Tag Archives: Minnesota

The Online Ban in Minnesota

The State of Minnesota has cracked down on free on-line courses offered by Coursera, founded by Stanford computer science professors. A spokesman for the state’s office of Higher Education said that Minnesota is simply “enforcing a longstanding state law requiring colleges to get the government’s permission to offer instruction within its borders.”

How this state law can be enforced is unclear since the ban is meaningless in cyberspace unless, of course, Minnesota authorities decide to act like Chinese politburo officials. Moreover, Coursera isn’t offering degrees – only classes.

Presumably you can exchange ideas on Facebook or Twitter, but should you decide to review Coursera material on macroeconomics, for example, the strong arm of authorities will take hold. This is mind-numbing. It may make sense for higher education authorities to monitor degree granting programs, but Coursera courses do not have degree implications.

In some respects this absurd state response is comparable to horse-owners opposing the first tractors. Whether Minnesota likes it or not, on-line education is here to stay, calling into question the traditional delivery of education and the competence standards associated with a degree. If one relies on Richard Arum and Josipa Ruksa’s conclusion in Academically Adrift, most college students don’t learn much during four years on campus. At the same time, the cost of tuition has reached a break point for most middle-class families.  

Clearly the market is demanding an alternative. On-line education is filling an obvious need. It is inexpensive and in theory can be at least as rigorous as traditional education purports to be. 

Some Punishment for Speech Is Reasonable

The Star-Tribune opening paragraph–“The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the University of Minnesota’s discipline of a student over Facebook comments that her instructors found threatening, rejecting claims that flunking her infringed on her First Amendment rights”–couldn’t help but raise concerns. Given the judiciary’s excessive deference to higher-ed administrators, when courts uphold university actions against student speech, dangerously broad precedents can result.

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Upholding Academic Freedom in Minnesota

A recently-decided case involving academic freedom all but defines a frivolous lawsuit. The website for the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS), based at the University of Minnesota, contained an item noting “unreliable websites” on Holocaust issues. The link’s purpose–to discourage students from using these sites in their research–was clearly academic. (The site’s wording: “We do not recommend these sites. Warnings should be given to students writing papers that they should not use these sites because of denial, support by an unknown organization, or contents that are a strange mix of fact and opinion.”) The list of unreliable sites included that of the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA), whose offering denied the existence of an Armenian genocide.

In early 2009, the TCA’s parent body then sent a letter to the university, claiming (absurdly) that the list constituted “viewpoint discrimination that flagrantly violates the First Amendment.” Nonetheless, in November 2010, the CHGS changed its website, and replaced the link to “unreliable websites” with a summary of a few books on the “history, psychology and ideology of Holocaust and genocide denial.” The CHGS coupled this decision with a public statement (correctly) noting that “the vast majority of serious and rigorous historians . . . consider the massacre of Armenians during World War I as a case of genocide.”

Despite obtaining what it (ostensibly) wanted–the removal of its website from a CHGS link to “unreliable websites”–the TCA filed suit on November 30. On March 30, District Court judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit. Frank concluded “that this case is properly viewed in the context of academic freedom,[which, quoting Justice Brennan, he termed “a special concern of the First Amendment”] and that Defendants’ statements are protected by that freedom. The CHGS is free to indicate to students that it thinks certain websites are not proper sources for scholarly research. The ability of the University and its faculty to determine the reliability of sources available to students to use in their research falls squarely within the University’s freedom to determine how particular coursework shall be taught.” (The opinion is available through Pacer here.)

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More Troubling News From Minnesota

Just before Christmas, FIRE issued a press release appropriately celebrating a letter from the University of Minnesota general counsel declaring GET. The letter was good news not for its contents but for its existence. It’s hard to imagine that a public university’s chief attorney would sign off on anything approximating what the U of M’s Education School proposed regarding the teaching of “cultural competence”—and the existence of the letter strongly suggests that the Education curricula will now be reviewed by the general counsel’s office.
That said, other passages in General Counsel Mark Rotenberg’s letter are deeply troubling. “No University policy or practice ever will mandate any particular beliefs, or screen out people with ‘wrong beliefs’ from the University,” he encouragingly wrote. But then, in his next sentence, Rothenberg stated, “To the contrary, as Dean [Jean] Quam repeatedly has emphasized, an essential component of CEHD’s curriculum initiative will be to expand — not restrict – the horizons of future teachers.”
Those two sentences are mutually irreconcilable given the facts of the case. FIRE’s letter (and, of course, additional coverage of the Minnesota fiasco) made perfectly clear that the Education faculty sought to “expand” (a wonderfully euphemistic verb) the “horizons of future teachers” through mandating “particular beliefs” and screening “out people with ‘wrong beliefs’ from the University.” Does Rothenberg see anything wrong with the behavior of his university’s faculty? If so, he ‘say.
Indeed, Rothenberg goes out of his way to defend the Education professors’ performance. He accuses FIRE of having based its letter on “an unfortunate misunderstanding of the facts.” (Unfortunately, he doesn’t reveal what those misunderstood “facts” were.) He hails the Education process as indicative of the “creative thinking of many faculty members charged with exploring ideas to improve P-12 education and student achievement.” Under his own signature, he repeats Dean Jean Quam’s absurd description of a formal task force report as nothing more than “faculty brainstorming”—as if the professors sat around a table over high tea, exchanging ideas off the top of their heads.

Continue reading More Troubling News From Minnesota

The Minnesota Case—An Institutional Diagnosis

KC Johnson has spoken well of the Minnesota teacher education initiative, and his analysis of the op-ed by the dean of the College of Education, Jean Quam, identified the thorough disregard of claims of indoctrination made by columnist Katherine Kersten in the Star-Tribune. Quam’s defense is so feeble and misleading, in fact, that it deserves more scrutiny.
Just compare her summary statements about the initiative’s “diversity awareness” aims with actual statements made in the “Race, Class, Culture, Gender” report posted on the Minnesota blog on September 14th.
Regarding the focus on “issues of race, class, culture, and gender,” Quam says, “Our belief is that acknowledging these issues is essential to teacher and student success and that ignoring them will not make them go away.” Note the reasonable word “acknowledging,” an action that doesn’t prescribe how you acknowledge the issues and what judgments you make about them.
But one “OUTCOME” of the “Race, Class, Culture, Gender” report extends far beyond acknowledgement:
“Our future teachers will be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression.”
In case anyone believes that “drawing on notions of white privilege etc.” leaves open the possibility that one might conclude that “white privilege” is a mistaken, tendentious, errant, or irrelevant notion, another “OUTCOME” allows no such answer:
“Future teachers will recognize & demonstrate understanding of white privilege.”

Continue reading The Minnesota Case—An Institutional Diagnosis

A Dean Who Can’t Read?

Jean Quam, a professor of social work who is dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development, has wholeheartedly defended her school’s proposed “cultural competence” curricular redesign—in an op-ed for the Star-Tribune that provides a glaringly misleading description of the critics’ argument.
Most of Quam’s op-ed consists of little more than administrative boilerplate—the sort of jargon that appears on any university website anywhere in the country. Her department’s curriculum “will be a national model for preparing teachers for the real challenges of a 21st-century classroom.” “Now is a critical time to address barriers to student achievement and to give teachers and administrators the tools they need to be effective.” “We value diversity and encourage exploration of all viewpoints and ideologies.”
The key point of Quam’s op-ed came when she dismissed the argument made by columnist Katherine Kersten, who first exposed the U of M’s plan to enforce personnel and curricular bias in its Education program. “Kersten’s primary concern,” claimed Quam, “is that the initiative addresses the reality of how issues of race, class, culture and gender play out in classrooms and affect student achievement. Her position is that discussion of these issues equates to indoctrination.”
I have read Kersten’s column; I encourage you to do so as well. Nowhere does it articulate a position that discussion of issues of race, class, and gender “equates to indoctrination.” Nowhere does it even come close to such a position.

Continue reading A Dean Who Can’t Read?

More Minnesota Madness

My article yesterday on this site, “Decoding Teacher Training,” discussed the efforts of the University of Minnesota’s Education Department to purge prospective public school teachers deemed politically incorrect on “diversity” matters.
A report stresses the seemingly banal concept of “cultural competence,” which people from outside the Ivory Tower might suspect is simply making students and prospective teachers aware of the diverse country and world in which we now live.
That, of course, is not how the concept is defined in the groupthink world of Education Departments, where “cultural competence” are codewords that the general public is not supposed to understand.
In its report, the Minnesota department recommended that all Education students be required to perform the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), “which measures five of the six major stages of the “Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity”; and the “360-degree” analysis of Cultural Intelligence (CQ), “a theoretical extension of existing facet models anchored on the theory of multiple intelligences.”

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Who Will Stand Up For Campus Free Speech?

Troy Scheffler, a graduate student at Hamline University in Minnesota, thinks that the Virginia Tech massacre might have been avoided if students had been allowed to carry concealed weapons. After e-mailing this opinion to the university president, he was suspended and ordered to undergo “mental health evaluation” before being allowed to return to school.

Punishment for expressing an opinion is not unusual on the modern campus. Neither is the lack of protest among faculty and students for the kind of treatment Scheffler got. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which is defending the student, reports that it has failed to find a single Hamline student or faculty member who has spoken out in favor of Scheffler’s right to free speech. So far, no protest from has been reported in the student newspaper or in outside internet outlets such as Myspace.

Scheffler, it should be said, is something of a campus gadfly, with disdain for campus diversity programs and other policies. The university said Scheffler’s e-mails were threatening, but those messages, available on the FIRE web site, contain no semblance of a threat. Free speech was the core issue and still is.

Continue reading Who Will Stand Up For Campus Free Speech?

Who Will Stand Up For Campus Free Speech?

Troy Scheffler, a graduate student at Hamline University in Minnesota, thinks that the Virginia Tech massacre might have been avoided if students had been allowed to carry concealed weapons. After e-mailing this opinion to the university president, he was suspended and ordered to undergo “mental health evaluation” before being allowed to return to school.

Punishment for expressing an opinion is not unusual on the modern campus. Neither is the lack of protest among faculty and students for the kind of treatment Scheffler got. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which is defending the student, reports that it has failed to find a single Hamline student or faculty member who has spoken out in favor of Scheffler’s right to free speech. So far, no protest from has been reported in the student newspaper or in outside internet outlets such as Myspace.

Scheffler, it should be said, is something of a campus gadfly, with disdain for campus diversity programs and other policies. The university said Scheffler’s e-mails were threatening, but those messages, available on the FIRE web site, contain no semblance of a threat. Free speech was the core issue and still is.

Continue reading Who Will Stand Up For Campus Free Speech?