Tag Archives: employment

An Unusually Stupid Court Ruling

Yesterday the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that Michigan’s Proposal 2 violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. 

Proposal 2 was a ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to provide that state and local government agencies (including public universities) in Michigan “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”  The Equal Protection Clause provides that “No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The mind boggles.  Proposal 2 not only does not violate the Equal Protection Clause, and is not only quite consistent with it, but is indeed nothing more than an elaboration on it.

But here is the court of appeals’ reasoning:

A student seeking to have her family’s alumni connections considered in her application to one of Michigan’s esteemed public universities could do one of four things to have the school adopt a legacy-conscious admissions policy: she could lobby the admissions committee, she could petition the leadership of the university, she could seek to influence the school’s governing board, or, as a measure of last resort, she could initiate a statewide campaign to alter the state’s constitution. The same cannot be said for a black student seeking the adoption of a constitutionally permissible race-conscious admissions policy. That student could do only one thing to effect change: she could attempt to amend the Michigan Constitution–a lengthy, expensive, and arduous process–to repeal the consequences of Proposal 2. The existence of such a comparative structural burden undermines the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change.

To which the answer is:  The same might be said of a member of the Ku Klux Klan who wanted the University of Michigan to adopt a whites-only policy of racial segregation.  Would this court have ruled that the Klansman’s equal-protection rights are violated by Proposal 2?

That seems unlikely.  The decision was driven by its politically correct result, which is why the decision was 8-7 along partisan lines:  Every vote in the majority was by a Democrat-appointed judge (except, technically, for one who was originally nominated by President Clinton late in his term and then, in a misguided gesture of conciliation, renominated by President Bush at the beginning of his), and every dissenter was appointed by a Republican president.  Elections do indeed have consequences.

One’s first reaction is anger and frustration. 

Consider:  The saga may be said to begin in 1978, when a majority of the Supreme Court in the Bakke case decided that Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not prohibit racial discrimination in university admissions, even though it reads, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin … be subjected to discrimination [by federally funded universities]….”  The fact that the national legislature had, by the clear terms of a statute it had passed, banned racial preferences in university admissions was just ignored.

So those opposing such discrimination would have to meet the standard the Court uses in constitutional cases, which allows the discrimination if it is “narrowly tailored” to a “compelling” interest.  As the discrimination became more and more widespread and entrenched, hard-fought lawsuits were in fact brought in Texas and then Michigan and taken through the courts of appeals, and then finally in 2003 the Supreme Court agreed to revisit the issue.  Alas, the Court struck down some of the discrimination but also held by a 5-4 margin that the “educational benefits” from “diversity” provided such a compelling interest, at least for another 25 years (!). 

So it was back to the political process in Michigan, where thousands of petition signatures were gathered and then Proposal 2 was passed with 58 percent of the vote after a bruising campaign.  And now we are told that this was a waste of time because using the political process this way is unconstitutional.  Again, it’s frustrating.

All this, in the courts and at the ballot, and all because of this seemingly unexceptionable desire:  That universities not discriminate in admission on the basis of skin color or what country someone’s ancestors came from.

But, on reflection, we can make lemonade from this lemon.

The state attorney general has already announced that he plans to take the case to the Supreme Court – thank goodness – which will almost certainly grant review, because the decision below is not only important and outrageous, but also creates a split in the circuits since the Ninth Circuit rejected a similar lawsuit.  When the Court does so, there ought to be at least five votes to overturn the Sixth Circuit’s decision – and clarify or overturn a confusing and mischievous couple of earlier Supreme Court decisions that the Sixth Circuit used to justify its result.  So the case will provide the Court with an opportunity to replace bad precedent containing dubious language with good precedent and good language for future cases.

And wait, there’s more:  It has already been my hope that the recent election results, and in particular the demographic spin being put on them, should push the conservative justices to ban racial preferences, period, in the recently argued Fisher v. University of Texas.  It’s clear that the composition of the Court is not going to get any better and may get worse, and it’s clear that the political branches are not going to address this problem – and, indeed, the country is getting to the point where political power is wielded in a way to create a racial spoils system in university admissions, contracting, you name it.   Therefore, our justices will reason, we have to take this off the table now.

The fact that the Court knows that the Sixth Circuit case is now in the wings may make this course of action even more attractive in Fisher.  Yesterday’s decision underscores the need for a clear statement from the Court in this area, and it is, after all, even easier to explain why banning racial preferences is not unconstitutional when there is a Supreme Court decision that holds that using racial preferences is unconstitutional.

You have to hand it to our opponents (in this case the lawsuit was brought by an organization whose name promises to defend affirmative action By Any Means Necessary, or “BAMN”):  They never give up.  So we can’t either.  They have the advantage of being unprincipled, but we have the advantage of being right – of wanting to end racial and ethnic discrimination and preference, which is the only tenable legal regime for our increasingly multiethnic and multiracial nation.

_________________________________________________________________________

Roger Clegg is president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which joined amicus briefs filed by Pacific Legal Foundation in the Sixth Circuit case and in Fisher.

The Beltway For-Profit Witch Trials

witch.jpg

In mid September, the Congressional duo of George Miller and John
Tierney joined their Senate colleagues Tom Harkin and Dick Durbin and the
Department of Education in what might be described as the ongoing Beltway Witch
Trials, where the alleged witches are the colleges that are legally organized
on a profit-making basis. Messrs. Miller and Tierney proposed a new line of
assault to rein in these alleged evil doers that they have creatively named
the College
Student Rebate Act of 2012
. The objective of the proposed
legislation is to exert political control on how private sector colleges
allocate their financial resources, as the bill calls for a cap of 20 percent
for expenditures on “advertising and promotion activities, excessive
administrative expenses including executive compensation, recruiting, lobbying
expenses, or payments to shareholders.” Expenditures on these activities
exceeding the cap would need to be refunded to students and/or the government.

Rep. Miller told the Huffington
Post
that since “for-profit colleges tend to get a great deal of
revenue directly from the federal government…how schools spend this money must
be carefully examined.”Examination is one thing, but what the bill would really
do is enable politicians and unelected bureaucrats to limit the ability of
private firms to attract customers and strengthen their brands, compensate
their managers for successful performance, protect themselves from additional
onerous regulations, and reward owners for their investments. The bill would
seriously inhibit the incentive structure necessary to promote private investment,
innovation and growth in an industry greatly in need of improved efficiency. 

Continue reading The Beltway For-Profit Witch Trials

Universities Are Vocational Schools

Why do students go to college? A new poll has a one-word
answer: money. That’s one of the findings in a broad Gallup survey of college admissions officers done for Inside
Higher Ed
. The admissions officers seem to believe that those planning to
attend college view it largely as a signaling device that directs the best and
brightest young Americans to the best and highest-paying jobs. It is not
primarily about acquiring knowledge (“human capital”), critical learning or
leadership skills, or better perceiving the difference between right and wrong,
but more about achieving the American Dream of a comfortable, moderately
affluent life.

To cite one statistic, 99 percent of admission directors
at public four-year colleges agreed or strongly agreed that “parents of
applicants place high importance on the ability of degree programs to help
students get a good job.” With regards to the prospective students themselves,
“only” 87 percent of the counselors agree that getting a good job is
important/very important.  Most of the
counselors also agree, at all forms of higher education institutions, that
their schools are putting more emphasis on job placement.

Continue reading Universities Are Vocational Schools

Some Hope for Higher Ed Reform

The current conversation on higher ed reform coming is unusually platitudinous even for an election year. This was clearest earlier this year during the battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on the proposed federal student loan interest rate, a subject fairly inconsequential in larger problem of sky-high college costs. In his Democratic nomination acceptance speech, President Obama claimed he would work to “cut college tuition in half” in the next ten years. How he would do this, or if he truly grasped what he was saying, is anyone’s guess.

But Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) have shown a great deal of care in crafting the “Know Before You Go Act.” The bill, currently under consideration in the Senate, will “support statewide individual-level integrated postsecondary education data systems.” More specifically, under the proposed bill the federal government will help states coordinate student educational and postgraduate employment data. The bill’s aim is to help consumers make better choices about the products they are considering. Per a press release from Wyden’s office, the bill focuses on making the following metrics more accessible to consumers:

  1. Post-graduation average annual earning;
  2. Rates of remedial enrollment, credit accumulation, and graduation;
  3. Average cost (both before and after financial aid) of the program and average debt accumulated;
  4. The effects of remedial education and financial aid on credential attainment and a greater understanding of what student success can mean.

We should praise the Know Before You Go Act for several reasons. First, instead of trying to instituting IPAB style price-control to help reform educational choices and costs, it respects the consumer’s volition to make his or her own determinations as to what is best for their particular circumstance. As Rubio said, “We want people to know what the new jobs, skills, careers in the 21st century are. The reason you need to know what your professional prospects are is that you have to weigh that against how much you will borrow.” He continued, “I graduated with $125,000 in student loans. That’s nobody’s fault – it was an investment for me. We want kids to have access to information before they make this investment.”

Secondly, the bill does not create a new federal database to obtain data by tracking students. Instead, its coordinates already extant data gathering mechanisms in the states. In describing this aspect of the bill, Wyden sounded like a Republican. “The new database is state-based and individually considered. The states can do this on their own but there’s a problem. There’s no uniform standards. If there’s no standards…then the system is failing families.”

Lastly, of concern to many conservatives, Wyden emphasized that the bill would produce a glut of computer science or accounting majors, to the neglect of the liberal arts. “This legislation is about empowering students to make their own choices. Are we going to miss out on opportunities for rich liberal arts education? I reject the either/or choice. A lot of universities are starting to pick up on labor trends – after 9/11 and Arabic for instance. Is it liberal arts or an education for a high paying job? That’s a false choice.”

Granted, it still seems Congress is far from addressing the main driver of college cost inflation – federal subsidies in the form of loans for anyone who wants them. Said Wyden, “Federal education policy is at a fork in the road. Historically it is about access. I want to keep that focus – support Pell grants, Stafford Loans, and all of the assistance that ensures access.” Nonetheless, a respected Democratic policy thinker is supporting a bill that is conservative in its temperament. By supplying greater amounts of data to consumers, the Wyden-Rubio bill is the right move in reforming an industry badly in need of more transparency and accountability.

How to Save Tenure–Cut It Way Back

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Professors with tenure have lifetime appointments that can only be revoked after some egregious transgression, summarized by such formal labels as moral turpitude, gross negligence or dereliction of duty. In effect, the only tenured professors who get the sack are those who have robbed a bank, raped a co-ed or pistol-whipped a colleague.

Why would a university agree to make an appointment that so severely restricts its ability to terminate an underperforming or incompetent employee?  We all know the historic reason: faculty need to be free to pursue controversial theories, novel ideas and unexplored terrain. Then why is the tenure system under attack? Here are some reasons:

Continue reading How to Save Tenure–Cut It Way Back

Finally, Some Disclosure by the ABA

Colleges–both
on the undergrad and graduate levels–typically admit students and encourage
them to take on onerous amounts of debt, without first giving those prospective
students the actual data about their chances of finding work in that major
field afterwards. This is just as true, by the way, for non-profit as it is for
for-profit schools.

Nowhere
is this unethical lack of transparency more a problem than with law schools. Each
year, about 40,000 new law school graduates start looking for work. But while it
is rare that a graduate of a medical school cannot find work in the medical
field, it is not at all rare for a law school graduate–even from a top-tier
institution–to fail to find a job in the legal profession.

This
has caused a large number of disgruntled law school grads to pressure the
American Bar Association (ABA) to release the data it has regarding the
employment of law school grads. Indeed, about a dozen grads have even sued the
schools from which they graduated. (Law school graduates suing their law
schools: this gives new meaning to the hoary clich

Oppositional Gay Culture and the Future of Marriage

Parade.jpgThese are banner days for the gay-rights movement. “Banner Days” is in fact the front page headline in The New York Times Book Review for a review of Linda Hirshman’s new book, Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution. The reviewer, Rich Benjamin, praises Hirshman’s work but feels the need to chasten her on the extent of the “victory”–

There are no federal protections against anti-gay employment discrimination. Same-sex marriage is explicitly forbidden in 38 states. Most Southern states have passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. Gay families face codified and implicit discrimination when adopting children. Gay youth across the country are stigmatized by their peers.

Benjamin is surely right that these are fairly large discrepancies to
accommodate to a thesis that the gay-rights movement has achieved
unalloyed victory. Gays and lesbians are a lot more mainstream than at
any earlier time in American history, but they nonetheless remain divided
from American culture and society in significant ways.

Continue reading Oppositional Gay Culture and the Future of Marriage

Harvard’s PR Machine and the Cherokees

Elizabeth Warren.jpgSeemingly lily-white Elizabeth Warren’s supposed claim of Cherokee heritage may make for good campaign fodder–incumbent Senator Scott Brown has gone so far as to demand that Warren apologize for allowing Harvard to claim her as a minority–but the real lesson in this latest of partisan battles has more to do with university rather than electoral politics.

For those who have been living in a bubble, let’s rehash: On April 27th, the Boston Herald reported that Elizabeth Warren “was once touted by embattled Harvard Law School officials…as proof of their faculty’s diversity” in 1996; indeed, according to the Herald, Warren was considered the only minority woman on the Law School faculty at the time (a statistic of great interest, it seems, to those who count such things). Following the report, the Warren campaign has been on the defensive as opponent Brown, along with many members of the media, have been questioning (or simply making fun of) Warren’s seemingly cynical careerist use of her Native American heritage. Over the next few weeks, we will doubtless continue to hear details about Warren’s family, and about whether or not she used her lineage in a suspect way.

Continue reading Harvard’s PR Machine and the Cherokees

Is Investing in Community Colleges a Good Idea?

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President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget contains an $8 billion program called the “Community College to Career Fund.” It would encourage community colleges, in partnerships with employers, to train about two million workers for future jobs. Since there are about 1,045 community colleges in America, the program would amount to a grant–over three years–of a little under $8 million per institution. Not all the funds, however, would go directly to the colleges themselves; some would go to state and local governments to recruit participating companies, some to underwrite an online entrepreneurship training program, and some to underwrite paid internships for low-income community-college students.

Using federal grants, the colleges would set up “community career centers where people learn crucial skills that local businesses are looking for right now, ensuring that employers have the skilled workforce they need and workers are gaining industry-recognized credentials to build strong careers,” according to a White House statement. The career centers would specifically train students for employment in health care, high technology, and “green” industries–areas expected, at least in the predictions of the Obama administration, to grow substantially over the next few years.

The federal money undoubtedly looks good to administrators at community colleges, which currently enroll some 6 million students, more than half of all Americans attending undergraduate institutions of higher learning. Nearly all community colleges, which typically award two-year associate degrees and shorter-term vocational certificates, report burgeoning enrollments during the current period of recession and shrinking funding from the strapped localities and states. There is a problem, however: community colleges have an admirable goal of providing second-chance education to young people who either performed too poorly in high school to get admitted to a conventional four-year college or can’t afford four-year-school tuition. But they have a poor track record in keeping those students around until graduation with any sort of degree or certificate.

The retention figures are not encouraging. According to the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, only 12 percent of community-college students earn an associate degree within the standard two years. That figure rises to 22 percent if students stay on for a third year and 28 percent if they stretch out their educations for four years, or twice the norm. Four-year colleges, by contrast, graduate about 53 percent of their students within six years. Students’ poor preparation for college-level work is clearly the reason for the dismal graduation rates of community colleges. About two-thirds of their entering students must first pass remedial math and English courses before they can qualify to take a single course for college credit–and most never succeed in passing those elementary classes. You can blame urban America’s failed K-12 system, or you can conclude that substantial numbers of young Americans lack the cognitive ability to succeed in college, but the fact remains that community colleges, with their bulging populations of directionless and under-performing students, may not be the best settings in which to produce a skilled workforce.

Exacerbating the problem is that most of the anticipated job openings in the U.S. during the near future will require workers who possess exactly the sort of math and reading-comprehension skills that most community-college students these days seem unable to master. There is currently a shortage of skilled employees in high-tech industries, and some two million manufacturing jobs are expected to open up by 2018 thanks to expected retirements–but most of those jobs require workers who can operate sophisticated machinery, follow complex instructions, and demonstrate some facility at math and statistics. The training itself for 21st-century jobs can be expensive. Mark Schneider, a former commissioner of education statistics who currently serves a vice president of the American Institutes for Research and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Associated Press that little is known about the effectiveness of most community college programs.

“We need measures of how well they are training their students, how well their students are being placed in the job market, and…are they making money?” Schneider told the AP. “We need to track them really, really carefully. And we need to make all that information available to students before they sign on…and before taxpayers subsidize all of this.”

A few months ago I surveyed some successful vocational-training programs at community colleges. In contrast to the Obama administration’s ambitious vision of using federal dollars to turn out large numbers of skilled workers in short order, these programs tended to be small-scale, dependent on modest grants from the involved industries themselves, and centered around nationally recognized certificates issued by private entities that attested to the recipients’ specific job skills and underlying cognitive attainments. Key to many of the programs was ACT’s National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), which measures recipients’ math and reading abilities. One of the programs was at Shoreline Community College near Seattle. Shoreline used a grant from the Manufacturing Institute, a nonprofit affiliate of the National Institute of Manufacturers, to integrate the NCRC and certification from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills into a three-quarter-long manufacturing program. The program’s retention rate (95 percent) and job-placement rate (100 percent) were stellar–but it was also a small, highly focused program with only 50 students per cohort. The obvious question is: can that sort of success be replicated on a large scale with widely varying students, faculty, and educational standards–along with the potential for waste that a spigot of federal dollars always presents?

Of course it is also possible that the $8 billion that the Obama administration envisions for transforming community colleges into massive job-training centers may never materialize. In 2009 Obama’s budget promised some $12 million in federal funding to community colleges that aimed mostly at building and repairing new infrastructure. A Democratic Congress pared that amount down to $2 billion. With deficit-conscious Republicans in control of at least one chamber this time around, Obama’s promised $8 billion could be trimmed even more drastically.

What’s Wrong with the Law Schools

By Frank J. Macchiarola and Michael C.
Macchiarola

Lady Justice.jpgAs law schools have come under fire
on many fronts, the growing cost of tuition has drawn the most attention.  This
is not surprising, given the shrinking job market for lawyers and tuition
increases that have far outpaced the general cost of living for more than two
decades.  Put directly, one of us, a pre-law advisor (Frank), tells
students that if they can’t afford the cost of a legal education, without
loans, they should think about other careers.  This is generally a painful
conversation, but we strongly believe it is an honest one, particularly given
the lower-middle-class economic status of most of our students.  Debt is
choking too many recent law graduates, bringing
anger and unhappiness into their lives.  Further, the monopolistic
structure surrounding access to the legal profession, largely a result of the ABA’s law school approval
process, denies many the chance to become lawyers.  Within the last week, another law school was denied
provisional accreditation, for reasons unspecified publicly, but probably due
to the failure to meet standards that would have required greater financial
investment (and hence higher tuition) in the enterprise.

Continue reading What’s Wrong with the Law Schools

Check Out This Alternative to College

students test results.jpgInstitutions from charter schools to the White House are pushing hard for more young people to go to college, but with almost half of students at four-year colleges destined to leave without a degree, a counter-trend is starting to take hold: a loose coalition of people in the credentialing, training, and grant-making businesses are working to build an alternative to college for young people who are not academically inclined. The new paradigm centers around the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) developed during the 1990s by ACT, the non-profit organization far better known for its SAT-style college-entrance exam. The NCRC and its assorted components and supplements, collectively known as WorkKeys, offer a path to employment success outside the conventional college track.

Scores on the WorkKeys assessments certify to prospective employers that job applicants have mastered enough specific, nationally recognized mental and interpersonal skills to qualify for the jobs they are seeking, no matter where they went to high school, what courses they took, or whether they had any college experience at all. In short, ACT’s NCRC strives to make bypassing college a viable, indeed an optimal choice for those who are either unlikely to succeed academically, or who are just turned off by the prospect of years of higher education. Alternatively, the test can help them get decent jobs while they pursue further specific training that could hoist them into even better ones.

Continue reading Check Out This Alternative to College

College Budget Cuts: How Course Corrections Can Undermine Students

Governor Scott of Florida has decided to save taxpayers’ money by developing a way to ensure that people who study under state auspices in Florida do so in programs that will secure jobs. The way to do this, he says, is to stop training students to get degrees in subjects such as psychology and anthropology–especially anthropology, a subject I’ve taught at Rutgers for many years.

We never know with complete confidence what will work to support and dignify a society and how what we do now will affect the future. If the past is prologue, then studying anthropology can help build a thriving society.  And studying behavior and how the brain responds to different stimuli is an important cog in the wheel of the social contract.  Even so, a plague on both their houses – the anthropologist’s thatched one and the Governor’s marble one.

Continue reading College Budget Cuts: How Course Corrections Can Undermine Students

A Foolish Move to Hobble For-Profit Colleges

University-of-Phoenix-billboard-300x200.jpgCurbing for-profit colleges has been a goal of the Obama administration’s department of education. The plan was to erect regulatory hurdles to a very profitable product: online courses. In pursuit of that plan, the department issued a regulation last October requiring institutions offering Internet classes to seek permission from every state in which they enroll so much as a single student. But the department failed to take one crucial fact into account: This is the 21st century, and Web-based courses aren’t just a dodge employed by educational hustlers to lure masses of gullible students into cheap, shoddy programs of the kind that used to be advertised on matchbooks.

From the Ivy League on down, hundreds of respectable non-profit colleges, public and private, offer online classes and even online certificates or degrees. It is the smaller and more budget-pinched of those institutions that are feeling the brunt of the education department’s new rule: liberal-arts schools with limited administration personnel and cash-strapped state universities and community colleges. Some of those, citing the high costs of complying with 50 different sets of state licensing criteria plus stiff licensing fees in some states, already have plans to stop accepting online students living in the more expensive jurisdictions, even though the rule isn’t scheduled to be enforced until 2014.

Continue reading A Foolish Move to Hobble For-Profit Colleges

After Graduation, Get a Job Immediately, or Else

One of the frequent complaints one hears from humanities professors and figures in the “softer” social sciences is that students and a growing number of higher education officials, consultants, and commentators regard college more and more as a job-training program.  While driving across the country this week, I heard Rush Limbaugh declare that the only point of going to college was to find a job—nothing about general knowledge and skills that go with citizenship and being an adult of taste and discernment and historical understanding.

The economic crisis makes their workforce-readiness arguments even stronger, and this story in The Fiscal Times adds an aggravating component to it.  It bears the headline “The Lost Grads: Born into the Wrong Job Market,” and it focuses on graduating classes of '08-'10 who left school only to find that employers weren’t hiring.  The result, according to the Economic Policy Institute: college grads under 25 have an unemployment rate of 9.9 percent, while older grads have a rate of 4.4 percent.

Continue reading After Graduation, Get a Job Immediately, or Else

Less Academics, More Narcissism

Reprinted from City Journal. 

California’s budget crisis has reduced the University of California to near-penury, claim its spokesmen. “Our campuses and the UC Office of the President already have cut to the bone,” the university system’s vice president for budget and capital resources warned earlier this month, in advance of this week’s meeting of the university’s regents. Well, not exactly to the bone. Even as UC campuses jettison entire degree programs and lose faculty to competing universities, one fiefdom has remained virtually sacrosanct: the diversity machine.

Not only have diversity sinecures been protected from budget cuts, their numbers are actually growing. The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center. 

Continue reading Less Academics, More Narcissism

Adjuncts and the Devalued PhD

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If you are a college student today enrolled in four classes during any given semester, it is likely that only one of your teachers is employed by your school in a permanent position that comes with a middle-class salary, job security, and benefits. The other three are contingent faculty, often called “adjuncts”; they have job titles like “instructor” or “lecturer” rather than “professor” but their roles in the classroom are the same. According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), adjuncts at U.S. colleges and universities now comprise “more than 75 percent of the total instructional staff.”

But the vast majority of adjuncts–who typically either have Ph.D.s or are in the advanced stages of completing them–earn a fraction of what their tenure-track colleagues do. Their contracts are offered on a course-by-course, semester-by-semester basis and often come without benefits. Unlike most tenure-track faculty, few adjuncts even know until just a few weeks before the semester starts which classes they will teach, if any, and many take part-time jobs off campus–or at multiple institutions–to supplement low pay and forestall the crisis of a semester with too few classes to pay the rent.

Continue reading Adjuncts and the Devalued PhD

Why College Still Matters

A growing chorus of critics says a college education is finished as the ticket to economic success and a middle-class life.

The economy of the future, these critics suggest, actually requires far fewer college-educated citizens, because the U.S. economy is generating tens of thousands of jobs that require little or no higher education. 

In essence, the critics of American higher education policy are challenging the long-standing belief that all U.S. citizens should have a decent chance to pursue a college degree, regardless of what kind of neighborhood they grow up in, what kind of schools are available to them, or whether their parents have university degrees.

Continue reading Why College Still Matters

A Terrible Time for New Ph.D.s

presidential_drgowns.jpg“If I don’t succeed in academe, I’ll die!”

So read the anguished headline of a Jan. 23 cri de coeur to Salon magazine’s advice columnist, Cary Tennis. The writer was a woman who had apparently spent eight years acquiring a Ph.D. in anthropology, plus another seven years trying unsuccessfully to get an entry-level tenure-track professor’s job—a position whose average starting salary is less than $54,000 a year, which is decent but perhaps not worth putting in nearly a decade in graduate school. At age 37 (if you add fifteen years to her presumed age at college graduation), the woman chafed with frustration, fury, the grinding humiliation of being able to secure only low-paying part-time teaching work, and resentment of her professor-husband who had landed a tenure-track slot at a prestigious university—but she could not let go of the dream that had driven her to endure nearly a decade of grad-school poverty for no reward. She wrote in her letter:

“I scrape by teaching the occasional class for peanuts, and one other prof has taken enough pity on me to let me work in her lab so I can pretend to continue my research. On an intellectual level I understand that I’m not going to get that professor job that I’ve been envisioning for, oh, 15 years now. It ain’t going to happen—no matter what I do, there is going to be someone younger, better trained, and with more publications….The problem is that emotionally, I can’t drop it. It’s like having a painful sore in my mouth that I keep poking with my tongue—all day, every day. I’m angry, bitter and heartbroken. I resent my husband so much for having what I can’t get that I can barely stand to be in the same room with him, I’m so consumed with jealousy….Sometimes, stuck in this town I don’t much care for, with my once-promising career in shambles, I wonder if it’s even worth getting out of bed.”

This ground-down woman is scarcely unrepresentative, in a job market where fewer than one out of every two holders of doctoral degrees in the humanities these days receive job offers that put them onto the tenure track that is key to a successful (if seldom wealth-generating) and reasonably secure life of teaching and scholarship—and that’s in good year. Right now we’re in a bad year, when, according to the American Association of University Professors, the ratio of tenure-track openings to new doctorates is more like 1 to 4.

Both the Modern Language Association (the leading professional society for English professors), meeting right after Christmas, and the American Historical Society, meeting in early January, reported fallen-off attendance and a marked decrease in job interviews and hence job openings for the anxious grad students and new Ph.D.’s who typically flock to the two associations’ annual conventions (which double as job fairs), double or triple up in motel rooms, and peddle their fresh-from-the-printer curricula vitae. The MLA convention used to be low-hanging fruit for journalists, who could gin up easy laughs for their readers just by quoting the postmodernist mumbo-jumbo in the titles of the scholarly papers presented: “Back in Black: Theorizing the Sequel in Marlowe’s Tamburlaines” (that’s an actual paper title from the 2009 MLA meeting). This year’s MLA convention, after a 50 percent drop in the number of tenure-track job openings between the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 academic years, was just plain grim, from all reports.

For months now, the spotlight of negative attention in the academic trade press has been trained on the for-profit “career colleges,” with their high dropout rates, sometimes questionable recruiting tactics, and poor reputation for “gainful employment” on the part of their graduates, who can find themselves with no jobs and mountains of debt from the student loans that account for nearly 90 percent of their alma maters’ revenues. Ph.D. programs, especially in the humanities, can be viewed as career colleges for the highly educated. As with career colleges, their stated purpose is vocational training: for that full-time faculty position in academia. And exactly the same unappealing features of many career colleges, with their low-income, poorly prepared student populations turn out also to be features of Ph.D. programs, even though the latters’ student populations tend to be upper-middle-class and if anything, over-prepared.

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Is It Fair to Call It a Scam?

Professor Richard Vedder is certainly one of the most knowledgeable — and wisest – commentators on American higher education. So his cautionary remarks should be taken very seriously.
I have one reservation about calling the push for more colleges a “scam.” It is true that some youngsters knew all through college that they wanted to be physicians or lawyers and consequently their first jobs reflected their career objectives. However, many college graduates graduate without a clear notion of what they want to do occupationally or even personally. Some work for a couple of years for Teach for America without planning a lifetime career as teachers. Some take jobs as waiters or waitresses while their career aspirations lie in acting or art, careers notoriously difficult to enter. Therefore I hesitate to interpret several years of low-paid jobs that college graduates as a disconnect between what is learned at college and what college graduates do occupationally in their first jobs. Getting back to teaching, it might be excellent for American education have primary- and secondary-school students taught for four or five years by college graduates who lack teaching experience but have the attractive enthusiasm of youth even though they and their colleagues know that they do not plan to be career teachers. If we keep in mind the difference between “jobs” and “careers,” the fact that college graduates take low-level jobs in the years immediately following graduation is not necessarily a failure of college education or of the graduates themselves.

What Happens When College Is Oversold

waiters.bmpAs I wrote here last week, newly compiled data shows that a great many college graduates have been settling into jobs that do not require higher education. The data, prepared and released by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), show that a majority of the increased number of college grads since 1992—some 60 percent– are “underemployed” or “overqualified” for the jobs they hold. Thus we have one-third of a million waiters and waitresses with college degrees. Some 17 percent of the nation’s bellhops and porters are college graduates. A new CCAP study From Wall Street to Wal-Mart: Why College Graduates Are Not Getting Good Jobs, released today along with this essay, carries even worse news: the proportion of college-educated Americans in lower-skilled jobs has more than tripled since the 1960s, going from 11 percent in 1967 to 34 percent today.
Why are more and more college graduates not entering the class of professional, technical and managerial workers that has been considered the main avenue of employment? Anyone who has read Charles Murray’s great book Real Education (New York: Crown Forum, 2008) has good insights into why this problem has arisen. Truly, Murray argues, only a modest proportion of the population has the cognitive skills (not to mention work discipline, drive, maturity, integrity, etc.) to master truly higher education, an education that goes well beyond the secondary schooling experience in terms of rigor of presentation. Reading and comprehending 200- to 400-year-old literature is useful for advanced leadership -but difficult. Educated persons should read and understand Locke’s “On Human Understanding” or Shakespeare’s King Lear -they are insightful in many ways, but the typical person of average intelligence typically lacks both the motivation and ability to do so. Mastering complex forms of mathematics is hard -but necessary to function in some areas of science and engineering.
Following up on Murray, the move to get more college degrees creates a huge problem. The number going to college exceeds the number capable of mastering higher levels of intellectual inquiry. This leads colleges to alter their mission, watering down the intellectual content of what they do. Rather than studying advanced mathematics, physics or –as I did– 18th century French literature in the native language, more students are studying business administration, communication skills, and doing vocational-school type work on the intricacies of health care provision or administration. Instead of five or 10 percent of students getting “A” grades, we give 40 percent or more. We have created a Potemkin Village -a few truly good universities that come close to meeting the former academic standards, but a vaster melange of institutions that are often neither “higher” nor even “education” in the classical sense, particularly since the typical student spends less than 30 hours a week on academics. Bottom line: too many people go to college.

Continue reading What Happens When College Is Oversold

What Is Texas A&M up to?

image001.gifSomewhere in America the president of a public university is getting hammered by the chairman of the board of regents. The hammerer—let’s say he owns a chain of automobile dealerships – is arguing that the president must get faculty costs under control – or else.

“Admit it, John,” the chairman says to the president. “Your faculty are a bunch of lazy, overpaid whiners. You’ve got six months to figure out a pay-for-performance plan, or start looking for another job.”

A former physicist who understands well the hornets nest he’s about to fall into, our beleaguered university president is left with little choice but to come up with a quick and dirty plan.

“Give me a spreadsheet,” he orders his senior vice president for budget and planning. “I want every faculty member in this system to have a dollar value attached to his or her name, reflecting their net contribution to our bottom line. Then I want a faculty salary schedule to reflect that.”

The president got his spreadsheet. A former physics colleague who was awarded a Nobel Prize some twenty years ago saw his salary slashed in half. Though he’d become a star teacher since his Nobel, his research grants had been dwindling for years. By contrast, there was the recent hire in the Construction Management program. She was a new Ph.D. who was already bringing in tons of industry money for “research.” In contrast to the Nobel Laureate, her salary would shoot up 35 percent. Our university president could think only about what Albert Einstein once said: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

Continue reading What Is Texas A&M up to?

“Diversity” Goes Abroad (Or Doesn’t)

Casual or even close readers of the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed could be forgiven for concluding that higher education in the United States these days is fixated on — indeed, consumed by — an overweening concern with “diversity.” Indeed, if all the reports on and studies of and efforts to promote more “diversity” were suddenly to cease, the resulting reduction in productivity and increase in employment would make the recession in the rest of the economy seem mild by comparison.
Consider, for example, Peter Schmidt’s article in the Chronicle on Tuesday, Race Plays Key Role in Decision to Study Abroad or to Stay Home, Study Finds. “If colleges want their minority students to undertake foreign study at the same rate as white ones,” it begins, “they need to take into account big differences in how racial and ethnic groups respond to the forces influencing students’ decisions to go abroad, a new study concludes.”

If we are serious about trying to diversify study abroad, we have to reach students where they are and design programs which meet their varied needs and concerns,” said Peggy Blumenthal, chief operating officer of the Institute of International Education, which is joining the American Institute for Foreign Study and other groups in hosting a workshop on Tuesday in Washington for study-abroad directors and advisers looking for ways to diversify participation in their programs.

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A New Law Student Protest: ‘Where’s My Job?’

An interesting article in USA Today could signify the arrival of a new type of campus-related protest in America. In it, Mary Beth Marklein reported that a new generation of law students and graduates is rising in protest over the failure of law schools to give them honest accountings of the job market and their professional prospects. She wrote: “Law schools, once viewed as a guaranteed path to a high-paying career, are coming under fire as disillusioned graduates find a tighter job market than they say they were led to expect… A small but growing coalition of graduates, on blogs with names like ‘Scammed Hard’ and ‘Shilling Me Softly,’ blame their alma maters for luring them into expensive programs by overstating their employment prospects.”
Two Vanderbilt law students have founded a new organization, “Law School Transparency,” which has asked 200 law schools to submit data about salaries and employment for recent graduates, which they plan to make available on line. According to Marklein, one recent grad has even gone on a hunger strike to protest his predicament and the situation.
Though most grads end up employed (88% of the class of 2009), many languish in part-time or temporary positions, and pay is often shockingly disappointing. And, of course, there is the problem of debt, the new version of American Apple Pie. The average debt for a public law school grad is about $60,000 and slightly over $90,000 for private school counterparts. One Georgetown grad quoted in the article is drowning in debt amounting to $175,000. “If you count on law schools to do the right thing, you’re going to be waiting a long time,” he told Marklein.

Continue reading A New Law Student Protest: ‘Where’s My Job?’

”Gender Gap” Mania

Inside Higher Ed had a brief notice yesterday, “Worldwide Gender Gap in Academic Salaries in Science,” that, though accurate as far as it goes, is revealingly, almost humorously, incomplete and misleading.
Here is the IHE piece in its entirety:

A worldwide analysis by Nature of the salaries of men and women in academic science has found that men’s salaries were 18 to 40 percent higher in countries for which there were significant sample sizes — Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain and the United States. The general pattern was for salary gaps to grow over the course of careers, with men’s salaries starting to gain relative to women in the three-to-five year period after the start of a career in Europe and after six years in North America.

The American higher education establishment, and apparently those who report on it, suffer from gap mania. Everywhere they look there is some “gap” to be corrected, and some uncorrected, often hidden (read “structural”) discrimination causing it. To see that attitude at work here, I encourage you take a look at the Nature article linked above. If you do, you will see that it is not “a worldwide analysis … of the salaries of men and women in academic science” at all. Entitled “For Love And Money,” the Nature article begins by noting, in bold, that “[t]he self-reported contentment of researchers with their chosen profession depends on more than just salaries, according to the results of our international career survey.”
The purpose of the survey, in short, was only incidentally to examine men’s and women’s salaries. Rather, it aimed “to track contentment with one’s job by region or by job attributes such as health care, the degree of independence or mentoring potential,” and it was not limited to “academic science.”

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Why Faculty Unions Could Destroy Our Universities

After decades of trying, the Democrat-controlled Wisconsin legislature, with the encouragement of the union-backed governor, passed a statute allowing unionization of faculty in the University of Wisconsin system. Recently the first campus, Superior, voted to unionize their faculty by a 75-5 vote. I believe that ultimately faculty unions will seriously damage public universities in Wisconsin and elsewhere, particularly at “flagship” campuses that produce and require serious faculty research.
I do not say this out of hostility to unions. I have been an advocate for organized labor and taught and directed organizations connected to the movement. I was the last director of the Industrial Relations Research Institute and also worked with the university School for Workers, which has a long history of training union stewards, organizers, leaders of locals. In my book, Democracy, Authority, and Alienation in Work (University of Chicago Press, 1980), I argued that for industrial democracy to work in practice, a union was required as an ultimate protection for workers.
But those connections were to blue-collar workers, in the trades, in manufacturing, or in service positions. They did not include “professional unions,” the largest being kindergarten to twelfth-grade teachers, but also including other professions and of course faculty unions. Blue-collar unions were and are necessary to both counteract very asymmetric power relationships with management and to establish decent and living wages and benefits. The great era of American unions from the 1930s to the 1970s did that and the result was a burgeoning middle class that aided the prosperity of the nation through jobs that fathers and mothers held with pride.

Continue reading Why Faculty Unions Could Destroy Our Universities