Month: October 2012

My Teacher, Jacques Barzun

I was fortunate to know Jacques Barzun as both a teacher and colleague. Jacques changed my life from basketball jock to library denizen. So intoxicated was I by the Trilling-Barzun seminar that I wanted to speak French, dress like Jacques, and write literate cultural essays about every topic the mind could conjure. I was hooked, a […]

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Jacques Barzun, 1907-2012

“Full of years.” I am not sure I know of anyone who better qualified for that Biblical epithet than Jacques Barzun, who died last week at the magnificent age of 104.  Born in France in 1907, Barzun had been a presence on the American intellectual and academic scene since the 1950s. From his perch at […]

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Intellectual Standards = a Politics of Exclusion?

Universities today have lowered their standards of admission and accepted more students regardless of their level of preparation. For example, at the University of South Carolina, where I am presently employed, the number of undergraduates has gone up from about 18,000 in 2006 to 22,000 in 2011. As a result of the increased number of […]

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Why Did ‘Academically Adrift’ Strike a Chord?

Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by myself and Josipa Roksa  (2011) had 67 pages of statistical tables and was described as “a dense tome that could put Ambien out of business.” Yet it was one of those rare social science books that found a readership and influence outside of typical disciplinary boundaries.  Why did Academically Adrift capture more attention […]

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The Beltway For-Profit Witch Trials

In mid September, the Congressional duo of George Miller and John Tierney joined their Senate colleagues Tom Harkin and Dick Durbin and the Department of Education in what might be described as the ongoing Beltway Witch Trials, where the alleged witches are the colleges that are legally organized on a profit-making basis. Messrs. Miller and […]

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Washington Hastens the Decline of For-Profits

The New York Times reported on Friday that the for-profit University of Phoenix will close 115 physical campuses, dispossessing around 13,000 students and putting 800 employees out of work. Why now? Tamar Lewin, the story’s author, suggested that competition from other for-profit universities played a role. But she also cited the “steady drumroll of negative […]

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Pleasure Island

The kids! The boys! They’re all donkeys! – Jiminy Cricket Beloit College recently released its annual “Mindset List,” the findings of a yearly survey which attempts to take stock of the cultural touchstones that each generation of college freshman is, or is not, familiar with. Most of the observations are benign: “They can’t picture people […]

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The Online Ban in Minnesota

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

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Student Voices
The Candidates Flunk Education Policy

Yesterday Time Magazine published articles by President Obama and Governor Romney on their higher education policies. Both paint a rosy view of a college degree but offer few specifics on how to best facilitate it. Obama speaks highly of his college days, acknowledging that “Michelle and I are who we are only because of the […]

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Common Core Mandates Will Harm Critical Thinking

Jay Mathews is one of the few education reporters who gets it. He understands that the heavy diet of informational reading Common Core mandates at every single grade level for the language arts or English class may decrease, not increase, “critical” or analytical thinking. But how are teachers and parents to know that black is […]

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Yale’s New Low and the Sad Saga of Wendy Murphy

Few figures involved in the Duke lacrosse case behaved more disgracefully than Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law. A  frequent TV commentator on the case, she  earned a reputation for defending Mike Nifong’s prosecution through myriad errors of fact, misstatements of the law, and deeply offensive statements such as […]

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Self-Esteem vs. Resilience

The September cover of Maclean’s Magazine  displayed two youthful faces, a boy and a girl, the former kindly but quietly fearful, the latter openly stressed, perhaps at a breaking point.  The text announced: “CRISIS ON CAMPUS:  The Broken Generation–A shocking number of Canadian students feel depressed, even suicidal.  Why our best and brightest are so troubled.”  The […]

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Why Size Matters in College Preferences

By Stuart Taylor, Jr. and Richard Sander Even for people who approve in principle of some use of racial preferences in university admissions — notably including Justice Anthony Kennedy — the size of the preferences, and of the resulting racial gaps in academic performance in college and beyond, should matter a great deal.  So it’s […]

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Trickle Down Racial Double Standards

Advocates of affirmative action never seem to realize that abandoning the “without regard” principle of colorblind equality — i.e., legitimizing the distribution of benefits and burdens based on race — can result in unfavorable, discriminatory treatment of their favored minorities, even when that harsh lesson is staring them in the face as it is now […]

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How the Colleges Skew U.S. History

American history has been radically transformed on our campuses. Traditional topics are now not only marginalized but “re-visioned” to become more compatible with the dominant race/class/gender paradigm. In two posts last fall, I took a look at U.S. history offerings at Bowdoin College. The liberal arts college, one of the nation’s finest, long enjoyed a reputation as a training […]

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Universities Are Vocational Schools

Why do students go to college? A new poll has a one-word answer: money. That’s one of the findings in a broad Gallup survey of college admissions officers done for Inside Higher Ed. The admissions officers seem to believe that those planning to attend college view it largely as a signaling device that directs the best […]

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A ‘Magisterial’ Work on Affirmative Action

“Mend it, don’t end it” was the famous advice on affirmative action from Bill Clinton, who did neither. There are, of course, other useful slogans, such as “Muddle it,” which the Supreme Court essentially did in the 2003 Gratz and Grutter cases. The Court held that the University of Michigan could not give a fixed […]

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Campus Due Process, Obama-Style

In this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, Joseph Cohn, director of policy at FIRE, summarizes the due process implications of a letter sent to colleges and universities last April by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. As was widely reported at the time, the letter instructs schools to adopt the lowest standard of […]

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We Don’t Need a Different “Affirmative Action”

On the day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. Texas, a case challenging racial preferences in college admissions, the Wall Street Journal published a piece purporting to give “A Liberal Critique of Racial Preferences.” Author Richard Kahlenberg argued (as he almost always does) in favor of changing “affirmative action” to a system […]

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Justice Kennedy and Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court holds oral arguments tomorrow in Fisher v. Texas, possibly the most consequential case in years involving affirmative action. Many of us critics of racial preferences are optimistic that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the likely swing vote, will agree to modify if not overrule Justice O’Connor’s ruling in the 2003 Grutter case, which, in […]

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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 […]

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Want to Hear Obama? Just Say You Support Him

Many people are miffed at the way the University of Wisconsin is handling President Obama’s visit to our campus today. Concerns are not with the visit per se–most of us think the event is something very compelling, a bit of history entering through our gates. The location of the speech in the heart of the […]

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Left-Right Agreement on Affirmative Action?

Perhaps anticipating a defeat for affirmative action in the Fisher v. University of Texas case about to be argued before the Supreme Court, Columbia University political philosophy professor and former Dean of the College Michele Moody-Adams has just suggested moving away from a fixation on affirmative action and “Toward Real Equality in Higher Education.” Whatever […]

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Harvard Botches a ‘Cheating’ Scandal

By Harvey Silverglate and Zachary Bloom At first blush, the ongoing cheating scandal at Harvard College appears to raise serious questions about academic integrity at that fabled institution. If the allegations that 125 students inappropriately shared notes and answers for a take-home exam in violation of the exam’s rules prove true, the result will be […]

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Look What they’ve Done to U.S. History

If you doubt that leftist activists now dominate the study and teaching of U.S. history, take a look at the program for the 2013 American Historical Association conference in New Orleans. The pattern  is similar to the University of Michigan’s history department, discussed here yesterday—a heavy emphasis on race, class, and gender, with more “traditional” […]

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Plagiarism and Feelings at Amherst

Carleen Basler, a professor at Amherst who said she struggled with her writing, resigned after she was caught plagiarizing and the Amherst Student did a good job covering the story. So far, so good. But Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit notices a few odd paragraphs in the paper’s report: Since some believe that Basler did not […]

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Three Pell Grant Scams

Many politicians, including senators such as Tom Harkin and Dick Durbin, have grown indignant over the allegedly vast amounts of higher education money captured by for-profit institutions via the Pell Grant program. In fact, they consider this something of a scam. The truth, of course, is that throughout its history, including now, the vast majority […]

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In History—the Obsession with Race, Class and Gender

The University of Michigan history department has 28 tenured or tenure-track professors whose research specialties in some way relate to U.S. history after 1789. Race is the favorite topic; at least eleven of the department’s professors indicate that their research in some way deals with race in America. Gender is the next prominent area of […]

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