All posts by Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity today completed the release of its 240-page report, 25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College. It offers a dizzying overview of the possibilities for increased efficiency in college operations, both on an individual and collective scale, and serves as a sure retort to the notion that current higher ed costs are inevitable or unalterable. The ideas vary in depth and quality, but among these ideas there’s unquestionably a package of reforms that could result in savings even at the most parsimonious college. The full report Is here, and in groups of five, the 25 Ways are here, here, here, here and here.

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.

Capitalism on Campus – Watch Now

Video of our Capitalism on Campus event last week is now available here on on the Manhattan Institute site. The first two videos feature panels on the state of instruction in capitalism and political economy, showcasing a diverse range of academics from Jeffrey A. Miron, professor of economics and director of undergraduate studies at Harvard, to Jerry Muller, professor of history at Catholic University. The third video features the luncheon speaker, Robert P. George of Princeton University. If you’re at all interested in the topic you’d be well-served to take a look.

Psychology: The Latest Threat to Campus Free Speech?

Steven Pinker, noted Harvard psychologist and linguist delivered an address to mark Boston’s Ford Hall Forum’s presentation of their Louis P. and Evelyn Smith First Amendment Award to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Pinker’s speech draws valuably upon two of Pinker’s hats – as psychologist and FIRE adviser in offering a sharp analysis of the threat that rising notions of psychology pose to free speech. Pinker outlines the subconscious force of the “psychology of taboo”, and the theoretically innocuous speculations, such as the price of betrayal or infidelity, that “in fact are corrosive because they require people to think exactly the kind of thoughts that they should not think if they are committed friends, allies, family members.” Recognize that taboo? I’m sure. Individually, it’s a taboo that’s hardwired; the problem rises when institutions larger than the individual, such as academia “which is, at least nominally devoted to pursuing the truth no matter how uncomfortable it makes people emotionally” begins to buttress the taboo with institutional force, banning speech and inquiry of sorts that might cause discomfort, and squarely quashing first amendment rights in the process. This is the path that leads to the University of Northern Iowa seeking to ban “unwelcome electronic communications” and it’s a frightening one for sure. Read the speech to find out more.

The Great Brain Race

Ideas In Action, which airs on PBS, recently featured a half-hour program on the Globalization of Higher Ed, featuring Ben Wildavsky, Senior Fellow at the Kauffman Foundation and recent author of The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World, Peter Stearns, Provost at George Mason University, and Beth McMurtrie, Senior Editor of international news at The Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s an especially timely topic in a week when Yale and the National University of Singapore just announced a collaborative campus in Singapore. If interested in this global future, do take a look.

Not Just Another College Ranking

Forbes has issued its 3rd annual College Rankings, delivering its crown to Williams College. Comparison to the U.S. News and World Report list is inevitable so let’s not delay in getting to it; this result, and most of the top 20 rankings on the Forbes list aren’t that dissimilar from the similar U.S. News list (when accounting for the fact that Forbes elides the distinction between the “liberal arts college” and “university” categories). This is unsurprising; a number of the factors in their ranking formula are not much dissimilar from the US News and World Report list; student debt, loan default rates, four-year degree completion rates, and the like. Any sensible list would feature these factors, and it’s a testament to the objective value of certain colleges that they place highly on multiple lists.

The Forbes list is distinctive, however, for its focus on results; its “ends-oriented” ranking, despite its similarities with U.S. News at the top of the scale, seems worlds different once venturing lower in the listing. On this list Whitman College in Washington and Centre College in Kentucky outrank Dartmouth; Colgate University stands many spots above Brown. It is a different measure with clearly different results.

Forbes‘ initial formula two years ago proved the results-focused ranking simpler said than done; in granting a quarter of its weight respectively to an enrollment adjusted appearance of graduates in “Who’s Who in America” and to aggregated RateMyProfessor rankings, Forbes deserved the numerous accusations of rankings ham-handedness it received. Happily, their worthy goal has acquired a more substantial statistical foundation in this iteration.

Continue reading Not Just Another College Ranking

Seeing Academic Repression Everywhere

acrep1.jpgIn the epilogue of a new compendium volume, Mark Bousquet notes that, “In July 2007, the American Sociological Association reported that one-third of its members felt their academic freedoms were threatened, a significantly higher figure than the one-fifth ratio recorded during the McCarthy years.” Sounds dire, doesn’t it? Well not if you’ve spent the prior 500 pages learning just how fantastical the contributors’ conceptions of academic freedom are.

The book is Academic Repression: Reflections from the Academic Industrial Complex, edited by Anthony J. Nocella, II, Steven Best, and Peter McLaren. It’s a bad sign when the appearance of Bill Ayers, Ward Churchill, and Howard Zinn as contributors on a book cover leaves one still unprepared for how unfathomable its premises are. Academic Repression purports to demonstrate how corporatization and right-wing assaults have marginalized academic freedom and genuine liberal thinking at our universities. Really?

It’s not at all unusual to see hand-wringing from the left over the state of academic freedom; it is unusual to see an essay collection that “asks whether the concept of academic freedom still exists at all in the American University system”(itals mine).

Continue reading Seeing Academic Repression Everywhere

Ben Wildavsky at the Manhattan Institute

Those of you in the New York City area may be interested in an upcoming Manhattan Institute event featuring Ben Wildavsky, author of The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities are Reshaping the World and Senior Fellow at the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation. Introductory remarks will be provided by John Leo, MindingtheCampus editor.
If you are interested in attending please contact Barb Golecki at 646-839-3317

Protesting the Blameless—A New Trend at Commencement Speeches

Sparks were few at this season’s commencement speeches, and so were remarks inspiring much enthusiasm or objection. Protests arose, as they always do, whether of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at Monmouth College (for state Education budget cuts), Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at Brandeis (for assorted Israeli actions), or Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (for sub-prime lending and assorted financial misdeeds), but most remarks have been tame. Yet the speeches are almost besides the point – you don’t have to have done anything objectionable to draw a protest this year; sins of omission seem just as powerful inspiration for petitions as real deeds on campus this year.
Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, drew pickets from pro-immigration activists. Their ire was partially directed at the department’s continuation of a Bush administration policy which permitted the cross-checking of arrestees’ fingerprints with a federal immigration database, but most of the protest appeared to be directed at the Arizona immigration law – which, last anyone checked, Napolitano had nothing to do with. Typical of this was a seech given by Emilio Amaya, executive director of the San Bernardino Community Services Center, who urged that: “Secretary Napolitano must take legal action against oppressive local and state immigration policies, including Arizona’s SB1070, immediately. Secretary Napolitano can show the leadership that we need to stop racial profiling, stop the separation of families, and end the criminalization of immigrant workers,” said Amaya. The Los Angeles Times reported:

As Napolitano spoke to the graduating class, the demonstrators gathered on the steps of the Andrew Carnegie building, chanting “Si, se puede!” (Yes, we can) and “Obama escucha, estamos en la lucha” (Obama, listen, we’re in the struggle). The protesters were also waving signs that read “Alto AZ” (Stop Arizona) and “No mas racista” (No more racism).

Continue reading Protesting the Blameless—A New Trend at Commencement Speeches

Stripping Standards in Arkansas

The long-term decline of graduation rates is one of the most intractable problems facing American Higher Education. Trustees at the University of Arkansas are now mulling what appears to be the most popular solution to the problem – simply lower requirements. Under a current proposal, a requirement for 66 core credits would be reduced nearly by half, to 35. Anne Neal, President of ACTA, furnished additional grim details in an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial last week:

Under the proposed curricular overhaul, the foreign language requirement would be altogether eliminated. The math requirements would be halved. And the science requirement—a must in the 21st century if there ever were one—would remain, but in a thinned out version.

The University of Arkansas’ chancellor, G. David Gearheart, wrote in response to Neal’s column in the Democrat-Gazette that “..the truth of the matter is that we have not had a core curriculum review in over 50 years.” He pointed out, depressingly, that “the current core of 66 credits in the university’s J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences is much higher than many of our peer institutions…” Arkansas is indeed behind the times – it has been comparatively slow to eviscerate core curricula that most colleges destroyed long ago. The case is understandably distressing to ACTA as the University of Arkansas was one of only eight universities to receive an “A” grade on ACTA’s “What Will They Learn” survey of core curriculum requirements (Columbia earned a “B”, Georgetown a “D”, and Stanford a “C” to give you some measure of comparison.”
Some in the University have argued that these changes are necessary in order to comply with a recent act of the Arkansas State Legislature designed to ease the transfer of students from two-year to four-year institutions. Arkansas Community colleges could accurately be described as failing, with a graduation rate of 17%, but ACTA and others have averred that other changes could easily have smoothed the way for transfer students. As Paul Greenberg wrote:

If this law amounts to dumbing down education, and it does, then change the law. Or get around it by establishing new requirements for graduation. Surely it is not beyond the ingenuity of our academicians to see that all our college graduates get something like a liberal education rather than a watered-down simulacrum thereof.
Imagine if the same university administrators and public bureaucrats who are proving so talented at rationalizing the degradation of academic standards applied their gift for working the system to raising those standards, or just maintaining them. Or would that be out of character?
Why should not all students, whether in physics or phys ed, be required to have much the same core curriculum, or liberal education? They’re all going to be citizens and voters, aren’t they? Lest we forget, the term liberal education derives from the concept of an education suitable for the free-those who enjoy liberty. Rather than being enslaved by their own ignorance.

It remains to be seen if Arkansas will be the latest curriculum to fall victim to Higher Education’s increasing consensus that a well-rounded mind is merely a roadblock on the road to a cap and gown.

The Politically Correct University

AEI recently released a fine compendium volume The Politically Correct University, edited by Robert Maranto, Richard E. Redding, and Frederick M. Hess, featuring an excellent slate of essays and contributors: here’s a sampling:
Do take a look; there’s much of worth here:

– “The American University: Yesterday, Today – and Tomorrow”
James Piereson
– “Linguistics from the Left: The Truth about Black English That the Academy Doesn’t Want
You to Know”
John McWhorter
– “Groupthink in Academia: Majoritarian Departmental Politics and the Professional Pyramid”
Daniel Klein & Charlotta Stern
– “Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don’t Get Doctorates”
Matthew Woessner & April Kelly-Woessner
– “The Vanishing Conservative – Is There a Glass Ceiling?”
Stanley Rothman & S. Robert Lichter
– “Campus Speech Codes: Absurd, Tenacious, and Everywhere”
Greg Lukianoff
– “Why Political Science Is Left But Not PC: Causes of Disunion and Diversity”
James Ceaser
– “Political Correctness in the Science Classroom”
Noretta Koertge
– “Reforming the Politically Correct University: The Role of Alumni and Trustees”
Anne Neal
– “Where We’ve Come From and Where We Should Go: The Route to Academic Pluralism”
Stephen Balch
– “To Reform the Politically Correct University, Reform the Liberal Arts”
John Agresto

The essays on the political make-up of the faculty are an excellent tonic for recent conversation that there’s nothing odd about the absence of conservatives in academia. To provide even greater incentive, here’s an excerpt from Jim Piereson’s essay:

..As the diversity thrust loses steam, liberals and far-left groups on the campus will not be at a loss for new causes to absorb their attention and energy. The next iteration of liberal reform in the universities is likley to involve further steps to detach these institutions from the American polity in which they are embedded. We have already noted that the intellectual foundations of the modern research university are somewhat at odds with the philosophy of natural rights that shaped our national instiutions. The logic of liberalism points in the direction of the internationalization of the American university. We can already see fragments of this emerging trend in the banning of ROTC and military recruiters from college campuses in order to disassociate universities from American national policies. The enrollment of international students will receive greater emphasis in the coming decades which will further reinforce the trend. Academic programs in American government or in American studies will be increasingly de-emphasized on the grounds that they are parochial, in much the same way as programs in Western Civilization were de-emphasized in the past…

Why Do Anthropologists Have Their Own Foreign Policy?

newaaacentlogo.jpgShould the American Anthropological Association “denounce the current human rights violations in Honduras” and “support Hondurans that… continue to resist the June 28, 2009 military coup in their country”? This question, put to a vote of AAA members, passed by a margin of 656-166 in online voting that ended last Friday. Taking a stand on a Central American coup may seem like an odd topic of concern for an academic organization. Increasingly it seems that no such organization is complete without a foreign policy of is own; from Iraq to Afghanistan to nuclear disarmament.

Organizations based on academic disciplines, traditionally balanced and detached from politics, have been sliding toward political advocacy since the 1960s. The American Anthropological Association was founded in 1902 to “promote the science of anthropology, to stimulate and coordinate the efforts of American anthropologists, to foster local and other societies devoted to anthropology, to serve as a bond among American anthropologists and anthropologic[al] organizations present and prospective, and to publish and encourage the publication of matter pertaining to anthropology”. The relation of Honduran policy to this purpose remains unclear.

In 2006 the American Historical Association passed a resolution urging members to “do whatever they can to bring the Iraq was to a speedy conclusion.” The resolution declared that “interrogation techniques at Guantanamo,” “the re-classification of government documents” and other practices, were “inextricably linked to the war.” It passed by a margin of 75% to 24%. The resolution flatly identified the war as a danger to the historical profession itself, asserting that the conflict and the Bush administration’s related policies imperiled “the unfettered intellectual inquiry essential to the practice of historical research, writing, and teaching.” On questions from the Iraq war to affirmative action to statehood for the District of Columbia and same-sex marriage, academic associations now regularly issue partisan resolutions that present opinions on contentious political issues as professional certainties.

Continue reading Why Do Anthropologists Have Their Own Foreign Policy?

The 10 Youngest College Graduates In U.S. History

In these days of 6-year degrees and students graduating at 25 if at all, it’s encouraging to see stories of far more intrepid matriculation – consider “The 10 Youngest College Graduates in U.S. History” at Online Degree. Number 1, Michael Keany, current holder of the Guinness World Record for “Youngest University Graduate.” “At the age of 8, the homeschooled prodigy completed an Associate of Science degree in geology while at Santa Rosa Junior College. He would then go on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from University of South Alabama at 10, a master’s in biochemistry from Middle Tennessee State University at 14, and another master’s – this time in computer science – from Vanderbilt at 17.”

If those aren’t accomplishments enough, how about Kathleen Holtz, number 8 on the list, who graduated from California State University at 15, immediately entered law school and, at 18 became the “youngest law student to ever pass the bar in California – if not the United States.” She quickly tried several successful cases as an attorney. Take a look at the list for several more inspiring examples of early talent.

In High School? We Have A Med School Spot Reserved For You

Roger Clegg writes on a shocking new University of Massachusetts set-aside program over at Phi Beta Cons:

The Boston Globe reports that the University of Massachusetts is setting up a med-school set-aside program: “Under an initiative set to be finalized today, the state’s only public medical school [i.e., at UMass] will partner with UMass campuses in Boston, Amherst, Lowell, and Dartmouth to create a joint baccalaureate-MD program that would ensure admission for aspiring doctors from underrepresented ethnic and socioeconomic groups. . . . The medical school will set aside 12 slots in its 125-student, first-year class for qualified students from groups underrepresented among Massachusetts doctors. Those groups include African-Americans, Hispanics, certain Southeast Asians, and Cape Verdeans, Brazilians, and other Portuguese speakers. Students of any ethnic background from low-income families or those among the first in their families to attend college would also qualify.”
I won’t make the usual and obvious points about why discrimination on the basis of skin color and national orgin is unfair, divisive, and stupid. All that aside, this seems to me to be almost certainly illegal. To be sure, this isn’t exactly like the race/ethnicity set-aside program that was struck down in Bakke, since here the slots are also (in theory at least) going to be open to applications from members of disfavored racial and ethnic groups, so long as they are low-income or the first in their families to attend college. But this is still a very mechanical use of race, like the point system struck down in Gratz v. Bollinger. And the justification given for the racially discriminatory program by UMass president Jack Wilson is the need for “role models” — which has also been rejected by the Supreme Court (in Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education, in 1986).

Great Books In Texas

Matthew Levinton, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote us with some encouraging news about a new book club at that school, which he currently serves as President. Read his account:

Last fall at the University of Texas at Austin, a new great books program began its mission to realize Thomas Jefferson’s vision of educating citizens and leaders to understand the meaning of liberty and to exercise it wisely. In the spirit of this charge, the Center’s new book club, which began last spring with a reading of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, was formally organized as the “Jefferson Book Club,” and opened the fall semester with a reading and discussion of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
The book club’s events, which have included the discussion of such things as Leo Strauss’ essay “What is Liberal Education”, will continue with Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography when classes resume in the Spring. Plans for the new semester also include readings and discussions of Rousseau, Shakespeare, St. Augustine, Solzhenitsyn, and a viewing of the classic Spartacus. The film event will compliment the Center’s lecture to be held in March on Spartacus by Classical historian Barry Strauss.
Events organized by the Jefferson Book Club serve the Thomas Jefferson Center as an informal gathering place for students and faculty, and provide opportunities for those who realize and appreciate the value of great books to come together and learn from each other. Furthermore, the club has caught the interest of students from outside of the liberal arts as well, and provides individuals from other colleges that may not formally study the great books in class with an opportunity to become involved in discussions that may otherwise be absent from their studies.
The book club is establishing a blog to use for communication among club participants regarding suggestions for readings, and ideas for when discussions may take place. I am serving as the book club’s president, and the process of working with the Center’s directors and faculty to bring the club together, and to help make it something for students to enjoy and learn from has been a very meaningful experience for me. I look forward to our plans for the New Year. When I explain the book club to my professors, or talk with those who are involved with it, they are always very supportive of the club and the opportunity it presents to students to learn from meaningful discussions outside of the classroom. The events held last semester have generated much interest among students and faculty, and I expect the Jefferson Book Club to become a strong part of the great opportunities to learn at the University of Texas at Austin, and I am honored to be a part of it.

Another Thick Stack Of Paper

The Gates Foundation has just released a report “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them” on why students fail to finish college, which might seem a timely topic amidst recent hand-wringing about our persistent failure to actually get students to a diploma. The problem, as with about all studies on this topic, is that it shows little information of any real evaluative use.

We find that “most students leave college because they are working to support themselves and going to school at the same time.” 54% of the students who left school cited “I needed to go to work and make money.” They also reported problems with textbook costs and other fees greater than their peers who graduated as well. Simple enough.

Also unsurprisingly, those who did not have financial support from their parents were far more likely not to graduate, at a rate of 58% dropping out as opposed to 38% graduating. Similarly, those without scholarships or loans were far more likely to drop out.

And yet, when we venture into reasons why students selected their schools, 41% of those who indicated that financial aid or a scholarship was a major reason for choosing their school did not graduate. Perhaps these had additional insurmountable financial difficulties, yet it not, there are clearly larger problems at hand.

What’s left? Well, in keeping with prior indications, students who did not graduate were far more likely to choose colleges based on proximity to where they lived or worked, and to seek a class schedule that worked with my schedule (the students who graduated seemed to have far fewer prior commitments).

What is there to say, based on this sample of 614 students? Well, not much. Clearly, financial problems are at the root of numerous decisions to leave college before completion. Whether graduated or not, most students were supportive of the idea of cutting the cost of college by a quarter (who wouldn’t? and why only a quarter? How about half?). One interesting, and very-much neglected idea was “making part-time attendance more viable by giving those students better access to loans, tuition assistance and health care – benefits and services that are frequently available only to full-time students.” Otherwise, given the data in this report, it seems that there’s very little that can be done. Financial problems are intractable, and in an age where tuition restraint is an absent quantity and increasing federal support never seems to cut the actual price of education, this report is a series of points that fail to add up to anything resembling an answer.. Now if the Gates Foundation pledged to pay for all these shortcomings, that might make a difference. As it is, all we have is just another thick stack of paper.

Where Not To Be A Federalist Society Member

Last Sunday, the New York Times’ “Ethicist” column featured a letter from a lawyer loath to hire internship applicants that belonged to the Federalist society. Randy Cohen, the “Ethicist” suggested that disqualification on the grounds of their membership was unfair. The lawyer went ahead and rejected all applicants who were members anyway.
Ilya Somin, at the Volokh Conspiracy notes that, while this case is blatantly unfair, the legal world seems to feature little political discrimination against applicants. Not so in other fields, he continues:

By contrast, both liberal and conservative law professors warned me not to put the Fed Soc on my CV for the academic job market, where ideological discrimination is likely to be greater because the academia is far more ideologically homogenous than the law firm world, (see also here), there is little or no equivalent to the constraint imposed by the profit motive, and academics tend to care about politics far more than practicing lawyers do.
These personal experiences aren’t necessarily typical. Only systematic data can really settle the issue. But they are similar to those of other Fed Soc members I know in the law firm and academic worlds (and I know a great many in both). It’s not unusual for people to put Fed Soc membership on their law firm resumes, while the conventional wisdom is strongly against doing so on academic CVs.