All posts by Charlotte Allen

Charlotte Allen blogs for the Los Angeles Times and writes frequently about cultural trends for the Weekly Standard.

Insisting That Whites Should ‘Step Back’

In November 2017, a Yale sophomore, Sohum Pal, wrote an op-ed for the student newspaper, the Yale Daily News, titled “White Students, Step Back.” It criticized Yale’s much-promoted “diversity” policies as “focused on a brand of assimilationist politics — the deeply misguided notion that students of color want to be wealthy, that we want to possess the social legitimacy and cultural capital of our white counterparts on terms dictated by white stakeholders.”

Instead of “reaching” out to minority students to ensure their participation in campus life—that’s a dubious “assimilationist model” that assumes “whiteness will always be centered” while “color is constantly peripheral,” Pal wrote—non-whites at Yale should be “seated at the head of the table… because we must dictate our own terms of engagement with white power structures.” In short, whites ought to get out of the way in order to facilitate “a liberation politics that would decenter whiteness.” He summed it up: “I don’t want opportunity: I want power.”

Earlier in 2017, while still a Yale freshman, Pal had described himself in a Yale-funded “Asian and Asian American oral history project” as “queer, disabled, and South Asian.” (Pal suffers from cerebral palsy, as he wrote in an essay for yet another Yale minority-student publication during the fall of his freshman year.) He said that at Yale, as at his high school in San Luis Obispo, California, he had received “microaggressions or actual aggressions everyday [sic].”

Perhaps so, but, his disability aside, Pal doesn’t seem to have suffered unduly. Although his family may not be “wealthy” (to lift a word from his Yale Daily News op-ed), it is undoubtedly quite comfortably off. His father, Nirupam Pal, is a professor of environmental engineering at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, with a number of outside consulting gigs, and his mother, Susmita Guptapal, is CEO of Infotech Telecom, a long-distance reseller serving immigrants calling relatives in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific (the 22-year-old company with around five employees pulls in about half a million dollars in revenue each year).

Both parents are immigrants from India but have lived in the U.S. since at least the early 1990s, and both hold advanced degrees from U.S. universities. In May 2016, right after her son was accepted at Yale, Guptapal wrote a letter to IndiaWest, a newspaper for Indian expats, stating that he had been accepted at Harvard and Princeton as well and that he had “received perfect scores in the SAT, all APs and subject tests.” And if Sohum Pal’s LinkedIn profile is any indication, he has been impressively ambitious career-wise during his first two years at Yale, churning through numerous internships and student-job stints related to social-justices causes.

Pal’s call for white people to “step back” so that minorities can be “seated at the head of the table,” while probably shocking to equality-minded readers outside the academy, is actually just part of a trend toward anathematizing whiteness and white people that is ubiquitous on college campuses—all in the name of advancing minority rights.

“Critical whiteness studies” has been a part of college curricula since the 1980s. Unlike black studies, developed during the late 1960s to give academic respectability to examining aspects of African-American culture such as music, literature, and folk traditions, whiteness studies typically pays little attention to actual aspects of historically white culture, whether it be Appalachian dulcimer tunes or Brooklyn-centric “stuff white people like” fads for farmers’ markets and exotic breeds of dogs.

Whiteness studies are instead entirely ideological. Their underlying thesis is that “whiteness” is no more than a social construct dating from the 17th and 18th centuries that has enabled one class of people of European descent to dominate, marginalize, enslave, and even terrorize and murder those it deems to have unacceptably darker skin. At the heart of whiteness studies is the notion that it’s simply illegitimate to be white.

“Decentering whiteness” isn’t a new idea invented by Sohum Pal but a 20-year-old idea invented by Jeff Hitchcock, executive director of the Center for the Study of White American Culture, who began a series of “National Conferences on Whiteness” during the late 1990s. “We must disrupt the historic process of assimilation to whiteness that still continues to this day, and begin a new historic process whereby those who are white begin to assimilate to a multiracial version of America,” Hitchcock wrote in 1998.

By 2003 The Washington Post had counted at least 30 colleges and universities across America teaching “whiteness studies,” or, as is often the case in order to demonstrate by capitalization the presumably arbitrary nature of the designation, “Whiteness studies.” A Stanford University course,“White Identity Politics,” offered during the fall of 2017, discussed the concept of “abolishing whiteness” altogether.

There has been a certain amount of political pushback, especially when taxpayer-funded public universities began offering undergraduate courses titled “The Problem of Whiteness,” as the University of Wisconsin-Madison did during the spring of 2017. That course, as its syllabus stated, aimed to explore how white people “consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism,” which “devastates communities of color.”

Residents of Wisconsin might have been forgiven for wondering who exactly was trying to “perpetuate institutional racism”—they or the professor who taught the course. But so far their voices seem to have been ignored. So it’s not surprising that a Yale sophomore who has led a comfortable and perhaps even privileged life but happens to be of Indian descent has felt free to sound off on the unbearable whiteness of whiteness.

Stanford’s Wildly Popular ‘Self-Help’ Course

Mechanical Engineering 104B!  The most popular course offered at Stanford University, Silicon Valley incubator and home of one of the top engineering schools in America, ranked #2 in the country by U.S. News, just under M.I.T. And you, lucky Stanford student, can take Mechanical Engineering 104B just because you got into Stanford and made it to your junior or senior year—it’s upper-division and graduate level only. There are no prerequisites. No math, no science. You don’t have to know a single thing about mechanical engineering, much less major in it, and you might even still be thinking that “engineering” means keeping a train running on its tracks.

The class is titled “Designing Your Life,” and one of its co-instructors is William Burnett, a former designer for Mattel and Apple and adjunct engineering professor who heads Stanford’s undergraduate program in product design. Product design at Stanford is a rigorous major that requires a raft of math, physics, psychology, studio art, and above all, mechanical engineering courses in order to graduate—as well it should, because just think of all the technical skills you’d need just to design an office chair that someone might want to sit in all day.

Anyone Can Do It

But in Mechanical Engineering 104B, no worry about any of that actual engineering stuff. “This isn’t a technical course,” its webpage reassures soothingly, and you’ll never have to design one thing in order to pass (the course is pass-fail anyway). “There may be some simple projects…, but nothing that takes any prior design or fabrication experience. Anyone can do it and it’s a great thing to learn.”

Instead, what “Designing Your Life” offers—and what attracts a full 17 percent of Stanford juniors and seniors to sign up for it, so many that the course is offered continuously throughout the three-quarter terms that make up Stanford’s academic year—is what Burnett and his co-instructor, fellow Stanford adjunct David Evans (leader of the team that developed the first Apple mouse), call “Design Thinking.” And “Design Thinking” sounds an awful lot like…plain old-fashioned self-help.

Need to figure out what to do after graduation? Find a mate? How about filling up those long days after you retire? How about losing weight? “I’ve lost 25 pounds, reconnected with close friends and refocused my energy on specific goals and habits,” wrote New York Times health columnist Tara Parker-Pope reporting on Design Thinking in January 2016. “Design thinking has helped me identify the obstacles that were stopping me from achieving my goals, and it’s helped me reframe my problems to make them easier to solve.”

Keeping a ‘Gratitude Journal’       

Indeed, the Design Your Life course’s relation to actual product design seems to be strictly metaphoric. Juniors and seniors who sign up for the two-credit course, monitored by Evans and Burnett with the help of guest lecturers and a flock of student-volunteers who lead discussion groups engage in such activities (according to a Fast Company report) as keeping a “gratitude journal,” working with “a deck of cards featuring problem-solving techniques,” and drafting “odyssey plans” for their first five years out of school. For Stanford sophomores, there is a starter course, Mechanical Engineering 104B, “Design Your Stanford,” in which they can earn another two credits plotting out the rest of their education. And For grad students and postdocs, there’s Engineering 311B, “Designing the Professional,” offering the opportunity to draft career-based “odyssey plans.”

As for Stanfordians unlucky enough to have graduated before Evans and Burnett launched Design Your Life in 2010—and for those whose SAT scores weren’t high enough to get them into Stanford in the first place—Evans and Burnett have a best-selling 2016 book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life. Alternatively, knock-off, or perhaps parallel, Design Thinking classes and workshops have been sprouting up like ailanthus trees around the country: at the University of Vermont, the Chicago-based online school IDEO U, and K-12 teachers’ conferences everywhere.

Looking for Moral Order

How Stanford’s prestigious and rigorous engineering school got into the touchy-feely purveying business most likely has to do with two factors: the desire of engineers to feel less like slide-rule pushers and more like creative artists and the yearning of hyper-educated young people for meaning and moral order in a post-religious world. (A 2008 study by the Templeton Foundation found that only a fourth of college juniors attended regular religious services, and 38 percent of them never set foot in a house of worship.) During the mid-1960s Stanford had created a “Joint Program in Design,” (often called the “Stanford Design Program”) an inter-departmental collaboration between its art and engineering departments predicated on the then-novel idea that design engineering should be “human-centered,” as one of the program’s founders called it. It offered undergraduate and graduate degrees in both mechanical engineering and fine arts/design. All students had to take a class called “visual thinking” in which they took “voyages” in a 15-foot geodesic dome featuring light shows aimed at stimulating their creativity.

Then, in 2004, Stanford mechanical engineering professor David Kelley, apparent coiner of the phrase Design Thinking to describe a project-based methodology for solving problems and heavily involved in the design program, used a grant from German software billionaire Hasso Plattner to help found—and erect a multi-million-dollar campus building for—the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, known informally as the “d-school.” The d-school doesn’t grant degrees, but its warehouse-like open-plan structure does offer an atmosphere that satisfies many people’s ideas of what creativity is all about: whiteboards for scribbling ideas, sticky notes all over the walls, and cool vintage cars and minimalist furniture as decoration.

Most significantly, the d-school offers undergraduate and graduate-level courses that have the coveted Stanford “mechanical engineering” label attached to them, even as they sometimes skirt the more demanding aspects of mechanical engineering. The course-takers typically hail from Stanford’s other schools besides engineering who can earn credits for taking such courses as “Civic Dreams, Human Spaces,” “Designing for Extreme Affordability,” and “Beyond Pink and Blue: Gender in Tech.” Neither Burnett nor Evans is officially on the d-school faculty roster, but Design Your Life is definitely from the d-school template

From Engineering to Life Design

Lately, though, Stanford’s School of Engineering has been distancing itself from the d-school’s free-for-all ethos. For example, it has discontinued the 1960s-era Joint Program in Design, whose last class graduated a few days ago in June. The school replaced the graduate-level program with a tough-minded master’s program in “design impact engineering” that includes no art courses, accepts no art majors, and requires all its applicants to have solid engineering or hard science backgrounds. A page on the program’s website diplomatically explains that the master’s program has no connection to the d-school, which, it says, was set up to give Stanford students “confidence in their creative ability,” not teach them “depth and expertise in design.”

Still, that hasn’t thrust any sand into the well-oiled—and clearly lucrative–gears of Design Your Life. On the Burnett-Evans website, you can learn about the Design Your Life TEDx talk, the Design Your Life workshops coming up in August, and the fact that Northern Arizona University selected Designing Your Life as its freshman book read. Oh, and “Designing Your Life for Women”: a $950 two-day immersion in “odyssey plans,” “group ideation,” and “your three potential futures,” plus meditation and kundalini yoga for an extra $45. You won’t get Stanford mechanical engineering credit for this, but you will, it’s promised, “flourish.”

Wesleyan: Total PC All the Time

It’s now a trifecta of political correctness at the expense of sanity—and also justice—at Wesleyan University.

The very latest was the “Halloween Checklist,” a poster that invited students at the elite liberal-arts college in Middletown, Conn., to ask themselves: “Is your costume offensive?” The answer was “yes” if the costume tended to “mock religious or cultural symbols such as dreadlocks, headdresses, afros, bindis, etc.,” or it attempted to “represent an entire culture or ethnicity,” or to “trivialize human suffering, oppression, and marginalization such as portraying a person who is homeless, imprisoned, a person with disabilities, or a person with mental illness.” Students wondering if it was OK for Halloween to wear an orange jumpsuit (not nice to prisoners) or Tyrolean lederhosen (a slur on Austrians) were advised to call one of six different campus counselors, ranging from the diversity office to Residence Life for advice on how not to tread on sensitive toes.

The checklist followed on the heels of a unanimous Oct. 18 vote by Wesleyan’s student government to cut funding for the Argus, the college’s primary student newspaper. In September the Argus had published a column by a conservative staffer criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement, not for its opposition to perceived police brutality to blacks, but for some of its members’ rhetoric that seemed to encourage anti-cop violence. The $17,000 budget cut to the paper, which already publishes only twice a week to begin with, followed demands by Black Lives Matter and other progressive student groups for mandatory re-education classes for Argus staffers and threats by those groups to “recycle”—that is, destroy–copies of the paper if the Argus failed to comply with their demands.

Shortly before that, Wesleyan succeeded in getting rid of all three of its fraternity houses, decertifying them as approved campus housing for undergraduates. One of the Greek houses, Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE), had resisted (and is currently suing over) the administration’s September 2014 mandate requiring the houses to admit women members, which DKE maintains would violate its national charter and also its historic all-male identity. Wesleyan suspended the other two frats, Beta Theta Pi and Psi Upsilon, after an apparently intoxicated female fell out of an upper-story window at the Beta house in 2014 and allegations of drug-dealing surfaced at the Psi U house this past summer.

So—no more fraternities, a crippled student newspaper, and draconian guidelines intended to curb the slightest manifestation of irreverent humor at Halloween. Wesleyan has checked all the boxes for political correctness, and may be checking out as a major university.

Wesleyan Finishes off Its Frats

And then there were none.

In early August Psi Upsilon, the sole remaining residential fraternity house at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, was suspended for the 2015-2016 academic year over an investigation by law enforcement over alleged illegal drug activity inside its house.

Until the fall of 2014, there were three fraternity houses at Wesleyan, plus a single sorority that lacked a house of its own—a pathetic number compared with, say, with the 40-odd fraternities and sororities at the University of  Virginia. But one of the three, Delta Kappa Epsilon (“Deke”) received the suspension axe for refusing to abide by a September 2014 university decree.

The decree, endorsed by Wesleyan’s trustees, gave all campus-linked fraternities three years to either admit women into their membership or lose their status as “program housing.” (Wesleyan requires nearly all its undergraduates to live in either dormitories or university-approved off-campus residences.) Around the same time in 2014 the third fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, was suspended after an apparently intoxicated female sophomore at Wesleyan fell from a third-story window in the frat house and was seriously injured.

Allegations of Sexual Assault

Psi U had already had problems—it had been barred from holding social events in its house during the 2014-2015 academic year in light of a pair of allegations of sexual assault (in only one of the cases had the accused student been found responsible). But Psi U had been the only Wesleyan fraternity agreeing to become co-educational, and it had held a co-ed spring rush earlier this year that resulted in several women agreeing to live in its house.

The Deke chapter, by contrast, whose national charter limits the fraternity to male members, filed a lawsuit against Wesleyan in February, accusing the University of violating, among other things, an implicit contract to allow the fraternity, which had operated at Wesleyan since 1867, to use its own criteria for selecting its members. The court papers filed by the Dekes pointed out that Wesleyan grants program-housing status to other residential spaces that exclude some classes of people:  Open House, which is for “non-normative sexuality and gender minorities” and Womanist House, a feminist-only dwelling.

The slow-motion demise of all-male fraternities at Wesleyan is the result of the fatal intersection of two phenomena. The first is a longstanding-old ideological war against fraternities conducted by progressive college faculty and administrators perturbed by Greek houses’ resistance to campus administrative control and their often politically incorrect culture. As soon as fraternities came into existence during the early 19th century, university administrators started trying to get rid of them.

Those latter efforts have been especially successful among the elite private liberal-arts colleges of the Northeast, where the progressive ethos is especially strong. Williams College in Massachusetts dismantled its fraternity system in 1962. Over the decades Amherst, Colby, and Middlebury followed suit, and 2012 Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, ordered its all-male Greek houses to admit women, effectively neutralizing their identity. So Wesleyan was already an outlier by the early 2000s, with only about 150 men out of its 2,900 or so undergraduates living in the three fraternity houses that abutted but were not technically on the Wesleyan campus.

Flaws of the Greeks

But the Greeks at Wesleyan could also be said to have brought their troubles onto themselves by their own carelessness—another factor in their downfall. In 2005 Wesleyan’s ultra-liberal president, Douglas Bennet, ordered all three fraternities to allow women to live in their houses, although the frats didn’t have to make them members. Beta was the only holdout of the three—which meant that even though no Wesleyan student could officially live in the Beta house (many did anyway, while nominally renting dorm rooms), the college and its campus police force had no oversight over activities inside the Beta house, which reputedly included many alcohol-fueled parties and several alcohol-related accidents. A standoff lasting several years followed as Bennet and Michael S. Roth, Wesleyan’s current president, tried to cajole and then threaten Beta back into the “program housing” fold.

Then, in 2010, a freshman woman known only as “Jane Doe” was violently raped in an upstairs room at the Beta House while attending a Halloween party. The assailant was not a Beta member, but rather, a former high-school buddy of a Beta brother who had wandered into the party. He was arrested, pleaded guilty to several assault charges, and went to prison. In 2012 Jane Doe sued Wesleyan and the fraternity for $10 million, alleging that Wesleyan had violated Title IX, the federal law forbidding sex discrimination in education, by refusing to issue warnings or take action that could have prevented the crime. She claimed that the Beta chapter had a reputation as a “rape factory.”  (Wesleyan settled that lawsuit for an undisclosed amount in 2013.)

After the Jane Doe incident Roth issued an edict barring Wesleyan students from so much as visiting organizations not officially recognized by Wesleyan. This led to “Free Beta” rallies on campus and a protest from the campus-free-speech organization FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). Eventually there was a truce, with Beta agreeing to return to program housing and to accept Wesleyan oversight.

No sooner, it would seem, had Beta resolved its problems than another female student at Wesleyan sued Psi Upsilon for $1 million, in March 2014, alleging that she had been raped by a naked Psi U pledge during a drunken strip show that was part of a raucous, booze-filled party in the Psi U common room in May 2013. The alleged assailant was expelled from Wesleyan. Her lawsuit alleged that this was the second recent incident of sexual assault involving the fraternity. Then, with Psi U on suspension, came the accident at Beta. Roth promptly banned Wesleyan undergraduates from entering the Beta house.

On September 22, 2014, Wesleyan’s trustees voted to give all three Wesleyan fraternities—including Deke, where there had been no allegations of sexual misconduct–a three-year deadline to become co-ed or shut down. The idea seemed to be that the presence of women in the houses would somehow forestall sexual violence.

Whether there is any substance to that theory is an open question. The much-publicized alleged rape in her (co-ed) dorm room that prompted Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz to carry a mattress around campus in protest for nearly a school year had nothing to do with fraternities. But a critical mass of Wesleyan students, faculty members, administrators, and trustees simply didn’t want fraternities around anymore. Thanks in part to the imprudence of the frat brothers themselves, they got their wish.

Ladies Who Let the Gentleman Pay

The average student-loan debt is approaching $30,000. That is to say, of the 70 percent of college students who borrow to pay all or some of their college expenses, the average student left college about $28,400 in the hole in 2013, according to USNews.

This alarming number has triggered a spate of news stories about female college students who are so panicked, so morally freewheeling, or both, that they are seeking the services of “sugar daddies”: older, well-fixed men who yearn to sponsor the academic careers of young college-age women in return for the sheer pleasure of spending time in the company Continue reading Ladies Who Let the Gentleman Pay

The “Truthy” Project Will Monitor Your Tweets

The“Truthy” project at Indiana University should have set off alarm bells right at the start. Described as a research project to study how memes spread on social media, it was created in 2010 by university computer science professor Filippo Menczer, and began tracking “suspicious memes,” and “false or misleading ideas” on Twitter. So far it has focused almost exclusively on conservative tweets, websites, and hashtags.

The taxpayer-funded National Science Foundation gave Menczer’s project a research grant of nearly $1 million—even though Menczer’s own grant materials used such loaded phrases as “hate speech” and disclosed a plan to allow members of “the public” to monitor and report on other people’s tweets in a Red Guard-style hunt for “subversive propaganda.”

Continue reading The “Truthy” Project Will Monitor Your Tweets

‘Date-Rape Nail Polish’—Mocked But Not So Foolish

Four undergraduates at North Carolina State University announced in August that they had developed a “date-rape nail polish” that would change color when its wearer dipped her finger into a drink doctored with “roofies” (Rohypnol) and other sedatives that can cause people to black out or otherwise be unable to defend themselves against unwanted sexual advances.

For their troubles in producing what they called “Undercover Colors,” the four were subjected to a relentless onslaught of criticism and ridicule from the feminist press.  Jessica Valenti’s column in the U.K. Guardian was typical: “Prevention tips or products that focus on what women do or wear aren’t just ineffective, they leave room for victim-blaming when those steps aren’t taken.” The idea seemed to be that giving women some common-sense advice or an easy-to-use product that would help them avoid being victims of a horrendous crime amounts to facilitating “rape culture.”

But now it appears that an application of Undercover Colors might have actually helped prevent a troubling incident at a recent University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee fraternity party after which at least three young women were hospitalized reporting blackouts, memory lapses, disorientation, and sky-high levels of intoxication. One of the women told news reporters that she had experienced a “weird feeling and sensation” before she passed out. Another said that a fraternity member at the Tau Kappa Epsilon house had mixed her a drink, and then briefly hidden her cup underneath the bar before handing it to her. Other people attending the party reported that the vodka drinks served at the party looked “cloudy.” When the police raided the party at 1:20 a.m., they discovered that many of the females in attendance had red “X”’s drawn on their hands by fraternity brothers, while other partygoers’ hands bore black “X’s” Police seem to suspect that a red “X” might have target the women for date-rape drugs and are currently investigating whether the drinks were spiked with roofies.

Yes, the administration of drugs to facilitate sexual assault is apparently rare. One study performed during the 1990s found that roofies played a role in only 1 percent of date rapes. Yet if the reprehensible events alleged to have occurred at the Tau Kappa Epsilon are proved true, three young women could have avoided hospitalization via Undercover Colors and many others might have been prompted to leave before they got sick, too. Obviously date-rape nail polish won’t prevent men from trying to commit sexual assaults—but it has the potential to prevent at least some women from harm. That doesn’t sound too ridiculous.

Why Is Wesleyan Targeting Its Frats?

“Will Wesleyan Be the Next School to Do Away With Frats?” That was the headline that ran on a Newsweek story in March. And the most likely answer to that question is “Yes.” As Newsweek staff writer Zach Schonfeld, himself an alumnus of the elite 183-year-old liberal-arts college in Middletown, Connecticut, wrote, there’s now “a heated discussion about how residential fraternities should continue on campus, if they should continue at all.

Continue reading Why Is Wesleyan Targeting Its Frats?

In Defense of Fraternities

Mr. Cheston, I disagree entirely. Let’s start with freedom of association. No, Trinity College is not a public university, so the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply (although some universities, such as Yale, have issued guarantees of free speech and association to their students that may have some legal weight). It may well be that in terms of legality, Trinity has a right to do whatever it wants regarding fraternities and their property. But there’s a difference between a right to freedom of association and freedom of association itself. It’s the latter that Trinity is impinging. It’s telling Trinity students that they can’t associate with other Trinity students (who have, presumably, met Trinity’s stiff admissions standards) except in certain contexts and under certain conditions specifically approved by Trinity, even when there is nothing unlawful about those associations in and of themselves.

Now for your claim that fraternities “promote…sexual assault.” Surely you are aware that claims that college campuses are hotbeds of rape, whether inside or outside of fraternity houses, are hugely exaggerated, blown up by bogus statistics and feminist ideology that regards any drunken encounter that a college woman regrets the next morning (or the next month) as a “rape.” I advise reading or rereading Heather Mac Donald’s 2008 article “The Campus Rape Myth” in City Journal. The Obama Administration Education Department’s insistence that colleges use a lower standard of proof than would be acceptable in any criminal courtroom to find college men “guilty” of rape (and thus ruin their lives, at least in the short run) has only exacerbated this problem. I’m sure that
genuine rapes do occasionally occur in fraternity houses, as well as elsewhere
on college campuses, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest that those crimes occur
more frequently in Greek houses than not.

Same goes for “academic cheating” and “binge drinking.” I’ve never seen evidence that more of either takes place in fraternity houses than elsewhere in college life. The big cheating scandal at Harvard last year occurred entirely outside of a fraternity context.

Finally, about the “political refuge” function of fraternities and sororities. Sure, it’s brave to stand up for your politically incorrect beliefs on campus, facing down ridicule and even accusations of hate speech. I encourage everyone to do so. That’s not the point, however. The point is creating and maintaining a culture–a circle of friends, a set of values–that is a bulwark against the behemoth of enforced conformity to whatever ideological movement that professors and administrators happen to be pushing: anti-capitalism, global warming, feminist hysteria about the wicked ways of men. Fraternity conservatism can often be gross and immature “South Park” conservativism, but it can also plant in college students’ hearts a respect for individual liberty that will ultimately mature into something more principled.  

The War on Fraternities, Part 232

James Jones, president of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., has announced his decision to step down from his post as of June 2014, a year before his contract ends. Jones’s surprise decision, announced by an e-mail from Jones on May 7, included the equally surprising announcement that decision by the chairman of Trinity’s board of trustees, Paul E. Raether, will also be stepping down. The scuttlebutt is–at least according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)–that that the resignations are directly related to alumni outrage over a new social code at Trinity, announced in October 2012, that will effectively eliminate fraternities, sororities, and similar social organizations at Trinity. Let’s hope that is the case, and that a new and different top administration will realize the extent to which the new Trinity social code severely restricts students’ freedom of association.  

Since the 1960s college and universities have waged a never-ending war against college fraternities and sororities. Greek life has always been a source of suspicion to college administrators, and sometimes justifiably so: questionable hazing practices, licentious parties, “Animal House” antics. But in recent years, fraternities and sororities have represented a political threat as well–a threat to the desire of college administrators to control and regulate every aspect of student life, social as well as academic. Fraternities and sororities are typically single-sex organizations, and that goes contra to the insistence of administrators that all aspects of college life must be gender-neutral and gender-blind. Fraternities and sororities also admit their members selectively, which goes against fashionable anti-elitism. Finally, fraternities and sororities are often havens against campus political correctness. Inside a fraternity house men can safely joke about the latest humorless pronunciamentos from the campus women’s center. Inside a sorority house women can be free to like men instead of viewing them as adversaries as their feminist professors insist. 

Many colleges and universities have simply banned Greek houses outright. The Trinity social code is more subtle and insidious: It makes it impossible for Greek houses to exist. First of all, all campus “social organizations” must henceforth meet nearly 50-50 gender quotas, both in membership and leadership. So much for the traditional single-sex Greek structure. Then, they must be officially approved by the Trinity administration–and students who associate with unapproved groups “will be subject to separation from the College.” The houses must also terminate their affiliations with national Greek single-sex organizations. Furthermore, Trinity has given itself the right to siezeand sell the houses of fraternities and sororities that do not comply with the above rules and turn them over to more compliant organizations. And notably, the code exempts campus athletic, musical, and academic organizations from its strictures: it’s aimed squarely at the Greeks. 

Not surprisingly, many Trinity students and Trinity alumni are up in arms over the new code, and some have threatened to withhold donations and also challenge the provisions in court. The announced resignations of Jones and Raether are a good sign, suggesting that Trinity might have jumped the shark this time. It’s a small and tentative victory for those who believe that college students, like other citizens, ought to be able to be able to associate with the friends of their choice.  

Is the MOOCs Panic Under Way?

San Jose State University in California is teaming up with Udacity, the for-profit pioneer of massive open online courses (MOOCs), to start a pilot program that will create three introductory mathematics courses online that can be taken for credit from San Jose State if the enrollee chooses. The courses sound like a godsend to high-school and community-college students, plus anyone else who would like to learn some college-level math in a course bearing the imprimatur of a well-respected state university. The courses will be free for non-credit enrollees, and students who take them for credit will pay only $150 per course, a bargain compared with the $450 to $750 that they would pay for a brick-and-mortar credit-bearing course.

There is one group, however, that isn’t very happy about the California State University system’s experiment with MOOCs in order to cut education costs: the professors and instructors who teach at brick-and-mortar colleges and universities. A January 15 report in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the San Jose-Udacity joint venture drew dozens of comments. Nearly all the comments were negative, and many of them displayed the panic that the mere mention of MOOCs instills in the minds of faculty members who sense–and rightly so–that their jobs may be rendered obsolete by cheap, standardized educational offerings that can teach students more efficiently and effectively than the grad students, adjuncts, and tyro professors who typically teach introductory courses. One commenter accused the MOOC system of seeking to “devalue the labor of university instructors.” Another contended that Udacity, founded in 2012 by Stanford computer-science professor Sebastian Thrun, will be essentially ripping off San Jose State by keeping 49 percent of any revenues the project generates after costs are covered. Still other commenters complained that the project would exploit “cheap student labor” (in the form of mentors for the for-credit enrollees) and pay San Jose State professors only $15,000 apiece to develop the pilot courses.

The main beef, though, was that Udacity is a for-profit venture–and professors seem to be categorically opposed the idea of profits. “It almost treats students like they’re industrial products,” a professor interviewed by the Chronicle complained.

One hopes that cooler heads will eventually prevail. Introductory math isn’t rocket science (and the professors developing the courses will retain their intellectual-property rights in them). Such courses currently have a reputation for being poorly taught–or taught in huge classes where the professors have little contact with individual students in the first place. The after-cost revenues that Udacity–and San Jose State–will generate are likely to be modest, since so far most MOOC courses, including Udacity’s are taken for free by non-credit students. And it is students who stand to benefit most, in terms of better-taught basic courses that cost them less. It is then perhaps not surprising that it was California’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, concerned about mounting student debt, who first contacted Thrun and set the Udacity-San Jose State project in motion. Higher education is supposed to serve students, not professors, after all.

Coping with ‘Professional Students’ in Community Colleges

The party’s over for community college students in California, notorious for large numbers of young and not-so-young people using the low-cost system to drift in and out of classes, fill up their time while looking for something better, or simply find themselves. The Board of Governors of the state’s cash-strapped two-year system has decided to get rid of “professional students,” some of whom have amassed hundreds of  college credits without going anywhere academically.

Starting in 2014 the system will give enrollment priority to students who have set up formal plans to complete enough credits either to transfer to a four-year institution or to qualify for a vocational certificate—or to acquire certain basic skills such as learning English. Since California’s 112-college community system, which has lost $809 million in state funding over the past four years, has already had to pare down its total enrollment by nearly 500,000 students (from 2.9 million in 2008), “enrollment priority” means that the drifters and “lifelong learning” types probably won’t find places.

Many would say that it’s about time. A 1960 law requires California community colleges to accept all comers residing in the state, no matter how poorly they performed in high school or what their motives might be for taking up classroom space. California’s economy was flourishing fifty years ago, and brand-new community colleges were steadily opening their doors to accommodate a burgeoning state population. Tuition was free back then, and even now it’s a bargain-basement $46 per credit hour for state residents, or less than $150 per typical course. Graduation rates have been dismal, but that hasn’t mattered: Large numbers of students aren’t enrolled with any intention of graduating. Meanwhile, California’s community colleges this year had to turn away about 470,000 enrollees from taking classes for lack of funds.

The new rationing plan is still generous: Returning students will qualify for enrollment priority even if they have accumulated up to 100 credits—40 more than the 60 needed to qualify for a two-year community-college degree. Still, there have been complaints from the system’s most avid (if degree-less) users. One was William Walker, who has attended five different community colleges over the years and amassed 102 credits—but is still in the system, having re-enrolled this fall in the nearly bankrupt San Francisco City College with so much student cred that he is now the college’s student trustee. Fortunately, Walker told San Francisco Chronicle reporter Nanette Asimov, “there’s no centralized database for all colleges,” so no one might ever find out about some of the perpetual seat-warmers.

Meanwhile, a four-profit operation, UniversityNow, has, in the name of charity but also good public relations for itself, opened up some of its online classes to the 470,000 students enrolled in California’s community colleges who could not find seats—all at the same $46 per credit hour plus $40 for books. The classes, offered by the regionally accredited Patten University, which UniversityNow recently acquired, are in such solid academic subjects as biology, history, and college algebra. It appears that Californians who are seriously motivated to use community college to achieve a goal will still have the opportunity to do so.

National Dream University—a Scam that Fell Through

The University of California (UC) has put the kibosh on plans to set up National Dream University, a low-cost, low-admissions-standards college where illegal immigrants were to be trained in activism on behalf of…illegal immigrants. National Dream U. was supposed to be a collaboration between UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education and the union-subsidized National Labor College in Maryland. A combination of embarrassing publicity and scrutiny by Republican state assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a member of the state appropriations committee that approves funding for the UC system, preceded UC President Mark Yudof’s announcement on Sept. 13 that National Dream U. would be shutting its doors even before they opened.

Yudof’s statement declared that the agreement between its labor research center and the National Labor College "was negotiated without the necessary approvals from UCLA’s academic and administrative leadership." Yudof  did not rule out future attempts by the center to collaborate with the National Labor College, but its statement did say that "any agreements would require a comprehensive academic and financial plan that has approval from appropriate parties.

National Dream U. had plans to offer an 18-credit-hour certificate program, mostly online, in immigrant rights and advocacy, with most of the courses to be taught by UCLA professors. Tuition would total nearly $5,000 less than the $7,218 that California residents pay for 18 credit hours, and the 2.5 grade-point-average for admissions would be well below the 3.7-plus average that 70 percent of entering freshman at the highly competitive UCLA possess. Furthermore, National Dream U., unlike UCLA, had an ideological litmus test for admission: "a commitment to immigrant/labor rights and social justice."

The Huffington Post reported (incorrectly, it turned out) that credits earned at National Dream U. could be automatically transferred to UCLA proper—although UCLA would still have been free to accept the credits if it wished. Then Donnelly leapt into the controversy, pointing out that "this is not the way to expend the precious limited resources, which should be available to California citizens rather than illegal aliens, no matter how deserving they may seem," as he told Fox News. Still, National Dream U. may not be dead yet. According to Fox News, Kent Wong, director of UCLA’s labor research center, recently told an audience of young activists, "[Y]ou will go onto become lawyers and teachers and doctors and members of the U.S. Senate to replace those old white men."

Are Credit Hours Necessary?

Untraditional students seek higher education because they hit a
wall. Once they’ve committed themselves to obtaining a degree, however, they
often hit another wall: the archaic “credit hour” rules enforced by
the U.S. Education Department that demand extended time in classrooms and
discourage self-study and flexible online offerings.

Amy Laitinen of the New America Foundation has written an
important new critique of the system. She calls credit hours “an old, maddeningly irrational system” that
condemns students to “spending large amounts of time and money in pursuit
of degrees that don’t always yield the value promised.” She proposes that
the Education Department consider alternative educational arrangements that
award degrees based on learning outcomes rather than classroom time.

She examines a number of those alternatives. One is New York‘s nationally and regionally accredited Regents College
(now Excelsior College), which awards bachelor’s
degrees on the basis of “exams designed by subject-matter experts from
across the country.” The State University of New York’s Empire State
College allows non-traditional students to earn degrees “through guided
independent study and other modes of learning, including assessing credit for
prior learning.” Especially innovative is the fully accredited Western Governors University,
an all-online institution operated by a nonpartisan consortium of governors of
nineteen western states. Western Governors offers highly individualized
learning plans, in which students are initially assessed for competencies, given
a learning plan that allows them to acquire the competencies they don’t
possess, and then allowed to master those competencies at their own speed.
“Graders unconnected to the students determine whether or not a student
has met WGU standards,” Laitinen writes. Western Governors has managed to
comply with the credit-hour rules by using faculty as mentors–with the result that
its students qualify for federal aid under current Education Department rules.

One might fault Laitinen’s report for yielding to the Education
Department. It might be more fruitful to question whether one really needs a
college degree to become a paralegal rather than make it easier to obtain an
expensive degree in paralegal studies. Wouldn’t working in a law office
suffice? Still, it is encouraging that there is a movement to bypass the
outmoded credit-hour system and to support the 86 percent of undergraduates who
lack access to the traditional college experience.

The Problem with Bonuses for Masters Degrees

Carol Howley, a nursing instructor at Chicago’s Richard J. Daley College, pocketed $307,000 in extra salary over the years by enrolling in doctoral classes at Chicago’s Rush University and receiving her doctorate. There’s only one problem, though: Rush has no record of Howley’s attendence. Cook County prosecutors recently indicted her for theft of government property.             

Howley’s story is symptomatic of a larger problem. As George Leef points out, institutions routinely hand out automatic pay boosts to their employees on the basis of the degrees the employees possess. College nursing instructors are relatively rare, but in America’s K-12 public-school system, where instruction costs total more than $308 billion annually, nearly half of teachers receive bonuses averaging about $3,000 a year just because they have an advanced degree. And these degrees are mostly worthless: only 10 percent of teachers’ master’s degrees are in substantive fields such as math, science, or English, where the teacher’s extra education might do the students some good. Ninety percent of teachers get their advanced degrees in education, a field notorious for its less than rigorous academic standards and its embrace of pedagogical fads. And academic and think-tank research, starting with a 1997 study by University of Washington research professor Dan Goldhaber has consistently revealed that students taught by teachers with advanced degrees make no more progress than students taught by teachers lacking such degrees.             

A master’s degree in education is such a lucrative deal for teachers that the blog Teacher Portal advises its readers simply to “[g]et one!” Sure, the tuition isn’t cheap. In 2009, an online master’s degree from the nonprofit Western Governors University and the for-profit Walden University cost an identical $12,000. Teacher Portal calculated that the compound-interest payoff of a master’s degree in education adds up to $221,000 over a thirty-year career. Teacher Portal concluded: “You may be a [slightly] better teacher but you’ll be setting yourself up much better to live comfortably in retirement…or at least to splurge on a fantastic vacation each summer :).”

A 2009 New York Times forum over the value of advanced education degrees confirmed Teacher Portal’s cheerful cynicism. Several participants who were seasoned teachers deemed their education classes “utterly useless,” “laughable,” and of “zero benefit.” One teacher, who had an undergraduate degree from Wellesley and a graduate degree from Columbia, said the college where she obtained her teaching certificate launched a “sales pitch” for its master’s and doctoral programs in education that emphasized “how little work we would have to do to get an advanced degree.”

Proposals for reconsidering these bonuses remain anathema to the education establishment. Teachers’ unions have resisted any effort to peg teacher pay to any factors except seniority and advanced degrees, and school administrators, boards of education, and state legislators seem to regard across-the-board pay raises for teachers as a way of life. But there is another constituency that is likely to resist ferociously the elimination of master’s-degree salary bumps: the faculty and administrators of the advanced-degree programs in education that are cash cows for the colleges and universities that sponsor them. Kathleen Wilson, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska’s College of Education and Human Sciences, vigorously defended the programs. “I don’t see how they couldn’t make a difference,” she said. “These programs really allow teachers to gain a better perspective in their area of instruction.” Expect that kind of rhetoric on steroids from education professors should school districts try to get rid of the salary bump for advanced degrees.  

Harvard’s Cheating Scandal

Yesterday Harvard
University announced its investigation of about 125 undergraduates who are
believed to have improperly collaborated on a take-home final examination last
spring. It is tempting to use this case to generalize about an Ivy League sense
of entitlement, declining student morals in general, or perhaps the failure of
Harvard and other universities to teach character and a sense of honor to its
students along with their academic subjects. For now, though, we should focus on
the specifics of this cheating incident, or at least what we know of them,
since many of the precise details of the scandal have yet to emerge:

1. The class in question,
“Introduction to Congress,” enrolled more than 250 students. If
Harvard’s suspicions are correct, this means that half the class thought they
could get away with violating a specific instruction in the exam itself:
“[S]tudents may not discuss the exam with others–this includes resident
tutors, writing centers, etc.” Most college cheating rings are relatively
small groups of trusted friends. Not this one.

2. The cheating appeared
to be careless and blatant. A graduate-student teaching fellow grading the
exams uncovered the alleged collaboration on noticing that several of them
contained the exact same words or strings of ideas in answering some of the
exam questions. The students allegedly involved didn’t bother to disguise what
they were doing very artfully (surprising for clever Harvardians)–because they
thought they could get away with it.

3. Many students didn’t
like the class very much. According to Harvard Crimson reporter Rebecca D.
, Harvard’s “Q Guide” of student course evaluations gave “Introduction
to Congress” a score of 2.54 out of a possible 5. Robbins noted that the
average score for social-science courses at Harvard was 3.91. Some of the
student evaluators took the course to task for lack of organization and
difficult exam questions. One student wrote that she and about 15 other
students, most of whom had stayed up all night working on the exam, gathered at
a teaching fellow’s office for clarifications a few hours before the deadline because
they didn’t understand one question worth 20 percent of the grade. “On top
of this, one of the questions asked us about a term that had never been defined
in any of our readings and had not been properly defined in class, so the TF
had to give us a definition to use for the question,” the student wrote.

None of this excuses in
the slightest what went on last spring. Students found to have collaborated on
that exam deserve not just to be suspended for a year–which is apparently
Harvard’s maximum punishment. However, there’s a lot here we just don’t know.

When Universities Raid Their Law Schools


Earlier this month Annette Clark,
dean of Saint Louis University’s law school, abruptly
from her job via e-mail after only a year. She left after accusing the Jesuit
university and its president, Rev. Lawrence Biondi, of looting the law school
in order to fund other, non-law-related programs on the Saint Louis campus. 

was not the first time that a law dean has quit in a dispute over the
“tax”– the premium that law schools and business schools, which
typically charge higher tuition than other campus programs, must hand over to
their host universities. In July 2011 Philip Closius, dean of the public
University of Baltimore School of Law, quit his job under administration
pressure after asserting that the university kept–and used for its own
purposes–some 45 percent of the revenue that the law school generated from
tuition, fees, and state subsidies. In 2009 De Paul University in Chicago fired
its then-dean, Paul Weissenberger, apparently because Weissenberger complained
to the American Bar Association that De Paul had siphoned off more than the 25
percent of its law school’s revenues that the law school had agreed to

Continue reading When Universities Raid Their Law Schools

Can We or Can’t We ‘Target’ Women and Minorities?

virginia college.jpg

Why is it admirable to “target” women and minorities for some educational programs but a violation of federal civil right laws to “target” them in others?          

That’s the question that must be asked about a federal lawsuit filed by seven Mississippi women, five of them African-American, against for-profit Virginia College, a chain of 25 for-profit campuses in the Southeast.  All seven women used federal student loans at the college’s Jackson, Mississippi, campus to obtain degrees in such fields as medical assisting and phlebotomy. Their complaint against Virginia and its parent company, Educational Corp. of America, says those degrees are now worthless. It charges fraud and breach of contract along with other wrongdoing, and faults the college for pitching its advertising and recruitment to blacks and women.

Continue reading Can We or Can’t We ‘Target’ Women and Minorities?

UCLA Offers Low-Cost College for Leftist Illegals

How to attend UCLA on the cheap? Be an illegal immigrant. Actually, be a leftist illegal immigrant. 
UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education and the union-subsidized National Labor College in Maryland have teamed up to establish “National Dream University” for the undocumented. The tuition is low: just $65 per credit hour, in contrast to $396 per credit hour that California residents pay for regular classes at the UCLA. The admissions standards are easygoing: a 2.7 grade-point average in high school or elsewhere. Contrast that to the highly competitive UCLA, where 70 percent of entering freshmen this fall have grade-point averages of 3.7 and higher, and 50 percent of entering freshman have at least 4.0 averages.
There is one proviso: Unless your political views are sufficiently progressive, you won’t be admitted to NDU. According to NDU’s website, all applicants must “demonstrate a commitment to immigrant/labor rights and social justice.” Yes, unlike regular UCLA, National Dream has an ideological litmus test for admission. No College Republicans at National Dream!
NDU now offers a limited program of six courses that add up to a one-year, 18-credit-hour certificate and hopes to offer associate and bachelor’s degrees in the future. About 35 students in total are expected to enroll in the program starting in January 2013. All six courses will be taught online, with mandatory visits to both the National Labor College and UCLA. UCLA professors will teach five of the courses and National Labor Center’s campus in Silver Spring, Maryland will teach the sixth at $270 per credit hour. The course titles are what one might expect from an unabashedly leftist institution: “Immigrant Rights, Labor and Higher Education,” “Race, Gender, Sexuality, Class and U.S. Labor,” and so forth. The National Dream website promises to offer the undocumented “the opportunity to learn from influential Civil Rights leaders like Reverend James Lawson and Tom Hayden, Immigrant Youth Movement leaders, and academics and scholars from across the country.” 
An Aug. 1 article in the Huffington Post headlined “Dream Act College” stated–incorrectly, as it turns out–that credits earned at National Dream could be automatically transferred to UCLA proper — UCLA administrators have been trying to back off from any implication that illegal immigrants can obtain University of California degrees at a lower total cost and via easier admissions standards than citizens and legal residents. The Breitbart Report calculated that students who transfer all 18 National Dream credits to UCLA can wind up paying $4,728 less than the $7,128 California residents will pay for 18 credit hours earned on campus this academic year. A recent statement from UCLA declares that transfers of credits are not automatic, and that the credits must come from a regionally accredited institution. But since the National Labor College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the UCLA administration didn’t exactly rule out such transfers.
You might be asking to what extent California taxpayers might be picking up the tab for the UCLA Center for Labor Research’s public-service adventures in discounted college for  the undocumented, especially given the UC system’s chronic budget woes and budget cutbacks these days. The answer is: substantially. In 2007 California put an end to several decades of direct funding for the Center for Labor Research and its parent academic department, the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Now, the UC system itself (which translates at least in part to taxpayers) pays some of the $2.6 million or so annual budget for the Institute (and the Center), according to Breitbart, aided by hefty contributions from unions, such left-leaning philanthropies as the Ford Foundation and George Soros’s Open Society Institute, and the city of Los Angeles, which donated $50,000 to the Institute in 2010. UCLA might be trying to distance itself from NDU. But as a public institution supported by hefty public subsidies, it can’t escape responsibility for the fact that one of its own centers staffed by its own professors is offering advocacy courses to illegal immigrants chosen on the basis of political ideology, not academic merit. 

That Response to My Article Was Strange

Scott Rose’s 1,085-word letter to the editors of Minding the
Campus does not contest–or find any factual error in–my Aug. 1 article titled
“Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science
.‘” My subject
the academic hysteria over University of Texas sociologist Mark
Regnerus’s article in the journal Social Science Research concluding that the
adult children of parents involved in gay relationships do not fare as well as
their peers raised in stable heterosexual households. Rose does, however, raise
several points to which I shall respond:

1. His name: When I mentioned that “Scott Rose” was the
pen name of “Scott Rosenweig,” as I spelled it, or “Scott
Rosensweig,” as he spells it (obviously correctly), I wasn’t trying to be
either anti-gay or anti-Semitic (by calling attention to Rose’s German-Jewish
origins). I was merely following the lead of other media outlets, including the
Associated Press, which used the spelling “Rosenweig.” It is a
stretch to regard AP as either anti-Semitic or anti-gay. Indeed, at least two
gay media outlets, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News and South Florida Gay News,
picked up and ran an AP story describing “Scott Rose” as the pen name
of “Scott Rosenweig” or “Scott Rosensweig.” How anti-gay
can you be if you’re a gay media outlet?

2. “Corrupt peer review.” That is Rose’s description of
the process by which Social Science Research accepted and published Regnerus’s
article, largely because the journal accepted his article for publication
just five and one-half weeks after he submitted it–a little over two weeks
short of the usual eight weeks. Rose seems to think that gay parenting is an
“esoteric topic” that should have obliged Social Science Research to
have waited many months before accepting it. Really? Maybe the editors at
Social Science Research thought otherwise and were so impressed by the quality
of Regnerus’s research that they very slightly expedited the review process. At
any rate, I can’t judge whether the peer-review process at Social Science
Research was “corrupt” or not–nor did I try in my article. I merely
noted that Rose attempted to taint the review process at Social Science
Research as corrupt and to intimidate its editor at least implicitly.

It’s interesting that Rose now finds fault with Darren Sherkat,
the University of Southern Illinois sociology professor whom Social Science
appointed to conduct a review of its peer-review process respecting Regnerus’s
article. I guess that Sherkat, despite characterizing some of the peer
reviewers as “right-wing” and “Christianists” in e-mails to
Rose, wasn’t as harsh on Regnerus and Social Science Research as Rose would
have liked.

3. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM). This is the
strangest part of Rose’s letter to MTC. Leaving aside the fact that NOM, which
opposes same-sex marriage, had no connection whatsoever with Regnerus’s
research, Rose devotes much ink to a completely irrelevant issue: NOM’s alleged
support for the failed campaign of Maryland State Sen. Anthony Muse to
challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin in the Democratic primary this year.
What does that have to do with Mark Regnerus? Rose also faults NOM president
Maggie Gallagher for referring to the U.S. president by his full name, Barack
Hussein Obama. That’s supposed to be anti-Muslim–or something. Again, what on
earth does this have to do with either Regnerus’s research or my

In short, Scott Rose seems to be obsessed with finding various
forms of anti-religious/anti-gay hatred hiding under the bed of my article. I
think that’s because he can’t find factual fault with anything the article
actually said.

Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’


ongoing controversy over University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus is a
textbook example of how a legitimate scholarly dispute can turn into a
political witch-hunt. Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at Texas’s
flagship campus in Austin, published a peer-reviewed paper in June in the
journal Social Science Research concluding that the adult children of
parents in same-sex relationships fare worse in a number of ways–alcoholism,
depression, drug use, and so forth–than the adult children of parents in
stable heterosexual marriages. Other sociologists have contested both
Regnerus’s findings and his methodology. But instead of challenging the results
of Regnerus’s research via normal scholarly channels–reviews, other scholarly
papers, or conference panels–Regnerus’s opponents have sought to delegitimize
him both personally and as a professional academic. They have attacked his
editors at Social Science Research, and they have goaded the UT-Austin
administration into investigating him for scientific misconduct. They have
fought their battle not in the journals but in the pages and web-pages of Mother
and the Huffington Post. Regnerus, a Catholic convert, has
even been aligned with the Catholic traditionalist group Opus Dei that is every
progressive’s favorite faith-based werewolf. Shades of The Da Vinci Code!

Continue reading Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’

Gender Quotas on Philosophy Panels?

First it was gender quotas for the sciences–and
now it’s gender quotas for philosophy. Two philosophy professors are calling on
their colleagues to boycott academic conferences that don’t feature at least
one woman as a keynote speaker.

Continue reading Gender Quotas on Philosophy Panels?

Should We Pay Students to Graduate?

College is supposed to last four years, right? However, only 31 percent of entering freshmen at U.S. colleges and universities manage to graduate in four years, and only 53 percent obtain their bachelor’s degrees within six years. Indeed, the six-year figure–which typically entails a 50 percent increase in overall tuition–has become so common that it’s basically standard. The numbers are so embarrassing that some universities have resorted to paying their students to graduate on time, typically via forgiven loans, tuition discounts, and scholarships for those maintaining a full load of courses.

Why don’t most students graduate when they’re supposed to? Some must work and can’t take a full load every semester. Some switch majors at the last minute or decide to major in two fields–which is fine if they or their parents can afford it. Sometimes it’s the school’s fault: Overcrowded public universities are notorious for failing to offer required courses (or enough sections of them) in workable sequences so that students can complete their majors efficiently. As the Fiscal Times reports, a single missing prerequisite can cost a student an entire year. The simple expedient of operating colleges (or at least offering key basic courses) on a year-around basis, recommended by the nonprofit Complete College America, would help eliminate those obstacles to timely graduation.

It would be even more helpful to offer students some academic structure, now sorely lacking at nearly every college in America. Complete College America found that four-year students, who normally need 120 credits (15 per semester) to graduate, are actually amassing an average 136.5 credits apiece, more than a full semester’s worth. As the Fiscal Times pointed out, they’re encouraged by course catalogues to fritter their time away on goofball courses such as “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame” (the University of South Carolina, Columbia) or “Harry Potter: Finding Your Patronus” (Oregon State University). 

How about reintroducing the tightly structured core curricula that were a hallmark of U.S. universities until the 1970s? Instead of indulging at today’s smorgasbord of piecemeal “area” requirements, students would spend their first two years with a limited menu of humanities, science, and math courses designed to give them the broad-based learning that every college graduate should possess, and the next two years following equally structured pathways through a major and minor. Not every student would graduate on time–but the idea of college as consisting of four years and no more would likely become a reality for many more of them. 


Online Education–Almost as Good as Face-to-Face?

in the New York Times, University of Virginia English professor Mark Edmundson
argues that online education is never going to be as good as live education
with a real professor in a real classroom. In a sense, he’s right. There’s
nothing like a top teacher: someone who can not only present complex material
lucidly and even entertainingly, but who can also coax out a lively dialogue
with his or her students, even in a huge lecture class. Even the best online
offerings lack that “collaboration between teacher and students” that
is characteristic of a “memorable college class,” Edmunson writes.


But in
another sense, Edmundson is wrong. Why? He’s comparing apples and oranges. The
appropriate comparison isn’t between the master teacher (and Edmundson himself
has that reputation) teaching in-person and delivering the same material
online. Of course the online version is going to be a “monologue and not a
real dialogue,” as Edmunson phrases it, that pales in comparison to the
live presentation. But the point of comparison isn’t between the
“memorable college class” and its online version. It’s between the
online version of the memorable class and the typical far-from-memorable
college class, especially at the elementary level and especially at  large
public institutions where there can be little live interaction between
professors and students, especially during the first two years.


that French 101 or Calculus 101 class that scarred you for life during your
freshman year? Chances are it was taught by an inexperienced graduate student
untrained in public speaking who filled the blackboard with illegibly scrawled
declensions or equations that left you more puzzled after you left the
classroom than before you entered it. That’s where a high-quality online course
can offer a superior educational experience. While excellent teachers abound
everywhere, from the Ivy League to community colleges, even at the most elite
universities “memorable” classes–in contrast to classes that are
merely very good–are few and far in between. That’s why they’re called
“memorable.” They stand out from the run-of-the-mill.


Edmunson critiques a pre-filmed online course from
Yale about the New Testament. Despite the fact that the instructor was
“hyper-intelligent, learned and splendidly articulate,” the course
“wasn’t great,” Edmundson concludes. Yale has one of the best
religion programs in America.
Maybe the college you attend also has an excellent religion program and some
top teachers–but maybe it doesn’t. Which would you rather do–stick with what
you’ve got or try the online course from Yale? The point of the new Coursera
online venture–which Edmundson’s University of Virginia just joined–is to offer
the best of Virginia’s and other top universities’ courses to people who can’t
get to Charlottesville or Princeton. The experiences might not be quite so
memorable as the experiences of the lucky few in Charlottesville and Princeton,
but chances are that the online students will still learn something they won’t

The Meaningful March of the MOOCS

On July 16 Coursera–one of the new ventures by prestigious universities or their professors that offer free-of charge MOOCs (massive open online courses) to the general public–announced that twelve more institutions have joined the Coursera consortium that initially consisted of Stanford, Princeton, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania. One of the new partners is the University of Virginia, whose president, Teresa Sullivan, was briefly fired (although later reinstated) by the university’s trustees because she had appeared reluctant to take the online plunge. Others  include Caltech, Rice, Duke, and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health among others, and some 150 courses–online versions of their on-campus courses–are now on the Coursera roster.
Yet it seems that, although elite universities love MOOCs, they’re reluctant to give course credit even to the MOOCs that originate on their own campuses. According to Inside Higher Education, there were rumors that one of the new Coursera partners, the University of Washington, which is supposed to provide 19 Coursera courses, was going to break ranks–but it turns out that won’t be the case. If you want to receive credit–or even a certificate of completion–from Washington, you’ve got to enroll as either a regular or a continuing-education student for an “enhanced” version (more instructions and assessments) of the Coursera offering. That means you’ll be paying for the course at nearly the same rate as for a brick-and-mortar course.
On the one hand, it could be argued that Washington and its Coursera partners are simply trying to protect their academic reputations, and their exclusivity, by not handing out credits to all and sundry. On the other hand, it appears that Washington has figured out how to turn online education, which is far cheaper to deliver than the conventional kind, into a nice revenue center by charging close to bricks-and-mortar-level tuition for it.