Angry Faculty Savage New York University

A group of 400 faculty at New York University has issued a devastating 14.000-word attack on the university as greedy, predatory and unprincipled. The group, Faculty Against the Sexton Plan (FASP), referring to John Sexton, who has just stepped down as NYU president, says the University uses a mind-numbing range of tricks and traps to extract as much money as possible from its students, including  unusually high and semi-hidden fees in fine print that few students are aware of.

The report, “The Art of the Gouge,” says NYU admits the highest number of foreign students of any U.S. university, thus gaining large profits from extra costs charged to non-Americans.  Blogger Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism says NYU has been operated “as a real estate development/management business with a predatory higher-education side venture,” picking up huge chunks of Greenwich Village real estate and financing expensive city and country homes for allies and some favored professors.

A John Sexton summer home on Fire Island has been financed by several million dollars in loans from the NYU School of Law and by NYU itself. Sexton also has the use of two of NYU’s Manhattan apartments and is set to receive a $2.5 million bonus this year. He also has an annual pension of $800,000—almost $600,000 more than the presidents of the U.S. in 2014.

You can read the entire “Art of the Gouge” report by clicking below:

Part One – Click Here
Part Two- Click Here
P
art Three- Click Here

‘Being Offended Is Not a Plus for You’

Excerpts from Ian McEwan’s commencement speech at Dickinson College, May 17, 2015

I would like to share a few thoughts with you about free speech. Let’s begin on a positive note: there is likely more free speech, free thought, free enquiry on earth now than at any previous moment in recorded history (even taking into account the golden age of the so-called ‘pagan’ philosophers). And you’ve come of age in a country where the enshrinement of free speech in the First Amendment is not an empty phrase, as it is in many constitutions, but a living reality.

But free speech was, is and always will be, under attack – from the political right, the left, the center. It will come from under your feet, from the extremes of religion as well as from unreligious ideologies. It’s never convenient, especially for entrenched power, to have a lot of free speech flying around….

It’s worth remembering this: freedom of expression sustains all the other freedoms we enjoy. Without free speech, democracy is a sham. Every freedom we possess or wish to possess (of habeas corpus and due process, of universal franchise and of assembly, union representation, sexual equality, of sexual preference, of the rights of children, of animals – the list goes on) has had to be freely thought and talked and written into existence.

No single individual can generate these rights alone. The process is cumulative. It was a historical context of relative freedom of speech that made possible the work of those who were determined to extend that liberty. John Milton, Tom Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, Oliver Wendell Holmes – the roll call is long and honorable – and that is why an education in the liberal arts is so vital to the culture you are about to contribute to.

Take a long journey from these shores as I’m sure many of you will, and you will find the condition of free expression to be desperate. Across almost the entire Middle East, free thought can bring punishment or death, from governments or from street mobs or motivated individuals. The same is true in Bangladesh, Pakistan, across great swathes of Africa. These past years the public space for free thought in Russia has been shrinking. In China, state monitoring of free expression is on an industrial scale. To censor daily the internet alone, the Chinese government employs as many as fifty thousand bureaucrats – a level of thought repression unprecedented in human history.

Paradoxically, it’s all the more important to be vigilant for free expression wherever it flourishes. And nowhere has it been more jealously guarded than under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Which is why it has been so puzzling lately, when we saw scores of American writers publicly disassociating themselves from a PEN gala to honor the murdered journalists of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. American PEN exists to defend and promote free speech. What a disappointment that so many American authors could not stand with courageous fellow writers and artists at a time of tragedy. The magazine has been scathing about racism. It’s also scathing about organized religion and politicians and it might not be to your taste – but that’s when you should remember your Voltaire.

Hebdo’s offices were fire-bombed in 2011, and the journalists kept going. They received constant death threats – and they kept going. In January nine colleagues were murdered, gunned down, in their office – the editorial staff kept going and within days they had produced an edition whose cover forgave their attackers. Tout est pardonne, all is forgiven. All this, when in the U.S. and U.K. one threatening phone call can be enough to stop a major publishing house in its tracks.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo came from religious fanatics whose allegiances became clear when one of the accomplices made her way from France, through Turkey to ISIS in Syria. Remember, this is a form of fanaticism whose victims, across Africa and the Middle East, are mostly Muslims – Muslim gays and feminists, Muslim reformists, bloggers, human rights activists, dissidents, apostates, novelists, and ordinary citizens, including children, murdered in or kidnapped from their schools….

But note the end of the Hebdo affair: the gala went ahead, the surviving journalists received a thunderous and prolonged standing ovation from American PEN.

Timothy Garton Ash reminds us in a new book on free speech that “The U.S. Supreme Court has described academic freedom as a ‘special concern of the First Amendment.’” Worrying too, then, is the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an ex-Muslim, highly critical of Islam, too critical for some. As a victim herself, she has campaigned against female genital mutilation. She has campaigned for the rights of Muslim women. In a recent book she has argued that for Islam to live more at ease in the modern world it needs to rethink its attitudes to homosexuality, to the interpretation of the Koran as the literal word of God, to blasphemy, to punishing severely those who want to leave the religion.

Contrary to what some have suggested, such arguments are neither racist nor driven by hatred. But she has received death threats. Crucially, on many American campuses she is not welcomed, and, notoriously, Brandeis withdrew its offer of an honorary degree. Islam is worthy of respect, as indeed is atheism. We want respect flowing in all directions. But religion and atheism, and all thought systems, all grand claims to truth, must be open to criticism, satire, even, sometimes, mockery. Surely, we have not forgotten the lessons of the Salman Rushdie affair.

Campus intolerance of inconvenient speakers is hardly new. Back in the sixties my own university blocked a psychologist for promoting the idea of a hereditable component to intelligence. In the seventies, the great American biologist E.O. Wilson was drowned out for suggesting a genetic element in human social behavior. As I remember, both men were called fascists. The ideas of these men did not fit prevailing ideologies, but their views are unexceptionable today.

More broadly – the internet has, of course, provided extraordinary possibilities for free speech. At the same time, it has taken us onto some difficult and unexpected terrain. It has led to the slow decline of local newspapers, and so removed a skeptical and knowledgeable voice from local politics. Privacy is an essential element of free expression; the Snowden files have revealed an extraordinary and unnecessary level of email surveillance by government agencies.

Another essential element of free expression is access to information; the internet has concentrated huge power over that access into the hands of private companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter. We need to be careful that such power is not abused. Large pharmaceutical companies have been known to withhold research information vital to the public interest. On another scale, the death of young black men in police custody could be framed as the ultimate sanction against free expression. As indeed is poverty and poor educational resources….

But it can be a little too easy sometimes to dismiss arguments you don’t like as ‘hate speech’ or to complain that this or that speaker makes you feel ‘disrespected.’ Being offended is not to be confused with a state of grace; it’s the occasional price we all pay for living in an open society. Being robust is no bad thing. Either engage, with arguments – not with banishments and certainly not with guns – or, as an American Muslim teacher said recently at Friday prayers, ignore the entire matter.

In making your mind up on these issues, I hope you’ll remember your time at Dickinson and the novels you may have read here. It would prompt you, I hope, in the direction of mental freedom. The novel as a literary form was born out of the Enlightenment, out of curiosity about and respect for the individual. Its traditions impel it towards pluralism, openness, a sympathetic desire to inhabit the minds of others. There is no man, woman or child, on earth whose mind the novel cannot reconstruct. Totalitarian systems are right with regard to their narrow interests when they lock up novelists. The novel is, or can be, the ultimate expression of free speech.

I hope you’ll use your fine liberal education to preserve for future generations the beautiful and precious but also awkward, sometimes inconvenient and even offensive culture of freedom of expression we have. Take with you these celebrated words of George Washington: “If the freedom of speech is taken away then, dumb and silent, we may be led like sheep to the slaughter, “We may be certain that Dickinson has not prepared you to be sheep.” Good luck 2015 graduates in whatever you choose to do in life.

The Severely Biased New Prof at Boston University

Fresh off completing her doctorate at the University of Michigan, Saida Grundy has landed a job on Boston University’s faculty – Assistant Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies. What can B.U. students anticipate from her?

Editors at the site SoCawledge dug into Grundy’s thinking and found a lot of tweets that resemble those of Steven Salaita in their nastiness. Whereas the object of Salaita’s animosity is anyone who defends Israel, in Grundy’s case it is the white race.

Among her tweets is this one: dear white people: u are all ben Affleck. Those euphemisms for ur ancestors like “farmers” & “pioneers” means owned humans & killed natives

No doubt Professor Grundy knows that no white person now living either owned humans or killed natives, and that the great majority of whites in the past did neither of those actions.  Still, she appears to harbor a deep animosity toward whites anyway.

Another: every MLK week I commit myself to not spending a dime in white-owned busineses. and every year I find it nearly impossible.

But the Reverend King had nothing against white-owned businesses. Why does Grundy feel the desire to discriminate against them?

Read through the tweets and you’ll see a young woman who has been brought up with (or perhaps schooled to have) animosity boiling within her. She illustrates very well the problem that former BU professor and now NAS president Peter Wood calls “bee in the mouth anger.” (I strongly recommend his book on that.)

What will her classes be like? It’s hard to believe that they will be “safe places” for white students, especially men.

After her tweets were made public, the university knew it was in a mess.

BU’s president, Robert Brown had to say something and came up with this attempt at straddling the fence: “At Boston University we acknowledge Dr. Grundy’s right to hold and express her opinions. At the same time, we fully appreciate why many have reacted to her statements. Boston University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form….We are disappointed and concerned by statements that reduce individuals to stereotypes….” (You can read Brown’s entire statement and more about the raging controversy here.)

At least Brown recognizes the racism, bigotry, and stereotyping that is such a big part of Grundy’s view of America. Many educators have rushed to her defense, claiming that people outside of higher education have misunderstood her and vastly overreacted. That’s the tenor of this Inside Higher Ed piece. The problem, according to author Colleen Flaherty is that “what professors write, think, or talk about doesn’t necessarily always translate to a wider audience…Ideas that are relatively uncontroversial among colleagues might elicit outrage from the public.”

Elaborating on that notion, VCU sociology professor Tressie McMillan Cottom said, “A lot can go wrong when you use ‘inside’ language ‘outside’ because we rely so much on social ties and context to make meaning of words.”

So we are apparently to believe that the only problem here is that Grundy made the mistake of letting the general public know what she thinks about race in language that revealed her evident biases.  If she had just kept her angry stereotyping within what Cottom usefully calls the higher education “bubble,” those ill-educated outsiders wouldn’t be upset over words they can’t comprehend out of their “context.”

The truth is that by using “outside” language on Twitter, Grundy allowed the whole world a clear view of the way her classes are apt to go. Academic writing is usually impenetrable (even to other academics), but you can’t hide anything in the tiny thought compressions of a tweet. If Grundy had used Twitter only for mundane personal stuff and reserved her vitriol for classrooms filled almost entirely with students inclined to nod in agreement, nobody would know what bile her students were steeping in.

Finally, Grundy herself says that she regrets having stated things “indelicately.” What that means is that she regrets having used clear “outside” language that revealed her biases instead of the cloudy language of academe that would have kept them hidden.

Why College Today Is a Mishmash

Kevin Carey is convinced that online learning has created a watershed moment in the history of higher education.  Not since Johannes Gutenberg assembled an ensemble of movable type, meltable alloy, oil-based ink, and a screw press in 1439 has there been such a moment—or so says Carey in his new book, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere.

It is a strong assertion that rests on the relatively fragile facts of no more than twenty years of shaky experiments with the new technology.  If we stick with the Gutenberg analogy, online learning is still in the era of incunabula, that period before 1500 when artisans were still working out what to do with the printing press.  As often as not the early printers set aside Gutenberg’s movable type in favor of a carved wooden block for each page.  Woodblock printing could retain some of the delicate beauty of medieval ornamented manuscripts, but it couldn’t compete with the speed and economy of production and the ease of correction of movable type.

A Serious Man

Kevin Carey is among the handful of contemporary writers on higher education who merit serious attention.  He is far from alone in his enthusiasm for online learning and his belief that it will transform higher education.  But he is a far better writer than other enthusiasts and his book deserves the attention of even those who view the new technologies as a mere diversion from more important things.

In the second chapter of The End of College, Carey compresses into 25 pages the history of the university from the founding of the University of Bologna in 1088 to the floodtide of degrees from American colleges and universities in 2012.  It is a neat performance, free of ponderous explanation, narrowing swiftly to the matters at hand, and yet touching nearly all the key matters.  The modifier “nearly” is needed because Carey (deliberately I suppose) skirts the topic of how universities have been shaped by and helped to share broader political and social movements.

A word on this before turning to Carey’s actual subject.  Carey is alert to how higher education has always responded to the changing needs for “intellectual capital.” The medieval university, he writes, arose out of particular circumstances that brought students together in towns where knowledge could be organized and shared.  Universities were from the start the seedbeds of what we would now call transnational elites.  But they also became seedbeds of nationalism, romantic revolutionary ardor, and later Marxism.  In the United States, the history of higher education has been interwoven in complicated ways with religious aspiration and various egalitarian movements, including efforts to advance the rights of women and racial minorities.  It would seem difficult to explain the history of American higher education over the last half century without treating race and racial preferences as a central topic. Yet the topic is entirely missing in The End of College—as are the topics of campus radicalism from SDS to BDS; the sustainability movement; free speech controversies; and the politicization of higher education.

These blind spots are no less evident in Carey’s other writings on American higher education.  Perhaps it is best to say that he knows his audience, which is liberal, self-satisfied, and not perturbed that colleges and universities have become leftist monocultures.

What Charles Eliot Did

What does perturb Carey is that American higher education is a mishmash of efforts to achieve three competing goals:  vocational training, the research enterprise, and the liberal arts.  None of these is accomplished especially well, although the liberal arts come off the worst.  Carey places the blame for the mishmash at the feet of Charles Eliot, the Harvard University president who in 1869 invented the “elective system,” and who also made the bachelor’s degree a prerequisite for admission to Harvard’s graduate and professional schools.  The elective system, soon copied at almost every other college and university, meant the demise of the core curriculum and its replacement by an expensive and expansive collection of courses that led to limited learning and incoherent programs.  In Carey’s assessment, Eliot also opened the door for the faculty to be made up of research specialists who have no training in or necessarily any aptitude for teaching.  The de-emphasis on the core curriculum and the dominance of research over teaching are two sides of the same coin.

But that coin is burnished to a golden gleam with the rhetoric of liberal arts education, endlessly deployed by college presidents who have redefined the “liberal arts” as whatever their institutions happen to be doing at the moment.  Learning to “think critically” covers just about any contingencies short of grunt labor, but maybe that too if the labor is spent sorting recyclables or undertaking other sweaty tasks on behalf of social justice.

Rich in Characters and Ideas

In the 2013 spring semester, Carey enrolled in the MIT online course, The Secret of Life, taught by biology professor Eric Lander.  The course was one of those that MIT made available as a MOOC through the Harvard-MIT online collaboration, edX.  Carey was enthralled by this enormously difficult course, and despite his non-science undergraduate and graduate education, stuck with it, problem sets and all.  The End of College carries The Secret of Life through most of its chapters as Carey weighs its lessons and does the writerly equivalent of turning over proteins and amino acids to see how things fit together.

It is a book rich in characters as well as ideas.  The portrait of Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in chapter 3—the former president of George Washington University and one of the people who unleashed the terrific price spiral that has turned American higher education into a cul-de-sac of campus luxury, student debt, and intellectual mediocrity—is fair-minded and finely etched.  Carey’s conversation with Trachtenberg is one of a dozen or so encounters that he draws on to develop his thesis that the old university—what he calls “the hybrid university”—is on the way out and that the new online thing, “the university of everywhere,” is on the doorstep.

Is it really?  The End of College is the best-argued case I have seen yet that digital learning will transform higher education.  Carey is fully aware of the inertial resistance to that transformation.  Our existing colleges and universities have strong institutional reasons to impede it even as they incorporate some of its technology.  And there are deep sources of social and cultural resistance from a public that is invested in the older forms of credentialing and prestige.  “The hybrid university will not disappear tomorrow,” he writes, “but they (hybrid universities) have been ripping off parents and students for decades by shortchanging undergraduate learning.”  There are sober thinkers on the other side of this, such as Andrew Delbanco, who have argued the crisp opposite:  that online education is the barbarian that threatens to despoil undergraduate learning.

The barbarians, if that is what they are, have now found their most eloquent champion in Kevin Carey. Let the contest begin.  Unleash the broadband of war.  Let MOOCs mix it up with Morrill; Gutenberg grapple with GitHub; and edX close quarters with Eliot.  However this works out, Carey acquits himself well on the topic at hand.

Why STEM ‘Diversity’? Just Because

Most reports, studies, proposals, etc., calling for more “diversity” — whether of faculties, students, coaches, whatever — either fail to provide any justification for the discrimination necessary to increase it or fall flat, sometimes fatuously, when they do attempt to provide a justification.

In reviewing a typical one, for example, MIT’s Report on The Initiative For Faculty Race And Diversity, I quoted from its various rationales and concluded, “In other words, ‘diversity’ is ‘core’ to MIT’s excellence because it is ‘intrinsic,’ because ‘one must … be inclusive,’ because it is ‘key,’ and because insufficient diversification would ‘constrain ourselves and limit our success.’ In other words, well, just because.”

That criticism, however, cannot be leveled against “Minority Ph.D.‘s Find Career Success in STEM,” an argument in the Chronicle of Higher Education for more STEM diversity by Frances M. Leslie (not Francis, as given in the Chronicle), which offers a commendably concrete and specific justification for producing more minority STEM graduates. Professor Leslie — dean of the Graduate Division and a professor of pharma­cology, and of anatomy and neurobiology, in the School of Medicine at the University of California at Irvine — is clearly a person of many talents, but her commendably concrete justification for producing more minority STEM Ph.D.’s suggests she could be equally successful as a stand-up comic or satire writer for The Onion.

“First of all,” she notes the “disparity” of minorities receiving “only 7.25 percent of doctorate degrees” in STEM fields, “far below their 30 percent representation in the general population.” This “disparity” matters, she claims, because the “U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that recipients of Ph.D.s and professional degrees have the lowest unemployment rate and highest full-time earnings in the country.” Then comes her justification for striving to make STEM Ph.D.’s demographically representative, a justification that is refreshingly free of “diversity” cant and camouflage:

So the dearth of underrepresented minorities with Ph.D.’s in STEM not only represents a substantial financial inequity but also reduces their potential impact on the nation’s economic strength.

Given these findings, it seems clear that universities should make a substantial effort to support underrepresented minority students in STEM graduate education.

STEM diversity, in short, is good not only for the diverse, who are enabled to make more money, but because of the positive impact their arguably higher earnings in STEM than in the occupations they would otherwise be pursuing has on the GNP.

In fact, even this slim reed of an argument is not persuasive. The fact that STEM Ph.D.’s may have the lowest unemployment and highest earnings does not mean that individuals who could have become STEM Ph.D.’s but did not would predictably make less money in other fields.

No wonder most arguments for “diversity” tend to avoid trying to specify its benefits.