Minding the Campus

  • Unionize All Those Adjuncts?--Let's Not
    Minding the Campus on March 14, 2012

    Some two-thirds of America's college students are taught by adjuncts, and now the battle is on over whether these low-paid, low-status workers should be unionized.


  • The Terrible Textbooks of Freshman Comp
    Minding the Campus on March 9, 2012

    Freshman composition class at many colleges is propaganda time, with textbooks conferring early sainthood on President Obama and lavishing attention on writers of the far left--Howard Zinn, Christopher Hedges, Peter Singer and Barbara Ehrenreich, for instance--but rarely on moderates, let alone anyone right of center. Democrats do very well in these books, but Abraham Lincoln--when included--is generally the most recent Republican featured.


  • Does Student Debt Really Matter?
    Minding the Campus on September 25, 2011

    college-costs-300x299.jpgIn a recent essay in The Atlantic, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus lament that most students have to take out college loans. They write: “At colleges lacking rich endowments, budgeting is based on turning a generation of young people into debtors.”

    While Hacker and Dreifus blame the universities for encouraging students to take on more debt to pay for lavish facilities and other non-educational amenities, others focus on student debt itself as perhaps the key barrier to college facing millions of students from families with low and modest incomes. Indeed, entire organizations have been founded on that very notion, such as the Project On Student Debt.

    Analysts who belong to the debt-is-bad school of financial aid policy are correct in noting that student borrowing increased dramatically in the past decade, ballooning 128 percent to more than $96 billion, according to the College Board’s annual survey of financial aid trends. On the other hand, federal grants and institutional grants mitigated the rising student debt. From 2000 to 2010, federal financial aid shot up 136 percent to more than $146 billion; and institutional grants rose 69 percent to more than $33 billion.


  • Protest Versus Disruption at the University of Wisconsin
    Minding the Campus on September 22, 2011

    It has been over a week since the University of Wisconsin at Madison was torn by the debate over affirmative action on September 13. The conflict was precipitated by the presentation of a study conducted by the Center for Equal Opportunity, which alleges reverse discrimination in UW admissions policies.

    A lot has been written about what happened at the press conference announcing the event and the debate between CEO’s Roger Clegg and UW law professor Larry Church later that evening. Most publicly presented views have been supportive of the students who protested at these events, and have defended the UW’s admissions policies. But criticisms of how this conflict has been handled have percolated beneath the surface.


  • Global Warming: The Campus Non-Debate
    Minding the Campus on September 5, 2011

    I do not want us to shut down economic drive to support false science, and on the other hand, I do not want to leave behind a scorched earth.  …. Let's get the science right!  A better debate and research is needed by honest and believable scientists who study climate professionally.

    Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

                                           By Russell K. Nieli

    global warming.jpg

    Is the earth in a global warming phase?  If it is, how severe is this trend? Is the warming primarily a product of natural causes or do man-made factors play a dominant role?  If man-made factors are important, is the main culprit the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced from the burning of fossil fuels or are other factors more salient?  What is the evidence for and against the anthropogenic and CO2 theories of global warming? If we really are in a period of sustained global warming, will this trend prove a net benefit or a net loss to human welfare?  Who would benefit and who would be harmed by an increase in atmospheric CO2, the greater plant growth this facilitates, and a general increase in global temperatures? If the burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor to global warming, and if such warming harms many more people than it helps, is the radical curtailment of fossil-fuel dependence a politically and economically feasible response to the problem?  Is it feasible not only in the developed world but in developing regions like India, China, Indonesia, and Brazil?  If the radical curtailment of CO2 emissions cannot be obtained on a worldwide scale either for political or economic reasons, and if global warming proves to be the serious threat to human welfare that some contend, are there economically and scientifically feasible geo-engineering alternatives that could stop the warming or cool the planet down?  What might some of these geo-engineering alternatives be and how could they be implemented?


  • A Foolish Move to Hobble For-Profit Colleges
    Minding the Campus on August 22, 2011

                                              By Charlotte Allen

    University-of-Phoenix-billboard-300x200.jpgCurbing for-profit colleges has been a goal of the Obama administration's department of education. The plan was to erect regulatory hurdles to a very profitable product: online courses. In pursuit of that plan, the department issued a regulation last October requiring institutions offering Internet classes to seek permission from every state in which they enroll so much as a single student. But the department failed to take one crucial fact into account: This is the 21st century, and Web-based courses aren’t just a dodge employed by educational hustlers to lure masses of gullible students into cheap, shoddy programs of the kind that used to be advertised on matchbooks.

    From the Ivy League on down, hundreds of respectable non-profit colleges, public and private, offer online classes and even online certificates or degrees. It is the smaller and more budget-pinched of those institutions that are feeling the brunt of the education department's new rule: liberal-arts schools with limited administration personnel and cash-strapped state universities and community colleges. Some of those, citing the high costs of complying with 50 different sets of state licensing criteria plus stiff licensing fees in some states, already have plans to stop accepting online students living in the more expensive jurisdictions, even though the rule isn’t scheduled to be enforced until 2014.

    Ah, the law of unintended consequences. Penalizing community colleges and small liberal-arts institutions probably wasn’t what Education Secretary Arne Duncan had in mind when his department issued the state-authorization rule. It was part of a package of regulations issued in the wake of a series of hearings on the for-profit higher-education sector that began soon after President Obama took office. “These new rules will help ensure that students are getting from schools what they pay for: solid preparation for a good job,” Duncan declared.


  • The Perils of the "Common Reading" Assignment
    Minding the Campus on August 10, 2011

                                                        By KC Johnson

    Of the criticisms directed toward the contemporary academy, the charge of “indoctrination” strikes me as the most overhyped. The phenomenon certainly occurs; the most obvious recent example came in the “dispositions” controversy, when education students around the country could choose between agreeing with their professors’ political opinions and finding another career path. But it’s relatively rare to see professors browbeating students, in class, regarding overtly political matters.

    Far more common—and pernicious—is the attempt (especially in the humanities and social sciences) to exclude topics on grounds of their “traditional” approach. Or the efforts, documented by FIRE, to restrict freedom of speech, freedom of association, and due process on campus. Or the financial impact of sprawling college bureaucracies, most notably those devoted to student life or to promoting certain types of “diversity.


  • Betrayal of Liberty on Campus
    Minding the Campus on August 4, 2011

                                     By Jan Blits

    Jan Blits.jpg(This is the text of a speech delivered July 16 to the College Freedom Network conference at Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pa.)

    Not many years ago, just about every college student loved liberty. Except for some die-hard Marxists (who opposed not only liberty of speech, but liberty as such), it was hard to find any students (or faculty) who would defend the suppression of speech on campus. Freedom was the clear rule; suppression the rare exception. Today, unfortunately, as I’m sure all of you know, the reverse seems true. Having been raised at least since kindergarten (or perhaps from birth) on the moral imperative of political correctness, many—I fear, most—college students, without a moment’s thought, accept—and even demand—censorship, including, perhaps most of all, self-censorship. A closed mind is a good mind, in their view.

    Over the past twenty-five years, I’ve witnessed one threat after another to freedom at my university. Some threats tried to curtail politically unpopular research. Others tried to restrict what students could say. The aim was always the same—to advance the censors’ political agenda by stifling their critics. The goal was to turn the university into a one-party institution.


  • 'Yes, Some Teachers Do Very Little'
    Minding the Campus on July 28, 2011

                                By Richard VedderUniversity of Texas

    A huge brouhaha has erupted over the release and interpretation of data about the faculty of the University of Texas, centering on whether a relatively few individuals are doing most of the teaching at the system’s flagship institution, UT-Austin. Two reports drew most of the fire, one by my organization, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), the other by Rick O’Donnell, a recently fired aide to the system.

    The CCAP bottom line: it seems like a relatively small portion of the over 4,000 persons teaching on the Austin campus shoulder a huge percent of teaching burden (especially in relation to the costs they incur to the University) and an even smaller group garners the bulk of the outside research funds viewed as critical to the maintenance of the research mission. This means a large group of faculty members do moderate amounts of teaching and not much funded-research.

    Our report said preliminary data “strongly suggest that the state of Texas could move towards making college more affordable by moderately increasing faculty emphasis on teaching. Looking only at the UT Austin campus, if the 80 percent of the faculty with the lowest teaching loads were to teach just half as much as the 20 percent with the highest loads, and if the savings were dedicated to tuition reduction, tuition could be cut by more than half ….”


  • Beware the "Outcomes and Assessment" Movement
    Minding the Campus on July 5, 2011

    By J.M. Anderson


    For yet another glimpse of what’s wrong with higher education, read “Teaching Them How To Think,”  the story of George Plopper, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. After attending a conference on teaching and learning in 2004, Plopper had an epiphany of sorts, and now uses Bloom’s Taxonomy to assess student learning in his two upper-level courses at RPI. According to the article, this “has dramatically changed his approach to teaching and to determining what his students learn. No longer content to lecture from the front of the room and convey a series of complicated facts about cancer biology and extracellular matrix interactions, Plopper now makes the process and expectations of learning an explicit part of the syllabus.” All this “has changed his teaching, and made assessment part of the learning process—for both himself and his students.” 

    If he has found a technique that has made him a better teacher, bully for him, but modern academe’s tacit and unquestioning acceptance of pseudo-scientific techniques like Bloom’s Taxonomy to “measure” and “assess” appropriate “student learning outcomes”  is very bad news indeed. Such techniques have already choked the K-12  system and have now begun to put a stranglehold on higher education, stifling the autonomy of college teachers and subverting the aims of liberal education. 

    According to the article, Plopper now “asks his students to sort through the subject matter, digest it, and teach it to one another, and he puts students in real-world scenarios they might encounter as scientists.” Such exercises “force students to harness and analyze information in ways they never truly had to do when he asked them to attend his lectures, deliver a presentation of their own, and take a final exam.” An A in his class “is a very different A than it used to be. . . . An A carries a much higher expectation of your ability to think.” That’s what assessment is all about, says Pat Hutchings of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. “Assessment means asking if students are learning what I think I’m teaching.” 


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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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