September 2009

The Usefulness of a Liberal Education
By Gabriel Martinez on September 01, 2009

Often you hear that liberal education is useful for the business world, perhaps because liberal education does not become obsolete, or because the liberally educated write better. Nay, I say, if Newman is right about liberal education, it is a liberation from foolishness, not primarily a liberation from utility.


The Teacher and Him or Herself: Toward a Pedagogical Conscience
By Gerson Moreno-Riano on September 02, 2009

We faculty often lack a pedagogical conscience. Are we hard on ourselves and our pedagogical assumptions and practices? Do we dissect our own pedagogical habits and beliefs? Or do we heap blind self-praise on our teaching with little self-critique?


Introduction to Constitutional Law of Higher Education
By Joseph S. Devaney on September 03, 2009

Prior to its decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), the Supreme Court’s decision in Regents of University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978) was the first major case concerning the constitutionality of college and university admissions policies. The admissions procedure at the University of California-Davis Medical School was challenged as an unconstitutional violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause, in addition to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The admissions policy reserved 16 seats for disadvantaged minority students, out of an incoming class of 100. Only African American, Chicano, and Asian-Americans could compete for those seats, if they also demonstrated that they were the victims of racial discrimination. The petitioner, Allan Bakke, argued that his grade point average and MCAT scores were superior to those disadvantaged minority students who were accepted.

Justices Brennan, Blackmun, White, and Marshall did not think that the admissions scheme presented any constitutional or statutory problems. Four remaining justices, however, did not reach the constitutional issue. Justices Stevens, Burger, Stewart, and Rehnquist argued that the admissions policy violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial discrimination by any institution receiving federal assistance.

Justice Powell provided the decisive vote. The primary constitutional issue concerned which standard of review should be applied when a state policy was intended, not to discriminate against racial minorities, but, for example, to remedy past discrimination by society. The standard for review for evaluating challenges to laws which violate the equal protection clause is strict scrutiny, at least when the law is directed at a “discrete and insular minority.” Although white males, such as Allan Bakke, do not constitute a discrete and insular minority, Justice Powell nevertheless concluded that strict scrutiny should apply. The admissions policy would be deemed unconstitutional unless it was “necessary to achieve a compelling government interest.” Justice Powell contended that the “majority” is composed of myriad groups, “most of which can lay claim to prior discrimination.” There was no principled basis, in the view of Justice Powell, for deciding which groups would have the advantage of heightened scrutiny.

Justice Powell considered the compelling government interests proffered by the University of California-Davis Medical School. The University argued that there was a need to increase the number of doctors and medical students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the need to remedy past discrimination by society, and the need to cultivate doctors who will serve in disadvantaged communities. Justice Powell concluded that these reasons did not constitute compelling government interests. Powell’s analysis established the principle that a college or university could not designate certain seats for disadvantaged racial minorities. Justice Powell did, however, agree that race may be a factor to be taken into consideration in an admissions policy.

The Bakke decision, therefore, laid the groundwork for an equally important case, Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003).

Accreditation Agencies as Occupation Forces
By RJ Snell on September 04, 2009

My syllabi are to have course outcomes, measurable course outcomes, the sort of outcomes a scantron can measure. But such a model is fundamentally antithetical to liberal education and ought to be resisted by a "solidarity of the shaken."


What is Effective Teaching from a Student’s Perspective? An Analytic – Synthetic Approach
By Gerson Moreno-Riano on September 08, 2009

I wonder how often we have thought about what constitutes effective teaching from the perspectives of our students. We often discuss effective teaching among ourselves, our professional peers, and those sympathetic to our approaches, methods, and assumptions. But have we ever wondered what effective teaching is from our students’ vantage point?


Everyone Deserves an ‘A’
By Lee Trepanier on September 10, 2009

In a February article in The New York Times, “Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes,” and in a subsequent commentary blog by Michelle Cottle of The New Republic, “An A for Effort? Talk About a Lousy Idea,” we see on display a culture of entitlement at universities, where students believed they deserve a high mark for their efforts and not for their results.


Can a “C-” Professor Turn Into an “A+” Professor?
By Gerson Moreno-Riano on September 14, 2009

“A-quality faculty always hire A-quality faculty. B-quality faculty always hire B-quality faculty. But C-quality faculty NEVER hire A-quality faculty.” These were some of the most memorable parting words of one of my colleagues as she parted from one academic job to another. She was trying to emphasize the importance of hiring excellent faculty for she was convinced that bad hires are not only difficult to remove but have long-term negative consequences on future hires. This made me think about the question which this blog’s title poses: can C-quality faculty ever be turned into A-quality faculty?


The Good Philosopher and the Good Liberal Arts College - Part I
By Thaddeus Kozinski on September 16, 2009

"Knowledge is produced in response to questions; and new knowledge results from the asking of new questions; quite often new questions about old questions. Here is the point: Once you have learned how to ask questions—relevant and appropriate and substantial questions—you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know."

– Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner
   Teaching as a Subversive Activity


Assessment: To Sit Beside
By Gabriel Martinez on September 18, 2009

A few years ago it fell upon me to become the inflictor-in-chief of assessment upon my colleagues (as chair of the relevant committee). Here I hazard to offer you all a bit of what I learned in my stint on the "other side", focusing on the positive.


The Good Philosopher and the Good Liberal Arts College, Part II: Relative Absoluteness Defended
By Thaddeus Kozinski on September 21, 2009

In Part I, I introduced a line of thinking that rejected Enlightenment-variety philosophical certainty in favor of MacIntyre's contextualized rationality. Now, the reader might be thinking that all this sounds suspiciously like a warmed over version of theological, philosophical, and cultural relativism. If we cannot know absolute truth in an absolute manner, what is the use of philosophizing anyway?


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