Category Archives: Miscellaneous

The Road to Censorship, Paved With Good Intentions

For more than a decade, universities have forced Christian student groups to fight a rather puzzling battle. In a campus environment where it’s assumed that Democratic student groups can reserve leadership for Democrats, environmentalist groups can be run by actual environmentalists, and socialist groups can have socialist leaders, Christian groups have been fighting for the right to Christian leadership. The conflict is between the civil liberties of Christian organizations and university nondiscrimination policies, which tend to prohibit “religious” discrimination but permit groups to discriminate on the basis of ideology and politics.

The first truly public fight occurred at Tufts University, where an openly lesbian woman attempted to lead Tufts Christian Fellowship, expressing disagreement not only with the group’s religious beliefs but also a desire to use her leadership platform to openly advocate her dissenting views. Not content to form her own group or to lead other Christian groups that promised to welcome her with open arms, she determined that every group on campus had to agree with her vision of sexual morality.

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Religion on Campus, Then and Now

                           By Jonathan B. Imberreligion.bmp

Until 1969, on the campus where I teach, all students were required to take two semester s of Bible, which made the Department of Religion a central force in the life of the institution.  When I arrived twelve years later, with no Bible requirement any longer in place, the only remnant of a mutually reinforcing dynamic of religion and religiosity was the continuing office of the college chaplain.  In fact, my first committee assignment was to the Chaplaincy Policy Committee.  The chaplain sought the faculty’s counsel about how to integrate the role of the chaplaincy into the life of the College.  Alas, in my early years, the Chaplaincy Policy Committee was eliminated, representing more than a lack of purpose.  The truth was that the office of chaplain needed to be reinvented.

The Long Escape

Before describing that reinvention, let me look back at one of the grand traditions of American Protestantism, which, after all, was the central force in the creation of most of the small, liberal arts colleges across America.  In New England, until well into the nineteenth century, a large number of the men who attended these private colleges went on to become ministers.  The public universities were already well ahead in providing opportunities for other occupations, but it was not until the end of the nineteenth century, with the founding of such universities as Johns Hopkins, that the shape and mission of most elite schools took on their modern and quite similar character. 

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Stanford: Guilty Even If Innocent

At Stanford, according to the “alternative misconduct review process” guidelines offered on the university’s website, a student accused of sexual misconduct doesn’t have the right to cross-examine his accuser–or any other witnesses in his case. He cannot offer exculpatory evidence on his behalf, but can only “request” that the university’s assigned “Investigator contact individuals who are witnesses to an event.” (Even then, the Investigator “is not obligated to meet with every individual proffered by the responding student.”) If acquitted by the campus judicial process, his accuser can appeal the acquittal. Even if the acquittal is upheld on appeal, he can still face what Stanford euphemistically terms “non-disciplinary actions,” including “removal from a position of trust or removing a student from housing.”

And, as a result of the recent OCR Title IX missive, he’s lost what was virtually his only due-process protection–that a conviction will result only from “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Instead, he now will face expulsion if found guilty according to a “preponderance of the evidence” (50.1 percent) standard.

What right does the accused student possess? “To be offered reasonable protection from . . . malicious prosecution.” Thanks to FIRE, we now know that even this meager right is meaningless.

FIRE has obtained some of the material that the university uses to train the student jurors (dubbed “reviewers”) who decide the fate of accused students at Stanford. The FIRE website provides excerpts from one such item, Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. The Library Journal review notes that the book’s author, Lundy Bancroft, has wildly claimed that at least one out of three American women will be a victim of violence by a husband or boyfriend at some point in her life.”

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Literature Professors Discover Animals

English professors have long been straying far afield from literary studies, expanding into women’s studies, disability studies, ethnic studies, even fat studies.  Recently they have migrated into animal studies.

An ambitious professor might be working on a paper for “Cultivating Human-Animal Relations Through  Poetic Form,.” a panel scheduled for  the November South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA) meeting.  She may have been inspired by the quotation by Alice Walker that opens the panel description: “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons.  They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”

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Why Do the Big Donors Give?

From reading news stories about multimillion-dollar gifts to universities, it’s easy to get the impression that the donors are mostly rich people with pronounced ideological agendas–or else they wouldn’t open their wallets so readily. In April 2010, for example, the billionaire-financier George Soros, known for his funding of progressive causes and his efforts to defeat George W. Bush in 2004, pledged $10 million to Oxford University. The gift will set up an institute at Oxford aimed at steering university economists  away from support for free markets and deregulation, and in the direction of heavier government intervention in financial markets. Soros’s gift came via the Institute for New Economic Thinking, a $50 million foundation he created in 2009 to fund similar projects at universities.

At the opposite end of the political spectrum are the many gifts to colleges and universities from the banker John Allison, with stipulations that the recipients incorporate Ayn Rand’s free-market ideals into their curriculums. One of the largest controversies over  a conservative gift was the famous Bass debacle at Yale. Billionaire-financier, Lee Bass, who had graduated from Yale in 1979, gave $20 million to his alma mater in 1991 to create a program (including seven endowed professorships)  for the study of Western civilization. Amid complaints from professors hostile to the idea of focusing on the West, as well as charges that Bass was interfering with Yale’s academic autonomy by trying to retain veto power over the hiring of the program’s professors, Yale returned the $20 million in 1995.


Does the record show that most college and university donors are inspired by politics or ideology? The picture appears to be more subtle and complex. The Manhattan Institute’s Center for the American University surveyed 1,353 substantial gifts to U.S. institutions of higher learning from 2003 to 2010 collected in the Foundation Directory Online’s data base and interviewed development and public-relations officers at several elite private and public research universities that are typical beneficiaries of large gifts. Their donors tend to be self-made billionaires and multimillionaires, but few are eager to propagate their views at institutions of higher learning. Most large gifts to universities are apolitical, the Center for the American University found. Science and medicine accounted for the largest category of targeted donations. Campus building projects and student scholarships also ranked high for wealthy donors and their family foundations.

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The Douglas Debate–No Lincoln This Time

stephenarnolddouglas.jpgWhat’s in a name? A great deal, if it happens to be Stephen A. Douglas.
A hundred and fifty years ago, Stephen Arnold Douglas was the most powerful politician in America. He had begun his political career as a hyper-loyal Andrew Jackson Democrat, snatched up one of Illinois’ U.S. Senate seats in 1846, and rose from there to the heights of Congressional stardom by helping the great Henry Clay cobble together the Compromise of 1850 – which effectively averted civil war over the expansion of slavery into the West for another decade. No man was a more obvious presidential candidate than Douglas, and in 1860, he won his party’s nomination to the presidency.
That, unhappily for Douglas, was when the cheering stopped.
He made the magnificent mistake, when running for re-election to the Senate in 1858, of agreeing to debate the new Republican party’s anti-slavery candidate, Abraham Lincoln. Although Douglas managed to win the election, Lincoln handled him so relentlessly, exposing the failure of Douglas’s policies on slavery during the duo’s seven open-air debates, that Lincoln emerged as a national contender, while Douglas lost legions of disappointed supporters. When Douglas faced Lincoln again in the presidential campaign of 1860, Douglas’s party fractured into three pieces and guaranteed Lincoln’s election by default. Douglas died only eight months later.

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Your College President Is Your Pal

Tales of the modern-day college president were reported by the Washington Post in a July 12th article, “College Presidents Taste Life Outside Their Offices,” by James Johnson and Daniel de Vise. The president, we were told, is more accessible and easy to talk to, less formal and willing to do things with students unheard of just a few years ago, including joining in a student snowball fight on campus. Many of them have transformed themselves from authority figures to buddies and big siblings as they show their human side. It is something that many parents and students have come to expect as they pony up tuitions that continue to grow even as their resources do not. The presidents want to show their respective publics that they know their students and their needs and will make a great effort to satisfy them.

The trend toward more effective marketing of the campus leader comes at the same time that colleges are offering greater creature comforts to their students – health clubs, new labs and classroom buildings, better appointed living quarters and increasing variety in campus dining. Thus, the accessible college president is like the concierge in a first-class vacation resort. In addition, the college can make contacts for students off campus – internships, study abroad programs, joint degree programs, new majors, distance learning and enhanced placement services for graduates. It strives to be “the college for all seasons.”

Although the article did not suggest it, the reality is that colleges are falling in line with other institutions in a transformation of major parts of American culture. They are putting extraordinary emphasis on what the consumer would like to have. In some significant ways, the institutions are becoming what the market expects of them. Their actual mission statement begins to describe what will sell. These institutions surrender the sense of self and the understanding of core values that traditionally represented who they were and what they were doing. In many respects they believe that their survival requires them to cast their lot with the future rather than the old past. In this way the accessible, genial, folksy college president is a beloved figure. In many respects, the new college president represents an improvement over the indifferent and aloof administrator. But if all we have is a change in style then we are not offered much in terms of what really matters. Indeed, the cost of satisfying more of what the public wants rather than what it needs is, in the long run, unsustainable. In the universities, these creature comforts mean higher tuitions and increased student debt to meet the costs of attendance. There is a real limit to this kind of accommodation as tuitions and fees consistently exceed cost of living indicators for other needs as the cost-benefit analysis piles up heaps of benefits, some of them unnecessary. A day of reckoning may soon be at hand.

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Make-Believe Grades for Real Law Students

Almost every morning, after taking a shower, I get on the scale to see if I have lost some of the extra weight that I do not want or need. I have tried many ways of shedding the pounds, with diet and exercise at the top of the list. The pounds refuse to disappear. After reading Catherine Rampell’s piece, “In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That,” in the New York Times, I realized that there is a simpler way. A slight adjustment to the scale, so that the measuring starts at minus 15 pounds rather than zero, could bring instant relief. I could truthfully — if not honestly — say that according to the scale, I was now less than 175 pounds.
This droll reverie faded to disappointment as I pondered the implications of adjusting law school grades in the fashion recounted in the Times. Grades entered on students’ transcripts at law school were adjusted upward several semesters later. The article told of law schools abandoning traditional grading standards to give their students an edge in the tough job market. Thus, each school’s scale was adjusted to give the appearance that students did better than they actually did. The schools named were Loyola, Georgetown, NYU, Tulane and Golden State Universty. When I thought further about these modifications, I was reminded of other instances where expected objectivity gave way to subjective judgments. The New York State Board of Regents, for instance, has begun the practice of determining acceptable grades by assigning a passing grade to a raw score. The raw score required for passage is only arrived at after the tests are rated. Such a system allows the Board of Regents to crow about an 80% passage rate, notwithstanding the fact that the classification was entirely contrived. It has the feel of issuing traffic citations on the basis of a quota and claiming there is an epidemic of bad drivers.
The fact that this practice of grade adjustment has developed in law schools is, I believe, a much more serious matter. The rule of law, when properly applied, embodies honesty, fairness and impartial justice. The behavior of adjusting grades to conceal the truth does damage to our expectation of the rule of law. That the law itself is made to yield to the dollar is particularly troublesome. As a professor quoted in the Times article put it, “if somebody’s paying $150,000 for a law school degree, you don’t want to call them a loser in the end. So you artificially call every student a success.” The result is a perverse version of the golden rule: “he who has the gold rules.”

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What Is For-Profit Education Really Like?

From the beginning, Frontline’s new documentary College, Inc seems tailor-made to scare the living daylights out of the series’ presumably progressive audience. Viewers are first introduced to Michael Clifford, an “educational entrepreneur” without a college degree who buys up struggling colleges and resurrects them as for-profit companies. Clifford is not only making a fortune off of low-income minority students. He also happens to be a born-again Christian, and he is looking to turn a bankrupt college in Oakland, CA into “Dream Center College,” an offshoot of a Christian mega-church and rehabilitation center in Los Angeles by the same name. Indeed, viewers are introduced to Clifford’s born-again faith almost as soon as they learn anything about his profession. And the introduction to Clifford comes right before correspondent Martin Smith interviews legendary profit-seeker and hard-edged capitalist Jack Welch, who talks about his investments in higher education and “widgets” in the same sentence.
Given the variety of companies and individuals involved in the for-profit sector, particularly the number of founders, faculty, and senior administrators who have PhD’s and experience at world-class universities, Clifford seems like an odd place to start. Perhaps it’s a nod to the idea that the regulation of college acquisitions is too lax, a worthwhile point to make. But to the discerning viewer, using Clifford, and then Welch, as narrative anchors signals a definite perspective on for-profit higher education: it is full of greedy profiteers, is woefully under-regulated, and is run by outsiders who believe that education is a business.
Predictably, College, Inc goes heavy on the “profits,” and the methods used to reap them, but this leaves little room for the “education.” As a result, viewers are introduced to many of the sector’s warts and excesses, which are real and must be acknowledged, but never get a sense of how these innovative institutions are changing the way higher education is designed and delivered in the twenty-first century.

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Expel Students Who Might Kill Themselves?

Imagine you are a sophomore in college. The semester has been academically overwhelming, and your girlfriend recently dumped you. One night it reaches crisis level and you go to campus mental health worried you might harm yourself. You volunteer to enter the hospital and are released a few days later feeling more hopeful.

Then your college tells you to leave school. Period. No formal evaluation of your mental health condition. No discussion with you. Just out.

According to a newly released report from the State of New Jersey called College Students in Crisis: Preventing Campus Suicides and Protecting Civil Rights, policies which allow or require removal based solely on the existence of suicidal thoughts or behavior may be increasing. They are premised on the need to remove the student from the stresses of student life and to motivate them to get the care they need.

In the wake of tragedies such as the self-immolation of a sophomore at M.I.T. in 2000 and the shooting spree at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 2007, concerns among administrators took on urgency. But lawyers argue that such blanket involuntary removal policies infringe upon a student’s civil rights.

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The Campus And The Nanny State

The most important documents governing our behavior and influencing our development as a civilization are mostly short – packing a lot of meaning into a few words. The Ten Commandments is 326 words, the Gettysburg Address is but 268. Even the extraordinarily complex and important law determining our form of federal government, the U.S. Constitution, is only 8,212 words – even with all the amendments added over two centuries. Yet brevity or transcendental meaning does not hold for laws regarding higher education. The original Higher Education Act of 1965 was probably roughly 20,000 words long – well over twice the length of the Constitution but far less significant. The newest reincarnation of that Act, the 2008 reenactment (several years late), is estimated by my colleague Jonathan Robe to be 175,859 words long—over 20 times as long as our foundational rules of government – and vastly less important. We are approaching “much ado about nothing,” or maybe the less appealing opposite, “little ado costing us a lot.” Moreover, the statistics above understate the complexity of federal higher education legislation. In 2008, in addition to reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, Congress also passed the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act, The College Cost Reduction and Access Act, and the New GI Bill law, to name just three additional laws. The formerly accepted notion that higher education is primarily an individual or a state and local government responsibility seems to be dying.

Before looking at the “trees” that constitute specifics in the current legislation, let us look at the “forest,” the broader picture. Has the 1965 Higher Education Act as amended achieved its objectives? Is access to college greater because of its passage? Is the quality of higher education improved? Are taxpayers getting a lot of “bang” for their federal higher education “bucks”? I think a very strong case can be made that the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “no.”

True, more persons are in college today than in 1965. But the rise in college attainment on average was greater in the 43 year period 1922 to 1965 than in the comparable length period 1965 to 2008, and some commentators (e.g., Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz in The Race Between Education and Technology) are lamenting the slowdown in the growth in the proportion of adults with degrees and America’s falling behind other nations in this regard.

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Why Christian Colleges Are Thriving

Evangelical colleges and universities have been thriving. According to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the one hundred or so “intentionally Christ-centered institutions” that they count among their affiliates have been growing at a remarkably faster rate than have other major sorts of American colleges and universities. From 1990 to 2004, all public four-year campuses grew by about 13%, all independent four year campuses (including many schools with broad religious or denominational connections) grew by about 28%. But schools associated with the CCCU grew by nearly 71%.
One factor contributing to this growth is that these schools offer the sort of coherent educational experience that has become increasingly difficult to find elsewhere in American higher education. By way of contrast, consider Harry R. Lewis’s, Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education (2006). Lewis, former Dean of Harvard College, laments that Harvard is driven by so many competing careerist and ideological interests that there is little attention either in the curriculum or among faculty (who are rewarded only for scholarship) to fostering healthy personal and moral growth among its students. If that is the case at Harvard, one can imagine the incoherence of the educational experience at the huge state universities and the many community colleges where the vast majority of America’s collegians get their degrees. Most of what students study involves practical skills in preparation for careers. Liberal arts are incidental to most undergraduate experience. The best hope for “community” is found in fraternities and sororities or more likely just in a dorm containing many sub-groups of those who happen to find common recreational interests.

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Postmodernism’s Dead End

This past April, Stanley Fish, the postmodernist English professor with a knack for parlaying whatever current well-compensated teaching job he holds into an even better compensated teaching job somewhere else (he’s now a “distinguished professor” at Florida International University after stints—necessarily somewhat brief—at the University of California-Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Duke, and the University of Illinois-Chicago) devoted one of his blog-posts at the New York Times to a rave review of a book yet unpublished in America, “French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co.Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States,” by the French intellectual historian Francois Cusset.
The review was less about Cusset’s book than about Fish himself and Fish’s own ideas about the postmodernism: the notion, promulgated by the ur-postmodernist and Fish idol Jacques Derrida, and now the reigning orthodoxy in college literature departments across the country, that essentially there’s no such thing as reality, and there’s also no such thing as a “you” or “me” with sufficient rational ability to know anything about that reality. All we have are “texts” or “narratives” that may purport to tell us what is real (example: a scientific article) but are actually no more than self-referential expressions of ideology (such as belief in scientific progress). Fish wrote: “All we lose (if we have been persuaded by the deconstructive critique, that is) is a certain rationalist faith that there will someday be a final word, a last description that takes the accurate measure of everything. All that will have happened is that one account of what we know and how we know it — one epistemology — has been replaced by another, which means only that in the unlikely event you are asked ‘What’s your epistemology?’ you’ll give a different answer than you would have given before.”
Fish continued: “When a deconstructive analysis interrogates an apparent unity — a poem, a manifesto, a sermon, a procedure, an agenda — and discovers, as it always will, that its surface coherence is achieved by the suppression of questions it must not ask if it is to maintain the fiction of its self-identity, the result is not the discovery of an anomaly, of a deviance from a norm that can be banished or corrected; for no structure built by man (which means no structure) could be otherwise.”

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When College Rankings Are A Marketing Ploy

As author of a major college guide, I try to approach college admissions issues from the point of view of what’s best for college-bound high school students and their parents. I speak with lots of such students and their parents every year, and the one topic that is guaranteed to come up is: What should we make of the annual U.S. News & World Report college rankings?

Here’s what I tell them.

First, understand the real agenda of college rankings. The main reason that U.S. News compiles and publishes rankings is not to enrich the quality of U.S. higher education but to sell magazines. And there is nothing wrong with this. Americans love rankings, whatever the topic, and (for reasons discussed below) these rankings can be somewhat useful.

But keep in mind that static lists do not sell magazines. If the rankings were the same every year, no family would need to by the updated list for younger brother or sister. Since both the absolute and the relative quality of major colleges and universities evolve only over long periods of time, the best way to generate churn in the rankings is to change the formula. Which is what U.S. News does every year – for reasons both sound and dubious.

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Downgrading SATs Makes Sense

Many conservatives are groaning over a major new report from a commission of higher education luminaries calling on colleges to de-emphasize the SAT for college admissions.

The catcalls from the right erupted after the National Association of College Admission Counseling suggested that colleges should rethink their reliance on the SAT for admissions. Wrongheaded, de-evolutionary, politically correct in the extreme, and void of common sense, the critics said the NACAC report is a frontal attack on academic standards and will lead to the ruin of American higher education.

We’ve heard the dire warnings before, countless times. And countless times the cries that the sky is falling have been wrong.

The defense of the SAT as the linchpin of the college admissions process contains at least two major propositions, both of questionable merit.

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Does The SAT Predict College Success?

One of the hottest debates roiling American campuses today is whether the SAT and other standardized tests should continue to play a dominant role as a college admissions criterion. The main point of contention in this debate is whether the SAT or equivalent scores accurately gauge college preparedness, and whether they are valid predictors of college success, most particularly in comparison with high school grades. Behind this ostensible concern is the expressed fear that over-reliance on collegiate admissions tests will reduce “access” to college on the part of low-scoring applicants, many of them from poor or minority families and, thus, risk making American colleges and universities less demographically diverse.
First, let me address “access” and diversity: According to the most recent (2007) data, 45 percent of all colleges or universities, and 66 percent of public ones, have no admissions criteria at all. In the public sector – which accounts for three-quarters of all higher education slots – among the 34 percent of schools with some kind of admissions screen, 69 percent accept more than half of their applicants. Even among the remaining somewhat selective institutions, the majority either do not require admissions test scores or they accept most low-scoring applicants, with the result that the average verbal SAT for all college applicants is 532, and that for the math SAT is 537 (both out of a potential score of 800).
Second, regarding the sincerity of the most vociferous admissions test opponents: Virtually all of the schools calling for abandonment or down-grading of SATs and comparable admissions test have always been highly selective – and intend to remain so. There should be absolutely no confusion on this score. These places have no intention of becoming academically more diverse, meaning they are not planning to admit academically inferior poor or minority students. As predominantly rich institutions, they have an army of admissions officers able to pore over every applicant’s high school transcript and other evidence of academic ability to keep recruiting the best and brightest students, even absent admissions tests. Actually, even with their “test-optional” policies, they will have access to most applicants’ SAT scores anyway, because academically strong applicants will continue to take the tests to keep all their collegiate options open. If one were inclined to take a conspiratorial view of these institutions’ motives, one might suspect that they were mounting this concerted campaign to assure that America’s public colleges and universities remain unselective, derailing the rising admissions aspirations of those ambitious public institutions that threaten to cut into their current monopoly of gifted high school graduates.

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Freshmen Orientation: Is It Over Yet?

“Parents asking, ‘Where’s the trash?’ were promptly corrected by event staff and volunteers, who proudly provided composting crash courses to the thousands of students and family members.”
The “event”—described in an online news release–was the Second Annual Zero-Waste Freshman Orientation Picnic at Duke University on Aug. 19, a campus event for entering Duke students and their families that featured “local and organic foods,” biodegradable cornstarch drinking cups, and a taboo against anything plastic—all part of the latest college-administration fad, aggressive recycling in the name of “minimizing our campus footprint.”
Some of the parents of the 1,600 or so Duke freshmen who attended the picnic might have wondered why they had to undergo being “corrected” by Duke employees and student volunteers for using the politically incorrect word “trash,” or to receive “composting crash courses” from youngsters when they were already coughing up or going into hock for the nearly $50,000 a year it costs to send one of one’s offspring to Duke. Duke allows students from households with annual incomes of less than $60,000 to attend the university for free, but everybody else—and that includes the modestly upper-middle-class—has to come up with cash, mortgage the family home, or take out loans in order to pay for a Duke education. Still, Duke’s administrators seemed confident that they were teaching both parents and incoming students a welcome lesson. Boasting of the 95 percent waste-diversion rate the university had achieved at both freshman picnics by sending 5,000 pounds of organic food scraps and cornstarch cups to the compost heap instead of the dumpster, the Duke web page prophesied, “In two short years, styrofoam plates, plastic napkins and cups will be unfamiliar artifacts to all of Duke’s students.”

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A Report From Nowhere

A group called Strong American Schools has just issued a report with the provocative title Diploma to Nowhere. The report is a lavishly produced cry of alarm: our high schools are failing. Millions of graduates are tricked into thinking their high school diplomas mean they are “ready for college academics.” But they aren’t. As a result, 1.3 million students end up in college remedial programs that cost between $2.31 to $2.89 billion per year.

That’s alarming all right, but who is “Strong American Schools”? The organization’s website declares that it is “a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, [and] a nonpartisan campaign supported by The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation promoting sound education policies for all Americans.” But the history of the organization and why it was founded are more elusive. The Gates Foundation issued a press release on April 2007 that throws a little more light on the genesis of Strong American Schools. The organization was apparently founded at that point with $60 million and the goal of injecting a particular version of school reform into the 2008 Presidential election. Strong American Schools’ original project was “ED in ’08” described as “a sweeping public awareness and action campaign that will mobilize the public and presidential candidates around solutions for the country’s education crisis.”

Of course a lot depends on what you think the crisis is. Is it our dependence on a teaching corps that in most states has been through the highly ideological training of schools of education and who bring their confused pedagogy to class? Is it our consumerist culture awash in short-term gratifications against which the schools can barely compete? Is it what Charles Murray calls “educational romanticism” that insists that every child can be “above average” and go to college if provided with the right kind of teaching? Is it perhaps an educational system that is dominated by teachers unions more concerned with their prerogatives than with educating students? Could it be the deterioration of academic standards which the No Child Left Behind initiative singled out as the key factor?

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Collegians Legally Drinking At 18?

Some 128 college and university presidents have lent their names to a statement questioning the wisdom of the national 21-year-old minimum drinking age. This has re-ignited a long-simmering debate about our nation’s approach to the vexing problems of drunk driving and alcohol abuse.

In 1984, Congress chose to attack these two related (but in many ways different) problems with a law that effectively trumped states’ rights to decide their own alcohol policies. The law stipulated that any state that not abiding by a 21-year-old minimum drinking age (referred to here as Legal 21) would forfeit ten percent of its federal highway funds. In most cases, that is an enormous sum of money no state can afford to relinquish. By 1988, all 50 states had fallen into line.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and its many friends in Washington hailed the law as a great triumph, claiming in the years since that Legal 21 alone has since been saving between 900 and 1,000 lives a year on the nation’s highways. Never mind that during those same years, seatbelts and airbags were made mandatory. Never mind that a worthy and widely absorbed series of public service ads were aired promoting designated drivers. Never mind that at last count, it was people 21 and older who caused nearly 90% of the drunk driving fatalities in the U.S.. As far as MADD and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statisticians are concerned, Legal 21—and Legal 21 alone—deserved all the credit for what was for the first five or six years anyway a significant drop in alcohol-related highway fatalities.

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Are Accreditors Running The Colleges?

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) is at it again. In the latest set of rulings to come from this regional accreditor’s Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, fifteen institutions find themselves in various states of probation or warning or show cause. No school is shut down; the federal dollars keep flowing. And the public is kept mostly in the dark about the accreditor’s actions. But what is clear is WASC’s unrelenting interference in the governance of these state-supported institutions.
Under current law, Congress has linked accreditation and federal student aid to prevent students from squandering money on diploma mills. Recognized accreditors are authorized, by law, to serve as a “reliable authority” on the “quality of education or training offered.” But the reliance is misplaced. As it turns out, the interests of the accreditors and the federal government are not the same.

At Ohlone College, for example, academic quality is praised. Education is apparently fine. But no matter. The school is placed on warning because the accreditor doesnt like the way the board is functioning and planning.

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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, 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

Excerpt: “Beet” – A Satiric Look At An Awful College

By Roger Rosenblatt
(Harper Collins, $23.95)

“Don’t bother to come home if you still have a job,” Livi Porterfield called to her husband as he shoved their two groggy children into the 243,000-miles-and-still-rattling Accord, to drive them to school. He blew her a kiss.

The job she referred to was on the faculty of Beet College, forty miles north of Boston, where eighteen-hundred hand-picked, neurotically competitive undergraduates were joined with one-hundred-and-forty-one hand-picked, neurotically competitive professors to instruct them. Beet was a typical small New England college, fortified with brick and crawling with ivy and self-adoration – the sort of place people call charming when they mean sterile.

There Peace Porterfield, the youngest full professor in the school’s history, taught English and American literature – which is ordinarily enough to mark a person for disaster. If that didn’t do the trick, he also believed in what he did, being committed to an academic discipline said to have exhausted both its material and its usefulness, and patronized by institutions of higher learning like a doddering tenant no longer able to come up with the rent. And if those things didn’t do him in, he believed in the value of a liberal arts education, and in colleges in general, from whose sacred waters, he further believed, civilization flowed. Need one glaze the duck? He believed in civilization…

Continue reading Excerpt: “Beet” – A Satiric Look At An Awful College

Happy Holidays – With Plentiful Reading

We won’t be operating on a regular schedule next week. We’ll return with fresh content in the new year. Enjoy your holidays, and if you lack for anything to read, take a look at several stellar pieces from recent months you may have missed.

College Admissions, Let’s Not Break The LawWard Connerly
An ever-timely reminder to the University of California – Proposition 209 isn’t voluntary.

Another College Aid BoondogglePeter Wood
How congress continues to mangle financial aid.

Ward Churchill And The Diversity AgendaKC Johnson
On the year’s premiere academic charlatan, and his wider impact.

Immigration And Bowling AloneJohn Leo
Robert Putnam’s research revealed that diversity may not be good for communities. Then he decided not to tell anyone.

The Trouble With TenureMark Bauerlein
Just how essential is tenure to the academic enterprise?

Diversity GobbledygookHeather MacDonald
A bewildering conversation with a diversity officer.

Reforming The Politically Correct University

Yesterday I attended a fine conference at the American Enterprise Institute, “Reforming The Politically Correct University.” AEI commissioned papers on various aspects of the PC university from Peter Wood, Steve Balch, Greg Lukianoff, John Agresto, John McWhorter, and many others. They’re to appear in book form next summer, but many are available now at the event site. Do take a look. I’ve not had a chance to read all of the papers, but some stood out. Sandra Stotsky’s account of the role of Ed Schools in the design of politicized textbooks was particularly interesting, as were Peter Wood’s thoughts on permutations of “diversity” and John Agresto’s call for a revitalized conception of the liberal arts.

Our own Jim Piereson offered a darker note in “The American University: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” with a look ahead into the likely direction of higher education.

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

You’d be well-served browsing the papers here.