Tag Archives: Robert Weissberg

Investing in Higher Education Will Not Bring Democratic Equality

old-fashioned-school-room.jpgBy Robert Weissberg


America’s
huge investment in higher education has always had a democratic justification: everyone
should be able to attend college because this opportunity would flatten the
social pyramid. Yes, a North Dakota State and Harvard degree differ in
prestige, but at least the North Dakota State graduate can join the game. Put
ideologically, investing in higher education–more schools for more kids–is
egalitarian.

Reality,
it seems, has refused to cooperate. The billions poured into higher education
have not flattened the social pyramid. If
anything, income gaps have widened as graduates from the top schools often earn
“obscene” salaries while those from lesser schools struggle to find decent jobs
to pay down student loan debt. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart depicts an America where the rich and poor increasingly live in diverging worlds. Clearly,
something is wrong with the traditional narrative that insists that a well-
funded, open access higher education for all can ameliorate the evils of
hierarchy.    

Continue reading Investing in Higher Education Will Not Bring Democratic Equality

The Affirmative Action Zealots Have Won: Time to Surrender

white flag.jpg

For a half century
I’ve vehemently opposed racial preferences in higher education. Opposition was
partially ideological–I believe in merit–and partly based on sorrowful
firsthand experience with affirmative action students and faculty. Though my
principles remain unchanged I am now ready to concede defeat, throw in the
towel and raise the white flag. Abolishing racial preferences is the academic
equivalent of trying to win a land war in Asia: the enemy is just too strong,
too tenacious and willing to use whatever means necessary. Our side may win a
few battles, e.g., California’s Proposition 209, Hopwood, but at the end of the day, hoards of faceless
bureaucrats and left-wing faculty soldier on. If it takes a village to uncover
special abilities that justify admitting the academically marginal, rest
assured, the village will be recruited, trained and then celebrated as
champions of social justice. Our side just lacks the stomach to outlast zealots
who shamelessly use every ruse imaginable.

Continue reading The Affirmative Action Zealots Have Won: Time to Surrender

A Modest Proposal to Promote Intellectual Diversity

Weissberg essay.jpegAs one who has spent
nearly four decades in the academy, let me confirm what outsiders often
suspect: the left has almost a complete headlock on the publication of serious
(peer reviewed) research in journals and scholarly books. It is not that
heretical ideas are forever buried. They can be expressed in popular magazines,
op-eds and, think tank publications and especially, on blogs. Nevertheless, and
this is critical, these off-campus writings do not count for tenure or
promotion. A successful academic career at a top school requires publishing in
disciplinary outlets and with scant exception these outlets filter out those
who reject the PC orthodoxies.

Continue reading A Modest Proposal to Promote Intellectual Diversity

How Academics Concocted a New ‘Middle Class’

middle_class.jpgTo hear politicians tell it, the college diploma is the guaranteed gateway to middle-class life, so everybody should probably go to college. The argument seems self-evident–over a lifetime, college graduates far out-earn those without a degree ($2.1 million, supposedly), so go to college, live the American Dream. Unfortunately, as many recent college graduates have discovered, diplomas no longer guarantee success. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study, for example, reported that in 1992 some 119,000 waiters and waitresses had college degrees. But by 2008 this figure had soared to 318,000. The study also found similar increases of under-employment in other low-level occupations. In 2010 the unemployment rate for college graduates was the highest since 1970.

Continue reading How Academics Concocted a New ‘Middle Class’

For Just $195, the Elizabeth Warren Problem Is Solved!

Here’s the answer to the Elizabeth Warren problem: DNA testing. If you believe you are just 1/32nd or 1/64th minority, a simple test–costing just $195–could garner you that elusive admission to an elite college that you may not be qualified for at all. Several commercial products are on the market including Ancestry by DNA and Family Tree DNA. To be sure, Ancestry by DNA offers the disclaimer that it does not predict or establish one’s race, just estimations. You just take a swab from inside your cheek and mail it off; in a few weeks you know your family ancestry (for an overview of such testing, see the Times essay by Nicholas Wade).

Continue reading For Just $195, the Elizabeth Warren Problem Is Solved!

The Next Toxic Ism: Realism

reality-check-ahead.jpgThe social sciences and humanities have not produced much of intellectual value for 25 years or so, but they have been enormously productive in generating “isms”widely held allegedly toxic beliefs that are said to undermine a professor-defined “good society.” The notable classics“racism,” “sexism,” classism, and nativismonce sufficed, but unexpected bursts of faculty creativity have given us ableism (privileging of the so-called physically “able”), Eurocentrism, ethnocentrism, elitism, masculinism, fatism (disdaining the differently sized), phallocentrism, and scentism (imposing the odor of one’s perfume or cologne on others), but not yet phalloscentismthe belief that men smell bad.

Ageism, lookism (judging people by physical appearances),
heterosexualism (privileging heterosexuals) and credentialism
(emphasizing paper credentials) are approaching classic status. So is
speciesism, the faulty belief that humans are somehow more important
than deer ticks.

Continue reading The Next Toxic Ism: Realism

Why Campus Mascots and Nicknames Are Under Attack

sky diver.jpgThe University of North Dakota sports teams have been known as the “Sioux” or the “Fighting Sioux” for more than 80 years. But this week the university’s hockey team played and lost in the NCAA playoffs wearing uniforms that said simply “North Dakota.” The reason: Last November, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple signed legislation permitting the university to retire its “Fighting Sioux” nickname so its hockey team could play schools that had boycotted teams with offensive mascots. This was a triumph for the NCAA in its years-long war against “hostile and abusive” nicknames and logos.

Quarrels over the dropping of long-cherished “offensive” nicknames often
generate immense acrimony. I personally observed this battle in my 28
years at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Arguments over
the Fighting Illini and Chief Illiniwek were fierce, even contributing
to the firing of uber-PC campus Chancellor Nancy Cantor.

Continue reading Why Campus Mascots and Nicknames Are Under Attack

Unionize All Those Adjuncts?–Let’s Not

adjunct union protests.jpgSome two-thirds of America’s college students are taught by adjuncts, and now the battle is on over whether these low-paid, low-status workers should be unionized. Adjuncts, also called contingent faculty, are teachers hired without tenure, paid a small fraction of those on tenure-track positions, (typically $2700 per course, with minimal benefits). All three college faculty unions–the AAUP, American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association–have recently ramped up unionization campaigns while non-academic unions like the United Auto Workers have likewise entered the battle. The stakes are high both for institutions and for individuals.

One does not have to be a Marxist to yell, “Exploitation!” Endless tales of “Gypsy Scholars” abound–young men and women struggling with no job security to teach as many as six courses per semester, occasionally at multiple schools, lacking any health or pension plan at a salary comparable to working at McDonalds. Meanwhile tenure-track colleagues, some of whom may be brain dead, enjoy a princely wage (with generous benefits) for teaching identical courses. So, what better way to eliminate this blatant unfairness than unionization?

Continue reading Unionize All Those Adjuncts?–Let’s Not

Admission Standards and How to Lower Them Legally

Surprise, surprise. Affirmation action for college admissions is yet one more time in the hands of the Supreme Court (Fisher v. Texas). Given the Court’s changed personnel from the last go around (Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 2003), race-based preferences may soon be history. But, would this judicial outcome finally doom preferences? Opponents of affirmative might wish to hold off celebrating.

Continue reading Admission Standards and How to Lower Them Legally

The White Male Shortage on Campus

animal-house.jpgSoviet ideologues were famous for adjusting Marxism to the zigs and zags of history, but they were pikers compared to today’s campus affirmative-action apparatchiks. The latest installment from university diversicrats is–ready for this–affirmative action for men, not black or Hispanic men, but white men (see here and here and especially here). Allan Bakke, come back, all is forgiven!

More is involved than the usual “fairness” via biological quota. The financial stakes are huge. Compared to women, white men disproportionally gravitate to wealth-generating fields–business, engineering and the sciences. This predilection will be no small matter in a few decades, and universities are justifiably nervous as the pool of future rich donors shrinks vis-a-vis those who majored in French literature.

What explains this male flight? Let me speculate a bit and offer a reason that dare not speak its name in today’s PC climate: universities are increasingly becoming feminized and many men, to use the anti-discrimination vocabulary, loathe a hostile working environment. In a word, males increasingly feel emasculated in today’s universities. Yes, being outnumbered by women may fuel certain male adolescent fantasies, but believe it or not, a young male who visits a school dominated by women will suddenly have second thoughts about predatory opportunities.

Feminization is most apparent in how schools now combat “boyish behavior.” The movie Animal House depicts this behavior perfectly–drunken frat parties, stupid pranks, clumsy intoxicated sexual aggression, coarse scatological language and countless other crude behaviors celebrating adolescent masculinity. It is not that these behaviors are condemned (and we can all agree that extreme versions deserve punishment). Rather, it is the form of the punishment that is anti-male. Miscreants are often social-worked, and for many young males, therapeutic punishment, complete with public confessions of dubious offenses, is a near-death experience. Imagine Bluto (the Animal House “hero” who famously said, “Grab a brew. Don’t cost nothing”) suffering the obligatory freshperson lectures given by a feminist counselor on non-alcoholic alternatives to beer and on the need for informed consent in all “intimate encounters, including same-sex ones.” Not even the mighty Bluto could survive being told that his manliness is merely socially constructed.

Support Services for Hetero Males?

Antagonism toward fraternities is the most visible outcropping of campus feminization. Recall the disastrous faculty-led imbroglio over the Duke Lacrosse team. What happened at Duke could probably happen almost anywhere given today’s faculty.

Further, add the abolition of male-dominated sports such as wrestling, while adding women’s teams, regardless of demand, in sports like rowing, to satisfy Title IX requirements. And don’t forget all the attention lavished on Women Studies Programs, everything from academic majors to expensive conferences and hefty speaker fees. And where are the support services for heterosexual males? Try putting Playboy in a college bookstore or decorating a dorm room with female pin-ups. These problems are almost inconceivable if the magazines in question were Out or the Advocate, two leading male homosexual magazines. Indeed, a student–let alone a Christian group–protesting gay magazines and homoerotic pin-ups would certainly risk being disciplined for impermissible hostility (and those complaining about Playboy may even benefit from this socially sanctioned outrage).

Underlying this public emasculation is a deeper, less visible faculty-led war on maleness that is currently concentrated in the humanities and social sciences but may well spread into the “hard” disciplines. (For the record, “feminine” and “masculine” here do not exactly correspond to biology. This is about psychology not anatomy. I know “male” female academics that drive their female colleagues crazy with their “male” mentality.)

Guys-Hanging-Out.jpgThis difference is about how to find truth. For males (and again keep in mind the non-overlap with biology), truth is discovered as follows. First, it is axiomatic that a single objective truth exists and this drives inquiry. Second, social niceties are subordinated to truth-seeking and uncivil, upsetting behaviors like sarcasm are therefore tolerable. Emotional feelings about what is right or wrong are irrelevant. Thomas Sowell once told me that he would never return to the classroom since he did not want to hear, “I feel….” Indeed, many males relish the verbal jousting and put-downs and these do not undermine personal friendship. Third, not all views are worth hearing and those wasting time will be forcefully and brusquely cut-off. Those able to marshal hard evidence prevail. In a nutshell, male truth-seeking is authoritarian.

By contrast, the feminine approach will stress social etiquette–woe to those who interrupts the speaker with, “there’s no hard evidence for that, so let’s move on.” And unlike a male-dominated discussion, everyone, regardless of background and expertise, is permitted to “share” their views and then is thanked for sharing. Consensus-building is central and those rejecting harmony will be castigated as disruptive. Personal relationship often shape discussions–one never disputes friends even if one sharply disagrees and being attacked, no matter how mild, can destroy a friendship. Needless to say, everybody taking a turn to speak can make for long, rambling meetings.

No Eyeball-Rolling–Niceness Counts

To make this concrete, consider a stereotypical male (a nerdy “John”) in a small liberal arts college enrolled in Economics 101 whose instructor (a knowledge facilitator, not a sage on stage) embodies the feminine approach. John wants to learn economics to become rich. The class begins with the instructor explaining that contemporary statistics-heavy economics is only one way of knowing, and this class will focus on alternatives to conventional knowledge. Moreover, there will be group projects to discover ways of making society more just by equalizing wealth and the group project will count for 50% of the final grade. The first two class periods are spent asking each student to explain what he or she hopes to learn plus their opinions on economic inequality. Nobody is criticized or told to stop talking, regardless of factual errors.

Matters go badly for John. The instructor repeatedly chides him for belittling the ideas of others by rolling his eyes and making facial expressions of disbelief. His insistence on finding a single best possible solution to an economic problem becomes repetitive to the point where the instructor suggests that he seek help at the school’s counseling center to manage his anger. John’s recourse to statistical data is interpreted as just showing off. By the third week is he no longer blurting out “What about trade-offs and opportunity costs?,” since nobody pays attention. He discovers that the Internet offers multiple sites explaining economics, he finds a nerdy on-line discussion group, stops attending class and eventually drops out.

Thanks to his Internet contacts, John joins a small start-up and three years later patents a program to detect lying on the Web. It is widely licensed and John is an instant multi-millionaire. Though rich as Croesus he never sends a nickel to his “alma mater.”

This depiction is, of course, an exaggeration but not by much. And this anti-male atmosphere will probably escalate as fewer and fewer males even apply. Meanwhile, those males who do attend and graduate will probably be ghettoized in such traditionally male fields as business, engineering and the sciences (and one wonders how long these majors will survive outside of major universities).

Reversing this pattern, assuming that gender equality is a problem requiring a solution, will be exceedingly difficult. The traditional affirmative solution of lower admission standards to achieve diversity is politically risky. What judge will rule that today’s complex diverse world economy requires students to learn how to interact with white males?

It is equally hard to imagine universities attracting more white males by making the campus more white-male friendly. Will Deans subsidize a fraternity as a “while-male theme house” or sponsor beer-blast toga parties to achieve a critical mass of white males to lessen their social isolation? (But Brandeis did make a faint attempt to attract more males: it gave free baseball caps to the first 500 males who applied.).

Make no mistake–the numbers are indisputable but the source of the problem is unspeakable. No university wants to admit that sex differences are real and often intractable. Men and women are not interchangeable and as many (but not all) women feel uncomfortable in an uber-macho setting, many males (but not all) similarly reject an environment dominated by female values.

Look Who’s Endorsing a Race-Based View of Knowledge

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The campus diversity warriors are once again pounding at the gates. This time the pounding comes from on high–the American Political Science Association (APSA) itself. It is a serious clamor: a 76 page report called Political Science in the 21st Century authored by fourteen professors, many from elite research-oriented schools such as Berkeley and UCLA. The report received National Science Foundation money plus ample professional funding.

It is a curious document since nearly every university, top to bottom, has for decades sought diversity, and has even been willing to over-pay and compromise traditional academic standards. The Task Force includes Diane Pinderhuges, past president of the APSA and my former colleague (and friend) for 20-plus years. The two of us regularly sat in the same room discussing how our department could be more inclusive and heard all the administration entreatments to hire yet more blacks and Hispanics.

The obvious question, then, is why yet one more plea is necessary, given that scores of university bureaucrats are already striving to admit more minority graduate students and hire more black and Hispanic professors, and once hired, help them get tenure. Moreover, since many those currently admitted to graduate school or hired are barely qualified, the additional recruits will bring even more problems (many of these potential recruits will also have ample better-paying private sector opportunities). What can possibly necessitate yet more inclusionary vigor? Have these fourteen academics discovered a better solution to a seemingly intractable problem?

Nothing in the real world justifies the report, but that said, Political Science in the 21st Century is still worth scrutinizing for informing us about the latest wrinkle in what might be called, “The Life of the Diversity Mind.” Most important, for those uncomfortable with incessant demands for inclusion uber alles, the report provides advance warning in what seems to be a long war of attrition.

Why should any department double or even triple its efforts to hire more blacks and Hispanics when demand already outstrips supply? Might the reason be that newly emerging problems requiring expertise are currently in short supply, for example, hiring Middle Eastern experts in the wake of 9/11? The report’s justification is remarkably vacuous: demography is altering the political landscape, and the profession must adjust. In their words, “Is political science positioned to embrace and incorporate the changing demographics, increasing multicultural diversity, and ever-growing disparities in the concentration of wealth present in many nation-states? Can political science do so within its research, teaching, and professional development.”  A bit further on, “Task Force assessed the practice of political science to determine whether it is living up to its full potential as a scholarly discipline to enrich the discourse, broaden the understanding, and model the behavior necessary to build strong nation-states in a rapidly changing world where population shifts and related issues regarding race, ethnicity, immigration, and equal opportunity structure some of the most significant conflicts affecting politics and policymaking.”

Professional sounding verbiage aside, this is an unmitigated race-based view of knowledge. In effect, the world is increasingly dominated by people of color, and only people of color can understand the transformation. Let there be no misunderstanding, whites are inherently unable to grapple with this altered new world order, the scholarly equivalent of saying that since whites lack “soul” they cannot relate to Hip Hop or Rap. Again, in their own words, “Moreover, who does political science does not currently include scholars with backgrounds from the full range of positionalities (sic) including race, class, gender, and sexual orientation that are often the most marginalized in societies.” So forget about whites becoming experts on black politics as home-grown Americans once mastered Soviet politics. Race may be socially constructed but not when it comes to employment. Whites are disqualified since they lack the “positionalities.”

To appreciate the absurdity of this view, imagine if black or Latino/a political scientists were told that they could not, say, study Swedish politics since only Nordic types could relate to fellow Norsepeople? Might a single homosexual experience qualify one to study gay politics? We are not being sarcastic–this is intellectual biology-based apartheid.

It gets worse. Not only are whites, males and heterosexuals unqualified to understand blacks, women and gays, but not even science can overcome this limitation. Yet again, in their own words, “The tendency to accept its approaches as ‘objective’ science, for example, tend to inhibit the development of a more critical debate about the potential phenomenological bases of much empirical social science.” In the search for truth the researcher’s genes (or for gays, just preference) trump the scientific method. Truth is a matter of authenticity, something that comes with certain chromosomes and enzymes, not something  uncovered by experiments and statistical analysis. To paraphrase Descartes, “I know because of who I am.”

But, obstacles arise in today’s intellectual climate–top graduate schools demand rigorous training in the scientific approach, including statistics, and these requirements can be barriers to black and Hispanic students despite their otherwise vital inborn abilities. The report’s solution is to expand the definition of “training” to include approaches seldom found in research-oriented Ph.D. programs. “Methodological training must also be much more inclusive of critical analytical approaches and more self-reflective of potential biases in the use of accepted methodological categories.” In practice this new training will resemble Critical Race Theory–the endless search and destroy missions to expose unearned “white privilege” everywhere. Now while white graduate students master Intermediate Statistics, students from historically disadvantaged groups pass the methodology requirement by learning about the inherent racism of the SAT.

And what happens when the freshly minted faculty are hired and must compete with “privileged” professors skilled in the latest scientific skills? This is especially troublesome since top journals use anonymous reviews and accepting race/ethnic screeds will inevitably lower the journal’s prestige. Again, no problem: “Departments should also be more inclusive of the types of journals valued in the assessment of scholarly productivity.” And these alternative approaches should also be amply funded–“Faculties must receive substantial technical, institutional, and departmental support if alternative strategies are to be widely developed, implemented, and assessed.” As an academic lifer, let me translate: the MasterCard approach to research funding–you cannot be turned down.

Let me be blunt. More than access is involved here. The report is an attack on the very essence of the modern university, at least those precincts committed to the pursuit of objective scientific truth. These academics are putting jobs for fellow tribe members ahead of the search for truth. The Rev. Al Sharpton in a tweed sport coat. Perhaps a decade-long frustration of receiving what appears to be only crumbs from the table has instilled a smoldering tribe-based hatred for those who have succeeded in ways that these self-defined outsiders do not grasp. They want to replace “The data show….” with “I feel this to be the truth and don’t contradict me since my genes tell me that….”

That the American Political Science Association legitimizes this profoundly anti-scientific and racialist (“white knowledge, black knowledge”) view, and the National Science Foundation funds it, is remarkable. Alas, this is not one more crackpot idea destined to fade once the adults catch wind of it. Those committed to biology diversity hardly need much encouragement. In fact, almost immediately after the report’s release, Wheelock College, in Boston, Mass., announced a new Political Science major based on the report to put “the voices, experiences, and struggles of marginalized groups at the center of scholarly inquiry.”  According to the Chair of the Political Science Department,  “For us, the major will take the issues they say are ignored — race, inequality, gender, marginalization — and make them front and center.”

Needless to say, Wheelock will not set the standard for Yale or Harvard. Traditional political science will be safe at top schools. But, far more likely will be the spread of this new approach to third- and fourth-tier schools, schools that often attract large numbers of black and Hispanic students. Now, rather than learn traditional political science, even a bit of the scientific method, they will just have their victimhood certified and legitimized. Replacing “How a bill becomes a law” will be, “How white-dominated institution pass laws to sustain institutional racism and inequality.” Yet one more time, the substitution of ideological claptrap will further debilitate youngsters who need real knowledge, not just empty slogans.

Why Academic Gobbledygook Makes Sense

teaching the Constitution.jpgWhen I first began teaching political science in the late
1960s I would routinely assign articles from top professional journals to
undergraduates. This is now impossible–without exception, they are
incomprehensible, overflowing with often needless statistical complexity. The
parallel is not the hard sciences where mathematics replaced philosophical
speculation. If anything, these articles reflect a trivialized research agenda.
Consider, for example, an August 2011 American Political Science Review essay
asking whether democratic electorates chose better educated leaders, a
question, it would seem, hardly requires mathematical complexity. To quote from
one key passage:

Continue reading Why Academic Gobbledygook Makes Sense

A Study Sets Out to Prove Tea Partiers Are Racist

tea_party.jpgAmong those prizing truth, modern social science does not enjoy an especially good reputation. As a political scientist myself, I’ve long encountered conservatives who often complain that much contemporary social science does little more than demonize conservative views. Unfortunately, such grumbling is often correct but that said, complainers rarely grasp how this bias is imposed and, more important, why bias passes professional scrutiny. The answers are simple, the rules for conducting research themselves permit social scientists to create “reality” and with that power, run-of-the mill dishonesty is unnecessary.

To illustrate how research can be weaponized for ideological purposes, all the while honoring the conventions of modern social science, consider a paper presented at the 2011 American Political Science Association’s annual national meeting castigating the Tea Party movement as “racist.” It was written by a well-respected academic who heeded all the accepted (and scientific) disciplinary conventions. Indeed, I strongly suspect that the ideologically-driven Tea Party bashing was scarcely noticed by peers who initially screened the paper or were in the Seattle audience when it was presented. This is the point: bias is so deeply ingrained, so professionally acceptable, that it escapes notice.

Continue reading A Study Sets Out to Prove Tea Partiers Are Racist

In Defense of Bad Teaching

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In rounding up the usual evil-doer suspects in today’s university, “bad teaching” always makes the short list. After all, who can possibly favor “bad teaching? What’s next–praising bad food or, worse, demanding bad sex?

Unfortunately, this commendable impulse to improve teaching may bring a cure far worse than the disease. This is not defending sloth or professional irresponsibility. Most professors can up their game but to make “improved teaching” an administrative priority in today’s PC-infected university invites dangers not evident to academic outsiders.

Let’s start simple: “good teaching” can be a nightmare to define, given all the complexities of subject matter and personalities. People can honestly disagree and what might be good teaching in one course with certain students may be a disaster elsewhere with different material and different students. Instructional excellence is not like the standard kilogram against which everything can be measured. Over my own career I have been honored for outstanding teaching and I have suffered complaints. I always do better with smart students who appreciate my esoteric asides while the less intellectually talented are dumbfounded.

Continue reading In Defense of Bad Teaching

The Cupcake War as a Religious Event

Berkeley bakesale.jpgBy now the “Cupcake War” in which the Berkeley College Republicans sold cupcakes with different prices for various ethnic/racial/gender groups is well known. Drawing less attention is why it produced the panicky overkill reaction, including strong condemnations from some university administrators. After all, the anti-affirmative action bake sale hardly threatens the diversity infrastructure and is a far cry from past disruptive student protests. An impartial outsider might reasonably argue that the affirmative action cause would be better served by ignoring the bake sale to deprive college Republicans of any free publicity.

Let me suggest that the true purpose of the outrage is not to stamp out opposition to racial preferences. Rather, the overreaction is best understood as a reaffirmation of a faith that is slowly (but inevitably) going wobbly. And, I suspect, this includes most Berkeley students. If beliefs about the value of legally imposed racial preferences were rock solid, the over-the-top indignation would be unnecessary.

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Do We Really Want Professors to Be Productive?

charlie-chaplin.jpgAccountability is all the rage in today’s education reform industry and at the university level, “productivity” typically means upping scholarly publishing.  The allure is simple–who can resist prodding lolling-about professors to generate more knowledge?  Unfortunately, putting the thumbscrews on idle faculty will only push universities farther to the left.  Better to pay professors for silence.

When I began my academic career at Cornell University in 1969 publications were important but production was not yet industrialized.  Quality–not volume–was overriding and it was tolerable that some senior faculty had published almost nothing for decades.  By the time I retired in 2002 from the University of Illinois-Urbana, however, scholarly publication there and elsewhere often mimicked Soviet-style manufacturing.  Every year we received detailed annual report forms with multiple categories to list every last publication, all categorized according to supposed prestige rankings, as the basis for salary increases and promotion.  Volume (“productivity”) was now deep in the academic DNA, even at schools hardly famous for original research.

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What the Madison Confrontation Reveals

student protesters.jpgMost observers have framed the recent disruption by backers of racial and ethnic preferences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a free-speech conflict. Free speech is clearly involved but lying below the surface are three issues that warrant close attention, specifically how Wisconsin once handled “inclusion;” how the protest reflects the transformation of the idea of “opportunity;” and how the university’s policies to help select minorities breeds dependency.

I attended UW-Madison from 1965 to 1969 as a graduate student and back then, at least for in-state residents, the University was highly inclusive. It simply admitted the top three-quarters of all Wisconsin high school graduates (non-residents faced tougher standards) and pretty much left them to survive on their own. I recall seeing only a few blacks on campus, but this undoubtedly reflected the state’s then largely white demography. Surely, if this generous admission standard were applied today, the affirmative action issue would be moot.

Continue reading What the Madison Confrontation Reveals

Quarantining the PC Pathology

ant.jpgLet’s face it, our noble efforts to detoxify today’s PC-infected university have largely failed and the future looks bleak. This is not to say that the problem is incurable–though it is–but it calls for a solution different from the current approach.  Here’s how.

Begin by recognizing that all our proposed cures impose heavy burdens on foes. For example, demanding an ideologically balanced faculty means fewer positions for PC zealots to fill. Asking them to abandon anti-Americanism requires revising lectures and reading assignment, no small task for those working 24/7 for social justice. And the assignment may be beyond their intellectual abilities. Why should tenured radicals surrender life-time employment to prevent professorial abuses? In a nutshell, our side insists on painful reform from within, all of which have zero benefits to the PC crowd. Victory requires measures that appear as net benefits, not bitter medicine.

My solution arrived one day in a casual conversation with a fellow political scientist. He recounted that when his university initially proposed a separate Department of Women’s Studies, the faculty objected.  Resistance was futile, however, and the separate department came to pass. There was, however, a silver lining in the defeat–with all the department’s strident feminists exported to an autonomous homeland, intellectual life suddenly improved dramatically. No more silly quarrels about inserting gender into international relations, no more struggles over subtly-hidden, invisible sexism and so on. Civility and reason reigned.

Continue reading Quarantining the PC Pathology

On Maintaining the Line Between Teacher and Student

My article here, “Professors Should Dress like Professionals,” speculated that the loss of classroom authority was at least partially traceable to a decline in sartorial standards among the professoriate. 

            More, however, is involved than shabby attire. It is the systematic attempt to demolish the line between teacher and students that is the culprit. Consider the use of titles–students once addressed their teachers inside and outside the classroom, even if the instructor were young-looking freshly minted Ph.D., as Professor Smith, not ‘Prof” or, heaven forbid, by first names (“Doctor” would also suffice though awkward) . If informality did occur, it would immediately be corrected–“That’s Professor Smith.” Students were addressed with “Mr.” or “Miss.” Yes, in today’s egalitarian atmosphere such formality seems archaic and stiff, but the convention served to remind everyone that the professor, not the students, were in-charge and this, in turn, brought respect.

            This arrangement was deeply ingrained. It took me a few years after obtaining my Ph.D. to address my former professors by their first names though I was now also a professor (well-published and teaching at an Ivy League school, to boot). A similar formality occurred at my high school reunions–classmates 50 years out of high school still today talk of Mr. Martino or Mrs. Hill, and in most instances nobody even knew their first names, not that it mattered. 

Continue reading On Maintaining the Line Between Teacher and Student

Professors Should Dress Like Professionals

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Judged by the recent avalanche of autopsy-like books, American higher education appears troubled. Alleged evil-doers abound, but one culprit escapes unnoticed–the horrific sartorial habits of many of today’s professors. Don’t laugh. As Oscar Wilde brilliantly observed, only shallow people do not judge by appearances. Indeed, I would argue that much of what plagues today’s academy can be traced to an almost total collapse of sartorial standards. When I began my professorial career in 1969 the tweed sport coat and tie was more or less standard. Today, with all too few exceptions, “academic casual,” even jeans and tee-shirts is de rigueur. This slide has not been kind to life of the mind.

Many of the academy’s ills are traceable to diminished professorial authority. We often feel like “I don’t get any respect” Rodney Dangerfield: students day dream, ignore assignments, barely show up, cheat, gossip during class, and send text messages among other contemptuous behaviors. And not even entertaining lectures, grade inflation and dumbed-down syllabi seem able to restore the loss of respect.      

To appreciate the connection between respect for authority and outward appearances, consider the one setting obsessed with maintaining authority –courts. Judges always dress the part though sartorial details vary. Severe black robes are standard while some wear special hats, even wigs and all sit high above the court proceedings. To drive home respect, judges are addressed with “your honor” or “may it please the court” and lawyers must ask permission to “approach to the court” for private conservation. Discussions are all judge-controlled and disrespect is punishable by contempt of court. All rise when the judge enters and nobody would dare catch up on e-mails during a trial. This is the physical aspect of respect for rule of law. Professors should be so lucky.

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Arne Duncan Succumbs to March Madness

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The cosmology of ideas to fix America’s supposedly troubled higher education abound. Some resemble comets–small amounts of rock and frozen toxic gas that periodically appear, light up the sky and then vanish only to reappear decades later. Today’s comet-like elixir is directed at the NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball tournament (“March Madness”).

The facts are simple enough. First, basketball players are disproportionately African Americans (60%), especially among teams making it to the final four. Second, graduation rates of blacks are shockingly low, far below that of their white teammates. At Kansas State University, for example, all the white players are on the path to graduation compared to 14% of the black players. To be sure, a few teams (e.g., University of Illinois, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt) graduate all players and some graduate more blacks than whites (e.g., Boston University, Northern Colorado),  but the gap is generally large (91% vs. 59%) and is growing.

The typical inference is that universities are exploiting African Americans. Schools recruit these often underprivileged youngsters while the school profits handsomely from their contribution, their “workers” often leave school without a diploma. That a handful will have a brief professional career (and even then, rarely in the big bucks NBA) cannot justify the exploitation and, in a sense, the exaggerated lure of the NBA only adds to the dishonesty.

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The Rankings Will Always be Gamed

Trying to rank hundreds, if not thousands of colleges is obviously foolish, but this foolishness has consequences beyond supplying iffy advice to clueless shoppers. To the extent that potential enrollees take ratings seriously, institutions may be tempted to game the system and these tricks may well undermine education. To use Malcolm Gladwell’s illustration from Car and Driver, a car manufacturer can probably figure out the little gimmicks that magazine critics over-value and then accommodate these preferences even if they add zero to the car’s value.
Manipulating a rating will not push a third-rank school into the Ivy League, but in the mushy middle a few points can separate, say, 35 from 57. The temptation is to scam the system, regardless of the educational value. And what school can resist a little tinkering to leapfrog over rivals? So, if the rating formula stresses graduation rates, a few obscure bureaucratic adjustments—regular credit for what were once remedial courses, creating easy no-fail majors, allowing “Fs” to be expunged among similar ploys—can work wonders. Reed College refuses to participate in the U.S. News ranking, a wise choice given its low retention rate—hundreds of youngsters enroll in the mistaken belief that Reed is a sex and drug paradise, but most of these would-be hedonists flee almost immediately after encountering a hard-nosed take-no-prisoners freshman curriculum. Yet, this overly-generous admission generosity may benefit some high-potential under-achievers who might eventually flourish in a school of Reed’s intellectual caliber. If ratings were paramount and included retention, however, Reed would just play it safe and slip into staid conventionality.
And if average faculty compensation is the yardstick, any clever administrator can diddle the numbers. Just recruit expensive “star” talent who barely teach while “non-faculty” graduate students handle classroom instruction. Better yet, hire only those whose hefty salaries are paid by outside grants—get all the benefits of high salary compensation without any of the cost. Need more library holdings to impress the raters? No problem—buy cheaper paperbacks instead of expensive scholarly monographs. Need a reputation for “good teaching”? Since some raters use the internet to establish instructional “quality,” keep tough graders away from large required courses and watch ratings soar on ratemyprofessor.com.
My own favorite tactic for juicing “scholarly reputation” (at least in the social sciences) is to hire faculty who specialize in mathematical analysis and its variants like rational choice. These professors are amazingly productive and can quickly build a department’s disciplinary reputation where, as often the case, only publication volume counts. No matter that these professors teach gobbledygook to undergraduates who prefer history-rich accounts of WW II versus, say, a lecture on why country A attacked country B using the Prisoner’s Dilemma format. But don’t even think of hiring more substantively oriented adjuncts to compensate for these content-free courses—having too many part-timers, regardless of their backgrounds, especially if they lack doctorates, typically kills a school’s reputation among raters regardless of how much students learn.
This is a tail-wagging-the-dog problem—journalist outsiders, many of whom barely understand university life, shaping university policy by deciding what is academically important and even then, only using readily available crude information. That so many administrators happily defer to these ill-informed outsiders so as to up their rank a few notches is perhaps the most depressing feature of this foolishness.

Recapturing the University: The Hybrid Alternative

In the contemporary battle within the social sciences between free market think tanks and liberal- dominated universities, the former labor under a huge disadvantage: they lack students. Think-tank based scholars may daily issue erudite policy analyses, write incisive op-ed columns galore, dominate talk radio, publish in widely admired magazines like City Journal but the half-life of these missives seldom exceeds a few days. By contrast, a professor typically has fifteen weeks, two to three times per week, for usually 50 minutes, to expound his or her views to a captive audience, two to four courses per semester, and over a thirty-five plus year career. Of the utmost importance, professors can compel students to read stuff and insist on minimal familiarity, a power unimaginable to even the most professional think tank PR department. That these students are of an impressionable age—the pedagogical equivalent of droit de seigneur— and are hardly in a position to argue, only adds to this built in indoctrination advantage.
In graduate education the propagating-the-faith advantage multiplies, since most Ph.D. students will become tomorrow’s teachers. Ideological domination can persist for decades, regardless of events. So, to use a depressing example, the Marxist analyses that first filtered into America’s college classrooms in the 1960s are still going strong a half century later and can only continue on as the torch is passed from professor to Ph.D. advisees. Perhaps only centuries from now will Marxism go inert and like spent weapons-grade Plutonium, the last lead-brained but still radioactive Marxist professor will be entombed in a deep Nevada salt mine. And it may require additional centuries for him to be joined by ideologically exhausted feminists, deconstructionists, ethnic studies experts and all the rest.
This monopoly of early access cannot be overcome by think tanks churning out more reports, better public relations, or ensuring that every “important opinion leaders” receives a free copy of their sponsored research (which may not even be read). And keep in mind that professors get to students first (the droit de seigneur), so the glories of free markets, low taxes, and limited government etc. etc. must overcome years of prior exposure. It is no wonder that many free-market think tank scholars must feel like they are trying to push boulder up a mountain. They are—the professors got there first and designed the obstacle course terrain.

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Rescuing the University, I

Part I, The Problem
How is the university, specifically the humanities and social sciences, with its rampant anti-Americanism, anti-intellectualism, muddle-brained identity politics, hostility to the unvarnished truth and all the rest to be re-conquered and restored to sanity? As one who has spent four decades in the belly of the beast, half of which was resisting this pernicious stupidity, let me offer some observations and suggestions. They are especially directed to non-academics who badly want to help, willingly put their money where their mouth is, but, alas, are clueless. To cut to the chase, universities are the faculty, and without bringing in fresh blood or helping sympathizers already there, all else is ephemeral. To paraphrase the familiar real estate adage, its people, people, people. Warning: some readers sharing my views may find my remarks a bit upsetting.
Reform currently has three main elements, two of which thrive but, unfortunately, are unlikely to succeed; a third might be victorious but remains largely untried. I’ll call them (1) guerilla warfare; (2) monastery construction; and (3) CIA-style covert funding.
Guerilla warfare is waged by groups outside the university. Some like FIRE and Center for Individual Rights combat legal abuses and rescue victims of egregious PC. Others like David Horowitz’s Front Page, Campus Watch and Minding the Campus are of the sunlight-is-the-best-disinfectant school: expose the rascals in the hope that the chastised will repent. These hit-and-run tactics are absolutely vital, can be great though depressing fun, but will not restore reason since they leave faculty composition untouched, and without refurbishment, the abuses will grow only slightly less obvious. Nefarious deans will just become more media savvy and advise the local Ward Churchills not to put it in writing lest the dreaded Horowitz-the-Horrible (not to be confused with Leo-the-Impaler) discover it. And, sadly, many miscreants are often immune to the disinfectant, and not even being linked to Islamic terrorism embarrasses them.
The monastery approach creates campus sanctuaries promoting solid, traditional education, e.g., Princeton’s Madison Center. This is what the Veritas Center is all about. Hopefully, a few hundred students a year now escape mumbo-jumbo PC and learn that Western Civilization had a virtue or two. As an “alternative university” (to use the left’s 60s vocabulary) it is a wonderful (though frightfully expensive) enterprise but, here too, it will not alter faculty composition. These Centers cannot hire new faculty or award tenure to assistant professors. Today’s PC universities would never allow such back-door conversion regardless of financial enticements. Radical faculty would be outraged at not having a finger in the pie and, rest assured, if they were consulted, the Monastery would be forcefully diversified and made multicultural. At most, university administrators will graciously permit wealthy benefactors “the opportunity” to donate a few million for an endowed chair for an already distinguished conservative tenured faculty member, so nothing new intellectually is added. At the margins newly created sanctuaries permit a few tenured professors to burnish resumes or gain some release time. But, at day’s end, the PC fortress barely notices and if things got tough financially, radicals would shamelessly just confiscate everything. Sanctuaries may help survive the Dark Ages but they will not restore the Enlightenment.

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The Conspiracy Against Faculty Friendship

It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us, as the confidence of their help.
– Epicurus (Greek Philosopher 341 BC-271 BC)

Though relatively tiny in number PC forces now exercise disproportionate influence across the university, even capturing entire departments. What makes this conquest especially noteworthy is the lack of resistance from academics, liberal and conservative, who know better and should have stood up and shouted, “Enough with this race/class/gender crap, we need people to teach Chinese or Japanese politics, not yet one more course about African Americans.” Going one step further, where is the vocal outrage when the PC contingent accuses a fellow professor of “hateful insensitivity” by assigning the Bell Curve or his “heretical” remarks on colonialism? Outside the university this bystander unresponsiveness even has a name—the Kitty Genovese phenomena, named after a repeatedly stabbed woman who lay unattended for hours in an apartment building courtyard while “oblivious” neighbors ignored her screams (she eventually died). But, why would life-time tenured professors go deaf when the ninnies beat up on a colleague who, to be hypothetical, dare hypothesized a biological factor in male/female mathematical distinction? Rallying to his defense is hardly as dangerous as, say, trying to stop a Mafia execution. Callous indifference to the plight of those singled out for PC attack is critical to understanding what bedevils today’s academy, and deserves an explanation.
The decline in friendship explains a lot—friends defend friends, even risk death, but without camaraderie, it is all too easy to run and “not notice.” Friendship’s role in helping others was made crystal clear following World War II when sociologist Morris Janowitz and others interviewed German POWs to assess their extraordinary unit combat cohesiveness. It turns out that small units like tank crews typically came from the same town and were kept together for the entire war. This bonding, plus the realization that cowardice would travel back home encouraged bravery—Hans would risks his life to save his friend, fellow Bad Homburger, Rolf, and this loyalty far outweighed abstract ideology. American units, by contrast, favored shifting personnel and mixed composition (recall WW II “buddy” movies where “Brooklyn” shared a foxhole with “Tex”). But with the war ending, and German units becoming hastily assembled hodge-podges, combat effectiveness collapsed and mass surrenders ensued. Hans would risk death for Rolf but not the newcomer Wolfgang from far distant Rostock.
Today’s universities are almost organized conspiracies against such cohesion. Affirmative action consciously rips it apart (recall how in 1984 friendship was sabotaged to atomize society on behalf of Big Brother). The diversity fetish guarantees departments filled with strangers having little in common. Hiring newcomers who “will fit in” has been replaced with “is he or she sufficiently different enough to satisfy the Diversity and Outreach Dean.” Departments grow to resemble modern grade- school earth science textbook role model pictures—no two young faces alike, a few disabled to boot, and numerous smiling representatives from “under-represented” groups hardly known for scientific achievement. Indeed, hiring a white male job candidate who will further cement social cohesion may require extra justification beyond “he is the best.” Too many white males implies unacceptable “good old boyism.”

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