Tag Archives: apply

Iowa and the Groupthink Academy

That certain quarters of the academy–humanities
departments, most social sciences departments, and many graduate programs
(social work, education, and to a lesser extent law)–are ideologically
imbalanced is not news. A decision in an Iowa court, however, exposed the
difficulty in addressing the problem.

The case, which received extensive coverage in the Des Moines Register and attracted some
notice in the national press, involved Teresa Wagner, who in 2006 applied for a
vacancy at the University of Iowa Law School. (She then applied for adjunct jobs
between 2007 and 2009.) Wagner had served as a part-time instructor before that
time, was invited for an interview for the tenure-track job but didn’t receive
it, and then didn’t get any of the adjunct positions, either. (It’s odd indeed
for a candidate considered qualified enough to be a finalist for a tenure-track
job to, in turn, be deemed unqualified for an adjunct’s position.) Wagner
believed that her outspoken activism on social issues and her affiliation with
some very conservative groups, notably the Family Research Council, motivated
the opposition to her candidacy. Wagner then sued the dean of the law school.

Winning a lawsuit for an adverse hiring decision is all
but impossible. (The contrast here is to an adverse tenure decision, where the
odds are long but not insurmountable.) The university can always claim that,
whatever the apparent strengths of the plaintiff, there simply was another,
more qualified, candidate for the position, and that privacy/personnel rules
prevent a thorough airing of the matter. Given the inherently subjective nature
of the hiring process, that line of argument almost always carries the day, to
such an extent that few lawsuits alleging bias in the hiring process even make
it to trial.

The Wagner case, however, was unusual, in that she was
able to present an e-mail from the law school’s associate dean–dubbed a
“smoking gun” document by her attorney–in which the associate dean wrote, “Frankly,
one thing that worries me is that some people may be opposed to Teresa serving in
any role in part at least because they so despise her politics (and especially
her activism about it). I hate to think that is the case, and I don’t actually
think that, but I’m worried that I may be missing something.”

The law school dean unsurprisingly denied Wagner’s claim
of ideological bias, and instead rested on an assertion that Wagner had flubbed
an interview question by saying she’d refuse to teach a course required for the
position. But the law school’s position was weakened by its inability to
produce any contemporaneous references to this alleged flubbing (the notes from
other faculty seemed to praise, not disparage, Wagner’s performance). And a
videotape of Wagner’s interview that Wagner’s critics promised would prove their
case was conveniently erased.

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Colleges: Who Had The Money To Apply?

If you thought last fall’s staggering endowment drops were the end of collegiate financial troubles, you haven’t been paying attention. Another minefield awaited – application season. It wasn’t simply colleges that were feeling a pinch, so were their future customers. After decades of tuition increases that failed to dent application numbers, colleges were suddenly forced to contemplate declining enrollment as parents wondered whether $40,000-a-year for only-average colleges was really worth it. So profilgate universities would lose students to thriftier (and cheaper) peers? Well, partically. The issue is complicated – take a look at the developments that lead up to this application cycle. .
A number of elite institutions, in the last two years, have undertaken significant expansions of already-generous financial aid for lower and middle income students that have not been scaled back, and in fact loom even more attractive for a certain demographic of less-affluent applicant, for whom elite colleges are in fact likely to be cheaper than all but the most affordable public institutions.
One casualty of declining endowments has been a scaling back of financial aid at some colleges, or the tacit statement that the ability to pay full tuition can increase an applicant’s chances. This no doubt influenced some choices – improved chances of admission in paying for a full-ride? Bowdoin, a “need-blind” institution, has expanded its class by 50 over the next five years – slots imagined for transfer and foreign students – who do not receive “need blind” consideration. As Robert Sevier, an enrollment consultant, told the New York Times, “If you are a student of means or ability, or both, there has never been a better year.”

Continue reading Colleges: Who Had The Money To Apply?

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