How time flies. In 1987, a new breed of speech and harassment codes and student indoctrination were unleashed on college campuses across the land. Thus, what Allan Kors
and Harvey Silverglate famously labeled the “shadow university”–the university
dedicated to censorship and politically correct paternalism–is
now at least 25 years old.
The public recognized the consequences
of the new censorship early on. Noteworthy authors began writing articles and books
about the mounting suppression of free speech, academic freedom, and due
process on campus, culminating in the in-depth chronicling of the dark state of
higher education in The Shadow University
in 1998. By the end of the 1990s, however, many observers predicted that the repression would eventually run out of steam as the
passions driving political correctness waned with age. And in many respects,
political correctness often did appear to mellow out. More skeptical
observers claimed that it was not disappearing, but metastasizing. Who
Greg Lukianoff adresses this question in his outstanding new book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate (Encounter Books). Lukianoff is the president of the Philadelphia based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, popularly known by its telling acronym, FIRE. Unlearning Liberty is based on cases with which FIRE has dealt over the years.
Continue reading FIRE Singes the Censors
Many people are miffed at the way the University of
Wisconsin is handling President Obama’s visit to our campus today. Concerns are
not with the visit per se–most of us think the event is something very
compelling, a bit of history entering through our gates. The location of the
speech in the heart of the campus is one problem–it requires the cancellation
of some classes. A far bigger one is
that to get tickets to the event, students are required by the University to go to the Obama campaign website, provide
contact information, and then click on a button that says ‘I’m In!’.
A faculty colleague,
Ken Mayer, sent around an email of protest. He wrote: “Having a president visit as an
educational public event is one thing. Forcing students to declare their
support for a presidential candidate in order to attend the event on campus is
quite another. Should we be in the business of helping a campaign farm
thousands of email addresses?”
Mayer’s point is very well taken. The University is
making itself a partner in a campaign operation that will take extensive
student information and use it for campaign purposes. I cannot imagine this
procedure being employed for a typical public speech on this campus.
In addition, this procedure raises questions of
“compelled association.” Under the First Amendment, no one can be compelled to
associate with or support ideas or causes with which that person disagrees or
does not care to associate. A long line of cases support this principle: the
right not to speak or associate is the flip side of the right to speak or
It is very likely
that principled students–those on both sides of the political spectrum as well
as many students who have taken my First Amendment class–will refuse to so
associate. Interestingly, many pro-Obama faculty members I have spoken with have
expressed deep concerns about the procedure for obtaining a ticket. Mayer and I
have expressed our problems with the handling of this event to campus
authorities, but at least I have not heard back as of this writing.
Is this an example of a partisan university bending over
to accommodate the progressive hero? I do not know. I think the more likely
explanation is that decisions were hurried, and that it simply may not have
occurred to anyone that the registration procedures in this case posed serious
problems for the principles of an open university. By delegating this plan to
the campaign itself, we have forsaken our commitment to an open university at
the same time that we are striving to affirm those principles by holding this
extraordinary event. This is not something of which we should be proud.
Alienation between the military and the society it serves has grown in recent decades. There are several reasons, including the advent of the All Volunteer Force and the relative abandonment of military service by the upper and upper-middle classes (the so-called AWOL of the elites). Other factors are the military’s redistribution of resources for ROTC and military bases to more pro-military regions of the country and marginalization of the military at many major and elite universities.
Such alienation is unhealthy for a lot of reasons. It can compromise both sufficient civilian control of the military and the long-standing ideal of the “citizen soldier.” Furthermore, in recent times, alienation has led to justified resentment on the part of many members of the military, who feel that the significant sacrifices they and their families assume are taken for granted by the civilian population–after all, we have been asking less than 1% of our population to bear virtually all the burdens of our wars and military engagements. And the alienation has weakened citizenship by removing many citizens from a tangible connection to the military and the missions it serves.
Continue reading Campus and Armed Forces–Too Far Apart
We sometimes Google our contributors to see how they are doing. That’s how we noticed that Professor Donald A. Downs of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, delivered a talk on free speech at another branch of the University of Wisconsin (River Falls) and added these words in a letter to the student paper praising its coverage:
Continue reading Can’t Talk–Faculty Are Nearby
It has been over a week since the University of Wisconsin at Madison was torn by the debate over affirmative action on September 13. The conflict was precipitated by the presentation of a study conducted by the Center for Equal Opportunity, which alleges reverse discrimination in UW admissions policies.
A lot has been written about what happened at the press conference announcing the event and the debate between CEO’s Roger Clegg and UW law professor Larry Church later that evening. Most publicly presented views have been supportive of the students who protested at these events, and have defended the UW’s admissions policies. But criticisms of how this conflict has been handled have percolated beneath the surface.
Continue reading Protest Versus Disruption at the University of Wisconsin
In his blog commentary, KC Johnson of Brooklyn College questions the results of a new American Historical Association survey, which found that more historians are focusing on diplomatic and military history than in recent times. “In contrast to critics (including me) who have suggested that the profession has aggressively diminished approaches to history deemed ‘traditional,'” Johnson writes, “Inside Higher Education reports that ‘designations of military history are up by 39 percent over the decade, for instance. Diplomatic history is up by 36 percent.’ We’re experiencing a veritable flowering of pedagogical diversity within the field!”
In recent decades, historical scholarship has turned away from a focus on higher levels of power and decision making (e.g., political, diplomatic, and military history) in favor of more egalitarian “social” research, stressing aspects of race, gender, and economic oppression. As historian H.W. Brands wrote in the 1999 Oxford Companion to Military History, “As the context of diplomacy was changing during the Cold War, so was the context of diplomatic history. Starting in the 1960s, the American historical profession experienced a revolt against elitism. The study of governing groups and ruling classes gave way to investigations into the lives of common people. Women and racial and ethnic minorities were judged more interesting than white males. Political historians were supplanted by social and cultural history. On nearly all fronts, diplomatic history came under attack.”
Critics have raised several objections to this trend, claiming that is deprives students of learning about important matters of citizenship and the state and that it embodies a progressive agenda that includes an implicit bias against traditional American values and power. In other words, it constitutes yet another example of political correctness’s reign on campus.
Continue reading Military History and ‘The Revolt Against Elitism’
Not surprisingly, the University of Wisconsin at Madison has been deeply affected by the important labor dispute that has consumed the state, its capitol, and the nation the last two weeks. Passions are high, especially over the part of Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposal that will drastically limit collective bargaining by state employees covered by unions. The budget proposal also requires public employees to contribute substantially more to their healthcare and pensions. But the collective bargaining provision has generated the most heat.
Libertarian thinker Alvaro Vargos Llosa has remarked that Wisconsin’s debate over collective bargaining is of “planetary” significance, while Walter Russell Mead of The American Interest claims that the standoff constitutes a “watershed” event in American history, as the nation vies over the size and scope of public finances.
At an overflow law school forum on the issue on February 23, I stated that the conflict is an example of what the great political scientist Samuel Huntington called “creedal passion” in American Politics and the Promise of Disharmony. Creedal passion involves the intense conflict that periodically erupts over which fundamental values will shape public policy and philosophy. As Huntington wrote, “The history of American politics is the repetition of new beginnings and flawed outcomes, promise and disillusion, reform and reaction. American history is the history of the efforts of groups to promote their interests by realizing American ideals.” In the Wisconsin case, the creedal debate concerns the proper balance and arrangement between the private and public sectors in an era of crippling debt.
Continue reading Signs of Campus Dissent in Madison
Malcolm Gladwell has written his share of interesting and penetrating essays in The New Yorker in recent years. He has also authored such best-selling books as Blink, which is about rapid cognition and intuition, and The Tipping Point, which addresses the factors that contribute to unexpected change. The relevance of Tipping Point has received another big boost by the recent happenings in Egypt. Among Gladwell’s attributes is his ability to question and challenge conventional wisdom.
The virtues of Gladwell’s scalpel are on display in his New Yorker essay (February 14 and 21 issue) attacking U.S. News and World Report’s famous (or notorious) national “Best Colleges” ranking guide. Even though U.S. News is now defunct, the Guide survives and is used by millions of families. “The rankings have taken on a life of their own,” as Gladwell writes. Given the difficulty and complexity—often the sheer mystery—of knowing how schools compare, the Guide’s assignment of numerical rankings appears to have been a blessing, as it simplifies the task of evaluation for millions of students and parents. But what if it amounts to a false promise?
The Guide has been questioned by some empirical researchers, including Michael Bastedo of the University of Michigan and Jeffrey Stake of Indiana University, as well as by schools that feel unjustly slighted by its determinations. But seldom has it found itself in the sights of a national magazine like the New Yorker. Gladwell’s critique provides convincing evidence that consumers should take the Guide with a big spoon of salt.
The heart of the problem lies in the use and abuse of measurement. Gladwell tellingly begins his piece by comparing the Guide’s logic and methodology to Car and Driver’s recent comparison test of three sports cars: Chevy’s Corvette, the Porsche Cayman S, and the Lotus Evora. (Porsche won, followed by Corvette and Lotus). Car and Driver’s report is unreliable, Gladwell avers, because it applies the same twenty-one criteria to sports cars that it applies to all vehicles, thereby ignoring special concerns that sports car buyers have, such as the way the car looks. Nor did the test give much weight to cost, which matters a lot to consumers. Car and Driver attempts to have its cake and eat it, too, but “it’s an act of real audacity when a ranking system tries to be both comprehensive and heterogeneous at the same time.”
Continue reading The New Yorker Takes on the US News College Rankings
Michelle Kamhi is the co-editor of the online arts review Aristos, and a mild-mannered, well-spoken New Yorker with a love of art and intellectual integrity. She is also the cause of a heated controversy that has broken out in the world of art education. The source of this conflict is an op-ed Kamhi wrote in the Wall Street Journal last June entitled “The Political Assault on Art Education.” Presenting a condensed version of a longer piece she had written in Aristos in April (“The Hijacking of Art Education”), Kamhi took aim at a movement that merits heightened public scrutiny and discussion: “social justice art,” a branch of the broader “visual culture” movement in art education. By thrusting this issue onto the stage, Kamhi has provided us with information about a disturbing trend in art education, and with an opportunity to hold a needed public discussion about education and the arts in a democratic society.
Art education is part of the educational mission regarding the young, which unavoidably entails making normative (and perhaps political) choices about the types of citizens we want to shape. But because liberal democracies are dedicated first and foremost to individual freedom and conscience (Lincoln said we are “consecrated” in liberty), state power and politics are limited. This means that art education in a liberal democracy will eschew the politicization of art, freeing the individual student to learn art for its own sake in a manner that cannot be reduced to politics and the state. This model of art education differs from the art education espoused by such thinkers as Plato and Rousseau, and various activists whose vision of art education is political, not aesthetic and individual. The “social justice” art movement points us decidedly in the direction of Rousseau than James Madison.
Just what is social justice art? In terms of definition and purpose, it is art in the service of such socially “progressive” causes as identity politics (“recognition”); greater equality through redistribution of resources; the environment; and critiques of the present social, economic, and political arrangements in the United States. The movement is propelled by a partnership between “art activists” and education school faculty, and it draws its inspiration from such sources as “critical theory” and the pedagogical theories of Paulo Freire. Freire’s classic book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, was written to address the severe repression of peasants in Brazil in the 1960s. Applying Freire’s logic to the United States, education activists have come up with such concoctions as “Radical Math,” which incorporates radical politics into, of all things, mathematics. (See Sol Stern’s “The Propaganda in Our Ed Schools”: http://www.mindingthecampus.com/originals/2010/10/the_propaganda_in_our_ed_schoo.html ) The list of potential subjects for radicalization is vast; so enter art education.
Continue reading Social Justice Art and Liberal Democracy
New Jersey’s Kean University is planning to institute a controversial new academic structure. The university has presented a draft proposal , its second, to replace the traditional arrangement of academic departments with schools headed by “executive directors” appointed by the president. Initiatives to eliminate such departments as philosophy and social work are already in the hopper, “but this plan would kill even large departments like English and biology, dividing faculty members into new organizational structures they played no role in creating.”
Not surprisingly, Kean’s proposal is sending shock waves through the faculty at Kean and elsewhere. It constitutes a serious challenge to long-standing notions of academic freedom and university life. Among other things, academic freedom entails a significant degree of shared faculty governance, which includes some meaningful say over the organization of teaching and curriculum matters. Kean’s proposal “will allow the upper administration to exert increased control over faculty work lives,” said physics professor James Castiglione, who is also the president of the Kean Federation of Teachers. “That’s what this whole thing is about. This whole thing is about control.”
Defenders maintain that the reform is necessary to save money, but debate rages over the financial consequences of the plan and the costs of reorganization. While cutting 38 department chair positions will save money, the plan also calls for creating eighteen “executive directors” to oversee the new arrangement. Faculty leaders contest the university’s broader claims regarding its financial situation, while university officials stress that the university anticipates a $17.7 million deficit next year. “To suggest that Kean University, for whatever motive, is somehow immune from New Jersey’s severe budget crisis is irresponsible and not in line with economic reality,” a university spokesman told Inside Higher Ed.
Few of us are in a position to determine the truth regarding Kean University’s financial straits. That said, the very existence of the case reflects fundamental changes in the political and economic environment of higher education that are well worth considering. Universities are facing perhaps unprecedented financial pressures in the brave new world of mountainous debt, and something must give. But is the reshaping of higher education a promising step or an occasion to mournfully sing “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie?”
Continue reading When the Administration Takes Over the Departments
A student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Madison drew an unusual and alarming advertising request for its online edition. The request to the Badger Herald came a few weeks ago from an agent for Bradley R. Smith, a notorious denier of the Holocaust and founder of the loopy fringe group, Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust. Unlike ads in the Herald’s paper edition, online ads linger for a month, providing more opportunity for mischief.
Like some other controversies involving the Herald in recent years, this episode began, essentially, as an accident. The process involved in the placing of ads did not fully vet Smith’s advertisement, which announced his mission and provided an Internet link to his group and other materials. The ad remained on line unnoticed for five days before persons at Hillel, the Jewish center, noticed it and urged the Herald to withdraw it
Many Jewish students had already felt aggrieved by the Herald because of another incident a few weeks before Smith’s ad appeared. Anonymous sources had published threatening anti-Semitic remarks in the “Comments” sections that accompanied the paper’s stories of incidents relating to a party at a Jewish fraternity. Alarmed, the Herald expunged these comments, but only after the damage was done.
Made aware of Smith’s ad, the Herald’s board had to decide what to do. The board of nine students votes independently, but the students consider advice given by faculty members who do not have voting power. Advisors (I am one) provide advice in a manner that is designed to preserve the independence of the board. At a meeting the board voted to do two things: keep the ad up, and produce an editorial, written by editor in chief Jason Smathers, making clear that Holocaust denial is a pernicious fraud that lies outside the bounds of rational debate. I supported these decisions as an advisor. The editorial was a sign that the board knew Smith’s ad was different from the usual controversial ads.
Continue reading Hate and Free Speech at Wisconsin
Cary Nelson, current president of the American Association of University Professors, has a new book dealing with academic freedom and its relationship to broader structural problems in higher education. No University Is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom is interesting and important, but also frustrating. It provides remedies to the problems confronting academic freedom at the same time that it reflects some of the problems it purports to remedy. Nelson is compelled to criticize the nation’s faculty members for their lackadaisical support of academic freedom at the same time that he feels obliged to vehemently defend higher education from critics who attack higher education for this very reason. Balancing these positions makes sense if one carefully distinguishes valid and invalid attacks, and Nelson often succeeds in doing so. But too often his defenses of higher education come across as special pleading for the professoriate as a class, thereby weakening his claims.
Once upon a time the AAUP was the nation’s leading supporter of academic freedom. In recent decades, however, its prestige has slipped. A couple of years ago the Chronicle of Higher Education featured articles on this reversal of fortune, citing such matters as the AAUP’s bureaucratic inertia, the association’s perceived complacency about the chilling effects of political correctness, and broader trends in higher education that have made faculty members less knowledgeable and appreciative of the organization’s efforts. Leaner and meaner, FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, founded in 2000 in Philadelphia) has replaced the AAUP as the nation’s most vibrant fighter for academic freedom. FIRE is conscientiously non-ideological, but its eagerness to take on the policies of political correctness that suppress freedom has made it a favorite of the right in addition to the civil libertarian left.
Nelson’s ascendancy to the presidency of the AAUP represents the organization’s effort to regain its past glory. He is a prolifically published, self-proclaimed “radical” (for academic freedom and other causes), a claim that makes him a left-wing answer to FIRE in terms of commitment. Among Nelson’s impressive list of publications we find Manifesto of a Tenured Radical and Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left. Nelson’s left-wing legacy is important to his arguments because his approach to academic freedom is steeped in a broader leftist framework.
Continue reading What Is The AAUP Up To?
“Student engagement” is a movement and a cause that has made steady progress on our campuses. According to Inside Higher Education, it has reached a “critical mass” of participants, though many in the world of colleges and universities are only half-aware, or perhaps unaware, of what the movement is all about. The National Survey of Student Engagement, an organization driving the cause, is at least partly a product of both a nation-wide administrative push and the nation’s education schools. Student engagement activities, ranging from community service to deeper involvement in more academically-oriented concerns, are gaining more official status with the passage of each year. Last year, for example, leaders of the University of Wisconsin system declared their intention to require students to maintain a “second transcript” that tracks students’ extra-curricular activities. Students would not be required to do anything, but such supplementary transcripts would become part of their record alongside the traditional academic transcript. Such pressure no doubt would compel many more students to enhance (or pad) their resumes, for better or for worse. (I raised many questions about this program here last year.) As far as I know, the program has yet to be instituted.
Robert Morris University, a private school of 4700 students in Pittsburgh, pioneered the next stage of development last month by establishing the nation’s first known deanship to oversee the school’s new Student Engagement Transcript program. According to another recent story in Inside Higher Education, the program “tracks and certifies a student’s participation in faculty-sponsored extracurricular and co-curricular activities. Activities must fall in one of seven areas: arts, culture and creativity; “transcultural/global” experiences, which include studying abroad; research; community service; leadership; professional experience; and independent study projects.” In addition to completing the requirements for traditional majors, Robert Morris University will now require freshmen students to “demonstrate participation in at least two of the seven categories in order to graduate.”
Continue reading The Problem With Student Engagement
Labor unions have suffered a number of defeats in recent years, but they hope to regain momentum by gaining passage of the so-called Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier to secure votes for unionization, mainly through a mechanism called “card check.” Card check would replace the traditional method of unionization by eliminating secret ballots when employees vote for or against unionization. “Card check” would allow the signing of cards without the benefit of secrecy, perhaps even in the presence of pro-union activists. Will employees actually make free, unfettered choices in the face of union organizers who present them with cards? Or is the “Free Choice Act” but the latest historical incarnation of Newspeak?
Card check is in some trouble in Washington, but similar policies are having more success at the state level. A prominent example is Wisconsin, which has recently enacted such legislation regarding the University of Wisconsin. The policy is part of a larger pro-union package in the state.
Recently Governor Jim Doyle signed the state’s 2009-2011 biennial budget, which includes a provision that gives collective bargaining rights to over 20,000 UW System faculty, academic staff, and research assistants. As of this writing, the faculty members of all UW System schools except UW-Madison have passed resolutions favoring the right to decide on unionization. Madison will no doubt deal with this issue in the fall; but even if Madison faculty members vote to have the right to decide, it is not evident that they will ultimately vote to unionize, for reasoned arguments exist on both sides of this question.
Continue reading Card Check Comes To Campus
Donald Downs appeared here in New York at an event co-sponsored by the Pope Center and the Manhattan Institute on academic freedom, presenting his fascinating new paper “Academic Freedom: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Tell the Difference.”
Listen to John Leo interviewing Donald Downs in a new podcast.
Forty years ago this week, an armed student insurrection erupted on the Cornell campus. I was a sophomore on campus at the time and later wrote a book on the events, Cornell ’69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University. To some the drama represented a triumph of social justice, paving the way for a new model of the university based on the ideals of identity politics, diversity, and the university as a transformer of society. To others, it fatefully propelled Cornell, and later much of American higher education, away from the traditional principles of academic freedom, reason, and individual excellence. “Cornell,” wrote the famous constitutional scholar Walter Berns, who resigned from Cornell during the denouement of the conflict, “was the prototype of the university as we know it today, having jettisoned every vestige of academic integrity.”
In the wee hours of Friday, April 19, 1969, twenty-some members of Cornell’s Afro-American Society took over the student center, Willard Straight Hall, removing parents (sometimes forcefully) from their accommodations on the eve of Parents Weekend. The takeover was the culmination of a year-long series of confrontations, during which the AAS had deployed hardball tactics to pressure the administration of President James Perkins into making concessions to their demands. The Perkins administration and many faculty members had made claims of race-based identity politics and social justice leading priorities for the university, marginalizing the traditional missions of truth-seeking and academic freedom.
Two concerns precipitated the takeover: AAS agitation for the establishment of a radical black studies program; and demands of amnesty for some AAS students, who had just been found guilty by the university judicial board of violating university rules. These concerns were linked, for, according to the students, the university lacked the moral authority to judge minority students. They declared that Cornell was no longer a university, but rather an institution divided by racial identities.
Continue reading Cornell ’69 And What It Did
In a recent op-ed, New York Times columnist David Brooks raised an interesting and important question. Drawing on a recent book (largely neglected) by Hugh Heclo entitled On Thinking Institutionally, Brooks critiqued a report on education that a Harvard University faculty committee issued a few years ago. According to the report, “the aim of a liberal education is to unsettle presumptions, to defamiliarize the familiar, to reveal what is going on beneath and behind appearances, to disorient young people and to help them find ways to reorient themselves.”
Brooks observed that this logic “is deeply consistent with the individualism of modern culture, with its emphasis on personal inquiry, personal self-discovery and personal happiness.” The problem is that this way of living neglects the important role that tradition and institutional custom play in providing order and a sense of duty that give meaning and form to life. Brooks quotes Heclo: “In taking delivery, institutionalists see themselves as debtors who owe something, not creditors to whom something is owed.”
Brooks points to the erosion of obligation and responsibility in the banking profession as one example of the problem, among many. “Faith in all institutions, including charities, has declined precipitously over the past generation… Lack of institutional awareness has bred cynicism and undermined habits of behavior. Bankers, for example, used to have a code that made them a bit stodgy and which held them up for ridicule in movies like ‘Mary Poppins.’ But the banker’s code has eroded, and the result was not liberation but self-destruction.”
Continue reading Universities, Individualism, and David Brooks
The idea of “bubble” has been on everyone’s mind since the escalating housing and economic crisis first erupted in July 2007. Throughout these turbulent times, one institution appeared to be coasting along above the fray: Higher Education. Higher ed has been growing for decades, becoming a staple in the national political economy. The supply and demand situation has been remarkably favorable to it: believing that higher education is a necessary, if not sufficient, ticket to personal success and social progress, the public has tolerated increasingly higher costs and tuition—forces that citizens have rebelled against in other consumer domains.
After all, didn’t ambitious citizens have to pay their dues to higher ed in order to have a meaningful chance at success? With seemingly no viable alternative or exit strategy, consumers have stretched their pocketbooks to the breaking point and taken out loans to purchase a chance at the American Dream. (Today over 35% of students rely on student loans, and the number is growing.) Not surprisingly, the last twenty years have seen tuition costs rise at over three times the rate of inflation. The overall costs for many private schools add up to $50,000 per year, while public universities cost up to $20,000 for state residents, and over $30,000 for those who hail from out of state. Meanwhile, wages for most Americans have been left in the dust.
Something had to give. The fate of the housing market comes to mind. Believing that home prices would rise virtually forever, consumers and investors were willing to stretch themselves and their debt to the limit in order to obtain housing stock. We all know what happened when that assumption ran into the brick wall of reality. Is higher education immune to such a shock?
Continue reading The Next Bubble?
The Board of Regents and officials of the University of Wisconsin system have recently proposed two sweeping changes to the system’s student misconduct codes. The first change is a new code covering student misconduct outside of university property (UWS 18). The second involves some major changes in the present Student Nonacademic Disciplinary Code, UWS 17.
There is nothing inherently wrong with periodic revisions of codes, for institutions need to adapt their rules to deal with changes in their environment. And no one argues that universities must abide by the same rigorous procedural standards as the criminal justice system. As the Supreme Court has consistently maintained over the years, the extent of due process depends upon the institutional setting.
That said, critics have raised some points that merit serious attention, especially about UWS 17. These concerns address both specific provisions in the reforms as well as broader questions about the state of universities today. Let me address just three of the specific concerns first.
Continue reading Due Process Fades In Wisconsin
The stage is now set for wide debate over mandatory student fees These are the fees that educational institutions or student governments assess students above and beyond the monies that pertain to tuition, housing, dining, and similar goods. Some of these additional fees typically fund extracurricular activities or needs such as medical services, crime victim services, transportation services, and the like. The more controversial fees cover students’ expressive and associational activities.
At my school, the University of Wisconsin at Madison—a hotbed of such activity that is a model for other schools—mandatory fees currently amount to about $750 per semester. After an activist group abolished student government here in the early 1990s, students organized to establish a new form of student government in 1994-5, primarily to enable activist groups to gain access to student fees.
Objections to fees that support student expressive groups take three tracks.
Continue reading The Battle Over Student Fees
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
An interesting news item caught my eye last week. The BB&T Charitable Foundation has made a million-dollar donation to Marshall University’s Lewis College of Business. The donation comes with a string attached: Marshall must teach Ayn Rand’s classic tribute to capitalism, Atlas Shrugged, as part of the curriculum. The BB&T Foundation has made numerous grants to other institutions dealing with capitalism and economics. John Allison, the foundation’s chairman and CEO, expressed the logic behind these grants when he announced a $2 million grant to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University last summer. “We believe there needs to be a deeper understanding of the morality of capitalism and its causal relationship to economic well-being,” he declared. “This contribution will encourage a thorough discussion of the moral foundations of capitalism with an organization that meets the highest academic standards and encourages students to hear all points of view.”
BB&T’s actions regarding Marshall and George Mason are part and parcel of a broader movement taking place across American higher education: redesigned efforts by major moderate and right-leaning foundations and sponsors to fund programs, journals, and chairs on campus that provide viewpoints that challenge the left-liberal orthodoxies that prevail in so many institutions. Among other examples, the University of Illinois recently established a major chair in free market economics, funded by a conservative donor. And the University of Colorado is looking for donors for a new chair in conservative studies. Meanwhile, several groups, including the Olin Foundation and other conservative entities, have decided to target limited term grants at specific individuals or groups whom they trust to carry out programs consistent with the foundations’ missions.
One motive for such grants could be to influence academic thinking in the direction the foundations favor. Another motive is simply pedagogical: to counter the lack of intellectual diversity on campus, which several studies have shown tilts decidedly to the left at many institutions, especially in the social science and humanities. The pedagogical problem is not that conservative ideas are not being accepted or followed; the problem is the virtual absence of such ideas, which deprives students of a true liberal education that would expose them to all serious arguments and perspectives about social and political life. The right kind of education prepares students to seek the answer to the most fundamental of questions: How should I live?
Continue reading When Donors Pick The Courses
For years now, college students have been busy committing themselves to extracurricular activities. On the whole, such commitment can be constructive. It contributes to civic engagement by the young and helps them to develop personal responsibility and character. Meanwhile, college officials claim that would-be employers are now demanding that colleges provide evidence that graduates are prepared to deal with real world issues and conflicts that will arise in the workplace. Many educators are starting to respond to this concern.
In recent days, the president of the University of Wisconsin system has risen to the occasion by proposing to the Board of Regents that students have two transcripts upon graduation. The first transcript would be the traditional one, which would list the classes the student took, and the grades that he or she received. The second transcript would depict what the Wisconsin State Journal described as “the student’s personal development during college, such as whether the student interned for a company, directed a play, or edited the student newspaper.” The University of Wisconsin system would be the national pioneer in this movement. This effort is supported by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, whose vice president recently said that companies seek graduates who can work “with diverse groups and have a sense of social responsibility and ethics,” according to the State Journal story.
According to Reilly, the university needs to institute this policy because business leaders want “workers who can work with diverse groups and have a sense of social responsibility and ethics,” according to the State Journal story. The second transcript would involve more than a typical resume. It would have to be approved by a faculty member, and show how the student’s experiences outside the classroom represented a meaningful application of the student’s classroom work. “We know when students get to the end of their time with us, employers and graduate school admissions officers want to know what you did besides get and A or B in philosophy,” Reilly told the State Journal. “We think this will capture some of the educational experience.”
Continue reading Beware The Second Transcript
Is it just me, or have others noted that “Big-Time College Sports” (basketball and football, primarily) have recently taken yet another leap into a qualitatively different zone? In my neck of the woods, we have the very controversial new Big Ten Network, which hopes to make gobs of money from advertisers if cable companies ever come around to accepting it. And presently we are witnessing an enhanced version of the national game of Coaches Musical Chairs, with coaches jumping to new schools that offer them packages in the previously unimaginable realm of 3-4 million dollars. And if you have had the pleasure of attending a major college football or basketball game in recent times, you no doubt will have been bombarded by a new level of advertising accompanied by relentless appeals for funds.
Observers have debated the propriety of Big Time College Sports in institutions of higher learning for a long time now, and I do not wish to contribute to this growing literature. I must confess that I am a life-long basketball and football enthusiast. I played a year of college basketball, and I can tell you off the top of my head who beat whom (and by how many games, if it was a series) over the last 50 years in the championships of the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, and NCAA Division I Basketball, as well as the A.P. Division I college football champion. (I kid you not.) To me, this knowledge is far from constituting “trivia;” it’s championships we are talking about, after all. So my concern (even chagrin) at the present state of Big Time College Sports does not derive from an anti-sports attitude.
Continue reading College Sports – A Very Useful Fetish
In my last essay for Minding the Campus, I discussed how faculty indifference may have contributed indirectly to the establishment of the University of Delaware’s now notorious residence hall re-education program. If so, we should consider this a crime of omission rather than a crime of commission. This perspective on the problem either differs from or supplements the claims of many critics of higher education, who blame ideological agendas among faculty as the major cause of campus politicization.
A panel discussion/debate in October between Stephen Balch and Harry Lewis at the Pope Center in North Carolina highlighted this disagreement. The panel dealt with the problems besetting liberal education, focusing on education’s aimlessness and failure to instill knowledge and respect for free institutions. Balch and Lewis agreed on several things, but offered two different slants on the ills of higher education. Comparing the views of Balch and Lewis can help us to clarify and refine the problem of politics in higher education today.
Balch, the distinguished president of the National Association of Scholars who recently was awarded the National Humanities Medal in the Oval Office, blamed the ills of liberal education on politicized faculty. According to Jay Schalin’s report of the panel, Balch argued that higher education is failing “because it has adopted a left-wing ideology that is at odds with our traditions. The university system, with its population of impressionable young people, is naturally attractive to people with ‘an inclination toward visionary and utopian thinking,’ and these utopians feel that the purpose of education is to ‘move people toward their visions.”
Continue reading The Unbalanced University