Showing posts with label higher education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label higher education. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Yale's Little Robespierres - Students berate faculty who try to defend free speech

Yale's Little Robespierres. WSJ Editorial
http://www.wsj.com/articles/yales-little-robespierres-1447115476
Students berate faculty who try to defend free speech.WSJ, Nov. 9, 2015 7:31 p.m. ET

Someone at Yale University should have dressed up as Robespierre for Halloween, as its students seem to have lost their minds over what constitutes a culturally appropriate costume. Identity and grievance politics keeps hitting new lows on campus, and now even liberal professors are being consumed by the revolution.

On Oct. 28 Yale Dean Burgwell Howard and Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee blasted out an email advising students against “culturally unaware” Halloween costumes, with self-help questions such as: “If this costume is meant to be historical, does it further misinformation or historical and cultural inaccuracies?” Watch out for insensitivity toward “religious beliefs, Native American/Indigenous people, Socio-economic strata, Asians, Hispanic/Latino, Women, Muslims, etc.” In short, everyone.

Who knew Yale still employed anyone willing to doubt the costume wardens? But in response to the dean’s email, lecturer in early childhood education Erika Christakis mused to the student residential community she oversees with her husband, Nicholas, a Yale sociologist and physician: “I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns,” but she wondered if colleges had morphed into “places of censure and prohibition.”

And: “Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”

Some 750 Yale students, faculty, alumni and others signed a letter saying Ms. Christakis’s “jarring” email served to “further degrade marginalized people,” as though someone with a Yale degree could be marginalized in America. Students culturally appropriated a Puritan shaming trial and encircled Mr. Christakis on a lawn, cursing and heckling him to quit. “I stand behind free speech,” he told the mob.

Hundreds of protesters also turned on Jonathan Holloway, Yale’s black dean, demanding to know why the school hadn’t addressed allegations that a black woman had been kept out of a fraternity party. Fragile scholars also melted down over a visiting speaker who made a joke about Yale’s fracas while talking at a conference sponsored by the school’s William F. Buckley, Jr. program focused on . . . the future of free speech.

The episode reminds us of when Yale alumnus Lee Bass in 1995 asked the university to return his $20 million donation. Mr. Bass had hoped to seed a curriculum in Western civilization, but Yale’s faculty ripped the idea as white imperialism, and he requested a refund. Two decades later the alternative to Western civilization is on display, and it seems to be censorship.

According to a student reporting for the Washington Post, Yale president Peter Salovey told minority students in response to the episode that “we failed you.” That’s true, though not how he means it. The failure is that elite colleges are turning out ostensible leaders who seem to have no idea why America’s Founders risked extreme discomfort—that is, death—for the right to speak freely.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What Killed American Lit.

What Killed American Lit. By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903999904576468011530847064.html
Today's collegians don't want to study it—who can blame them?WSJ, Aug 27, 2011

The Cambridge History of the American Novel
Edited by Leonard Cassuto, Clare Virginia Eby and Benjamin Reiss
Cambridge, 1,244 pages, $185

The Editors of "The Cambridge History of the American Novel" decided to consider their subject—as history is considered increasingly in universities these days—from the bottom up. In 71 chapters, the book's contributors consider the traditional novel in its many sub-forms, among them: science fiction, eco-fiction, crime and mystery novels, Jewish novels, Asian-American novels, African-American novels, war novels, postmodern novels, feminist novels, suburban novels, children's novels, non-fiction novels, graphic novels and novels of disability ("We cannot truly know a culture until we ask its disabled citizens to describe, analyze, and interpret it," write the authors of a chapter titled "Disability and the American Novel"). Other chapters are about subjects played out in novels—for instance, ethnic and immigrant themes—and still others about publishers, book clubs, discussion groups and a good deal else. "The Cambridge History of the Novel," in short, provides full-court-press coverage.

"In short," though, is perhaps the least apt phase for a tome that runs to 1,244 pages and requires a forklift to hoist onto one's lap. All that the book's editors left out is why it is important or even pleasurable to read novels and how it is that some novels turn out to be vastly better than others. But, then, this is a work of literary history, not of literary criticism. Randall Jarrell's working definition of the novel as "a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it" has, in this voluminous work, been ruled out of bounds.

Most readers are unlikely to have heard of the contributors to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel," the majority teachers in English departments in American universities. I myself, who taught in a such a department for three decades, recognized the names of only four among them. Only 40 or 50 years ago, English departments attracted men and women who wrote books of general intellectual interest and had names known outside the academy—Perry Miller, Aileen Ward, Walter Jackson Bate, Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Joseph Wood Krutch, Lionel Trilling, one could name a dozen or so others—but no longer. Literature, as taught in the current-day university, is strictly an intramural game.

This may come as news to the contributors to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel," who pride themselves on possessing much wider, much more relevant, interests and a deeper engagement with the world than their predecessors among literary academics. Biographical notes on contributors speak of their concern with "forms of moral personhood in the US novels," "the poetics of foreign policy," and "ecocriticism and theories of modernization, postmodernization, and globalization."

Yet, through the magic of dull and faulty prose, the contributors to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel" have been able to make these presumably worldly subjects seem parochial in the extreme—of concern only to one another, which is certainly one derogatory definition of the academic. These scholars may teach English, but they do not always write it, at least not quite. A novelist, we are told, "tasks himself" with this or that; things tend to get "problematized"; the adjectives "global" and "post"-this-or-that receive a good workout; "alterity" and "intertexuality" pop up their homely heads; the "poetics of ineffability" come into play; and "agency" is used in ways one hadn't hitherto noticed, so that "readers in groups demonstrate agency." About the term "non-heteronormativity" let us not speak.

These dopey words and others like them are inserted into stiffly mechanical sentences of dubious meaning. "Attention to the performativity of straight sex characterizes . . . 'The Great Gatsby' (1925), where Nick Carraway's homoerotic obsession with the theatrical Gatsby offers a more authentic passion precisely through flamboyant display." Betcha didn't know that Nick Carraway was hot for Jay Gatsby? We sleep tonight; contemporary literary scholarship stands guard.

"The Cambridge History of the American Novel" is perhaps best read as a sign of what has happened to English studies in recent decades. Along with American Studies programs, which are often their subsidiaries, English departments have tended to become intellectual nursing homes where old ideas go to die. If one is still looking for that living relic, the fully subscribed Marxist, one is today less likely to find him in an Economics or History Department than in an English Department, where he will still be taken seriously. He finds a home there because English departments are less concerned with the consideration of literature per se than with what novels, poems, plays and essays—after being properly X-rayed, frisked, padded down, like so many suspicious-looking air travelers—might yield on the subjects of race, class and gender. "How would [this volume] be organized," one of its contributors asks, "if race, gender, disability, and sexuality were not available?"

In his introduction to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel," Leonard Cassuto, a professor of English at Fordham and most recently the author of "Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories" (2009), writes that the present volume "synthesizes the divisions between the author-centered literary history of yesterday and the context-centered efforts of recent years." Yet context is where the emphasis preponderantly falls.

One of the better essays in the book, Tom Lutz's "Cather and the Regional Imagination," is only secondarily about Willa Cather. It is primarily about what constitutes the cosmopolitan ideal in fiction, which Miss Cather embodied and which turns out to be an imaginative mixture of wide culture and deep psychological penetration, lending a richness to any subject, no matter how ostensibly provincial. This is what lifts such novels of Cather's as "My Antonia" and "Death Comes for the Archbishop" above regional fiction and gives them their standing as world literature.

"The Cambridge History of the American Novel" could only have come into the world after the death of the once-crucial distinction between high and low culture, a distinction that, until 40 or so years ago, dominated the criticism of literature and all the other arts. Under the rule of this distinction, critics felt it their job to close the gates on inferior artistic products. The distinction started to break down once the works of contemporary authors began to be taught in universities.

The study of popular culture—courses in movies, science fiction, detective fiction, works at first thought less worthy of study in themselves than for what they said about the life of their times—made the next incursion against the exclusivity of high culture. Multiculturalism, which assigned an equivalence of value to the works of all cultures, irrespective of the quality of those works, finished off the distinction between high and low culture, a distinction whose linchpin was seriousness.

In today's university, no one is any longer in a position to say which books are or aren't fit to teach; no one any longer has the authority to decide what is the best in American writing. Too bad, for even now there is no consensus about who are the best American novelists of the past century. (My own candidates are Cather and Theodore Dreiser.) Nor will you read a word, in the pages of "The Cambridge History of the American Novel," about how short-lived are likely to be the sex-obsessed works of the much-vaunted novelists Norman Mailer, John Updike and Philip Roth or about the deleterious effect that creative-writing programs have had on the writing of fiction.

With the gates once carefully guarded by the centurions of high culture now flung open, the barbarians flooded in, and it is they who are running the joint today. The most lauded novelists in "The Cambridge History of the American Novel" tend to be those, in the words of another of its contributors, who are "staging a critique of 'America' and its imperial project." Thus such secondary writers as Allen Ginsberg, Kurt Vonnegut and E.L. Doctorow are in these pages vaunted well beyond their literary worth.

A stranger, freshly arrived from another planet, if offered as his introduction to the United States only this book, would come away with a picture of a country founded on violence and expropriation, stoked through its history by every kind of prejudice and class domination, and populated chiefly by one or another kind of victim, with time out only for the mental sloth and apathy brought on by life lived in the suburbs and the characterless glut of American late capitalism. The automatic leftism behind this picture is also part of the reigning ethos of the current-day English Department.

As a former English major—"Indeed! What regiment?" asks a character in a Lionel Trilling story—I cannot help wondering what it must be like to be taught by the vast majority of the people who have contributed to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel." Two or three times a week one would sit in a room and be told that nothing that one has read is as it appears but is instead informed by authors hiding their true motives even from themselves or, in the best "context-centered" manner, that the books under study are the product of a country built on fundamental dishonesty about the sacred subjects of race, gender and class.

Some indication of what it must be like is indicated by the steep decline of American undergraduates who choose to concentrate in English. English majors once comprised 7.6% of undergraduates, but today the number has been nearly halved, down to 3.9%. Part of this decline is doubtless owing to the worry inspired in the young by a fragile economy. (The greatest rise is in business and economics majors.) Yet that is far from the whole story. William Chace, a former professor of English who was subsequently president of Wesleyan University and then Emory University, in a 2009 article titled "The Decline of the English Department," wrote:

What are the causes for this decline? There are several, but at the root is the failure of departments of English across the country to champion, with passion, the books they teach and to make a strong case to undergraduates that the knowledge of those books and the tradition in which they exist is a human good in and of itself. What departments have done instead is dismember the curriculum, drift away from the notion that historical chronology is important, and substitute for the books themselves a scattered array of secondary considerations (identity studies, abstruse theory, sexuality, film and popular culture). In so doing, they have distanced themselves from the young people interested in good books.

Undergraduates who decided to concentrate their education on literature were always a slightly odd, happily nonconformist group. No learning was less vocational; to announce a major in English was to proclaim that one wasn't being educated with the expectation of a financial payoff. One was an English major because one was intoxicated by literature—its beauty, its force, above all its high truth quotient.

In the final chapter of "The Cambridge History of the American Novel," titled "A History of the Future of Narrative," the novelist Robert Coover argues that, though the technologies of reading and writing may be changing and will continue to change, the love of stories—reading them and writing them—will always be with us. Let's hope he is right. Just don't expect that love to be encouraged and cultivated, at least in the near future, in American universities.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Ballad of Sallie Mae - A cautionary tale of public subsidy and arbitrary politics

The Ballad of Sallie Mae. WSJ Editorial
A cautionary tale of public subsidy and arbitrary politics.The Wall Street Journal, page A18, Mar 30, 2010

President Obama today signs his nationalization of the college student loan market, which will put the Department of Education directly in charge of doling out cash to students and colleges. It's one more plank in the cradle-to-grave entitlement state, but this landmark is also a good moment to recount the rise and fall of Sallie Mae. It's a cautionary tale for our times about public subsidy, arbitrary politics and doing business with the government.

The story begins in another progressive heyday, 1965, when the federal government launched a program to make college "affordable" by offering a taxpayer guarantee on student loans. College has if anything become even less affordable since, as the subsidies have merely driven up the prices that colleges charge.

So in 1972, with affordability still an issue, Congress created a new government-sponsored enterprise, the Student Loan Marketing Association, or Sallie Mae. Like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in housing, Sallie was born with a federal charter and an implied taxpayer backstop to provide a secondary market for student loans. Sallie would go public in 1983 and, also like Fan and Fred, mint money for shareholders by enjoying a lower cost of funds than fully private lenders.

[Stock price of Sallie Mae January 2000 - March 2010 http://sg.wsj.net/public/resources/images/ED-AL245_1salli_NS_20100329194502.gif]

This free lunch gradually became a source of political concern and an inviting target under federal accounting. In 1993 President Bill Clinton claimed in his first budget that the government could save billions by cutting out the private firms and lending directly to students. But even a liberal Congress had concerns about this "single-payer" model.

That year the White House and Congress compromised and created a "public option." The government's new Direct Lending program would compete with private loan originators. Sallie would still be able to provide a secondary market for the loans made by private firms, but new fees in the law took away much of Sallie's cost-of-funds advantage.

The Clinton Administration continued to push for the end of Sallie's federal charter. But in contrast to Margaret Thatcher's campaign to convert U.K. state-owned monopolies into private competitive companies, the Clinton team wanted to turn most of the market over to its new state-owned program at the Department of Education.

A 1996 law set a 2008 deadline to make Sallie fully private. The company moved aggressively into the loan origination market and went private a few years early, in 2004. For a time, business was very good, and the leader in the student-loan market saw its stock approach $60 a share as recently as 2007.

However, liberals were perennially disappointed that the "public option" at the Department of Education, plagued by customer-service failures, had failed to win most of this business. So when Democrats took control of Congress in 2007, they also seized greater control of education financing. First they reduced the return on originating government loans, then they increased regulation of private loans, and this year they pressed their outright ban on private origination of federal loans. Today a Sallie share costs $12.67. Sallie's shares fell with the financial panic, but thanks to the Congressional squeeze they haven't rebounded like those of the big banks.

We have no special brief for Sallie or its shareholders, who presumably understood the political risks they were running. Democrats have also been shrewd in pitching their takeover as an end to public subsidy, though there will be no such thing. The reality going forward is likely to be even more subsidies, more taxpayer risk and higher tuition prices.

George Miller in the House and Tom Harkin in the Senate are on a march to all-government financing, and that includes enacting new rules in recent years to discourage even private student loans with no taxpayer risk. Sallie had a booming business in fully private loans, but expansions of the federal Stafford and PLUS programs helped drive the volume of Sallie's private business down 50% last year. The PLUS expansion was enacted in 2006, proving that Republicans have also helped to build the subsidy machine.

This week's legislation is also a way to lever up spending on federal college grants. That's because Congress is pouring the putative savings from punishing Sallie and other private companies into more Pell grants. The savings are illusory, based on government accounting rules that ignore the likelihood of higher future loan losses, but the spending will be all too real for taxpayers.

We should note that not even the Congressional Budget Office believes that CBO's analysis is correct. In an only-in-Washington farce, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf has to his credit written a series of letters explaining in detail why his official estimates are wrong, which of course Congress ignores.

Following today's signing ceremony, Sallie says it will have to fire 2,500 of its 8,600 employees, though perhaps they can look for jobs at the Department of Education. Sallie's saga is almost certainly the future of health-care insurers as liberals attempt to resurrect their "public option" once insurance premiums inevitably rise.

As for the cost of college, expect it to become even less affordable as the subsidies keep flowing. The main achievements of this new legislation will be to give more power to government, and to transfer more of the costs and risks of college financing to taxpayers. There's no such thing as a free entitlement state.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The notion of objective truth has been abandoned and the peer review process gives scholars ample opportunity to reward friends and punish enemies

Climategate Was an Academic Disaster Waiting to Happen. By PETER BERKOWITZ
The notion of objective truth has been abandoned and the peer review process gives scholars ample opportunity to reward friends and punish enemies.WSJ, Mar 13, 2010

Last fall, emails revealed that scientists at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England and colleagues in the U.S. and around the globe deliberately distorted data to support dire global warming scenarios and sought to block scholars with a different view from getting published. What does this scandal say generally about the intellectual habits and norms at our universities?

This is a legitimate question, because our universities, which above all should be cultivating intellectual virtue, are in their day-to-day operations fostering the opposite. Fashionable ideas, the convenience of professors, and the bureaucratic structures of academic life combine to encourage students and faculty alike to defend arguments for which they lack vital information. They pretend to knowledge they don't possess and invoke the authority of rank and status instead of reasoned debate.

Consider the undergraduate curriculum. Over the last several decades, departments have watered down the requirements needed to complete a major, while core curricula have been hollowed out or abandoned. Only a handful of the nation's leading universities—Columbia and the University of Chicago at the forefront—insist that all undergraduates must read a common set of books and become conversant with the main ideas and events that shaped Western history and the larger world.

There are no good pedagogical reasons for abandoning the core. Professors and administrators argue that students need and deserve the freedom to shape their own course of study. But how can students who do not know the basics make intelligent decisions about the books they should read and the perspectives they should master?

The real reasons for releasing students from rigorous departmental requirements and fixed core courses are quite different. One is that professors prefer to teach boutique classes focusing on their narrow areas of specialization. In addition, they believe that dropping requirements will lure more students to their departments, which translates into more faculty slots for like-minded colleagues. By far, though, the most important reason is that faculty generally reject the common sense idea that there is a basic body of knowledge that all students should learn. This is consistent with the popular campus dogma that all morals and cultures are relative and that objective knowledge is impossible.

The deplorable but predictable result is that professors constantly call upon students to engage in discussions and write papers in the absence of fundamental background knowledge. Good students quickly absorb the curriculum's unwritten lesson—cutting corners and vigorously pressing strong but unsubstantiated opinions is the path to intellectual achievement.

The production of scholarship also fosters intellectual vice. Take the peer review process, which because of its supposed impartiality and objectivity is intended to distinguish the work of scholars from that of journalists and commercial authors.

Academic journals typically adopt a double blind system, concealing the names of both authors and reviewers. But any competent scholar can determine an article's approach or analytical framework within the first few paragraphs. Scholars are likely to have colleagues and graduate students they support and whose careers they wish to advance. A few may even have colleagues whose careers, along with those of their graduate students, they would like to tarnish or destroy. There is no check to prevent them from benefiting their friends by providing preferential treatment for their orientation and similarly punishing their enemies.

That's because the peer review process violates a fundamental principle of fairness. We don't allow judges to be parties to a controversy they are adjudicating, and don't permit athletes to umpire games in which they are playing. In both cases the concern is that their interest in the outcome will bias their judgment and corrupt their integrity. So why should we expect scholars, especially operating under the cloak of anonymity, to fairly and honorably evaluate the work of allies and rivals?

Some university presses exacerbate the problem. Harvard University Press tells a reviewer the name of a book manuscript's author but withholds the reviewer's identity from the author. It would be hard to design a system that provided reviewers more opportunity to reward friends and punish enemies.

Harvard Press assumes that its editors will detect and avoid conflicts of interest. But if reviewers are in the same scholarly field as, or in a field related to that of, the author—and why would they be asked for an evaluation if they weren't?—then the reviewer will always have a conflict of interest.

Then there is the abuse of confidentiality and the overreliance on arguments from authority in hiring, promotion and tenure decisions. Owing to the premium the academy places on specialization, most university departments today contain several fields, and within them several subfields. Thus departmental colleagues are regularly asked to evaluate scholarly work in which they have little more expertise than the man or woman on the street.

Often unable to form independent professional judgments—but unwilling to recuse themselves from important personnel decisions—faculty members routinely rely on confidential letters of evaluation from scholars at other universities. Once again, these letters are written—and solicited—by scholars who are irreducibly interested parties.

There are no easy fixes to this state of affairs. Worse, our universities don't recognize they have a problem. Instead, professors and university administrators are inclined to indignantly dismiss concerns about the curriculum, peer review, and hiring, promotion and tenure decisions as cynically calling into question their good character. But these concerns are actually rooted in the democratic conviction that professors and university administrators are not cut from finer cloth than their fellow citizens.

Our universities shape young men's and women's sensibilities, and our professors are supposed to serve as guardians of authoritative knowledge and exemplars of serious and systematic inquiry. Yet our campuses are home today to a toxic confluence of fashionable ideas that undermine the very notion of intellectual virtue, and to flawed educational practices and procedures that give intellectual vice ample room to flourish.

Just look at Climategate.

Mr. Berkowitz is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jackson Toby's "The Lowering of Higher Education in America"

On Campus, Unprepared. By BEN WILDAVSKY
Colleges are filled with unserious students learning too little. What should be done?
WSJ, Dec 23, 2009

When President Barack Obama announced earlier this year that the U.S. should aim to have the world's highest proportion of college graduates by 2020, he was staking out an ambitious but hardly a maverick goal. It is widely recognized, by Republicans and Democrats alike, that the gap between the earnings of high-school graduates and college graduates has become a chasm in recent decades. More college graduates would mean more prosperity for individuals—and for the nation, too. Bowing to this logic, governments around the world—from China and India to the Middle East—are trying to boost college attendance for their knowledge-hungry populations.

As Mr. Obama's goal suggests, there is plenty of room for improvement in the U.S. While nearly seven in 10 high-school graduates go on directly to two- or four-year colleges (up from 49% in 1972), many students are poorly prepared for college and end up taking remedial courses. And huge numbers fail to graduate. Reformers believe, not without reason, that such problems can be solved in part by improved high-school preparation and better college instruction. But is it possible that aiming to increase the number of American college graduates is actually a fool's errand?

A few skeptics think so. Most prominent among them is Charles Murray, who in "Real Education" (2008) argued that most young people are just not smart enough to go to college and should be encouraged to take other paths instead, especially vocational training. Now comes Jackson Toby with "The Lowering of Higher Education in America," a provocative variation on Mr. Murray's theme.

Mr. Toby draws on social-science data as well as personal experience—he taught sociology at Rutgers University for 50 years before retiring a few years ago—to decry the intellectual conditions that prevail on the American campus. Sidestepping the matter of students' innate abilities, he blames low academic standards mostly on the easy availability of financial aid to undergraduates who are unqualified for college-level coursework.

Early on, Mr. Toby concedes that education has become the country's "main economic escalator." But he is alarmed at how few students are prepared to meet even the minimal demands of a real college education. He faults lax college-admission standards that give high schools little incentive to push their students harder. Too many undergrads can't write with minimal competence or understand basic cultural references. Students often take silly, politicized courses. And they feel entitled to inflated grades: Mr. Toby reports that one of his students spewed obscenities at him for ending the young man's straight-A record.

Perhaps this kind of experience accounts for Mr. Toby's seeming bitterness toward unserious students, whom he calls "unprepared, half-asleep catatonics who drift in late and leave early." Most undergrads, Mr. Toby suggests, enjoy a steady diet of extracurricular hedonism while skating through their coursework (though it's unclear how this claim jibes with his complaints about low graduation rates).

Worst of all, he says, students have been misled about the value of their degrees. Yes, a bachelor of arts degree commands a wage premium, but less because of a graduate's acquired knowledge than because of the signal that his degree sends to employers about the abilities that got him into college and about a variety of soft skills, such as reliability and problem-solving capacity. Graduates in undemanding majors—in the humanities, for example, or most of the social sciences—are unlikely to earn what their more studious counterparts in, say, engineering can. They are thus disproportionately likely to be saddled with debt and prone to default, Mr. Toby argues. He claims that this pattern amounts to the kind of unsound lending that led to our recent credit crisis—one that he darkly suggests may soon be repeated in higher education. He believes that today's "promiscuous" system of college grants and loans—which, at the federal level, is based largely on financial need—ought to be retooled to focus on academic merit.

But his platform is less radical than his book's subtitle promises ("Why Financial Aid Should Be Based on Student Performance"). He acknowledges that quite a few states already have merit-based aid. And in a concession to political reality he would continue the federal Pell Grant program, which focuses on need alone. Mr. Toby's main proposal, then, is to require good grades and test scores from those seeking federal student loans. This requirement, he believes, would improve incentives for academic performance and mitigate the inevitable trade-off between widening access to college and maintaining educational standards.

Strangely, Mr. Toby does not address the biggest objection to merit aid, which is that it usually subsidizes middle- and upper-income students who would go to college anyway. By contrast, need-based aid often provides make-or-break help to low-income applicants: Without grants and student loans, they would probably not go to college at all.

Mr. Toby sees reduced college opportunities as the price of keeping under-prepared students off campus. But that is one trade-off we should not make, especially when a college degree carries so much value in the marketplace. Our vast and varied college system, to its credit, enrolls all sorts of students. Mr. Toby delineates the system's manifold shortcomings, which badly need to be remedied. And to be sure, academic merit deserves a place in our financial aid system. But the indisputable benefits of college ought to be spread more widely, not less.

Mr. Wildavsky, a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, is the author of "The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World," to be published next spring.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Yes, We Can Expand Access to Higher Ed

Yes, We Can Expand Access to Higher Ed. By PETER MCPHERSON and DAVID SHULENBURGER
More college degrees will be good for the economy.
The Wall Street Journal, Jun 20, 2009, p A11

For generations, the United States has led the world in higher education. But today the U.S. has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young adults (age 25-34) who attain college degrees among the countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In Japan, Korea and Canada, more than 50% of young adults hold college degrees. Only 41% do in the United States. The question is: Should we do more?

Our nation's economic future depends on it. Our educational advantage made us the world's leader in discovery, invention and innovation. Our labor force has been able to perform better and receive higher wages because of its intellectual capital. But as that capital lags behind that of its competitors, our country's prominence is at risk.

The bottom line is that education affects economics. The more educated a work force is the more value it adds to society. We can chart this by looking at the way income levels vary with educational degrees. Since 1980, the gap between the earnings of those with bachelor's degrees and those with just high-school diplomas has widened. The ratio between the median earnings of men with the former and men with the latter grew to 1.99 in 2007 from 1.43 in 1980.

In today's harsh economy, there is a strong correlation between education and employment. In May 2009, those with bachelor's degrees have an unemployment rate of 4.8%; associate's degree, 7.7%; high-school degree, 10.0%; and less than high-school degree, 15.5%.

Given the impact education has on the economy, the U.S should set a goal of college degrees for at least 55% of its young adults by 2025. This is in line with President Barack Obama's statement that "by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world." This goal would require graduating an additional 875,000 students per year -- a 42% increase of people with at least an associate's or bachelor's degree.

History suggests higher education can meet this goal within the next 15 years. In the 15 years following World War II, post-secondary enrollment expanded by 82%. And in the baby-boomer period of 1962-76, enrollment expanded by a whopping 174%.

The path we foresee resembles what happened during the baby-boomer period. Then, in the heat of the Cold War, the imperative to make technological progress led the nation's universities to expand. As the nation's youth came to understand that they needed more education, the government made education a priority. The sobering lessons from the current economic situation could contribute to a similar pattern of thought and action.

We propose to: 1) enroll a higher percentage of high-school graduates, now 64%; 2) increase the number of adults returning to college; and 3) increase college graduation rates while maintaining educational quality.

To realize these goals, the historic partnership between higher education and the state and the federal government should be re-established. It is the only way that this country will increase its number of degree holders by 42%, a task that will obviously require more resources than public universities and colleges currently have.

The administration and Congress have taken the first steps to expand the number of degree holders, including increasing Pell Grant funding and GI educational benefits. These steps will help more low- and middle-income students attend college.

Figures suggest that the goal is attainable and important for the competitiveness of our people and country. Though some states are currently cutting funding to education, higher education needs help now. Our goal should not wait for better times.

Mr. McPherson, former chairman of Dow Jones & Company, is president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, where Mr. Shulenburger is vice president.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

College: If they can find time for feminist theory, they can find time for Edmund Burke

Conservatism and the University Curriculum. By Peter Berkowitz
If they can find time for feminist theory, they can find time for Edmund Burke.

The political science departments at elite private universities such as Harvard and Yale, at leading small liberal arts colleges like Swarthmore and Williams, and at distinguished large public universities like the University of Maryland and the University of California, Berkeley, offer undergraduates a variety of courses on a range of topics. But one topic the undergraduates at these institutions -- and at the vast majority of other universities and colleges -- are unlikely to find covered is conservatism.

There is no legitimate intellectual justification for this omission. The exclusion of conservative ideas from the curriculum contravenes the requirements of a liberal education and an objective study of political science.

Political science departments are generally divided into the subfields of American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory. Conservative ideas are relevant in all four, but the obvious areas within the political science discipline to teach about the great tradition of conservative ideas and thinkers are American politics and political theory. That rarely happens today.

To be sure, a political science department may feature a course on American political thought that includes a few papers from "The Federalist" and some chapters from Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America."

But most students will hear next to nothing about the conservative tradition in American politics that stretches from John Adams to Theodore Roosevelt to William F. Buckley Jr. to Milton Friedman to Ronald Reagan. This tradition emphasizes moral and intellectual excellence, worries that democratic practices and egalitarian norms will threaten individual liberty, attends to the claims of religion and the role it can play in educating citizens for liberty, and provides both a vigorous defense of free-market capitalism and a powerful critique of capitalism's relentless overturning of established ways. It also recognized early that communism represented an implacable enemy of freedom. And for 30 years it has been animated by a fascinating quarrel between traditionalists, libertarians and neoconservatives.

While ignoring conservatism, the political theory subfield regularly offers specialized courses in liberal theory and democratic theory; African-American political thought and feminist political theory; the social theory of Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and the neo-Marxist Frankfurt school; and numerous versions of postmodern political theory.

Students may encounter in various political theory courses an essay by the British historian and philosopher Michael Oakeshott, or a chapter from a book by the German-born American political philosopher Leo Strauss. But they will learn very little about the constellation of ideas and thinkers linked in many cases by a common concern with the dangers to liberty that stem from the excesses to which liberty and equality give rise.

That constellation begins to come into focus at the end of the 18th century with Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France." It draws on the conservative side of the liberal tradition, particularly Adam Smith and David Hume and includes Tocqueville's great writings on democracy and aristocracy and John Stuart Mill's classical liberalism. It gets new life in the years following World War II from Friedrich Hayek's seminal writings on liberty and limited government and Russell Kirk's reconstruction of traditionalist conservatism. And it is elevated by Michael Oakeshott's eloquent reflections on the pervasive tendency in modern politics to substitute abstract reason for experience and historical knowledge, and by Leo Strauss's deft explorations of the dependence of liberty on moral and intellectual virtue.

Without an introduction to the conservative tradition in America and the conservative dimensions of modern political philosophy, political science students are condemned to a substantially incomplete and seriously unbalanced knowledge of their subject. Courses on this tradition should be mandatory for students of politics; today they are not even an option at most American universities.

When progressives, who dominate the academy, confront arguments about the need for the curriculum to give greater attention to conservative ideas, they often hear them as a demand for affirmative action. Usually they mishear. Certainly affirmative action for conservatives is a terrible idea.

Political science departments should not seek out professors with conservative political opinions. Nor should they lower scholarly standards. That approach would embrace the very assumption that has corrupted liberal education: that to study and teach particular political ideas one's identity is more important than the breadth and depth of one's knowledge and the rigor of one's thinking

One need not be a Puritan to study and teach colonial American religious thought, an ancient Israelite to study and teach biblical thought, or a conservative or Republican to study and teach conservative ideas. Affirmative action in university hiring for political conservatives should be firmly rejected, certainly by conservatives and defenders of liberal education.

To be sure, if political science departments were compelled to hire competent scholars to offer courses on conservative ideas and conservative thinkers, the result would be more faculty positions filled by political conservatives, since they and not progressives tend to take an interest in studying conservative thought. But there is no reason why scholars with progressive political opinions and who belong to the Democratic Party can not, out of a desire to understand American political history and modern political philosophy, study and teach conservatism in accordance with high intellectual standards. It would be good if they did.

It would also be good if every political science department offered a complementary course on the history of progressivism in America. This would discourage professors from conflating American political thought as a whole with progressivism, which they do in a variety of ways, starting with the questions they tend to ask and those they refuse to entertain.

Incorporating courses on conservatism in the curriculum may, as students graduate, disperse, and pursue their lives, yield the political benefit of an increase in mutual understanding between left and right. In this way, reforming the curriculum could diminish the polarization that afflicts our political and intellectual classes. But that benefit is admittedly distant and speculative.

In the near term, giving conservative ideas their due will have the concrete and immediate benefit of advancing liberal education's proper and commendable goal, which is the formation of free and well-furnished minds.

Mr. Berkowitz is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fact Sheet on the President's Education Proposals

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
________________________________________________________
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 10, 2009

"In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity, it is a pre-requisite. That is why it will be the goal of this Administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career."
- President Barack Obama
Address to Joint Session of Congress, February 24, 2009

Providing a high-quality education for all children is critical to America’s economic future. Education has always been the foundation for achieving the American dream, providing opportunity to millions of American families, newcomers, and immigrants. Our nation’s economic competitiveness depends on providing every child with an education that will enable them to compete in a global economy that is predicated on knowledge and innovation.

Progress toward this goal requires a race to the top to reform our nation’s schools. It requires holding schools accountable for helping all students meet world-class standards aligned to the demands of the 21st century workforce. It requires solutions for schools to close the achievement gap, and strategies to accelerate the learning of those that are the furthest behind. It requires new reforms to promote effective teaching and attract the best and brightest into the profession. It requires a national strategy to confront America’s persistent dropout crisis, and strengthen transitions to college and career.

President Obama’s agenda will improve outcomes for students at every point along the educational pipeline.


Early Education: A Strong Foundation for Success

Research demonstrates that the years before kindergarten comprise the most critical time in a child’s life to influence educational outcomes. It’s time that our nation make the early investments that will transform lives, create opportunity and save money in the long term

· President Obama is committed to helping states develop seamless, comprehensive, and coordinated "Zero to Five" systems to improve developmental outcomes and early learning for all children.

· In the 2010 budget, Early Learning Challenge Grants will encourage states to raise the bar on the quality of early education, upgrade workforce quality, and drive improvements across multiple federal, state, and local funding streams.

· Incentive grants to states will support data collection across programs (Head Start, child care, Pre-kindergarten, and other early learning settings), push for uniform quality standards, and step-up efforts for the most disadvantaged children.


K-12: Fostering a Race to the Top

To excel in the global economy, we must adopt world-class standards, assessments, and accountability systems to upgrade the quality of teaching and learning in America’s classrooms.

· The President encourages an end to the practice of low-balling state reading and math standards, and will promote efforts to enhance the rigor of state-level curriculum to better foster critical thinking, problem solving, and the innovative use of knowledge needed to meet 21st century demands.

· He will push to end the use of ineffective "off-the-shelf" tests, and promote the development of new, state-of-the-art data and assessment systems that provide timely and useful information about the learning and progress of individual students.

· With funding provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the U.S. Department of Education will work with states to upgrade data systems to track students progress and measure the effectiveness of teachers.

Teachers are the single most important resource to a child’s learning. America must re-invest in the teaching profession by recruiting mid-career professional and ensuring that teachers have the world’s best training and preparation. We must take action to improve teaching in classrooms that need it most, while demanding accountability and performance.

· The President will teacher quality by dramatically expanding successful performance pay models and rewards for effective teachers, scaling up federal support for such programs in up to an additional 150 school districts nationwide.

· He supports improved professional development and mentoring for new and less effective teachers, and will insist on shaping new processes to remove ineffective teachers.

· The President supports a new, national investment in recruiting the best and brightest to the field of teaching, and will invest in scaling-up innovative teacher preparation and induction models.


Driving Innovation and Expecting Excellence

America’s schools must be incubators of innovation and success. Where charter schools are successful, states should be challenged to lift arbitrary caps and make use of successful lessons to drive reform throughout other schools.

· President Obama will encourage the growth of successful, high-quality charter schools, and challenge states to reform their charter rules and lift limits that stifle growth and success among excellent schools.

· The President supports rigorous accountability for all charter schools, and will encourage higher-quality processes for the approval and review of charter schools, as well as plans to shut-down charters if schools are failing to serve students well.

America’s competitiveness demands a focus on the needs of our lowest-performing students and schools. Our middle- and high- schools must identify students at-risk of dropping out, and we must scale-up models that keep students on a path toward graduation. Reform in America’s lowest-performing schools must be systemic and transformational. For some, partnerships and additional support can bring about change and drive improvement. Others may need to move beyond the late 19th century and expand the school day.

· The President supports a national strategy to address the dropout crisis in America’s communities, and efforts to transform the nation’s lowest-performing schools. 2,000 of the nation’s struggling high schools produce over half of America’s dropouts. The President will invest in re-engaging and recovering at-risk students, including those enrolled in the middle school grades.

· The FY 2010 budget will support the development and scaling of effective dropout prevention and recovery models – such as transfer schools that combine education and job training for high school students that are far behind.

· President Obama supports the acceleration of America’s lowest-performing schools, and will make a robust investment toward recovery for schools failing standards under the No Child Left Behind Act.


Restoring America’s Leadership in Higher Education

Our competitiveness abroad depends on opening the doors of higher education for more of America’s students. The U.S. ranks seventh in terms of the percentage of 18-24 year olds enrolled in college, but only 15th in terms of the number of certificates and degrees awarded. A lack of financial resources should never obstruct the promise of college opportunity. And it’s America’s shared responsibility to ensure that more of our students not only reach the doors of college, but also persist, succeed, and obtain their degree.

· President Obama’s FY 2010 budget makes a historic commitment to increasing college access and success by restructuring and dramatically expanding financial aid, while making federal programs simpler, more reliable, and more efficient.

· The President will restore the buying power of the Pell Grant for America’s neediest students and guarantee an annual increase tied to inflation. His plan will end wasteful subsidies to banks under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program, and re-direct billions in savings toward student aid.

· And it will dramatically simplify the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), making it easier to complete and more effective for students.

· The President supports strengthening the higher education pipeline to ensure that more students succeed and complete their college education. His plan will invest in community colleges to conduct an analysis of high-demand skills and technical education, and shape new degree programs for emerging industries.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Conservative comments on BHO's higher education plans

A Ph.D. in Every Pot. By Andrew Ferguson
Obama's diploma mill.
The Weekly Standard, Mar 09, 2009, Volume 014, Issue 24

In the long, long list of presidential directives that President Obama handed down to his countrymen in his televised Day of Reckoning speech last week, one was more far-reaching than it appeared at first glance. "Tonight," he said, "I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training." He said he didn't much care what kind of higher education it was: "community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship." The ultimate goal is that by 2020 "America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world." Then we'll be able to compete in that globalized economy we keep hearing about, "where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge."

The goal, though comfortably far off, is impressive enough, but the point was driven home with unusual force. First, the president insisted that "dropping out of high school is no longer an option." Anyone who doesn't finish high school, he said, is "quitting on your country." (This attack on the patriotism of high-school dropouts drew whoops of approval from his audience on Capitol Hill.) So everyone has to finish high school, and everyone who finishes high school has to go on to higher education. And if they go on to higher education but don't go on to get a degree, America won't regain its world title in college graduates. They'll be letting down the team.

To prevent such an outcome, the president will provide a variety of inducements, from the tiniest Pell Grants for a two-year associate's degree to full rides at the fanciest four-year colleges. And as you might expect, the people who stand to receive the most money under the president's proposal are adamant in their belief that the country probably will not survive unless it is enacted at once. The president of the American Council on Education could barely contain herself.

"The education components of the new economic stimulus package prove that President Obama will back his words with resources and action," said Molly Corbett Broad. This is lobbyist talk for ka-ching! "If America is to compete economically," she went on, "we must have a competitive work force and a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs."

The assumption here is that the way to make somebody a competitive worker is to send him to college, an idea that will astonish anyone who's ever been served in a restaurant by a waiter with a master's in art history. This is just the first of the confusions that dog the president's proposal, which for the moment exists only in hypothetical form. Another confusion comes from his hazy definition of what the problem is.

The 2020 goal relies on a gloomy factoid that has become a favorite of hand wringers and heavy breathers in the education-obsessed community. According to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranks tenth among the 30 developed nations in the higher-ed "participation rate"--the number of people between the ages of 25 and 34 with postsecondary degrees.

But the poor ranking isn't nearly as portentous as it seems, as several educational researchers have pointed out, to little effect. Clifford Adelman of the Institute for Higher Education Policy noted recently in (the indispensable) Inside Higher Ed that the OECD rankings take no account of the country's vast demographic and ethnic stew, and ignores a 45 percent increase in foreign-born immigrants over the last 15 years that tilts toward the young and unschooled. If a country's population is growing at the younger and older ends, then its higher-ed participation rate in the middle will appear artificially low. Most of the United States's OECD competitors have flat or declining population numbers, along with greater social conformity.

When you expand the cohort to those between the ages of 25 and 65, the U.S. participation rate jumps and the United States ranks fifth among the 30 OECD countries. It turns out that lots of Americans earn their degrees after they've passed college age and even the middle years. "Lifelong learning," and the federal government's insistence on "fostering" and "nurturing" a "culture" thereof, has been a fetish and cliché of our politicians for 20 years. Weirdly enough, it seems to have worked. Lifelong learning makes more sense than cramming all your schooling through the window of the late teens and early twenties. As a vocational matter, late learners are more likely to concentrate attention on abilities that the current marketplace needs, unlike kids who have to predict what jobs this finicky global economy of ours will be rewarding 10 years from now. And the learning is more likely to stick. Adults are smarter than teenagers. In general.

Thus the OECD rankings are less gloomy than the president thinks. If there is a problem with a shortage of workers with associate's degrees or B.A. degrees, it is more concentrated than he lets on. The Gates Foundation announced last November that it's spending close to $100 million to encourage young people to get a higher-ed degree. Unlike the president, however, the foundation will spend money where the difficulty lies. While more than 60 percent of high schoolers go on to post-secondary school, the number for poor black and Hispanic high schoolers is roughly half that. These are the students that the Gates program will encourage and subsidize. More important, it will bring them into community colleges and vocational schools exclusively. At the least they will get an associate's degree and a marketable skill. Then, if they're inclined, they can go on to a four-year school.

The president's view is more romantic. With certain exceptions, he'll have taxpayers pay for anyone to go anywhere--wherever higher-ed is sold, whether it's to learn hospitality management at DeVry University or to study neocolonialism at Oberlin. Many taxpayers will find this approach indiscriminate, even incoherent. For behind the president's proposal is a contradiction set deep in the American understanding of things--deep in American democracy itself.

On one hand, the president takes the purely utilitarian view of what higher education is for: You get a degree so you can get a good job, and, as you work, you make the country more prosperous. On the other hand, by including traditional four-year liberal arts colleges and universities in his plan, he implicitly endorses the opposite view: Higher education is for spiritual advancement, the development of character, and the refinement of the mind, and it must be, moreover, accessible to everyone. It is the collision of American practicality and American romanticism. The second view considers the first crudely materialistic, the reduction of education to mere training; the first sees the second as . . . well, nice, I suppose, but pretty much beside the point. Haven't you heard about that global economy?

The idea that the two views can be reconciled is why the restaurants of our great country are overrun by art history majors spilling osso bucco on disgruntled customers; these delicate souls have been trained for everything but work. It's also why more than half of students who enroll in traditional four-year schools never finish; they didn't want be trained for everything but work. They wanted to be trained for work. It has also inspired a multi-billion dollar industry designed to help teenagers get into a four-year college whether or not they really want to go.

When he included four-year schools in his list of higher-ed options, the president was being very generous. (Why wouldn't he be? It's not his money.) But the traditional college was only one of four options. In practice the three others--postsecondary education understood as job training--will be where the action is and, if we're lucky, where the students are.

The democratic ideal of outfitting everyone with a liberal arts degree has always been vaguely unrealistic, and now the lack of realism is becoming unavoidable. Whether intentionally or not, the effect of pursuing the president's goal will be to reconfirm the utilitarian view and slowly -render the traditional view irrelevant--an overpriced indulgence that the country can no longer afford. For traditional colleges, this is a Day of Reckoning the president didn't mention.

Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Michelle Obama at Howard University

Growing up
White House blog, Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 at 3:30 pm

First Lady Michelle Obama visited Howard University today, where she assured a crowd of college students that hey, it's ok if you're not sure exactly what you want to do with your life.

"The question that I hate most that we ask of young people is, 'What are you going to be when you grow up?' And the truth is, I still don't know, and I'm 45 years old," she said. "All I know is that it's important for you to be true to yourselves, not to worry too much about what other people are going to think or make of your choices, because everyone will question what you do and tell you you should've done it the other way."

Read the full remarks here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How to explain female absence from the sciences?

The Times’s Weak-Willed Women, by Heather Mac Donald
How else to explain female absence from the sciences?
City Journal, January 28, 2009

Women, feminists proclaim again and again, are strong, indomitable, and equal in every way to men. Except, that is, when they run up against an obstacle, thrown malevolently in their path, that is too formidable even for them, such as . . . a sitcom.

New York Times science reporter Natalie Angier recently called for renewed attention to the lack of proportional representation of women in science. (In the past, Angier has made something of a specialty of discovering proper gender role models in nature, along the lines of dominatrix polyps and sexually submissive male arachnids.) The imbalance in the sciences, Angier reported, is especially bad in physics, where just 6 percent of full professors are women. After canvassing some current theories explaining the imbalance, Angier offered her own scapegoats: “Bubble-headed television shows like ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ with its four nerdy male physics prodigies and the fetching blond girl next door.”

Imagine the devastation that such a show might wreak. A 15-year-old math whiz is happily immersed in the Lorentz transformations, the basis for the theory of special relativity. She looks up at the tube and sees a fictional group of male physics students bashfully speaking to a feisty blonde. Her confidence and enthusiasm shattered, she drops out of her AP physics course and starts hanging out at the mall with the cheerleading squad.

Gender-insensitive TV shows are just the start of the barriers blocking girls’ entry to the empyrean of pure science. There’s also the father of modern physics himself. What self-respecting girl wants to look like Albert Einstein? “As long as we’re making geek [culture] chic” under our new, science-friendly president, Angier suggests, “let’s lose the Einstein ’do and moustache.” We’re in whiplash territory here. For years, we have been told that the patriarchy brainwashes women into excessive concern with appearance. Now, however, it turns out that girls with an innate knack for science could be turned away from their calling just because the Über Role Model is frumpy. If Einstein had looked like Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie, apparently, girls would be clamoring to participate in the Math Olympiad and earning their proportionate share of physics Ph.D.s.

Which is it? Are women “strong”? Or can they be crushed by fears of a permanent bad hair day and inspired by something as superficial as Hollywood fashion? Given the amount of time and money that most women spend on applying makeup, blow-drying their hair, shopping for clothes, and gullibly attending to preposterous wrinkle-cream ads in women’s magazines, Angier’s claim that girls could be thwarted by a TV comedy is not wholly unreasonable. It just happens to contradict the usual feminist claim that women are just as tough as men.

The evidence to date suggests that the highest-level math skills—those required for research physics—aren’t evenly distributed among men and women. Men greatly outnumber women at the very highest and lowest ends of the mathematics aptitude curve. As Christina Hoff Sommers has documented, men also show greater interest in abstract, non-empathetic careers than women. Of course, the conflicting demands of raising a family and pursuing pure science undoubtedly influence women’s career paths as well. If scientific pursuit can be made more family-friendly without in any way damaging its essential strengths, such changes should be contemplated. But the fertility clock and women’s greater involvement with their babies are not chauvinist plots; they are biological realities.

Unfortunately, Angier’s conviction that sexism lurks behind women’s rarity in the most abstract sciences isn’t confined to the New York Times or even to academia. A congressional bill, the Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Act of 2008, would apply Title IX gender quotas to academic science. Barack Obama endorsed the bill during the presidential campaign; women’s groups are clamoring for action.

Obama has indeed presented himself as a science president. Rejecting feminist propaganda, however belatedly, regarding sexism in science would be a strong start in justifying that title. In the meantime, stay tuned for the latest twist in feminists’ contradictory—dare one say, irrational?—apologetics.

Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Obama-Biden: Keeping college affordable

Keeping college affordable, by Dan McSwain
Change.gov, Monday, January 5, 2009 11:49am EST

Claiborne Pell, a Rhode Island senator whose achievements brought about lasting change both at home and abroad, died on January 1st, 2009, at the age of 90.

In a statement, Vice President-elect Joe Biden honored Sen. Pell’s many accomplishments, noting that, “few Senators have done more to expand opportunity in America.”

Pell’s domestic efforts led to the establishment of the Pell Grant, a federal higher education subsidy that has defrayed the cost of college tuition for thousands of American students since their establishment in 1973.

In 2000, nearly 30% of public university students were Pell Grant recipients.

Still, many students and their families worry that the worsening economy will increase the burden of tuition and other college costs.

Carolyn from California shared some of her concerns:

“With the state of our current economy my parents are worried with how they are going to be able to support me and my younger brother as he goes off to college. We are considered upper-middle class (I think) and if we are having a hard time, I can only imagine what other families are facing. Please continue to support federal funding for higher education including the Pell Grant Program. Your proposed changes to the Financial Aid application would be very helpful, but at the same time increased funding of federal programs is necessary.”
Making higher education more affordable is a priority for the Obama-Biden administration. Use the discussion forum below to tell us some of your concerns about education costs:

http://change.gov/newsroom/entry/keeping_college_affordable/

Sunday, January 4, 2009

On Griggs v. Duke Power: Implications for College Credentialing

The Toll of a Rights 'Victory', by George F. Will
Washington Post, Sunday, January 4, 2009; B07

Like pebbles tossed into ponds, important Supreme Court rulings radiate ripples of consequences. Consider a 1971 Supreme Court decision that supposedly applied but actually altered the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

During debate on the legislation, prescient critics worried that it might be construed to forbid giving prospective employees tests that might produce what was later called, in the 1971 case, a "disparate impact" on certain preferred minorities. To assuage these critics, the final act stipulated that employers could use "professionally developed ability tests" that were not "designed, intended or used to discriminate."

Furthermore, two Senate sponsors of the act insisted that it did not require "that employers abandon bona fide qualification tests where, because of differences in background and educations, members of some groups are able to perform better on these tests than members of other groups." What subsequently happened is recounted in "Griggs v. Duke Power: Implications for College Credentialing," a paper written by Bryan O'Keefe, a law student, and Richard Vedder, a professor of economics at Ohio University.

In 1964, there were more than 2,000 personnel tests available to employers. But already an Illinois state official had ruled that a standard ability test used by Motorola was illegal because it was unfair to "disadvantaged groups."

Before 1964, Duke Power had discriminated against blacks in hiring and promotion. After the 1964 act, the company changed its policies, establishing a high school equivalence requirement for all workers and allowing them to meet that requirement by achieving minimum scores on two widely used aptitude tests, including one used today by almost every NFL team to measure players' learning potential.

Plaintiffs in the Griggs case argued that the high school and testing requirements discriminated against blacks. A unanimous Supreme Court, disregarding the relevant legislative history, held that Congress intended the 1964 act to proscribe not only overt discrimination but also "practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation." The court added:
"The touchstone is business necessity. If an employment practice which operates to exclude Negroes cannot be shown to be related to job performance, the practice is prohibited."

Thus a heavy burden of proof was placed on employers, including that of proving that any test that produced a "disparate impact" detrimental to certain minorities was a "business necessity" for various particular jobs. In 1972, Congress codified the Griggs misinterpretation of what Congress had done in 1964. And after a 1989 Supreme Court ruling partially undid Griggs, Congress in 1991 repudiated that 1989 ruling and essentially reimposed the burden of proof on employers.

Small wonder, then, that many employers, fearing endless litigation about multiple uncertainties, threw up their hands and, to avoid legal liability, threw out intelligence and aptitude tests for potential employees. Instead, they began requiring college degrees as indices of applicants' satisfactory intelligence and diligence.

This is, of course, just one reason college attendance increased from 5.8 million in 1970 to 17.5 million in 2005. But it probably had a, well, disparate impact by making employment more difficult for minorities. O'Keefe and Vedder write:

"Qualified minorities who performed well on an intelligence or aptitude test and would have been offered a job directly 30 or 40 years ago are now compelled to attend a college or university for four years and incur significant costs. For some young people from poorer families, those costs are out of reach."

Indeed, by turning college degrees into indispensable credentials for many of society's better jobs, this series of events increased demand for degrees and, O'Keefe and Vedder say, contributed to "an environment of aggressive tuition increases." Furthermore they reasonably wonder whether this supposed civil rights victory, which erected barriers between high school graduates and high-paying jobs, has exacerbated the widening income disparities between high school and college graduates.

Griggs and its consequences are timely reminders of the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is increasingly pertinent as America's regulatory state becomes increasingly determined to fine-tune our complex society. That law holds that the consequences of government actions often are different than, and even contrary to, the intended consequences.

Soon the Obama administration will arrive, bristling like a very progressive porcupine with sharp plans -- plans for restoring economic health by "demand management," for altering the distribution of income by using tax changes and supporting more muscular labor unions, for cooling the planet by such measures as burning more food as fuel, and for many additional improvements. At least, those will be the administration's intended consequences.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Higher-ed Spending Is Not the Answer

Higher-ed Spending Not the Answer, by Neal McCluskey
This article appeared in the Baltimore Sun on December 17, 2008

Despite conventional wisdom - and the huge higher education spending increase just proposed for Maryland - giving academia more public bucks is not the path to economic success.

The cries for more money have certainly been abundant. In October, the New America Foundation's Michael Dannenberg declared that states should deficit spend on higher ed to keep tuitions low and economies running. In November, the Center for Studies in Higher Education implored Washington to fight recession by spending big on scholars. This month, the College Board, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, and National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education all decried states' tight outlays.

Finally, on Wednesday, a commission chaired by Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., a St. Mary's County Democrat, proposed that Maryland expend an additional $760 million on its ivory towers to keep the state competitive.

But colleges, despite their claims, are not great growth-makers. Yes, individuals with college degrees tend to do better than those without, but that doesn't mean forced higher ed spending is an economic good.

For one thing, we put more people into universities than can benefit from them. Nationally, about one-third of college students need remedial work (Maryland's rate is roughly the same) and many never graduate. In fact, the six-year graduation rate for all bachelor's students is just 56 percent.

But isn't the problem that college prices keep rising, forcing students to work when they should be learning? And isn't that rooted in ever-skimpier state support?

It's true that prices have ballooned. According to the College Board, nationally the inflation-adjusted costs of tuition, fees, room, and board have risen about 52 percent at public four-year schools over the last 15 years, going from $9,460 to $14,340. Four-year private schools have seen a 42 percent price leap, from $24,060 to $34,130.

But shrinking public funds aren't to blame. For one thing, state appropriations have little impact on private institutions. For another, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers, nationwide the nearly three-decade trend is essentially flat. And, between 1992 and 2007, real (inflation-adjusted) state and local government expenditures per student in Maryland increased roughly 23 percent.

So, what accounts for rampant tuition inflation? Many things, but one of the biggest is student aid. Nationally, real sticker prices rose 52 percent at public four-year institutions between 1993 and 2008, but the increase was a more modest 35 percent after accounting for grants and tax benefits such as credits and deductions - essentially free money. At private institutions, the after-free-cash increase was 34 percent. And those numbers ignore cheap federal loans, which after adjusting for inflation grew from $2,830 per pupil in 1993 to $4,841 in 2007.

Of course, all this forced largesse might be worth something if it actually strengthened the economy. But there is evidence it doesn't. Economist Richard Vedder has isolated the effects of higher ed spending and found that the more states spend, the lower their rates of economic growth.

Why is this? In part, it's a function of the bureaucratic inefficiencies - and special-interest payoffs - that accompany almost anything government does. More fundamentally, taxpayers know their needs better than anyone else, and when they can keep their money attend to them more effectively than does the ivory tower.

Scholars and politicians might not like to hear these things. But before the state drops three-quarters of a billion dollars on its universities, they're worth considering.

Neal McCluskey is associate director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom and author of Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education.