Minding the Campus

  • ''Too Big to Fail'' Goes to College
    Minding the Campus on June 21, 2010

    Federal subsidies long ago achieved the goal of making higher education more attainable for students from middle- and lower-income families. Yet such programs cloud the fact that good politics often tend to represent bad economics. In this case, government efforts have reflexively ushered a generation of students down a one-size-fits-all conveyor belt that has too often left the federal government as little more than the underwriter of disappointment. Much as it propelled the housing boom, government policy aimed at "access" has fueled a dramatic increase in the cost of education. And, schools have been more than willing to turn abundantly available dollars into lighter teaching loads for professors, luxury dorms for students and state-of-the-art sports arenas, with little regard for whether these improvements are really worth it to student-customers.


  • Why the Professor Still Can't Teach
    Minding the Campus on June 17, 2010

    In 1977 the great mathematician and teacher Morris Kline published an indictment of academe in a book aptly called Why the Professor Can't Teach. Kline not only blamed "the overemphasis on research" as the "prime culprit" for the poor quality of undergraduate education, he also blamed professors---especially tenured professors---for ignoring their "moral obligations to students" and offering courses "that reflect their own values at the expense of student needs and interests." Little has changed in three decades.


  • The Wolfers Dig a Deeper Hole
    Minding the Campus on June 14, 2010

    Canis_lupus_portrait.jpgInside Higher Ed took a look at the controversy over the "Crying Wolf" project, in which a committee consisting mostly of academics will pay for works of "scholarly integrity" dealing with contemporary public policy issues. Scholarly "integrity," in this case, means reaching the conclusion before assembling the evidence. Defenses of the Wolfers, alas, confirm critiques of the project.


  • Message to Freshmen: Let's Start with Kafka and Darwin
    Minding the Campus on June 10, 2010

    franz-kafka.jpgFor the past two years, Bard College has asked first-year students to read works by Kafka and Darwin over the summer. These texts then become subjects of analysis when the students arrive on campus in August for an intensive three-week program of reading and writing before the fall semester begins. Let me explain the thinking behind this approach. The idea of assigning summer readings to students entering college has three justifications.


  • The Quiet Preference for Men in Admissions
    Minding the Campus on June 7, 2010

    It's a well-known fact that there's a severe gender imbalance in undergraduate college populations: about 57 percent of undergrads these days are female and only 43 percent male, the culmination of a trend over the past few decades in which significantly fewer young men than young women either graduate from high school or enroll in college. It's also a well-known fact---at least among college admissions officers---that many private institutions have tried to close the gender gap by quietly relaxing admissions standards for male applicants, essentially practicing affirmative action for young men. What they're doing is perfectly legal, even under Title IX, the 1972 federal law that bans sex discrimination by institutions of higher learning receiving federal funds.


  • Reshape Universities Because of "Stereotype Threat"?
    Minding the Campus on June 2, 2010

    An Inside Higher Ed article yesterday by English professor Satya P. Mohanty of Cornell on "Diversity's Next Challenges" constructs an elaborate house of cards but then inadvertently knocks the whole thing down. The piece features, in particular, an argument suggesting that "stereotype threat"---the claim that fear of being judged by a stereotype can cause minorities to do much less well on a test than they should---requires that universities and all of society must be restructured before minorities can be expected to succeed.


  • Why Faculty Unions Could Destroy Our Universities
    Minding the Campus on May 27, 2010

    After decades of trying, the Democrat-controlled Wisconsin legislature, with the encouragement of the union-backed governor, passed a statute allowing unionization of faculty in the University of Wisconsin system. Recently the first campus, Superior, voted to unionize their faculty by a 75-5 vote. I believe that ultimately faculty unions will seriously damage public universities in Wisconsin and elsewhere, particularly at "flagship" campuses that produce and require serious faculty research. 


  • Whatever Happened to the Group of 88?
    Minding the Campus on May 23, 2010

    A few years ago, Cornell University spokesperson Thomas W. Bruce rejoiced that the Ivy League school had brought to Ithaca a man whose "distinguished background in contemporary global cultural studies," and whose "unique perspectives and talents" would "add to the range of reasoned intellectual discourse at Cornell." The professor about whom Bruce gushed was Grant Farred, whose latest contribution to "intellectual discourse at Cornell" came when he labeled two graduate students "black bitches." 


  • Mandatory Opinions on Public Campuses
    Minding the Campus on May 20, 2010

    Ohio governor Ted Strickland believes America's public systems of higher education "strengthen our people" and "provide ideas that our [nation] needs to grow." I agree that they should do this. After serving as a trustee of The Ohio State University at Mansfield for the past nine years though, I have begun to wonder whether, in some very important ways, they are actually undermining and doing significant harm to these essential goals. Numerous surveys and studies show that the faculty and administrations of America's major public campuses are politically well to the left of the typical American. But it's not just one-sided campus opinion that's the problem. Even more so, it's the highly ideological programs, courses, centers and approaches to teaching and learning that these believers keep imposing on our students. To understand the problem, look at the two related concepts of diversity and multiculturalism. At Ohio State, as at many public universities today, "celebrating" and "respecting" diversity are considered to be highly important goals that are expected to be broadly incorporated into the university's curriculum and student programming and activities.


  • When the Administration Takes Over the Departments
    Minding the Campus on May 16, 2010

    New Jersey's Kean University is planning to institute a controversial new academic structure. The university has presented a draft proposal , its second, to replace the traditional arrangement of academic departments with schools headed by "executive directors" appointed by the president. Initiatives to eliminate such departments as philosophy and social work are already in the hopper, "but this plan would kill even large departments like English and biology, dividing faculty members into new organizational structures they played no role in creating." Not surprisingly, Kean's proposal is sending shock waves through the faculty at Kean and elsewhere.


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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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