Category Archives: Book Reviews

Two Views: Allan Bloom and Pop Culture

Posted by Mark Judge and Emily Esfahani Smith

Cross-posted from the Daily Caller and

Mark Judge: How Bloom Killed Conservatism

Almost 25 years ago, a catastrophe befell American conservatism. University of Chicago professor Allan Bloom wrote about rock and roll.

His words came in the book “The Closing of the America Mind,” which was published in 1987 and became a bestseller and cultural touchstone. Most of “The Closing of the American Mind” is brilliant, a careful and poetically delightful assessment of the takeover of academia and American culture by Marxism and nihilism. Its upcoming 25th anniversary should get it a new round of attention.

Sadly, Bloom included rock and roll in his critique. In doing so, he 1) embraced Marxism, 2) failed to recognize one of the 20th century’s great art forms, 3) banished conservatives to a cultural wilderness from which they have yet to emerge, and 4) made it seem like the right doesn’t care about the soul.

Continue reading Two Views: Allan Bloom and Pop Culture

One Vote Here Against For-Profits

office-cubicles-for-profit.jpgIn his recent book, Rebooting for the New Talent Economy, Andrew Rosen writes: “It’s rare for anyone to lay out a clear case as to exactly what the problem is with private-sector education.” Ok, here it is. The problem is not, as Rosen says, that the pairing of the words for-profit and education makes advocates of traditional education like me squeamish; it’s that most for-profits work from a model that undermines the essence of what higher education is about.Is Rosen right that most traditional colleges and university have abandoned the mission of educating students for the great world? Absolutely. Have inferior colleges lusted for too long after the prestige of the elite universities (what he dubs “Harvard envy”), spending more time, money, and energy than they should on research and scholarship than they do on teaching and learning? No disagreement here. Have they also attempted to keep the supply-line of students flowing by pumping millions of dollars into luxurious residential halls, fitness centers, water parks, and cafeterias–“Club College” at its best? Spot on again.Rosen’s also right that community colleges, which he admires for servicing nontraditional and under-served students, are failing because they try to be everything to everyone and, like their four-year counterparts, are “stretched across myriad constituencies.” Overburdened, excluding students, refusing to raise tuition, they follow an economic model that subscribes to the idea that “paying for education is primarily the responsibility of taxpayers, with students to be shielded from cost to the maximum extent.” Are Teachers Just Hirelings? But is more private-sector education the big change that we ought to embrace? Only if students are customers and professors mere hirelings who have less academic freedom in a curriculum that is more centralized, standardized, controlled. For Rosen, the virtue of the for-profit model is twofold. First, it is driven by tuition and fees and forces for-profits to keep costs (not necessarily tuition) down. Second, “private-sector educators are able to tailor their education to specific, identified learning outcomes and measure performance against those outcomes.” They can “focus almost exclusively on students (both recruiting and educating).” How so? By operating “in a far more centralized fashion”–meaning a single syllabus mandated in each course; the same readings from class to class; written assignments, quizzes, and exams that assess the same content; supervising faculty more closely to provide a uniform level of quality; designating learning outcomes in class that come together into a set of program-level outcomes across all courses in a given major. Faculty are treated as hirelings–not as experts in their field–who are basically given a syllabus and a textbook and told, “Teach this class.” At the for-profit where I taught, I wasn’t even allowed to assign additional (i.e. real) books or primary sources. That’s not how genuine teaching and learning work, but it doesn’t trouble those who are engineering education at for-profits: “By refusing to cede complete control of course design and learning assessments to each individual faculty member, it’s possible for proprietary colleges to be better able to make sure learning actually happens.” The alleged tradeoff is that this “standardized, closely evaluated process” will “hit the mark consistently. More importantly, by standardizing the curriculum, it is possible to measure outcomes and make continuous improvements that will ensure that each term of students is getting a better learning experience than the term before.” But by Rosen’s own admission for-profits are only graduating 38.1 percent of their students. This abysmal showing is corroborated by other studies–for example, a 2010 Education Trust report by Education Trust found that only 22 percent of the first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree students graduate within six years, compared to 55 percent at public institutions and 65 percent at private nonprofit colleges. The powerhouse University of Phoenix Online is one of the worst offenders, graduating only 5.1 percent of students in six years (fewer than 1 percent of its more than 253,000 students) in its B.A. program at its biggest campus. Rosen dismisses such studies, claiming that they compare apples to oranges, since students at for-profits are more likely to have kids, or full-time jobs, or be very poor–unlike typical students at traditional four-year colleges and universities. But a recent apples-to-apples study shows that graduates of for-profits also lag behind their peers in earnings and employment. Rosen gives the impression that while students at Club College and Party U are guzzling beer, eating sushi, rock-climbing, or working out in the gym, all the real studying is going on at the for-profits. Nearly halfway through the book, we finally hear about academic rigor. Patricia Feggins, a fifty-three-year-old student, was “impressed by the academic rigor of the Kaplan classes–even if, at times, she was slightly overwhelmed by the number of research papers and essays her professors required her to write.” I don’t question the sincerity of this student; I question whether she is qualified to judge what is appropriate college-level rigor. At the for-profit where I worked, I typically stopped teaching my subject every second week because I had to teach students basic skills: how to read a textbook, how to take notes, how to follow an argument during a discussion, how to write. The problem was compounded because they were expected to do in ten weeks what most students do in a sixteen or seventeen-week semester. They showed almost no interest in learning how to think; they wanted to be told what to think so that they could pass the class and move another step closer to the job their recruiter promised awaited them once they got their degree. This mindset is reinforced by educational model designed to equip people for the marketplace rather than produce human beings who are adaptable, curious, questioning, and capable of learning new concepts. Somehow technology is supposed to change this by making “education more responsive, engaging, and interesting. Imagine simulations that enable students to experience how blood courses through the body, how a volcano erupts, or how change in the price affects all competitors in a marketplace. Imagine robots and avatars that enable a student to travel to Germany in the age of Bismark, to Craig Venter’s lab as he worked to sequence the human genome, to Washington’s headquarters on Christmas 1776, or to the Enron boardroom.” Education as easy as watching TV or browsing the web. Never mind the effort of learning about these great achievements through reading documents, analyzing sources, and working through them to come to one’s own understanding. That’s so old school. Everything must be visual, literal, and available to students with a click of a mouse–hence the popularity of Wikipedia and the Khan Academy. Toward the end of his book Rosen predicts what the higher education landscape will look like by 2036: more mobile, more disaggregated, more personalized, more focused on learning outcomes, more accessible, more global, more cool. I predict that it will be all of these things much sooner than that. By 2036, higher education will be so career-driven, technocratic, standardized, centralized, efficient, and soulless, people will be clamoring to change it back to the way it was in the good old days.

A Funny Book about Worthless Degrees

“Here are some [college] degrees that cost you roughly $30,000 in tuition, their much cheaper replacements, and the savings you’d realize:

                  Degree                                  Replacement                                        Savings

                  Foreign Languages                 Language
Software                               $29,721

                  Philosophy                             Read
Socrates                                    $29,980

                  Women’s Studies                   Watch
Daytime TV                               $30,000

                  Journalism                             Start
a blog                                          $30,000

…Since none of these degrees help increase your employability, you might as well avoid these majors and do it on your own.”

The above is an excerpt from one of the funnier paragraphs
in “Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the
Right Major” (Paric Publications), Aaron Clarey’s hilarious primer
for college students who would like to work as something other than nannies and
theater interns after graduation.

Continue reading A Funny Book about Worthless Degrees

Best Books of 2011

crazy_u.jpgWhat were the best books of the year on higher education? A
panel of ten prominent people in the field, invited to vote by Minding the
Campus, picked as their top two choices, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning
on College Campuses”
by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa; and “Crazy U: One Dad’s
Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College”
by Andrew Ferguson.

Both books take a largely negative view of today’s colleges
and universities. Arum and Roksa, both sociologists, take a straightforward
approach to surveys and analysis of the limited learning on our campuses, while
Ferguson, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard and a well-known conservative
writer, is darkly humorous about the results of his consistently impressive reportage.

“Academically Adrift” was a top choice of 9 of the 10 voting
members of the panel, all asked to name from one to five books… “Crazy U.” was
picked by six voters. Four books drew three votes: “In the Basement of the
Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic”
by Professor X; “The Fall
of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It
by Benjamin Ginsberg; “The Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You
Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For”
by Naomi Schaefer Riley; and “The
Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out”

by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring.

Continue reading Best Books of 2011

The Fiske Guide Turns 30

It seems only yesterday that a few colleagues and I gathered every night in the back of the newsroom of New York Times, then on West 43rd Street, to create the first edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges. It’s hard to believe that the appearance of the 2012 edition this month marks the 30th anniversary!

Today’s Fiske Guide is a lot different than the first edition. It’s a lot bigger – with write-ups of more than 300 of the “best and most interesting” colleges in the country. There is an electronic version, and, most exciting of all, there’s a new iPad app with lots of bells and whistles to streamline the college search process. Once you have identified schools that sound like a good bet, you can use the iPad version of the Fiske Guide to plan your college tour, email admissions departments directly, browse each college’s website and check out competing schools. Unfortunately, you still have to brew your own coffee.

And – get this – there’s even a complete new Mandarin edition for Chinese students who have set their sights on a U.S. college. It’s kind of fun seeing your name in Chinese characters (or at least I think that’s my name).

Continue reading The Fiske Guide Turns 30

Students ‘Adrift’? Don’t Blame Them

inside-college-classroom.jpgI haven’t read Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, and frankly, I’m not sure that I want to. Having had high expectations of other widely touted books on higher education—most recently, Hacker and Dreifus’s Higher Education?, Martha Nussbaum’s Not For Profit, Mark Taylor’s Crisis on Campus—and having been sadly disappointed after reading them, I’m afraid that reading this book will be an instance of history repeating itself. Besides, after listening to a great deal of the chatter that it’s generated, I keep asking myself, “What’s new?”

In his fascinating book, Weapons of Mass Instruction (2009), John Taylor Gatto cites a 2006 study conducted by the University of Connecticut that affirmed that college students weren’t learning the things they were supposed to be learning. Having surveyed 14,000 students at fifty intuitions in five academic areas, the study showed that at sixteen of the fifty schools—including Yale, Brown, and Georgetown—negative intellectual growth (meaning that seniors knew less than freshman) had actually occurred among undergraduates. In thirty-four of the fifty schools, no discernable change occurred. This prompted Gatto to write: “after spending an average of six years in search of a BA degree or its equivalent, and spending an average of a quarter million in cash and loans, a great many young people had nothing or even less than nothing to show for the investment.”

In the American Scholar (Summer 2008), former Yale professor William Deresiewicz already warned us that even the elite institutions, which used to be the bastions of higher education, have been slouching “toward a glorified form of vocational training” and increasingly graduating more educated ignoramuses. Will another book on the failings of higher education deter students from going to ivy-league schools, even though they will be no better off after graduating than the 35 percent of first-year community college students who don’t return for their second year, or the 33 percent of students at four-year institutions who don’t complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrolling, or even those who never step foot in an ivory tower? (Source: A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education, 2006.)

Continue reading Students ‘Adrift’? Don’t Blame Them

The Book That Shook the Campuses

9780226028569.jpgNeither liberals nor conservatives take the education part of higher education very seriously. Instead, college gets used as an arena for special interest promotion and ideological dispute. The right publishes lists of “The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America” while fulminating about post-modernism and the hedonist student culture. The left pours endless billions of taxpayer dollars into student financial aid programs without holding anyone accountable (or at least not traditional non-profit colleges) for how that money is spent. Everyone is simultaneously horrified and entertained by college sports.
This happens in large part because everyone assumes that the core business of higher education doesn’t require much scrutiny. Our K-12 schools may be mediocre, but we all know our colleges are the best in the world. Just ask them!
Now Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s landmark study, Academically Adrift, has blown a gaping hole in the wall of assumed competence that has long shielded colleges and universities from criticism. The warranty that accompanies the college degree–that students have undergone a rigorous course of study and emerged ready to tackle the challenges of the workplace and further education–turns out to be, in many cases, a fraud.
During their four years of college, 36 percent of students studied made no progress at all on the most widely-used measure of collegiate critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and written communication skills. The average gain was less than half of one standard deviation. Results for minority students and those from academically disadvantaged backgrounds were even worse.
The list of culprits is long: Poor preparation, lax accreditation standards, faculty incentives that privilege scholarship over teaching, a low equilibrium of mutual expectation where professors ask students to do little and provide little in exchange. The modern university has evolved haphazardly over time to accommodate a huge variety of interests, functions, and concerns. Somewhere along the way, the core business of educating undergraduates faded from view.
But this learning-deficient ecosystem only persists because there is little or no outside pressure to become otherwise. Contrast this with the vigorous national conversation about elementary and secondary education. A whole constellation of organizations from across the ideological spectrum exist to analyze, criticize, and improve schooling for children. Many disagree, often stridently, about the necessary means, with perspectives ranging from big government regulation to wholesale privatization and many points in between. But they all begin from the same underlying premise: too many American K-12 students are failing to learn.

Continue reading The Book That Shook the Campuses

Don’t Pay Sticker Price, Part 2—the National Universities

Read Part 1 here.
In examining the gulf between sticker price and real cost, let’s consider the top 10 national universities as defined by U.S. News & World Report in its most recent rankings. Using U. S. Department of Education data, I compiled the average net prices that students from different family income groups would pay at the top 10 national universities combined.
Despite total sticker prices averaging more than $50,000 a year at these top 10 universities, net prices range from a low of $4,652, paid by students from poorest family income group, to a high of more than $35,000 paid by students from the richest category of family income.
These averages, however, mask the significant differences in net prices paid by poor and rich students at the individual institution. At Harvard, students from families in all income categories fare significantly better in terms of net price than they might at Harvard’s competitors. Harvard’s poorest students, whose parents earned $30,000 or less, paid net prices averaging just $2,170, significantly less than the average net price charged low-income students at all the Top 10 national universities.

Continue reading Don’t Pay Sticker Price, Part 2—the National Universities

Don’t Pay Sticker Price for College

By Peter Sacks
Jeffrey Selingo, the editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education, should have known better. He told ABC News: “students that maybe 10 or 15 years ago came from families who can easily afford to pay for their son’s or daughter’s education are now being forced to apply for financial aid.” That sounds like an obvious statement on college costs, but it’s wrong. The published prices of higher education are virtually meaningless. The far more important number is net price, which is the cost of attendance (tuition sticker price plus expenses) less federal, state and, especially, institutional grants.
Despite the water-cooler lamentations about the skyrocketing cost of college, both public and private universities have lower net prices today than they did in 1994. And the less money your family makes, the larger the discount is likely to be.
If your annual family income is less than $30,000, you can go to Harvard for $2,170 per year, and to Williams for $1,679. If family income is between $48,001 and $75,000 and you have your eye on Dartmouth, you are eligible for a discount there of almost $44,000 and may pay only $6,565 a year. And some discounts diverge wildly. Even with a discount of nearly $34,000 from sticker price, a Washington University of St. Louis student from an under-$30,000 family would pay more than ten times the amount than a similar student attending Williams.

Continue reading Don’t Pay Sticker Price for College

Seeing Academic Repression Everywhere

acrep1.jpgIn the epilogue of a new compendium volume, Mark Bousquet notes that, “In July 2007, the American Sociological Association reported that one-third of its members felt their academic freedoms were threatened, a significantly higher figure than the one-fifth ratio recorded during the McCarthy years.” Sounds dire, doesn’t it? Well not if you’ve spent the prior 500 pages learning just how fantastical the contributors’ conceptions of academic freedom are.

The book is Academic Repression: Reflections from the Academic Industrial Complex, edited by Anthony J. Nocella, II, Steven Best, and Peter McLaren. It’s a bad sign when the appearance of Bill Ayers, Ward Churchill, and Howard Zinn as contributors on a book cover leaves one still unprepared for how unfathomable its premises are. Academic Repression purports to demonstrate how corporatization and right-wing assaults have marginalized academic freedom and genuine liberal thinking at our universities. Really?

It’s not at all unusual to see hand-wringing from the left over the state of academic freedom; it is unusual to see an essay collection that “asks whether the concept of academic freedom still exists at all in the American University system”(itals mine).

Continue reading Seeing Academic Repression Everywhere

What Is The AAUP Up To?


Cary Nelson, current president of the American Association of University Professors, has a new book dealing with academic freedom and its relationship to broader structural problems in higher education. No University Is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom is interesting and important, but also frustrating. It provides remedies to the problems confronting academic freedom at the same time that it reflects some of the problems it purports to remedy. Nelson is compelled to criticize the nation’s faculty members for their lackadaisical support of academic freedom at the same time that he feels obliged to vehemently defend higher education from critics who attack higher education for this very reason. Balancing these positions makes sense if one carefully distinguishes valid and invalid attacks, and Nelson often succeeds in doing so. But too often his defenses of higher education come across as special pleading for the professoriate as a class, thereby weakening his claims.
Once upon a time the AAUP was the nation’s leading supporter of academic freedom. In recent decades, however, its prestige has slipped. A couple of years ago the Chronicle of Higher Education featured articles on this reversal of fortune, citing such matters as the AAUP’s bureaucratic inertia, the association’s perceived complacency about the chilling effects of political correctness, and broader trends in higher education that have made faculty members less knowledgeable and appreciative of the organization’s efforts. Leaner and meaner, FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, founded in 2000 in Philadelphia) has replaced the AAUP as the nation’s most vibrant fighter for academic freedom. FIRE is conscientiously non-ideological, but its eagerness to take on the policies of political correctness that suppress freedom has made it a favorite of the right in addition to the civil libertarian left.
Nelson’s ascendancy to the presidency of the AAUP represents the organization’s effort to regain its past glory. He is a prolifically published, self-proclaimed “radical” (for academic freedom and other causes), a claim that makes him a left-wing answer to FIRE in terms of commitment. Among Nelson’s impressive list of publications we find Manifesto of a Tenured Radical and Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left. Nelson’s left-wing legacy is important to his arguments because his approach to academic freedom is steeped in a broader leftist framework.

Continue reading What Is The AAUP Up To?

Why Don’t More Graduate

Less than 60 percent of students at our four-year colleges complete their studies and graduate. That depressing statistic has drawn many critics, and now it has occasioned a book, Crossing the Finish Line, by three well-connected members of the academic establishment–William Bowen, Matthew Chingos, and Michael McPherson (hereafter, BCM). The authors obtained some data on individual student performance unavailable to most researchers, uncovered some interesting facts and made some worthwhile observations. The question is, how much light has this effort produced.
BCM base their conclusions largely on a sample of data from a few dozen public universities. Since they are writing about public education, it would have been useful if at least one of the authors had some experience, either as a student or professor, in such an institution at some point in their eight decades of accumulative academic lifetime. Unfortunately, none studied or taught at a public university, meaning that they are not likely fully conversant with the cultural differences between, say, the Ivy League vs. the California State university system. Interestingly, with one exception, even all the announced authors’ book receptions are being held at such private establishment enclaves as Harvard or the Brookings Institution.
At the book’s beginning, BCM talk about the importance of higher college graduation rates to America’s continued economic and educational leadership. We learn that increasing graduation rates is critical in achieving the objective of much larger rates of higher education attainment. BCM give a lot of attention to what they term the “undermatching” of high quality students with lower quality institutions. According to them, in North Carolina alone in 1999 there were about 2,500 undermatched high school seniors. These undermatched students went to lower quality schools than their capabilities suggested were feasible (or to no school at all), and tended to have graduation rates that were perhaps 15 points lower than similarly qualified students going to top-flight public schools (adjusting for other characteristics such as socioeconomic status, the gap was typically closer to 10 points). Assuming the North Carolina numbers are representative of the nation, what these results suggest is that ending undermatching could raise the national graduation rate by something less than one percentage point (e.g.., from about 55 to perhaps 56 percent), a relatively trivial movement.

Continue reading Why Don’t More Graduate

The Ominous Rise Of The Adjuncts

By Maurice Black & Erin O’Connor

Review of John C. Cross and Edie Goldenberg’s Off-Track Profs: Nontenured Teachers in Higher Education. (Cambridge: MIT Press): 2009.

According to the AAUP, 48 percent of faculty are part-timers, and 68 percent of all faculty appointments take place off the tenure track. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) cites comparable numbers, reporting that a mere 27 percent of postsecondary instructors hold fulltime, tenure-track positions. Such figures are the familiar touchstones of debates about the nature and future of academic work, undergraduate education, and academic freedom. They anchor official statements and form the basis of movements. Adjunct faculty are unionizing, and the AFT has launched a campaign to increase the proportion of undergraduate courses taught by fulltime and tenure-track professors to 75 percent.

Surrounded by statistics, activism, and commentary, the adjunct faculty member is never far from discussions about higher ed reform. “There is no subject so painful and so ubiquitous as the role of adjuncts in higher ed,” writes Louisiana State University English professor Emily Toth, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Ms Mentor.” Nor, perhaps, is there an academic subject so thoroughly stylized. The underpaid, uninsured, and underappreciated “freeway flyer” has become a tragic figure, a poster prof for the moral, economic, and ethical failings of modern-day academia. Hardly a month goes by without another scandal in which someone fires—or fails to renew—an “invisible adjunct” who has expressed controversial views. Such cases—and the anger they evoke—have become the standardized set pieces of an academia that has yet to reckon with the fact that its modes of employment have undergone a seismic shift.

The supporting casts in these set pieces are as stylized as their non-tenure-track stars. There is the bean-counting administrator, an anti-intellectual corporate drone who sees adjunct faculty as a handy way to reduce overhead. And there is the smug tenured professor who sits idly by while a corps of shamelessly exploited workers enables his light teaching load, his leisurely sabbaticals, and his inflated salary. Together, these characters facilitate two structures of blame. The first focuses on putatively deliberate actions, assuming that the rise of adjuncts is an intended consequence of a specific, crass economic plan; the second focuses on passive inaction, assuming that tenured professors have made a Faustian bargain to secure their own comfort at the expense of tenure and academic freedom for future generations.

Continue reading The Ominous Rise Of The Adjuncts

School Daze: The Best Novels About The Campus

“I expect you’ll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir. That’s what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behavior.”

– Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall, 1928

Those were the days. A novelist could teach for a year or two and emerge with enough satire to fill a library. Alas, the Academy has grown more ludicrous and exaggerated with each succeeding generation and is now almost beyond parody. Today, all a smart writer has to do, in Emily Dickinson’s memorable phrase, is tell the truth but tell it slant.

This melancholy observation was brought to mind by Roger Rosenblatt’s comic tale Beet, the story of a professor who fatuously assumes that college is a place for colloquy and intellectual adventure. Instead, he finds an arena rife with faculty politics and political correctness, with courses like Little People of Color and Postcolonial Women’s Sports. The administration is even worse than the staff: eyeing the Internet, the chairman of the board of trustees demands, “Why couldn’t we run the whole college online? From one building? From a Quonset hut! From a lean-to, for Chrissake! An outhouse!”

Funny stuff. But the fact is that colleges are falling all over themselves to hustle dollars from the Net. Google has more than six million references to courses you can take without bothering to enter a classroom. As for PC, the very real Occidental College offers The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie?; Oberlin has a seminar called She Works Hard for the Money: Women, Work and the Persistence of Inequality; and UCLA makes much of Queer Musicology, exploring the ways in which “sexual differences and complex gender identities in music and among musicians have incited productive consternation” during the 1990s. I could cite hundreds more.

Continue reading School Daze: The Best Novels About The Campus

Do Rich White Kids Win With Affirmative Action?

Color and Money: How Rich White Kids are Winning the War Over College Affirmative Action  by Peter Schmidt

Reviewed by George C. Leef

Exactly how important is a college degree from a prestige school? Many believe that having such a degree is extremely important – a virtual guarantee of success in life. The higher education establishment works hard at propounding the idea that without a college degree, a young person’s life will be one of almost Hobbesian misery and the elite institutions go a step further and portray themselves as the essential training grounds for the nation’s leaders. If you accept those views, the destiny of the nation is largely shaped by who goes to college and where.

Peter Schmidt has swallowed them hook, line, and sinker, which isn’t surprising for a reporter who has been immersed in higher education for many years. In his new book Color and Money he writes, “In modern American society, many of us assume – or at least desperately hope – that the people in leading positions in government, business, and the professions are our best and brightest… How do we decide who deserves such status? Generally, we rely on academic credentials. We entrust the task of identifying and training our best and brightest to our elite higher education institutions…”

Continue reading Do Rich White Kids Win With Affirmative Action?

Bloom Bludgeoned

Donald Lazere offers a breezy and factless hatchet job on Allan Bloom today at Inside Higher Ed.

At first he seems about to offer a detailed critique of his works, asserting that they are “lofty-sounding ideological rationalizations for the policies of the Republican Party from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush.” Stern words; Lazere follows them with examples from the text? No, just a dscriptive paragraph – wait, actually, a mere sentence: “Bloom rages against the movements of the 60s – campus protest, black power, feminism, affirmative action, and the counterculture – while glossing over every injustice in American society and foreign policy (he scarcely mentions the Vietnam War).”
The books are not mentioned again – Lazere blithely skips on to build his case on the basis of Bloom’s friendships and professional connections: “Bloom’s personal affiliations further belied his boast of being above “attachment to a party” and captivity to “the spirit of party.” His writing for Commentary, association with the John M. Olin center at the University of Chicago, and – of course, role as instructor for Paul Wolfowitz all place him ireedemably within a neo-con cabal.

It’s on the tour of Bloom’s iniquitous friends and bastard progeny that Lazere expands his aim from damning the man to damning, well, about anyone who knew him or now cites him. Bloom, to Lazere, seems first among many right-wing hacks who “vaunt their dedication to intellectual disinterestedness while acting as propagandists for the Republican Party and its satellite political foundations.” Lazere builds his subsequent argument less-than-convincingly. Consider his take-down of Commentary:

Continue reading Bloom Bludgeoned

Things You Might Not Know About The Duke Case

Things you might not know about the Duke non-rape case if you haven’t read the new book “Until Proven Innocent” by Stuart Taylor, Jr, and KC Johnson:

* Collin Finnerty did not beat up a gay man in a homophobic rage outside a Georgetown bar in 2005, as much of the news media reported. Finnerty was one of several males involved in a beery confrontation. He pushed one of his antagonists but he did not hit anyone, gay or straight.

* Duke administrators were outraged that the lacrosse team had held a stripper party, but no such outrage greeted the more than 20 such parties held at Duke during the 2005-2006 academic year. Duke’s famous basketball team held one two weeks before, drawing no apparent criticism.

* Tara Levicy, the nurse who reported on the condition of Crystal Mangum after the alleged rape, shrugged off the absence of physical evidence of assault and the lack of lacrosse-player DNA with a feminist slogan: “Rape is about power, not passion.”

* Michael Nifong, whose parents had gone to Duke, was known for his hatred of Duke University and its students. According to Patsy McDonald, a law school classmate, he also had a “deep-seated antipathy to lacrosse players.”

* Sergeant Mark Gottlieb, who took over the case for the Durham police “hated Dukies and had an ugly history of abusing them, according to allegations by Duke students who dealt with him before the lacrosse case surfaced.” Gottlieb had jailed three times as many Duke students as the three other police supervisors in the area combined. In one case he jailed a female Duke student and a female friend and put them in a cell with a blood-covered, drug-addled woman who said she had stabbed someone. The charge against the two women was that they had failed to prevent a 19-year-old from taking a can of beer from a cooler during a party at their home.
* The news media churned out negative opinions of lacrosse players at Duke and other elite schools (Newsweek: “strutting lacrosse players are a distinctive and familiar breed on elite campuses… the players tend to be at once macho and entitled (and) sometimes behave like thugs.”) In fact, the authors write, the Duke players had no record of racism, sexism, violence or bullying. They studied hard, got good grades, and showed respect and consideration for minorities, women and workers who served the team. They also had a good record of community service, especially with a reading program that targeted black and Hispanic children.

* The notably fair and accurate journalists who covered the case (a short list) included Dan Abrams of MSNBC, Chris Cuomo of Good Morning America, Kurt Anderson of New York Magazine, Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes and the first New York Times reporter, Joe Drape, who was taken off the story shortly after concluding that the alleged rape looked like a hoax.