Category Archives: Essays

Unsustainable? No, Wilson Is Wrong

[Read John K. Wilson’s defense of Delaware ResLife here]

The University of Delaware Office of Residence Life has tricked another outsider, John K. Wilson, into believing that its proposal to run a highly politicized indoctrination program for over 7,000 students in the school’s residence halls is actually just a free exploration of diverse views in a spirit of open debate. Anyone who knows the facts on the ground knows that this is not so.
For Wilson, “The only relevant question is whether the ResLife program violates the rights of students by compelling them to participate or censoring their views. There is not even a shred of evidence that this is the case.” Not only is this dead wrong (there is plenty of evidence that students were compelled to participate and even had reports filed against them when they did not “correctly” participate), Wilson fundamentally misrepresents the proposal, last year’s program, and the critics. The problem for his argument is that the evidence for indoctrination and mandatory participation is everywhere.

The ResLife directors are the same people who did everything they could to make students aware it was mandatory, while claiming to their superiors it was not. RAs were instructed to tell students that the programming was mandatory. RAs wrote, for instance, about floor meetings, “Not to scare anyone or anything, but these are MANDATORY!” Last year’s 500 pages of documentation contain many strong assertions that every student “must” be reached with ResLife’s agenda. ResLife advertised an “every-student” model as opposed to the traditional model of residence hall programming. Can ResLife now be trusted with highly politicized educational programming in the very place where students live, socialize, do work, and sleep?

Continue reading Unsustainable? No, Wilson Is Wrong

Still Forgotten: Low Income Students At Selective Colleges

Despite a great flurry of activity to expand financial aid at selective colleges over the past several years, a new study by the Chronicle of Higher Education reported this gloomy bottom line: “Top Colleges Admit Fewer Low-Income Students.” As someone who has worked for more than a decade to push colleges to enroll more economically disadvantaged kids of all races, the news was disappointing, though not altogether surprising. For years, elite colleges have assembled freshmen classes that include upper-middle class and wealthy students of all races and declared themselves to be diverse. New financial aid policies alone were unlikely to change that pattern.

The Chronicle study found that the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants declined at the wealthiest 75 private and 39 public colleges and universities between the 2004-05 and 2006-07 academic years. In the 75 private institutions with the largest endowments, 13.1% of undergraduates in 2006-07 received Pell Grants, which typically go to students from families earning less than $40,000 a year, down from 14.3% two years earlier. In 39 public institutions with endowments of $500 million or more, 18% were Pell Grant recipients in 2006-07compared with 19.6% two years earlier.

The news is particularly troubling given the high profile efforts announced in recent years by some 40 top colleges and universities to provide more generous financial aid to struggling families. Why did less, rather than more, economic diversity follow? The primary reason is that aid policies are only part of what drives enrollment. In order to receive aid, low-income and working class students must first be admitted. Because such students often attend lousy schools, even highly talented and hard working students – who have tremendous potential – don’t look as good on paper as their more privileged colleagues. Research finds that while colleges and universities give substantial preferences to under-represented minorities (blacks, Latinos and Native Americans) and other groups, they give basically no preference to economically disadvantaged students, despite claims to the contrary.

Continue reading Still Forgotten: Low Income Students At Selective Colleges

Columbia’s 68 Celebration: Only Radicals Need Apply

This past weekend Columbia University held a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the 1968 Student Strike that shook Columbia and all of higher education. For a week, student activists occupied five buildings in protest of several policies, including ROTC’s presence on campus, the university’s relationship to the Department of Defense and the war in Vietnam, the intrusion of a new gymnasium into the neighboring African-American community, and a host of student power issues. After violent clashes between police and students brought the university to the precipice, the students won virtually all of their demands. Columbia and higher education in general have never been the same since those climactic events.

The actions of 1968 were of profound importance, calling for a thorough, critical examination in the light of the intervening forty years. Unfortunately, the panels and events over the weekend appear to have fallen short of this hope. Critical viewpoints were not showcased, and a feeling of nostalgia often held sway. Interestingly, this result was as American as apple pie.

We Americans are known for our penchant for nostalgia. We make fun of this sentiment all the time, but few of us are immune to its lures. It’s a peculiarly American trait because it is the logical product of combining non-tragic (or anti-tragic) liberal sentimentality with the unavoidable interest in the past. We care about the past, but not enough to let it drag us down with the weight of tragedy. Reinhold Niebuhr, the renowned theologian and foreign policy thinker who taught at Columbia University’s Union Theological Seminary from 1930 to 1960 (he even has a street named after him on the campus), captured better than anyone the American peoples’ difficulty in fathoming tragedy and evil – including the tragedy and evil in their own hearts. In addressing the Cold War and the drive for social justice, Niebuhr called for a mentality that could face good and evil in oneself and in others, and tragedy and hope, without caving into either naive optimism or dismissive cynicism and Machiavellianism. He called the acolytes of the former mentality the “children of light,” the latter the “children of darkness.” Charting a middle course, Niebuhr advocated a more enlightened sense of balance that amounted to a more responsible form of civic education.

Continue reading Columbia’s 68 Celebration: Only Radicals Need Apply

Columbia’s 68 Celebration: Amidst The Radicals

By Chris Kulawik

If you closed your eyes it sounded like any other college reunion.
Men clamored and women shrieked as old faces called to them from the growing crowd. They were old friends and classmates some four decades removed.

“I can’t believe,” echoed the voices of the baby-boomer crowd, “it was exactly a hundred years ago today. It’s been so long”

“I know,” replied one, mechanically, as if she had answered that call so many times before, “everyone changes.”

They spoke of lost love and life, “summering spots” in Southampton, top twenty law schools for their kids, stock options and investments. More than one bragged about the new family sedan.

But as you opened your eyes the room changed. As the graying crowd ebbed towards the laughably bourgeoisie wine and cheese bar, name tags flashed against their crisply tailored pink shirts and retro-chic blouses:

“Tom Hurwitz, Math, Planning Committee”
“Jeff Bush, Fayerweather”

The list went on. Few included their year, but not all. There was no need to. This strange coterie of aged radicals had developed their own nomenclature.

Math, Philosophy, Fayerweather, Hamilton, Low.

These were not majors or dorms; they were occupied buildings.

Continue reading Columbia’s 68 Celebration: Amidst The Radicals

The Worst Campus Codeword

The academic left is fond of buzzwords that sound harmless but function in a highly ideological way. Many schools of education and social work require students to have a good “disposition.” In practice this means that conservatives need not apply, as highly publicized attempts to penalize right-wing students at Brooklyn College and Washington State University revealed. “Social justice” is an even more useful codeword. Who can oppose it? But some schools made the mistake of spelling out that it means advocacy for causes of the left, including support for gay marriage and adoption, also opposition to “institutional racism,” heterosexism, classism and ableism. Students at Teachers College, Columbia, are required to acknowledge that belief in “merit, social mobility and individual responsibility” often produce and perpetuate social inequalities. Even in its mildest form “social justice” puts schools in a position of judging the acceptability of students’ political and social opinions.

Now the left is organizing around its most powerful codeword yet: sustainability. Dozens of universities now have sustainability programs. Arizona State is bulking up its curriculum and seems to be emerging as the strongest sustainability campus. UCLA has a housing floor devoted to sustainability. The American College Personnel Association (ACPA) has a sustainability task force and has joined eight other education associations to form a sustainability consortium. Pushed by the cultural left, UNESCO has declared the United Nation’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005-2014, featuring the now ubiquitous symbol of the sustainability movement – three overlapping circles representing environmental, economic and social reform (i.e., ecology is only a third of what the movement is about).

Only recently have the goals and institutionalization of the movement become clear. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability is Higher Education (AASHE) says it “defines sustainability is an inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods and a better world for all generations.” When the residential life program at the University of Delaware – possibly the most appalling indoctrination program ever to appear on an American campus – was presented, Res Life director Kathleen Kerr packaged it as a sustainability program. Since suspended, possibly only temporarily, the program discussed mandatory sessions for students as “treatments” and insisted that whites acknowledge their role as racists. It also required students to achieve certain competencies including “students will recognize that systemic oppression exists in our society.” At a conference, Kerr explained “the social justice aspects of sustainability education,” referring to “environmental racism,” “domestic partnerships” and “gender equity.”

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A Citizen’s Guide To Disciplining John Yoo

The punditocracy has offered up a wide range of answers to the question of what should be done about former Department of Justice legal counsel and author of the infamous “torture memos,” John Yoo. Suggestions have included indictment, professional discipline or even disbarment, and termination from his tenured position at the University of California-Berkeley’s Boalt Hall Law School.

Many of these proposed punishments of Yoo have more to do with partisan politics than legal reality, perhaps because it is nearly impossible to address the Yoo issue without betraying one’s visceral reaction to the “War on Terror” as a whole and, more particularly, some of the tactics that have been adopted by the administration in that struggle, often with the explicit approval of the lawyers.

I’ve been following this story closely as both a criminal defense lawyer, with a vested interest in ensuring that a fellow member of the bar is dealt with fairly, and as a frequent critic of higher education’s often evident contempt for academic freedom. So, for the understandably perplexed, here’s one lawyer’s guide to what sanctions, if any, Yoo might – or perhaps should – actually face.

Federal Indictment

Like many other legal observers, I consider some of the legal analyses Yoo (and in some instances his cohorts) provided for President Bush to be laughable. But just because this advice was, to many, ludicrous, doesn’t mean it was criminal.

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Review: “Feminists Say The Darndest Things”

Feminists Say The Darndest Things, Mike Adams, Sentinel, February 2008

Mike Adams, Professor of Criminology at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington, is nothing if not a provocateur; few other impulses can explain a book entitled Feminists Say The Darndest Things. Adams, as the title amply demonstrates, has an eristic disposition massively ill-suited for the modern academy; this is why the average reader is fortunate that Adams perseveres in his profession, and writes about it. Feminists Say The Darndest Things is a selection of Adams’ correspondence to colleagues that furnishes an illuminating portrait of pious academic feminism that’s not merely thin-skinned but actively censorious and relentlessly proselytizing.

Adams writes a lot of letters, and given what goes on around him, you can understand why. He wrote to question the tolerance of a colleague who commented, about a faculty candidate: “This guy went to West Point. He may be too conservative to teach here.” He wrote another colleague who stormed out when he questioned allegations of sexual harassment leveled against his department chair. She declared, in response to his comment “I will not sit here and listen to a police interrogation.” He wrote a colleague who believed that a student who lodged a fake rape accusation (to get out of an exam) should suffer no punishment. And those are just the people with whom he works. Missives also go out to the Northern Kentucky University professor who encouraged her students to destroy an anti-abortion display on that campus, and the Duke Professor who resigned from her committee assignments in indignation at the re-admittance of the falsely-accused Duke Lacrosse players.

That’s just a sampling; there are 61 letters in the book (one, to Abigail Adams, presumably went unread). Most aren’t as consequential as the examples I noted above, but point out both a reflexive hostility to criticism on the part of their targets, and a relentless presumption that the academy should reflect their own values in even the most trivial cases. It’s good to see, gathered in one volume, stories from a professor canceling classes to protest the Iraq War and offering extra credit to her students to protest, to Adams’ removal from a faculty senate email list after he complained about political discrimination on the campus (see, Adams was completely wrong!). Stories about the political character of the academy are often dismissed as mere anecdotes; Adams’ dossier makes clear that they’re common responses from an entrenched academic community intensely jealous of any threats to the primacy of their worldview.

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Columbia’s Rebel Reunion

Columbia University is warily approaching the 40th anniversary of its greatest disaster, the 1968 student uprising and occupation of five buildings, which vigorous and sometimes brutal New York City police eventually ended. A three-day conference looking back at the unrest begins on April 24 and describes itself as an “event,” not a celebration or even a commemoration. The conference is being staged “at” Columbia, not “by” it. The university administration is not funding, sponsoring, or organizing the conference. But university president Lee Bollinger is scheduled for two appearances, which would seem to undercut the administration’s arm’s-length posture. Further, the university is allowing the group of former protesters organizing the event to use several campus buildings, and two Columbia centers are officially listed as sponsors of individual conference events.

The conference program on the sponsors’ website promises to air a “wide range of viewpoints” on what happened and why, but the list of speakers shows no range at all – everyone seems to be a proud ex-protester or at least a familiar partisan of the Left. While Todd Gitlin (formerly the president of Students for a Democratic Society, now at Columbia’s journalism school) is a sober and reflective thinker, most of his fellow speakers are far from that standard. They include Kathleen Cleaver, Eldridge Cleaver’s widow and a former Black Panther official; veteran activist Tom Hayden; several former members of the Weather Underground; and Ti-Grace Atkinson, a radical feminist from the 1960s who opposes all sexual intercourse. Not one member of the Columbia faculty from 1968 is participating. Event sponsors say that voices of non – leftists will be included in a “multi-media narrative,” the details of which are not clear; what is clear, so far anyway, is that the panels represent only one point of view.

It isn’t as though the event’s organizers didn’t know whom to invite. Columbia sociology professor Allan Silver, who was a member of a faculty group in 1968 that tried to work out a compromise before police cleared the occupied buildings, suggested that the conference include speakers from a broad range of groups, including the Majority Coalition, which opposed the strike; New York City police officials; aides to then-mayor John Lindsay; reporters who covered the events; current or recent Columbia students in ROTC programs; and “others, NOT from the left.” The conference timetable that the organizers issued in mid-March lists representatives of none of these groups. Nor does it include any of the organized “moderates” of ’68, such as the members of Students for a Restructured University (SRU), which helped create the University Senate after the traumatic events of that spring. “It’s going to be an all-Bolshevik conference,” said Neal Hurwitz, a 1967 Columbia graduate, former member of Silver’s faculty group, and SRU leader.

Continue reading Columbia’s Rebel Reunion

Tenure And The Litigation Culture

In the spring of 2008 Baylor University denied tenure to a larger than usual number of Assistant Professors up for promotion, including two-thirds of the women, and while tenure denial is normal at Baylor, the carnage uptick – from 10% to 40% in a single year – drew national attention and outcries of unfairness. No doubt, outsiders may find that awarding life-time employment to 60% of those eligible is a fantastic deal in today’s economy where corporations routinely shed entire divisions and even CEO’s get the ax. Surely no rational firm could guarantee tenure to 90%, even 60s%, of those initially hired. That harsh economic fact understood, why the sudden indignation? Is something seriously rotten at Baylor? As a veteran spending four decades passing among the natives (I speak fluent numbo-jumbo, passable gibberish, I should add), let me try to explain why what is typical in the “real world” outrages so many academics.

The place to begin is to recognize that winning tenure is customary at American colleges save elite, research-oriented institutions. In fact in a few top departments almost no junior faculty wins tenure, so the review process resembles the annual clubbing of baby seals. Given that rejection runs counter to widespread expectations, it is naturally a bitter pill to swallow. It is not a matter of initial screening being so astute that no mid-course corrections are necessary. Rather, the pathways to tenure abound, standards are pliable, and the ever-present threat of litigation shields protected endangered species faculty, so in many instances a negative outcomes is genuinely surprising, if not shocking.

Truth be told, all the transparency and fairness talk is largely irrelevant administrative boilerplate. Subjectivity is everywhere; as in judging pornography, fuzziness is inherent, and this applies equally to Harvard or Okefenokee Tech. “Original research” or “excellent teaching” are rubber yardsticks far distant from cars sold per month. Apprehensive junior faculty speculate endlessly about thresholds – One or two books? Are five articles enough? How many research grants and of what size? Can mediocre teaching be overcome by outstanding outside letters? – but universities justifiably never operate on piece-work, and it is preposterous to insist that bean counting is even possible. On-the-bubble candidates scrutinized past decisions with Talmudic attentiveness, but the outcomes are always murky – Assistant Professor Alphonse is now an Associate despite his weak publication record while Professor Gaston who followed was booted notwithstanding an outstanding resume. Stories of unexpected failures are told and re-told, embellished and deconstructed, but these hardly calm jangled nerves. In the final analysis, tenure judgments resemble the College of Cardinals electing the Pope – there are usually solid reasons but they may be forever obscure and, critically, no senior faculty is obligated to explain his or her vote. It is a mystery wrapped in a sheepskin encased in a 9 x 12 manila envelop. Up or down reasons can be petty, wrong-headed, misinformed and otherwise flawed, but truth is unknowable. The most vicious personal blackball can be “explained” with “his Bush-as-Hitler research just did not meet the standards for the Benedict Arnold Program in American Studies.” Nothing more had to be said. This uncertainty, the knowledge that one’s life can be decided by whim, is truly frightening.

Continue reading Tenure And The Litigation Culture

Why I Am Running For Harvard’s Board Of Overseers

By Robert L. Freedman A.B. ’62

I am running as a petition candidate for Harvard’s Board of Overseers to help Harvard College improve itself.

I have been interested in higher education – and in particular in what is taught and how it is taught – since graduating from the College in 1962. I have the time, the interest and the energy to try to make a difference.

There is ferment in the world of higher education. When a former Harvard College Dean publishes a book about Harvard subtitled How a Great University Forgot Education, and when a former Harvard President publishes a book about colleges subtitled A Candid Look At How Much Students Learn And Why They Should Be Learning More, you know it’s time to get involved.

College is when people are most open to learning. Afterwards their intellectual horizons narrow. It is a major loss if part of those key four years is wasted in a class with a poor teacher or in a subject of only ephemeral importance.

Harvard has two governing boards. The Harvard Corporation (officially the President and Fellows of Harvard College) is a Massachusetts non-profit corporation with seven members. Vacancies are filled by the remaining members. So it is a self-perpetuating board – as are most non-profit boards.

The second governing board is the Overseers (officially the Board of Overseers of Harvard College). Despite their official name, their writ covers the entire University. They have been elected by all the alums since 1921. In April of each year Harvard mails ballots to all one-third of a million Harvard degree holders (except faculty members). Five alums are elected every year for 6 year terms, for a total of 30 Overseers.

The alumni association annually solicits names of possible candidates from the alums, and then nominates eight candidates for the five positions. The eight candidates generally are diverse in terms of occupation, geographical location, gender, ethnicity and race.
These elections are usually non-events. Typically ninety percent of the alums do not bother to vote, perhaps because they believe who is elected makes no difference.

But every once in a while something different happens, because any alum can become a petition candidate upon obtaining the signatures of about 250 alums on official Harvard ballots (that is what I did). Nineteen years ago, when divestiture of South African securities from the endowment was a hot issue, Barack Obama ran as a petition candidate. He lost. The handful of petition candidates over the years believed, like Obama, that certain important issues were not being properly addressed by the powers-that-be. In my case those issues are educational: teaching methods, the curriculum, the quality of student life and the high costs of college.

Harvard is aware of these issues and has made some important progress. But the Overseers have not been in the forefront of pushing for changes. I am running as a petition candidate because, as former Harvard President Derek Bok – in a most careful and thoughtful critique of colleges – recently wrote, reform is too difficult to accomplish solely from within. A push from outside is needed. And a push from a friend is much better than waiting until a crisis develops and an unfriendly heavy hand intrudes.

A more active Board of Overseers should make it its business to understand students’ views. As our college experience recedes into the past, most of us lose touch with exactly how we felt and what we thought then. A good sign is that recently, apparently for the first time in living memory, a group of Overseers actually met with a group of students. That modest and long overdue first step could be the beginning of a process to acquaint the Overseers with the college’s “customers”.

There is lots to be done. Change is in the air. As a recent President said, If not now, when? If not us, who? Together we can make a difference. Let’s do so.
—————————————
Robert L. Freedman is a senior partner of the international law firm, Dechert LLP. He is a 1962 graduate of Harvard College. His campaign site can be found here.

Why Do Textbooks Cost So Much?

textbooks.jpgYou’ve just started your freshman year in college, so one of your first stops is the campus bookstore to pick up your textbooks. You signed up for Econ 101, where your professor has assigned one of the top-selling basic textbooks in the field: Harvard professor N. Gregory Mankiw’s 936-page Principles of Economics (South-Western/Thomson), now in its fourth edition. The price: $175.95, or if you want to throw in a study guide to help you ace the course, $209.90.

Wow, that’s steep for just one book – but you’ve only just started. Next class: the first semester of your college’s world history survey course, spanning the period from 1 million B.C. to 1500 A.D. In that class the prof is having you read the first volume of Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past (McGraw-Hill), the ever-so-politically correct overview by Jerry H. Bentley and Herbert F. Ziegler that devotes only 28 of its 600 pages to ancient Greece. The sticker price for Traditions and Encounters, now in its second edition: $89.69. Next, chemistry class, where the assigned textbook is Karen C. Timberlake’s Chemistry: An Introduction to General, Organic, and Biological Chemistry (Prentice-Hall), now in its ninth edition. The price here is $148.80 for 736 pages plus a CD-ROM, and another $64.90 if you want a study guide. The bargain on your textbook list, if you can call it that, is Lynn Bloom’s The Essay Connection (Houghton-Mifflin), the required anthology for your freshman English class, and “only” $61.16 for 656 pages. The Essay Connection is in its eighth edition, an improvement over the seventh edition, its blurb promises, because the book now includes essays by David Sedaris (can’t you read him at home in your parents’ New Yorker?), a photo collection on the horrors of war (guess what non-English-related political point that’s trying to make), and cartoons and other illustrations for students who learn better by looking at pictures.

Your textbook-bill total for the semester is now $475.60 for just four books, more than a fourth of the average $2,315 in tuition and fees for a semester at a U.S. state college, according to figures for 2004 from the U.S. Education Department) – and that doesn’t include optional study guides, the lab manual you might need for chem class, or the photocopied handout packet your English teacher says she’ll be passing out at your expense. Why the sky-high prices for basic textbooks? After all, the brand-new, critically acclaimed translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Knopf) lists at only $37 for 1,273 pages in handsomely designed hardback. If Knopf, a trade publisher, can bring in a lengthy volume with a scholarly apparatus of notes and bibliography for less than $40, why can’t textbook publishers, serving a market of generally cash-strapped young people, do something similar?

Continue reading Why Do Textbooks Cost So Much?

School Daze: The Best Novels About The Campus

“I expect you’ll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir. That’s what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behavior.”

– Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall, 1928

Those were the days. A novelist could teach for a year or two and emerge with enough satire to fill a library. Alas, the Academy has grown more ludicrous and exaggerated with each succeeding generation and is now almost beyond parody. Today, all a smart writer has to do, in Emily Dickinson’s memorable phrase, is tell the truth but tell it slant.

This melancholy observation was brought to mind by Roger Rosenblatt’s comic tale Beet, the story of a professor who fatuously assumes that college is a place for colloquy and intellectual adventure. Instead, he finds an arena rife with faculty politics and political correctness, with courses like Little People of Color and Postcolonial Women’s Sports. The administration is even worse than the staff: eyeing the Internet, the chairman of the board of trustees demands, “Why couldn’t we run the whole college online? From one building? From a Quonset hut! From a lean-to, for Chrissake! An outhouse!”

Funny stuff. But the fact is that colleges are falling all over themselves to hustle dollars from the Net. Google has more than six million references to courses you can take without bothering to enter a classroom. As for PC, the very real Occidental College offers The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie?; Oberlin has a seminar called She Works Hard for the Money: Women, Work and the Persistence of Inequality; and UCLA makes much of Queer Musicology, exploring the ways in which “sexual differences and complex gender identities in music and among musicians have incited productive consternation” during the 1990s. I could cite hundreds more.

Continue reading School Daze: The Best Novels About The Campus

Indoctrinate U. Was It Fair? Round II

[Indoctrinate U, a documentary by Evan Coyne Maloney on the state of intellectual freedom at American universities, premiered at the Kennedy Center in September 2007 and has screened in multiple locations since. Peter Berkowitz, writing in The Wall Street Journal, called Indoctrinate U a “riveting documentary about the war on free speech and individual rights waged by university faculty and administrators…” John K. Wilson, founder of The Institute for College Freedom, doesn’t think the film’s quite fair. He provided us a critique of Indoctrinate U and invited us to solicit Maloney’s response. You can read Wilson’s original review, and Maloney’s response here. Below is their second round of comments. Indoctrinate U is screening at select campuses and theaters in the near future; check the film’s website for more information (and read our original review here.)]

No.
By John K. Wilson

Maloney objects to my claim that liberty on campus is far better protected today than it’s ever been. To disprove this, he writes that FIRE “receives hundreds upon hundreds of reports each year in which those rights have been trampled.” But that doesn’t prove anything. For example, the ACLU didn’t exist until after World War I. The fact that the ACLU publicized violations of civil liberties after 1918 does not show that civil liberties were better protected during World War I, it only shows that we lacked organizations to publicize these violations. For example, virtually all of the speech codes FIRE objects to (and usually with good reason) today were typically far worse in the past, when administrators usually had arbitrary power to punish students without due process, without rules, and without appeal.
As for Ward Churchill, Maloney says that he defended his free speech. He did, but none of that is mentioned in the movie, nor is the fact that Churchill was banned from speaking at some campuses (which is separate from the controversy over his firing). That’s a key point considering how Maloney tries to show in the movie that only conservative views are silenced in academia.

Citing the fact that Ignatiev hasn’t been censored is a rather odd analysis by Maloney, considering that he ignores the counterexample of Churchill. Maloney, after all, doesn’t put on film all of the conservatives who haven’t been censored, nor any of the liberals who have. At some point, if you only discuss liberals who haven’t been censored and conservatives who have been censored, and ignore the counterevidence, you’re twisting the data.

On the Clemens case, Maloney claims that “professors were required to inject into their courses political topics.” Clemens called it an “ideological loyalty oath.” The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that faculty on campus said it wasn’t a requirement to inject political topics in class; it was a requirement that faculty proposing a new class had to answer a dumb question on the form about the role of race, class, and gender in the proposed class. After Clemens objected, he was allowed to leave the question blank and had his course approved. He never had his job threatened in any way, so I dismissed this as rather unimportant compared to the far worse penalties suffered by liberals and conservatives in many colleges. (Contrast that with a case this year where a pacifist Quaker professor was fired under a real loyalty oath.)

Continue reading Indoctrinate U. Was It Fair? Round II

When Donors Pick The Courses

An interesting news item caught my eye last week. The BB&T Charitable Foundation has made a million-dollar donation to Marshall University’s Lewis College of Business. The donation comes with a string attached: Marshall must teach Ayn Rand’s classic tribute to capitalism, Atlas Shrugged, as part of the curriculum. The BB&T Foundation has made numerous grants to other institutions dealing with capitalism and economics. John Allison, the foundation’s chairman and CEO, expressed the logic behind these grants when he announced a $2 million grant to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University last summer. “We believe there needs to be a deeper understanding of the morality of capitalism and its causal relationship to economic well-being,” he declared. “This contribution will encourage a thorough discussion of the moral foundations of capitalism with an organization that meets the highest academic standards and encourages students to hear all points of view.”

BB&T’s actions regarding Marshall and George Mason are part and parcel of a broader movement taking place across American higher education: redesigned efforts by major moderate and right-leaning foundations and sponsors to fund programs, journals, and chairs on campus that provide viewpoints that challenge the left-liberal orthodoxies that prevail in so many institutions. Among other examples, the University of Illinois recently established a major chair in free market economics, funded by a conservative donor. And the University of Colorado is looking for donors for a new chair in conservative studies. Meanwhile, several groups, including the Olin Foundation and other conservative entities, have decided to target limited term grants at specific individuals or groups whom they trust to carry out programs consistent with the foundations’ missions.

One motive for such grants could be to influence academic thinking in the direction the foundations favor. Another motive is simply pedagogical: to counter the lack of intellectual diversity on campus, which several studies have shown tilts decidedly to the left at many institutions, especially in the social science and humanities. The pedagogical problem is not that conservative ideas are not being accepted or followed; the problem is the virtual absence of such ideas, which deprives students of a true liberal education that would expose them to all serious arguments and perspectives about social and political life. The right kind of education prepares students to seek the answer to the most fundamental of questions: How should I live?

Continue reading When Donors Pick The Courses

University Of The Absurd

Recently I sat down with a young woman who shared with me the experience of her first year at Thurgood Marshall College, one of the six colleges of the University of California at San Diego. She explained to me that regardless of her major field of study and in order to graduate she was required to take certain “general education” courses, the centerpiece of which is a three-quarter, 16-unit creation called “Dimensions of Culture.” What she had to tell me is a warning to both parents and students.

The Dimensions of Culture program (DOC) is an introductory three-quarter social science sequence that is required of all first year students at Thurgood Marshall College, UCSD. Successful completion of the DOC sequence satisfies the University of California writing requirement. The course is a study in the social construction of individual identity and it surveys a range of social differences and stratifications that shape the nature of human attachment to self, work, community, and a sense of nation. Central to the course objective is the question of how scholars move from knowledge to action. UCSD Course Description

Edgar B. Anderson: So let’s talk about Dimensions of Culture. That’s vague. What’s that mean?

Student: I don’t know. Each quarter, the first quarter is called Diversity, the second quarter is called Justice, and the third quarter is called Imagination. So Diversity is we studied everything about minorities – like women, homosexuals, and then Asians, blacks, Latinos.

Q. So what’s left out – white males?

A. Yeah, pretty much if you’re a white male you’re bad, that’s kind of the joke among all the students.

Q. Women are not even a minority, they’re a majority.

A. But it’s more about the workforce.

Q. Power.

A. Yeah, that’s kind of how they presented it. We didn’t really focus on women that much. It was mainly how Asians have been oppressed in history and how Latinos continue to be oppressed and how blacks continue to be oppressed, all of that.

Continue reading University Of The Absurd

Soft Bias Against The Right

In recent years, conservative critics of academia have had few better friends than Ward Churchill, the Group of 88, MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins (who fled Larry Summers talk about variations in intelligence between genders), and a few other hot-headed leftists on campus who made headlines. They proved the point about ideological bias every time they opened their mouths or printed their opinions. They were the slam dunk cases, and their high standing proved an embarrassment to their colleagues.

Beyond those outspoken circles, though, the evidence appears to grow thin. For the truth is that the majority of academics are not fiery, intolerant people railing against Bush in class or berating a conservative sophomore in office hours. They fall on the left side of the spectrum and wouldn’t dream of voting for a Republican, yes, but they pretty much stick to their jobs of teaching a field and pursuing more or less apolitical topics. Churchill et al discredited the profession with their partisan heat, but mainstream professors restore credibility precisely by their dutiful, everyday manner.

It is all the more regrettable and exasperating, then, that when they make fundamental choices in their work these moderate professors harbor some of the same biases, although in softer form and more judiciously expressed, and they produce equally discriminatory effects.

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How Mismatches Devastate Minority Students

By Gail Heriot
(Ms. Heriot is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This piece is adapted from Ms. Heriot’s Commissioner Statement for the Civil Rights Report on Affirmative Action at American Law Schools released last fall.)

I have no doubt that those who originally conceived of race-based admissions policies – nearly forty years ago – were acting in good faith. By lowering admissions standards for African-American and Hispanic students at selective law schools, they hoped to increase the number of minority students on campus and ultimately to promote minority integration into both the legal profession and mainstream society. Similarly, however, I have no doubt of the good faith of those who opposed the policies. Indeed, their warnings that academic double standards cannot solve the nation’s problems and may well exacerbate them seem especially prescient in light of recent research.
The real conflict over race-based admissions policies has not been about good or bad faith or about whether we should aspire to be a society in which members of racial minorities are fully integrated into the mainstream. There is no question we should. The conflict is about whether racial discrimination – something that nearly all Americans abhor – is an appropriate tool to achieve that end. Put starkly: Should the principle of non-discrimination be temporarily sacrificed in the hope that such a sacrifice will, in the long run, help us become the society of equal opportunity that we all aspire to?

Justice Stanley Mosk warned of the risks associated with such temporary compromises with principle over thirty years ago, when, writing for the California Supreme Court in Bakke v. UC Regents (1976), he held racially discriminatory admissions policies to be unconstitutional:

To uphold the University would call for the sacrifice of principle for the sake of dubious expediency and would represent a retreat in the struggle to assure that each man and woman shall be judged on the basis of individual merit alone, a struggle which has only lately achieved success in removing legal barriers to racial equality.

Continue reading How Mismatches Devastate Minority Students

Indoctrinate U. Was It Fair? An Exchange

[Indoctrinate U, a documentary by Evan Coyne Maloney on the state of intellectual freedom at American universities, premiered at the Kennedy Center in September 2007 and has screened in multiple locations since. Peter Berkowitz, writing in The Wall Street Journal, called Indoctrinate U a “riveting documentary about the war on free speech and individual rights waged by university faculty and administrators…” John K. Wilson, founder of The Institute for College Freedom, doesn’t think the film’s quite fair. He provided us a critique of Indoctrinate U and invited us to solicit Maloney’s response. Here is Wilson’s review, followed by Maloney’s thoughts. Indoctrinate U is screening at select campuses and theaters in the near future; check the film’s website for more information (and read our original review here.)]

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No
By John K. Wilson
Evan Coyne Maloney’s new movie, Indoctrinate U, is probably the best documentary ever made about higher education. That fact makes the numerous biases, distortions, and omissions of his work all the more disappointing. But these errors aren’t all Maloney’s fault; instead, his documentary reflects the mistakes of right-wing critics who often promote false stories or provide one-sided analysis.

What makes Maloney’s movie so good is the application of Michael Moore’s techniques to the realm of free speech and colleges. Certainly, nobody has ever made such an entertaining documentary about higher education, as Maloney makes effective use of his sarcastic voiceover, fast pacing, and putting himself in front of the camera as he demands answers, in person, from wary administrators who, over and over again, refuse to speak with him.

Maloney even echoes Moore’s autobiographical tilt about Flint, Michigan in Roger and Me with his own story about being the son of activists who protested for campus liberty as part of the Free Speech Movement. Maloney concludes: “Somewhere along the way, the Campus Free Speech Movement got killed by university regulations.” Actually, the Free Speech Movement got started because of university repression, and the fight continues to this day, although many of the battles have been won. Maloney claims, “Academia today isn’t a marketplace at all. It’s a monopoly. But it wasn’t always like this.” All of Maloney’s nostalgia to the contrary (and it’s amusing to see conservatives embrace the campus liberatory movements of the 1960s), liberty on campus is far better protected today than it’s ever been.

Maloney is also guilty of some of Michael Moore’s flaws, such as using selective editing to mock those he disagrees with. He takes Noel Ignatiev’s theories about whiteness and reduces him to a series of two-second edited clips mangled together, trying to make him look foolish. It only makes Maloney look bad, since he seems unwilling to engage intellectually with a theory he doesn’t like and even appears to suggest that thinkers like Ignatiev should be banished from academia since Maloney is annoyed that such ideas are considered “completely legit.”

Continue reading Indoctrinate U. Was It Fair? An Exchange

What Trustees Must Do

Trustees face a quandary in trying to figure out their role in academic governance. As a matter of law, institutional responsibility is squarely in their hands. On the other hand, while few challenge their oversight in matters managerial and financial, they are routinely warned that when it comes to intellectual content, the heart of university life, they should keep their distance.

Trustees should generally avoid getting involved in judgments about intellectual specifics such as individual personnel decisions, the content of courses, and the structure of particular programs, etc. Usually they will be out of their depth here. But they should be actively engaged in matters pertaining to overall intellectual climate, especially the degree to which such core principles of rational discourse as objectivity, disengagement, meritocracy, civility, and pluralism are honored and institutionalized. Here trustee fair-mindedness, ideological coolness, and intellectual distance, can help keep the ideological passions of academics from running discourse off reason’s rails.

Like judges, trustees should see themselves as having a responsibility to ensure that the rules of sound intellectual discourse are recognized, that the academic cultures of the institutions they supervise are “lawful” in a manner that preserves the free and effective exercise of reason. This, of course, is a matter of faculty responsibility too, but since the nature of these rules, in many essentials, simply follow the operating principles of a liberal social order, citizens of that order should be able to understand them well enough to backstop compliance. Trustees need not be scholarly experts to participate meaningfully in the university’s intellectual governance. They need only be intelligent and watchful products of a free society.

What types of rules are we speaking of and why should members of a liberal society be able to recognize and help enforce them?

Continue reading What Trustees Must Do

No Quarter For Nichol

Although the mainstream media would have you believe he was a martyr to religious fundamentalists and moral Pecksniffs, Gene Nichol lost his job as president of the College of William and Mary in Virginia for only one reason: he was a lousy administrator who seemed not to be able to get it into his head that one of the main jobs of a college president is to raise money from alumni and others and thus to cultivate good public relations for the institution he represents. Nichol seemed to think that he had been hired by the college’s governing Board of Visitors in 2005 to thumb his nose at sundry traditionalists, and his in-your-face actions cost William and Mary at least one $12 million donation along with a great deal of good will among Virginia citizens toward the venerable and highly rated liberal-arts school.

Yes, William and Mary, located adjacent to the famous colonial-days tourist site in Williamsburg, Va., is a state-run institution, as Nichol never ceased reminding the many critics of his unilateral decision last November to remove a 70-year-old cross from the altar of the college’s historic Wren Chapel, which dates almost to the college’s founding in 1693. Like many quality state schools, William and Mary is highly dependent on private donations to cover its costs, especially since the state of Virginia has been steadily reducing its contribution to the college’s budget, cutting $3 million in 2007. Alumni and generous Virginia citizens are important stakeholders at William and Mary.

The cross, donated to the chapel by a William and Mary alumnus in 1931 and symbolizing William and Mary’s Anglican heritage, had been the subject of no known complaints by students. The Wren Chapel has been regularly used for non-Christian religious services as well as secular functions for several decades, and when non-Christians used the space, they simply removed the cross temporarily. Nichol decided, in the fall of 2006, without consulting anyone, that the cross violated the First Amendment’s ban on establishment of religion so he had it removed. After a huge uproar among students, alumni, and members of the Board of Visitors, Nichol allowed the return of the cross, although in a glass display case.

Continue reading No Quarter For Nichol

Academic Gibberish And The Hermeneutics Of Mistrust

Overwhelming evidence attests to the liberal tilt on our college campuses. Studies show that the faculty at most mainstream institutions are overwhelmingly registered with the Democratic party and give a disproportionate share of their political donations to left-leaning candidates. A recent study of donations by faculty at Princeton University during the current Presidential election season shows that every faculty donation went to a Democratic candidate. Were such unanimity to manifest itself for conservative candidates at an academic institution, one can be certain that our leading academics would decry the lack of diversity.

Anecdotal evidence everywhere further attests not only to the liberalism of most “mainstream” faculty, but the disproportionate share of radical professors in our humanities and social sciences. Innumerable stories have been circulated of aggressive efforts to “destabilize” gender, to question “normativity,” to challenge backward institutions such as marriage and family, to encourage students to break out of pre-conceived social notions they may have inherited from parents and community. A recent article in my campus’s newspaper, The Hoya, reflects this sort of radicalism. In the column, philosophy professor Mark Lance introduces himself thusly:

I’m an anarchist, a rationalist, a feminist, a man, a pragmatist, an evangelical agnostic, a friend, a philosopher, a parent, a teacher, a committed partner of one other person and a nonviolent revolutionary. These labels are all, to different degrees, important to me; they define my sense of self. You could call them my identities, but all are “works in progress,” which is to say that the label stays roughly the same, but my sense of what it means changes and grows. (For example, I still have no idea what I mean by identifying as a man, though over the years I’ve figured out many things I don’t mean. Some days, I wish that one would drop off the list.)

Aside from its unbearable self-indulgence, it’s a predictable indication that Lance would seek to reject the one form of his “identity” that is actually given by nature. This is the one unbearable aspect of identity, because it is not chosen or willed.

Conservatives are often satisfied to register their righteous anger and indignation at this state of affairs, and have tactically adopted the language of victimhood and demands for diversity as a way of combating this left-wing hegemony. This may be politically effective and may in fact help raise awareness of the current campus culture to potential supporters outside the academy. However, these arguments are only tactical at best, and fundamentally obscure deeper investigation into why this state of affairs has come to pass and what would be required to begin a more fundamental reform of higher education.

Continue reading Academic Gibberish And The Hermeneutics Of Mistrust

The Internship Racket

(This article originally appeared at Inside Higher Ed)

Dartmouth College is now the latest institution to announce considerable changes to its tuition and financial aid structure, eliminating any charges for students from families making less than $75,000 a year. Dartmouth’s arrangement is not nearly so generous as Harvard’s or Yale’s, yet it’s markedly superior in one regard. Dartmouth proposes to offer a scholarship “to allow financial aid recipients to take advantage of research or internship opportunities in their junior year.”

Dartmouth’s is the most concrete step towards expanding access to internships, in a cycle of financial aid changes where colleges have begun to take explicit note of the fundamental inequities in their accessibility. Several colleges eliminated summer earning expectations for students on financial aid, asserting that the demand that students contribute money toward tuition in summers posed a stark obstacle to the pursuit of less-remunerative internships and volunteer work. All that is undoubtedly true, but the colleges’ efforts go nowhere near establishing equality of access to internships.

Why worry? Increasingly, internships are perceived as essential steps to post-college employment, as definitive legs up for job applicants. “Internships are no longer optional, they’re required,” The New York Times quoted Peter Vogt, author of Career Wisdom for College Students and an adviser to MonsterTrak.com, as saying last month. A 2006 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers indicated that 62.5 percent of new college hires performed undergraduate internships. Employers responding to association’s 2007 Recruiting Benchmarks Survey reported that they offered full-time jobs to almost two-thirds of their interns. Over 30 percent of new hires came from such internal internship programs. Internships undoubtedly enhance employment prospects, but the question is – for whom? The answer, almost invariably, is for students already well-off.

Continue reading The Internship Racket

A Department Of Hillbilly Studies?

Today’s university seems obsessively compassionate about the downtrodden, far more than the usual academic Marxist celebration of exploited workers. Entire departments – African American Studies, Women’s Studies, Queer Studies, Latino/a Studies – strive to uplift those suffering from white male heterosexual oppressors. In African and Latin American Studies indigenous people are always blameless “good guys” while under-graduates are relentlessly implored, usually with academic credit, to “make a difference” or “work for social change,” i.e., rallying deadbeat tenants against predatory slum landlords. English Departments – even History Departments–increasingly celebrate heretofore repressed “voices” of the forcefully silenced. Schools of Social Work and Education now require taking vows to advance “social and economic justice” in order to graduate. Hard-head Business Schools are hardly immune – mandatory Business Ethics courses might teach that cowboy capitalism must be sympathetic to those unable to compete in cruel marketplaces.
Matters are not, however, as morally black and white as they seem. Fervent compassion for the repressed, suppressed, disadvantaged, disabled, stigmatized, marginalized, exploited and all the rest is selective, and this selectivity is hardly accidental or random. In a nutshell, liberal academics are wonderfully compassionate, caring and sympathetic but only for those who seem eternally mired in dependency to be ameliorated via expanding state power. If victims are disinclined to demand this expanded state power to rescue them from misery, then their consciousness must be raised so these newly “educated” souls can lobby for income re-distribution or some other handed-down benefit.

A class in black politics, for example, rarely dwells on Booker T. Washington’s plea for self-reliance or recognizes that black Caribbean immigrants prosper via hard work, thrift and delayed gratification while shunning politics. This message is unspeakable heresy and, “inauthentic.” A would-be professor expressing such views would never even be hired. The orthodox recipe for accomplishment is endlessly repeated semester after semester: mobilize, vote for candidates promising government handouts, demand new entitlements and otherwise crave measures to further deepen dependency on officialdom. One does not create wealth; one gets wealth by demanding it from on high. In this odd universe, a multiple choice question: “The best route to college admission is (a) study hard or (b) take political action against elites for stronger affirmative action” will be correctly answered with “b.”

Continue reading A Department Of Hillbilly Studies?

CUNY Schemes Around Civil Rights Law

At a recent Manhattan Institute forum, Ward Connerly, the fierce opponent of race and sex preferences by government (who’s leading a state-by-state referendum drive to abolish affirmative action) admitted how the Bush Administration has disgraced itself by endorsing racial and gender-conscious policies and practices. Connerly did not give examples, but one glaring illustration is President Bush’s Education Department’s failure to address racial and gender discrimination underway in public schools and higher education in the guise of helping black men through differential treatment and separate programming.

This latest rage in education takes the form of Black Male Initiatives, which usually include “special” classes, counseling, mentoring, tutoring, and, on some campuses, even separate residences for blacks and ethnic minorities. The U.S. Education Department simply won’t comment. I know because I asked Secretary Margaret Spellings to do so.