Tag Archives: course

Should We Charge Different Fees for Different Majors?

Rick Scott.jpg

In the first couple weeks of any survey course in the
principles of economics, students are taught that prices are determined by the
interactions of consumers (demand) and producers (supply). Prices for many
things, such as oil, or of common stocks, constantly change with the frequent
shifts in the willingness of consumers and producers to buy or sell the good or
service in question.

Yet the price of college–tuition fees–seems to be
determined differently. For starters, tuition fees change but once a year, not
constantly. Universities are like restaurants, with “menus” giving prices for a
variety of different offerings, with the menu changing once a year.  For many schools, however, the listed price
is not what economists call an “equilibrium” price–a price equating quantity
demanded with quantity supplied. Rather, thousands are turned away at the
listed price at selective admission universities.  Also, massive price discrimination exists, so
many customers–often a majority–pay less than the stated or sticker price.

Amidst all of this, schools typically charge students the
same regardless of their major. A committee advising Florida Governor Rick
Scott has recommended a move to differential pricing–majors would pay
differing amounts. The goal is partly to entice students into the STEM
disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) on grounds that our
future would be enhanced by having more scientists relative to, say, English
majors or anthropologists. By making STEM tuition fees lower, we will encourage
enrollment expansion in those fields. Ohio University’s Board of Trustees
recently considered (but did not yet adopt) a multiple-price approach, and
other schools are doing so. 

Continue reading Should We Charge Different Fees for Different Majors?

The California College System under Scrutiny

A recent report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), entitled “Best Laid Plans: The Unfulfilled Promise of Public Higher Education,” explores a fair number of problems the California college system faces. However, I don’t think it covers them all.

The report states openly and rightly the problems that California’s public colleges face are not primarily a function of declining revenues. As it notes, “the real danger is a fundamental failure by today’s trustees and system leaders to apply the same creativity and thoughtfulness that informed the Master Plan to a new world of reduced resources and a shrinking tax base.”

This point is crucial. The behemoth California college system has been fed an enormous amount of money, but there is obviously a limit to how much more the citizens can provide. In just the last five years, tuition at the UC system has gone up nearly 75% and at the CSU system by nearly 85%. And California’s taxpayers already pay steep sales, property and income taxes–among the highest in the nation. It is hard to imagine that much more can be squeezed from either the students or the taxpayers.

The report documents in detail some of the dramatic problems the system faces, including:

  • Low graduation rates at the CSU system: only 17.2% of new full-time freshmen graduate within 4 years, and only 52.4% within 6 years.
  • The leaders of the California public college system have a severe Edifice Complex, looking constantly to increase the amount of buildings and other infrastructure, much of it unnecessary.
  • The leaders are also reluctant to close or consolidate low-enrollment programs, and too easily eager to add new ones.
  • There is considerable administrative bloat, with the compensation of the top administrators increasingly over-generous, even while the taxpayers and students are impoverished.

I would note some other major problems:

The California community colleges have a grotesquely high drop-out rate: only 20% of CCC students either got an AA degree or transfer to a regular college.

  • The CCC system also spends way too much on recreational courses (courses that are meant to provide recreational outlets to adults). While these courses are supposed to pay their own way, they utilize the system’s physical resources.
  • The whole CSU system has suffered endemic “mission creep” regarding remedial education. Under the wise original 1960 master plan, CSU would take only college-ready students, while those needing remedial education (in math and English) were supposed to go to the huge and inexpensive CCC system. Along the way, the CSU system developed a costly remediation system. Now, half of all incoming CSU take remedial math or English or both.
  • Professors and administrators of the CSU system have over the years pushed for more and more focus on research, with tenure-track professors expected to publish, leaving much of the teaching to adjuncts. It is unclear, to say the least, that this has really benefitted the citizens of the state.

The report calls upon the UC Regents and the CSU Trustees to reassert control and enact necessary reforms, including establishing clear measures of productivity; re-prioritizing the academic mission of the college, restoring core curricula; rewarding good teaching; cutting back on administrative bloat; and restoring academic freedom and true intellectual diversity.

I can’t help feeling that the report is an exercise in naiveté. The administrators and faculty are agents in an institution that suffers from the principal/agent problem. Because the real principals — taxpayers, students and parents — have little knowledge of and even less power over the workings of the colleges for which they pay, the agents (faculty and administrators) can run them for self-serving purposes. Until this problem is rectified by radical reform, I see little hope for change any time soon.


Gary Jason is a philosophy instructor and a senior editor of Liberty, and is the author of Dangerous Thoughts.

Writer Purged for Causing Distress

naomi schaefer riley.jpgTaking note of a posting by Naomi Schaefer Riley, John Rosenberg took a hard look at what passes for cutting-edge scholarship in Black Studies–and wasn’t impressed with what he found. Rosenberg’s post became all the timelier when the Chronicle announced that it had removed Riley from the Brainstorm blog.

In an editor’s note that could have doubled as a parody of political correctness, Liz McMillen “sincerely apologize[d] for the distress” that publication of Riley’s post caused. McMillen claimed that Riley’s sharply-written but seemingly factually accurate post did not conform to the Chronicle’s “journalistic standards,” though she elected not to provide an example of how, specifically, the post failed to conform to these standards. Perhaps she feared causing further distress to the Chronicle’s extremely sensitive reading base.

The move left FIRE’s Adam Kissel to express wishes of “good luck to Chronicle bloggers! Whoever is left, that is, after the necessary purge to restore quality,” since Editor McMillen is determined to ensure “only ‘fair’ opinions henceforward.”

Continue reading Writer Purged for Causing Distress

A Major Expansion of Online Courses

MIT and Harvard.jpgHarvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced yesterday that they will partner in a collaborative new higher-education venture, to be called EdX, that will offer a range of online courses to potentially tens of thousands of student worldwide, most of whom will not be enrolled at either Harvard or MIT. The EdX courses, funded with a $60 million joint contribution from the universities, scheduled to begin this fall and using a platform developed at MIT, will include “video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, online laboratories and immediate feedback,” according to a report in the Boston Herald. A nonprofit entity will oversee the operation of EdX and issue certificates of mastery to those who demonstrate that they have learned the course materials.

Continue reading A Major Expansion of Online Courses

UCLA: Still Obsessed with Diversity

diversity.jpgWhat is it with universities in California? Financially strapped, troubled by protesters making impossible demands, and worried about the declining value of their academic programs, many of the state’s great universities decide to…redouble their commitment to a fast-fading political ideology.

The latest example is the impending vote by the faculty of UCLA’s
College of Letters and Science that would add a course on diversity to
the general education requirements. Only it is not called a course on
diversity. Because the word “diversity” has become too obviously an
enunciation of a contentious political agenda, the supporters of the new
requirement have renamed it “Community and Conflict.” Kaustuv Basu,
on Inside Higher Ed, quotes a UCLA official who observes that
earlier efforts in this vein failed because the word diversity “means
different things to different people.” And the chairman of the Faculty
Executive Committee helpfully explains that the community and conflict
requirement “is not designed to be a diversity requirement.”

Continue reading UCLA: Still Obsessed with Diversity

What “Western Governors” Does Well

asking questions.jpgOn most any college campus, first-year courses with more than a few dozen students have a high proportion of bored, disaffected, and/or uncertain students. Sometimes they feel that way because course materials just don’t excite them, or because they don’t seem relevant to their backgrounds and futures. But another reason is that neither the pace of the course nor the style of the instructor fits their capacities. Some students need the course to move more quickly, others more slowly, and some can’t communicate with the teacher while others communicate too much, asking irrelevant questions and interrupting the presentation.

The solution begins with this: instead of asking 35 students to
squeeze into the schedule of the semester and jibe with the manner of
teachers who are often harried and unhappy, customize instruction to
each enrollee. Therein lies the great advantage of digital tools in
higher education, and it’s being implemented best by Western Governors
University, the nonprofit online school founded by the governors of 19
U.S. states. WGU has enjoyed tremendous success in recent years (as
detailed in this profile by John Gravois in Washington Monthly
a few months ago). At WGU, students are able to enroll and work on
their own schedule, one that accords with other demands (family, work,
etc.) and adapts to the skills and knowledge they bring to the courses.

Continue reading What “Western Governors” Does Well

The Radicalization of the University of California

University_of_California_Seal.svg.pngAre the 234,000 students enrolled in the massive University of California system receiving an education or a re-education?

It’s the latter–or something fairly close–according to “A Crisis of Competence,” a report just released by the California Association of Scholars (CAS), the Golden State affiliate of the National Association of Scholars. The devastating 87-page report addressed to UC’s Board of Regents, concludes that leftist political indoctrination represents a significant portion of the curriculum at the nine UC campuses that admit undergraduates. Here are some major points:

— UC-Santa Cruz offers no fewer than five introductory courses devoted
exclusively to the thinking of Karl Marx. You can take a basic course on
Marx in the politics, sociology, community studies, legal studies, or
history of consciousness departments–or if, you wish, take all five
courses simultaneously in all five departments, several of which also
offer advanced courses on Marx’s works. “Adolescent Marxist nostalgia
still evidently reigns on campus and impedes a return to reality–but
where are the adults who might be pointing out that it is time to grow
up and move on to thinkers who have been able to withstand the test of
time and to remain more relevant to modern life?” the report asks.

Continue reading The Radicalization of the University of California

The ‘Inequality’ Movement–A Campus Product

Robin Hood Index.jpgThe sharp political focus on inequality, driven into the public mind by the Occupy movement and endorsed by President Obama in his State of the Union message, was born, not on the street, but on the campus. It thrives there, mostly under the aegis of elite universities such as Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia and Johns Hopkins. Those universities have free-standing inequality centers bearing such titles such as Multidisciplinary Program on Inequality and Social Policy (Harvard), Global Network on Inequality (Princeton), and the Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality (Stanford).

Cornell now offers a minor in inequality studies for students who are ” interested in government service, policy work, or related jobs in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or want to go on to graduate work in anthropology, economics, government, history, law, literature, philosophy, psychology, public policy, or sociology.”

Continue reading The ‘Inequality’ Movement–A Campus Product

Unionize All Those Adjuncts?–Let’s Not

adjunct union protests.jpgSome two-thirds of America’s college students are taught by adjuncts, and now the battle is on over whether these low-paid, low-status workers should be unionized. Adjuncts, also called contingent faculty, are teachers hired without tenure, paid a small fraction of those on tenure-track positions, (typically $2700 per course, with minimal benefits). All three college faculty unions–the AAUP, American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association–have recently ramped up unionization campaigns while non-academic unions like the United Auto Workers have likewise entered the battle. The stakes are high both for institutions and for individuals.

One does not have to be a Marxist to yell, “Exploitation!” Endless tales of “Gypsy Scholars” abound–young men and women struggling with no job security to teach as many as six courses per semester, occasionally at multiple schools, lacking any health or pension plan at a salary comparable to working at McDonalds. Meanwhile tenure-track colleagues, some of whom may be brain dead, enjoy a princely wage (with generous benefits) for teaching identical courses. So, what better way to eliminate this blatant unfairness than unionization?

Continue reading Unionize All Those Adjuncts?–Let’s Not

The Terrible Textbooks of Freshman Comp

Norton Reader.jpgFreshman composition class at many colleges is propaganda time, with textbooks conferring early sainthood on President Obama and lavishing attention on writers of the far left–Howard Zinn, Christopher Hedges, Peter Singer and Barbara Ehrenreich, for instance–but rarely on moderates, let alone anyone right of center. Democrats do very well in these books, but Abraham Lincoln–when included–is generally the most recent Republican featured.

Take The Norton Reader, for instance. Someone sent it to me, presumably because I teach freshman composition myself. Much of the volume is made up of popular writing by ideological writers of the left and political speeches that strain the traditional standards of rhetorical worthiness. Among the latter is the instant classic, Barack Obama’s “A New Beginning” speech delivered in Cairo in 2009. It drew quite a bit of criticism, especially over historical inaccuracies. Yet none of this was mentioned. Topic questions were also embedded to trigger predetermined responses from students.

Lincoln, King and Obama

With my curiosity piqued by the obvious bias, I decided to look at other textbooks. What I found was the widespread promotion of Obama, thinly disguised by claims about his rhetorical skills. (Entering college freshmen are likely to have already been exposed to a lot on Obama, much of it from Scholastic, which offers a teachers’ workbook, as well.) Other than one or two columns by a token conservative, like David Brooks, the rich array of conservative writing was ignored.

The Norton Reader, like most, is divided thematically. Interestingly, Obama’s speech is not included in the section, “Politics and Government,” where Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, and Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” appear. It shows up in the “Spoken Words” section that is made up of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Eleanor Roosevelt’s “On the Declaration of Human Rights,” William Faulkner’s “Nobel Prize Speech,” and Al Gore’s speech, “The Climate Emergency” that became the basis of the film and book, An Inconvenient Truth. While acknowledging that Gore’s speech was given during the 2004 presidential campaign, the editors treat his data as undisputed scientific fact. For example, topic question 4 asks the student: “Gore gives three leading causes of the climate emergency: population growth, technology, and our way of thinking. List the kinds of evidence and examples he uses in this part of his speech, and suggest how the diversity of evidence and examples helps him communicate with his audience.” There is no hint that there is disagreement on the issue. None of the five topic questions allow the student to dissent from any part of Gore’s argument.

Similarly, Obama’s claims in his Cairo speech are presented without any skepticism. CBS News, hardly a conservative organ, reported that praise for the speech usually focused on its “delivery,” but noted that even the Huffington Post marked the “lack of substance in the words.” William Bradley’s column there claimed that the speech’s arena itself was reason for its success: “The positions [Obama] laid out are positions he had in his campaign. But he did say it all at once, and quite well.”

Obama’s historical inaccuracies in the speech go unchallenged, like attributing the invention of printing to Muslims (it was the Chinese) or crediting Morocco with being the first to recognize the United States (No–Russia, France, Spain and the Netherlands did it earlier). And again, there is no mention of criticisms of the speech, many of them well-founded.

Two of the four topic questions require the student’s uncritical affirmations. Question 2 refers to the seven “specific tensions or issues affecting the current relationship between the United States and Muslim nations.” Were the enterprising student to select one of those as instructed and examine it in detail, but with outside evidence, he would then be faced with the next part of the question: “How does Obama develop his argument so that it will appeal to various audiences?” The assumption that Obama does appeal to various audiences gives the lie to the usual claims about making students “critical thinkers.”

Just Obey the President’s Call

Obama speaking.jpgUsually the last topic calls for a more open, creative response. For Obama’s speech we have: “Obama concludes with a call to action directed especially toward the world’s youth: ‘And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country–you, more than anyone, have the ability to re-imagine the world, to remake this world.’ Write a paper in which you discuss ways you personally might respond to this call.” Disguised as a question, this is a not-so-subtle request to obey the president’s call.

There is not only lack of balance in terms of political representation, but also in sources of the essays. While the anthology does contain a smattering of classics from Emerson, Thoreau, Orwell, and the like, modern selections make up the bulk of the volume. Most come from general interest publications, but it seems the editors never heard of National Review, the Weekly Standard, the American Spectator, or New Criterion. Yet, The New Yorker, the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Review of Books, and Harper’s offer numerous excerpts each. A number also come from American Scholar and Georgia Review. There are multiple offerings by the likes of Anna Quindlen, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Joan Didion. The “Ethics” section contains an offering by Peter Singer, by an abortion clinic nurse, and from several animal rights advocates, but nothing from a traditional Judeo-Christian perspective. Bedford/St. Martin’s too includes Obama in several textbooks. A Memorial Day speech at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery provides the sole presidential offering in Making Sense. The 2012 edition of The Writer’s Presence: A Pool of Readings offers Obama’s election night “Grant Park Victory Speech.” (The previous, 2009, edition that contains an excerpt from Obama’s memoir Dreams From My Father apparently went to press before the election. Dreams must have been assigned widely, for endotes offers help to students, as does BestEssayHelp.com for the Inaugural Speech.)

The Victory Speech’s salvific message is enhanced by its placement amidst accounts of the inherent hopelessness of life in America by the same authors (Alice Walker, Joan Didion, Barbara Ehrenreich, Peter Singer). Again, no balance is offered. What might be useful is Ronald Reagan’s short speech on his landslide victory that is marked by humility, in contrast to Obama’s insistent proclamations of the historical significance of his election as “the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful….” Topic questions at the end ask students to connect this speech to the Gettysburg Address (!) and MLK’s “I Have a Dream.” The editors seem to be aware of crossing a line, however, for in the instructor’s manual they acknowledge that Obama is “the focal point of a great deal of emotion on either side of the political spectrum.” They therefore advise limiting class discussion to the speech’s “persuasive power.” The attempt to mask such cheerleading is further betrayed by the inclusion of other selections, like John Edgar Wideman’s “Street Corner Dreamers,” which is about what the Victory Speech means to the hitherto hopeless denizens of our nation’s cities. Wideman asks, “Do I glimpse that change in the way they walk and talk, the way they occupy space and flash looks at one another, urgent exchanges of joy, anger, longing, understanding, impatience, solidarity, challenge, like the undeniable, irrepressible reality embodied in singer Sam Cooke’s voice when he promises change that must come–music that might be in the general air now or playing just around the corner in the voice of Barack Obama?”

(An accompanying photo announces, “Barack Obama plays basketball with local youths in Chicago’s Southside, where he launched his career in public service as a community organizer.”)

Wideman continues the rhapsody: “Not Barack Obama singing, but Barack Obama in charge, calling the meeting to order. Putting a finger to his lips: Quiet, everybody, please.” The section includes an essay by Howard Zinn, the late over-the-top historian who is simply described as “professor emeritus of political science at Boston University . . . known both for his active involvement in the civil rights and peace movements and for his scholarship,” however, strains credulity regarding simple rhetorical criteria. The editors list Zinn’s numerous publications and say only about his political allegiances that he argued “that perseverance [sic] in the face of opposition is essential.” Topic 1, though, asks, “Explain what Zinn means by what Leon Trotsky called the ‘natural selection of accidents’ (paragraph 2) preventing true depictions of war, class, and race from appearing in films.” Topic 3 then directs students’ attention to Obama again: “‘What steps do you believe President Obama will take to improve your life? (Possible answer: he could lose in November.)

‘Hearts Bursting with Love and Pride’

Another Bedford anthology, America Now: Short Readings from Recent Periodicals, does not include speeches or book excerpts. Yet, a thematic section focuses on “Barack Obama: What Does His Election Mean to America?” The head note introduces the readings with the claim that Obama’s election “filled the country, from left to right, with a momentary euphoria.” In this section are two essays from Essence, one the aforementioned Wideman essay, and one by Diane McKinney-Whetstone on “The First Family” (“When the crowd surged forward, hearts bursting with love and pride, the lens shifted and altered the world’s view of the Black family,” with topic questions driving home the point that racism had hitherto stymied the black family); an essay from Tikkun that the editors explain is a criticism from the left, “arguing that [Obama] represents a continuation of the conventional policies of the Bush administration, policies [the author Christopher Hedges] believes are determined and orchestrated by a corporate oligarchy”; and a student essay titled “Obama–President for All” (“while Obama embodies a milestone in America’s history as the first African American president. . . .”).

Hedges, an unusually angry senior fellow at the Nation Institute, who wrote what is described as a “call to arms” for the first issue of the Occupied Wall Street Journal, claims that “the old engines of corporate power and the vast military-industrial complex continue to plunder the country.” Obama is simply, in Hedge’s estimation, a new brand of the unlawful President Bush, for he refuses to “dismantle Bush’s secrecy laws and restore habeas corpus.” The editors’ footnote explains only, “habeas corpus: The principle that an accused person should be allowed to know the charges against him or her exactly; the Bush administration suspended it during the War on Terror.”!

The substitution of “person” for “citizen” and the refusal to describe Hedges’ real position is, of course, irresponsible. The fact that this textbook is aimed at the student with a low reading level, one who would be least likely to know this information on his own, suggests a goal that has very little to do with education. Nor do the other volumes for that matter. They want to tell students what to think, not how to write.

A Funny Book about Worthless Degrees

“Here are some [college] degrees that cost you roughly $30,000 in tuition, their much cheaper replacements, and the savings you’d realize:

                  Degree                                  Replacement                                        Savings

                  Foreign Languages                 Language
Software                               $29,721

                  Philosophy                             Read
Socrates                                    $29,980

                  Women’s Studies                   Watch
Daytime TV                               $30,000

                  Journalism                             Start
a blog                                          $30,000

…Since none of these degrees help increase your employability, you might as well avoid these majors and do it on your own.”

The above is an excerpt from one of the funnier paragraphs
in “Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the
Right Major” (Paric Publications), Aaron Clarey’s hilarious primer
for college students who would like to work as something other than nannies and
theater interns after graduation.

Continue reading A Funny Book about Worthless Degrees

The Ruinous Reign of Race-and-Gender Historians

History books.jpg

In a ruling likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Montana Supreme Court last month upheld the state constitution’s prohibition on corporations directly spending on state campaigns. For those concerned with academic matters, the case is important for reasons quite unrelated to political debates about Citizens United. In a significant case involving history (the Montana court relied heavily upon the scholarship and words of historians to reach its conclusions), all the books cited were more than 35 years old. And that wasn’t a coincidence: the kind of U.S. history relevant to influencing legal and public policy debates increasingly has been banished from an academy obsessed with scholarship organized around the race/class/gender trinity.

A quick summary of the decision: the Montana court ruled that “unlike Citizens United, this case concerns Montana law, Montana elections and it arises from Montana history,” requiring the justices to examine “the context of the time and place it was enacted, during the early twentieth century.” To provide this necessary historical background, the Court repeatedly cited books by historians Helen Fisk Sanders, K. Ross Toole, C. B. Glasscock, Michael Malone, and Richard Roeder.  The Court also accepted an affidavit from Harry Fritz, a professor emeritus at the University of Montana and a specialist in Montana history, who affirmed, “What was true a century ago is as true today: distant corporate interests mean that corporate dominated campaigns will only work ‘in the essential interest of outsiders with local interests a very secondary consideration.'”

An attorney analyzing the decision, however, probably would have been surprised to see that the works of history upon which the Montana court relied were all published before 1977. She might even have wondered whether the court’s reliance on older works suggested that it had ignored newer, perhaps contradictory, publications. But for anyone familiar with how the contemporary academy approaches U.S. history, the court’s inability to find recent relevant works could have come as no surprise at all.

The study of U.S. history has transformed in the last two generations, with emphasis on staffing positions in race, class, or gender leading to dramatic declines in fields viewed as more “traditional,” such as U.S. political, constitutional, diplomatic, and military history. And even those latter areas have been “re-visioned,” in the word coined by an advocate of the transformation, Illinois history professor Mark Leff, to make their approach more accommodating to the dominant race/class/gender paradigm. In the new academy, political histories of state governments–of the type cited and used effectively by the Montana Supreme Court–were among the first to go. The Montana court had to turn to Fritz, an emeritus professor, because the University of Montana History Department no longer features a specialist in Montana history (nor, for that matter, does it have a professor whose research interests, like those of Fritz, deal with U.S. military history, a topic that has fallen out of fashion in the contemporary academy).

To take the nature of the U.S. history positions in one major department as an example of the new staffing patterns: the University of Michigan, once home to Dexter and then Bradford Perkins, was a pioneer in the study of U.S. diplomatic history. Now the department’s 29 professors whose research focuses on U.S. history after 1789 include only one whose scholarship has focused on U.S. foreign relations–Penny von Eschen, a perfect example of the “re-visioning” approach. (Her most recent book is Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War.) In contrast to this 1-in-29 ratio, Michigan has hired ten Americanists (including von Eschen) whose research, according to their department profiles, focuses on issues of race; and eight Americanists whose research focuses on issues of gender. The department has more specialists in the history of Native Americans than U.S. foreign relations.

It’s true, of course, that departments heavy in African-American historians might have lots of scholars who focus on such topics as a sympathetic portrayal of Ward Connerly’s efforts against racial preferences. Or a department heavy in women’s historians might have lots of scholars who focus on such topics as a study of grassroots pro-life women, as part of a project suggesting that feminists don’t speak for a majority of U.S. women. But in the real world, figures with such interests would have almost no chance of being hired for an African-American history or gender history line.

One-sided scholarly approaches tend to produce one-sided views on contemporary political and public policy issues. In recent years, controversies in the history departments at Duke and the University of Iowa revealed that neither department had even one registered Republican. Political registration figures are the crudest possible measurement of a faculty’s pedagogical breadth, but a partisan ratio of dozens-to-zero raises some troubling questions about the open-mindedness of a department’s hiring process. So too did the justifications offered for the imbalance. Iowa’s Sarah Hanley rationalized, “I don’t think there is a downside [to having a department that, according to a survey done by the local newspaper, had 22 registered Democrats and zero registered Republicans]. If it is a downside, then it would be a downside to have states to be so-called blue or so-called red. It would be casting a pall on the democratic system where people are free to choose.” The then-chairman of Duke’s history department, John Thompson, dismissed findings that his department had 32 registered Democrats and zero registered Republicans, on grounds that “the interesting thing about the United States is that the political spectrum is very narrow.”

This type of comment is exactly what would be expected in an environment characterized by faculty groupthink–the common assumption that all thinking people chose to be Democrats (full disclosure: I’m a registered and partisan Democrat), the law of group polarization producing extreme arguments on the merits of affiliating with the Democrats.

The increasingly one-sided conception of the profession has appeared most distinctly when national historical organizations have placed their members’ partisan interests ahead of a commitment to historical ideals. During the second Bush term, for instance, historians were pressing for increased access to government documents from an administration notoriously indifferent to open government. Any claim that the chief purpose of the request was academic rather than political, however, was undermined in 2007, when the American Historical Association approved a “Resolution on United States Government Practices Inimical to the Values of the Historical Profession.” The resolution called on all AHA members “to do whatever they can to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion.” That was a perfectly appropriate goal for partisan Democrats. But for historians? And why would any administration want to increase access to government documents for a profession whose major national organization demanded that its members seek to undermine a key foreign policy goal of the President?

Similarly, last year during the William Cronon controversy in Wisconsin, the American Historical Association issued an official statement demanding that the GOP withdraw its open-records request, offering the following reasoning. “The purpose of the state’s Open Records Law is to promote informed public conversation. Historians vigorously support the freedom of information act traditions of the United States of which this law is a part. In this case, however, the law has been invoked to do the opposite: to find a pretext for discrediting a scholar who has taken a public position. This inquiry will damage, rather than promote, public conversation.” Shutting down any inquiry into Cronon, even if it meant advocating a narrowing of the state’s Open Records Law, was a perfectly appropriate goal for partisan Democrats opposed to the Walker administration. But for historians?

There are few areas in which the groupthink academy has had a more disastrous impact than the study of U.S. history. One-sidedness has its costs, however, in terms of influence outside the Ivory Tower. Courts or politicians who rely on the opinions of professors who now qualify as “mainstream” U.S. historians do so at their own peril.

Lady Gaga Makes It to Harvard

                        By Charlotte Allen


What is it about academics and Lady Gaga? Last year it was a freshman writing course at the University of Virginia titled “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity.” This fall there’s an upper-division sociology course at the University of South Carolina titled “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame.” Meghan Vicks, a graduate student in comparative literature at the University of Colorado, co-edits a postmodernist online journal, “Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art About Lady Gaga,” in which the names “Judith Butler” and “Jean Baudrillard” drip as thickly as summer rain and the tongue-tripping sentences read like this: “And her project? – To deconstruct the very pop culture that creates and worships her, and to explore and make problematic the hackneyed image of the pop icon while flourishing in the

Higher Sex Ed

This article appeared on the National Association of Scholars site on August 30th.


Eros is notorious for its power to thwart our better judgment and to baffle the rational mind. It can draw us to destinations we would do better to avoid and can prompt forms of resistance that are themselves out of balance and a little crazy. Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure portrays a city under the interim rule of a Puritanical judge, Angelo, who would stamp out unlawful expressions of desire by draconian enforcement of the laws. Not only are his efforts futile, they turn out to be hypocritical, since Angelo himself turns seducer.

We are faced with a Measure for Measure moment in higher education today. On one hand, higher education is Angelo-like attempting to stamp out what it judges to be the wrong kinds of sexual expression. On the other hand, colleges and universities are dallying as never before with all sorts of “transgressive” sexual ideas. The main focus of all this is male students, who are expected to submit to a regime in which the boundary between “sexual harassment” (subject to often extreme penalties) and ordinary masculinity is vaporous; while at the same time inhabiting a campus in which faculty members extol the pleasures of promiscuity, pornography, and license.

Eros confuses, but for real bafflement, consider the mixed messages on campus.

On April 4, Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, issued a letter announcing that colleges and universities must employ a new and much lower standard of evidence in reviewing complaints about sexual harassment. The new standard, “preponderance of the evidence,” means that the complainant wins when the university judges that 50.01 percent of the evidence supports the allegation.

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Romance Hinders Women in STEM Courses?

Another day, another bunch of dollars thrown at studies lamenting “the gender gap in science and technology fields.” The most recent comes from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation.

From its Executive Summary:

Our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce is crucial to America’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness. Yet women are vastly underrepresented in STEM jobs and among STEM degree holders despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and half of the college-educated workforce. That leaves an untapped opportunity to expand STEM employment in the United States, even as there is wide agreement that the nation must do more to improve its competitiveness.

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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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Male Market Share and the Distortions of Women’s Studies

gender.bmpHas something finally changed in the sexual politics of academia? For more than a generation the verities of feminist theory and female interests have dominated administration policy, including who gets accepted to college and who graduates.
Anyone who has taken part in academic life for the last thirty years is well aware of the organizational power of women’s studies departments. That power has yielded a tacit veto on initiatives they feel are neither philosophically nor practically in sync with their views. Efforts to study the behavior of men have tended to be smoothly integrated into “men’s studies” which can be harshly but fairly described as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the established women’s industry. For a common example, a review of the current course offerings of the University of Toronto reveals some 40 courses explicitly focused on women and their activities. There are two concerned with men specializing in homosexual and transgendered men.
This is clearly a reason for the growing disenchantment and ineffectiveness of male students which has led to a disproportionate ratio of female to male graduates is at least 40% male to 60% female. From their first day of school, males are less successful than females. Even in nursery school, four of five students expelled are boys (how does anyone get expelled from nursery school?) and the overwhelming number of victims of Ritalin are boys.

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Big Is Beautiful

If there’s anything uniting faculty on different sides of the aisle nowadays it’s disapproval of large lecture courses. To the Left, lectures are authoritarian; to the Right, they are lowbrow. Better the egalitarian or members-only atmosphere of the seminar, they say. To anyone who is just “agin’ the guv’ment,” lecture courses suffer the stigma of administrative approval, because deans and provosts love lectures as cheap and efficient ways to deliver information.
That is, if the courses succeed: many alumni remember only the professor’s yellowing notes or the students’ back-row shenanigans and not any actual learning. Nor is the future of lecturing bright, according to some experts, who say that nothing so prehistoric as a lecturer’s voice could possibly penetrate the digital habits of Generation Net.
But that’s not been my experience. Course evaluations–and I’ve read more than a few–show that students love pointed, provocative well-delivered lectures. They appreciate and respect a master narrative (the Left’s bugaboo), if only to give them something to rebel against. They can see through a professor’s bias and they don’t even mind it, as long as the professor acknowledges it. They appreciate common touches such as references to popular culture (the bane of the Right) as long as they are up-to-date. They want their electronic images, but not without a commanding voice behind them.

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Majoring In Video Games

The LA Times just finished a 3-part series on the study of video game design, at the collegiate level. Over 200 schools offer courses in “some aspect of video game development.” On the one hand, these students are actually learning something that employers value – the average salary for a video game designer is $73,600. On the other hand, these students are studying video games for credit.
Hah! Obligatory corollary – Part 3 “Women Left On Sidelines In Video Game Revolution”

Across The Great Midwest

– The University of Michigan has opened a Computer and Video Games Archive

Now, as the Michigan Daily reports, students can study video games at their library. “Or just play them.” How exactly will this work?

Once traffic picks up, the library will use a reservation system, with priority going to researchers.


Because of budget limits, Carter said, the archive will focus on games with cultural and critical significance. But, archive officials intend to have a broad representation of the variety of video games available.

Current offerings include Guitar Hero III and Smash Brothers Melee. You never know what researchers might require. In case culturally-vital sequels come along, the center is equipped with $10,000 per year for purchasing. Presumably, no precious cultural resources will slip lost into history this way. It makes you ponder how many boardwalk peepshows were lost for lack of forward-thinking academic librarians.

– Speaking of academically vital offerings, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright will be delivering a lecture at Northwestern University. For Members Only, a black student group that protested the decision to rescind Wright’s honorary degree last spring, has invited him to speak at their “State of the Black Union” event. I’ve no doubt his academic insights will go over well.

Be Glad You’re Not In These Classes

A new issue of the Dartmouth Review, and with it, a revealing listing of Dartmouth’s worst professors.

Here are some stellar academics:

A self-described “recovering racist” who makes her classes into an airing of grievances rather than a study of literature because she “can’t read male authors anymore,” Grantham injects her writing courses with dogmatic liberalism. Notorious for declaring Band-Aids “racist” because of their color, she terrorizes those who disagree with her and fills her class with rants that verge on insanity (the plight of the lobsters at the Co-Op apparently keeps her from sleeping at night). If you find yourself unlucky enough to be assigned to her Writing 5 section, bolt for the door.


One tasty tidbit: Padilla made her students come to an x-hour once to watch a movie extolling the virtues of the Zapatista terrorists who were fighting against the global capitalist conspiracy and the evil Mexican central government. The video featured the profound commentary of the angry bandmembers from Rage Against the Machine, countless crackpot academics, and even featured the indomitable, cop-killing Mumia Abu-Jamal. Take her classes only if you want to hear rants against US imperialism in Latin America.

Read on for more.

Harry Potter Studies?

In today’s smorgasbord world of offbeat college courses, it can be hard to persuade atudents to sign up for plain-vanilla offerings in, say, physics or philosophy. So some professors have discovered a way to attract bodies to their classrooms: add the name “Harry Potter” to the course title. One of the pioneers of this strategy was George R. Plitnik, a physicas professor at Frostburg State College in Maryland.

In 2003 Plitnik taught an honors seminar he titled “The Science of Harry Potter,” in which he dressed up as Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of the fictional Hogwarts Academy attended by the young wizards in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy novels, and had his students ponder such questions as: Can antigravity research produce a flying broomstick? Plitnik had no trouble filling up the seminar’s 15 slots. “If I had a seminar and said, ‘We’re going to talk about the science of airplanes flying,’ you’d have one student sign up, ” Plitnik told the Associated Press.

Other colleges have rushed with the speed of the Golden Snitch in a Quidditch game to add Harry Potter offerings to their catalogues. Cerritos College in Norwalk, Ca., retitled one of its composition courses “Words and Magic: Harry Potter and Vocabulary.” At Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc., last fall, Edmund M. Kern, author of “The Wisdom of Harry Potter: What Our Favorite Hero Teaches Us About Moral Choices” (Prometheus), taught an interdisciplinary seminar also titled “The Wisdom of Harry Potter” that combined philosophical and social-science topics. One of the course’s attractions: students didn’t even have to read any of the seven Potter novels, which total some 4,000 pages, as part their class assignments, although Kern said he expected interested undergrads (who had to apply for admission to the class) to be familiar with Rowling’s oeuvre. At Yale there’s now a course titled “Christian Theology and Harry Potter,” which drew 79 students for 18 available seats. Swarthmore and Kent State University in Ohio similarly allow their students to obtain college credit for reading the Potter books as literature.

The most outre of all the academic uses to which Harry Potter has been put so far is a venture in Scotland to translate the novels into Scots brogue. “The main chairacter [of the Potter books] “is a feectional youthie warlock cried Harry Potter….The Harry Potter beuks is formaist airtit at youthie bairns, but haes fans o aw ages,” explains a Scots-dialect entry in Wikipedia.

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Fat Chance? Adding Pounds To The Curriculum

Are overweight people a victim group? On many campuses they are. Over the past decade “Fat Studies” has shown up on the curriculum at many colleges. The courses have little to with actual study, and a lot to do with identity politics, the airing of grievances and demands for protection from the oppression of the non-fat world.

This week the Yale Daily News carried a report on a study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, located on the Yale campus. Sure enough, as it has for many years, the center found widespread and dangerous discrimination. Tatiana Andreyeva, co-author of the study, said weight discrimination was more prevalent than bias based on sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity, physical disability or religious affiliation, particularly among women. The headline on the Daily News article said “Weight Bias Rivals Race Prejudice,” a very stout claim.

According to the study, 5 percent of men and 10 percent of women say they are suffering from weight-based discrimination. Rebecca Puhl, lead author of the Rudd study, said legal measures are desperately needed to protect against weight bias. When spawning a new victim group, analogies to racial prejudice are important. In the deaf liberation movement, non-hearing people who get cochlear implants are often compared to light-skinned blacks who try to pass as whites. In the weight-discrimination movement, losing pounds to meet the standards of non-fat people is sometimes compared to the use of skin lighteners or hair-straightening products by African-Americans. Severely overweight people who lose 100 pounds or more are sometimes attacked for abandoning their identity group.

On campus, “fat studies,” like most academic fields with “studies” in the title, is mostly about generating cohesion and resentment toward the mainstream. In 2006, the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee added a course listed as “The Social Construction of Obesity,” taught by a professor who takes a skeptical view of the “war on obesity.” Also in 2006, the New York Times reported that proponents of fat studies see it as a sister subject to women’s studies and queer studies, “and it is most often women promoting the study, many of whom are lesbian activists.”

The growing strength of the anti-obesity movement presents a severe political problem for fat activists (many, perhaps most, do not shy away from the f-word). On the one hand, they think that attacks on obesity and pressures to lose weight represent the oppression by the non-fat majority. On the other hand, the activists are reluctant to come out and say that the health risks of being overweight are imaginary or exaggerated. So a certain amount of waffling is called for, usually around the uncontroversial idea that healthy and happy people are found at most weight levels. The word “diversity” pops up now and then. “Weight diversity” usually means that any group or office should have someone representing different weight classes. It also carries a whiff of affirmative action – that a workplace featuring only thin employees must change to include people of substantial weight.

The movement has a chance of getting laws passed. Michigan banned weight (and height) discrimination and Massachusetts is considering it now. More likely litigators will take over, extracting large sums from employers who fire obese people, whether weight was the reason or not.

California Cannabis Credit?

Only in California… can you take college courses aimed at training you for the medical marijuana business. Oaksterdam University, with campuses in Oakland, Calif., and Los Angeles, offers a full range of basic and advanced-level classes in such subjects as horticulture, distribution, and operating a dispensary to serve the 18,000-odd Californians licensed to smoke homegrown pot as part of a physician’s treatment regimen – usually for pain – under a 1996 California law. Eleven other states have similar laws that either carve out exceptions where there is a doctor’s prescription or drastically reduce penalties if the drug is being used medically, not recreationally.

One class is a required prerequisite for all Oaksterdam students: “Politics/Legal Issues 101,” taught by a team of experienced cannabis lawyers. That’s undoubtedly because, although medical marijuana might be legal in California, the federal government continues to regard the cultivation, possession, and distribution of the substance for any purpose as a crime. In 2005 in a case from California, the Supreme Court ruled that federal drug bans supersede state medical-marijuana laws governing drug use, citing the danger that “unscrupulous physicians” or their patients might divert medically authorized marijuana into the illicit recreational market, especially in neighboring states such as Nevada, where all marijuana use remains illegal. The justices’ concern might have been well-placed, for one of the challenges to the federal law was brought by a woman who said she had to smoke a joint every two hours or risk death from a “wasting syndrome” of unknown medical origin that kept her from eating without a pot booster.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, California continues to operate as a kind of medical-marijuana “sanctuary” state, continuing to allow counties to issue licenses for physician-prescribed cannabis despite the violations of federal law entailed. That means that operating a medical-marijuana dispensary can be a lucrative business indeed. Last October, federal Drug Enforcement Agency officers arrested two Oakland-area brothers for allegedly selling some $49 million in state-authorized pot over three years from their dispensary, which had a permit to operate under California law. Around the same time, DEA agents arrested 26-year-old dispensary-entrepreneur Luke Scarmazzo of Modesto, Calif., for doing some $13,000 worth of alleged marijuana business a month. According to a 60 Minutes report, Sarmazzo was running something called the Healthcare Collective, which was supposed to be distributing homegrown marijuana to cancer patients and others in distress, but which, according to federal agents, was fronting a black-market operation with ties to organized crime.

Oaksterdam University derived its name from a section of Oakland nicknamed “Oaksterdam” because its numerous smoke-filled medical-marijuana dispensaries, many doubling as coffeehouses, bear a striking resemblance to similar facilities in the Dutch city Amsterdam, where pot-smoking is notoriously legal. That’s a lot of pain-wracked Oakland residents. The university lacks any sort of accreditation, and its classes typically run no longer than a day or weekend, but who needs academic formalities when the demand for learning the medical-marijuana trade is so high? Some classes at Oaksterdam not set to be taught until July are already filled up.