Tag Archives: John Leo

Our ‘Historically Illiterate’ Young

David McCullough on 60 Minutes last night:

“We are raising children in America today who are by and large historically illiterate…I ran into some students on university campuses who were bright and attractive and likeable. And I was just stunned by how much they didn’t know. One young woman at a university in the Midwest came up to me after one of my talks and said that until she heard me speak that morning she’d never understood that the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast. And I thought, “What are we doing that’s so wrong, so pathetic?” I tried it again at several other places, colleges and universities, same thing. Now, it’s not their fault. It’s our fault. And when I say our fault I don’t mean just the teachers. I mean the parents and grandparents. We have to take part. The stories around the family dinner table. I say bring back dinner if you want to improve how children get to know history.”

Plagiarism and Feelings at Amherst

Carleen Basler, a professor at Amherst who said she struggled with her writing, resigned after she was caught plagiarizing and the Amherst Student did a good job covering the story. So far, so good. But Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit notices a few odd paragraphs in the paper’s report:

Since some believe that Basler did not ask for help because she didn’t feel that Amherst was a safe and understanding place, both faculty and students brought to the forefront the issue of creating a better environment in which people feel more comfortable coming forward with their academic problems.“I think the important part of it, I guess, is that I feel that there’s a lot that we can learn about how to support vulnerabilities and deficits,” Professor Karen Sánchez-Eppler said. “How do we as an institution make it a place where when people feel that they’re getting stuck — and I think that this is true for our students as well as our faculty — that when they’re feeling stuck, they can say ‘I’m stuck, help me,’ and not try to cover it up? That’s the kind of soul-searching that we as an institution need to do.”

Reynolds writes: “So, wait, academic fraud — apparently going all the way back to the dissertation — is somehow because the institution isn’t a “safe and understanding place?” With all the people looking for academic jobs, what could account for this attitude? Well, she teaches White Identity. Plus: ‘Coming from a Mexican-American background, she was particularly interested in the diversity of the student body.’ Imagine that she was a white male Republican, instead of a probable affirmative-action diversity-studies hire. Same response to plagiarism?

Harvard Tells the Freshmen What to Read

Lewis, a professor and former dean of Harvard College, wrote
that the texts Harvard freshmen are reading this year “are more
politically correct and less challenging than they used to be.” Yes, it would
seem so. 
are this year’s readings:

A More Perfect Union, Barack Obama

Vivaldi , 
M. Steele

the Color of My Collar, 
David Tebaldi ’10

Asian American I Know Is Smart, 
Frank H. Wu

Is the Surgeon? , 
Chris Barrett, GSAS ’12

Psalm, Wislawa Szymborska

Snapshot of the Harvard Class of 2016 

first thing to note is that the inclusion of President Obama’s famous speech
carries a political  and partisan weight
this year that it would not have had last year or next. Lewis writes: “Was
there really no alternative to including the Obama text as required reading for
all freshmen, two months before the first election in which many of them will

this year’s texts give new Harvard students clear clues on what grievances they
ought to feel and which class and racial resentments are deemed proper on this famous
campus. And the emphasis on stereotypes is heavy: Claude Steele’s depiction of
stereotype threat as a reason for lack of success by many qualified women and minorities;
Frank Wu’s complaint that Asian-Americans are conventionally stereotyped as
smart and successful; David Tebaldi’s discomfort as a black student of humble
means at Harvard confronted by bewildering expectations and, yes, stereotypes;
and Chris Barrett’s rambling complaint that people always think of surgeons as
male and heterosexual.

readings are thin gruel indeed, saying the same thing over and over and shaping
discussions scheduled to be based on these readings the same way. Claude Steele’s
controversial theory of stereotype threat, to give one example, might have been
balanced by inclusion of a piece by his brother, Shelby Steele, an equally
prominent scholar who disagrees.

The last text on the list is a poem by the late Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska,
which begins (in translation): “Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!,” and
ends “Only what is human can truly be foreign. The rest is mixed vegetation,
subversive moles and wind.”

final note: though the readings were presented in the name of “diversity,” no
white male made the list. 

Wake Us Gently–We’re Students

nap pod.jpg

It probably had to happen. The conversion of campuses into luxurious spa-like retreats started at elite and well-heeled institutions and has now spread to smaller, lesser-known colleges.

The newest student residence at Saint Leo University in Florida houses nap pods, an electronic gaming area with four flat-screen televisions, a workout area and an arcade complete with skee-ball, pinball machines, and air hockey tables. (This is a residence hall, not a student center.) Any student, not just those living there, can drop by to take a nap in one of the nap pods, which–according to Inside Higher Ed–feature an ergonomic design, a shield to block light, soothing sounds, and a gradual wake-up system so nappers can awaken as gently as possible.

The building houses 154 students in suite-style rooms – each suite with four single bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a common room with a television. Another residence hall, set to open next fall, has a multipurpose room that can be used as a theater or a classroom, and a 2,100-gallon saltwater aquarium that is home to 25 lion fish, chosen because of the university’s mascot, the Saint Leo Lion.

One commenter on the Inside Higher Ed site said, “Meanwhile tigher Ed site sad he numerous adjunct instructors have not a single room available in which to meet their students.” Another said the students may enjoy their nap pods but after graduating, the nappers could be back in their parents’ home, sleeping on the sofa.

The No-Art Art History Textbook

In a story
helpfully marked “Not the Onion,” Gawker reports that Toronto’s Ontario College
of Art and Design is requiring students to purchase a $180 art history textbook
that has no images of art at all. The father of one student says the publisher
of the book, Global Visual and Material Culture: Prehistory to 1800, apparently
couldn’t get the copyright permissions settled in time for the print run. But
the school’s dean disputes that, saying the textbook was always intended to
have no pictures. “If we had opted for print clearance of all the Stokstad
and Drucker images,” the dean wrote in a letter to students,
“the text would have cost over $800.”

Those Mealy-Mouthed Statements from Our Cairo Embassy

the beginning of Bruce Bawer’s strong new book, The Victims’ Revolution, he talks about the anti-American attitudes
that are nearly mandatory on campuses today and how they radiate throughout our
culture. Those attitudes, inculcated by so many professors, range from
apologetic and guilt-ridden to outright contemptuous and reflexively supportive
of our enemies. The incredibly abject comments from U.S. officials on the
murder of the US ambassador to Libya and the assaults on our embassies in Libya
and Egypt are fairly mild, but still stunning, examples of these attitudes in

did the US Embassy in Cairo have to say about the murder of four Americans by
mob violence? It tweeted “U.S. Embassy condemns religious incitement,”
referring to the homemade and obscure anti-Muhammad movie the mob thought
was worth killing for. Nineteen minutes later the embassy thoughtfully added
that it condemns the attack of the mob as well, perhaps because it dawned
on them that self-hatred wasn’t playing well at home. Those early tweets were
deleted, but the official statement from Cairo was just as bad: “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the
universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

same attitudes infected the mainstream media as well. The New York Times buried the mob violence and killings at the bottom of Page 4, not
mentioning that an ambassador was killed and assuring any readers who got that
far that anti-American feelings are confined to “pockets” in the Middle east.
On the First Page, however, was a big story that Mitt Romney was not opposed to
the Vietnam war as a college student in 1966. Likewise, o
n Morning Joe the all-lefties panels focused exclusively on Mitt
Romney’s statement, the point of which I 
couldn’t quite figure out from the indignant discussion. Romney’s campaign said: “It’s
disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks
on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the
attacks.” I’m not sure Romney should have jumped in at that point. However, the
statement is clearly sensible and accurate, particularly since the Obama
statement was almost as mealy-mouthed as those from the tragically inept
embassy in

Aki Peritz, a former U.S. intelligence analyst,
had the best comment: “Upon reflection, a future press release might
state, ‘We condemn the morons who overran part of our Embassy earlier today.”
Yes, whatever their hurt feelings are.


Politicians Push Professors Leftward

Another wacky idea from California: forcing teachers in the state university system to provide some form of social service as a condition of achieving tenure. Assembly Bill 2132, which passed in the legislature and is now awaiting  Governor Jerry Brown’s signature, “encourages” the independent University of California to include a demonstration of “service” in its evaluations for the hiring, promotion and granting of tenure to teachers.

Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee writes that “The specifics of Assembly Bill 2132 appear to give great weight to political or at least semi-political activities favored by those on the political left. They include, in the words of a legislative bill analysis, ‘developing programs for underserved populations’ and ‘outreach programs developed to promote cultural diversity in the student body.'” Walters wonders whether researchers working on a cure for breast cancer will be pushed to spend time on service that pleases the legislature.

Add this to the long list of attempts to politicize higher education, from the recent move at UCLA to approve advocacy in classrooms to the battles in teachers’ colleges to require students to display the proper “disposition” (i.e., political principles of the left) before graduating. Anything but actual education.

The NCAA Revokes the Past

Paterno’s statue at Penn
was taken down not
because it was “divisive,” at the university’s new president foolishly said,
but because Paterno was morally obtuse and unworthy of the honor. So far so
good. But what should we think of the NCAA’s flabbergasting decision to erase
history–vacating 13 years of football wins? As a former Penn State
running back said, this decision means he lost every game he ever played. Why
did he ever go back for a third year after playing for two 0-12 teams?
Apparently the NCAA thinks that punishing athletes for off-field malfeasance
that had nothing to do with on-field performance is a perfect way to get back
at Paterno. Why not take the logical next step–vacating Paterno’s contracts, so
he never did coach at Penn
or maybe revoking
his death certificate so he can be attacked in person? Makes sense to me.

Choices Matter in Avoiding Poverty

As many critics have noticed, the gap between Page One news coverage of social issues in the New York Times and the editorial response inside is often not a spacious one. Yesterday the Times ran a huge news article (more than two full pages), “Two Classes, Divided by ‘I Do,” on the economic and social plight of single mothers in a society marked by rising income inequality.

Coverage of the facts, by the knowledgeable reporter Jason DeParle, is solid. The problem is that single mothers are presented as victims of a tsunami of inequality that has little or nothing to do with their own behavior. The language is passive. Two-income families are presented as a sort of unfair advantage that descends on some married women more often than on single ones. One featured woman had “a troubled relationship that left her with three children…” and “marriage and its rewards (are) evermore confined to the fortunate classes.” Who does this confining? We never learn.

The article does have one strong line about choices: “I am in this position because of decisions I made.”

But no study is mentioned to support this common sense view. However, here is FactCheck.org citing a Brookings study:

“Ron Haskins, co-author of the Brookings study, which looked at Census Bureau data on a sample of Americans, wrote that the analysis found that young adults who finished high school, worked full time and got married after age 21 and before having kids “had a 2 percent chance of winding up in poverty and a 74 percent chance of winding up in the middle class (defined as earning roughly $50,000 or more). By contrast, young adults who violated all three norms had a 76 percent chance of winding up in poverty and a 7 percent chance of winding up in the middle class.”

Finding full-time work is, of course, now very difficult, but the other factors are powerful ones that affect outcomes. They continue to count.

Two Small Cracks in the PC/Diversity Regime

Peter Wood’s latest blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Leftist Nostalgia for Academic Standards,” is a must read. Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, weaves a fascinating commentary about two unexpected cracks in the current (and ruinous) regime of higher education: one a lament about the impact of literary theory by one of its biggest names, British Marxist Terry Eagleton, the other a rebellion of sorts at UCLA against the continued spread of the “diversity” curriculum at the expense of actual education.

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Attack on a Left-Leaning One Percenter

Almost everybody famous, inventive, erudite, or eccentric has spoken at some time or other at the great TED conference (Technology, Entertainment, Design)–make that TED conferences, once held only in Monterery, now in Long Beach and Palm Springs, and various sites in Europe and Asia.

Now a controversy has broken out over a 6-minute talk delivered at TED last March by left-leaning billionaire Nick Hanauer. He spoke on income inequality, arguing, among other things, that the rich don’t create jobs–the middle class does through consumption.

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What’s an URM and Who Is One?

The recent flap over Elizabeth Warren’s claimed Cherokeeness has both raised and obscured a question at the core of debates over affirmative action: just who should receive the preferential treatment it bestows?

The standard answer to that question preferred by those who support
the current regime of racial preference is “underrepresented minority,”
or URM, a term they think has the benefit of disguising their
determination to award privileged treatment based squarely on race and
ethnicity. New demographic data, however, now calls that designation
into question and suggests that the preferentialists may need to devise a
new dissimulation.

Continue reading What’s an URM and Who Is One?

If You Must Give a Commencement Speech…

(from City Journal, summer 1998)

Like many people, I can deliver a competent public speech without much fuss. But a commencement address is different. I can’t recall stewing about a speech as much as I did before donning academic garb and talking at the St. John’s College graduation in Santa Fe on May 17.

After all, student tolerance for these speeches is at an all-time low. It was low enough in our day. Nobody my age seems to remember a single thought expressed at his or her own graduation–or even the name of the speaker. But in our time, the residue of traditional formality seemed to protect even the most pedestrian speakers, who seemed unembarrassed about doling out 15 or 20 minutes of solemn advice on the proper way to chart one’s life course.

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A Controversy at Post-Catholic Georgetown

kathleen_sebelius.jpgKathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, is scheduled to speak Friday at a Georgetown University commencement event, setting off protests among Catholics and others who believe the Obamacare mandate violates religious liberty. So far, some 25,000 people have signed petitions asking for the invitation to be withdrawn. On campus, the reaction seems more tepid: only 9 of the 1500-plus faculty members and just 3 of the 55 resident Jesuits are known to have joined the protest.

For President Obama, the speech sets up a likely win-win outcome:
dispatching a nominal Catholic to a nominally Catholic university that
yearns to be secular (the question, “Is Georgetown still a Catholic
university?” has been asked since the mid-60s) either provokes an angry
response that would fit the “war against women” scenario, or a trifling
one demonstrating that the Catholic bishops have bluster, but few troops
behind them, even on a Jesuit campus.

Continue reading A Controversy at Post-Catholic Georgetown

Why She Was Fired

Why did the Chronicle of Higher Education fire Naomi Schaefer Riley? Writing on the American Thinker site, Abraham Miller offers a deft and elegantly phrased explanation: “for revealing what almost everyone on any campus knows, but is reluctant to say, about black studies: it is a political cause masquerading as an academic discipline, and if there were real intellectual, and not political, standards on campus, it would be shut down.”

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A Blogger’s Warning to Academics

Until Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) began linking to Walter Russell Mead at Via Meadia, I hadn’t been aware of Mead’s work. He is a superb blogger on many subjects. Today, for example, he offers an impressive assessment of the Chen Guangcheng case, the best I’ve read so far. Though his expertise is foreign policy–please don’t stop reading–he is good on almost any subject.

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Muslims, NYPD and Dubious Journalism Awards

The Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School has weighed in on the long Associated Press series of articles attacking the New York Police Department for its surveillance of Muslims. This series has won a Polk Award, a White House Correspondents Association award, a Pulitzer Prize and now $25,000 from the Shorenstein Center for excellence in investigative reporting. The series reported that the NYPD conducted surveillance of mosques, universities and Muslim groups, reaching into New Jersey (irritating Gov. Chris Christie), and onto the Yale campus (incensing the president of the university).

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Can’t Talk–Faculty Are Nearby

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’s Commencement Protest Season

Since colleges and universities are coming to the end of the 2011-2012 school year, that means it’s time for commencement protests to begin. Here are some commencement speakers and the reasons given for the irritation they provoke among students:

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The Sociologist as Ethical Entrepreneur

Jonathan B. Imber, the Jean Glasscock professor of sociology at Wellesley and editor of Society, offered a tribute in the April 27 Chronicle of Higher Education to Irving Louis Horowitz, who died last month at the age of 82. Horowitz, a renowned sociologist, was the founder of Society, and a major academic publisher. An excerpt:

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The Battle at Vanderbilt Goes National

Various colleges and universities have tried for years to hobble or eliminate Christian student groups. Some of these institutions have succeeded in forcing these groups to knuckle under. Other administrations have backed down rather than face lawsuits. The primary tactic has been using anti-discrimination regulations to force these groups to allow non-believers as officers. Evangelical groups, though they believe homosexuality is condemned by the Bible, must allow gay officers. Atheists and anti-Christians must be accepted too. This makes no more sense than forcing science groups to accept flat-earthers and Jewish groups to allow Holocaust-deniers.

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The University of California Does Not Like Criticism

“A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California,” a recent report from the California Association of Scholars (CAS), detailed the radicalization and decline of the once-great UCal system. Charlotte Allen wrote about it here.

Continue reading The University of California Does Not Like Criticism

Teach Them What to Think, and Maybe Bribe Them Too

Do some professors offer bribes to their students for promising to support leftist causes? Yes, it happens, and a few teachers, at least, see nothing wrong with it. Mary Grabar, a regular contributor to this site, discusses the practice here, and has video of a Georgia State education professor named Jennifer Esposito offering extra marks to students if they write state legislators opposing bills aimed at combating illegal immigration.

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Harvard’s Level of Tolerance–Lower Than You Think

We missed this unusual column when it appeared in the Harvard Crimson two weeks ago, but it’s worthy of comment even at this late date. It begins with Olympia Snow’s complaint that the Senate is not a place “that ensures all voices are heard and considered,” then moves swiftly to argue that Harvard isn’t such a place either. Student columnist Derek J. Bekebrede points out that posters from the Harvard Republican Club, Harvard Right to Life and True Love Revolution have been torn down recently and not for the first time: “The vast majority of all three groups’ posters are consistently torn down within hours of being put up. HRL’s “Cemetery of the Unborn” display outside of the Science Center was even vandalized in 2008. One instance of missing posters could possibly be explained by other, non-malicious factors, but multiple years of vandalism against Harvard’s three main conservative groups cannot.”

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One Result of Income Inequality–Dubious Psychological Studies

As an academic specialty, psychology suffers from a distinct lack of respect. For one clue as to why, consider the story last week on Inside Higher Ed, Does Income Inequality Promote Cheating?. A doctoral student at Queens University in Ontario says yes–and he didn’t even have to leave his computer to reach that conclusion. A Google search for sites that offer college students free term papers or easily plagiarized papers for sale, he says, suggests that states with the highest income inequality generate social mistrust that leads to a generally high rate of cheating.

Continue reading One Result of Income Inequality–Dubious Psychological Studies