Tag Archives: trustees

The Perils of Student Choice

The release of SAT scores last week gives strong ammunition to proponents of a core curriculum. As reported in the Wall Street Journal , reading scores hit their lowest figure in four decades. Writing scores hit their lowest number since a writing component was added to the exam six years ago; in fact, writing scores have dropped every year except one, when they were flat.

The College Board, which administers the exam, attributes the decline to two factors. One, more second-language students are taking the exam; and two, not enough test-takers follow a core curriculum. James Montoya, vice president of College Board, is quoted to that effect in the story, and he states the case even more strongly in the College Board’s own report. In his opening remarks, Montoya asserts that “students who complete a rigorous core curriculum do better in high school; they do better on the SAT; and they are more prepared for college. This holds true across all socioeconomic and ethnic lines.”

What a contrast to the education establishment, which regards a core curriculum as narrow and authoritarian! Parents are inundated with this argument during campus tours, where backward-walking guides assure them that students have ample license in their coursework. The proliferation of choice complements trendy ideas of student empowerment and student-centered learning that caught on in the 1960s and drifted quickly up to higher education.

However, those who favor a core curriculum now have certified announcements by the College Board against a high-elective approach. They may also take heart from a survey released this week by American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Administered by Roper, the first question asked respondents if colleges and universities should force students to take classes in “core subjects” (writing, math, science, U.S. history, economics, foreign language). Fully 70 percent answered “Yes.” More than half (54 percent) of them agreed that they were “Very” or “Somewhat” surprised that many institutions do not have those requirements. Most respondents (57 percent) also said they believe schools do a “fair” or “poor” job preparing students for the job market, while 46 percent believed that institutions do not give student’s “their money’s worth.”

The combination of dissatisfaction with the overall product plus the endorsement of core curricula marks a timely opening for reformers.

The California College System under Scrutiny

A recent report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), entitled “Best Laid Plans: The Unfulfilled Promise of Public Higher Education,” explores a fair number of problems the California college system faces. However, I don’t think it covers them all.

The report states openly and rightly the problems that California’s public colleges face are not primarily a function of declining revenues. As it notes, “the real danger is a fundamental failure by today’s trustees and system leaders to apply the same creativity and thoughtfulness that informed the Master Plan to a new world of reduced resources and a shrinking tax base.”

This point is crucial. The behemoth California college system has been fed an enormous amount of money, but there is obviously a limit to how much more the citizens can provide. In just the last five years, tuition at the UC system has gone up nearly 75% and at the CSU system by nearly 85%. And California’s taxpayers already pay steep sales, property and income taxes–among the highest in the nation. It is hard to imagine that much more can be squeezed from either the students or the taxpayers.

The report documents in detail some of the dramatic problems the system faces, including:

  • Low graduation rates at the CSU system: only 17.2% of new full-time freshmen graduate within 4 years, and only 52.4% within 6 years.
  • The leaders of the California public college system have a severe Edifice Complex, looking constantly to increase the amount of buildings and other infrastructure, much of it unnecessary.
  • The leaders are also reluctant to close or consolidate low-enrollment programs, and too easily eager to add new ones.
  • There is considerable administrative bloat, with the compensation of the top administrators increasingly over-generous, even while the taxpayers and students are impoverished.

I would note some other major problems:

The California community colleges have a grotesquely high drop-out rate: only 20% of CCC students either got an AA degree or transfer to a regular college.

  • The CCC system also spends way too much on recreational courses (courses that are meant to provide recreational outlets to adults). While these courses are supposed to pay their own way, they utilize the system’s physical resources.
  • The whole CSU system has suffered endemic “mission creep” regarding remedial education. Under the wise original 1960 master plan, CSU would take only college-ready students, while those needing remedial education (in math and English) were supposed to go to the huge and inexpensive CCC system. Along the way, the CSU system developed a costly remediation system. Now, half of all incoming CSU take remedial math or English or both.
  • Professors and administrators of the CSU system have over the years pushed for more and more focus on research, with tenure-track professors expected to publish, leaving much of the teaching to adjuncts. It is unclear, to say the least, that this has really benefitted the citizens of the state.

The report calls upon the UC Regents and the CSU Trustees to reassert control and enact necessary reforms, including establishing clear measures of productivity; re-prioritizing the academic mission of the college, restoring core curricula; rewarding good teaching; cutting back on administrative bloat; and restoring academic freedom and true intellectual diversity.

I can’t help feeling that the report is an exercise in naiveté. The administrators and faculty are agents in an institution that suffers from the principal/agent problem. Because the real principals — taxpayers, students and parents — have little knowledge of and even less power over the workings of the colleges for which they pay, the agents (faculty and administrators) can run them for self-serving purposes. Until this problem is rectified by radical reform, I see little hope for change any time soon.

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Gary Jason is a philosophy instructor and a senior editor of Liberty, and is the author of Dangerous Thoughts.

Higher Education’s ‘Obesity’ Problem

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Open a marketing brochure for any college or university
in the United States and you’ll find an info-graphic touting the variety and
number of degree programs that the institution offers.  The more options, the rationale goes, the
more likely a student will find a desired specialty.  The distinction between programs can be
subtle, for instance “Music, General” versus “Musical Theatre,” or
Agricultural Engineering” versus “Agronomy and Crop
Science.”

But the dreary fact is: higher education is in the midst
of a major financial crisis. 
Institutions’ bond ratings are falling and resources are in short
supply.   Boards of trustees must  figure out how to do more and better with
less. While administrative costs have to be examined, they are only part of the
problem.  According to former president
of the University of Northern Colorado and co-founder of the Lumina Foundation
Robert C. Dickeson, “[t]he failure of governing boards to focus on academic
programs is arguably the single greatest cause of overspending.”

This month the American Council of Trustees and Alumni
(ACTA) is sending Dr. Dickeson’s guide,
Setting Academic Priorities: A Guide to
What Boards of Trustees Can Do
to ACTA’s network of more than 13,000
trustees around the country. It provides governing boards with a framework for
establishing academic program review policies that direct resources to
mission-critical areas of their institutions without neglecting students’ needs.
 Of course, achieving this goal must
entail consolidating some academic programs into larger, more cost-effective
units or eliminating them.  

Continue reading Higher Education’s ‘Obesity’ Problem

The Freeh Report and the Failure of Trustees

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The past few months have been troubling for those who
believe that Trustees must exercise more aggressive oversight roles on today’s
college and university campuses. At the University of Virginia, the board of regents (temporarily,
it turns out) sacked President Teresa Sullivan, yet struggled to articulate a
reason for doing so. Then, when they did so–seeming to demand more on-line
classes, seeming to criticize the German and Classics Departments–the board’s
vision conflicted with defenders of high standards. At University of Southern
Maine, meanwhile, the board stood aside amidst a
slow-motion coup against President Selma Botman–an effort that aimed, as one of
the plotters privately admitted, to show that “the faculty really are the
center of the universe.”

Continue reading The Freeh Report and the Failure of Trustees

Why Many Conservatives Got It Wrong on UVa

uva.jpgBy any ordinary standard, Teresa Sullivan is the kind of
university president conservatives love to hate. In 2010, after the Board of Visitors
unanimously elected her the first female president of the University of
Virginia, one of her first acts was to endorse and publish the UVA Diversity
Council’s statement expressing commitment in–what else?–diversity. Sullivan had co-authored two books on middle-class
debt with none other than Elizabeth Warren, who famously exploited informal
racial quotas at prestigious academic institutions by falsely claiming Native
American ancestry on the sole basis of her high cheekbones. In short, Sullivan
appeared as a diversity hire interested only in campus diversity at UVA and who
has worked with another diversity hire to produce diversity scholarship. It is as if Sullivan was not born but rather fashioned out of the politically correct
clich

How ‘Money Men’ Hijacked a Famous College

dartmouth.jpgCrossing the snow-covered Dartmouth green one night, I stopped, looked around, and asked, “Who owns this place, and by what right?” More than half a century later, I have still not resolved a complete answer to that question. But I can give you my short-form response: A small group of willful people, mostly money men disdainful of undergraduate education, have stacked the board of trustees, made an unannounced decision to convert a liberal arts college into a major research university, and “earned” themselves huge commissions on sales of their own securities to the college’s endowment while keeping details of the transactions secret.

A note on the history: Most of America’s early colleges were founded
by church denominations, whose control gradually weakened as costs and
instructional quality rose. The pivotal stage in this history occurred
in the decades following the Civil War, when alumni, having assumed the
major burden of support, began asserting claims for seats on the board
of trustees. Dartmouth alumni battled longest and won the most
significant concessions in 1891. Responsibility for the college was to
be vested in each and every alumnus; excepting the ex officio members
(the state’s governor and the college president), half the trustees
would thereafter be elected directly by the alumni body, and the other
half by the entire board.

Continue reading How ‘Money Men’ Hijacked a Famous College

Why ACTA Is Needed

In a perfect world, the two most important organizations in higher education would have no need to exist. Since colleges and universities would respect academic freedom and the First Amendment rather than attempt to suppress unpleasant speech, FIRE could shut its doors. And since the professoriate would feature an impressive array of pedagogical and ideological diversity rather than operating amidst the stultifying effects of groupthink, trustees wouldn’t need to check and balance the tyranny of the faculty majority. The organization that most consistently has urged this role for trustees, ACTA, could then turn its attention to other matters.

Continue reading Why ACTA Is Needed

A Struggle to Reform the CUNY Curriculum

There have been two interesting, if somewhat under
the radar, higher education developments recently in New York City.

First, on Tuesday, the CUNY Board of Trustees
continued its consideration of the administration’s proposed general-education
curriculum plan, called Pathways. The proposal calls for a mandatory 30 credits
of core offerings for all CUNY students, divided between classes in English
Composition, Math, and Life & Physical Sciences, plus six courses in a
tightly limited distribution requirement. (Individual colleges could add up to
12 additional credits.) The system
envisions
“that all colleges should design the structure of their general
education requirements so as to be as straightforward and comprehensible as
possible,” while also seeking to “ensure rigorous and transferable study across
the colleges while retaining sufficient flexibility for colleges to sustain and
develop their distinctive academic identities.

Continue reading A Struggle to Reform the CUNY Curriculum

Penn State, Trustees, and a Lack of Transparency

Last week, the incomparable Anne Neal penned
a blistering op-ed
regarding how the Penn State trustees handled the
allegations against former football coach Jerry Sandusky. The ACTA head argued that
the unfolding events of the Penn State sports
scandal show a major university that has been more interested in protecting
itself than in educating students or serving the public. The institutional
reckoning must begin and end with the governing board. It is responsible for
the actions of university leaders, and its members owe taxpayers and students
accountability and transparency.”

Continue reading Penn State, Trustees, and a Lack of Transparency

The Penn State Trustees React to the Stench

The Board of Trustees acted properly in cleaning house at Penn State, by firing president Graham Spanier and longtime football coach Joe Paterno. The inaction of the duo, along with similar conduct from now-suspended Athletic Director Tim Curley and now-retired VP Gary Schultz has exposed the university to potentially massive legal liability, as well as prompting an extraordinary public relations backlash.

Continue reading The Penn State Trustees React to the Stench

What Will They Learn? Not That Much

The redoubtable Anne Neal, President of ACTA, has released a survey entitled “What Will They Learn?” – a sobering analysis of general education in the nation’s colleges and universities. The report covers major public and private institutions in all 50 states.

Each of the higher education institutions was assigned a letter grade from “A” to “F” based on the requirement seven core subjects: composition, U.S. government or history, economics, literature, math, science, and foreign languages. 

The results are troubling. Only 5 percent of those in the survey require economics. Slightly less than 20 percent require intermediate level foreign language. Moreover, cost is not correlated to quality. The higher the tuition, the more likely it is that students are left without guidance on general education subjects.

Continue reading What Will They Learn? Not That Much

ACTA Examines General Education Requirements

ACTA has published its 2011-2 edition of What Will They Learn?, a study that examines, in basic terms, what 1007 colleges and universities around the country require from their students. The entire study is worth reading–and features an easy-to-use website–but I consider two aspects of ACTA’s findings particularly significant.

First, military academies fare quite well in ACTA’s study. Army and Air Force both require courses in composition, literature, U.S. government or history, math, science, and economics; Navy requires all of these subjects except for economics. Somewhat surprisingly, given their mission, none of the three require foreign language study, but otherwise all three provide a quality liberal arts fare.

Continue reading ACTA Examines General Education Requirements

Why University Presidents Are Clueless About the Real World

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New Pew Research Center data show that a large majority of Americans think U.S. colleges and universities offer only fair or poor value for the financial cost -but college presidents strikingly disagree, with a majority of them thinking college offers at least a good value (though college presidents are overwhelmingly pessimistic about the quality of American higher education compared to the world ten years from now). Similarly, a majority of Americans question whether college is truly affordable any more, a view that most college presidents do not share. More generally, people in the academy have views widely divergent from the mainstream of the American population.

Turning to college presidents, I think a lot of this attitudinal divide relates to the non-market environment in which colleges operate. How do you become a successful college president? You raise lots of money, which you then use to bribe the various constituents in the university community to keep them happy. The faculty you bribe with low teaching loads, good fringe benefits, and perhaps a nearby parking place. Your fellow top administrators whose support is vital you bribe with not only good salaries, but also lots of assistants who do much of the heavy lifting associated with the job. You bribe the students by giving them nice recreational and dorm facilities, and reach an implicit bargain with them to not demand much academically (hence grade inflation) and to largely ignore their hedonistic bouts of alcoholic and sexual excesses. You bribe the alumni with decent football and basketball teams and a nice campus facility where they can hang out. You bribe the trustees with whatever idiosyncratic whim they want. In short, you spend money to keep a narrow group of people associated with the Ivory Tower happy.

Contrast that with business leaders. They are motivated by profits, maximizing the gap between revenue and costs. To increase revenues, they must please vast numbers of persons with new or improved products. They also enhance profits by reducing costs, raising productivity so they can do more with less. They reward subordinates who further these goals with bonuses, stock options, etc.

Continue reading Why University Presidents Are Clueless About the Real World

A Campaign Against the Koch Foundation

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There is an old saying in politics that “They don’t scream unless you hurt them.”  When your adversaries scream, it is a good sign that your measures have been effective. Judged by this standard, the Koch Brothers (David and Charles) have been very effective in recent years in advancing their causes of limited government and classical liberalism, much to the discomfort of liberal foes promoting business regulation, higher taxes, and ObamaCare.

The Koch brothers have been on the receiving end of non-stop attacks from liberal journalists and academics ever since Jane Mayer published a hit piece on them last year in The New Yorker purporting to show that their contributions were behind the rise of the “Tea Party” movement.  This wildly exaggerated claim was meant to cast the Koch brothers as great villains, but villains possessed of a satanic combination of power and tactical brilliance.  In a predictable course, Mayer’s fairy tale was circulated by the columnists and editorial writers of the New York Times and from there through a network of second-level columnists and political magazines until at length it came to the attention of the credulous foot soldiers of the liberal-left who have kept the pot boiling in recent months with ever more inventive and exaggerated versions of the original lie.     
 
The latest controversy surrounding the Kochs arises from an article published last week in the St. Petersburg Times titled, “Billionaire’s Role in Hiring Decisions at Florida State University Raises Questions.”  The author insinuates that the Koch Foundation was trying to “buy off” the Economics Department at Florida State University through a $1.5 million grant (paid over six years) to hire new faculty and to support graduate fellowships under a program in “political economy and free enterprise.”  Under the grant, a three-person faculty committee was set up to review candidates for the positions, including one member designated by the Foundation.  The paper suggested that by designating a member of the review committee the Foundation was undermining academic freedom by interfering in the faculty’s right to appoint colleagues on the basis of professional competence.   

Continue reading A Campaign Against the Koch Foundation

Let’s Push Trustees to Solve the Adjunct Problem

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For years now, a sad, steady flow of articles, books, and studies has documented the rise of the “disposable academic,” the growing underclass of poorly paid, uninsured PhDs who do the bulk of college teaching but have no real chance of ever landing a secure academic job. This is a tragedy, the argument goes, not only for the young scholars who will never become professors, but also for undergraduates (whose educations suffer when they are taught by “disposable” teachers) and for progress itself (adjunct work is not conducive to original research, open debate, and knowledge production).

But despite the large body of work on the subject, the ratio of “securely-employed” to “disposable” has only gotten worse over the years. As Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report in their recent study Academically Adrift, in 1970, 78 percent of college teachers at degree-granting institutions were full-time faculty; in 2005, only 52 percent were.  Fully three quarters of all faculty appointments today are non-tenure-track. “The professor”–as a job, a vocation, and an academic institution–seems to be disappearing. 
 
Moreover, warnings can only fall on deaf ears so many times before they sound absurd. People are still flocking to grad school. Grad schools are still admitting students–and, despite high attrition, they are still overproducing PhDs. In Higher Education?, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus report that between 2005 and 2007, American universities awarded over 100,000 doctorates–while creating less than 16,000 tenure-track assistant professorships.  
 
“Don’t make fun of grad students,” Marge Simpson tells Bart after he taunts a group of PhDs working at the local bookstore. “They just made a terrible life choice.” It may be bad behavior, but mocking grad students’ “terrible life choice” is turning out to be a popular pastime for academia’s armchair humorists. In recent months, thanks to the DIY movie site Xtranormal.com, a number of grad students and professors have created short cartoons spoofing the hapless would-be professor. First there was “So You Want to Go To Law School,” which has been viewed over a million times since its launch in October 2010. Parodying the starry-eyed idealism of wannabe lawyers, the film had an obvious applicability to grad school, where starry eyes and poor employment prospects are in even greater supply. Short videos on the career suicide of pursuing a PhD in physics, economics, political science, the humanities, and more followed in quick succession.

Continue reading Let’s Push Trustees to Solve the Adjunct Problem

The Big 12 – Beyond the Game

“What’s Happening Off the Field”, a new report on the Big 12 from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni suggests that all is not well beyond the playing fields. First, in a sure gauge of misplaced priorities, it’s no surprise that athletic expenditures appear to have grown at a higher rate than other expenditures at at least half of the schools. Perhaps worse, though, is a look at the other purposes to which universities are directing their spending. As the report indicates, in the five years ending in 2008 “nine of the Big 12’s institutions increased spending on administration, and they did so by an average of 59 percent.” [italics mine] Has this increase in administrative expenditure accomplished any evident improvement in the report’s other metrics, of four and six year graduation rates and freshmen retention? No, not reliably. In fact, it’s impossible to make out any reliable variation in performance in these categories between those 9 schools that increased administrative spending and the three valorous schools—Iowa State, Texas A&M, and Missouri—that slashed it. Of course, there are more complex factors at work beyond the measure of the survey, but even in an omniscient look, I doubt you’d find improvement in any category even remotely correlated with the growth of administrative spending. To hear even of 3 frugal universities is inspiring though, and let’s hope more take heed of their example.

ACTA & Its Critics

ACTA’s new, expanded survey of college general education requirements has earned justified praise. Here’s Pulitzer Prize winner Kathleen Parker, from her column this Sunday: “The study and Web site do fill a gap so that parents and students can make better choices. As a consequence, colleges and universities may be forced to examine their own responsibility in molding an educated, well-informed citizenry.”
ACTA’s guide is so significant because it provides an easy-to-use, easy-to-compare, and easily accessible portal of the general education requirements at 700 institutions. This information should be the starting point for parents as they consider where to send their sons or daughters—and it also should be a prime piece of data for alumni and trustees as they evaluate the state of their institutions. Sure, this information was previously available. But too often colleges and universities go out of their way to bury curricular material in ways to frustrate those eager for sunlight on college campuses.
A good sign of the importance of ACTA’s work comes in the fury that the study has aroused from defenders of the academic status quo. In particular, the AAC&U, the organization that has distinguished itself for its relentless assault on quality—in the name of “diversity”—in higher education, belittled ACTA’s efforts.

Continue reading ACTA & Its Critics

The Curious Case of Dr. Howell

By KC Johnson
As part of its more general—and oft-expressed—commitment to academic freedom, CUNY’s Board of Trustees has a student complaint policy that appropriately balances the faculty’s academic freedom with a recognition that students, too, have the right not to be punished for disagreeing with their professor’s political or ideological agenda.
To ensure that student “activists” don’t abuse the policy, the Board recently noted that the process existed only to hear complaints from students actually enrolled in a professor’s class—since a professor’s in-class behavior can, by its very nature, only affect the academic freedom of students in the class.
It seems that they do things differently in Urbana. At the end of the spring semester, a student’s “friend” brought a rather unusual e-mail to the attention of the Religion Department chairman. Adjunct professor Kenneth Howell had sent the e-mail, much of which passed along a natural-law critique of homosexuality, to his spring 2010 class, Introduction to Catholicism. (The e-mail sought to help students prepare for their final exam; the natural law section was clearly relevant to the course content.) If this episode had occurred at CUNY, the Religion chair would have thanked the student for his concerns, but noted that only students in the class, nor their friends or associates, could file complaints.
But the University of Illinois hasn’t imitated CUNY’s policy, costing the school its first opportunity to refuse the controversy. A second chance was lost through the behavior of Religion Dept. chairman Robert McKim. Having decided to entertain the complaint against Howell, the Religion Department could have handled the issue quickly and quietly, by McKim suggesting that, in the future, Howell not pepper exam-prep e-mails with his unrelated and ill-informed insights about public health (see below). Instead, the chair involved diversity-obsessed bureaucrats, who made clear the ‘desire not to retain Howell, given that “the e-mails sent by Dr. Howell violate university standards of inclusivity.”

Continue reading The Curious Case of Dr. Howell

What Now After CLS?

The Supreme Court’s Christian Legal Society v. Martinez ruling has received a good deal of high-quality commentary: FIRE and David French criticized the ruling; Eugene Volokh argued that the Court got the decision right.
Anne Neal has correctly noted that trustees should respond to the ruling by going slow, especially since the “all-comers” policy employed by Hastings is rare. That said, it seems more than likely that more and more universities will imitate the Hastings policy, whether from a desire to inoculate themselves from lawsuits or on behalf of what Justice Alito termed a campus agenda of political correctness.
The “all-comers” policy has satisfied the Supreme Court. But from an educational standpoint, does it make any sense? What purpose is served by a college or university creating an official Democratic club whose membership is open to unabashed defenders of George W. Bush? Or creating an official Jewish students organization that must admit Arab students who deny Israel’s right to exist? Not only does such a policy undermine freedom of association, but the resulting organizations are essentially useless.

Continue reading What Now After CLS?

The Dartmouth Case

At the Volokh Conspiracy, Todd Zywicki outlines the latest in the Dartmouth alumni suit against Dartmouth College.

The current case, like the previous case, arises from the 1891 Agreement between the Dartmouth Trustees and the alumni of the College, acting through the Association of Alumni, that gave the alumni the right to elect half of the non-ex officio members of the Board of Trustees. At the time, the Board was comprised of 12 members, of which 2 served ex officio (the Governor of New Hampshire and the Dartmouth president). Upon striking the agreement, over the next two years, 5 of the appointed trustees resigned and were replaced with elected trustees. Over time, the size of the board expanded, and by the time I was elected a trustee in 2005 there were 8 elected Alumni Trustees, 8 appointed Charter Trustees, and the Governor and College president as ex officio members. As I have discussed in detail elsewhere, the 1891 Agreement was the culmination of decades of negotiations between the trustees and college administration on one hand and the alumni on the other.
In 2007 after a string of petition trustees were elected to the Board, a majority of trustees voted to impose a board-packing plan, which added 8 new appointed seats to the board, making 16 appointed and 8 elected trustees. I won’t rehash that here, except to point interested readers to my earlier discussions as well as the Court’s excellent opinion which held that the plaintiffs in that case stated valid claims both on contract and promissory estoppel theories. Importantly, the Court also held that the Association of Alumni had standing to sue and capacity to contract in that case, as well as to provide valid consideration, such as administering the Alumni Trustee elections. For purposes of analysis on the current summary judgment motion, I am going to take it as given that the underlying contract claim is valid.
In Spring 2008, however, the alumni leaders who brought the suit had to stand for reelection and were voted out of office. The winning slate of alumni loyal to the trustees and administration dismissed the suit. Their campaign position had been that the alumni should have “negotiated” more with the trustees before bringing suit. As the current plaintiffs note in their most recent brief, it thus came as quite a surprise when the suit was dismissed with prejudice, with the deliberate intent to try to foreclose a future lawsuit if negotiations broke down (it doesn’t actually work, as will be discussed below). After all I’ve seen over the past few years, I thought that I was beyond being shocked by the sort of behavior described in the plaintiffs’ brief, but I confess that this surprised even me. The College has not contested any of the claims in the briefs of the current plaintiffs with respect to the collusive behavior of the AoA leadership in settling the prior case. Read the first 10 pages of so of the plaintiffs’ brief if you want to get a flavor of what happened.

Read on for a fascinating outline of the legal questions involved.

Another Success Story

A recent report by American Council of Trustees and Alumni entitled “What Will They Learn?” makes clear that the steady deterioriation of general education at the best colleges continues apace. The report studied general education requirements at 100 top schools and found that “Topics like U.S. government or history, literature, mathematics, and economics have become mere options on far too many campuses.” Indeed, my own university dropped its U.S. history requirement a year ago, replacing it with a watery “History, Society, Culture” that allows just about everything to count.
The upshot is that one can no longer rely on the ordinary curriculum to ensure a solid liberal education for all students. This is one reason why we need special undergraduate programs, centers, and institutes that emphasize broad learning in civics and history, and provide students a forum for the discussion of ideas and ideologies. I highlighted one of them awhile back, the Alexander Hamilton Institute in Clinton, NY, run by Bob Paquette and providing students a home for the reasoned and critical study of Western civilization.
Another one is the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville. It was established back in 1991 by Senator Mitch McConnell, who graduated from Louisville 27 years earlier. The goal of the center is to educate students to become engaged and informed citizens, and so it hosts luncheons, seminars, panel discussions, and lectures with undergraduates as full participants. Gary Gregg, the Director, holds the Mitch McConnell Chair in Leadership at the university, and his writings The Presidential Republic, Patriot Sage: George Washington and the American Political Tradition and Securing Democracy—Why We Have an Electoral College.
The curriculum of the Center emphasizes civics education, and it developed expressly as a response to “the national problem of declining classroom emphasis on American history and civics education, abysmal student knowledge of the American Constitution and political processes, and a growing detachment of young people from the political process.” The programs and events the Center organizes remedy the knowledge deficit by offering scholarships to young people interested in a broad education in political science and the liberal arts, along with internships that give them direct exposure to U.S. politics in action.

Continue reading Another Success Story

Decoding Teacher Training

Thanks to the efforts of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education—and a rare, if welcome, instance of Congress standing up for students’ rights in higher education—the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) abandoned its de facto “social justice” criterion. Yet while the development made it harder for Education schools to use “social justice” and “diversity” to demand ideological fidelity from students, the ideologues that populate such programs have hardly ceased their efforts. Only now they must take accountability for their actions.
A good example of the continuing problem is the renewed emphasis on “cultural competence”—a term, much like “dispositions,” which is meaningless to anyone outside the academy but has a specific, and ideologically charged, designation to those familiar with Education code. Take, for instance, the Education Department at the University of Minnesota whose activities were exposed by Katherine Kersten in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Kersten uncovered a report prepared as part of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, which is reorienting the U of M’s teacher-training curriculum.
The intellectual interests of the report’s authors not only preview the group’s recommendations but also give a sense of what passes for the ideological mainstream in Education departments on the nation’s college campuses. The work of Professor Tim Lensmire, who says that he uses the classroom to promote “radical democracy” through embracing “various progressive, feminist, and critical pedagogies,” sets the ideological tone: Lensmire notes that his “current research and writing focus on race and education, and especially on how white people learn to be white in our white supremacist society.” The report’s other authors include Bic Ngo, whose research examines “the ways in which the education of immigrant students are shaped by dynamic power relations as they play out at the intersection(s) of race, ethnicity, class and gender” using “critical, cultural and feminist theories” to explicate “the role(s) of critical multicultural education”; committee chair Michael Goh, whose research explores “multicultural counseling”; and two non-tenure track figures, Mary Beth Kelley and Carole Gupton.

Continue reading Decoding Teacher Training

Another Award For Our Writer

Tomorrow KC Johnson will receive the fifth annual Phillip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. The award honors honors “individuals who advance liberal arts education, core curricula, and the teaching of Western civilization and American history.” KC has undoubtedly advanced these goals. He follows distinguished honorees Donald Kagan, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Harvey Mansfield, and Robert George. Congratulations to KC.

Wonder How The Clout Scandal Happened?

ACTA’s latest publication, “For the People: A Report Card on Public Higher Education in Illinois” has unearthed more of the usual disappointments. In a series of rankings, General Education requirements earned an F, with only three public universities (out of eight) indicating a foreign language requirement “and not a single institution received credit for Literature U.S. Government or History, or Economics.” Rankings for intellectual diversity also came out with an F. ACTA commissioned a research group to conduct a student survey, and the results were less than encouraging. 61% of students responded in the affirmative to the assertion that “some courses have readings that present only one side of a controversial issue.” In response to the proposal “some professors frequently comment on politics in my class even though it has nothing to do with the course” 38.6% of respondents agreed.
The most striking survey findings, however, came in the areas of Governance and Cost and Effectiveness. In many key areas, the boards of the University of Illinois System and the Southern Illinois University System (I didn’t know they were separate until now either) seem to be living up to all the traditional responsibilities of a rubber stamp.
Both systems garnered another set of Fs in these rankings. The ACTA report points out that there are no listings by which the public may contact trustees directly (as is possible in other states). Aside from a one-day session of meetings there are additionally no efforts to appraise the trustees of their responsibilities or provide them with outside advice. There seem to be few meaningful committees to assess significant criteria of university operation.

Continue reading Wonder How The Clout Scandal Happened?

Restoring A Core

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has released a trustee guide Restoring a Core as a follow-up to What Will They Learn, their recent survey of core curricula (more about that here) Take a look at the “How Will A Core Benefit My Institution” section beginning on page 4 for some interesting examples from SUNY and Booklyn College and the following pages for practical advice on how to encourage the adoption of a core.