Nice Work If You Can Get It
In his latest SeeThruEdu post, Byron Price writes about the “leaders” of HBCUs, many of whom, he observes, rake in huge salaries and benefits that have no connection with results of any kind.
We find the same thing at many other colleges and universities, of course. This suggests a topic for thought: What would an ideal contract for the president of any school say?
Another Sort of Admissions Preference
The people who think that they can improve society by rearranging people never stop coming up with reasons we should let them do so. A new study contends that instead of using racial preferences, colleges and universities should use a system based on an “overachievement index.” Students who do better academically than similarly situated students would get extra points and therefore could be admitted to prestige schools which otherwise would not accept them. John Rosenberg has a sharp analysis of this argument on Minding the Campus.
The authors of the article are based on Colorado and hypothesize a student, James, who qualifies as an “overachiever” and is offered admission at the state’s flagship university. They write that “when James enters CU he will be able to draw on life experiences that most of his undergraduate peers will not. Thus, James should bring views and perspectives to the University that would be absent were he refused admission.”
Put aside the assumption here that just because a young person has managed to do reasonably well academically even though his family is regarded as “disadvantaged” he will be able to do well enough at the flagship university to graduate. Maybe so, maybe not. The bigger problem is the assumption that going to the more prestigious school is necessarily better for James. That’s quite doubtful, especially if you’ve read Paying for the Party. What the authors of that book demonstrated is that the environment of a big-time sports, big-party campus is a very bad one for many students, and especially for kids who need to focus on their coursework. (Here is my review of Paying for the Party.)
Keep in mind that admissions preferences merely shuffle around where students go to college based on the idea that the more prestigious the institution, the better it must be for students who get to attend. That notion is flat-out mistaken. Students can be mismatched not only academically, but also with respect to campus environment. James might be better off at a University of Colorado regional campus or starting in a community college. Leading him off to Boulder, Pied-Piper style, might be very bad for him.
First Lady to College Grads: Prepare for Disappointment
First Lady Michelle Obama picked up an honorary doctorate at Eastern Kentucky University this week. She also gave the commencment address. One particular line in her speech caught my ear: “How are you going to respond when you don’t get that job you had your heart set on?” she asked the crowd of young graduates.
A suitable question for these tepid economic times, don’t you think?
(More details and video from the speech in my latest Hardwire post.)
‘A Simple Prescription for Race Relations’
That’s the title of a short piece by yours truly here, offered as the Supreme Court continues its deliberations in Fisher v. University of Texas. The conclusion: ”It’s all really very simple: We should all treat people as individuals, not as members of this or that racial group; and we should all wait until we’re married to have children. Do those two things, and race relations will be just fine.”
Remember, Our Colleges Teach Critical-Thinking Skills
You might keep that trope in mind as you read this piece in today’s Wall Street Journal by a student at Swarthmore. Instead of students and administrators committed to reasoned discourse, she found . . . well, read it for yourself.
Is Law School Sexist?
Is law school sexist? Or, to pose the question another way, is the Socratic method employed in many law-school classrooms sexist? Some folks are making that argument.
According to the Harvard Crimson, “Among the top students in their graduating classes, men and women entering Harvard Law School earn similar undergraduate grades and LSAT scores. But as soon as students step into Wasserstein Hall, a dramatic gender disparity emerges.”
Also, they’re saying this:
According to a 2012 study at Yale Law School, men made 58 percent of comments in the classroom, while women made 42 percent.
Yet the root cause of this disparity remains contested, as professors, students, and administrators debate whether the Socratic method — the traditional form of legal pedagogy — needs to be adapted to account for gender disparities in the classroom.
For many in the Law School, the Socratic method is an outdated teaching style that reinforces gender imbalances in academia.
Let me get this striaght. So rather than helping female law students gain more confidence to speak up in class, the answer is to stop asking students to speak up at all? Is this really a good solution? Or is this simply one more example of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” we are used to seeing from liberals whenever try to “fix” underperformance among one of their favored groups?
I wonder what Larry Summers would have to say about all this . . .
Students Should Be Able to Borrow More Cheaply!
Senator Elizabeth Warren, that egalitarian zealot from Massachusetts, thinks that if giant banks can borrow from the government at a very low interest rate, so should college students. In an excellent Freeman piece, Richard Lorenc examines the unintended consequences of her “Bank on Student Loan Fairness Act.” Rather than solving a problem, this bill would make things worse if it were enacted.
I only wish that Lorenc had questioned the bill’s premise. The problem is not that big banks get a better rate than college students, but that the government lends money to them at all. Nothing in the Constitution authorizes the government to be in the lending business — not for banks or other businesses, not for housing, not for “green energy,” and not for students.
David Clemens Reports on ACTC and MLA Meetings
In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Professor David Clemens reports on two meetings he recently attended — those of the Association of Core Texts and Courses and the Modern Language Association. Needless to say, he found them strikingly different, but perhaps not entirely oil and water.
Apples and Crab Apples Not Quite the Same
Community colleges can be a valuable solution to many higher-ed problems: They lighten the financial burden on taxpayers and students by enabling students to complete the first two years of four-year academic programs at greatly reduced costs, they include vocational-training programs that academic students can shift over to if they discover that academics are not their “thing,” and they can specialize in the sort of remedial education that does not belong on university campuses.
But they have their own set of problems, one of them being that they often provide substandard courses; one recent study found many community colleges had “disturbingly low standards.” The Pope Center’s Duke Cheston takes a look at this problem and compares some community college courses with their university system counterparts.
The Road to Graduation
It takes students an average of 5.5 years to graduate from public universities, says Harry Stille, head of the Higher Education Research/Policy Center in Greenville, S.C. He is in the process of quantifying taxpayers’ cost of subsidizing students who take too long to graduate (and often just drop out without finishing). His estimate for Arizona State is $26 million a year.
An article about his forthcoming work by Jenna Ashley Robinson and Jay Schalin points out that one way to reduce this cost is to make sure that admitted students are capable of doing the work:
Stille’s list of recommendations to improve the current situation is short, simple, and sensible: state universities should not enroll freshmen who have SATs below 910 (or ACTs below 19), who graduated in the bottom half of their high school class, or who require remedial education before they can handle college-level studies.
This may seem like a straightforward remedy, but university systems routinely violate it. For example, the minimum admissions standard to the 16-campus University of North Carolina is an SAT of 800, and remediation is widespread throughout the system.
Access is paramount, even if it hurts the taxpayer and the student who never finishes.
Stephen Hawking Backs Academic Boycott of Israel
In a Hardwire post I examine the latest high-profile academic to join the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement — in this case, famous author and physicist Stephen Hawking. Hawking pulled out of an academic conference in Israel, where he had been scheduled to speak, after coming under intense pressure from organizers of the anti-Israel BDS campaign.
Hawking declared that he made the decsion after consulting “Palestinian colleagues,” who unanimously advised him to boycott the conference.
Surely there are many nations (including his own) that have political policies Hawking does not support. He isn’t boycotting any of them. Why does Hawking single out Israel as the one place in the world where politics justifies an academic boycott?
Should academic discourse, free inquiry, and the exchange of ideas be subject to political suppression? Should academics avoid talking to scholars who happen to be Israeli? Apparently, Hawking thinks so because that is, in effect, what is happening here.
When one’s disagreement with a nation’s political regime justifies the shunning and boycott of that nation’s scientists and scholars, we are on dangerous ground. Hawking and other politically liberal scholars who participate in the academic boycott of Israel are hypocrites. They are quick to profess devotion to tolerance and academic freedom, but they don’t live up to those ideals – not when it comes to Israel, anyway.
If it is has become acceptable to support an academic boycott of an entire nationality (all Israelis), we aren’t far off from a future in which it will be acceptable to back an academic boycott of an entire ethnicity (all Jews).
The Daily Show on Going to College
I have to give credit to the Jon Stewart crew. This is hysterical.
Not Leaving the Left Behind
The recent book by Amy J. Binder and Kate Wood, Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives, finds on the basis of interviews with students and alumni that the tonier, more intellectual colleges such as Harvard are less aggressive in displaying their left-liberal bias than the rambunctious, freewheeling flagship state schools of the West. Why am I not convinced?
Perhaps because Harvard was the setting for the worst PC lynching of recent decades, which still shocks and chills, namely, the attack on and vilification of Lawrence Summers for stating a few obvious truths about women at a conference on “diversity” in science and engineering in 2005. One female faculty member was so seized with horror at Summers’s words that she nearly passed out. According to Wikipedia, On March 15, 2005, members of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Science passed 218 to 185 a motion of “lack of confidence” in the leadership of Summers, with 18 abstentions. A second motion carrying a milder censure passed 253 to 137, also with 18 abstentions. What were those 18 thinking? It is true that the students were more supportive of Summers, 57 percent of them. That leaves 43 percent, 19 percent of whom were actively opposed, and I suppose the remaining 24 percent joining the 18 faculty fence-sitters and unwilling to take a side. But if Harvard students don’t see the left-liberal bias around them, could that be because it’s like the oxygen they breathe, and thus invisible?
Imbalance at Bowdoin
Readers will find a great deal of interest in the National Association of Scholars report on Bowdoin College, but they would probably not have expected humor. Nevertheless, it is there in the exposure of the deluded self-satisfaction of the Bowdoin population – administrators, faculty, and even students.
For example, the preface to the NAS report estimates that perhaps four or five out of approximately 182 full time faculty members might be described as politically conservative. The college doesn’t dispute the imbalance but insists that the liberal faculty is capable of representing all views, even conservative views when necessary, and, moreover, denies that the imbalance in any way squelches opposition. In response to an article titled, “100 % of Faculty Donations Go to Obama,” the dean of academic affairs blandly declared her expectation “that individual political opinions do not stifle the education in the classroom and that all viewpoints are welcome and respected.”
One Professor Henry Laurence found himself outraged and insulted at the thought that Bowdoin’s liberals are unable to represent conservative views adequately and called the very idea “morally bankrupt.” The college’s president, Barry Mills, went even farther in countering what he called the “perception” of liberal dominance on campus. In a commencement address he pompously touted Bowdoin as more diverse than what he assumed were the benighted communities for which the graduating class were now departing.
Best of all, perhaps, is the trusting attitude of the students, who signed a statement in the college newspaper declaring, “We believe the vast majority of professors are responsible enough to insure that their own political biases do not adversely affect the way they teach.” Even further, they expressed their considered opinion that liberal professors are actually preferable to conservative professors because “modern conservatives often have very simplified world views and see things in black and white,” while “modern liberalism advocates a much more balanced view of the world.” Could that be true? Why then did history professor Patrick Rael refer to Bowdoin students who had advocated an Academic Bill of Rights as “McCarthyite . . . anti-democratic . . . and Far Right.”
Come to think of it, maybe this is not so funny after all.
‘Latino High-School Graduates Outpace Whites in College Enrollment’
That’s the headline on a Chronicle of Higher Education story this afternoon about the findings of “a new analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Hispanic Center.” And it’s reason #387 why we should get rid of racial preferences in university admissions.
An Elaborate if Farcical Defense of Affirmative Action
That is what John Rosenberg calls a recent New York Times piece by Nancy DiTomaso, a sociologist affiliated with the business school at Rutgers. She contends that one reason for high unemployment among minorities is that they’re shut out of the job market by the actions of whites, who use networks to ensure that only other whites get jobs.
DiTomasi’s argument would be slaughtered in a high-school debate, but American academics suffer no penalty for advancing ridiculous ideas, so long as they don’t upset any of our “protected groups.”
In this Forbes article, my Pope Center colleague Jay Shalin argues that federal student-aid programs subsidize waste and redistribute income — redistribution in a way that “progressives” shouldn’t like, namely toward wealthier people. Absolutely right.
One Writing Prof Who Gets Results
In today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, John Maguire explains how he gets his students to write well. Rather by accident, he tossed aside the book on writing and started by teaching his students how to use active verbs and build good sentences.
Why don’t youngsters learn that early in grade school?
In this Forbes article, I argue for a simple, commonsensical fix to our wasteful system of financial aid. By combining merit and need criteria, rather than having aid programs based on criteria of pure need (such as Pell Grants) or pure merit (such as Georgia’s Hope Scholarships), we could cut a lot of expense, waste, redistribution, and bad incentivizing. Obviously, there are lots of people who will hate the idea, particularly entrenched interests, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about doing it.
Also, I accept any abuse hurled my way for the title of this blog post.
UMass-Dartmouth’s ‘Interpretation’ of FERPA
As we read in this Boston Herald editorial, UMass-Dartmouth, the school where the Tsarnaevs and their friends were, um, studying, is hiding behind its “interpretation” of FERPA to refuse to reveal information pertinent to them.
Hat tip: Doug Schneider
The Power of Inertia
Five years ago I remarked that the highly touted Voluntary System of Accountability (by which major universities were going to reveal “student outcomes”) had not caught fire.
Some measures exist, such as the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Productivity, but many schools are reluctant to reveal their scores. At least that seems to be a major reason why “College Portrait,” the online version of large universities’ Voluntary Accountability System, is not yet available.
Progress is still slow, as Inside Higher Ed recounts today. Indeed, the resistance by large universities to posting student outcome data is almost breathtaking in its effectiveness. Doug Lederman reports that “scores” of schools have opted out “primarily because they did not like the system’s dependence on standardized measures that allow for comparability across colleges.”
Not much has changed since the then-president of the University of California system, Robert C. Dynes, explained why the university decided not to join in 2007 (as quoted in the IHE story): “The university has concluded that using standardized tests on an institutional level as measures of student learning fails to recognize the diversity, breadth, and depth of discipline-specific knowledge and learning that takes place in colleges and universities today.” Q.E.D.
As recently as a few months ago, UNC–Chapel Hill also declined to post its Collegiate Learning Assessment results, even after having been instructed to by the UNC system. Why? Because “campus leaders/faculty believed the test results weren’t representative,” the university said. This, even though the study used statistically sound and publisher-recommended sample sizes, as Jenna Robinson pointed out earlier this year. Under pressure (possibly from our reporting) the university recently posted its finding with this disclaimer: “We posted the results to our College Portrait, but didn’t find them useful in contributing to campus discussions about student learning outcomes.”
By the way, I sympathize with the view that a single test can’t capture the full panoply of impacts of four years of college. But to resist revealing assessments that could inform students about the value of their potential investment is something that only a cartel of socialistic enterprises can get away with.
Those Courses are Terrible and We Shouldn't Have to Compete with Them
That’s the message in the letter by some professors at San Jose State, with reference to online courses. Roger Kimball has a good take on it in a PJ Media post.
Hat tip: Geoff Hawkins
Race to the Bottom Midway Results
It seems that every time you blink, there is a new front-runner in the annual contest between the “Studies” departments to come up with the least objective, most politically inspired, most anti-intellectual nonsense. By becoming the first academic unit to officially support the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” movement, the Association for Asian-American Studies might have edged into the lead against perennial favorites Gender Studies, Environmental Studies, and African-American Studies.
As Ursinus professor Jonathan Marks points out in Commentary, the thing that makes the AAAS decision especially egregious is the inclusion in their resolution of language written by 9/11 “Truther” (and emeritus Princeton professor) Richard Falk, who recently got himself back in the news for suggesting that the U.S. had it coming in the Boston Marathon bombing.
Of course, we still have a long way to go before this year’s winner is decided, and the competition is fierce.
Re: John Rosenberg Demolishes
The Chronicle post in question makes much ado over “a series of racial incidents at Oberlin College.” While the author acknowledges that Oberlin is “historically progressive,” it does not occur to her to doubt the truth of the supposed incidents. Peter Wood does so in this NAS article.
There is good reason to think that the Oberlin administration made a mountain out of a molehill, if even that. But, assuming that the Oberlin situation were entirely true — that a liberal college with a 28 percent “minority” student body finds itself plagued by racial antagonism — are we to believe that Oberlin could solve this problem by further increasing its minority “representation”? That would seem to follow only if the few whites who were responsible for the alleged incidents were the ones who were filtered out by the move to increase the school’s diversity. And if Oberlin could recruit more minority students, that necessarily means fewer of them for other schools, thus making the situation worse for their remaining minority students.
John Rosenberg Demolishes Another Ridiculous Argument
A recent Chronicle post by a Cornell professor (of African, feminist, gender, and sexuality studies) makes one of the most ridiculous arguments for continuing racial preferences that I have ever seen and John Rosenberg tears it apart on his blog.
Cornell grads should weep.
If Student Loans Must Be Forgiven . . .
There’s a sharp piece today at The Freeman. The writer, who got through college without going into debt, is opposed to transferring the debts of students who borrowed lots to the rest of America (or those of us who pay taxes, anyway). If we must “forgive” student debts, he suggests that the cost fall on Warren Buffett. But even if he liquidated his entire portfolio, that wouldn’t make more than a small dent in the vast accumulation of student debt.
The writer says that we need to find a solution, but the only solution I can see is for the feds to stop financing higher ed.
What a Long Strange Trip It Was
A well-paid high-tech job is the goal for many college students (and tech-school students and community-college students). Dan Carpenter got one right out of high school — but wanted something more. He took courses at his local commuter school (UA-Anchorage), hoping to find some subject that he could study and learn passionately. Only he couldn’t figure out what that “something” was. He gambled on quitting his job and attending a Great Books program in another state. You’ll have to read the rest of the story to find what he discovered there and what lessons he has to offer.
Another Success Who Says College Was a Waste
Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes, writes, “My college actually took me away from logical thinking.” He laments that so many young American exhaust themselves trying to get into an elite college (and drain the family’s resources if they succeed), when they’d learn more and spend much less at a community college. (He earned his degree in political science at Stanford.) Karlgaard foresees fruitful collaboration between community colleges and online education. “This affordable alliance will be a fantastic blessing for late bloomers — and America.”
Unexpected Support for MOOCs
Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal ran an article by Michael S. Roth entitled “My Global Philosophy Course.” Roth is the president of Wesleyan University and found that while many students who signed up for his course (on Coursera) dropped before the end (only 4,000 of 30,000 stuck it out), there was remarkable intellectual energy among those who persisted. He writes, “I am sure that many of those enrolled in the online version have also discovered texts and people that are having profound effects on their lives.”
I was struck by the remarkable diversity of the students who wanted to learn philosophy with Roth. “Study groups in Bulgaria and India, in Russia and Boston made me giddy at the reach of this kind of class.” Ah — the invisible hand at work. Without any official trying to guarantee “diversity” (on account of ancestry), Roth got a remarkably diverse group of students who had one crucial thing in common, namely the desire to learn what he wanted to teach. Officials at Wesleyan and elsewhere should keep that in mind. Bring together a group of students who want to learn and “diversity” will take care of itself.