have been protesting against the university's decision that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice be commencement speaker. 

Intolerant teachers like many at Harvard and Rutgers are leading students down a dark path of anti-intellectual injustice. They are producing a generation of intolerant students who welcome the use of a university's power to shut down and shut out the people and ideas they hate.

Why MOOCs Are Bound to Disappoint

This week I watched the eighth and final set of lectures for "Introduction to Sustainability," the Coursera MOOC I've been taking and chronicling over the past few weeks. This week's topic was "measuring sustainability." Seated before a camera, a photo of Utah's Arches National Park behind him, Professor Tomkin opened his lecture just as he's opened every lecture for the past seven weeks: "G'day. I'm Jonathan Tomkin from the University of Illinois," pronounced with a smile and an Australian accent.

I'd like to meet Professor Tomkin. He seems friendly and fair-minded, the kind of professor whose office door would always be open. Periodically glancing at his notes on a computer screen to his left, he explained a slew of metaphoric footprints: carbon, water, and so on. He spoke clearly, if a little less articulately than in previous lectures. I wonder if all eight weeks' lectures were filmed in one day. This week, he seemed tired and a little worn out, and, for the first time, less scripted. But he successfully led his audience through the various ways to measure the "sustainability" of particular actions, as he condensed the technical jargon we read in our open online sustainability textbook. Every few minutes, his image would give way to slides showing charts, definitions, or photos as he spoke.

As I watched the final videos, I couldn't help comparing those lectures to the close of a semester at my alma mater. I'm not too long out of college, so the exercise didn't tax my memory too badly. On the final day of class, seated at a desk, my classmates and I would listen to our professor's closing thoughts, ask a lot of questions about the final, and exchange mutual thanks and farewells in case we lacked an opportunity at the exam.

In the MOOC, not much of that was the same. I sat at one end of my living room couch with headphones in while my college-student roommate sat at the other studying for midterms. Whether any of my classmates were watching those lectures simultaneously, I don't know. Professor Tomkin didn't talk about the final--which I appreciated, since that left more time to discuss ideas rather than logistics--but he did summarize the course and express his hope that our taking the MOOC proved as worthwhile as his making it. The main difference, though, between the presentation of my college classes and this MOOC was that I couldn't reciprocate. I couldn't tell Professor Tomkin what I appreciated about his course or ask him about the times I respectfully disagreed with him. Nor could I say goodbye.

So will I miss the MOOC? In some ways, yes. I became familiar with a host of sources I might not have otherwise perused, from an open textbook to United Nations reports to TED talks. I read about depleted fish stocks in Alaska and demographic transitions in Asia. I took two multiple-choice quizzes each week--painfully complicated, presumably to make it harder to cheat--that drilled into me the significance of j-shaped and s-shaped growth curves. And I had some valuable discussions, too. After my third post here last week, in which I mentioned a discussion thread I started on fracking, I learned that discussion thread struck a nerve. That thread on fracking eventually attracted 27 posts and 182 views--making it one of the most popular threads in the course--and remained active more than a week after I started it. I heard from residents of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, the United Kingdom, and South Africa who explained their experiences, a number of interested parties who overwhelmed me with links to surveys and studies, and a "Community TA" who intervened to make sure everyone knew that I was wrong and that fracking was too environmentally dangerous to advocate.

But in other ways, I won't miss it. Typing out questions late at night to students rather than asking them in class or over lunch wasn't fun, and corresponding with strangers I've never met whose personalities I can't discern was hard. The conversation took on the tone of students pretending to be experts rivaling each other in the number of sources they could amass; I couldn't read and evaluate every study that got cited in that fracking discussion, nor could I always tell who really knew something about the subject and who was just linking anything that came up in a Google search. On the other hand, nor will I miss the frustration of starting a forum post on a topic I wanted to discuss, only to find few students interested in the same question. But my main regret is the stymied interaction between professor and student. I wish I could knock on Professor Tomkin's door. 

(This is part 4 in Rachelle De Jong's series on taking a MOOC. You can find Part 3 here, Part 2 here, and Part 1 here.) 

March 13, 2014

A First--Accused of Rape, Xavier Student Wins a Round in Federal Court

In something close to a first-of-its-kind decision (in a similar case filed against Holy Cross, the judge sided with the university; comparable cases against Vassar and St. Joe's remain pending), U.S. District Court judge Arthur Spiegel has upheld much of the lawsuit filed by former Xavier basketball player Dez Wells against the university. A gender discrimination and libel case based on an allegation of rigged procedures against Wells will go forward.

To review the allegation: after what he claimed was an incident of consensual sexual intercourse, Wells was accused of sexual assault. In a mere 27 days from accusation to judgment, the university concluded that Wells was "responsible for rape" after a process in which Wells couldn't cross-examine his accuser and was deemed a rapist based on a preponderance-of-evidence threshold. All this occurred while Cincinnati authorities determined that there was no basis to pursue criminal charges; prosecutor Joseph Deters deemed the Xavier process "fundamentally unfair."

In the Wells case, "justice" was swift--and unjust. So Wells filed a federal lawsuit, claiming gender discrimination and libel, and urging the court to overturn the result of Xavier's disciplinary tribunal, called the UCB. One advantage universities have in these sorts of proceedings is that unjustly expelled students often will shy away from filing a lawsuit, since the mere act of going to court will make public that their former school branded them a rapist. But in Wells' case, he already had been subjected to taunting behavior from opposing crowds--including, most shamefully, from Duke students, who should know something about procedural improprieties and rape allegations--because of the highly-publicized nature in which Xavier handled the claims.

Judge Spiegel's order (which you can read here) denied Wells' request to vacate the UCB decision, but solely on procedural grounds (he cited a statute-of-limitations problem). Wells had conceded as much in his final pre-order filing. Spiegel also dismissed another claim, against Xavier president Michael Graham, for technical reasons.

On the nine other claims, however, Judge Spiegel allowed the lawsuit to proceed--taking, as he must at this stage of the case, Wells' factual assertions as true. On Wells' Title IX claims, the order held that Wells' allegations plausibly showed that Xavier was "reacting against him, as a male, to demonstrate to the OCR that [university officials] would take action, as they had failed to in the past, against males accused of sexual assault." Spiegel noted that the university ignored warnings from the prosecutor that the sexual assault claim was unfounded, and deemed Wells a rapist anyway.

By far the most interesting section of Judge Spiegel's decision came in his discussion of Wells' libel claim--which is based solely on Xavier having publicly stated that the university dismissed Wells for having committed a "serious violation of the Code of Student Conduct."

Stepping outside a summary of the back-and-forth claims between Wells and Xavier, Spiegel made his opinions about Xavier's judicial process quite clearly known.

Normally, the judge observed, "judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings are entitled to an absolute privilege, so as to encourage witnesses to speak the truth." But not in this instance, as "it appears to the Court that the UCB here, a body well-equipped to adjudicate questions of cheating, may have been in over its head with relation to an alleged false accusation of sexual assault." For this reason, and given that Xavier denied Wells the right to an attorney and the right to cross-examine his accuser, it's at least plausible to credit Wells' claim that the entire process was "invalid."

A federal judge suggesting that a major university's sexual assault process might--in its very nature--be "invalid." Remarkable.

March 10, 2014

More Gender (In)Equity

Another day, another report on "gender inequities" in STEM fields. Early Academic Career Pathways in STEM: Do Gender and Family Status Matter?, just released by the American Institutes for Research, begins by summarizing the familiar litany of laments: not enough women on STEM faculties, and the few there "are more likely than men to be in lower academic ranks and work at less prestigious institutions" than men and receive an insufficient "level of recognition, career affirmation, and resources."

Ho hum. This report, however, does contain one interesting finding: "Not only overall, but regardless of marital and parental status, significantly higher proportions of women than men had secured academic versus nonacademic positions upon earning their STEM PhDs." 79% of women began their careers in academia, the Chronicle of Higher Education noted in its discussion of the new report, while only 67% of men did so.

The fact that a higher proportion of women than men with new STEM Ph.Ds are choosing academic careers, even if they are young mothers, ought to produce  some reconsideration of the vast flow of funds now devoted to analyzing and removing the various "barriers" that are thought to turn them away.

Typical of these programs is the National Science Foundation's ADVANCE program, in which NSF has invested "over $130M," whose goal "is to develop systemic approaches to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers." In addition to the ubiquitous "implicit and explicit bias,"one of the barriers -- which the ADVANCE program refers to as "external factors" -- to be overcome is the "differential effect of work and family demands" on women STEM academics. The new American Institutes for Research study, however, finds no such "differential effect" in choosing in choosing an academic career. Any disadvantage from being married and having children, it concludes, exists "for both men and women." 

Or take another NSF program, Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate  (AGEP), a program I discussed here a week or so ago that is devoted to encouraging "underrepresented minorities"(URMs) to prepare for and enter "academic STEM careers at all types of institutions of higher education," in large part so that they can provide "role models" for other URMs to choose academic STEM careers.

If women STEM graduates are already choosing academic careers disproportionately more than men, is this plethora of gender-based proselytizing programs really necessary?

Someone should do a major study -- and make no mistake: it would be a major project requiring extensive research -- of just how much money the National Science Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and other government agencies and private institutions spend each year -- not on producing more science, technology, engineering, and math but trying to socially engineer the STEM workforce. Add to that sum the amount spent on studies and reports pointing out the "inequities" that demand such spending and in not too many years the result would probably be enough to send a woman to the moon.

How Our Colleges Have Failed Us

This is an excerpt from remarks by Professor Robert Paquette, co-founder of the  Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, on winning the Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick Prize for Academic Freedom, Friday, March 7, at the CPAC convention in Maryland. The award is sponsored by the American Conservative Union Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.


At many of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the United States, departments of English no longer require of its majors the reading of Shakespeare; departments of history mandate that its majors take multiple courses in non-Western history but have either no requirement or a token requirement for American history. Faculty, administrators, and trustees have openly betrayed the finest traditions of liberal arts education by passing off the swindle known as the open curriculum, which, in truth, means the no curriculum, as something somehow worthy of a $60,000 per year price tag. 

I have lived in the belly of the beast of higher education for 33 years as a practicing historian. The animating principles of that great experiment in republican government, I tell my students, centered on the defense of limited government, voluntary exchange, private property, and civil freedom.  Does anyone in the audience tonight believe that more than a tiny fraction of students graduate from college these days with a deep and abiding appreciation of the worth of these principles?  Or is it more likely that a substantial number of students graduate able to parrot one or another fashionable and distortional discourses of oppression in which we see--and here I paraphrase from any number of  listings in college catalogues-- the intersections of class, race, gender, and sexuality. 

For the Doubting Thomases,   I say perform this simple experiment:  Go to the home page of the website of any elite college or university in the United States.   Activate the search engine by plugging in such words as social justice, sustainability, diversity, multiculturalism, sexism, racism, Marx, activist, and identities. Total the references. Now perform a similar search for, say, conservative, entrepreneur, Western civilization, Shakespeare, Judaic, Aristotle, and Christian. Get the point.

Her 'Great Job Covering Rape Culture'

A major theme of my Duke lacrosse blog has been the almost complete lack of accountability for statements and judgments on the case made by academics and journalists. Duke's trustees awarded the institution's feckless president, Richard Brodhead, another five-year term. No fewer than four members of the Group of 88--the faculty who rushed to judgment in a guilt-presuming ad--left Duke for more prestigious positions at other schools. (The most recent such announcement came a mere two weeks ago.) Imagine the fate of professors in the politically correct academy who had rushed to judgment against more favored groups on campus.

The media experience was similar. Selena Roberts, the sports columnist who drove much of the Times' guilt-presuming message, was hired away by Sports Illustrated. (Roberts, for those with short memories, compared members of the lacrosse team--"a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings"--to "drug dealers and gang members engaged in an anti-snitch campaign.") And Duff Wilson, the chief reporter for the Times' hilariously one-sided news coverage, went on to become associate editor for Reuters' global enterprise unit--and, almost incredibly, an adjunct professor at Columbia's School of Journalism, where he'll have the opportunity to influence the next generation of journalists.

But a lack of accountability for politically correct campus-related reporting is hardly confined to the Duke lacrosse case. Take, for instance, the case of Katie Baker. A few months ago, I critiqued Baker's odd Newsweek reporting about one of the earliest California legislative efforts to weaken campus due process. In her article (a hard-news piece, not an op-ed), Baker repeatedly described accusers as "sexual assault survivors" or the "victim"--suggesting that she believes that the mere filing of a complaint indicates that a rape occurred. She also passed along, without critical comment, a highly controversial Justice Department claim that college women are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the rest of the population. Skepticism about what the government says doesn't appear to be Baker's forte.

It turns out that the presentation in the Newsweek piece reflected Baker's basic beliefs about due process and sexual assault. She had come to Newsweek from Jezebel, where she labeled the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto as a "prolific woman-hating troll." (Those in the reality-based community on this issue know Taranto as author of perhaps the single best exposé of the effects of a lack of due process on campus, in his column about Auburn.) For good measure, Baker described Taranto as a "cockroach," and added--in all caps--"HE IS THE WORST."

Reflecting her commitment to open intellectual exchange, Baker announced that she was "not interested in engaging with Taranto."

Despite (or, perhaps, because of?) this record, Baker has just been hired by BuzzFeed. Her task will be "to cover criminal justice and other legal and social issues related to college campuses," and assisting another reporter in the publication's "rape culture coverage."

Due process, it seems, be damned.

March 7, 2014

A Fair and Balanced View of For-Profit Colleges - in the New York Times

When you stop and think, it's unfair to the many writers at the New York Times who produce columns that don't have an ideological edge, to tar them with the brush that is rightly applied to its overwhelmingly unfair and unbalanced editorial pages. Just because the most conspicuous part of a newspaper is terribly slanted is not a good reason to think badly of the rest of it. Guilt by association is always a bad, illogical practice.

What occasions that introduction is a recent New York Times piece by writer Eduardo Porter, "The Bane and the Boon of For-Profit Colleges." Because many liberal politicians (most notably Iowa's Tom Harkin) have had knives drawn against for-profit higher education, you might expect that the Times would take the same stance, but Porter's article is not a hit piece at all.

He begins by interviewing Marc Jerome, vice president of Monroe College, which has two campuses in the New York area. The college is indeed a business, founded 80 years ago by Mr. Jerome's grandfather. It is emphatically not a degree mill. Porter notes that more than 90 percent of recent graduates tracked by the school either continued their education or found employment. (Many well-known, non-profit colleges couldn't match that record.)

What irritates Mr. Jerome is the way for-profits have been singled out for hostile political attack. Some certainly have scammed gullible students, but not his school. "Targeting only for-profit institutions and exempting nonprofit institutions with poor outcomes is ultimately more harmful to the students the administration is seeking to protect," he states. Clumsy federal regulations meant to solve one problem (the fact that many students who enroll in for-profit colleges don't graduate and find "gainful employment") are likely to have the unintended consequence of harming students who will be lured into non-profits that will be worse for them.

Porter's piece doesn't quite articulate the crucial point, although readers might find it between the lines: There is nothing necessarily bad about for-profit education, nor anything necessarily good about non-profit education. In both, the problem lies in the way we subsidize education.

Milton Friedman often said that when people spend their own money, they're much more careful than when they spend someone else's money. That's just as true about education as anything else.

When students are mostly spending other people's money through grants or seemingly benign government loans, they are far less careful about getting good value than if they were spending their own money.  Schools offering good educational value for the dollar, like Monroe College evidently does, will do fine in a system without easy federal money.  Degree mill scams, on the other hand, will wither and die, for-profit and nonprofit alike.

Porter has written a commendably fair and balanced piece. Some Times writers do that, just as some for-profit colleges are good educational institutions.

MOOCs Can't Build Student Community

One of the biggest challenges MOOCs face is facilitating community and conversations among students. The MOOC I'm taking, "Introduction to Sustainability," has three main kinds of discussion forums where students can start conversation "threads" and respond to others: 1) one for general discussion in which people post about anything they think is relevant; 2) video lecture forums where students respond to each individual lecture; 3) forums devoted to each week, sorting comments by syllabus chronology rather than by recurring themes.

The comments range from self-interested (an advertisement for one student's start-up wifi provider) to helpful (advice to Mac users whose operating systems can mess up some comment formatting) to inquisitive (does cap and trade reduce carbon emissions?). When I started a thread asking students if they thought environmental devotion was an ethical duty that trumped economic analysis, I found that the act of writing and citing sources made my question and its responses more thoughtful than either one might have been otherwise. But I also found that the anonymity of the Internet can make it easier for some to ignore civility. The three discussion "conduct standards" in the forum instructions remind students to be polite, be sensitive, and post appropriate content. (Nothing about a student's duty to post true statements or logical arguments, incidentally.)

This week, Professor Tomkin is giving extra credit to those who post a recommendation for a particular environmental policy and who respond to other people's recommendations. Usually, though, there's no reward for commenting; to post or not to post is up to the student. This lack of incentive makes conversations worse than they might be in person, where professors' expectations and the instinct to defend one's opinions can drive students to participate. Online, everything depends on the student's own initiative. But that laissez faire policy also creates better outcomes than in most online courses, where students complete trivial commenting exercises yet have little interest in their distant classmates. In the MOOC, students comment only when they have genuine questions. Thus there are fewer discussions, but the students who participate care more about them. 

That can also mean, though, that more students are posting questions than are responding. Indeed, most of the posts have been viewed by about 30 students, according to the running counts shown next to the thread titles, and many have only one post, the original question, per thread. Several have two to five posts as a couple of students interact. The longest thread I've seen has 46, and the second longest, 30; that thread was titled "I'm finding the quizzes difficult. How about you?"

Professor Tomkin himself is beyond the students' reach, though at the end of each week we get an email from him recapping that week's content and summarizing what he considered the most interesting student exchanges.  There are notices posted on the course page reminding us that "the instructor is not able to answer emails sent directly to his account" and "all questions should be posted to one of the above forums."  Instead, a number of "community TAs" from the University of Illinois monitor the forums and post occasional responses. 

(This is Part 3 of Rachelle De Jong's series on taking a MOOC. You can find Part 2 here and Part 1 here.) 

March 6, 2014

Will Duke President Address Latest Scandal?

Cross-posted from See Thru Edu

There is some sort of poetic justice or perfect symmetry in the recent discovery that a Duke University student is paying her tuition by working as a porn star. There are certainly schools with more Bacchanalian social structures than Duke; many of its students are quite serious about their educations and have enough self-respect to avoid the worst campus excesses. But Duke's recent sex-scandal-ridden history, featuring incredibly weak administrative leadership, makes it the perfect place for yet another such humiliation.


Duke's libidinous atmosphere was first hinted at in Tom Wolfe's novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, published in 2004 (although Wolfe denied his fictitious Dupont University was based on Duke, the many parallels and coincidences were hard to ignore). It became the poster child for campus licentiousness in 2006 when a scandal erupted over a stripper who falsely accused lacrosse team members of rape. The school's response, from president Dick Brodhead to the Gang of 88 faculty members, was to vilify the accused students and paint targets on their backs, even though there was considerable evidence that the woman was lying. (Questions raised then regarding her mental instability were recently confirmed when she was convicted of murdering her boyfriend.) Brodhead eventually had to apologize for siding with the stripper and the radical faculty members, but his reputation as a cowardly follower of the worst faculty elements was cemented.


In 2008, a Duke performance by the "Sex Worker's Art Show" led to national exposure of the exceedingly raunchy and antisocial antics of a travelling troupe of strippers and prostitutes. (Due to that exposure, the Art Show no longer tours college campuses.) The performance was partially paid for with school funds under the control of the administration.


That was followed by the Karen Owens scandal in 2010. Owens was a Duke student who created a PowerPoint presentation describing in cringe-inducing detail her numerous sexual liaisons with athletes. She showed it to another student who put it on the web for public viewing, where it went viral. The derision directed toward the Duke community was so great that Brodhead again leapt into action, this time by admonishing the student body in a weakly worded email, asking them to behave better.


To make him appear even more ineffectual, Brodhead's tepid attempt at leadership coincided with a campus visit by a so-called "sex educator"--again, partially paid for by funds distributed by his administration--who encouraged young women to experiment sexually with wild abandon. The expert offered such common sense advice as suggesting that it was okay for a young woman to go home with a complete stranger from a bar as long as they could "gaze longingly into each others' eyes," and that American children should begin having sex as early as puberty, "like they do in Europe." In fact, such "educators" regularly appear on the Duke campus, with the administration offering both funding and its imprimatur.

Continue reading "Will Duke President Address Latest Scandal?" »

The Condi Rice Controversy at Rutgers

Rutgers's faculty and campus newspaper are offering one final lesson for its seniors: don't engage with opposing views.

On the recommendation of its Board of Governors, New Jersey's flagship public university has invited Condoleezza Rice to address the graduating class of 2014. Dr. Rice, of course, is both an accomplished scholar and dedicated public servant. Her life story is remarkable--born and raised in the Jim Crow South, she rose to become Stanford University's provost, President Bush's national security advisor and America's first female African-American secretary of state. By any reasonable standard, she is a fine choice for commencement speaker.

This hasn't stopped members of the Rutgers Faculty Council from adopting a resolution urging the university to rescind its invitation. For them, Rice's role in the Bush administration renders her persona non grata. Rutgers' Daily Targum agreed, proclaiming "we just don't feel comfortable having politicians as commencement speakers at all."   

Even taking the editorial board at its word, a no-politician standard is ludicrous. Would the Targum oppose President Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Elizabeth Warren (who was granted an honorary degree from Rutgers in 2011 with little protest) as possible commencement speakers because those on the right may find them "controversial"?

Note that the invitation to Condoleezza Rice has already been extended. As the C. Vann Woodward Report observed, "Once an invitation [to speak] is accepted and the event is publicly announced, there are high risks involved if a University official ... attempts by public or private persuasion to have the invitation rescinded." Why? Because it sends the message that being shielded from those with whom you may disagree is preferable to hearing what they have to say--a notion antithetical to the pursuit of truth that is the heartbeat of a university education.

Of course, Secretary Rice is unlikely to touch on politics in her address. What the Faculty Council is really saying is that pursuing certain policies can render an individual unfit to speak at Rutgers, no matter what that individual says. This is rank political discrimination at its worst.

Thankfully, Rutgers's administration is standing firm. The university is showing that when a principled administration and Board of Governors work together, they can serve as bulwarks for academic freedom. 

March 5, 2014

Why Harvey Mansfield Is Unique

This is an excerpt from an essay in The American Conservative by Patrick Deneen on the Harvard Crimson column by Harvard senior S.V. Korn,"The Doctrine of Academic Freedom" which argued for dispensing with longstanding commitments to "academic freedom" in favor of what she calls "academic justice."


What is particularly telling in Ms. Korn's article is that she identifies perhaps the one conspicuous conservative professor on the Harvard campus for censure, Harvey C. Mansfield (even as she quotes him quite severely out of context). When thinking of who should be silenced at Harvard, she can only think of one person, a single conservative octogenarian. Her call for "censorship" of conservative views on campus is at this point almost wholly unnecessary, since there are nearly no conservatives to be found at Harvard, or on most college campuses today (the University of Colorado has gone so far to create a Chair in Conservative Studies, since there was no other way to locate a conservative on that campus). Her call is actually much less controversial than it appears at first glance, since it effectively describes the de facto political and social condition on most college campuses today.

A Warrior Against the 'Rape Culture' Speaks Out

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has been under heavy fire for running James Taranto's February 10 column criticizing the double standard in campus policies that treat the man as a criminal and the woman as a victim when they have drunken sex--widely and egregiously misinterpreted as "if a drunk woman is raped, it's as much her fault as the rapist's." On February 24, presumably for balance, the Journal ran an op-ed by an anti-sexual violence activist defending the government-backed campus crusade against (broadly defined) sexual assault.  In a stroke of unfortunate irony, the activist who delivered the message was in the media spotlight a few years ago as a rape victim advocate--and, back then, she was defending a notorious rape hoax. 

The February 24 column by Monika Johnson Hostler, president of the board of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, is a fairly unremarkable recycling of talking points. Johnson Hostler asserts that acquaintance rape is a "scourge of college life," with one in five female students becoming a victim of rape or attempted rape.  (Her source is the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study--which, apart from its dubious criteria for defining sexual assault, included non-penetrative unwanted sexual contact.)  On the bright side, she seems to steer clear of the rhetoric that brands the average male college student a rapist, instead asserting that serial sexual predators who deliberately target incapacitated women "often blend into their schools and student communities with ease."  Of course, if that's the real problem of college sexual assault, it's not clear why the average college male must be terrorized with dire warnings that he could be an unwitting rapist if he fails to ascertain that his apparently willing partner is sufficiently sober (or sufficiently enthusiastic) to consent.

Rewind to 2006, when the sensational rape allegations against members of the Duke University lacrosse team were playing out in the headlines across the country--and when revelations of factual problems with the alleged victim's account of the events began to raise questions about the rush to judgment. Johnson Hostler, then executive director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, was quoted extensively in a Cybercast News Service story on April 20 lamenting the critical media coverage:

Johnson-Hostler said the woman is being "re-victimized" by the public examination of her account of the evening's events, and the scrutiny will "absolutely" discourage future rape victims from coming forward out of fear of embarrassment.

Johnson Hostler also brushed off the suggestion that three young men facing charges in the case might be facing a painful ordeal if unfairly accused:

"I think they'll be glorified if they're found innocent," she said. "The sensationalism of this case will go to another level if they're found innocent." 

Johnson-Hostler added that a not guilty verdict would "allow people to say, 'See, women do cry rape,'" a reference to the fable of the boy who cried wolf.

The same day, Johnson Hostler appeared on the Fox News show The O'Reilly Factor, where she reiterated her conviction that the woman had indeed been raped and saying that her role was "to support a woman or any victim that comes forward to say that they were sexually assaulted."  When O'Reilly asked, "Even if they weren't?", Johnson Hostler replied, "I can't say that I've come across one that wasn't." 

Certainly, a sexual assault counseling service should provide support to any person who reports an assault without investigating the veracity of the claim.  However, it's certainly a leap from such support to publicly defending the absolute truthfulness of any rape claim, denouncing the media for having the gall to investigate facts that don't match the "victim's" story, or transparently suggesting that a not guilty verdict would be bad for women.

Ironically, while Johnson Hostler also asserted at the time that a not-guilty verdict "won't tell us anything" about the players' actual innocence or guilt, the actual outcome of the case--a full dismissal of all the charges--was a strong statement of their innocence.

It is possible, in theory, that Johnson Hostler's views have evolved since 2006.  Or, more likely, this is precisely the kind of guilty-by-fiat ideology she would like to see enshrined on college campuses far beyond Duke.

One would think that taking such a spectacular drubbing in the Duke case would severely undercut Ms. Johnson Hostler's credibility as a spokeswoman for rape victims.  But evidently, being a warrior against "the rape culture" means never having to say you're sorry.

March 4, 2014

Task Force Comment

The "White House Task Force To Protect Students from Sexual Assault," an initiative that thus far has elected not to engage civil liberties groups, invited public comment on its work and the issue of the administration's response to campus sexual assault allegations. Below is the comment that I submitted:


Since the Task Force has invited public comment, I write to express my concerns with the administration's lamentable, consistent, efforts to weaken due process protections on campus. (For the record: I write as an Obama supporter in both 2008 and 2012.) The anti-due process crusade began in 2011, when the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a "Dear Colleague" letter holding, nearly four decades after its enactment, that Title IX required colleges to substantially weaken the already weak due process protections for students accused of sexual assault on campus. Now, through the rule-making effort for an update to the Violence Against Women Act, the administration is attempting to make permanent this unfortunate change.


Although a number of civil liberties groups, most prominently the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), challenged the provisions of the "Dear Colleague" letter from the start, the OCR has proven frustratingly unwilling to publicly explain why Title IX requires colleges to use a preponderance-of-evidence standard in sexual assault cases or to allow accusers to appeal not-guilty disciplinary finding. Nor has the OCR even remotely defended its proposition that Title IX justifies the agency's strong suggestion that colleges forbid accused students from cross-examining their accusers, despite the obvious threat to due process caused by such a policy.


Based on statements and policies adopted by defenders of OCR, however, there appear to be two purported justifications for the OCR's action. The first is procedural: that civil actions represent the most appropriate analogy for campus sexual assault hearings, and therefore the civil standard of preponderance-of-evidence is appropriate.


This line of argument misunderstands the basics of most college disciplinary processes. As a statement from FIRE recently explained, "those facing civil penalties in real courts under the preponderance standard are afforded many fundamental protections that are typically absent from campus tribunals, including impartial judges, unbiased juries of one's peers, representation by counsel, mandatory 'discovery' processes to ensure that all parties have access to relevant information, restrictions on unreliable evidence like hearsay or prior bad acts, and sworn testimony under penalty of perjury." Tellingly, while the OCR has championed the preponderance-of-evidence threshold for students accused of sexual assault, the agency has declined to demand that universities guarantee any of the above procedures for accused students.


The civil-suit comparison also misunderstands the current effects of expulsion. Thirty or forty years ago, in an era in which many people still blamed the victim for sexual assault, college rapists could and often did flourish later in life. (Recall the experience of David Wu, whose college girlfriend accused him of attempted sexual assault in 1976, and who was disciplined by Stanford, but who nonetheless went on to be elected to Congress from Oregon.) But in the current environment, the effect of a guilty finding extends well beyond simply needing to find another school. Few colleges, for entirely understandable reasons, will accept as transfer students an undergraduate who has been deemed a rapist by his previous institution. Even those accused students who manage to graduate college will find jobs that require background checks (a common phenomenon in our security-conscious times) foreclosed to them in the future.


For actual rapists, of course, this fate is a highly insufficient punishment, since even if they're expelled from school and lose future employment opportunities, they won't go to jail. But for the falsely accused (and convicted), an incorrect disciplinary judgment will have a shattering, lifelong effect. That fate applies even to those convicted for offenses that campuses describe as sexual assault but that few people off campus would recognize as such. At Occidental, for instance, affirmative consent can sometimes not be a defense against a rape charge, since the college holds that in sexual intercourse, "'Yes' may not always mean, 'Yes.'" Or take Yale, whose definition of intimate partner violence includes "economic abuse" between roommates. Yet on their transcripts, students convicted under such standards would nonetheless be branded as rapists.


If weakening due process made it more likely that college disciplinary tribunals would reach the truth, perhaps the change would make sense. But the OCR has presented no evidence that such an outcome is related to adjudicating cases by a preponderance-of-evidence standard.


The OCR's second rationale appears to revolve around an unusual definition of safety--a hunch that actual victims will be more likely to report allegations of sexual assault to campus authorities if they believe it more likely that the proceeding will end in a guilty finding. While it's conventional wisdom that victims will be more likely to report sexual assault cases if they are treated with respect by authorities and if they are confident that authorities will properly investigate their claims, I'm not aware of any study that suggests victims calculate the odds of success at trial before reporting a crime. And even if such a study existed, lowering the burden of proof to encourage more reporting of what remains a criminal offense is repugnant to American traditions.


In the event, it's hard to credit the OCR with an ostensible commitment to safety, given the agency's recent settlement with SUNY. Common sense would indicate that the best way to reduce sexual assault on campuses is to tighten working relationships between local law enforcement and the campus community. Such an approach wouldprovide positive assurance to victims (that their accusation will be considered seriously) without in any way undermining due process. Hopefully, more victims of crime on campus would feel comfortable enough to file police reports--ensuring that trained law enforcement officers, as opposed to untrained academic administrators, actually investigate sexual assault cases. Since campus disciplinary panels lack subpoena power, can't override HIPAA restrictions to analyze the medical evidence that's often critical to sexual assault cases, and do not generally employ trained law enforcement officers, they are almost singularly ill-equipped to conduct investigations of what remains a criminal offense.

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February 28, 2014

Asian-Americans Decide to Protect 209

For years, efforts have been made, legal and illegal, to get around the provisions of California's Prop 209. That's the 1996 measure that prevents consideration of gender, race or ethnicity in public education, employment or contracting. But for many weeks, it has seemed likely that the overwhelmingly Democratic California legislature would vote to exempt education from the law. That would open the door to race, ethnic or gender quotas, which would reduce the high student percentage of Asians  (and women too, perhaps) at UCLA and Berkeley, the two flagship state universities. Now a movement is under way by the 80-20 National Asian American PAC, to persuade Asian-American state legislators to change their votes on the new measure, known as SCA 5. Yesterday, the PAC noted that one assemblyman will not vote for SCA 5 with others expected to follow. "It has been reliably leaked" with others to follow. The PAC site said the State senate will not proceed without more hearings, presumably because of the PAC's opposition. "So the dam has been broken," said the PAC.

Why Minorities-Only Help Programs Seem Wrong

A Chronicle of Higher Education article this week was headlined "Minority Male Students Face Challenge to Achieve at Community Colleges," and it discussed various successes and failures in that eponymous arena. Particularly intriguing was this passage:  

And instead of offering small, "boutique" programs for minority students that attract just a few dozen students, [one expert] said, colleges should extend programs like mandatory study-skills classes, learning communities, and tutoring to all students. Minority students will benefit disproportionately from such strategies, she said, but they won't feel embarrassed by participating or feel that they're being singled out as "at risk."

I thought of this in light of President Obama's announcement yesterday of his new "My Brother's Keeper" program, which is racially exclusive and aimed at the same "at risk" young men of color. The White House, by the way, uses "of color" to include Hispanics (which is not a nonracial group) and to exclude Asians (which is), but that's a story for another day.

Anyway, and putting aside the constitutional and Civil Rights Act problems of the president's new program, what kind of a message is being sent when one or two racial/ethnic groups are singled out for special treatment because they are so likely to screw up?  Or should it be assumed instead that they are being singled out because The System is so stacked against them?

I'm not sure which message is worse.  How difficult would it have been for the president to have designed the new program so that it was open to at-risk youth of all colors -- the way even the Chronicle of Higher Education, for Pete's sake, apparently acknowledges makes more sense?

Business Leaders Doubt Higher-Ed's Value

Are American colleges really the best in the world? One group that really matters--the business leaders who want to hire college graduates--seem skeptical.

A recent poll conducted by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation found that while 37 percent of business leaders believed that the United States has the best system of higher-education, a sizable 32 precent disagreed. More significantly, one-third of the survey's participants disagreed with the statement that American higher-education provided students with "the skills and competences that my business needs."

In contrast, university adminstrators are far more optimistic. When Inside Higher Ed asked administrators whether their institutions succeed at "preparing students for the world of work," 55 percent said that their schools were "very effective" and 40 percent said they were "somewhat effective." Unfortunately for students, it's not the opinion of their deans and provosts that matters, but that of the managers who make hiring decisions.

Fortunately, there's a silver lining--somewhat. The Gallup poll shows that the despite their misgivings, business leaders will continue to hire American graduates. 57 percent "strongly disagree" that they should hire foreign-born workers due the failings of American higher education. Only 4 percent said they "strongly agree" that they should. This statistic will reassure the higher-education establishment; however, if the doubts of business leaders continue to grow, it's hard to imagine  them hiring under-prepared Americans forever.

February 27, 2014

I Go Deeper into the MOOC

Last week, in the first post of a series chronicling my experiences in the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign's MOOC "Introduction to Sustainability," I noted the Darwinian structure of the course. Now more than half-way through the class, I tweak that statement slightly. Survival of the fittest isn't the right metaphor to describe the winnowing of MOOC students. It's more like survival of the most determined.

The MOOC isn't hard. Each week, I watch approximately 45 minutes of video lectures broken into 5- or 10- (sometimes 15-) minute segments, each beginning with the reintroduction of Prof. Jonathan Tomkin and ending with an ad for the UI's digital media program. The lecture would flow much better in intact segments, but the short lengths are intended to appeal to those with short attention spans or crunched schedules. I've found that I spend about 1.5 minutes for every 1 minute of footage, adding extra time to pause and take notes--a task that's harder when the lectures are scripted to make every word count.

From there I read 1-3 assignments, ranging from Economist articles to UN population studies to chapters from Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation, the open online textbook that Tomkin helped compile and write. (I admit that I'm biased against the textbook:  It cites charts from Wikipedia pages.) This takes about 3-5 hours, depending on the texts. Initially I completed the reading before watching the lectures, expecting the lectures to expound upon the texts and challenge me to consider them in a new light. Two weeks' confusion corrected that mistake. For the most part, the lectures introduce the readings, summarizing what Professor Tomkin deems most important and hinting at what he intends to quiz everyone on. If I want to analyze the texts, or the lecture, for that matter, I must do it myself, or head to the discussion boards.

The online discussions vary. Sometimes they're lively, but I haven't had great luck getting any conversations started. Luck seems to be a relevant factor: much depends on who else happens to be perusing the discussions and whether they were already wondering the question you've asked and are inclined to give your comment a thumbs-up. The most "liked" comments get the most attention. (More on the topic of communication and student interaction next week.)

At the end of each week's content, I take two quizzes. Knowing there's no way to enforce a ban on notes, Prof. Tomkin often asks minutely specific questions and directs students to return to the text and look up the answers. Often, he assigns another 1-3 readings within quiz questions taken from these extra texts. This makes the quizzes surprisingly (and painfully) long--often taking double the time of the lectures.

The toughest part is being diligent when there are no classmates present, the professor is out of contact, and the grades don't count.

(This is Part 2 of Rachelle De Jong's series on taking a MOOC. You can find Part 1 here.) 

Good News From Modesto Junior College

Free speech has finally returned to Modesto Junior College. One can only hope that other schools will follow suit.

Last September, MJC students Robert Van Tuinen and Megan Rainwater attempted to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution outside MJC's student center. It was Constitution Day, after all, and Van Tuinen and Rainwater hoped to educate their fellow students. Within ten minutes, however, campus police ordered them to stop, since "students were prohibited from distributing materials without prior permission." When Van Tuinen balked, an MJC administrator told him that he had to register for his event days in advance and that his event could only take place in a defined "free speech area."

As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's Peter Bonilla wrote in a letter to MJC's administration, such a policy was clearly unconstitutional. Both case law and the California Education Code say that colleges cannot require students to either request permission to distribute printed material or confine free speech to "single small area of campus." MJC failed to address FIRE's concerns, and it took a lawsuit from a D.C. law firm and FIRE to convince MJC to end its unconstitutional policies. The college settled on Monday.

Thanks to FIRE's efforts, MJC students can now exercise their First Amendment rights in "areas generally available to students and the community," including "grassy areas, walkways, and other similar common areas." This is certainly great news for defenders of free speech. However, it's sad that MJC's commitment to free expression stems from a fear of financial loss--not principle. 

February 25, 2014

Major, and Welcome, Setback for CUNY Faculty Union

In a major victory for academic quality, CUNY students' ability to complete their degrees in a timely fashion, and basic common sense, New York Supreme Court judge Anil Singh has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the CUNY faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), seeking to eliminate the Pathways curricular initiative. (I wrote about the Pathways fight previously.) Even more important, Judge Singh's decision affirmed the principle of shared governance, rejecting the PSC's demand that the faculty be the sole source of curricular authority at CUNY.

A quick background: Pathways was the final initiative of former chancellor Matthew Goldstein. Long an advocate of making CUNY more of an integrated university, Goldstein acted after widespread student complaints with intra-CUNY transfers, in which CUNY students from one CUNY college found their general education credits rejected by another CUNY school, forcing them to re-take introductory courses. Goldstein also wanted to find ways to limit the overall credits CUNY schools devoted to gen-ed classes (which are often taught by adjuncts) to allow students to take more upper-division electives, including from topics outside their major that might nonetheless interest them intellectually.

Given that the union--whose leadership is trapped in the intellectual climate of late 1960s Cornell or Columbia--opposed every major proposal by Goldstein to improve quality at CUNY, it came as little surprise that the PSC resisted Pathways as well. PSC campus officers pressured faculty not to cooperate with the initiative, and the union even rigged a plebiscite with ballots that presented only the union's arguments. Even then, almost 40 percent of the faculty abstained from the vote; and CUNY-wide faculty committees designed a new curriculum, which the trustees then ratified.

PSC president Barbara Bowen wasn't done, however; the union filed a lawsuit claiming that adoption of Pathways by the Trustees violated the CUNY Bylaws, since the faculty has sole power over curriculum at CUNY. The PSC reached this peculiar argument even though the Bylaws explicitly state that the Chancellor has the power "to initiate, plan, develop and implement institutional strategy and policy on all educational and administrative issues affecting the university, including to prepare a comprehensive overall academic plan for the university, subject to the board's approval."

While the Bylaws did not sustain the union's claim that the faculty possesses sole authority on curricular matters, neither did New York State law. To the contrary: the state's education law gives the Trustees, not the faculty, "control of the educational work of the city university"--a power that rests "solely" with the Board of Trustees. Ironically, Judge Singh observed, the major New York case cited by the union "firmly rejected" the PSC's erroneous interpretation of the Trustees' power.

Since the union had neither the Bylaws nor state law on its side, Judge Singh described the PSC's case as "devoid of merit."

Even if the PSC's case had merit--which, to reiterate, Judge Singh said it didn't--poor lawyering eliminated any chance the union had of victory. Given the plain wording of the bylaws, the PSC had no chance of prevailing on that aspect of its claim. But the union also alleged that passage of Pathways violated a 1997 settlement between CUNY and the union on an unrelated issue. Alas, as Judge Singh noted, to have effectively raised that claim, the PSC would have needed to have filed a lawsuit within four months of Pathways' passage by the Board. Instead, for reasons the union has never explained, the PSC waited nine months to file its lawsuit. Whether there will be any accountability for what amounts to a massive waste of the faculty's dues moneys seems doubtful.

The union has created a special website devoted to Pathways. As of the time of publication, that website contained no mention of Judge Singh's decision.

February 24, 2014

More Disturbing News from California

An update regarding the issue of campus due process and sexual assault allegations in California:

FIRE has a powerful statement condemning SB 967, the California bill designed to codify (and go beyond) the anti-due process approach of the OCR's "Dear Colleague" letter. FIRE correctly observes that while campus administrators "are neither qualified nor equipped to respond properly to sexual assault allegations," the California legislature seems intent on entrusting "them with still greater responsibility. Injustice will inevitably be the result."

The statement calls into question the sponsors' impartiality, noting that the bill repeatedly uses the term "victim," as if the mere leveling of a sexual assault allegation makes someone a victim. FIRE also notes that while SB 967 purports to mandate adjudication of campus sexual assault claims according to the standard of civil litigation, unlike accused students on campus, civil trials feature "impartial judges, unbiased juries of one's peers, representation by counsel, mandatory 'discovery' processes to ensure that all parties have access to relevant information, restrictions on unreliable evidence like hearsay or prior bad acts, and sworn testimony under penalty of perjury." Finally, FIRE observes the impossibility of enforcing the bill's "affirmative consent" standard.

Hans Bader echoes these sentiments in a letter to the Sacramento Bee, observing that the bill's allowance of anonymous sexual assault complaints would effectively deny accused students all right to cross-examine their accuser.

The sponsors of the bill, however, have shown no signs of backing down--though they're struggling to offer a consistent argument. The measure's chief sponsor in the California Senate, Kevin de León, recently expressed his pleasure that there was now "more attention on this pressing issue - Sexual assault is 'a crime; it's a simple, straightforward crime.'"

Yet his bill treats sexual assault as anything but a "a simple, straightforward crime." It mandates conviction through a preponderance of evidence standard--unlike all other crimes in California. It defines sexual assault on campus (the "affirmative consent" standard) differently from the state's general sexual assault statute, which contains no such provision. It remains silent on whether students accused of sexual assault on campus have a right to an attorney--a right that would be constitutionally required if campus sexual assault were, in fact, "a simple, straightforward crime."

According to one of the bill's co-sponsors, however, none of this is problematic: Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson recently approvingly tweeted an article from Ms. that claimed SB 967 will make California a "national leader" on how state governments should legislate on campus sexual assault claims.

To date, no member of the California legislature has expressed opposition to SB 967.

February 21, 2014

Academic Justice and Intellectual Thuggery

By now, Ms. Sandra Y. L. Korn must be wondering whether she picked her words wisely.  On Monday, February 17, Ms. Korn, a Harvard senior, published an essay in The Harvard Crimson, titled "The Doctrine of Academic Freedom," with the explosive sub-head, "Let's give up on academic freedom in favor of justice." 

The Crimson has now posted hundreds of comments, almost all of them disapproving.  And Ms. Korn's article has attracted attention well beyond the quad, as in Bill Zeiser's article in The American Spectator.  There doesn't seem to be much need to add to the growing string of put-downs.  Refutation, however, is another matter. 

Korn's argument is simply summarized:  The freedom of faculty members to pursue research and to teach has some value, but these activities always and everywhere reflect political considerations.  A university community rightly has its own political values and when a faculty member violates them, he should be silenced.  "Academic justice" is more important than academic freedom. 

Korn unabashedly upholds the priority of opposing "racism, sexism, and heterosexism" as campus priorities and cannot imagine any valid reason for compromising this "rigorous standard" for anything as porous as "academic freedom."  She cites various examples of opinions that she believes the Harvard community could and should appropriately quash.  These include the late Harvard psychology professor Richard J. Herrnstein's views on the heritability of I.Q. and the ("hateful") views of an Indian scholar about Muslims in India.  Professor Harvey Mansfield may have "the legal right" to publish statements about "ladylike modesty," but Ms. Korn would "happily organize with other feminists on campus to stop him from publishing further sexist commentary under the authority of a Harvard faculty position."  She recommends that those who favor an academic boycott of Israel bypass academic freedom objections and focus on academic justice instead.  

Continue reading "Academic Justice and Intellectual Thuggery" »

February 19, 2014

Let's Just Eliminate Academic Freedom

On Monday, a columnist at the Harvard Crimson came out against academic freedom, because it often  interferes with "something I think much more important: academic justice." Her name is Sandra Y.L Korn, class of 2014, and she is unwilling to tolerate research that threatens her political goals. She writes: "If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of "academic freedom?" Indeed, why should any university allow any research it disagrees with politically? As one Crimson commenter pointed out, Korn's anti-intellectual notion could be put in the language of a conservative religious college: "If our university community opposes evolutionism, why should we put up with research that counters creationism simply in the name of "academic freedom?"

The essay picks up two familiar but still minor threads of thought on the modern campus: that left activism is more important than actual study and research, and that censorship will be justified to bat away incorrect intellectual work.  Since Korn believes she is living in "a campus environment dominated by rape culture--a culture that systematically legitimizes and excuses sexual violence," that would mean working to stop research that might challenge the idea that Harvard legitimizes rape. So much research to eliminate. So little time.

February 18, 2014

A Deceptive California Bill on Campus Rape

In a recent string of tweets, Lindsay Rosenthal, formerly of the Center for American Progress and now at the Ms. Foundation for Women, compared concerns about insufficient due process protections on college campuses to the heavily partisan efforts to impose increased voter restrictions or to level fact-free allegations of "anchor babies"--a comparison, she added, that only those embedded in "privilege" could fail to recognize. When I pointed out to her that--quite unlike "anchor babies"--a wave of federal lawsuits had been filed alleging violation of due process, including from plaintiffs whose background in no way indicated privilege, Rosenthal announced that she would "no longer consent" to continuing the conversation.

Rosenthal's arguments might have been dismissed as the rant of a thin-skinned extremist--but for a newly-introduced bill in the California state assemblyIntroduced by Democratic senators Kevin de Leόn and Hannah-Beth Jackson and Democratic assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, and co-sponsored by Democratic senators Jim Beall, Noreen Evans, Cathleen Galgiani, Fran Pavley and Norma Torres; and Democratic Assembly members Lorena Gonzalez and Das Williams. The measure, called SB 967, seeks to mandate a vision of due process even more hostile than the OCR's "Dear Colleague" letter by linking due process matters to uncontroversial proposals that virtually colleges already have adopted in one form or another.

It's these, uncontroversial, elements that led Fresno Bee to hail SB 967 on the grounds that it would force colleges to "put rape victims first." It contains such provisions as requiring campus governing boards to cooperate with "on-campus and community-based organizations to make services available to [alleged] victims." It holds that consent can never occur when an accuser is asleep or mentally or physically incapacitated. (Does any jurisdiction, anywhere in the country, hold otherwise?) The bill even contains one unequivocally positive element, requiring California's public colleges to develop a protocol for "medical forensic examinations and coordination with the forensic examiner." Few, if any, colleges even mention an expectation that an accuser receive a medical examination as part of her case.

Yet whatever benefit might come from the medical examination provision is more than overcome by SB 967's hostility to due process. The measure seeks to codify as California law the terms of the OCR's "Dear Colleague" letter, requiring all California public colleges to use the preponderance-of-evidence threshold in branding a student a rapist. (Imagine the outcry from many traditionally Democratic constituencies if these same legislators proposed an across-the-board reduction in the standard of guilt to 50.01 percent.) Following the Yale pattern, SB 967 also seeks to order all California public colleges and universities to establish procedures "procedures for anonymous reporting of sexual assault"--seemingly making sexual assault the only violent crime that California permits the accuser to have the shield of anonymity.

Continue reading "A Deceptive California Bill on Campus Rape" »

The MOOC Chronicles, Part 1:
Are MOOCs Sustainable?

Does the college classroom have a "carrying capacity"?

The term refers to the theoretical maximum population that a particular environment can nourish (or carry) for an extended period.  I've been learning about it in "Introduction to Sustainability," an eight-week MOOC offered on Coursera by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

I'm taking the MOOC both because I'm interested in the sustainability dogma on college campuses, and because I'd like to know if higher education can adapt to a digital environment as fluidly as humans adapted to the Ice Age. Can the classroom intellectually nourish masses of students? What are the limiting structures that have kept classrooms small, intimate, and discussion based--and are those structures important? Over the next several weeks, as I work through the MOOC, I'll write a series of short articles chronicling what I find. 

My thoughts so far: The MOOC is semi-Darwinian--not just in content, but in form. The completion rate for "Introduction to Sustainability" remains to be seen, but it's clear the course offers none of the retention-conducive amenities of a brick and mortar institution with live, accessible advisors and professors. If I quit the course now, nobody but Coursera's automated email system that sends weekly reminder emails would know or care. We shouldn't be surprised when MOOCs dwindle to fractions of their original enrollments. 

But if the MOOC weeds out the least-committed students, it also admits greater numbers. I don't mean underprivileged or nontraditional students, who are significantly underrepresented in surveys of MOOC users. When perusing the introductory get-to-know-each-other forums (my first assignment for this MOOC), I randomly selected a handful of my thousands of classmates and found only one traditional college student, a young woman who was studying "social work and community organizing" at a private college in Wisconsin. I did see a number of working professionals, though, including a New York businessman starting a sustainability-inspired restaurant, a denizen of DC prepping for grad school, and a man from Bangalore, India, hoping to improve his prospects of getting promoted.

Besides the working professionals, my own post on the introductory forum highlights another subgroup that MOOCs reach: latecomers. I told my classmates I was starting the course three weeks late and playing catch-up, something I probably couldn't have done in a regular class. 

But here it mattered little whether I started late or on time. Past (but not future) MOOC lectures and quizzes are available online at the student's convenience. Perhaps they're too convenient; I could have taken all my quizzes without watching the lectures or reading any assignments, if I'd wanted to.

The only inconvenience of taking the MOOC at my own pace? I missed a few early discussion forum threads, the opportunity to join Coursera Signature Track (whereby I could pay Coursera toverify my identity and award me a "verified certificate" if I passed the course), and the deadlines to receive credit for the first few quizzes (which I took anyways). To catch up with the others, I could watch fifteen-minute segments of lectures over dinner and read my assignments online late at night.



Published by the Manhattan Institute
The Manhattan Insitute's Center for the American University.