ISI Blog Network

A chorus of thoughtful voices

Minding the Campus

  • Two Problems with the New Doctoral Rankings
    Minding the Campus on September 30, 2010

    The National Research Council has finally issued its rankings of doctoral programs, with coverage appearing here, here, and here . Right now, everybody is trying to assimilate the results, which are more complicated than those in the 1995 report. The "Data-Based Assessment" runs to 282 pages, the "Guide to the Methodology" 57 pages, and each one contains numerous cautionary notes about the conclusiveness of the findings

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  • More Wreckage from Ginsburg's 'Neutral' Ruling
    Minding the Campus on September 7, 2010

    When the Supreme Court ruled in June that public universities could deny official recognition to a Christian student group that barred openly gay people as members because homosexual acts are considered sinful by many Christian churches, some commentators hoped that the 5-4 ruling would be construed as a narrow one that permitted but did not require campuses to enforce their anti-bias policies in ways that interfered with religious belief. (Writing for the high court majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the state-supported Hastings College of Law's policy of requiring student groups to take all comers in order to qualify for official status was a neutral one that did not interfere with religious freedom.) Think again, optimistic commentators.

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  • The Underperformance Problem
    Minding the Campus on September 2, 2010

    On average black students do much worse on the SAT and many other standardized tests than whites. While encouraging progress was made in the 1970s and early 1980s in improving black SAT scores and reducing the black/white test score gap, progress in this direction came to a halt by the early 1990s, and today the gap stands pretty much where it was twenty years ago. Whereas whites and Asians today average a little over 500 on the math and reading portions of the SAT, blacks score only a little over 400 -- in statistical metric a gap of a full standard deviation. Only about one in six blacks does as well on the SAT as the average white or Asian. This state of affairs is well known uncomfortable though it may be to bring up in public. Less well known is what in the scholarly literature is called "the underperformance problem."

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  • An Open Letter to New Professors
    Minding the Campus on August 23, 2010

    Dear Assistant Professor:

    Congratulations on your new job! Whether you're a visiting professor or on the tenure-track, consider yourself among of the lucky. As someone who ran the academic treadmill for eight years---I taught at a community college, at two four-year liberal arts colleges, and at a state university until I landed a permanent position at a private university, where I am also Director of General Studies---I can appreciate your accomplishment more than most. Like many in the profession, I went to graduate school bushy-eyed and idealistic (a real-life Mr. Smith goes to Washington) so that I could become a professor and continue thinking about important questions. I wanted to inspire others to think about big ideas and to experience the transformative power of liberal education, as my professors had done for me.

    Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that teaching is not that important.

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  • Why Remediation in College Doesn't Work
    Minding the Campus on August 19, 2010

    In his recent speech at the University of Texas in Austin, President Obama expressed deep unhappiness that the United States is no longer the country with the highest percentage of college graduates in the 25 to 34 age bracket. By 2020 he wants us to regain the top position we enjoyed ten years ago before South Korea, Canada, and Russia forged ahead of us. According to the latest report of the College Board, the United States is now 12th among the 36 developed nations whose college graduation rates the Board tabulated. Should the President have been unhappy? Only if he believes that our lower rate of college graduation reflects a lower rate of genuine educational achievement.

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  • The Mess of Mandatory Volunteerism
    Minding the Campus on August 15, 2010

    Only a federal bureaucrat could come up with an oxymoron this laughable: "Feasibility of Including a Volunteer Requirement for Receipt of Federal Education Tax Credits." A "volunteer requirement"? Come again? But that's what the Treasury Department said in a call for comments issued this spring on the idea of making community service--volunteer work for charity--mandatory for college students seeking to qualify for a higher-education tax credit made part of the $800 billion economic stimulus bill that Congress passed in 2009. Fortunately, it turns out grammatical sticklers aren't the only ones who hate the notion of mandatory community service at the post-secondary level. So do many college administrators, who approve of community service and welcome the tax credits that may make their institutions more affordable but adamantly oppose combining the two. The problem is that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 requires the Treasury and Education departments to study the feasibility of forging exactly such a link.

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  • Is This Book Invisible?
    Minding the Campus on August 12, 2010

    In full-page newspaper ads, the Kindle displays the first page of an e-book. Its opening is famous: "I am an invisible man." Or is it famous anymore? How many high school seniors---or for that matter college undergraduates---can identify Ralph Ellison's novel? True, the author was an African-American, but he was a male African-American, hence of lesser importance than, say, Maya Angelou or Alice Walker in the PC world of American education. Say the words "invisible man," to most students, and odds are that they'll speak of H. G. Wells's fantasy, or even more likely, that perennial TV favorite, The Invisible Man, a 1933 movie starring Claude Rains in the title role. Or its cinematic sequels, The Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Invisible Woman, (1940), Invisible Agent (1942), The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944) or Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992). This ignorance is part of a general myth, aided by programs like "Mad Men" and such twisted accounts as Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. According to these shows and books, the 1950's was a decade of American rapacity, sexism, war-mongering, profiteering and mindlessness. In fact, that decade saw a flowering of literary talents that has not been equaled since. J.D. Salinger, Saul Bellow, Vladimir Nabokov, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Philip Roth, John Updike published important books in the 1950's, and in 1952 Ellison put himself on the map with his own Invisible Man, a powerful narrative delivered by a black man who calls himself invisible because he walks unnoticed through the white world.

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  • Who Pays the Hidden Cost of University Research?
    Minding the Campus on August 9, 2010

    Higher education in America is in financial crisis. In constant dollars, the average cost of tuition and fees at public colleges has risen almost 300 percent since 1980. Our best public research universities, like my own University of California (UC), are wracked with doubt: will they be able to continue their historic role as institutions with a vital public mission, or will they become "privatized," demanding ever higher tuition and therefore inevitably serving a more elite clientele? Let me note some pointed comments by citizens outside the campus.

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  • The Endless War Against 209
    Minding the Campus on August 5, 2010

    More than thirteen years ago the people of California voted to end discrimination and "preferential treatment" on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity and national origin, in the public arenas of contracting, education and employment. The margin of the vote on the ballot initiative (Proposition 209) that enshrined the principle of equal treatment in the California Constitution was not a squeaker; it was a decisive 55%-45% margin. In the years since that vote, most Californians have accepted the verdict of the majority and have adapted to a life of equal treatment without preferences for anyone. That is as it should be in a nation for which the principle of equal treatment is the centerpiece of our civic values system, and for which the "rule of law" is one of our most valued ideals. But, there are some who refuse to take "no" for an answer. Instead, they have used every means at their disposal to bureaucratically circumvent, legally challenge, or flat-out disregard the initiative's simple command of equality. This week the California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law, 6-1, in a response to a lawsuit by white contractors against the city of San Francisco. Along the way, the court noted and dismissed various stratagems employed by the city to avoid the clear meaning of the law.

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  • Those Accountability Rules for Student Loans
    Minding the Campus on August 1, 2010

    This past Monday, the Department of Education proposed "gainful employment" rules that will regulate postsecondary vocational programs, primarily those offered by for-profit colleges, on the basis of their graduates' ability to pay back their federal student loans. Proponents of higher education reform should welcome this move, but not because it targets unscrupulous actors in the for-profit sector. More importantly, the initiative makes a rhetorically significant shift: it places postsecondary institutions and the economic value of the education that they provide at the center of discussions about student loans and college costs. It also adds a new and necessary dimension to the outcome data that the federal government can link directly to individual institutions of higher education.

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Mid-length articles on the politics, the business, and the philosophy of higher education, and how a traditional liberal arts education is faring in contemporary academia.

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