Tag Archives: Mark Bauerlein

Proving Discrimination Is Almost Impossible

Teresa Wagner’s lawsuit
against the University of Iowa law school ended a few weeks ago when a jury
declared that the school did not submit her to political discrimination when it
rejected her application for a job. Wagner made a second allegation–that her
equal protection rights were violated because the law school held her political
activism against her–which was not ruled upon, the judge declaring a mistrial
because the jury couldn’t reach a decision, leaving open the possibility of
future action by Wagner’s attorney. Indeed, the Chronicle reports
that Wagner has filed papers asking for a retrial on all counts.

The first verdict wasn’t unexpected.  Wagner had to
prove that faculty members voted against her for her political views, which run
well to the Right.  But of course, nobody on hiring committees ever
says outright, “She’s a conservative–she’s out!”  They know
better–Schmidt cites one witness who “testified that no faculty member
would ‘be stupid enough’ to cite politics as the reason for turning down an applicant”–and
besides, they don’t have to.  In the hiring process there are so many
stages and variables that it’s easy to drop a conservative candidate for a
dozen other more or less non-political reasons.  “She isn’t a good
fit,” one might say, or “We already have strengths in her area, we need someone
in another field,” another could argue, or “I don’t think she handled questions
very well in the interview” could be the line.  The outcome is
assured and nobody needs to raise delicate matters along the way.

In Wagner’s case, a clear
distinction came up in her qualifications relative the person who got the job: She was one of five candidates chosen from a pool of 50 applicants invited to
present to the university’s faculty.

But that enthusiasm died soon after her presentation. The job
was given to Matt Williamson, a candidate who had never practiced law, had no
published works and was an ardent liberal who frequently criticized
Republicans, according to testimony and court documents presented last week to
the jury.

That a candidate who never practiced law and had no publications
should prevail over Wagner sounds fishy.  The Chronicle story
relates, too, that the person hired resigned a year later for “poor
performance.”  One could also mention the disparate-outcome argument
so beloved by liberals: the law school has one registered Republican and 46
registered Democrats.  Finally, one should note the email
law professor and former associate dean Jon Carlson sent to the law school dean
after the first rejection in which he worried that the faculty would balk at
the hiring of Wagner due to
“her politics (and especially her activism
about it).”

But the faculty had an answer: she botched the
presentation.  When asked about teaching “legal analysis,” an
important part of the job, they say, she declined.  Several witnesses
repeated that criticism, even though Wagner never recalls saying so (she showed
her pre-interview notes in court that displayed her intention to teach the
subject), and a couple of witnesses agreed with her, including Carlson and Mark
Osiel, another professor in the law school. The law school taped Wagner’s
presentation and could have offered the tape to settle the question. However,
the university erased the tape months after the hiring process had ended.

The coda to this story is equally frustrating. Just last week reporter
Jason Clayworth spoke
with four members of the jury who told him that jurors did believe that
political discrimination had taken place, but that they couldn’t hold one
person responsible.
This outcome shows how
far universities are able to fiddle with the hiring process with
impunity.  Here we have a jury convinced that political discrimination
took place, but they can’t convict because they have the wrong defendant. 
But the plaintiff couldn’t pick another defendant; indeed, federal law dictated
that the dean be made the “responsible party.” So people who feel they’ve been
treated unfairly face a Catch-22, and universities can carry on as usual.

Obama’s Win Is An Indictment of Higher Education

This morning in the Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes summed
one condition of the Republican Party:

“What’s their problem? In Senate races, it’s bad candidates:
old hacks (Wisconsin), young hacks (Florida), youngsters (Ohio), Tea Party
types who can’t talk about abortion sensibly (Missouri, Indiana), retreads
(Virginia), lousy campaigners (North Dakota) and Washington veterans
(Michigan). Losers all.

“And those are just the Senate contests decided
yesterday.  In 2010, it was similar.  Republicans threw away two of
their best chances to gain seats, choosing pathetically incapable candidates in
Nevada and Delaware.” 

Indeed, conservative and libertarian teachers, writers, and
intellectuals have to wonder why the candidates they have to choose from are
precisely that, “pathetically incapable” mouthpieces who can’t talk about
controversial issues such as abortion sensibly. 

Here’s one reason why: those politicians didn’t study any
conservative thinkers in college.  When they talk, they say nothing that
suggests they have read much serious discourse on the right side of the
spectrum from Burke to Charles Murray.  Leftists have their nostrums down
pat (against racism, sexism, imperialism, economic inequality . . .), and
however dated and predictable those utterances are, liberal politicians stick
to the point and press it again and again.  Again, one reason is that they
received ample helpings of liberalism in freshman English, history, any
“studies course,” sociology, etc., reading some Marx, Foucault, Dewey, Malcolm
X, a bit of feminism here and multiculturalism there.  In school, those
future conservative politicians likely rejected those texts, but they didn’t
plunge into the other side’s corpus

It shows in the absence of depth in so many Republican
candidates.  When you hear them speak, nothing in the tradition comes
through–no Franklin on work ethic, Madison-Hamilton-Jay on power, Emerson on
self-reliance, Hawthorne on Federal employment, Thoreau on Big Government,
Booker T. Washington on individual responsibility, Willa Cather on the pioneer
spirit, and Hayek on social engineering.  This is a fatal deficiency, and
it neglects one of the strengths of conservatism (superiority in the battle of
ideas).  Worse, when conservatives don’t have the tradition in their
background, when they lose elections, they tend to look forward by examining
their relationship to the electorate instead of their relationship to first
principles and values.  Conservative candidates don’t need more political
calculation that competes with liberalism, but rather more intellectual heft
that presents a better alternative to liberalism.

It won’t happen in college, so maybe organizations such as
the Manhattan Institute should run two-week seminars for office-seekers. 
Not policy-making or campaign strategy sessions, but short courses in
conservative words and ideas.  Have them read Franklin‘s Autobiography, Washington’s
Up from Slavery, and Cather’s O Pioneers!  Let them know,
too, that while we all await the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan, one way Reagan
thrived in politics is by withdrawing for a time and reading Hayek and Friedman
carefully, soberly, far from the madding crowd.

Self-Esteem vs. Resilience

The September cover of Maclean’s Magazine  displayed two youthful faces, a boy and a girl, the former kindly but quietly fearful, the latter openly stressed, perhaps at a breaking point.  The text announced: “CRISIS ON CAMPUS:  The Broken Generation–A shocking number of Canadian students feel depressed, even suicidal.  Why our best and brightest are so troubled.” 

The story inside depicts high-achiever Canadian and U.S. college students as egos on the edge, compiling brilliant academic and extra-curricular records but concealing acute suffering.  At University of Alberta, for instance, 51 percent of students answered “Yes” to a survey question asking whether in the last 12 months they ever felt that “things were hopeless.”  Cornell University has constructed metal nets across the gorges on campus in order to prevent any more students from leaping to their deaths.  A sociologist at University of Virginia finds that admission to the selective University doesn’t produce triumph, but failure: “Students experience it as a kind of downward mobility.  Maybe you were in your high school gifted program, and suddenly you’re no longer the brightest student in the room.  You might not even be close.”

The question is, Why are these students so fragile?  Why do they seem unable to handle stress and failure?  

In a speech in Atlanta the other night, psychologist Leonard Sax issued a diagnosis.  Author of Why Gender Matters: what parents and teachers need to know about the emerging science of sex differencesBoys Adrift: The five factors driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys, and Girls on the Edge, Sax attributes the problem to overprotective, yet achievement-oriented parents.  These parents care about grades, they monitor homework, they arrange piano lessons and math tutors, and they regard the right college as critical to success or failure.  They love their children, and they don’t want anything bad to happen to them.  Kids pick up the pressure and those who respond seem entirely on track and well-adjusted.  The score highly on tests, collect AP courses in high school, and volunteer.  Colleges want them badly.

But these high-performers only acquire half the skills of healthy living, Sax maintains.  They know how to succeed, but they don’t know how to fail.  They are motivated and bright, yes, and their parents create the conditions for them to excel.  But when an English paper in 10th grade receives a “B-” and the student feels demolished, the parents step in and do the wrong thing.  Either they blame the teacher and press the school to allow the student to try again, or they cushion the disappointment by helping and encouraging the student with ultra-positive assistance or by doing half the work for them. 

In either case, the student doesn’t deal with the failure on her own.  The parents believe that they do the right thing by intervening, but in fact, Sax contends, they prevent the student from learning how to deal with failure.  They build self-esteem in their children, but they hinder a trait Sax considers essential to a prosperous adulthood: resilience. Children must fail, and they must learn to handle that failure by themselves.  If they don’t, when they hit a roadblock in college or in the workplace after they’ve left the home, they don’t have the equipment to get past it.

Campus Due Process, Obama-Style

In this
week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, Joseph Cohn, director of policy at
FIRE, summarizes
the due process implications of a letter sent to colleges and universities last
April by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. As was widely
reported at the time, the letter instructs schools to adopt the lowest standard
of proof in our judicial system, preponderance of the evidence, in cases of
alleged sexual misconduct, ranging from harassment to rape.

the Bush Administration, Cohn notes, colleges enjoyed greater flexibility in
their proceedings, and the Office of Civil Rights accepted a wide variety of
standards among institutions.  The new directive, signed by Obama
appointee Russlyn Ali, allows little latitude.

have defended the lower standard of proof by citing civil lawsuits that also
rely on a preponderance outcome, but the elements of civil lawsuits that are
missing from campus hearings are worth listing:

  • Civil
    trials have impartial, legally-trained judges; campus hearings often rely on “a
    panel of faculty, students, and/or administrators.”
  • In civil
    cases, either party may demand a jury; in campus hearings, the option isn’t
  • In civil
    cases, parties have right to counsel; in campus hearings, “parties to these
    hearings frequently have no right to counsel.”
  • In campus hearings, “rules of evidence don’t apply,” and witnesses “are usually
    not placed under oath.”

to Cohn, of 198 colleges ranked by U.S. News & World Report, 30
institutions so far have complied.

This is a
travesty of due process, but it pleases advocacy groups such as the Women’s
Sports Foundation, the Association of Title IX Administrators, and Wendy Murphy
(remember the Duke Lacrosse Scandal?), all of whom signed a
in support of the letter. One particular sentence in the support
statement indicates clearly why the new standard is a dangerous one.  It
reads: “The preponderance standard is the only equitable choice under Title IX
as it avoids the presumption, inherent in a higher standard of proof, that the
word of a victim is less weighty than the word of an accused individual’s

Note the
acceptance of victim status for one party before the respective “words” have
even been given.  In some cases, of course, there will be physical
evidence of assault, but in other cases, we have precisely a contest of words
alone.  With the stakes so high for the accused, should the accuser’s
accusation be as “weighty” as the accused’s denial?  Yes, according to
these groups and the Obama Administration, and they dress it up in a language
of “equity.”

The Perils of Student Choice

The release of SAT scores last week gives strong ammunition to proponents of a core curriculum. As reported in the Wall Street Journal , reading scores hit their lowest figure in four decades. Writing scores hit their lowest number since a writing component was added to the exam six years ago; in fact, writing scores have dropped every year except one, when they were flat.

The College Board, which administers the exam, attributes the decline to two factors. One, more second-language students are taking the exam; and two, not enough test-takers follow a core curriculum. James Montoya, vice president of College Board, is quoted to that effect in the story, and he states the case even more strongly in the College Board’s own report. In his opening remarks, Montoya asserts that “students who complete a rigorous core curriculum do better in high school; they do better on the SAT; and they are more prepared for college. This holds true across all socioeconomic and ethnic lines.”

What a contrast to the education establishment, which regards a core curriculum as narrow and authoritarian! Parents are inundated with this argument during campus tours, where backward-walking guides assure them that students have ample license in their coursework. The proliferation of choice complements trendy ideas of student empowerment and student-centered learning that caught on in the 1960s and drifted quickly up to higher education.

However, those who favor a core curriculum now have certified announcements by the College Board against a high-elective approach. They may also take heart from a survey released this week by American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Administered by Roper, the first question asked respondents if colleges and universities should force students to take classes in “core subjects” (writing, math, science, U.S. history, economics, foreign language). Fully 70 percent answered “Yes.” More than half (54 percent) of them agreed that they were “Very” or “Somewhat” surprised that many institutions do not have those requirements. Most respondents (57 percent) also said they believe schools do a “fair” or “poor” job preparing students for the job market, while 46 percent believed that institutions do not give student’s “their money’s worth.”

The combination of dissatisfaction with the overall product plus the endorsement of core curricula marks a timely opening for reformers.

The Ultimate Victory of Liberal Bias

The Daily Texan has reported that a conservative student group at University of Texas-Austin has inaugurated a “watch list” containing the names of professors who “politicize the classroom” and squash “dissenting opinion.”  The chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas describes the list as an information resource, providing information on wayward instructors before students sign up for their classes and regret being stuck in them for a semester of illiberal education.  

An earlier version of the Watch List that appeared in Spring 2007 cast a wider net and placed professors on the list without any hard evidence of abuse of students.  This time, the project focuses on tyrannical behavior.  As of two weeks ago, the head of the local chapter stated he had received “eight or nine names” but that he wouldn’t release them, perhaps because he hadn’t reviewed the validity of the claims.  The group is careful not to cite any professors who openly espouse a political position but allow opposition. 

The Huffington Post picked up the story a few days ago and hosted a forum on the issue, but it’s hard to find any other notice of the case.  Searches of “University of Texas Watch List” at the Chronicle of Higher Education and www.insidehighered.com produced no stories, and on the Texas campus there isn’t any evidence of subsequent discussions or events.   

Compare this to the vehement criticism David Horowitz faced ten years ago when he initiated concrete proposals to root out liberal bias.  Back then, critics hurled denunciation and indignation at Horowitz in many different fora. This time, however, the effort to monitor misbehaving instructors doesn’t even raise the quick and easy charge of McCarthyism.

Most professors realize that the liberal-bias movement doesn’t threaten them at all. In fact, many colleges have learned how to benefit from their right-wing students. Numerous campuses, such as Brown, UCLA, and Princeton, have allowed of the formation conservative or libertarian centers. As a result, development offices are finding that conservative alumni are more willing to donate. They will grant space to alternative viewpoints in order to let the dominant system proceed as before.  There’s no doubt the centers have benefited the students. But conservative faculty groups and conservative student activists barely touch left-leaning faculty and administrators.  

In other words, the liberal-bias movement succeeded and it failed.  It succeeded in overcoming the reflexive condemnation of biased professors, earning conservative and libertarian ideas some legitimacy in the academic square.  No longer can a faculty speak of conservative/libertarian thinkers and ideas as prima facie stupid.  But it failed to dent the prevailing left-liberal ideology of identity politics, diversity, and statism.  The worst tendencies continue, but in the administrative offices rather than the classroom. If the liberal-bias movement had really succeeded, the diversiphile network on campus would have shrunk, not expanded.

One wonders if the cannier left-liberals among the faculty and administration welcome scattered attacks on the professors for bias, as it gives them another reason to pay lip service to “academic freedom.”  Meanwhile, the real work of liberal-bias spreads in the bureaucracy, where students can’t see it happening.

Real Costs and Sticker Price

Concordia University in St. Paul made news by cutting regular tuition costs by a hefty 33.7 percent–$10,000–leaving students to pay $19,700 if they receive no assistance or discounts.

But the reduction disguises a fact true at Concordia and at most every other private schools: up to half of undergraduates don’t pay the full fee.  At Concordia, the "discount rate" ("the amount it gave in institutional grants, compared with gross tuition revenue") was 48 percent in 2011-2012.  The article also notes that 99 percent of students that year received some grant or scholarship support from the school averaging $12,654.

This isn’t unusual.  Right now, according to a report by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, the national average for discounts was 43 percent last year. Given the bad publicity of rising tuition costs, combined with sagging enrollments, the report states that "this strategy is no longer working effectively at a large number of colleges and universities."

Cost, too, is no longer a guarantee of distinction.  In the old days, a high tuition fee signalled a superior education.  People thought that they got what they paid for.  But, according to a higher ed cost expert in the story, all colleges charge a lot, and "There’s no advantage of charging more if you can afford to charge less."

We’ll see how many other colleges follow that advice.

Campaigning in the Classroom

Last month, distinguished Ohio State English professor Brian McHale sent out the following email to colleagues:


I’ve been in touch with a couple of campus organizers for the Obama campaign, who have asked me to pass along to all of you a request for access to your classes in the next few weeks. If you were willing, they would send along a volunteer to make a pitch to your students about registering to vote. This would involve five minutes or less of class time, at the beginning or end of class (whichever you preferred), and the volunteer could make him/herself available after the end of class to sign up students who wanted to register on the spot.

If you were willing, the volunteers could also take a couple of extra minutes to see whether they could interest any of your students in volunteering for the Obama campaign themselves. If you weren’t comfortable with this, however, you’d only need to say so, and the volunteer would limit his/her presentation to voter registration, and leave the recruitment pitch out; it would be your call.

I don’t need to tell you that voter registration is absolutely the key to this election, not least of all in the state of Ohio.

(I don’t need to tell you this because it has been made so manifestly plain by those who have been doing their best in several states, including ours, to limit access to the polls in various ways.) I hope you can see your way to helping bump up the voter registration and turnout among this key constituency–our students.

The easiest way to arrange for volunteers to visit your classrooms is to contact Natalie Raps or Matt Caffrey directly: [address removed] and [address removed]. Alternatively, you could contact me, and I’ll put you in touch with them. Either way, please do it!

Democracy: love it or lose it.

Peter Wood reproduces the entire message at the Chronicle of Higher Education and adds that Caffrey and Raps belong to the official Obama campaign in Ohio.   

Once the email went public, the legal counsel at Ohio State issued a statement asserting that “Simply put, partisan political discussions may not be sponsored by university employees on the Ohio State campus. I urge you to refer to the guidelines regarding political activity by employees of the university.” No professor should bring “political organizers into our classroom.” 

Once again, as with the earlier case of “tenured incognizance,” there is no need to debate the matter. The impropriety of bringing Obama campaign staff into a classroom, even under the guise of a non-partisan registration session, is beyond question. Not to the professor, though, and this is the remarkable thing about the whole story. In the Lantern piece, we read that McHale did not believe he did anything wrong. 

I believe him. If he were disingenuous here, then he would have been wary enough not to put his recommendations down in writing and send them out to fellow professors. Apparently, he really didn’t know that having a couple of Obama staffers address his students, a captive audience, went way over the line into partisanship. The argument that students had the right to opt out of hearing about joining the Obama team doesn’t pass the smile test. To believe that it lifted pressure from the students contradicts both common sense and leftist beliefs which say that power operates subtly and covertly, beneath the guise of institutional practices.

McHale is a chaired professor who has written extensively about postmodernism and theory. It is amazing–and exasperating–that such a sophisticated analyst of text and power should become so callow and obtuse when real power is at stake. For conservative reformers, it is one thing to combat deliberate strategies of indoctrination on campus, but contesting actors incognizant of their own malfeasance is a whole other chore.

Tenured Incognizance

A small controversy surfaced
last week at University of Central Florida when a psychology professor sent an email
to all his students to berate some of them for “religious bigotry.” 

According to the professor’s letter, some Christian students in class
that evening claimed that their faith is “the most valid religion,” thereby
“demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry
looks like.” When the professor asked students to imagine how Muslims,
Hindus, Buddhists, and “non-believers” experience that
affirmation, a student stood and urged others “not to participate”–to the
professor a grossly arrogant and disrespectful act.

A university should abhor such “censorship” and
“anti-intellectualism,” the professor concluded. Students go there to be
challenged, to encounter ideas contrary to “cherished beliefs,” to become
“critical, independent thinkers.”

Very well. We don’t know exactly what happened in that class,
but the lengthy email contains nothing to surprise anyone who has spent
time on campus and doesn’t share the orthodox secular
left-liberalism. On the professor’s part, we have:

  • The customary
    condescension–“We’re adults.  We’re at a university.”
  • The inability to
    respect class boundaries–“There is no topic that is ‘off-limits’ for us to
    address in class, even if only remotely related to the course topic.
  • The elevation of
    mainstream beliefs into an oppressive hegemony–“the tyranny of the masses” (the
    dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).
  • And finally, the
    interpretation of conviction as intolerance–“Bigots–radical bigots or religious
    bigots–never question their prejudices and bigotry.  They are convinced
    their beliefs are correct.”

Of course, every believer believes his or her religion is the most
valid one, and to say that doing so victimizes others is to raise sensitivities
to paranoid levels. Indeed, no belief can be held if it isn’t regarded as

But it is a waste of time to make such points. For professors
such as this one, the inconsistencies and contradictions run so deep that there
is little hope of dispelling them. His cultural relativism is
absolute. He calls for mutual respect, yet inserts sarcasms about
students. Etcetera. 

His incognizance is more significant than his ideology. It
poses a stiffer challenge to conservatives and libertarians than his liberalism
does, and so does his attitude. Instead of taking the Christian students’
assertion as a position to explore, he denounces it. Instead of ponder
the “not-participate” ejaculation as a comment upon him, he turns it onto the
student alone.

This is a hardened condition, and it won’t soften. It has
tenure and (spurious) academic freedom behind it, so why change, especially
when the majority of colleagues reinforce it? No wonder the many
and valid criticisms of the ideology of the professors have produced so little
real reform. They don’t touch attitudes and self-images, things academics
guard more closely than their ideas.

Washington Tries to Intimidate the Schools

If African American students are disciplined in schools at a
higher rate than are white students, the obvious reason is that African
American students commit a disproportionate number of infractions.  Not
according to “disparate impact” (or “disparate outcomes”) thinking, however.
 Any time one sees significant gaps in black and white treatments or
results–suspensions, test scores, AP enrollments, etc.–racism is at work, it
says.  Either the teachers and administrators are consciously or
unconsciously prejudiced, or the culture of the curriculum and school is
contrary to the culture of black students, or embedded in the institution,
somehow or some way, are biased elements that subtly discriminate
(“institutional racism”).  The etiology of disparate impacts, though,
doesn’t matter.  This is the power of the approach.  It takes the
racial gap itself as evidence sufficient to prove the allegation.  When a
disparate impact surfaces, one doesn’t have to uncover actual cases of willful
discrimination such as a teacher who jumps on black students for the slightest
misdeeds while letting white students do the same without reproving them.
 No, the bare fact of racial gap is enough to convict the school district
of bias.

Heather Macdonald’s essay in City
, “Undisciplined: The Obama Administration undermines classroom
order in pursuit of phantom racism,” outlines the consequence when the Federal
government adopts disparate impact thinking.  Noting that just about every
school district in the United States disciplines black and Hispanic students
disproportionately, she reports, the Obama Education and Justice departments
have launched a campaign of intimidation and coercion against school systems
scattered around the country.

The approach often turns Orwellian.  When Federal officials investigate a
school, Macdonald finds, “They have refused to disclose to the school districts
under scrutiny why they have aroused suspicion.”  Being scrupulously fair
and equal is no defense for the schools either, for “even if a school applies
its discipline code fairly and in a color-blind fashion, it can still be liable
for civil rights violations if minorities are disproportionately affected and
it cannot demonstrate the absolute necessity of its disciplinary practices.”
 Suspected school systems must undergo costly “cultural-proficiency
training” and “anti-suspension behavioral-modification programs,” face
lawsuits, and hire experts and consultants.  More effectively (and
damagingly to the students themselves), schools simply lower the behavior bar
for black and Hispanic students, thereby closing the disciplinary gap (and
elevating classroom chaos).

The Obama Administration regards the problem so gravely that in a March 2010
speech Education Secretary Arne Duncan compared it to
that day in Selma, 1965
, when civil rights marchers were savaged by state
police. But last month when President Obama announced in a speech before the
Urban League the new White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for
African Americans, he didn’t even mention it.  When justifying the
Initiative, the President didn’t talk about the culture of black teens, nor did
he cite the number of them with no father in the home, high truancy and dropout
rates, and anti-intellectual and violent social and street lives.
 Instead, he cited unaffordable college tuition, inadequate “access to a
complete and competitive education,” and too much fun “(Obama lists ‘hanging
out . . . getting over . . . playing video games . . . watching ‘Real
Housewives'”).  Nothing on real or imagined misbehavior or dereliction by
black students, or on their social conditions such as astronomical rates of
illegitimacy (70 percent).  In Obama’s rendition, what hinders academic
excellence for African American students is either financial circumstances or
ordinary youthfulness (too much TV, not enough homework).

Given the enormous racial gaps in social conditions (illegitimacy among whites
is less than half the black rate), we may make a sure prediction.  It
won’t be long before the White House Initiative becomes one more Federal office
captivated by racism issues and disparate-impact thinking.  President
Obama didn’t put it that way–he wanted to be positive and genial–and the
promise to the Urban League was but another version of Democratic “clientism.”
 You get out the vote for me in November, he promised this 100-year-old
African American advocacy group, and I’ll steer more White House resources your
way.  But the ostensible mission of the Initiative won’t endure, for the
problems of African American students are not primarily of access and money.
 They stem, first, from family and culture.  When the Office finds
that its “academic excellence” emphasis doesn’t have much effect, it will
likely turns its resources to hunting down discrimination, and disparate-impact
allegations offer a ready and powerful weapon.

Are Graduate Students Workers?

Here’s a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the unionization of graduate students at private universities, an issue soon to be decided by the National Labor Relations Board.  It seems that the whole matter comes down to a definition: are graduate students students or employees?

The American Council on Education says, “Students enroll in graduate school to complete their higher education, not to work for wages. Their relationship with the university is fundamentally one of a student and teacher, not master-servant.”  But the Graduate Student Organizing Committee of the United Auto Workers argues, “There is simply no reason why one cannot be both a student and an employee at the same time.”  In 2004, the NLRB decided against unionization at Brown University, but last year an NLRB official shifted the other way, saying that “a dual relationship” exists which is “both academic and economic.”

Brown argues that the latter undermines the former, producing mistrust and antagonisms between students and faculty.  NYU agrees, the story continues, stating that “the collective-bargaining agreement in place there before 2005 led to the filing of multiple union grievances threatening its academic autonomy.” 

If NLRB comes down on the side of graduate-students-as-employees, it may do so not because of abstract definitions, but because of actual practices in graduate programs.  How many of them regard their graduate students as professors-in-training, and how many regard them as warm bodies to fill freshman classrooms?  How many graduate students teach service courses for years only to finish their dissertations and find no tenure-track jobs or post-docs waiting for them?  We may assume that if graduate students saw their peers who are two or three years ahead of them eating dirt in the department for a few years but winning a plum post once they hit the job market, those graduate students wouldn’t mind doing the same and they wouldn’t insist on unionization.

Adjuncts–The Saddest Fact about Them

A report has been issued by the Coalition of the Academic Workforce that makes for depressing reading. It’s called “A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members,” and it offers preliminary findings of a survey of contingent faculty members and instructors in higher education.

What is most depressing is not the median compensation adjuncts receive for teaching–overall, $2,700 per course, with two-year colleges offering $2,235 and four-year colleges $3,400.

Continue reading Adjuncts–The Saddest Fact about Them

Left Bias on Campus Proven–Now What?

It wasn’t so long ago that the infrequent charge of liberal bias on college campuses was met with mockery and disdain. The allegations go all the way back to William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale (1951) and Russell Kirk’s Academic Freedom: An Essay in Definition (1955), neither of which earned the authors anything but distaste from professors. With Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987) and David Horowitz’ initial efforts on the Academic Bill of Rights (recounted here), the hostility level rose, but people still denied the fact of bias, for instance, citing the business school as a hive of free market ideology.

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$301,000 to Study Gender in Political Ambition?

On May 25th, the House of Representatives passed what is called the Flake Amendment, which prohibits the National Science Foundation from funding projects in political science. Here are Congressman Jeff Flake’s words on the House floor from May 9th:

“Let me simply say I can think of few finer examples to cut than the National Science Foundation’s Political Science Program. According to the NSF Web site, to date, more than $80 million has been awarded to the program’s nearly 200 active projects. Three-quarters of these awards, totaling over $46 million, were directed to universities with endowments greater than $1 billion.

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The Washington Post Gets It Wrong on Sebelius

The Washington Post and the president of Georgetown University have defended the appearance of Kathleen Sebelius at a commencement ceremony on the grounds of basic academic mission. The Post cited “the proper role of a university and the importance of vigorous, open debate, even–or perhaps especially–involving matters of intense controversy and religious disagreement.” In his open letter to the community, President DeGioia declared, “We are a university, committed to the free exchange of ideas.”

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The Insecurity of Black Studies

Posted by Mark Bauerlein and Richard Vedder

The removal of Naomi Shaefer Riley from the blogging staff of the Chronicle of Higher Education has been widely circulated in the cybersphere and the press, including Riley’s own account in the Wall Street Journal and many of our own contributors at Minding the Campus. All of them understand the psycho-political dynamics behind the whole affair, but people unfamiliar with the social climate of higher education may not understand how Riley could have provoked such a harsh and voluminous reaction from the academic community, albeit given her provocative post.

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The Insincerity of the Georgetown Letter

As has been reported here and here and here, some 90 Georgetown University professors and administrators sent a letter to Congressman Paul Ryan in advance of his speech on campus last week. The main point the letter makes is that Ryan’s political outlook and the budget that issues from it violate Catholic teaching, even though Ryan claims that his Catholic understanding informs his ideas. Those who signed the document make a firm recommendation to Ryan: do not maintain positions that impact the poor and the needy so strongly, but instead preserve government programs aimed toward them.

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The Community Colleges:
High Promise, High Drop-Out Rates

The problem is stated bluntly in this report from the American Association of Community Colleges, entitled, “Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future.” The report contains an overly-dramatic framing, with dire assertions such as this opening in the Executive Summary: “The American Dream is imperiled. Upward mobility, the contract between one generation of Americans and the rest, is under siege.” But the basis for the report is undeniable. A section on “Student Success” notes that only 46 percent of community college students pursuing a degree or certificate earn one, transfer to a four-year college, or are still enrolled after six years. Worse, “Nearly half of all community college students entering in the fall term drop out before the second fall term begins.”

Continue reading The Community Colleges:
High Promise, High Drop-Out Rates

Still For Obama, But Disenchanted

For the Obama campaign, the college campus poses a whole different challenge in 2012 than it did in 2008. Earlier, the campus was one of the most solid and energized pro-Obama zones in the country. The group Students4Obama, which operated on more than 700 campuses, was just one program in the conversion of the campaign into a youth-oriented, cool-emanating social movement among the students. Among young voters in general, 18-29-year-olds, the preference for Obama over McCain ended up reaching an unprecedented 27 points.

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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.

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Where Is the Faculty on Unionization?

A story today at insidehighered.com has a hole in it: the faculty is missing. Entitled “So Close,” the piece covers unionization efforts at University of Michigan by graduate research assistants, those efforts recently blocked by state legislation, signed by the governor, preventing the union from happening. The story contains viewpoints from research assistants, union advocates, the Michigan administration, and the Mackinac Center, a think tank in the state, but nothing from professors.

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The Anger of Affirmative Action Advocates

Kevin Carey, policy director at Education Sector, a DC think tank, has a commentary in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education that signals the kind of rhetoric we may expect from proponents of affirmative action as the Fisher case heads to the Supreme Court. It is a mixture of high-mindedness for one side and denunciation of the other.

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On “The Birth of Critical University Studies”

The first sentences of Jeffrey Williams’ essay in the Chronicle
of Higher Education
, “Deconstructing Academe: The Birth of Critical
University Studies”,
sounds like an introduction to the many conservative and libertarian critiques
of higher education that have appeared in recent decades, starting with Allan
Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, Martin Anderson’s Imposters
in the Temple
, Roger Kimball’s Tenured Radicals, Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal
and Richard Bernstein’s Dictatorship of Virtue.  The
sentence reads:

“Over the past two decades in the United States, there has
been a new wave of criticism of higher education. ” 

But the second sentence dispels them all.

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The Latest Sad Protests at Duke

As KC Johnson explained here a study by social scientists at Duke found that African American students
“disproportionately migrate from science and engineering majors to less
challenging majors in the humanities,” thus questioning the benefits of
preferential admissions. In response,
faculty members and student groups protested. It’s important to examine
the actual content of those protest statements, if only to realize fully how
biased, anti-scientific, and politically-motivated they are.

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Students More Liberal? Not So Fast

Political and Social Views Decidedly More Liberal.”  That’s the first finding in the 2011 American Freshman Survey, a project of the Higher Education Research Initiative at UCLA,
one of the largest annual surveys of college students. 
Last year, the Survey chalked up 204,000 first-year-of-college
respondents who filled out a lengthy questionnaire on behaviors,
attitudes, and background. 

Some of the questions were political, and the authors derive a definite liberal trend among the 2011 cohort.

Continue reading Students More Liberal? Not So Fast