Category Archives: Essays

How Mismatches Devastate Minority Students

By Gail Heriot
(Ms. Heriot is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This piece is adapted from Ms. Heriot’s Commissioner Statement for the Civil Rights Report on Affirmative Action at American Law Schools released last fall.)

I have no doubt that those who originally conceived of race-based admissions policies – nearly forty years ago – were acting in good faith. By lowering admissions standards for African-American and Hispanic students at selective law schools, they hoped to increase the number of minority students on campus and ultimately to promote minority integration into both the legal profession and mainstream society. Similarly, however, I have no doubt of the good faith of those who opposed the policies. Indeed, their warnings that academic double standards cannot solve the nation’s problems and may well exacerbate them seem especially prescient in light of recent research.
The real conflict over race-based admissions policies has not been about good or bad faith or about whether we should aspire to be a society in which members of racial minorities are fully integrated into the mainstream. There is no question we should. The conflict is about whether racial discrimination – something that nearly all Americans abhor – is an appropriate tool to achieve that end. Put starkly: Should the principle of non-discrimination be temporarily sacrificed in the hope that such a sacrifice will, in the long run, help us become the society of equal opportunity that we all aspire to?

Justice Stanley Mosk warned of the risks associated with such temporary compromises with principle over thirty years ago, when, writing for the California Supreme Court in Bakke v. UC Regents (1976), he held racially discriminatory admissions policies to be unconstitutional:

To uphold the University would call for the sacrifice of principle for the sake of dubious expediency and would represent a retreat in the struggle to assure that each man and woman shall be judged on the basis of individual merit alone, a struggle which has only lately achieved success in removing legal barriers to racial equality.

Continue reading How Mismatches Devastate Minority Students

Indoctrinate U. Was It Fair? An Exchange

[Indoctrinate U, a documentary by Evan Coyne Maloney on the state of intellectual freedom at American universities, premiered at the Kennedy Center in September 2007 and has screened in multiple locations since. Peter Berkowitz, writing in The Wall Street Journal, called Indoctrinate U a “riveting documentary about the war on free speech and individual rights waged by university faculty and administrators…” John K. Wilson, founder of The Institute for College Freedom, doesn’t think the film’s quite fair. He provided us a critique of Indoctrinate U and invited us to solicit Maloney’s response. Here is Wilson’s review, followed by Maloney’s thoughts. Indoctrinate U is screening at select campuses and theaters in the near future; check the film’s website for more information (and read our original review here.)]

—————————————————————–

No
By John K. Wilson
Evan Coyne Maloney’s new movie, Indoctrinate U, is probably the best documentary ever made about higher education. That fact makes the numerous biases, distortions, and omissions of his work all the more disappointing. But these errors aren’t all Maloney’s fault; instead, his documentary reflects the mistakes of right-wing critics who often promote false stories or provide one-sided analysis.

What makes Maloney’s movie so good is the application of Michael Moore’s techniques to the realm of free speech and colleges. Certainly, nobody has ever made such an entertaining documentary about higher education, as Maloney makes effective use of his sarcastic voiceover, fast pacing, and putting himself in front of the camera as he demands answers, in person, from wary administrators who, over and over again, refuse to speak with him.

Maloney even echoes Moore’s autobiographical tilt about Flint, Michigan in Roger and Me with his own story about being the son of activists who protested for campus liberty as part of the Free Speech Movement. Maloney concludes: “Somewhere along the way, the Campus Free Speech Movement got killed by university regulations.” Actually, the Free Speech Movement got started because of university repression, and the fight continues to this day, although many of the battles have been won. Maloney claims, “Academia today isn’t a marketplace at all. It’s a monopoly. But it wasn’t always like this.” All of Maloney’s nostalgia to the contrary (and it’s amusing to see conservatives embrace the campus liberatory movements of the 1960s), liberty on campus is far better protected today than it’s ever been.

Maloney is also guilty of some of Michael Moore’s flaws, such as using selective editing to mock those he disagrees with. He takes Noel Ignatiev’s theories about whiteness and reduces him to a series of two-second edited clips mangled together, trying to make him look foolish. It only makes Maloney look bad, since he seems unwilling to engage intellectually with a theory he doesn’t like and even appears to suggest that thinkers like Ignatiev should be banished from academia since Maloney is annoyed that such ideas are considered “completely legit.”

Continue reading Indoctrinate U. Was It Fair? An Exchange

What Trustees Must Do

Trustees face a quandary in trying to figure out their role in academic governance. As a matter of law, institutional responsibility is squarely in their hands. On the other hand, while few challenge their oversight in matters managerial and financial, they are routinely warned that when it comes to intellectual content, the heart of university life, they should keep their distance.

Trustees should generally avoid getting involved in judgments about intellectual specifics such as individual personnel decisions, the content of courses, and the structure of particular programs, etc. Usually they will be out of their depth here. But they should be actively engaged in matters pertaining to overall intellectual climate, especially the degree to which such core principles of rational discourse as objectivity, disengagement, meritocracy, civility, and pluralism are honored and institutionalized. Here trustee fair-mindedness, ideological coolness, and intellectual distance, can help keep the ideological passions of academics from running discourse off reason’s rails.

Like judges, trustees should see themselves as having a responsibility to ensure that the rules of sound intellectual discourse are recognized, that the academic cultures of the institutions they supervise are “lawful” in a manner that preserves the free and effective exercise of reason. This, of course, is a matter of faculty responsibility too, but since the nature of these rules, in many essentials, simply follow the operating principles of a liberal social order, citizens of that order should be able to understand them well enough to backstop compliance. Trustees need not be scholarly experts to participate meaningfully in the university’s intellectual governance. They need only be intelligent and watchful products of a free society.

What types of rules are we speaking of and why should members of a liberal society be able to recognize and help enforce them?

Continue reading What Trustees Must Do

No Quarter For Nichol

Although the mainstream media would have you believe he was a martyr to religious fundamentalists and moral Pecksniffs, Gene Nichol lost his job as president of the College of William and Mary in Virginia for only one reason: he was a lousy administrator who seemed not to be able to get it into his head that one of the main jobs of a college president is to raise money from alumni and others and thus to cultivate good public relations for the institution he represents. Nichol seemed to think that he had been hired by the college’s governing Board of Visitors in 2005 to thumb his nose at sundry traditionalists, and his in-your-face actions cost William and Mary at least one $12 million donation along with a great deal of good will among Virginia citizens toward the venerable and highly rated liberal-arts school.

Yes, William and Mary, located adjacent to the famous colonial-days tourist site in Williamsburg, Va., is a state-run institution, as Nichol never ceased reminding the many critics of his unilateral decision last November to remove a 70-year-old cross from the altar of the college’s historic Wren Chapel, which dates almost to the college’s founding in 1693. Like many quality state schools, William and Mary is highly dependent on private donations to cover its costs, especially since the state of Virginia has been steadily reducing its contribution to the college’s budget, cutting $3 million in 2007. Alumni and generous Virginia citizens are important stakeholders at William and Mary.

The cross, donated to the chapel by a William and Mary alumnus in 1931 and symbolizing William and Mary’s Anglican heritage, had been the subject of no known complaints by students. The Wren Chapel has been regularly used for non-Christian religious services as well as secular functions for several decades, and when non-Christians used the space, they simply removed the cross temporarily. Nichol decided, in the fall of 2006, without consulting anyone, that the cross violated the First Amendment’s ban on establishment of religion so he had it removed. After a huge uproar among students, alumni, and members of the Board of Visitors, Nichol allowed the return of the cross, although in a glass display case.

Continue reading No Quarter For Nichol

Academic Gibberish And The Hermeneutics Of Mistrust

Overwhelming evidence attests to the liberal tilt on our college campuses. Studies show that the faculty at most mainstream institutions are overwhelmingly registered with the Democratic party and give a disproportionate share of their political donations to left-leaning candidates. A recent study of donations by faculty at Princeton University during the current Presidential election season shows that every faculty donation went to a Democratic candidate. Were such unanimity to manifest itself for conservative candidates at an academic institution, one can be certain that our leading academics would decry the lack of diversity.

Anecdotal evidence everywhere further attests not only to the liberalism of most “mainstream” faculty, but the disproportionate share of radical professors in our humanities and social sciences. Innumerable stories have been circulated of aggressive efforts to “destabilize” gender, to question “normativity,” to challenge backward institutions such as marriage and family, to encourage students to break out of pre-conceived social notions they may have inherited from parents and community. A recent article in my campus’s newspaper, The Hoya, reflects this sort of radicalism. In the column, philosophy professor Mark Lance introduces himself thusly:

I’m an anarchist, a rationalist, a feminist, a man, a pragmatist, an evangelical agnostic, a friend, a philosopher, a parent, a teacher, a committed partner of one other person and a nonviolent revolutionary. These labels are all, to different degrees, important to me; they define my sense of self. You could call them my identities, but all are “works in progress,” which is to say that the label stays roughly the same, but my sense of what it means changes and grows. (For example, I still have no idea what I mean by identifying as a man, though over the years I’ve figured out many things I don’t mean. Some days, I wish that one would drop off the list.)

Aside from its unbearable self-indulgence, it’s a predictable indication that Lance would seek to reject the one form of his “identity” that is actually given by nature. This is the one unbearable aspect of identity, because it is not chosen or willed.

Conservatives are often satisfied to register their righteous anger and indignation at this state of affairs, and have tactically adopted the language of victimhood and demands for diversity as a way of combating this left-wing hegemony. This may be politically effective and may in fact help raise awareness of the current campus culture to potential supporters outside the academy. However, these arguments are only tactical at best, and fundamentally obscure deeper investigation into why this state of affairs has come to pass and what would be required to begin a more fundamental reform of higher education.

Continue reading Academic Gibberish And The Hermeneutics Of Mistrust

The Internship Racket

(This article originally appeared at Inside Higher Ed)

Dartmouth College is now the latest institution to announce considerable changes to its tuition and financial aid structure, eliminating any charges for students from families making less than $75,000 a year. Dartmouth’s arrangement is not nearly so generous as Harvard’s or Yale’s, yet it’s markedly superior in one regard. Dartmouth proposes to offer a scholarship “to allow financial aid recipients to take advantage of research or internship opportunities in their junior year.”

Dartmouth’s is the most concrete step towards expanding access to internships, in a cycle of financial aid changes where colleges have begun to take explicit note of the fundamental inequities in their accessibility. Several colleges eliminated summer earning expectations for students on financial aid, asserting that the demand that students contribute money toward tuition in summers posed a stark obstacle to the pursuit of less-remunerative internships and volunteer work. All that is undoubtedly true, but the colleges’ efforts go nowhere near establishing equality of access to internships.

Why worry? Increasingly, internships are perceived as essential steps to post-college employment, as definitive legs up for job applicants. “Internships are no longer optional, they’re required,” The New York Times quoted Peter Vogt, author of Career Wisdom for College Students and an adviser to MonsterTrak.com, as saying last month. A 2006 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers indicated that 62.5 percent of new college hires performed undergraduate internships. Employers responding to association’s 2007 Recruiting Benchmarks Survey reported that they offered full-time jobs to almost two-thirds of their interns. Over 30 percent of new hires came from such internal internship programs. Internships undoubtedly enhance employment prospects, but the question is – for whom? The answer, almost invariably, is for students already well-off.

Continue reading The Internship Racket

A Department Of Hillbilly Studies?

Today’s university seems obsessively compassionate about the downtrodden, far more than the usual academic Marxist celebration of exploited workers. Entire departments – African American Studies, Women’s Studies, Queer Studies, Latino/a Studies – strive to uplift those suffering from white male heterosexual oppressors. In African and Latin American Studies indigenous people are always blameless “good guys” while under-graduates are relentlessly implored, usually with academic credit, to “make a difference” or “work for social change,” i.e., rallying deadbeat tenants against predatory slum landlords. English Departments – even History Departments–increasingly celebrate heretofore repressed “voices” of the forcefully silenced. Schools of Social Work and Education now require taking vows to advance “social and economic justice” in order to graduate. Hard-head Business Schools are hardly immune – mandatory Business Ethics courses might teach that cowboy capitalism must be sympathetic to those unable to compete in cruel marketplaces.
Matters are not, however, as morally black and white as they seem. Fervent compassion for the repressed, suppressed, disadvantaged, disabled, stigmatized, marginalized, exploited and all the rest is selective, and this selectivity is hardly accidental or random. In a nutshell, liberal academics are wonderfully compassionate, caring and sympathetic but only for those who seem eternally mired in dependency to be ameliorated via expanding state power. If victims are disinclined to demand this expanded state power to rescue them from misery, then their consciousness must be raised so these newly “educated” souls can lobby for income re-distribution or some other handed-down benefit.

A class in black politics, for example, rarely dwells on Booker T. Washington’s plea for self-reliance or recognizes that black Caribbean immigrants prosper via hard work, thrift and delayed gratification while shunning politics. This message is unspeakable heresy and, “inauthentic.” A would-be professor expressing such views would never even be hired. The orthodox recipe for accomplishment is endlessly repeated semester after semester: mobilize, vote for candidates promising government handouts, demand new entitlements and otherwise crave measures to further deepen dependency on officialdom. One does not create wealth; one gets wealth by demanding it from on high. In this odd universe, a multiple choice question: “The best route to college admission is (a) study hard or (b) take political action against elites for stronger affirmative action” will be correctly answered with “b.”

Continue reading A Department Of Hillbilly Studies?

CUNY Schemes Around Civil Rights Law

At a recent Manhattan Institute forum, Ward Connerly, the fierce opponent of race and sex preferences by government (who’s leading a state-by-state referendum drive to abolish affirmative action) admitted how the Bush Administration has disgraced itself by endorsing racial and gender-conscious policies and practices. Connerly did not give examples, but one glaring illustration is President Bush’s Education Department’s failure to address racial and gender discrimination underway in public schools and higher education in the guise of helping black men through differential treatment and separate programming.

This latest rage in education takes the form of Black Male Initiatives, which usually include “special” classes, counseling, mentoring, tutoring, and, on some campuses, even separate residences for blacks and ethnic minorities. The U.S. Education Department simply won’t comment. I know because I asked Secretary Margaret Spellings to do so.

Excerpt: “Beet” – A Satiric Look At An Awful College

By Roger Rosenblatt
(Harper Collins, $23.95)

“Don’t bother to come home if you still have a job,” Livi Porterfield called to her husband as he shoved their two groggy children into the 243,000-miles-and-still-rattling Accord, to drive them to school. He blew her a kiss.

The job she referred to was on the faculty of Beet College, forty miles north of Boston, where eighteen-hundred hand-picked, neurotically competitive undergraduates were joined with one-hundred-and-forty-one hand-picked, neurotically competitive professors to instruct them. Beet was a typical small New England college, fortified with brick and crawling with ivy and self-adoration – the sort of place people call charming when they mean sterile.

There Peace Porterfield, the youngest full professor in the school’s history, taught English and American literature – which is ordinarily enough to mark a person for disaster. If that didn’t do the trick, he also believed in what he did, being committed to an academic discipline said to have exhausted both its material and its usefulness, and patronized by institutions of higher learning like a doddering tenant no longer able to come up with the rent. And if those things didn’t do him in, he believed in the value of a liberal arts education, and in colleges in general, from whose sacred waters, he further believed, civilization flowed. Need one glaze the duck? He believed in civilization…

Continue reading Excerpt: “Beet” – A Satiric Look At An Awful College

Fishing For Purpose

When asked about the theme for December’s annual MLA convention- “The Humanities at Work in the World” – Yale comparative literature professor and MLA president Michael Holquist spoke of the need “to raise the consciousness of people outside the academy about the importance of the work that’s done inside the academy.” Acknowledging that the humanities do not enjoy wide public support, Holquist diagnoses the problem as a superficial one of public relations – if humanists simply advertise their worth more effectively, he suggests, the public will accept their self-assessment at face value.

But that’s a glib analysis of a problem that goes far beyond appearances. The real problem the academic humanities face is a loss of purpose, imagination, and professionalism. No amount of PR can conceal that or make it palatable to a skeptical public – and efforts to do so risk revealing exactly how intellectually hollow the humanities currently are.

A case in point: Stanley Fish’s recent attempt to use his New York Times blog to justify the humanities. A Milton specialist who has written numerous books on literary theory, Fish is a public intellectual who has long been at the forefront of the most influential movements in the humanities. That’s why the New York Times gave him his very own online forum, “Think Again.” It’s also why his posts there routinely draw hundreds of comments from academics and lay readers.

A skilled rhetorician, Fish is exceptionally able to walk finer intellectual lines than most. So it was instructive to see him take up the perennially vexed question of the humanities in two posts at “Think Again.”

Continue reading Fishing For Purpose

The Aristocratic Reign Of Group Preferences

Defenders and advocates of group preferences generally make their stand on a moral claim: group preferences are needed to advance the common social good. To oppose group preferences is, in turn, to act immorally. The vehemence with which defenders of group preferences frequently speak and the extreme tactics of some pro-preference groups such as By Any Means Necessary stem from this rootedness in moral conviction and moral antipathy.

Critics of group preferences also often make their stand on a moral basis. Many believe that group preferences perpetuate the sort of inequalities in our society that undermine the common good. Other critics tap directly into an almost visceral sense among Americans that group preferences are unfair. The critics of group preferences likewise imply some moral deficiency on the part of their opponents, who they see as not just advocates of unwise policy but also as architects of an unjust social order.

The moral claims of both supporters and critics run deep, but they of course do not exhaust the terms of the debate. We also make legal arguments, pragmatic claims about the likely consequences of policies, historical analyses, international comparisons, statistical investigations, and political appeals. This sprawl is characteristic of American life: whenever we debate something of fundamental importance, the arguments avalanche. Racial and gender preference began as an issue in graduate and professional programs in the 1970s, expanded into all of higher education, found welcome in the armed forces, and by the late 1980s moved into the corporate world. As the use of preferences expanded, the ideology of preferences centered on the concept of diversity diffused throughout American life until it was granted Constitutional imprimatur in 2003 in Justice O’Connor’s opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger.

But behind the avalanche of arguments when Americans debate something of fundamental importance, there is always a central moral question. Or perhaps better put, there is a tightly knit cluster of moral questions. Who are we? Whom do we aspire to become? What is the right way forward?

Continue reading The Aristocratic Reign Of Group Preferences

What’s New In Diversity

Yale’s burgeoning diversity program has another announcement: it wants to “incorporate the role of ethnic counselor into that of freshman counselor, who will become responsible for providing enhanced community support for cultural affairs on campus,” according to the Yale Daily News.

What does that mean? Well, according to the News, which neglected to supply an English-language version of the plan, “students would become increasingly aware of extant cultural resources on campus, along with gaining knowledge of new support to be rolled out under the restructure.”

Okay, that clears it all up. There is, however, dissent. “This is unbelievable. It reads like an article from the Onion,” said the first reader comment on the News site yesterday. “Do these people realize they are becoming laughing stocks?” Apparently not. The feeling at Yale seems to be that most students lack sufficient diversity awareness and are in some danger of going mainstream instead of remaining in their identity cubbyholes.

Yale currently has 90 residential counselors in its 12 residential colleges and only 13 ethnic counselors, hardly enough by today’s diversity standards. The Daily News says the ethnic counselors have a “sometimes nebulous role within the college community,” but nebulousness seems destined to fade. The goal, as one ethnicity counselor told the News, is to change the culture at Yale so students aren’t afraid to talk about diversity and race and “really understand the way in which ethnicity plays a role in their life within the residential colleges.” To that end, the “intercultural educators” take a missionary position, planning speeches and intercultural events, and preaching the diversity gospel.

Continue reading What’s New In Diversity

Northwestern Makes The Cold War Disappear

In order to fulfill the requirements for a major in history at Northwestern University, my daughter took a course called “The Cold War At Home.” As one might imagine in the hothouse of the college system, left wing views predominate. The students read Ellen Shrecker, not Ronald Radosh. Joseph McCarthy has been transmogrified into Adolf Hitler. And victimology stands as the overarching theme of the course.

Communists in the United States are merely benign civil rights advocates and union supporters. The word espionage never once crossed the lips of the instructor.

An extraordinary amount of time and energy has been devoted to the “lavender persecution” – harm imposed on gay Americans. Presumably, this group was more adversely affected by McCarthy’s allegations than others.

Despite the recent scholarship on the period such as Alan Weinstein’s well researched book on Alger Hiss or Stanton Evanss biography of Senator McCarthy, views that do not fit the prevailing orthodoxy aren’t entertained. Pounded into students is the view that America engaged in “totalitarian practices” not unlike the Soviet enemy we decried.

Although the course is entitled the Cold War at Home, you might think the instructor would be inclined to ask who the enemy is, why was the Soviet Union an enemy and what tactics did this nation employ against us. But these issues are not addressed.

Continue reading Northwestern Makes The Cold War Disappear

Student Loans – Sequel To The Mortgage Mess?

A few weeks ago, I alerted readers to the threat of a tightening of the student loan market . Banks have been bundling student loans, like home mortgages, and selling them as securities. First Marblehead Corporation in Boston has been the nation’s biggest player in “securitizing” student loans, and just like home mortgage-backed securities, the student loan-backed bonds issued by First Marblehead contain a lot of loans of doubtful value.

These aren’t the loans that are guaranteed by the Federal government’s Title IV Student Loan program. When students have borrowed all they can in Title IV loans, they frequently need to borrow still more to meet the extravagant costs of college. They often borrow at relatively high interest rates from banks and other private lenders. These banks and lenders, in turn, act just like the sub-prime mortgage lenders did: they sell the risk to someone else. First Marblehead takes loans from many banks and bundle them together to create its bond issues.

As I reported, First Marblehead appears to have hit a major snag in October, when investors declined to buy the company’s new $1 billion student loan-backed bond offering. First Marblehead’s stock plummeted and a chill went through the whole student loan industry.

Continue reading Student Loans – Sequel To The Mortgage Mess?

The Adversarial Campus

Against repeated accusations of leftwing bias on campus, professors have mounted many rejoinders disputing one or another item in the indictment. They claim that the disproportion isn’t as high as reports say. Or that reports focus on small pockets (women’s studies, etc.). Or that party registration is a crude indicator. Or that conservatives are too greedy and obtuse to undergo academic training.

The denials go on, and sometimes it’s hard to tell whether professors really believe in their own neutrality or whether they just hope to brazen out the attacks. One response, however, stands apart, precisely because it doesn’t deny a darn thing in the bias charge. Indeed, it concedes every empirical point – “Yes, left-wing people, left-wing ideas, and left-wing texts dominate,” but it adds, “And that’s exactly as it should be.”

It’s a refreshingly straightforward assertion. I heard it at an MLA Convention session awhile back when a young man in the audience talked about getting shot down by his professor when he voiced in class a conservative opinion. One of the panelists replied by telling him to quit complaining, then enlarged the rebuke to all conservative critics. “Look,” he grumbled, “conservatives have taken over every where else [this was before the 2006 election], and now they want the campus, too, the one place where liberal values can still prevail.”

Continue reading The Adversarial Campus

A Donkey At Berkeley

[a speech originally given at the University of Texas]

What is an appropriate curriculum for our students? What happened to the consensus on which the college curriculum once rested? Together these comprise two of the most urgent questions in contemporary American higher education. It seems to me that the criticisms of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind of a decade ago are symptomatic of the problems we are facing. High standards are described as elitism, a pejorative of scathing proportions. A call for the assertion of Western traditions is characterized as racist and anti-democratic. And Bloom’s critique of radical feminism as a virus let loose on the curriculum is greeted with cries of “phallocentrism.”

The college curriculum as the source of youthful enlightenment free of the impediments of bias and prejudice has unraveled. While Stanley Katz, president of the American Council of Learned Societies, recently noted that “scholars are less politicized in the United States than in any country in the developed world,” he neglected to point out that a profound and revolutionary change has occurred on American campuses since the 1960’s, resulting in the institutionalization of a radical agenda.

For a generation students have been fed on the “studies” curriculum, whether it is women’s studies, gay studies, environmental studies, peace studies, Chicano studies that are designed to indoctrinate students about pathologies in contemporary American culture – specifically race, class, gender, and environmental oppression.

Continue reading A Donkey At Berkeley

First Mortgages, Now Student Loans?

Last week, First Marblehead Corporation, a Boston-based company, saw its stock plummet after cutting its dividend. The problem? First Marblehead is in the business of “securitizing” student loans. A year ago, this would have required some explanation, but the sub-prime mortgage mess has taught Americans – and people all over the world – the meaning of “securitizing.” It is one of those words that means the opposite of what it sounds like. A company bundles together some high-grade debt, some middle-grade debt, and some really doubtful debt and sells it to investors, who only think they are making a secure investment. As we learned with the securitized mortgages, no one really knows what these chimeras are worth. And a little bit of bad debt, like a little bit of ptomaine, goes a long way to making the whole meal undigestible.

First Marblehead isn’t saying exactly what happened, but Matt Snowling, analyst with Friedman Billings Ramsey, told AP report Dan Seymour, that he believes First Marblehead “was trying to sell about $1 billion in bonds.” As Seymour explains, First Marblehead bundles student loans from numerous banks to put together its bond offerings. The deal usually specifies that First Marblehead has 180 days to sell the bonds, and failing that, has to buy the student loans itself.

Apparently, First Marblehead has been trying since October to sell $1.1 billion in these student loan-backed bonds – and found few takers. Meanwhile, banks keep issuing more student loans.

Continue reading First Mortgages, Now Student Loans?

Donors – Remember Princeton

The case of the Robertson Foundation versus Princeton University has not, after nearly five years of litigation, yet come to trial. But it’s already shaping up to be the most expensive donor intent case in history. Reports of spending by the Robertson family differ, but news reports indicate the family may have spent as much as $20 million trying to sever their foundation from Princeton University control.

As for Princeton, an article that appeared in the Daily Princetonian in October stated that the university had, so far, committed $22 million to defending itself. Princeton is so deeply committed that in June the university won a suit against its insurer, a subsidiary of the giant firm American International Group. The insurer, according to an article in the Newark Star-Ledger, balked at paying more than $5 million under Princeton’s policy. The courts ordered AIG to give Princeton another $10 million. (AIG, however, plans to appeal.)

The stakes are high because the Robertson Foundation constitutes around eight percent of Princeton’s endowment with a value of $850-900 million. But the case also involves the issue of what rights the donor has over whether his gift would be used or misused.

Continue reading Donors – Remember Princeton

The Unbalanced University

In my last essay for Minding the Campus, I discussed how faculty indifference may have contributed indirectly to the establishment of the University of Delaware’s now notorious residence hall re-education program. If so, we should consider this a crime of omission rather than a crime of commission. This perspective on the problem either differs from or supplements the claims of many critics of higher education, who blame ideological agendas among faculty as the major cause of campus politicization.

A panel discussion/debate in October between Stephen Balch and Harry Lewis at the Pope Center in North Carolina highlighted this disagreement. The panel dealt with the problems besetting liberal education, focusing on education’s aimlessness and failure to instill knowledge and respect for free institutions. Balch and Lewis agreed on several things, but offered two different slants on the ills of higher education. Comparing the views of Balch and Lewis can help us to clarify and refine the problem of politics in higher education today.

Balch, the distinguished president of the National Association of Scholars who recently was awarded the National Humanities Medal in the Oval Office, blamed the ills of liberal education on politicized faculty. According to Jay Schalin’s report of the panel, Balch argued that higher education is failing “because it has adopted a left-wing ideology that is at odds with our traditions. The university system, with its population of impressionable young people, is naturally attractive to people with ‘an inclination toward visionary and utopian thinking,’ and these utopians feel that the purpose of education is to ‘move people toward their visions.”

Continue reading The Unbalanced University

J-School Propaganda

Nestled away in the heart of one of the most conservative Midwestern states is a publicly funded university radically at odds with its surroundings.

Universities are in theory, marketplaces for ideas and ideologies; centers for free expression as well as vigorous and informed debate; refuges for free and independent thought. But if the taxpayers who help fund this institution heard what certain professors in its school of journalism are teaching students, they might ask for their money back. To some extent, this is no surprise. Most universities and their journalism schools are notoriously left leaning in nature. However, the sheer ferocity of the indoctrination is astonishing. I know first hand. I spent much of the past year at this institution.

It was not a surprise that as a conservative, I was ideologically alone in journalism school. However, it did not seem like a gigantic leap to think that no matter their leanings, professors would keep their politics out of the curriculum and fellow students would be open to and accepting of dissenting voices.

Wrong.

Continue reading J-School Propaganda

Where Was The Faculty?

A lot has been written about the details of the residential life program at the University of Delaware, and the ways in which it has bullied students and residential assistants to accept regnant orthodoxy. The nation’s collective hat should go off to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for exposing this program, and for compelling the university to back down – at least temporarily. The episode brings to mind last spring’s heated debate in the Chronicle of Higher Education over whether FIRE was too extreme in its attacks on higher education, and whether FIRE had outlived its usefulness. One case is not statistical proof, but the fact remains that without FIRE, this remarkably repressive program would still be in effect.

I want to address a broader issue in the Delaware case that has not attracted enough attention thus far: the role of non-faculty members in promoting the politicization of higher education. Kathleen Kerr, a mastermind of the Delaware program, is director of residential life for the University of Delaware. Interestingly, as John Leo has recently pointed out, she is also the chairperson of the American College Personnel Association’s Commission for Housing and Residential Life – a group with connections to universities across the country.

Continue reading Where Was The Faculty?

Aestheticization of Relationality? Really?

The following is a call for papers to be delivered at the Society for Cultural Anthropology meeting next May aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Frankly, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to us, so as we struggle to understand, we ask you readers for help. This passage, we can all agree, is intensely felt and may well be packed with meaning. But what would that meaning turn out to be if the text is successfully rendered into English? To enlist your help, we are making this a contest. The author of the best (or most original) English-language translation of this passage will receive a prize, to be described at the end of this post. Ready? Here is the call for papers:

“Recent work in the human sciences has made questions of ethics and aesthetics central to the analysis of politics once again. Part of the impetus for this work comes from dissatisfaction with older paradigms that have often treated ethics and aesthetics as an ideological byproduct of the workings of capital and power politics. Recent developments within domains as disparate as the media, the bio-sciences, religion, and finance have forced the human sciences to rethink this older logic of cause and effect, content and form. Scholarly explorations have increasingly focused on how ethical concerns have at times helped spawn new forms of governance (such as truth and reconciliation commissions, novel auditing practices, social networks) and at other moments been the basis of imagining new forms of intimacy, publicity, secrecy, and relationality. Similarly, emergent aesthetic forms have given rise to unique communication regimes, sensory experiences, and politics of deliberation, critique, and persuasion. It is not surprising that anthropologists are at the center of such explorations given our discipline’s focus on existing and emergent forms of human action. The 2008 SCA annual meeting will focus on recent work produced around the thematics of ethics, aesthetics, and politics. Some of the questions and issues we want to explore are: What are the forms of critique implicit within contemporary ethical and aesthetic formations? How do these emergent practices reconfigure the classical schism between form and content so germane to the human sciences? How does the concept of “the political” needs to be rethought in light of the ethicization and aestheticization of contemporary politics? What, if anything, is left of culture in this debate? How do we rethink the notion of ‘practice’ in this moment beyond the dual axis of structure and effect? How might reflection on contemporary stagings of deliberation and debate help us rethink the relationship between affect and reason?”

The contest deadline is 6 p.m. November 25, eastern standard time. The prize will be a copy of The Location of Culture by Harvard’s hard-hitting but indecipherable post-colonial scholar, Homi K. Bhabha. The book contains this argument by Bhabha, which no one has even attempted to refute:

If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to ‘normalize’ formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.

The Spiraling Cost Of Higher Education

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed legislation (SB 190), authored by State Senator Leland Yee, which would require the governing boards of California’s two university systems – the University of California and the California State University – to determine future pay increases of university executives in meetings that would be open to the public. “This bill is simply intended to let a little sunshine into the process,” Yee has been quoted as saying.

Personally, I am convinced that the problem of rising administrative costs and the attendant escalation of higher education costs is going to require much more than a “little sunshine” to curtail it.

In good times and bad, there is one thing that is as certain as death and taxes: the cost of going to college will continue its upward spiral. There are many reasons for this circumstance, a few of which come to mind. But, anyone who is familiar with higher education can attest that the lack of “sunshine” laws is not one of those reasons; and the imposition of such laws, no matter how worthy that might sound, is not likely to have much effect on the problem.

Continue reading The Spiraling Cost Of Higher Education

Educating for Citizenship at Brown University: An Essay In Honor Of Allan Bloom

Brown University has been described as providing “the worst education in America.” Brown’s New Curriculum, far from requiring that students read a list of Great Books, has no core of any kind. Brown students are free to “shop” their courses and take only the ones they like. Brown’s libertarian attitude toward curricular structure no doubt influences the sort of courses that wind up being taught at the place.

Consider the goings-on in a course that has become popular at Brown in recent years. On the first day of this course, the instructor informs the delighted students that it is fine with him if they never attend another lecture during the semester. He admits that he would like them to attend their weekly discussion sections, but he assures them that they need not worry about being lectured at there: the sections in this course are conducted as student-led seminars, with the graduate teaching assistants instructed to refrain from interrupting the student’s musings in any way. There are weekly writing assignments in the course, but students are always free to write about topics that happen to interest them rather than the topic that was assigned. The syllabus indicates that the course includes a midterm, but the professor hastens to set them at ease about that. To the sound of cheers, he tells them that they may adjust the details of the questions so as to better display their own strengths and interests. He promises them in any case that their exams never will be evaluated in terms of how well the essays they write happen to fit with the questions that he (the professor) asks on the exam. Instead, each exam essay is to be evaluated simply “on its own terms.” This course concludes with a final exam sternly stipulating that students compose an essay in response to one of three questions. But the last question turns out to be: “3. Write a question about any author you have read, argument you have heard, or any idea that has occurred to you during this course. Now, answer it.”

I first read Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind twelve years ago, the year I began teaching at Brown. By the time I reached page 63 and read the sentence beginning “Education for our times must try to find whatever there is in students that might yearn for completion…”, I was enchanted. Bloom’s claim that there was a great wound lying unattended to at the soul of the university, a wound of emptiness endured without understanding by recent generations of students, resonated profoundly with my own earlier experiences as a professor at a number of what Bloom calls “the 20 or 30 best universities”. Perhaps because I had studied classics as an undergraduate at St. John’s College, Bloom’s prescription by book’s end – a return to “the good old Great Books approach” (334) – completed the spell. At last, someone had brilliantly grasped and confidently expressed worries that many of us had long but dimly harbored about the enterprise of education in America. Here was a champion worth backing.

Continue reading Educating for Citizenship at Brown University: An Essay In Honor Of Allan Bloom