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March 31, 2008 [feather]
Tautological polling

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has conducted a poll about politics in the classroom--and has framed it in such a way as to render its findings substantially less useful than they could be.

Working with Gallup, CHE asked Americans, "How often do you believe that college professors use their classrooms as a platform for their personal politics?" Here is what they found: "Only 29 percent of those age 25 to 34, and who are more likely to have spent time on a college campus in recent years, responded that professors 'often' use their classrooms to espouse their political views. But that response grew to 41 percent of those between the ages of 45 and 54, and to nearly 60 percent of those over age 65."

CHE goes on to quote numerous academics ruminating on the poll's "findings." The poll indicates that those who are furthest removed from the college classroom are the ones most likely to believe that professors proselytize, they said, clearly implying that there is nothing to the notion that professors bring their politics into the classroom in inappropriate ways, and that those who know what they are talking about don't believe such canards.

Building on this, some of the people CHE asked to comment on the poll argued that the real problem it reveals is that negative myths about higher education are damaging its public reputation, and are thus harming its ability to get funding and jeopardizing its autonomy. It all looks awfully pat--but then, that's pretty much how CHE seems to have planned it.

It's interesting to see how large swathes of those polled are discounted; would they have been equally discounted if they didn't believe political ranting was going on? It's also interesting to see how the older, discounted populations polled are used to minimize the results from those younger participants whose opinions presumably do count. It's only by contrast that 29 percent can be seen as "only" 29 percent. There are more than 14 million college students in this country at any given time. 29 percent of that figure is a whopping number, and would seem to deserve a little more consideration than it gets from the Chronicle and its more dismissive commentators.

Percentages aside, it's worth stepping back to look again at the question, which is phrased so as to guarantee that it will fail to elicit an accurate or comprehensive picture of the problem. It is probably true that a minority of people between 25 and 34 were "often" subjected to political ranting in class. But that's a caricature of the issue.

The image of the political demagogue stumping for lefty causes in class is a straw man--this person exists, but is the exception to the rule. The debate--and the acquisition of knowledge--will remain handcuffed and polarized until we can banish that straw man to the wings where he belongs and start talking in good faith about what Mark Bauerlein has aptly characterized as the soft bias that is rampant on campus. As Anne Neal told CHE, "The problem of the PC university is not so much unrelenting political rants, although they exist, so much as it is that certain topics are not taught, certain disciplinary perspectives are not covered, and certain questions can't be asked."

Erin O'Connor, 1:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

Election season

If you are subject to the usual Pavlovian responses, talk of trustee elections makes your eyes glaze over. It all seems so impossibly arcane, involuted, complicated, and elsewhere to most people--even to those who care about higher ed issues. But trustee elections are actually very big deals. They tell us a lot about the health of a given college or university--and they also have the potential to shape that college or university's future. They are also one of the most direct ways alumni have of participating in the governance of their alma mater.

Case in point: Dartmouth, which in recent years has managed to inject a great deal of excitement--and scandal, and legal wrangling--into trustee elections. I've written exhaustively about that here, so I won't summarize in detail. But I will say that the interesting thing about Dartmouth is how dark horse "petition" candidates running on reform-oriented platforms have managed multiple times to displace the alumni association's "chosen" candidates, winning seats on the board and bringing with them a popular alumni mandate to work for substantive, positive change at Dartmouth. Not surprisingly, those candidates have been the source of great upset within the Dartmouth establishment, and a number of efforts have been made to prevent such candidates from continuing to get elected and to dilute the impact they can have on the board itself.

But Dartmouth isn't the only school to watch. Hamilton has had interesting trustee elections featuring petition candidates. And now, as Harvard gears up for its annual round of trustee (or, in Harvard-speak, "overseer") elections, there is an interesting assortment of candidates, most endorsed by the alumni association but not all. In today's Crimson, Robert Freedman outlines why he is running as a petition candidate for the Harvard board, and indicates his intention to stand for positive, student-centered reform:

There is considerable ferment in the academic world today--about the high cost of college, about the curriculum and what students actually learn and should learn, about teaching methods, and about the quality of student life. What can be done to channel these concerns constructively into improvements?

Insiders agree that the colleges cannot by themselves make the necessary changes. In "Our Underachieving Colleges," former Harvard President Derek Bok has written that "it would be myopic simply to wait in the hope that reform will emerge spontaneously from within." But engaged alumni, trustees and parents can make change happen. They have more power and influence than they realize.

Alumni elect the governing boards of many colleges, but relatively few bother to vote. At Harvard, less than 10 percent of the 330,000 alums vote. More should; and they should vote for those candidates who have a strong interest in improving higher education, who can work cooperatively with others, who are open-minded, who are seriously interested in the issues higher education faces today, and who are willing to express their views and not simply rubber stamp whatever is presented to them. These are not necessarily those alums who are the biggest cheerleaders or the biggest donors to their alma mater.

Most college trustees have taken a docile role regarding the issues involved in the current ferment in the academic world. They seem to think of themselves only as fund raisers who should leave all other matters entirely to the college administrators and faculty. But they are fiduciaries who should not abdicate their responsibilities.

Trustees should make it their business to speak up for the students when the occasion demands, because the students themselves come and go and have little influence. To cite just one small example, last year at Harvard an enterprising student noticed that the Harvard Coop was selling the required books at high prices. So the student decided to publish a list of required books with their ISBN numbers online to make it easy for students to order them from other sources. As the student made his way through the Coop writing down these numbers, he was threatened with arrest for stealing proprietary information! In the brouhaha that followed, some faculty members justified the Coop's monopoly prices by citing the service the Coop performed in reminding the faculty to get their lists of required books into the Coop in time for classes. This illustrates in a small way the imbalance between the convenience of faculty and the interests of students. Students already pay high prices for books. To pay even more to remind the faculty to do their job is outrageous.

Parents of current students can and should play a role too. But today most parents work like dogs (and get their children to work like dogs) to get them into the "best" college, and then, as Tom Wolfe has written in a foreword to "Declining by Degrees," do not show "the slightest curiosity about what happens to them once they get" to college.

Parents and trustees should ask questions. For example, what sorts of policies does the college have in place to prevent a rush to judgment such as occurred a few years ago at Duke and severely harmed its innocent lacrosse players?

Parents could insist that they be informed whenever the college believes their child is in trouble. While there are privacy rules to consider, we should never again see the tragedy that occurred at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last year when the college denied a student's mother access to her son's dorm room and computer until she obtained a search warrant, even though the Federal Bureau of Investigation was searching for him as a missing person. The student was found dead a week later.

Trustees, alumni, and parents have no right to micromanage the faculty or the administration, but they should take an interest in whether students receive a broad liberal education, effective teaching, skilled advising, and an enriching and satisfying college experience. Too often today they don't know and don't care. I believe it's time for a change.

Crucially, Freedman is articulating a platform that not only covers such perennial issues as academic excellence, affordability, accountability, and teacher quality, but also includes a strong stance on the proper role of trustees in governance. In an era of passive, uninformed boards who tend to defer overmuch to presidents, administrators, and faculty, promises of reform are hollow if they do not come attached to a reformed understanding of what it means to be a trustee. That reformed understanding, in turn, needs to incorporate a clear grasp of what kinds of trustee involvement are--and are not--appropriate. Freedman is trying to do just that. Find out more about his candidacy at www.freedmanforoverseer.com.

And if you are a Harvard alum, get informed about the candidates, make an informed decision about whom you support, and vote. It's worth the time and effort.

Erin O'Connor, 10:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

March 29, 2008 [feather]
Do your homework

The folks at the NAS were rightly taken by Stanley Kurtz's article--and germinal research plan--on foreign donations to American colleges and universities. And they are doing something about it.

From the NAS site:

We encourage you to send us information you deem relevant, concerning full disclosure of large foreign gifts. We invite you to be attentive to this matter at both your current universities of contact and your own alma mater.

Federal Law requires institutions of higher education to report foreign gifts in the amount of $250,000 or higher to the Department of Education. (See U.S. Code Title 20, Section 1011F.) http://vlex.com/vid/19196063. The NAS believes that timely, thorough, and accurate reporting of foreign gifts facilitates transparency in higher education. Complying with the law by publicly reporting large foreign gifts helps allay undue concerns about foreign influence over American higher education. Reporting foreign gifts also alerts the public to those few cases that do raise legitimate concerns about the role of foreign donors in American higher education. In short, public information on foreign gifts facilitates an important debate about the place of American higher education in the world.

The recent release of the Department of Education's records on foreign gifts to American institutions of higher education has given rise to concerns that some colleges and universities may not be reporting large foreign gifts in a timely or thorough fashion. In view of these concerns, the NAS has agreed to act as a clearing house for reports that we believe raise legitimate concerns about the foreign gift reporting practices of particular institutions. The purpose of posting such concerns on this site is to encourage timely and accurate reporting of large foreign gifts. The NAS does not endorse, or claim to have reached any final conclusions, about the specific reports posted here. Our purpose is simply to help those who we feel are raising legitimate questions about gift reporting practices find a public forum.

While we do not endorse the reports we post as part of this project, we will sift submissions and decline to post any that are, on their face, simply rumors or ungrounded accusations. The NAS reserves the right to exercise its own judgment about which reports to post. We are looking for reputable reports based on significant evidence.

The NAS encourages colleges and universities to issue public statements about the accuracy and thoroughness of their foreign gift reporting practices. We are eager to post such statements at this site, particularly such statements as are issued in reply to any concerns about gift reporting practices posted here.

If you know of news reports, stories in college newspapers, or reputable reports by bloggers raising legitimate questions about a given institution’s foreign gift reporting practices, we invite you to e-mail them to nasonweb@nas.org.

If you know of news stories, or have information about large foreign gifts to a particular institution that are not included in the recently released federal data, you are also invited to send that information to our email.

Again, the NAS seeks to provide a forum in which legitimate concerns about foreign gift reporting in higher education can be expressed. We are also eager to provide a forum in which colleges and universities can publicly respond to and allay public concerns. As an organization, the NAS does not specifically endorse or draw any final conclusions about the reports from the public, or the statements from institutions of higher education, posted on this site.

Knowledge is power. It's also the basis for informed debate about issues vital to our country's future. Get involved.

Erin O'Connor, 8:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

March 28, 2008 [feather]
What's up at Delaware

You remember the scandal. Last fall, FIRE broke the news that the University of Delaware's residence life program was way over the line with its doctrinaire and coercive "curriculum." Dorm residents were made to attend mandatory diversity training, and were even subjected to prurient politicized probing by their RAs, who then evaluated them on the basis of their beliefs and reported the results to administrators. The whole thing was an absurd, insulting, and constitutionally problematic endeavor that Delaware could only disavow once the word got out. Residence life programming was suspended pending a formal review by the faculty senate, and promises were made that a new, improved program would replace the existing flawed one.

So how has it all worked out? From the looks of things, it seems that Delaware has indeed kept its promise to review and rework the program--but it also looks as though the university may be in the process of simply dressing up the founding elements of the old program in fancier clothing. The word "curriculum" will no longer be used to describe the efforts of residential life programs to convert students to administrators' own way of thinking about diversity; controversial materials used in residence life programming will no longer be posted online for all to see (last fall, it was the availability of Delaware's tendentious materials online that made the university vulnerable to exposure); the programs won't be mandatory any more.

But the goal of pressing a particular set of viewpoints on students remains. "They're still talking about what could be called 'soulcraft'--shaping the soul," says Professor Jan Blits. "From what I know of the proposals, they are attempts to shape the beliefs, characters and actions of the students, not simply give them a traditional residence life program--what to do if there's noise in the hall, safety, courtesy in the buildings. Instead, they want to educate. The language has been somewhat softened, but from what I understand the substance is the same."

In a letter to Delaware's trustees, ACTA president Anne Neal summarizes the problem and urges the board to step in to ensure that the university does not compound its problems by introducing yet another unethical and ideologically manipulative residence life program. Read it here, and read the accompanying press release here.

Erin O'Connor, 9:47 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

March 26, 2008 [feather]
The green loyalty oath

The University of Connecticut is the latest institution to sign on to the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, a pledge to reduce signatory schools' carbon footprint that includes a "declaration that global warming is caused by humans" and that also requires the signing institution to implement curricular changes that are in line with that declaration.

537 other colleges and universities across the country have already signed on to the document, which reads in part, "We [the undersigned] recognize the scientific consensus that global warming is real and is largely being caused by humans. We further recognize the need to reduce the global emission of greenhouse gases by 80 percent by mid-century at the latest, in order to avert the worst impacts of global warming and to reestablish the more stable climatic conditions that have made human progress over the last 10,000 years possible. ... Campuses that address the climate challenge by reducing global warming emissions and by integrating sustainability into their curriculum will better serve their students and meet their social mandate to help create a thriving, ethical and civil society."

It all sounds so good. But the jury is still out about whether humans are causing global warming -- and the implications are huge for how we think about sustainability. New data show that the earth has not been warming over the past decade, but has been cooling--despite rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The theory of anthropogenic global warming is keyed to carbon dioxide--as Al Gore tells us, humans are putting huge amounts of it into the atmosphere, which is why the planet is warming, and which is why we all have an obligation to reduce our carbon footprints. The problem is that this chain of events has not been shown to be true--and is the subject of serious scientific challenge.

Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is admitting it. But this is not popular information, and the media is effectively collaborating with global warming activists to ensure that facts at odds with the theory of anthropogenic global warming don't get a proper hearing.

And college and university presidents--who have an obligation not to institutionalize ideological agendas grounded in what's looking increasingly like junk science--are blithely doing just that when they sign onto the Climate Commitment. Along the way, they are placing politics ahead of prudence, committing educational resources and precious funds to a prescribed set of green campus initiatives based on a highly tendentious, increasingly contested theory.

The exceptions to this rule are worth noting. Reed's president declined to sign because the College is committed to political neutrality in its institutional decision making; the University of Minnesota has not signed on because it recognizes the academic freedom issues posed by the Commitment's curricular component--presidents do not have the authority to make unilateral decisions about curricular content.

Erin O'Connor, 8:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

Show me the money

Still more on the question of where the money is coming from--and what it is being used for, from Stanley Kurtz. Kurtz focuses on foreign gifts, and published a comprehensive list of who has given what to whom:

Through Freedom of Information Act requests and discussions with officials at the Department of Education, I have obtained a comprehensive list of gifts originating in foreign countries to American colleges and universities (as reported under Title 20, Section 1011f of the U.S. Code, "Disclosures of foreign gifts"). By law, all disclosure reports filed under Section 1011f are considered public records, and today, National Review Online is making them available to readers, here.

I post this material for two reasons. First, Congress will soon be facing an important decision regarding foreign-gift-disclosure requirements for American colleges and universities. Second, some recent large gifts to American schools originating in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have raised legitimate concerns about foreign influence on American higher education. Given the size of our higher-education system and the variety of potential questions raised by the records I am releasing today, the best way to uncover further problems is to make this material available to mainstream reporters, bloggers, student newspapers, alumni, and concerned citizens throughout the country.


How do we differentiate between questionable foreign influence and legitimate support for that which is best in American higher education? By itself, the information contained in federally mandated foreign-gift disclosures does not allow us to discern the difference. These reports can only raise questions for reporters, students, and other concerned individuals to pursue. To fairly judge individual gifts will require additional information about its stated purpose and how it is actually being used, and this can only be obtained through inquiries at the institutions in question. Personally, I begin with the assumption that most foreign gifts to U.S. universities are benignly intended and do substantial good. On the other hand, since some foreign gifts do indeed raise legitimate concerns, how do we begin to make sense of the records I’m posting today?

Kurtz makes some provisional stabs at answering that question in his essay, and is careful to say that it's best to assume that most gifts are above board and are used for legitimate ends. But he notes, too, that institutions such as the University of Michigan are almost certainly not reporting foreign gifts when they ought to be, that others such as Harvard and Columbia regularly conceal the names of the donors of major gifts, and that institutions routinely fail to meet the requirement that they report restrictions on gifts. He also raises questions about whether Harvard really returned a 2004 $2.5 million gift from the president of the UAE, as it claimed it did, or whether that gift was simply reissued more quietly and secretly.

Kurtz also notes that bloggers, local media, students, and alumni are ideally positioned to help launch the massive volume of investigative work required right now to get the facts. If you've got an armchair detective in you (and who, in this era of 24-7 Law & Order reruns, does not?), then get to work. Be thorough, be smart, be precise, be fair, and have fun.

UPDATE: For still more on the politics and poetics of donations, see Donald Downs' recent Minding the Campus piece.

Erin O'Connor, 8:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

How to think about bloat

Since we are on the subject of academic administrative bloat, I thought I'd reprint a story from this morning's Inside Higher Ed about Arizona State's Foundation, which receives and administers all private gifts to the university.

At a time when endowment spending practices are coming under increasing scrutiny on a national stage, local efforts to draw attention to such issues are also receiving their collective days in the sun.

A new report from a coalition of unions, students and community members blasts the ASU (Arizona State University) Foundation, which receives and administers all private gifts for the institution, for what the group calls "excessive and questionable spending." Foundation officials responded Tuesday that the findings are "distorted and fabricated," and that the coalition is trying to advance a political agenda.

The ASU Foundation, an independently governed group, is failing to adequately support the university by directing too little in the way of grant money and other scholarships that directly benefit students, the report charges. In recent years, it notes, the foundation has greatly increased overhead spending and executive pay while tuition and fees continue to rise.

The foundation's endowment has more than doubled in recent years to its current total of roughly $500 million. In 2005-6, the year that the report investigates by looking at an IRS Form 990, the foundation received $124 million in direct public support. Roughly $33 million in grant money was given to the university. Johnnie D. Ray, the foundation's president and chief executive officer, said it's a "deliberate tactical choice" to increase the size of the endowment and to reduce the amount of money transferred from the foundation to ASU for immediate spending. (He also noted that some gifts are restricted, and thus can't be used for grants.)

One of the primary reasons for the increase in overhead spending has been the rising costs associated with paying investment managers. The staff also has grown over the past several years from 42 to 87 people. Ray says the increase in employees is needed to handle the booming endowment.

According to the coalition's report, the foundation's executive compensation has risen 440 percent over the past six years, and its eight top officials are paid a combined $1.7 million annually--a total that exceeds comparable foundations. ASU Foundation officials said it's unfair to compare its pay structure with that of other foundations, because at some institutions top fund raisers are employed directly through the university. An apples-to-apples comparison is "almost impossible," Ray said.

"We have to go after the best people we can possibly find," Ray added. "Compensation has gone up by leaps and bounds. We are well within the market for how we are paying people we are hiring."

Foundation officials criticized the report for relying solely on one financial document and not taking into account a financial statement released by the university.

Responding to the report's claims of "excess" spending on meals and entertainment during fund raising events, Ray said the foundation's spending and practices are comparable to that of its peers. He also defended the annual $160,000 salary given to the wife of Michael Crow, ASU's president, as a "senior adviser." Sybil Francis, Crow's wife, is an "instrumental part of the success" of the foundation in fund raising, serving multiple roles, including co-chair of the women and philanthropy group, Ray said.

ASU's foundation and the Coalition for Justice at Great Western Erectors have been at odds over labor issues in recent years. Great Western Erectors worked as a subcontractor on a project for the foundation, and Ray says the report is the latest effort by the coalition to strong arm the foundation into supporting a political cause. Sara Myklebust, the researcher behind the report, acknowledges that her group has been trying to engage the foundation for years on the issue, but that the report is more an attempt to advance the conversation about how the university foundation allocates its money.

"When you look at the coverage nationally of what's happening, people are looking at how much universities are making on their endowments, how much they are saving, but at the same time how fast tuition is rising," said Myklebust, an ASU alumna. "There needs to be some more oversight, and more management of how the money is being spent."

"This problem extends beyond ASU," the report says, noting the U.S. Senate's look at endowment spending practices.

Brian Flahaven, director of government relations and institutionally related foundations at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, said this is an example of a group that has "grabbed onto this issue that's gaining national attention." He said he wouldn't be surprised to see other groups releasing similar reports that examine a local college's spending.

Flahaven said he's noticed that there's still a misconception that if a college increases payout of the endowment, tuition will automatically decrease. Such reports also need to keep in mind, he said, that many gifts are directed for a specific purpose.

It's all very interesting stuff--especially the ongoing assumption that calls for transparency and accountability are part of a political plot against academe.

They're really not. The truth only hurts those who have a problem with it.

University financial reports are famously cryptic. If you have never looked at one, do--ASU's annual reports for the past several years are here. Check them out and see what you think. And, if you are curious about the article's mention of IRS 990 forms, find out more at www.guidestar.org, which allows you to look at the 990s of nonprofit organizations--including those of the Arizona State Foundation.

There are lots of answers in documents like these--and they also raise lots of questions. If you are interested in being part of an effort to learn more about administrative bloat and academic budgeting, get in touch with the National Association of Scholars.

Erin O'Connor, 7:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

March 24, 2008 [feather]

.. to Peter Wood readers and Minding the Campus regulars! I'm honored that my little post about administrative bloat has attracted some attention -- and am delighted to see that the NAS is planning to study the ways and means and ethics of that bloat by launching "a grassroots project to find volunteers who, with a little training, can learn to penetrate the veils of obscurity in which college and university typically wrap their more doubtful conduct. We have some expertise in this veil-removal, having pursued countless freedom of information requests and having gained our own IPEDs proficiency. But we welcome additional help."

Readers should feel free to post ideas about what such a project might look like and how it might be pursued. And, of course, if any of you have world enough and time, do contact the NAS to offer to help. Figuring out where the money is going--and identifying areas where academic excellence is being shortchanged in favor of bureaucratic boondoggles--is a nonpartisan project that benefits everyone who cares about higher education.

Erin O'Connor, 9:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Check Out

... these deleted scenes from Evan Coyne Maloney's Indoctrinate U. And if you haven't already seen the film, you can download it here, or catch one of the upcoming campus screenings.

Erin O'Connor, 8:57 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

March 22, 2008 [feather]
What makes a leader

We've all gotten a bit foggy about what good leadership is. We get it all mixed up with pandering and rhetoric on one hand, and on the other hand we are so afraid of intolerance, autocratic behavior, and causing offense that we struggle to recognize principled action and the presence of spine when we see them. So much of the debates about the presidential race center on just these things. And, likewise, problems within the academy frequently boil down to them.

The Wall Street Journal is running a staff editorial that speaks to the need to recognize good leadership when it does occur, focussing on newly retired University of Colorado president Hank Brown. Check it out:

The modern academy is notoriously immune from accountability, as Larry Summers so painfully learned at Harvard. So it is worth noting, and applauding, the achievements of Hank Brown, the best college president you've never heard of, who retired this month from the University of Colorado.

Mr. Brown took over as interim president in April 2005 when the school of 50,000 was in turmoil. This was a couple of months after CU professor Ward Churchill had become infamous, and a year after the school's athletic department was accused of offering alcohol and sex to recruit football players. A former U.S. Senator, Mr. Brown was reappointed in 2006 in a permanent capacity.

The public was outraged over Mr. Churchill's statements -- including that the 9/11 victims were not "innocent" but a "technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" driving the "mighty engine of profit to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved." The public anger reminded politicians, and even a few academics, that public universities should be answerable to taxpayers.

Mr. Brown proceeded to oversee a complete examination of Mr. Churchill's work, and the ethnic studies professor was eventually fired because of fraudulent scholarship, not his politics. Mr. Brown then initiated a complete review of CU's tenure policies, making it easier for his successors to get rid of deadwood. He also took on the equally sensitive subject of grade inflation, insisting that the university disclose student class rank on transcripts. If a B average puts a student at the bottom of his class, future employers will know it.

Frederick Hess, who researches higher education at the American Enterprise Institute, says there may be plenty of other people who know how to fix a university. But the reason there are so few Hank Browns goes back to Machiavelli. "When a leader tries to wrestle with these things," Mr. Hess notes, "there are influential constituencies that he upsets. It's much easier to manage the status quo than to enforce change."

Hank Brown may have upset some students and faculty, but he built support elsewhere, such as among the university's board of regents. He long ago saw the importance of active trustees to improving higher education. In 1995, he and Senator Joe Lieberman wrote in Roll Call newspaper that "campus political pressures often make it difficult for those on campus to defend academic freedom." During his CU presidency, Mr. Brown got the regents to support his policies and even to adopt a statement encouraging greater intellectual diversity on campus.

As for that athletic scandal, Mr. Brown's commitment to transparency proved the right antidote again. He settled the lawsuits, personally apologized to the victims and made all of the information about the case, both good and bad, available to the public. While predicting the behavior of college football players is risky business, it is a safe to say Mr. Brown has changed the culture of CU on and off the field.

Anne Neal, the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, recently summarized Mr. Brown's accomplishments. "In a little more than two years, he has helped restore CU's reputation for educational excellence and accountability. Alumni and public confidence quickly followed." As Mr. Brown departed, Ms. Neal noted, "CU was enjoying a record level of public support," including record increases in alumni giving the last two years.

Send that man to Harvard.

Neal's full statement can be read here.

Question for readers: What do you regard as the foundational qualities of strong, ethical higher education leaders? Who, to your mind, embodies some or all of those qualities? Who does not?

Erin O'Connor, 9:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

March 20, 2008 [feather]

Social engineering may work in theory, but it tends to backfire in practice. People just are not as good as they think they are when it comes to anticipating what will really happen if they start tinkering around with an eye to manipulating social outcomes.

Consider what Title IX is doing at historically black colleges and universities (HCBUs). Wade Hughes, former head coach of Howard's wrestling team, explains:

Nationwide we are seeing a growing disparity between male and female students enrolling in college. This gender disparity is most severe in the African American community. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have enrollment ratios approaching 65 percent female to 35 percent male.

One would think that these schools would want to find creative ways to attract more male students to their campuses. Adding sports teams would seem to be one common sense solution to draw more male student applications.

Unfortunately, schools that want to start a men's team will run into a virtual roadblock in the federal law known as Title IX.

In 2002, Howard University cut men's wrestling and baseball while adding women's bowling in order to avoid possible Title IX problems. Notwithstanding, more than five years later, Howard is still not in compliance with the strict proportionality standard, and according to the most recent data would have to cut an additional 82 athletes from men's program's -- that's more than 40 percent of all the male athletes currently attending the university.

I support the spirit of Title IX- that no one should be discriminated on the basis of gender. I think women should have the same opportunities to benefit from organized athletics. The truth is, as a seasoned coach I have learned to appreciate women's athletics much more because of the apparent balance between athletic ability and technical preparation and execution.

What I take issue with is the unfair and unreasonable way that Title IX regulations have impacted opportunities for male athletes. The problem, in particular, is the method of compliance known as proportionality. This regulatory standard requires that the ratio of male to female athletes on varsity teams closely mirror the ratio of male to female student undergraduate enrollment.

The impact of Title IX's proportionality standard has been disastrous, because at many colleges, far more males than females are seeking to take part in athletics. Schools have been left with no choice but to eliminate men's teams, and place limits on the numbers of male students on the programs that remain. Adding a team for male athletes is out of the question when a school is out of compliance with Title IX. For the student-athletes, the unintended consequences of Title IX enforcement have been devastating.

They have devoted young lifetimes to their sport, only to have their opportunity to compete diminish. Despite efforts to comply that include both eliminating men's teams and adding women's teams, the majority of our HBCUs still aren't in compliance with Title IX's strict proportionality test more than 35 years after the law's passage. Consider the findings of a recent study by the College Sports Council, which discovered the following after analyzing enrollment data reported by HBCUs to the Department of Education for the 2007 academic year:

* 73 of the nation's 75 HBCUs that are co-educational and have athletic programs were out of compliance with the strict proportionality standard.

* 30 of the schools out of compliance would have received an "F" from the Women's Sports Foundation in their latest report card on gender equity in college athletics.

* 43 schools, though they didn't get an "F";, are still vulnerable to lengthy and expensive litigation.

* Overall, 3,349 male athletes are at risk of losing their playing opportunities.

What's even more disconcerting is that even after many schools have cut men's programs, the continuing drop in male enrollment in higher education and the persistence of the strict proportionality standard will dictate even more dramatic cuts in the future.

In 2005 a model survey option was offered in the U.S. Department of Education's clarification for Title IX compliance. Unfortunately, to date, the NCAA is actively discouraging universities from using surveys to measure the interest of their students.

I believe that if Howard and other HBCUs want to increase their male enrollment, thereby increasing or at the least maintaining the opportunities available for African American male students to participate in college athletics, they should be afforded the latitude that the survey option offers.

Equal opportunity, yes. Legislated proportionality, no. This should be true of the sciences--which are under heavy pressure to increase the proportion of women under the misguided theory that the only explanation for anything other than parity is discrimination--as well as sports. Why is this so hard to grasp?

Erin O'Connor, 1:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)


Idaho schools are getting creative about ways to deepen and liven up the grade school curriculum. Check out what they are doing with chess:

Once a week, Deborah McCoy, a third-grade teacher in Donnelly, Idaho, unpacks chessboards and pieces and spends an hour teaching her 20 students how to play the game.

Mrs. McCoy does not do this because she is passionate about chess; she barely knew how to play before this school year. But she began teaching it as part of an unusual pilot program under way in more than 100 second- and third-grade classrooms across Idaho.

On Thursday, state officials will announce in Boise that the program will be extended in the fall to all second and third graders--making Idaho the first state to offer a statewide chess curriculum.

The state's $1.5 billion education budget, passed two weeks ago, includes a guarantee to finance the instruction. Tom Luna, the state's superintendent of education, said participation by teachers would be voluntary, but if reaction to the pilot program is any measure, interest will be great.

There are no studies showing that teaching chess has benefits for children, but there is anecdotal evidence, Mr. Luna said.

"One of the things that we hear is that too much of what we do is based on rote memorization," Mr. Luna said. "The part I really like about this program is that kids are thinking ahead."

Mrs. McCoy said she has been pleased with the results.

"So many kids spend their time plugged into video games, iPods, television and so they are more isolated," she said. "They learn give and take in chess. There are courtesies that you follow. It has been really beneficial for them."

Idaho has 40,000 second and third graders, and Mr. Luna estimated the instruction will cost about $200,000 to $250,000 a year, although it could run as much as $600,000 "if everybody jumped on it the first year," he said. The money is expected to come from reducing administrative expenses in the school system, though state officials said they had not yet identified where the savings would be made.

Idaho is using a curriculum called First Move, which was developed by America's Foundation for Chess, a nonprofit, Seattle-based organization that promotes teaching chess in school. First Move is now taught to 25,000 students in 18 states, according to Wendi Fischer, the vice president of the foundation.

Rourke O’Brien, the foundation’s president, said the idea to introduce chess into Idaho's school system arose out of a discussion between Erik Anderson, the foundation's founder, and Roy Lewis Eiguren, a lawyer and lobbyist who lives in Idaho.

Mr. Anderson and Mr. Eiguren sit on the board of the Avista Corporation, an energy company based in neighboring Washington. After hearing about the benefits of teaching chess, Mr. Eiguren set up a dinner early last year and invited Mr. Luna, Karen McGee, an education-policy adviser to the governor, and three Republican state lawmakers--Representatives Eric Anderson (no relation to Erik Anderson) and Bob Nonini, and Senator John W. Goedde.

The dinner participants agreed to create the pilot program, and Mr. Nonini volunteered to provide $600 of his own money to pay for one of the classrooms in his district for a year, Mr. O’Brien said. The rest of the cost, about $60,000, was paid by the state.

First Move differs from some other chess-in-school programs in that it is taught by classroom teachers and is intended as a curriculum enhancement for second and third graders. It incorporates elements of math, history and vocabulary.

Teachers who wish to use it do not need to know chess. They are trained at seminars over a day or two before the school year starts, and are provided with an instructional DVD, a DVD player, chess sets, boards, online resources and a manual. Every other week, an experienced player is available to answer questions.

Mrs. McCoy said her town was so remote--Donnelly is about a two-hour drive from Boise--that the expert player, Mark Morales, was available only online, but she had found that was adequate. She said it was good for her students to be exposed to a sophisticated game like chess.

"Donnelly is approximately 250 people," she said. "We are right smack dab in the mountains. Most of our kids live on ranches or in small towns."

Some of the benefits of the program, Mrs. McCoy said, came in unexpected areas.

"I actually have one student who is originally from Russia and two Hispanic students who have limited English skills, and chess kind of leveled the playing field, and it kind of helped their self-esteem issues," she said.

This is very cool.

If you like chess, and especially if you also like Alaska, ironic takes on hard-boiled detective fiction, and Jewish literature, you might enjoy Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union.

Erin O'Connor, 7:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

March 19, 2008 [feather]
Business as usual

Mark Bauerlein has carved out a vital niche for himself as an anthropologist of academic culture. He's shown us how groupthink within academia works, and has over the years taken a lot of knocks from academics who really don't want to hear his message and who thus go out of their way to misparse and twist his words. Along the way, they do much to prove some of the very behaviorial points they deny.

One of the hitches in current debates about academic culture centers on what it means when we say that college teachers inject bias into the classroom. Straw men abound on both sides of the argument, and things polarize and paralyze quite quickly. Today, Bauerlein does that debate a big favor, explaining how it is that a professor who is not a practicing ideologue--who is simply, blandly going about the day-to-day, year-to-year business of assembling unexceptional syllabi and teaching unexceptional courses--may still be operating in the service of a pretty pernicious and pedagogically unsound agenda, and may in fact be the most practically effective agent of that agenda around.

Here he is on "soft bias":

In recent years, conservative critics of academia have had few better friends than Ward Churchill, the Group of 88, MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins (who fled Larry Summers talk about variations in intelligence between genders), and a few other hot-headed leftists on campus who made headlines. They proved the point about ideological bias every time they opened their mouths or printed their opinions. They were the slam dunk cases, and their high standing proved an embarrassment to their colleagues.

Beyond those outspoken circles, though, the evidence appears to grow thin. For the truth is that the majority of academics are not fiery, intolerant people railing against Bush in class or berating a conservative sophomore in office hours. They fall on the left side of the spectrum and wouldn't dream of voting for a Republican, yes, but they pretty much stick to their jobs of teaching a field and pursuing more or less apolitical topics. Churchill et al discredited the profession with their partisan heat, but mainstream professors restore credibility precisely by their dutiful, everyday manner.

It is all the more regrettable and exasperating, then, that when they make fundamental choices in their work these moderate professors harbor some of the same biases, although in softer form and more judiciously expressed, and they produce equally discriminatory effects.

A fair illustration appeared recently in an essay by Thomas R. Tritton in the lively e-daily Inside Higher Ed. The piece recounts an education course he taught at Harvard, and it focuses especially on the texts he chose for the syllabus. Throughout the exposition, this former-president of Haverford College appears entirely thoughtful and open-minded, his language humble and genial.

But the actual points he makes and the syllabus he devised are no less tendentious than what might come from an outspoken leftist who regards conservative thought as an aberration. "My basic plan," Tritton explains, "was to explore how colleges promote social justice issues to their students." Tritton never pauses to consider whether colleges should promote social justice issues to their students. Why do so, when "Most social justice efforts probably have at least the implicit notion that making the world a fairer and more just place is a worthy goal, and that education may be the most effective way to promote it"? Tritton adds: "Hard to argue with that, at least if you're an educator."

Hard, indeed, if you've never encountered arguments to the contrary. Tritton apparently hasn't, for a few sentences later comes an admission. "As one might predict," he remarks, "scholarly writing is tilted towards the liberal and it is difficult to find serious work from rightward perspectives." Note the wording. Tritton doesn't say rightward approaches are wrong or faulty. Rather, they are not "serious," and unseriousness is the most damning judgment for a professor to make. It means that such work doesn't merit opposition, or even attention. Tritton doesn't need to introduce conservative or libertarian thinking about social justice at all. It's already in such poor condition that it doesn't pass the legitimacy test.

Hence, the following texts don't qualify: Friedrich Hayek, The Mirage of Social Justice; Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia; several works by Thomas Sowell; and essays by Irving Kristol and Michael Novak.

So what does qualify? Well, one text Tritton chose was Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, by bell hooks. Here are its opening sentences:

When contemporary progressive educators all around the nation challenged the way institutionalized systems of domination (race, sex, nationalist imperialism) have, since the origin of public education, used schooling to reinforce dominator values, a pedagogical revolution began in college classrooms. Exposing the covert conservative underpinnings shaping the content of material in the classroom . . .
You get the idea, and hooks's indignation doesn't hide the flatness of her assertions or the clunkiness of her prose. Tritton finds it serious, however, and the "students adored her." That Tritton allowed hooks's anti-conservatism to stand without any conservative to speak back demonstrates well the bias at work. Let’s call it for what it is - partisanship, not education - and for all Tritton's reasonableness, it creates a skewed intellectual climate.

This is how soft bias works in higher education. It doesn't spout anti-Americanism, blackball conservatives, and penalize libertarian students. "Soft bias-ers" enter committee rooms and keep calm, designing syllabi, choosing works, and selecting ideas not by active exclusion but, putatively, by professional scruples. In a word, they cast a disciplinary sheen over the discriminations, passing ideological judgments as intellectual judgments. Soft bias doesn't respect or refute conservative thinking. It dismisses it, soberly and patiently.

That makes soft bias less newsworthy. It is far more widespread than Churchill-style bile, but to expose and refute it requires time and disciplinary knowledge, too much of them to fit popular formats on television and in op-eds. And so soft bias will continue, with people making their way up the professional chain by exercising it. Meanwhile, students will receive a partial, tendentious education, and often never know it.

Read the Inside Higher Ed piece to which Bauerlein responds here.

Fun question for readers: Is there a connection to be made between the "soft bias" Bauerlein describes here and the "soft bigotry of low expectations"? If so, how would you frame it? If not, why not?

Erin O'Connor, 9:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

March 17, 2008 [feather]
Short course in Irish-American history

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, the Wall Street Journal gives us a good chapter in the rich crossover history between Ireland and the U.S. I'll go ahead and splurge and paste in the whole thing:

On this St. Patrick's Day, Ireland is peaceful and prosperous. The animosities of the past will have little bearing on the great parade that travels up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The so-called Celtic Tiger, with its cubs more interested in the strength of the euro than the durability of sectarian differences, appears to have entered a new era in its history.

Perhaps then, on this day of all days, the Irish Catholics of New York should do something that would've been unthinkable even a few years ago: raise a toast to the Protestants.

I am referring to the Protestants of New York City and their actions during the winter of 1847, an unjustly forgotten episode in the Irish history of this city.

In late 1846 and early 1847, word began to reach the Manhattan docks that Ireland's potato crop, vital for the survival of millions of Irish, had failed for the second time -- initiating a food crisis unprecedented in that nation's history. Among those stunned by the onset of famine was the city's WASP establishment, which had been far from friendly to the rising numbers of Irish Catholics who had arrived here over the previous decades. The current antipathy toward illegal immigrants from Mexico pales in comparison to the vicious, nativist sentiment targeting the Irish during the 1830s and 1840s.

Yet on Monday evening, Feb. 15, 1847, a large crowd gathered at the Broadway Tabernacle, a Congregationalist church on Worth Street. They were there "for the purpose of affording relief of the Irish people," according to an account in the Freeman's Journal and Catholic Register, an Irish Catholic newspaper published in New York.

John A. King, a former state assemblyman and future governor, called the meeting to order and nominated a slate of presiding officers that represented the cream of New York society. Included were shippers, merchants, clergymen and bankers, esteemed figures with names like Astor, Livingston and Havemeyer. A former state assemblyman and senator named Myndert Van Schaick, a member of one of New York's oldest Dutch families, was nominated as president.

Van Schaick then addressed the crowd, "one of the largest assemblages" ever congregated at the Tabernacle, according to the newspaper. "The extent of the calamity that has befallen the Irish is not yet known," he said. "It may be truly said that a whole nation is in danger of starvation." He invited the public to donate to the new organization's relief fund.

After a number of resolutions were passed -- one noted that differences in "customs" or "creed" do not "absolve us from the duties of common brotherhood" -- the pulpit was opened to speakers. Rev. Jonathan Wainwright of St. John's Episcopal Chapel, a future bishop, read several passages from foreign newspapers describing the sufferings in Skibbereen, County Cork, which had become infamous for the plight of its poor. He insisted that he did not attend the meeting to "speak of modes of faith," but to urge his fellow citizens to "share our loaf" and "contribute liberally from our ample store."

Charles King, a merchant, attorney and newspaper editor who would later become president of Columbia University, asked the audience "to come forward . . . without distinction of sect or party to aid in the cause of suffering humanity." Even a few shillings, he said, "would save thousands and thousands of famishing poor."

As subsequent editions of the Freeman's Journal and Catholic Register show, the response was impressive. Within a month, the local famine relief committee reported that it had collected $68,061.49, the equivalent of more than $1.5 million in today's money. New Yorkers of all backgrounds contributed to the fund -- everyone from John Jacob Astor ($500) to "a few poor Christians in Brooklyn" ($10), from the Benevolent Society of Operative Masons ($400) to the Elm Street Synagogue ($200). But considering Ireland's scarred history, the Protestant response is perhaps most noteworthy.

It appears that every minister in town sought donations from the pulpit. The list of churches that gave is impressive: Norfolk Street Methodist, the Reformed Dutch Church at the corner of Greene and Houston, the Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue, Trinity Episcopal, the Second Wesleyan Chapel on Mulberry Street, Duane Street Presbyterian, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church on Christopher Street, Mercer Street Presbyterian, Grace Church, and on and on.

Like many other areas of the country and world, the relief donations in New York dried up as the Irish crisis dragged on for another three years, exacerbated by further crop failures as well as disastrous British relief policies. But this doesn't absolve New York's Irish from recognizing the generosity shown to them by a historical enemy. If nothing else, perhaps someone can name a pub after relief committee president Van Schaick. Call it Myndert's.

That last paragraph gestures hauntingly at what would go on to happen in Ireland--but it's true, too, that no local collection effort was ever going to make a dent in the the devastation wrought by the famine and by the English government's failure to grapple constructively with it. But that's another story for another time. New York may not have continued to come up with famine relief funds, but it did continue to be the port of choice for millions of immigrants over the years (it's a mistake to imagine that the effects of the famine ended once the potato blight was over--one crucial aspect of famine history is that it launched an exodus that continued well into the twentieth century).

My own ancestors were part of that exodus--the foundational pair of O'Connors were small children during the famine, managed to live through it despite being from one of the remoter, tougher, most blighted areas of Western Ireland, and grew up only to find themselves unable to make ends meet in a country still ravaged by the famine's after-effects. They sailed for New York in the mid-1860s, settled upstate, raised over a dozen children, lived on the proceeds of manual labor done on the railway--and sent their kids off to better lives. My great grandfather was their eldest son. He started off in the railways, too--as a great many Irish people did. And he made his way west on them, honing a mechanical inclination into a position as a steam engineer. He stopped in Wyoming long enough to marry the Iowa-born granddaughter of another pair of famine emigrants; they had the first three of their six kids there, and then they went on to California, where they settled, had more children, and made solidly middle-class lives for themselves. The family stayed in the Bay Area for several generations--I was born there myself. And with each generation, the sense of possibility, opportunity, and freedom deepened as the distance from poverty, hunger, and dislocation increased. Censuses show that my great-great grandparents could not read, that they spoke Gaelic first and English second. Now, as my niece and nephew grow up, they will be part of the third generation of O'Connors for whom it is simply understood that a college education is part of their future.

I mention all this because I think it's important to remember what has come before--and because I know first hand how easily Americans forget the past, and with it forget vital truths about what makes this such a wonderful and special place. You might even say that forgetting about the past is part of the luxury--and the identity--of being American in some essential ways. Genealogy is a great antidote to that, as it makes the past personal and disallows a blithe disregard for history as something dry and abstract that doesn't really apply to the present.

And so it was with my own family. I only know what I have sketched above because I have reconstructed it myself--and not with old family stories or photos and letters, because for the bulk of the history I have laid out there are none. I used censuses, birth and death certificates, old newspapers and phone books, and similar archival and official documents. The facts I have been able to assemble have, in fact, blown a few holes in the few sketchy family stories that we all thought we knew to be true. But the facts speak volumes, as skeletal as they are.

I may have a pint later today, but mostly I think of St. Patrick's Day as a good day for remembering.

Erin O'Connor, 7:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

March 15, 2008 [feather]
WSJ interviews Doris Lessing

On writing and politics:

While some of Ms. Lessing's novels may illuminate the political currents of a certain era, she vehemently insists that she is not a "political writer," as such a term connotes propaganda. "I'm [from] a generation that had Stalin. And the writer is the engineer of the soul, as far as he was concerned, for political reasons, and you'll find many people of our age repudiating that because it has led to so much bad writing . . . political writing anywhere is usually lifeless."

Ms. Lessing was briefly a member of the Communist Party before becoming thoroughly disillusioned. This loss of faith seems to have helped define her belief in the danger of dogmas and group-think. It also shaped "The Golden Notebook."

"The very second remark in 'The Golden Notebook' is, 'as far as I can see, everything's cracking up.' This is what 'The Golden Notebook' is about, the crack-up of the 1950s," Ms. Lessing says. Or more specifically: the "crack up" of the left after Nikita Khrushchev's 20th Congress speech in 1956, in which he admitted that Joseph Stalin had been less than a perfect leader.

As she reminds us, "communist parties everywhere in the world . . . didn't want to believe it. . . . They said, oh well, it's the capitalist press again, inventing it." Nevertheless, the left was "pulverized," and people "went off and became religious, or they became their own opposites and became very energetic businessmen, or they had very bad breakdowns. It was a terrible thing for the left. And that cracking up which affected not just the left, but generally, was what I was describing."

The novel is divided into several notebooks, with each one for a different aspect of one woman's life. She eventually goes insane. "If you look at the structure, it is a cracking up. Everything is in fragments! Everything is in bits and pieces. And it ends in a breakdown, you know a general breakdown, a psychological breakdown."

This was not at all what many thought "The Golden Notebook" to be about. The book's exploration of a woman's inner life, feelings of hostility and resentment, and unhappy experiences with men came off as inflammatory and "man-hating." Critics initially savaged the book. Feminists, however, embraced it, much to Ms. Lessing's annoyance. "I hated the 1960s feminists," she says. "They were dogmatists, you see. In comes ideology, and out goes common sense. This is my experience of life."

On political correctness:

"It's a continuation of the old Communist Party. It is! The same words, the same attitudes . . . 'the Communist Party has made a decision and this is the line.'" At first, she says, political correctness had a good beginning; she remembers saying that the language that we use is sexist, racist and so on. But then, "that became a dogma. Because we love a dogma, you know, we really do. We can never just let things develop easily from an idea, it seems to me there's always a group of fanatics who grasp it and make it a dogma."

On the novel:

"We are writers writing at a time when it's a question about whether the novel is going to survive at all," Ms. Lessing says. "I think it will survive for a minority of people who care very much about literature." Perhaps partly to blame for the novel's downfall are the temptations of the Internet, such as blogging. The Web, she says, "produces some pretty depressing people who don't know anything about anything."

On winning the Nobel Prize:

"Well, back in the '70s they sent some official from the committee to say I would never win it, they didn't like me, so I just stopped thinking about it," she explains. "So when they said I won it, I was slightly upset because I know quite a few people who have won it, and they say you will not do anything else for a year but be a Nobel Prize winner. And it's absolutely true."

On naming the cat:

At one point, our conversation is interrupted by a visit from a black-and-white cat. "I've only got one now," Ms. Lessing says. "She would never tolerate another cat." The cat's name, "yum-yum," comes from a character in the Mikado, a comic opera set in Japan. "In the Mikado, it's a very rich, beautiful, pampered girl who is going to become an empress. So I thought it would be funny to call this rather staid, middle-aged cat 'yum-yum'," Ms. Lessing explains. She adds dryly, "but most people don't see the joke."

"Very few people really care about freedom, about liberty, about the truth, very few," Lessing writes in The Golden Notebook. "Very few people have guts, the kind of guts on which a real democracy has to depend. Without people with that sort of guts a free society dies or cannot be born."

Erin O'Connor, 8:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

March 14, 2008 [feather]
The good kind of multiculturalism

Often "multiculturalism" comes attached to a morally suspect, ideologically manipulative set of beliefs and intents. But that's too bad, because genuine cultural crossover really is the spice of life, a source of endless delight and, quite often, the mechanism of hope.

Check out this really inspiring story about a Bronx teacher who has gotten her kids--many of whom are black and hispanic--totally enraptured with Irish step dancing:

Taja Garnett's parents are from Belize, but her nickname is "Irish girl."

Ever since Taja, 10, joined the Keltic Dreams, the Irish dance troupe that is the unlikely pride of her Bronx elementary school, she has been so consumed by high kicks, heel clicks and treble hop backs that she practices "on the street, at the bus stop, sometimes at the train station, in the living room, on the bus when I'm standing up and there's no seats."

Oh, and also in class. In class? That's right, with her fingers, she explained, demonstrating the way her index finger acts as the left foot and her middle finger as the right.

"I look at the teacher," Taja chirped, her eyes gleaming mischievously behind wire-rimmed glasses, "and do it at the same time."

With a student body that is 71 percent Hispanic and 27 percent black, Public School 59 does not seem an obvious home for a thriving Irish dance troupe. And when Caroline Duggan first arrived from Dublin at age 23 to try her hand as a New York City public school music teacher, it wasn't. Many of her students had never heard of Ireland. Why, they wanted to know, did she talk funny?

Then, to stave off homesickness, Ms. Duggan hung a "Riverdance" poster in her fifth-floor classroom, and one thing led to another. The children pointed to a long-haired dancer on the poster and asked if it was her. No, she laughed, but I could show you a few steps. The impromptu lesson grew into a wildly popular after-school program and, for the first time last year, a trip to Ireland that still inspires dreamy looks among those lucky enough to go.

"The grass wasn’t like ordinary grass," recalled Nyiasha Newby, 10. "It was like sparkling and stuff, because the water was on it. It was, like, fresh."

On a recent afternoon, as cars blaring hip-hop music rolled past P.S. 59, on Bathgate Avenue near 181st Street, and neighbors called to one another in Spanglish, the school auditorium swelled with the soaring sounds of drums, fiddles and uilleann pipes.

Sixty growing feet laced into clunky black shoes spun, kicked and hop-1,2,3'd their way across the stage, in routines that Ms. Duggan, now 29, had choreographed, infusing the traditional Irish dancing she was reared on with elements of hip-hop, salsa and African dance. Toothy smiles mingled with the bitten lips of deep concentration. The Keltic Dreams were at it again.

"It kind of took on a life of its own," marveled the principal, Christine McHugh.

Read the whole article and don't miss the video. And if you like this sort of thing, rent Mad Hot Ballroom. Here's the trailer for that:

Erin O'Connor, 8:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

March 13, 2008 [feather]
Thinking Code Pink

I was born in Berkeley. I didn't grow up there, but I did return for college and spent four wonderful years there. And as a proud Berkeley native and UC Berkeley alum, I give two thumbs up to this:


Erin O'Connor, 1:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

March 12, 2008 [feather]
Weber rolls over in his grave

We know that most college courses are taught by non-tenure-track faculty--either adjunct lecturers or graduate students. Now we also know that most full-time higher ed employees are administrators, not faculty. The ratio seems to be changing pretty fast, too--in 2004, 50.6 percent of full-time higher ed employees were faculty (this doesn't count med schools); in 2006, that number had sunk to 48.6. Interesting, too, is a comparison between public and private four-year institutions. In the one, the faculty figure has gone from 53.1 percent to 51.1 percent. In the other, it has gone from 45.6 percent to 44 percent.

It strikes me that there is a case to be made for linking rising tuition costs to the bureaucratic bloat that has now become standard on campuses across the nation--especially when you consider that the institutions tilting most heavily toward administrative employees are the private ones, where tuition is highest. And there are convincing arguments out there that once you've bloated a system with bureaucracy, it's just about impossible to shrink it down again.

But I'm neither a manager nor a student of such things. I'd love to hear readers' thoughts.

Erin O'Connor, 8:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

March 8, 2008 [feather]
Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails

Christina Hoff Sommers begins her devastating new article on activist intrusions into the hard sciences with a wonderful set piece about Harvard's notorious Math 55:

Math 55 is advertised in the Harvard catalog as "probably the most difficult undergraduate math class in the country." It is legendary among high school math prodigies, who hear terrifying stories about it in their computer camps and at the Math Olympiads. Some go to Harvard just to have the opportunity to enroll in it. Its formal title is "Honors Advanced Calculus and Linear Algebra," but it is also known as "math boot camp" and "a cult." The two-semester freshman course meets for three hours a week, but, as the catalog says, homework for the class takes between 24 and 60 hours a week.

Math 55 does not look like America. Each year as many as 50 students sign up, but at least half drop out within a few weeks. As one former student told The Crimson newspaper in 2006, "We had 51 students the first day, 31 students the second day, 24 for the next four days, 23 for two more weeks, and then 21 for the rest of the first semester." Said another student, "I guess you can say it's an episode of 'Survivor' with people voting themselves off." The final class roster, according to The Crimson: "45 percent Jewish, 18 percent Asian, 100 percent male."

Why do women avoid classes like Math 55? Why, in fact, are there so few women in the high echelons of academic math and in the physical sciences?

The answer, Sommers explains, is not "discrimination." But that isn't stopping activists from insisting that it is--nor is it stopping the federal government from funding their efforts to engineer gender parity in these traditionally male-dominated disciplines. The danger this poses for some of our most vital fields of knowledge is very real.

It's safe to say Sommers isn't going to become president of Harvard anytime soon. The people she's arguing against are the very people who led the way when Lawrence Summers was pilloried for making politically incorrect comments about women in the sciences. But that doesn't make her any less right.

Sommers reports that 17 women have completed Math 55 since 1990. "I located two female survivors--Sherry Gong, currently enrolled, and Kelley Harris, who completed Math 55 with an A last year. 'Did you encounter a hostile environment in that class?' I asked Miss Harris. She laughed. 'I loved my classmates!' When she once thought of dropping out, it was her male friends in the course who persuaded her to stay. Sherry Gong was taken aback when I inquired whether she felt that women in math were unwelcome or margin alized. It was as if had asked whether women had the vote. 'It is 2007!' she reminded me. Sergei Bernstein, a young man now enrolled, told me, 'We would like to have more girls.'"

Erin O'Connor, 12:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack (0)

March 6, 2008 [feather]
Georgia on my mind

Georgia has been a hotspot lately for higher ed reform. Georgia Tech's inattention to intellectual diversity issues led to a lawsuit and, in 2006, the repeal of a campus speech code. The University of Georgia has made national news for violating students' free speech rights and for maintaining an unconstitutional speech code. Valdosta State expelled a student for protesting a new parking garage--and only reversed its decision after intense public and legal pressure. Legislative efforts at melioration have taken the form of an intellectual diversity bill. Meanwhile, students have agitated for a stronger core curriculum.

Now, ACTA has issued a comprehensive report card on the Georgia state system, and the results are interesting indeed. Graded on a pass/fail system, Georgia gets passing marks for general education and governance structure. But it fails when it comes to intellectual diversity, student learning, and board effectiveness. Read the report here, and read commentary here.

Erin O'Connor, 9:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

The rape debate

When Heather MacDonald published her analysis of the contradictions--and hypocrisies--built into campus rape culture, I wrote that we could expect to see MacDonald vilified for venturing politically incorrect observations about sex.

And so it has happened. MacDonald responds to her critics here. The whole thing is worth reading, but here's a representative excerpt:

Let me propose a thought experiment. An unapprehended rapist has assaulted two women in a particular area of State University's campus--.04 percent of the female undergraduate population. Would the State University administrators tell girls to stay away from the area until the rapist is caught? Or would they remain silent about whether girls should continue to frequent that area of the campus, because "rape is never a woman's fault"? The first, of course, because students' safety is the administrators' paramount concern, regardless of whether female students have a "right" to frequent that dangerous area at night.

Campus rape researchers and advocates, modifying Koss's statistic slightly, say that they believe that a whopping one-fifth to one-quarter of college women are raped by their fellow students. Virtually all of these alleged rapes could be avoided if the girls took certain steps: don't get into bed with a guy when you are very drunk, don't take off your clothes, don’t get involved in oral sex, and so on. Such advice is fully consistent with female empowerment. It recognizes that girls have the power to stop "campus rape." It treats them as moral agents able to control their fates.

But when I suggest to campus sexual assault administrators that they could stop what Koss calls the "rape pandemic" overnight if they persuaded girls to exercise more prudence, I inevitably receive responses like the following (these are my interlocutors' actual words): "I am uncomfortable with the idea of 'recommending that female students exercise more modesty and restraint'--this indicates that if they are raped it could be their fault--it is never their fault." Or: "Yes, modesty would have a certain impact, but who's responsible?"

There are two possible reasons why the administrators refuse to take the most efficacious, practical action to end campus rape--counseling sexual prudence. Either they know in their heart of hearts that what is happening on campuses is not really rape, but something much more ambiguous and also much less traumatic than real rape. Or--and this possibility is too horrible to contemplate--these self-professed women's advocates really do believe that a drunken hookup is rape, and yet are withholding from women the simplest, surest way to prevent being raped, simply in order to preserve the principle of male fault. If the latter situation actually prevails, I conclude that the campus rape movement is purely political, interested solely in casting men as the evil perpetrators of the patriarchy rather than in most effectively protecting potential victims of a traumatic crime.

MacDonald tends to get misread as a prudish apologist for male predators, a "blame the victim" sort whose logic is fatally damaged by her deep, parallel discomforts with the notions of female sexuality and male responsibility. But that's a symptom of the problem she is taking on. I don't see her as a moralist so much as a pragmatist--one who is asking why those in a position to caution college students in practical, value-neutral ways choose instead to operate in an ideologically loaded manner that tends to reproduce the scenarios they say they want to prevent. The cynic in me suspects that campus administrators would rather sit on their hands than advocate precautions that could bring on them the kinds of accusations and attacks that MacDonald endures when she questions the framework of campus sexual culture.

Erin O'Connor, 8:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)

March 4, 2008 [feather]
Debating Indoctrinate U

At Minding the Campus, John K. Wilson reviews Evan Maloney's Indoctrinate U--and Maloney responds.

Wilson has lots of quibbles with Maloney--and Maloney has a lot to say in response to them. But the bottom line is clear: Wilson calls this film "the best documentary ever made about higher education" and concludes that "Indoctrinate U deserves a wide showing on college campuses. Every college should show this movie to its administrators, faculty, and students, and use it as the start (but not the end) of a conversation about the state of freedom on campus."

I would agree with that (full disclosure--not for the first time: I helped with the fact checking for the film). If you want to arrange a campus screening of Indoctrinate U, you can do that through the Moving Picture Institute (more full disclosure--I do some work for them). Or, if you want to download your own copy of Indoctrinate U, go to the film's online store and choose between an MPEG-4 for $9.99 and a virtual DVD for $12.99.

Erin O'Connor, 8:44 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

March 3, 2008 [feather]
Under the rug

In the wake of the 2006 lacrosse scandal, Duke University has more or less tried to sweep its misdeeds--and accountability for them--under the rug. There was a confidential settlement with the three indicted players. There were vaguely apologetic but largely spineless quasi-expressions of regret by Duke president Richard Brodhead, but no real acknowledgment of wrongdoing. The outrageously inappropriate faculty members who formed the Group of 88 were never sanctioned; neither was Houston Baker, who supplemented public rantings about the putative wrongdoing of innocent athletes with private email berating the mother of a lacrosse player for being the parent of a "farm animal." And Duke carried on, apparently in the arrogant expectation that bygones were now bygones and that no real accountability was ever going to be exacted. But Duke was wrong.

Thirty-eight former Duke lacrosse players are now suing Duke and the city of Durham for defamation. The complaint is available here, and makes for very interesting reading--especially if you've read KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor's magisterial Until Proven Innocent. That book--which was dismissed out of hand by ideologues invested in a certain outcome and by apologists for Duke--was a masterpiece of documentation; the complaint reads like a compressed version of the book written in legalese.

I took a look at it because I wanted to see how the suit framed the problem of accountability within Duke. I wanted to see who was actually named in the many counts of wrongdoing, and I wanted to see, too, how the suit handled the rogue faculty members who took it upon themselves to pillory the lacrosse team as a bunch of white male always-already-guilty oppressors, placing their own ideological agendas ahead of due process, fair procedure, and professionalism. Would they be named? They were. Would they be named as defendants? No--that honor was reserved for Brodhead and select Duke administrators, who misbehaved in their own right and who also failed in their supervisory duties when they gave a free pass to faculty members whose behavior patently violated Duke's harassment policies.

All very interesting indeed--especially if you follow debates about academic freedom. That's a phrase that does not cover anything and everything a faculty member says and does. It has a very specific, professional meaning and does not in any way license the sort of behavior Duke faculty engaged in. But my hunch is that confusion among faculty members and administrators about where "academic freedom" begins and ends had a lot to do with why Duke officials sat on their hands while the faculty formed the academic equivalent of a mob. And in this sense, the Duke case may well have broad implications for internal accountability at colleges and universities across the country.

Be sure to read the complaint soon, as it may not be online much longer. Duke is trying to suppress it, along with the blog set up to chronicle the case at dukelawsuit.com.

UPDATE: At Prawsfblawg, Howard Wasserman asks parallel questions about academic freedom:

Many of the harassment claims focus on Duke's failure to control its faculty, which, of course, raises questions of academic freedom. What does it mean for academic freedom if Duke potentially could be held liable for failing to silence faculty members who wanted to speak out on a matter of public concern on campus. This is not to defend what many of the faculty members said, some of which was extreme and wrongheaded and, ultimately, factually wrong. It is to suggest concern at the incentives created if a university can be held liable for failing to silence its faculty. Of course, this problem is present in all the cases F.I.R.E. tracks--a university that fails to stop a white supremacist professor from speaking may find itself at the wrong end of a similar suit brought by African-American students. But because it now is white male athletes bringing the claims for speech that allegedly harassed them, university administrators may begin to see the problems with such overbroad harassment standards.

Also worthy of note: Duke's own invocation of academic freedom to excuse its failure to intervene in the the faculty's mob behavior. This is from a 2007 Q&A about the Duke case, posted on Duke's website:

Why hasn't Duke reprimanded faculty members who've voiced criticisms related to the lacrosse team?
Duke is a university, and one of the greatest strengths of universities is their commitment to free speech and academic freedom. Faculty, students and other members of a university community are all free to express their opinions; indeed, they are encouraged to do so. Universities must remain committed to free speech, even when it makes others uncomfortable. The appropriate response to an opinion is not to suppress it but to respond with one's own views and evidence. At times when emotions are running high, as during the lacrosse incident, faculty simultaneously should take care to "provide our students with a classroom climate characterized by the respect and sensitivity necessary to foster their understanding and growth" - a point that Duke's dean of arts and sciences, Bob Thompson, made in an April 3, 2006 letter to the faculty. The university's senior academic officer, Provost Peter Lange, made a similar point to the Arts and Sciences Council in January 2007, saying, "When we hear things we don't like, even things with which we strongly disagree, we need to judge the substance and not the person, assume the better rather than the worse of intentions."

"Academic freedom," in Duke's opinion, covers libel, harassment, grossly unprofessional behavior, and targeted mob activity directed at students. I think that just about speaks for itself.

Erin O'Connor, 9:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)