‘Diversity’ at Harvard: 96% of Profs’ Donations Go to Dems

The Crimson published a lengthy study last week analyzing the contribution patterns of Harvard professors in recent campaigns (2011-2014). The tally: 96 percent of the donations from the arts and sciences faculty went to Democrats. These results shouldn’t come as much surprise at this stage, but they’re a reminder of just how limited the ideological perspective is on the nation’s campuses.

As always, a disclaimer is needed when discussing the relationship between political affiliations and the campus atmosphere. There isn’t necessarily any linkage between the two; Democrats can be critics of the campus status quo (I’m, obviously, an example of this), and Republicans can support the current climate. A margin of 60-40 or even 70-30 in one direction or the other would deserve little comment. But a breakdown of 96-4 has to raise some questions. Even Harvard dean Michael Smith remarked, “I am amazed at how high that number is.” The dean gave no indication, however, that the high number would trigger any changes in hiring patterns.

Four broader points emerge from the Crimson’s figures. First, and perhaps most important, the data exposes the hypocrisy of many “diversity” advocates, who demand certain types of diversity (but never intellectual or most types of pedagogical diversity) allegedly to ensure that students encounter a wide array of perspectives on campus. Here’s Lawrence Bobo, chair of the African-American Studies Department, minimizing the significance of the findings: “I think that this is an institution that really chafes against simplistic adherence to one point of view or approach . . . It is one of the great virtues of the University.”

Imagine if instead of a 96-4 split in favor of Democratic donations, the Crimson had revealed a 96-4 split in terms of white faculty members. Does anyone believe that Prof. Bobo would have dismissed these figures on grounds that Harvard “is an institution that really chafes against simplistic adherence to one point of view or approach”?

Second, the figures should (but almost certainly won’t) prompt Dean Smith to more closely examine hiring patterns, to ensure that groupthink isn’t excluding certain pedagogical perspectives. Again, there’s a difference between what might be expected from a slight imbalance and a ratio in some departments of 25- or 30-to-1. To take examples from history: it’s certainly possible that a professor whose specializes in, say, African-American women’s history will be a Republican, and a military history expert will be a Democrat. But all other thing being equal, neither outcome (especially the first) is all that likely. To what extent, then, does the 96-4 split indicate that Harvard is excluding certain types of more “traditional” pedagogical approaches from its hiring patterns, or that groupthink has caused the institution to seek to replicate existing professors in new hires?

Recall the sort of answers that asking that question often reveals. For instance, during the Mark Moyar case, it was revealed that the University of Iowa’s History Department had more than 20 registered Democrats and zero registered Republicans. (Moyar’s work, which defended the U.S. approach in Vietnam, made clear his conservative bent.) The then-chairman dismissed the relevance, by arguing that two-thirds of the registered voters in the university’s home county were Democrats—as if 67 percent and 100 percent were the same, and as if the university only recruited from Johnson County, Iowa.

Third, the Crimson data shows that many Harvard science professors made large donations to Democrats, and there appears to have been scant difference between the donation patterns of science professors and those of their colleagues in the humanities. I suspect that even a decade ago, these figures would have been much more balanced. But in the past ten years, political culture has featured two highly-charged debates over science issues—the teaching of intelligent design; and the reliability of climate change science. The Republicans’ position on the latter in particular has served the political interests of the party well, but it seems to have come with a cost on campus.

The science figures, however, are all the more striking when compared to the donation patterns of faculty at the Harvard Education School, one of the leading such institutions in the country. As Jon Chait has frequently observed, a tense relationship exists between teachers’ unions and the Obama administration’s education reform efforts; the unions seem eager for a return to Clinton-style deference to their wishes. And yet 100 percent—100 percent—of the Ed faculty who donated did so to Democrats.

That figure, of course, recalls the efforts of FIRE and ACTA against NCATE’s “dispositions” standards, in which the accrediting agency sought to require all Ed schools to certify that prospective public school teachers had a “disposition” to promote social justice. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out whether a faculty that gives 100 percent of its donations to a single party will take an ideologically balanced approach to such a politically charged concept.

A Surprising List of Top Ten Colleges

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology?  SUNY Maritime College?

Yes. They are among the top ten “value-added” U.S. colleges  likely to increase a student’s  lifetime earnings, according  to a study, “Beyond College Rankings,” by Brookings Institution Fellow Jonathan Rothwell.

The highest ranking among 4-year colleges are: 1) California Institute of Technology, 2) Colgate, 3) M.I.T., 4) Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, 5) Carleton, 6) Washington and Lee, 7) SUNY Maritime,  8) Clarkson, 9) Manhattan College, 10 ) Stanford.

Brookings states: “Rothwell measures the expected success of alumni from each school based on factors like academic performance, student body demographics, and the types of courses offered at each school. He then compares these measures against the actual performance of graduates from each school based on mid-career earnings levels, the value of job skills, and ability to repay student loans.”

Hamstringing Online Colleges

Federal rules for state authorization of online college teaching raise some odd questions. Why is Massachusetts charging $40,000 for an online college to hire a work-from-home professor living on the Vermont-Massachusetts border? Why does North Carolina demand a $37,000 fee before allowing administrators with a distance learning university to meet prospective students face to face? A Norwich University administrator offers a tour of this regulatory jungle gym of federal higher education law, commenting bluntly, “I wish my job didn’t exist.”

In 2010, the Department of Education expanded previous guidelines that required states to “authorize” the colleges and universities operating within their borders, widening the reach to include online colleges that served state residents.  Online colleges and universities that failed to secure “authorization” from each of the states in which students used their materials were threatened with losing the ability to issue federal financial aid to their students.  The regulations differ state by state. Some require minor fees—$100 in Wyoming—and accreditation by one of the accrediting agencies. Others demand regional accreditation and stiff protectionist fees.

The goal of these regulations, according to Fred Sellers, a senior policy analyst at the U.S. Department of Education at the time, was to protect students from fraudulent colleges and to provide them with leverage points to hold online schools accountable. Students studying in Wisconsin using material produced by an institution headquartered in Colorado, for instance, would be empowered with a state agent who could pressure the institution to fulfill its obligations. Colleges that neglected or misled their students would face real damages—the inability to offer federal aid and to sell their courses to students in other states.

Transparency and accountability are laudable goals, especially for online institutions prone to facelessness and, at times, implicated in fraudulent activity.  But transparency needn’t come at such exorbitant costs. Accountability needn’t pressure colleges to lay off staff in fee-heavy locales and redirect significant funds from professors to political agencies. Fees should cover the costs of reasonable regulatory enforcement, but not serve as government money-makers. The federal government should roll back its mandate on state authorization, letting each state determine if separate authorization is necessary. States crafting their policies should consider regulatory processes with lower barriers to entry and stiffer penalties for infractions, preserving online colleges’ incentive to treat students fairly but enabling colleges to expand to markets where users welcome them.

SHAKESPEARE LOSING OUT AMONG ENGLISH MAJORS

A new ACTA survey, “The Unkindest Cut,”  shows that’s among 52 top American colleges and universities, only four require their English majors to take even one course in Shakespeare. Of course, much of this is the Bard’s own fault. He is paying the price for being a dead white male at a time when the modern campus study of English runs to high interest in Samoan sword play and 17th century transgender pottery. ACTA is the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and the four out-of-step campuses that still think a Shakespeare course should be of interest to those majoring in English are Harvard, U. Cal. Berkeley, Wellesley and the Naval Academy. ACTA reports: “When colleges do offer courses on Shakespeare, they are often just one of many choices. The “Early Literature to 1660” requirement at the University of Pennsylvania can be fulfilled with ‘Gender, Sexuality and Literature: Our Cyborgs, Our Selves.’ Other institutions require literature students to study ‘race, gender, sexuality, or ethnicity’ and ‘ethnic or non-Western literature,’ but not Shakespeare.”

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College Students Now–the Good and the Bad

First, the good news:  My undergraduate students here at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, are quite literate, contrary to all the bad press and fears. Every week I give them a 20-minute writing assignment in class, the sole preparation for which is having done the week’s homework.  Turns out they write pretty well; arguably, in some cases, better than with at-home papers, which may cause them more stress.  This despite the fact that whenever I enter the room at the beginning of class, most of them are on their iPhones or otherwise engaged with electronic devices.

Now the bad news: For about the past week I’ve been taking note of the announcements that come to me via email from the university.  These relate predominantly to events in my particular areas of interest : Latin American studies;  languages and literatures; women’s studies – now renamed, like most such programs throughout the country,  Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, which at least makes their focus clear, in case anyone was wondering.  But I also receive occasional emails about  university-wide special events, as well as Five-College events (since UMass Amherst is part of the Five College Consortium), though these latter are often related to the above fields.

Below is a listing of the typical items that appeared in my email in the past week or so –representative of the majority of announcements I receive week after week.

  1. The Chancellor of UMass Amherst announces that the newly-created post of Assistant Provost for Diversity has been filled.
  2. The Center for Latin America, Caribbean and Latino Studies announces a conference later this month on the “Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Nation in Colombia, Brazil and Cuba.”  (I received seven separate announcements of this event over the past couple of days)
  3. A Five College Multicultural Theater Conference is taking place, which will address issues of representation, diversity and inclusion in multicultural theater today.
  4. The Five College Women’s Studies Research Center announces a faculty seminar and public talk on Race and Science, offered by a visiting professor of English.
  5. The Center for Public Policy and Administration in conjunction with the Interdisciplinary Studies Institute and a few other departments at UMass are sponsoring a panel discussion by experts from the non-Western Muslim world about the line between free speech and hate speech.  The event is called “Charlie Hebdo Attacks: Is Your Free Speech My Hate Speech?”
  6. The CLACLS (see # 2 above) is sponsoring a lecture and workshop on “The Politics of Cultura [sic] in a Minority Latino/a [sic] Community: What We Can Learn from Public Pedagogies of Food, Fun, and Fiestas,” as part of their year-long series “Re-imagining Latin@[sic] Studies in Higher Education.”
  7.  A talk by a feminist and reproductive rights activist,  called “Abortion in our hands: Clandestine Abortion Doulas’s Network in Argentina” – sponsored by WGSS, CLACLS, Social Thought and Political Economy (these at UMass), and the Third World Studies Program at Hampshire College
  8. The Center for Teaching & Faculty Development announces two remaining events in its Diversity & Teaching Series:  “Teaching Difference: A Faculty Panel,” and “Strategies to Engage And Sustain the Diverse Classroom”
  9. Finally – surprise! — Charles Krauthammer will be giving a talk here in about ten days, sponsored by the UMass College Republicans.

What rarely crosses my path are announcements designed to actually help students with their academic work as final exams/papers approach, or to appeal to their imagination and intellect in areas not related to the overarching agenda of “social justice” and “diversity.”  There are, however, many end-of- semester events designed for one or another identity group.  I’ve been noticing that these don’t clarify if they’re open to the public, or only to the particular identities being celebrated.

As for the actual work going on in many humanities courses, despite my pleasure in noting that many of my students can write decently, I also know that our academic standards have declined in terms of what is expected and demanded of our students (a problem that begins well before they arrive at the university, as evidenced by the striking fragility of their general level of knowledge).  Do literature courses these days assign students eight or so novels to read over the semester, as we certainly used to do?  My own experience is that students do watch films (an ever greater part of our curricula), yes, but are less likely to do assigned readings, though these rarely amount to more than perhaps a few dozen pages per week.

The university provides us with an online resource, Moodle, on which we can place assignments, readings, create discussion groups, post grades, and so on. It also allows faculty to see which students are actually accessing the assigned materials. Of course, we can’t tell how much time they actually spend on the materials, only the date and time that they have clicked on them.  I tell my students that their professors can do this, so that they can be aware of the far greater surveillance they may be subjected to, compared to the past. Despite this, some of them choose to skip much of the material for my course.  If I assign several short readings, some students will only bother with one or two of them. This is how I know they at least initially access and perhaps actually watch films. The difference between their activities reports on readings versus on films is marked.

The faculty groans and moans about the ever-decreasing level of work we can realistically expect of our students; it’s a persistent theme, but we more or less conform.  It seems impossible not to.   I can’t comment on what’s going on in non-humanities courses, where I do not have first-hand experience.

Furthermore, it is a fact that at UMass our semesters have become shorter and shorter (right now we’re at 13 weeks of actual instruction per semester).  And – another sign of the times — many General Education courses have been converted from three to four credits, without a proportional increase in classroom time.  Obviously, the result is fewer courses per college career, though the pretense is that these 4-credit courses are more intense and demanding.  When, a few years ago, I was on a Faculty Senate sub-committee discussing what we should require of professors seeking to make this change, I inquired:  “Why don’t we just demand that our students actually do the work we already assign?” That comment didn’t carry the day.

Still, my sketch of the current scene in my part of the university should in no way be taken as chiming in with the common complaint that we fail to prepare students for employment.  I actually believe an undergraduate liberal arts education is valuable in and of itself, and that the university’s main function is not to be a job-training school.  But if – despite the efforts of individual professors — we don’t even offer a genuinely high quality education, one that goes beyond the current shibboleths for which students actually don’t need to go to college, what can be said to justify our existence?  If we’re instead focused on rhetoric displays related to ersatz politics and the university’s supposed commitment to right the world’s wrongs, well, then, we’re not even doing the job we can reasonably be expected to do, and for which students are paying exorbitantly high prices.  Not to mention that of course we cannot even agree on how to go about improving the world, any more than do politicians who devote their full attention to this!  Instead, pathetically, the university routinely engages in verbal magic –still obsessed with identity politics as indicated by the ceaseless emphasis on terms such as diversity, inclusion, and outreach.

What does all this signify if not a depressing loss of confidence that education is itself of value and doesn’t need transmogrification into something else? No wonder so many students seem to want above all to get through college with as little effort as possible, rather than taking advantage of the extraordinary riches that ought to be available at any university.