Tag Archives: public

What Commencement Speakers Might Have Said

Commencement speeches 2012.jpgNow that commencement speakers have finished their work, what messages did they dispense to the class of 2012, graduating into the worst economy since the Great Depression? Mostly generic words of anodyne idealism: “Live your dream,” “go change the world”–conventional bromides that graduating classes have heard since college life began. Few speakers gave the new graduates advice that they actually could use in the current dismal job market: don’t hold out for that ideal job–take the best one you can find and get to work; remember, paying work of any kind has much to teach you, about managing your time, getting along with difficult bosses and customers, and learning by observing management how to run a business. But most speakers fell back on clich

Courageous Suggestions for Reforming Education Schools

The Pope Center posts a provocative “clarion call” for reform in Education schools–coming from an Education professor, Nick Shudak of Mount Marty College. Shudak sees as soluble the problem besetting college and university Education departments, but through the kind of courageous action that, I suspect, can only come from outside the ranks of the faculty.

Shudak, who chairs his school’s Education division and in 2009 received a Ph.D. from UNC, offers a series of proposals that anyone interested in the best possible instructors teaching American public school students should support.  He (correctly) contends that the problem begins with student recruitment. Education departments have poor reputations on campus; talented undergraduates generally major in liberal arts or the hard sciences. Shudak recalls that when he was an undergraduate and told fellow political science majors that he planned to switch to Education, “Many couldn’t believe that someone who could choose from a variety of careers in the political arena or law would go into teaching instead.” This bad on-campus reputation means that “many talented students are dissuaded from becoming teachers.”

The problem persisted into his graduate career, when Shudak took not only education offerings but also courses in philosophy and political science. He reports that “many of my professors warned me that education students do not generally fare well in their classes.” I strongly suspect that lots of professors around the country have had similar conversations; I certainly have heard such complaints at Brooklyn.

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A Minor Cut at Harvard Is an Amputation at UNLV

In 2008, when all the writing was on the wall but the wall was still believed to be surmountable, the various strategies to rescue the nation were largely about putting more money into the economy.  Now, up against the wall, the strategy is about taking it out.  That counter-movement has begun to reveal a few things that strike us all as very unpleasant, regardless of which political side we may take.  Because public and private universities are beholden to very different kinds of constituencies, it is particularly painful to watch, for example, as Harvard recovers from its losses with cuts that are more akin to losing a little weight than losing a limb, while at the same time such public universities as the University of Las Vegas at Nevada struggle with whether to retain some departments in the liberal arts, including philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and women’s studies.

It is easy to see how a triumphal politics on the left or the right can weigh in on all this.  In Harvard’s case, it has been more publicly embarrassing than fiscally consequential that some of its more ambitious programs have had to be scaled back or delayed, including a large development project in the sciences in nearby Allston.   But Lawrence Summers, who has returned to Harvard after his stint in the Obama administration, is now feted in the pages of The Boston Globe as a popular and inspiring teacher. This follows his earlier departure as President of Harvard for making remarks confirming that no university administrator should ever risk high position for the sake of personal integrity and candor.

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Who Pays the Hidden Cost of University Research?

Higher education in America is in financial crisis. In constant dollars, the average cost of tuition and fees at public colleges has risen almost 300 percent since 1980. Our best public research universities, like my own University of California (UC), are wracked with doubt: will they be able to continue their historic role as institutions with a vital public mission, or will they become “privatized,” demanding ever higher tuition and therefore inevitably serving a more elite clientele?
Let me note some pointed comments by citizens outside the campus. A letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle last March 9th said: “What the public college students (and their parents) in this state must understand is that the days of the taxpayers subsidizing their higher education are over, sad as that may be. …The costs at all colleges and universities have risen dramatically over the last few years (much higher than the cost-of-living-index). … Those of us in California who are taxpayers are having a difficult enough time paying our mortgages and for the education of our own children. It simply is not sustainable to expect that there will be free or substantially below-cost education provided on the backs of the state’s increasingly dwindling number of taxpayers. …”
A similar complaint is voiced in an article published by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, July 5, 2010: “As California faces an unprecedented budget crisis, students at California colleges have been asked to pay a greater share of the total cost of their education, most of which is still borne by taxpayers. …[T]axpayers pay 60-70% of the cost of … UC students’ education, without even counting financial aid.”

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Mandatory Opinions on Public Campuses

Ohio governor Ted Strickland believes America’s public systems of higher education “strengthen our people” and “provide ideas that our [nation] needs to grow.” I agree that they should do this. After serving as a trustee of The Ohio State University at Mansfield for the past nine years though, I have begun to wonder whether, in some very important ways, they are actually undermining and doing significant harm to these essential goals.
Numerous surveys and studies show that the faculty and administrations of America’s major public campuses are politically well to the left of the typical American. But it’s not just one-sided campus opinion that’s the problem. Even more so, it’s the highly ideological programs, courses, centers and approaches to teaching and learning that these believers keep imposing on our students.
To understand the problem, look at the two related concepts of diversity and multiculturalism. At Ohio State, as at many public universities today, “celebrating” and “respecting” diversity are considered to be highly important goals that are expected to be broadly incorporated into the university’s curriculum and student programming and activities. As such – and because diversity is such a broad and all-encompassing term – it is important to understand what the university means by the term diversity. At Ohio State, the preface to the university’s 2001 Diversity Action Plan established the focus of the university’s diversity efforts. This preface says:

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An Educator for Indians and Capitalism

In the year 2000, American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, CA, was one of the worst-performing middle schools in the state. Not a single student tested above the fiftieth percentile on state or national exams in math, and only eight percent of sixth-graders and 17 percent of eighth-graders passed that bar in reading (the rate for seventh-graders was zero.) Class attendance rates hovered around 65 percent. Junk lined the hallways, trash and rubbish cluttered the sidewalks and alleys outside. Neighbors called the school “the zoo.”
In Year 2008, American Indian Public Charter School had the highest test scores of any public school in Oakland. It ranked fifth among middle schools across the state.
What happened? A new principal arrived, Ben Chavis. His story appears in a recent book by Chavis and Carey Blakely entitled Crazy Like a Fox: One Principal’s Triumph in the Inner City
According to Chavis, among other things, the school was trapped in a culturalist fantasy. In an effort to instill racial pride and respect American Indian tradition, school leaders developed a curriculum that included courses in drumming and bead-making. The school day started late because they believed “American Indians couldn’t get up early in the morning.” The first hours brought everybody together for a session in which students and teachers discussed their feelings and interests and worries. Meanwhile, truancy, vandalism, and failure continued.
When Chavis took office, it all changed. He substituted “culture” classes with basic math and reading coursework oriented on explicit disciplinary standards. He extended the school year. He assigned detention freely for slight infractions, including a saturday detention period. He gave out financial awards for perfect attendance. He brought local drug dealers and thugs into the school to meet the students and promised them $5 for every absent student they found on the streets and returned to campus. He implemented a four-part education model made up of 1) family, 2) accountability, 3) high expectations, and 4) free market capitalism. In fact, he says, he insisted on “a free market capitalistic mind-set in our students and staff.” And he didn’t complain that the school needed more money.
There is much more to tell about the year-by-year progress of the school, including the firing of incompetent and lazy staff as well as the expulsion of what can only be called a racial pathology destroying the school until Chavis took over. It is a remarkable story of a man of solid work-ethic values and entrepreneurial vision working miracles.

Saving U Mass From Its Faculty

The National Education Association has just published its annual higher education journal, Thought & Action, whose 2009 edition contains a special focus: “A New Progressive Era for Higher Education.” The essays (which are not yet available on-line) lament the declining government support for public institutions—all while providing (unintentional) examples of why the public might doubt the wisdom of pouring more money into higher education.
Take, for instance, the tale told by Max Page, a professor in the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s department of art, and sociology professor Dan Clawson, whose recent publications include such only-in-academia topics as “Class Struggle in Higher Education” and “Neoliberalism Guarantees the Future of Social Movement Unionism.” Page and Clawson relate how a small group of UMass professors—mostly from “Labor Studies and Sociology, with long activist resumes”—formed a group called Save UMass, to protest the education funding priorities of the Massachusetts state government.
The activist professors encouraged colleagues to take time from class to criticize the state legislature for not giving UMass more money. Page and Clawson rejoice that around 40 percent of faculty spent a half-hour of class time doing so. The “activist” duo appears unaware of how their colleagues’ behavior violated the AAUP’s 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure.

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Public Tuition Rising Faster Than Private

The College Board’s “Trends In Pricing” report, released this week, reveals that public university tuition rose by an average of 6.5% this fall while private university costs increased by only 4.4%.
The discrepancy is no surprise, in an atompshere of reduced state education budgets, declining out-of-state enrollment, and notable increases in in-state applications (and attendant costs) to public universities. For more on the topic, read me here.