All posts by Frank Macchiarola

Frank Macchiarola led New York's public school system from 1978 to 1983.

Awards for Reporting about Anti-Semitism on Campus

At the Student Free Press Association, we’ve partnered with the Institute for Jewish & Community Research to establish $1000 awards for excellence in student reporting on anti-Semitism. To learn how to enter, go here. From the press release:

Campuses have become staging grounds for campaigns demonizing Israel, intimidating Jewish students and threatening the foundation of civil discourse in academia. Anti-Semitism and virulent anti-Israelism are regularly exhibited in a variety of venues on college campuses: speakers, events, media and scholarship have all been tainted by hostility and bigotry. History has shown that Jews are the “canary in the coalmine” of civility and tolerance. The lowered norms on campus threaten not just Jews, but all others as well.

Your College President Is Your Pal

Tales of the modern-day college president were reported by the Washington Post in a July 12th article, “College Presidents Taste Life Outside Their Offices,” by James Johnson and Daniel de Vise. The president, we were told, is more accessible and easy to talk to, less formal and willing to do things with students unheard of just a few years ago, including joining in a student snowball fight on campus. Many of them have transformed themselves from authority figures to buddies and big siblings as they show their human side. It is something that many parents and students have come to expect as they pony up tuitions that continue to grow even as their resources do not. The presidents want to show their respective publics that they know their students and their needs and will make a great effort to satisfy them.

The trend toward more effective marketing of the campus leader comes at the same time that colleges are offering greater creature comforts to their students – health clubs, new labs and classroom buildings, better appointed living quarters and increasing variety in campus dining. Thus, the accessible college president is like the concierge in a first-class vacation resort. In addition, the college can make contacts for students off campus – internships, study abroad programs, joint degree programs, new majors, distance learning and enhanced placement services for graduates. It strives to be “the college for all seasons.”

Although the article did not suggest it, the reality is that colleges are falling in line with other institutions in a transformation of major parts of American culture. They are putting extraordinary emphasis on what the consumer would like to have. In some significant ways, the institutions are becoming what the market expects of them. Their actual mission statement begins to describe what will sell. These institutions surrender the sense of self and the understanding of core values that traditionally represented who they were and what they were doing. In many respects they believe that their survival requires them to cast their lot with the future rather than the old past. In this way the accessible, genial, folksy college president is a beloved figure. In many respects, the new college president represents an improvement over the indifferent and aloof administrator. But if all we have is a change in style then we are not offered much in terms of what really matters. Indeed, the cost of satisfying more of what the public wants rather than what it needs is, in the long run, unsustainable. In the universities, these creature comforts mean higher tuitions and increased student debt to meet the costs of attendance. There is a real limit to this kind of accommodation as tuitions and fees consistently exceed cost of living indicators for other needs as the cost-benefit analysis piles up heaps of benefits, some of them unnecessary. A day of reckoning may soon be at hand.

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Make-Believe Grades for Real Law Students

Almost every morning, after taking a shower, I get on the scale to see if I have lost some of the extra weight that I do not want or need. I have tried many ways of shedding the pounds, with diet and exercise at the top of the list. The pounds refuse to disappear. After reading Catherine Rampell’s piece, “In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That,” in the New York Times, I realized that there is a simpler way. A slight adjustment to the scale, so that the measuring starts at minus 15 pounds rather than zero, could bring instant relief. I could truthfully — if not honestly — say that according to the scale, I was now less than 175 pounds.
This droll reverie faded to disappointment as I pondered the implications of adjusting law school grades in the fashion recounted in the Times. Grades entered on students’ transcripts at law school were adjusted upward several semesters later. The article told of law schools abandoning traditional grading standards to give their students an edge in the tough job market. Thus, each school’s scale was adjusted to give the appearance that students did better than they actually did. The schools named were Loyola, Georgetown, NYU, Tulane and Golden State Universty. When I thought further about these modifications, I was reminded of other instances where expected objectivity gave way to subjective judgments. The New York State Board of Regents, for instance, has begun the practice of determining acceptable grades by assigning a passing grade to a raw score. The raw score required for passage is only arrived at after the tests are rated. Such a system allows the Board of Regents to crow about an 80% passage rate, notwithstanding the fact that the classification was entirely contrived. It has the feel of issuing traffic citations on the basis of a quota and claiming there is an epidemic of bad drivers.
The fact that this practice of grade adjustment has developed in law schools is, I believe, a much more serious matter. The rule of law, when properly applied, embodies honesty, fairness and impartial justice. The behavior of adjusting grades to conceal the truth does damage to our expectation of the rule of law. That the law itself is made to yield to the dollar is particularly troublesome. As a professor quoted in the Times article put it, “if somebody’s paying $150,000 for a law school degree, you don’t want to call them a loser in the end. So you artificially call every student a success.” The result is a perverse version of the golden rule: “he who has the gold rules.”

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Is Education Just Training?

When talking with prospective students who are thinking about attending college, I often engage in a bit of “bait and switch.” Many of them are interested in jobs that will come for them after college and so they look at what college is about in almost functional terms. “What job will I be able to get, and how much money will I be able to make?”
More than 45 years of teaching at the college and graduate school levels have taught me that they are really asking questions that are less important to them than questions they should be asking. Getting them jobs is not going to be the principal function of their college education. They need to obtain more than “training.” They need to secure an education. And the job they work at after graduation is less important than the things they will learn about life itself during their course of study.
At one point in time the distinction between the question they asked and the response I gave was well understood by those of us in the academy. The good life that the students were seeking had to have room in it for reflection and understanding about themselves. The liberal arts provided that framework for their study. Now during this so called “jobless” recovery, with jobs being lost at an accelerating pace, the prospect of failure confronts these graduates who have believed that their worth has to be measured in terms of their capacity to work and to earn a livelihood. Jobs are not unimportant things, but they are not the complete picture. They do not tell the story of what the college graduates need to be successful. And if the capacity to obtain work is critical to their sense of self, then we are going to see many unhappy people in the country during what will be a protracted period of massive unemployment.

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Does U.S. News Make Law Schools More Expensive?

By Frank J. Macchiarola and Michael C. Macchiarola
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Why do law schools charge higher and higher tuitions that keep outrunning the cost of living? In the two decades ending in 2007, according to the American Bar Association, the cost of attending the average private law school (including tuition and fees) more than tripled–increasing from $8,911 a year to $32,367. Unsurprisingly, the average amount borrowed by law students has risen just as dramatically. Last year’s average private law student graduated with more than $87,000 in law school debt.
In trying to understand this phenomenon, many have blamed the American Bar Association’s Standards for Law Schools. The ABA accredits 200 American law schools that adhere to the Standards and, by doing so, permit their graduates to sit for the bar examination in every state. These standards govern student’s course of study, the law school’s administration, the faculty’s rights and obligations and the adequacy of the physical plant. Among other things, law schools are reviewed in a comprehensive three-day site visit with several visitors every seven years to maintain their accreditation.
Others, particularly law school deans, who face competitive pressures from other law schools, have blamed the U.S. News and World Report rankings of law schools. These critics believe the rankings spark a tournament of law schools to compete on the magazine’s terms, often at great costs and at the expense of more student-centered activities. In a December 2009 report to the Congress, the General Accounting Office dealt, in part, with concerns that have been raised about how some of the accreditation standards of the ABA may affect the cost of law school.

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How Will The Colleges Cope?

Dr. Macchiarola, chancellor of St. Francis College in Brooklyn, delivered these remarks on February 5th at a one-day conference in New York on “The Future of the University.” The conference was sponsored by the Manhattan Institute’s Center for the American University.

If I were making this presentation a year ago, I would not have some of the deep concerns about the future of the university as I do today. Certainly the changes that are occurring within the university today are due, in large part, to some of the real difficulties the university faces in adapting to forces that are internal to it. The presence of the deep economic recession that we face today – and that will be with us for some time to come – significantly adds to the uncertainties that today’s university has to confront. It puts solutions to a considerable extent beyond the scope of what some universities can actually manage.

The recession – or perhaps depression- has for private universities hurt their financial condition dramatically. Endowments drop and endowment income which is critical to the university’s operations fall as well. In virtually all instances this combination means that universities been tremendously impaired. Endowment income which can provide 5% of market value for operating expenses is less available and this adds to the gap between tuition income and expenses that universities must face. Endowments are affected, especially for the tuition dependant schools which require tuition to fund operations in significant ways. Well endowed universities are the exception, not the rule. Costs also increase, usually by a multiple of the rise in the cost of living. This has been almost the universal rule largely because of factors that have driven universities to give students “more and more.” The usual course of action -increasing tuition – is made more difficult by the hard economic times. Fewer students being able to afford college mean a shift to lesser charging private universities and the public ones. The factors that have operated to allow universities to grow are not present in anything like the same way. The decline in the number of high school students exacerbates the problem even further. While students may choose public institutions as an alternative, things are not going well there either. The depression has hit states hard, and while the stimulus plan may be helpful to them in the short term, they will not be able to absorb more students at the subsidized costs that they have traditionally borne. The taxpayer is being hit hard, and the state economies are as well. The public universities will have to charge more and give less. There is tuition relief by the way of increased Pell Grants and tax credits for college tuition, but there is no way that we will be back to conditions ante recession.

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