Category Archives: Essays

I’m Ok, You’re Not Ok

“Reclaim Your Rights as a Liberal Educator.” That’s the title of a short essay in this month’s Academe, organ of the American Association of University Professors. The phrase has all the imagination of a slogan unfurled at countless marches, but what it lacks in wit it makes up for in fortitude of the uniquely academic kind. Author Julie Kilmer, women’s studies and religion professor at Olivet College, sounds the standard “they’re-out-to-get-us” call and rallies her brethren to take back the classroom. We have, too, a vicious aggressor: conservative student groups that confront professors of perceived liberal bias, and they form a national network out to undermine the faculty, who come off as vulnerable and innocent professionals. While the professors uphold “freedom of inquiry to examine the worth of controversial ideas” and “teach college students to use analytical thinking in the development of new ideas,” groups such as Students for Academic Freedom do their best to subvert the process. Worst of all, they “encourage students to bring complaints against faculty to administrators.” To Kilmer, they are no better than spies, and they prompt her to wonder, “Each time a student is resistant to feminist theories and ideas, should I ask if he or she has been placed in my class to question my teaching? How is my teaching affected if I enter the classroom each day asking, ‘Is today the day I will be called to the president’s office?”

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Robert Dynes An Example Of Larger UC Problem

[This piece also appeared in the San Francisco Examiner]

Robert (Bob) Dynes is president of the University of California (UC) – and has been in that position since October, 2003. During my tenure as a member of the Board of Regents of UC, I worked with Bob while he was chancellor of the campus at San Diego and during his reign as president of the entire UC system. Bob Dynes has excellent credentials as a physicist and he is a very decent human being. But, in announcing his retirement from the UC presidency. Bob is doing something he should have done the day he was selected to head the UC system. In fact, it was a mistake from the outset to select him, for which I am just as responsible as all of the other regents.

Some contend that Dynes was “encouraged” to resign by the regents because of his handling of administrative compensation and other “perks.” This is undoubtedly true. Yet, while his departure is the right decision, the mishandling of executive compensation or the perception of him as a weak administrator are the wrong reasons for “encouraging” him to ride off into the sunset. It would be useful to examine some of the problems at UC.

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Administrative Orthodoxy At Ave Maria

Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, Ave Maria University, and the town of Ave Maria, Florida (in that order) obviously isn’t attracting media acclaim in his effort to establish a conjoined orthodox Catholic University and Catholic town on a former tomato farm in Southwest Florida. No, he comes off as something as something of an Inquisitor, putting a farm of happily secular Florida tomatoes to the sword to make room for a bishopric of right-wing Catholics. The caviling about Monaghan, for the most part, is easily explained; Monaghan has explicitly proclaimed his intention of creating an orthodox Catholic University, and his critics despise the thought.

Monaghan’s truly revolutionary step here isn’t imagining a university – it’s that he hasn’t simply handed his dream over to the standard mush of college administration, but has remained deeply involved with the project – so far as to literally uproot the college over several states. The college’s move from the Midwest to Southwest Florida is a rather dramatic example of a founder’s influence, but American higher education seems to have altogether forgotten the experience of a living founder in this day of universal rule by amorphous faculty-trustee-administrator confederation (aka “our costs will always go up but no one knows who’s responsible”). Faculties are accustomed to Presidents who can be curbed when overly outspoken (Laurence Summers) and administrations are accustomed to routinely ignoring the wishes of donors and trustees (the Bass donation at Yale, the Robertson donation at Princeton). Monaghan is a very different quantity in this mix, an individual who hasn’t been content to see his wishes run aground in the morass of standard academic decision-making. He’s continued to exert a very active role in his University – a step that professors would see in almost any case as a clear intrusion into their purlieus.

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The Study Abroad Scandal

The New York Times has headlined yet another scandal in higher education: colleges and sometimes individual college officials have been receiving generous “incentives” to steer students into particular study abroad programs. The incentives include financial bounties and free trips abroad for the officials. As the Times points out, the self-dealing by college officials in these programs looks a lot like the self-dealing by college officials caught up in the student loan scandal.
How big a scandal is it that some colleges and some college officials have found another way to line their pockets at the expense of students? Not very big by itself, but coming on the heels of the student loan imbroglio, the study abroad scandal has stilts. From that height we can wonder if study abroad and financial aid are the whole of it: How many other aspects of the university enterprise offer college officials the opportunity to receive “gifts” at the ultimate expense of students?

Once upon a time, a certain kind of student yearned for a semester abroad or sought out opportunities to take a summer course in Salzberg or Poitiers. This was the American version of the “grand tour” with which wealthy Europeans once capped off the education of gentlemen. But Americans, being a pragmatic people, usually made sure that the venture included academic credit for courses that would meet degree requirements at the college back home.

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The “Fairness Doctrine” And Academia

In 1949, the United States Federal Communications Commission adopted a general policy which sought to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair. This policy was based on the theory that station licensees were “public trustees” and, as such, had an obligation to give those with differing points of view an opportunity to be heard. The “Fairness Doctrine” was interpreted by many as requiring that those with contrasting views be given equal time whenever such controversial issues were being discussed. The “doctrine” was abandoned during the Reagan Administration when many government activities were deregulated.
When the bill to reform the nation’s immigration policies, specifically those relating to illegal immigration, was recently being discussed, several Democrat members of the United States Senate called for bringing back the “Fairness Doctrine” out of a sense of frustration that the public was not receiving a fair and balanced discussion of the legislation on talk radio shows, which the Senate Democrats regard as universally conservative and which they thought was having an inordinate influence on the deliberations concerning the legislation.
Personally, I oppose the “Fairness Doctrine” for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it presumes the ignorance of the public and our inability to discern facts from horse manure. But, most significantly, broadcast stations are not owned by the government and should not be considered as government activity. With so many different sources of information – newspapers, major television networks, cable television and talk radio, for example – it is difficult for any one source to give us a “snow job.” But, there is one area of American life where I believe something equivalent to a “Fairness Doctrine” ought to be applied: the college classroom.

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The Mystery Of The “Diversity Commitment”

An epithet scrawled on a door, a brawl outside a football game, an ill-chosen costume for a Halloween party – over the course of the academic year, college campuses are bound to have incidents of racial friction. Some of them are indeed displays of outright bigotry. And when they occur, the diversity brigade is ready and waiting with its all-purpose solution: the idea that the cure for bigotry is a still warmer embrace of racial (and other identity group) preferences.
It has happened again, this time at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island.

In mid-July, Ralph Papitto, the chairman of its board, who had served for 39 years, was forced to resign after making a crude and racist remark. It is not clear exactly what he said, but all parties agree it included the N-word. The shake-up at the board sounds like it was overdue, and Papitto’s slur was only a nasty flourish at the end. Papitto’s racist tantrum came in response to a formal “notice of concern” issued on March 23, by the University’s main accreditor, faulting Roger Williams for its poor governance.

According to the accreditor, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) , the University board had stumbled in lots of ways – by failing to have a conflict of interest policy, by indulging numerous (apparent) conflicts of interest, by ignoring its own by-laws, by not having a separate audit committee, and on and on. But NEASC’s letter to RWU President Roy Nirschel also singled out diversity: “In addition, we understand that little progress has been made on the Board’s goal, established in 2003, to increase the size and diversity of its membership.”

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Ward Churchill And The Diversity Agenda

This week, as expected, the University of Colorado regents dismissed Professor Ward Churchill from his tenured position in the Ethnic Studies Department. (A university committee had found that Churchill committed plagiarism and misused sources.) And, as expected, Churchill has filed suit, alleging First Amendment violations.

The move against Churchill – who first attracted attention after describing those who perished (except for the terrorists) in the World Trade Center attack as “Little Eichmanns” – came over the opposition of the ACLU, which charged that the “poisoned atmosphere” of the inquiry into Churchill’s scholarship rendered meaningless the committee’s findings. ACTA president Anne Neal, on the other hand, welcomed the dismissal as “a very positive message that higher education is cleaning up its own.”

The viewpoints of both organizations raise additional questions. The ACLU’s position, if established as a precedent, would invite academics who (like Churchill) had engaged in research misconduct to issue inflammatory public statements, in the hopes that a public outcry (preferably from “right-wingers”) could then provide a First Amendment shield for their academic misdeeds.

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Research As Self-Branding

By Mark Bauerlein

If you browse through the list of dissertations filed in American literary and cultural studies last year, you will find many conventional and sober projects that fit well with traditional notions of humanistic study. Here are a few sample titles:

– “Rethinking Arthur Miller: Symbol and structure”
– “Tragic investigations: The value of tragedy in American political and ethical life”
– “Reading and writing African American travel narrative”
– “From demons to dependents: American-Japanese social relations during the occupation, 1945-1952”
– “The culture club: A study of the Boston Athenaeum, 1807-1860 (Massachusetts)”
But amidst these works, you also find a fair portion of projects with titles that border on the bizarre.
– “The fluviographic poetics of Charles Warren Stoddard: An emergence of a modern gay male American textuality”
– “Transperformance: Transgendered reading strategies, contemporary American literature”
– “Cruising and queer counterpublics: Theories and fictions”
– “‘Skirts must be girded high’: Spaces of subjectivity and transgression in post-suffrage American women’s travel writing”
– “Roddenberry’s faith in ‘Star Trek’: ‘Star Trek”s humanism as an American apocalyptic vision of the future”
– “Exhibiting domesticity: The home, the museum, and queer space in American literature, 1914-1937”
– “From sodomy to Indian death: Sexuality, race and structures of feeling in early American execution narratives”
– “The sentimental touch: Hands in American novels during the rise of managerial capitalism”

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Anthropology’s Holy Trinity

Karl Marx did everyone a huge favor when he announced that all history was the history of class struggle because then it was simple to analyze anything and everything confidently and crisply. But in Anthropology a new holy explanatory trinity has emerged to replace the good old simple one: Race/Class/Gender. You can barely refer to the weather without taking into firm account the now-triply-coercive impact of these factors. There are some immediate things to note about how these relatively reasonable independent variables are influenced by the prevailing ethos of the academic institutions which have affirmed their necessary role in peering at any social behavior. The first and in a way most dramatic feature is that the trinity is essentially composed of factors which are viewed as centrally negative. The use of Race (which is scientifically a hopeless, preposterous and dumb concept which should be embargoed from serious discussion) implies not that race is a positive matter but rather a source of inequity, loss of face, and the origin of variegated segments of oppression.

Another negative vitamin of the RCG Trinity is its unthinking association with the industrial way of life or of industry. Most folks in most of nature’s constituency don’t think in terms of class, unless they’ve been to the London School of Economics or any more expensive US college. Instead, kinship is all. Family, Uncle Dirk, Cousin Frank in Wichita – that’s the organizing principle of human as well as chimp and even bat society. You may be a big-city alderman or the owner of a Chevrolet dealership but you’re always a son or daughter or dim-bulb cousin first. Class as a construct was useful in trying to figure out how to deal with the conniptions of Europe when farmers had to leave the land either because of the Enclosure Acts or bad potato prices and moved to cities where they were obligated through the need for breakfast to work hard, usually for people who got to wear velvet. But as a cosmic imprimatur of how human life gets lived, sorry, class is rather particular as a tool and of course that’s why the gaseous term “middle class” serves countless suave commentators as a method of avoiding any punctilious analysis of the matter, as compared for example with folks who have tetanus and those who don’t.

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Professors And God: Any Connection?

By Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio

A report by Gary Shapiro in yesterday’s New York Sun carried some surprising information about the religiosity of college professors: though less religious than the general population, the majority believe in God. Randall Balmer, a professor of religion at Barnard, was quoted as saying that the new data helps to refute the notion that academics are mostly atheists and agnostics.

But let’s turn on the caution light. The study of 1500 college professors at twenty top institutions that grant bachelors degrees, conducted by Neil Gross (Harvard) and Solon Simmons (George Mason), did indeed find that a slight majority claims to be religious. The numbers, not listed in the Sun, showed that 35.7 percent say “I know God really exists and I have no doubt about it,” while 16.9 percent reported “while I have my doubts, I feel I do believe in God.” Atheists and agnostics accounted for 23.4 percent of professors reporting.

The most heavily religious professors in the study teach accounting, followed by professors of elementary education, finance, marketing, art and criminal justice. The least religious professors were in biology, psychology, economics, political science and computer science. Research-oriented professors and faculty at elite institutions are significantly less religious than other academics. Only twenty percent of these academics “have no doubt that God exists.” The implications for the larger culture of these findings are crucial. Professors who are the least religious and most hostile to religion are the ones most likely to be writing textbooks, articles and monographs, and the ones whose opinions are most sought after by the media. It is these ideas of irreligious professors that carry the most prestige among the punditocracy, dominate elite discourse, and filter down to the general public. Liberal arts professors are much less likely than accounting professors to believe in God. The liberal arts and social science professors are the ones who most often express opinions on religion and deal with issues involving religion and morality in the classroom.

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Beware Of Elites Bearing Racial Theories

In his concurring opinion of June 28, 2007 about the use of race in student placement in elementary and secondary public schools, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gave the American people some very valuable advice: “If our history has taught us anything, it has taught us to beware of elites bearing racial theories.”

Throughout our history, Americans have been confronted with a host of theories about race, from the early notion that blacks were inferior to the current view that racial integration is crucial to equal opportunity for blacks in education. It might be useful to take a look at a few of these theories.

The first commandment in the bible of racial theories is the view that “diversity equals excellence.” Until recently, this theory has been described in the elementary and secondary education settings as “racial integration.” For more than 50 years, public school districts throughout the nation have been engaged in efforts to racially integrate their schools. They have been subjected to mandatory court desegregation orders and they have implemented “voluntary desegregation plans.” The overall impetus for these activities has been the premise that a racially integrated America is socially desirable and that the process of racial integration should begin in the earliest years of education.

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DePaul Flubs Up On Finkelstein

It’s difficult to be anything but pleased by the failure of Norman Finkelstein’s DePaul tenure bid. He’s a figure of repulsive opinions, given to frequent invective and doubtful scholarship. Yet all should look more carefully at DePaul University’s explanation of the step before celebrating. The logical foregrounding for their tenure decision would have been problems with his published scholarship; instead, DePaul justified their decision chiefly with talk of “respect for colleagues.” There’s little doubt that Finkelstein is a jerk, but DePaul’s grounding of its refusal in that fact – instead of holes in his academic work – leaves it open to justified criticism. “Collegiality” is a potentially insidious concept – just ask Walter Kehowski, a professor at Glendale Community College, who was just released from a forced administrative leave for the crime of emailing George Washington’s Thanksgiving address to fellow professors. The crime? Creating a “hostile environment.” Finkelstein’s faults are clearly of a higher order than this, but all should be wary of arguments premised upon a professor’s sociability, instead of his scholarship.

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Immigration And Bowling Alone

Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, is very nervous about the release of his new work. Understandably so. His five-year study shows that immigration and ethnic diversity have a devastating impact on social capital, the fabric of associations, trust and neighborliness that create and sustain communities. In the short to medium range, that is, because in the long run, new communities and new ties are formed, Putnam says. What he fears – correctly – is that his work on the surprisingly negative impact of diversity will become part of the immigration debate.

His study found that immigration and diversity not only reduce social capital between ethnic groups, but also within the groups. Trust, even of one’s own race, is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. The problem is not ethnic conflict or worse racial relations, but withdrawal and isolation. Putnam writes: “In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down,’ – that is, to pull in like a turtle.”

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Twenty Years in the Vineyards of Higher Education Reform

This month the National Association of Scholars celebrates its twentieth anniversary. Twenty years ago, Ronald Reagan sat in the White House. Twenty years ago a wall stood in Berlin. Twenty years ago the world wide web was only a gleam in Al Gore’s eye. Twenty years is enough time to have fought all the declared wars of the United States, as well as the Civil War, back to back. Twenty years doesn’t quite count as an era, an epoch, or even a full generation, but it’s not an inconsiderable span, and certainly one sufficient for taking stock. So, after twenty years of struggle for higher education reform, how do things stand, and, more significantly, what has been learned about feasible routes to remedy?

As to how things stand, let’s start with the plus. First, we have a genuine academic reform movement where twenty years ago there was none. A sizeable community of organizations, with distinct missions and partially distinct if overlapping bases of support, now act in concert. Some, like the American Academy for Liberal Education, the American Council for Trustees and Alumni, the Association for the Study of Free Institutions, the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, and The Historical Society, came into existence, in large measure, because of the NAS. Others, like that indispensable campus civil liberties watchdog, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, took shape under their own inspired leadership. Another, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, has a productive history reaching back to the fifties, but, over the past two decades, has assumed a great many new and vital reformist roles. Groups like the American Civil Rights Institute, the Center for Equal Opportunity, and the Center for Individual Rights, while not confined in their concerns to higher education, are the vanguard in the fight against academe’s entrenched and emblematic system of ethnic preference. Donor organizations like the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, and the Manhattan Institute’s own Veritas Fund, have also come into being, with the promise of generating the financial resources which any growing movement requires.

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What Happened to Antioch?

Antioch is no more. The venerable college is closing its doors this fall. Antioch University – which has other operations – will continue, but its flagship college is finished.

Its namesake, the ancient city in Turkey, had its ups and downs too, after it was founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals. Earthquakes, invasions, rebellions. The usual stuff. At one point Antioch was the world’s third-largest city, behind Rome and Alexandria, perhaps topping 600,000 people. But it was down to 200,000 by the fourth century AD.

The devoutly Christian founders of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, however, were no doubt less moved by the exceptional regard that Roman Emperors had for the strategic site than they were by the city’s key role in the book of Acts. Barnabas and Paul begin (Acts 11) their proselytizing there; Paul preaches in the synagogue; but Antioch also becomes the first city in which the followers of Jesus reach out to the gentiles, and the first place the followers were called Christians. Antioch is also the base for Paul’s subsequent missionary voyages.

When Judge William Mills, the Rev. Derostus F. Ladley, the Rev. Henry Whitney Bellows, Elder J. McKee and other Unitarians and members of the liberal denomination that called itself simply “the Christian Church” founded a new college in 1852, they chose the name for their enterprise audaciously. Calling it Antioch College enunciated an emphatically outward-looking Christian mission and a “we’re-going-to-change-the-world” attitude. They asked Horace Mann to be the College’s first president and it took many by surprise when the nation’s leading educational reformer accepted the offer. Mann plunged ahead with building a college that made it strongest stands in admitting women; eschewing “sectarian influence,” and promoting hygiene. The College’s first Catalogue also preached self-control:

The best knowledge is no match for bad habits. But true knowledge and virtuous habits will say to the demons of appetite and sensuality, Get ye behind me.

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Identity Group Commencements

Commencement weekend is hard to plan at the University of California, Los Angeles. The university now has so many separate identity-group graduations that scheduling them not to conflict with one another is a challenge. The women’s studies graduation and the Chicana/Chicano studies graduation are both set for 10 a.m. Saturday. The broader Hispanic graduation, La Raza, is in near-conflict with the black graduation, which starts an hour later at 5 p.m. this Sunday.

Planning was easier before a new crop of ethnic groups pushed for inclusion. Students of Asian heritage were once content with the Asian-Pacific Islanders ceremony. But now there are separate Filipino and Vietnamese commencements, and some talk of a Cambodian one in the future. Years ago, UCLA sponsored an Iranian graduation, but the school’s commencement office couldn’t tell me if the event is still going. The entire Middle East may yet be a fertile source for UCLA commencements.

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The Unchastened Radicals

Among the many lovely qualities that define today’s student radicals – their smugness, their historical ignorance, their blithe contempt for the rights of others – perhaps the most galling of all is their sense of total invincibility. They know full well they can go about the business of mayhem and general anti-intellectual thuggery with the utter certainty that they will never face any serious consequences. It may have been Columbia that got a little unwelcome publicity when its president, “free speech expert” Lee Bollinger, let off students who assaulted a Minuteman spokesman with a tap on the wrist, but more or less the same thing likely would have happened on countless campuses across America. Indeed, it is by no means even an American phenomenon; the Parisian students who recently celebrated the election of their new president are equally assured as their brethren across the sea of getting off scot-free.

How did such indulgence become the norm? How did our most prestigious institutions of higher learning become so astonishingly weak-willed and craven?

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The Trouble With Tenure

Last week, a faculty committee at the University of Colorado released its recommendation as to the fate of Ward Churchill, and it’s a disgraceful outcome. Despite the earlier finding that Churchill had committed research fraud – “multiple acts of plagiarism, fabrication and falsification”- the committee advised only a one-year suspension, not termination, for he engaged in “misbehavior, but not the worst possible misbehavior.” The rationale is a cheap example of rationalization. According to the Associated Press, which received a copy of the report, the authors observed that Churchill “did not fabricate data to obtain grant money, did not endanger people’s lives by ignoring research standards and did not damage the progress of important research.”

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Duke Lacrosse And The Professions of Diversity

[Robert “K.C.” Johnson is the indefatigable chronicler of the Duke non-rape case, turning out a thousand words of brilliant reportage and analysis a day for more than a year on his Durham-in-Wonderland site. On the Volokh Conspiracy, Jim Lindgren writes” “If bloggers were eligible for Pulitizer Prize… I would nominate Brooklyn Professor K.C. Johnson… No self-respecting journalist would think of writing anything long and evaluative on the Duke case without first checking “the blog of record,” Durham-in-Wonderland.”]

On April 6, 2006, 88 members of Duke’s arts and sciences faculty endorsed a full-page ad published in the campus newspaper, the Chronicle. The professors suggested that men’s lacrosse players had triggered a “social disaster” by holding a spring-break party. The faculty members unequivocally asserted that something “happened to this young woman,” accuser Crystal Mangum. And, in the aftermath of anti-lacrosse rallies featuring banners reading “Castrate” and “Time to Confess,” the Group of 88 said “thank you” to the protesters “for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.”

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Dartmouth Alumni Resurgent

HANOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE – At most elite colleges and universities in America, the barometer of alumni engagement is simple: How many of them sign checks each year? At Dartmouth College, the smallest of the Ivy League schools and the only one with a democratized Board of Trustees, the measure is voter turnout.
Stephen F. Smith, Class of 1988, just completed his run for a seat on Dartmouth’s Board. He’s the fourth in a line of “petition candidates” – alumni who earned their spot on the ballot after sending a letter to alumni asking for signatures. Five hundred signatures are necessary, but petition candidates usually receive substantially more. In fact, the number of petition-signing alumni increases each year. Like the three earlier petitioners, Stephen Smith ran against a slate of formally nominated candidates who are supporters of Dartmouth’s administration and are reticent to upset the status quo. But Smith has some tough questions to ask. And like the three earlier petitioners, he has emerged from an improbably caustic campaign with a decisive 55% victory. Continue reading Dartmouth Alumni Resurgent

Diversity Gobbledygook

There may be jobs requiring greater mendacity than a college affirmative action officer – college president comes to mind – but there can’t be many. The ideal college affirmative action officer lies about his mission not only without regret but also without awareness, so brainwashed has he become in the foolish ideology of “diversity.” The following false propositions form the cornerstone of the college diversity charade:

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Those Scandalous Student Loans

In mid-January, a brief item appeared on an inside page of The New York Times, headlined “Student Lender Investigated.” The five sentence article noted that the New York Attorney General’s office was looking into “student loan marketing” by Sallie Mae, “the nation’s largest lender to students.” Attorney General Cuomo had requested information about “preferred lender lists,” i.e. the lenders that colleges and universities recommend to their students. The article also noted that “some loan companies have criticized” such lists, alleging that lenders got onto the list “in exchange for payments or other benefits.”

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