Although it surprised many, Phillip Roth’s retirement from writing fiction could be seen as a while in coming. For one thing, there was the change in how he used his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, in more recent novels. Where the earlier Zuckerman, as in the Zuckerman Bound group, had been an insatiably sexual and vital if also frustrated actor in his own life, the later Zuckerman, impotent at that, is more or less passive, an observer and narrator of the stories of others.
The device was not unfruitful by any means and produced at least one remarkable novel, American Pastoral, about the wreckage of the Sixties counterculture. But it was as if Roth could go no further with his examination of his own experience. When he finally did allow the impotent Zuckerman to be again the main actor in the story, in the anemic Exit Ghost, the last Zuckerman novel, it was to bring his character to the dead end that emphasis on sexuality had become for him. In the penultimate Zuckerman, The Human Stain, a professor rejects his African-American roots and passes for white and Jewish, only to be ensnarled in political correctness and anti-Semitism.
Both the protagonist-professor and the narrator-Zuckerman find that they are ultimately impotent to affect the course of events or even to understand them fully. It’s as if Roth had been acknowledging for some time that his approach to fiction and the intellectual limits he accepted for himself fell short of encompassing the truth.
Rich Vedder has an essay on Minding the Campus in which he wonders why there is so much lying on college campuses. The main answer, I think, is that college officials know they can usually get away with it.
To his list, I would add the lying about educational content, especially “critical thinking.” Rarely are college students required to learn anything of the sort. Those who use critical thinking to resist leftist platitudes and manias, however, can get in trouble.
I have recently finished the new book by Neil Gross, Why are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care? In it, he tries to sell readers on the idea that even though most professors are liberal, they “play it straight” and don’t try to influence students. On the contrary, there is abundant evidence of courses that are clearly slanted toward “progressive” analysis and statist notions. Jane Shaw writes about one at NC State that a student brought to her attention in this week’s Clarion Call.
Islamic extremeists have been known to incite riots and carry out violent attacks and assasinations when Mohammed is depicted in cartoon form. Amazing how much more open to the principles of free speech and expression they become when it comes to denigrating Jews.
Today, for example, the Hamas Student Union in Gaza published a disturbing cartoon, depicting a stick-figure arrayed in the Palestinian flag throwing the star of David into a trash can. Arabic text below the image reads as follows: “Keep the world clean.”
Peter Wood has a superb Minding the Campus essay on the disgraceful behavior of some students and two administrators at Swarthmore (including the president), who evidently believe that it is all right to shout down people who disagree with you.
Last year, Greg Lukianoff entitled his book on the rise of intolerance on campus “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.” If there’s ever a new edition of the book, the ugly tactics of the divestment mob will have to be included.
Imagine how different things would have been if the topic had been “Should Obamacare Be Repealed?” and the unruly mob had been students demanding that it should be and that no one who disagreed should be allowed to speak.
In a Pope Center piece, Derek Spicer, our soon-to-be-departing intern and NC State graduate, writes about the university’s sustainability moves. Lots of expense to taxpayers in return for dubious, feel-good benefits for university administrators. Some interest groups have also figured out how to profit from this craze.
You can depend on “progressives” to wring their hands over almost any gap between groups of people in their rates of success or failure. Today’s Inside Higher Ed has a piece on a new American Council on Education study that finds such gaps with regard to college completion. The gaps are “a huge concern,” according to ACE’s Mikyung Ryu, who calls for “serious efforts to eradicate barriers for nontraditional and disadvantaged students.”
I doubt that the “barriers” ACE has in mind include pitiful K–12 education, but that’s the chief reason why students don’t make it through college. They lack the academic preparation and even the minimal self-discipline needed for most colleges.
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 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?
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.”
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? 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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
That’s the headline on a Chronicle of Higher Educationstory 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.
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.
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?