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It’s Not Just the Athletes Who Can’t Read and Write

Tar Heel alums may be embarrassed over the scandal involving the amazingly low academic standards for “student-athletes” at the University of North Carolina, but for the rest of America, it is the gift that keeps on giving for its insights into the true priorities of our higher education leaders. This recent article in the Raleigh […]

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Obama’s Win Is An Indictment of Higher Education

This morning in the Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes summed up 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 […]

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Common Core Mandates Will Harm Critical Thinking

Jay Mathews is one of the few education reporters who gets it. He understands that the heavy diet of informational reading Common Core mandates at every single grade level for the language arts or English class may decrease, not increase, “critical” or analytical thinking. But how are teachers and parents to know that black is […]

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A ‘Magisterial’ Work on Affirmative Action

“Mend it, don’t end it” was the famous advice on affirmative action from Bill Clinton, who did neither. There are, of course, other useful slogans, such as “Muddle it,” which the Supreme Court essentially did in the 2003 Gratz and Grutter cases. The Court held that the University of Michigan could not give a fixed […]

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Harvard Tells the Freshmen What to Read

Harry Lewis, a professor and former dean of Harvard College, wrote yesterday 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. Here are this year’s readings: A More Perfect Union, Barack Obama Whistling Vivaldi , Claude M. Steele Choosing the Color […]

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What Should Kids Be Reading?

Books above a sixth-grade reading level, for sure. According to Renaissance Learning’s 2012 report on the books read by almost 400,000 students in grades 9-12 in 2010-2011, the average reading level of the top 40 books is a little above fifth grade (5.3 to be exact). While 27 of the 40 books are UG (upper […]

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The Terrible Textbooks of Freshman Comp

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

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Why Academic Gobbledygook Makes Sense

When I first began teaching political science in the late 1960s I would routinely assign articles from top professional journals to undergraduates. This is now impossible–without exception, they are incomprehensible, overflowing with often needless statistical complexity. The parallel is not the hard sciences where mathematics replaced philosophical speculation. If anything, these articles reflect a trivialized […]

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Academic Articles–Expensive and Mostly Unread

At research universities and many liberal arts colleges, too, it is universally assumed that research is an unadulterated good.  Research keeps professors fresh in their fields, makes them better teachers, and raises intellectual standards for departments.  Who would disagree? In conversations about research in my world of the humanities, though, one doesn’t often hear about one […]

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Greatly Exaggerated Death of the Novel

Thomas C. Foster’s book is three years old, but it still holds the gold medal for Turnoff Title of the New Millennium: How to Read Novels Like a Professor. The author, who teaches English at the University of Michigan, attempts to sanitize his work with the subtitle, A Jaunty Exploration of the World’s Favorite Literary […]

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The Decline of the Novel and the Fate of English

English departments have diversified.  Forty years ago, just about every faculty member defined himself or herself in literary historical terms.  One was a Medievalist, one a Shakespearean, one a Romantic scholar, one a philologist.  Large departments might have someone who does film plus a creative writer-in-residence.  Today, click on any faculty roster and the expertises […]

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The Fiske Guide Turns 30

It seems only yesterday that a few colleagues and I gathered every night in the back of the newsroom of New York Times, then on West 43rd Street, to create the first edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges. It’s hard to believe that the appearance of the 2012 edition this month marks the 30th […]

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That Smug Article in the New York Review of Books

Last year, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreyfus published Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids–And What We Can Do About It, a resounding broadside against campus policies and practices.  They berated the system for producing useless research, creating cushy working conditions, neglecting undergraduates, and reproducing elitism. Hacker and Dreyfus sometimes […]

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Edmundson on Students and Derrida on Tradition

University of Virginia English professor Mark Edmundson has a penetrating, but saddening article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It’s called “Narcissus Regards a Book”, and it laments a terrible outcome of the academic culture wars of the late-1980s and early-1990s. Edmunson recalls the infamous chant of students at Stanford—in his rendition, “Hey-ho, […]

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Will Graduate Work in Literary Studies Have to Cut Back or Shut Down?

The National Science Foundation has just issued an Info Brief on trends in the awarding of doctorates in different fields for the year 2009. (See here) The report contains data going back to 2009 and breaks the numbers down by Science, Engineering, and “Non-science and engineering,” the latter including Education, Health, Humanities, and Professional Fields. […]

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Prof. Bayoumi’s Lament

I recently posted on the peculiar strategy employed by defenders of a Brooklyn College committee’s selecting Moustafa Bayoumi’s book, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America, as mandatory reading for all first-year and transfer students at the college. As I noted at the time, Bayoumi and his defenders […]

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Sound and Fury—The Bayoumi Uproar

How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America—the controversial book assigned for freshman reading at Brooklyn College—is, in my opinion, an important but seriously flawed work, and one that should be read, but not as a sole required text for incoming English students. In the book Brooklyn College English […]

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Don’t Pay Sticker Price, Part 2—the National Universities

————————————- Read Part 1 here. ————————————- In examining the gulf between sticker price and real cost, let’s consider the top 10 national universities as defined by U.S. News & World Report in its most recent rankings. Using U. S. Department of Education data, I compiled the average net prices that students from different family income […]

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The Suicide of English

In The Weekly Standard, James Seaton has a review of the new edition of The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism that illuminates a basic mistake the discipline of literary studies committed many years ago. Here is the second paragraph of Seaton’s review: Despite its length, the new NATC is most revealing in its omissions, […]

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Amen to Bard’s Reading Program, but…

President Botstein’s portrait of Bard College’s summer reading assignments in the context of the college’s curriculum and larger educational aims is winsome and compelling. The college leads its students astutely into reading important books. It attends to the order in which such books should be read—Virgil before Dante. It is mindful of the need to […]

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Message to Freshmen: Let’s Start with Kafka and Darwin

In the wake of the National Association of Scholars’ report on summer reading for college freshmen—the report found many of the assigned books trivial and politically one-sided—we asked Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, to explain his institution’s unusually rigorous approach to summer reading. For the past two years, Bard College has asked first-year students […]

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An Unusually Cheeky Summer Assignment

Many colleges assign incoming freshmen a book to read over the summer. The original idea was to give new students a shared taste of what intellectual life is like. Over the years, the books came to reflect the dominant faculty obsession with race-class-gender group grievance and the idea that America is a grossly unfair nation—Barbara […]

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Why the Great Books Are the Answer

In his recent essay, “Why the Great Books Aren’t the Answer,” Patrick Deneen is correct about many things. He is correct to criticize conservative supporters of great books like Allan Bloom and William Bennett who see them as a throwback to the “good old days” of liberal education. He is correct to point out the […]

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Another Source of Disengagement

One of the most dismaying statistics that comes up every time the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) publishes its annual results is the “professor-student interaction” figure. In 2009, NSSE reported that fully 40 percent of first-year students “Never” discussed with their teachers ideas or readings outside of class (see here for the report). Fully […]

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How the Universities Got This Way

Louis Menand’s The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University is a short, provocative book that raises many more questions than it answers. Its greatest contribution is that it clearly delineates the development of the American university from its origins in the late 19th century to the many absurdities that characterize it […]

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