College Isn’t a Public Good

by George Leef

So argues Tim Worstall, a Brit who writes often for Forbes. One of the arguments we hear all the time from the higher ed establishment is that college is a “public good” and we won’t get enough people into and through college unless we subsidize it. In this piece, Worstall shows what is wrong with that claim.

One Thing I Like about the Start of School

by Jane S. Shaw

I have always found the Beloit College “mindset list” amusing to read (although some years are better than others) and I think that professors should heed it. This is the list of things that characterize the knowledge and experience of income freshmen — this year, those students born in 1998. Beloit is trying to remind profs that some of their assumptions — and their analogies in lectures — need updating.

So this year’s list, just released, makes such statements as:

Vladimir Putin has always been calling the shots at the Kremlin.
They have never had to watch or listen to programs at a scheduled time. 
They have no memory of Bob Dole promoting Viagra.
SpongeBob SquarePants has always lived at Bikini Bottom.
The United States has always been at war.

Next, the Beloit team should listen to professors’ lectures and cite some of the allusions from the past that leave students shaking their heads.

Accusation = Sentence

by George Leef

That is Neal McCluskey’s assessment of the Education Department’s new regulations aimed at for-profit colleges. In this [email protected] post, he writes, “Just accusing a school of predatory behavior hurts it, generating lots of bad press, encouraging more suits and investigations, and usually resulting in schools settling with government accusers without admitting guilt….”

Read the whole thing.

Oh great — another opportunity for crusading politicians and bureaucrats to do something they love — grandstanding — by making accusations against for-profit colleges.

There is only one actual solution: go back to the days when students spent their own money for higher education, not money strewn all about them by the government.


A Female Privilege Ends at Michigan State

by Jane S. Shaw

Should a public university have a student lounge exclusively for women?

Mark J. Perry, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, suggested a few years ago that Michigan State’s women-only lounge is inappropriate at a public university. “Wouldn’t a women-only lounge that discriminates against men be in violation of Title IX?” he asked. While the federal Title IX is usually used to promote rights for women, it actually bans discrimination on the basis of sex.

This year, Perry filed a formal complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. (He is a professor University of Michigan at Flint, part of the rival university system.)

Now Michigan State has announced that it will close the lounge (which was a relic of the past, when both women and men had same-sex lounges).

InsideHigherEd covered the latest news. The article by Scott Jaschik noted that some women think that Michigan State’s decision is unfair. “Advocates for the women’s lounge say there are relatively few places on the main campus where women can study in peace, without male students talking to them and sometimes harassing them,” wrote Jaschik. More than 5000 people have signed a petition asking the administration to keep things the way they are. After all, says the petition, there’s a co-ed lounge that’s twice as big right next to the women’s lounge. (Another way of saying that is that the women’s lounge is half as big as the co-ed lounge, with nothing exclusively for men.)

As Jaschik noted, Mark Perry had some comments on his July 21, 2016, blog:

The vitriol, hatred, and hostility directed towards me by email, voicemail and on Twitter have been disturbing and disappointing, more than I have ever experienced in my life – much of it couldn’t be printed here due to the offensive content, but “You’re a piece of human garbage Perry and I hope something happens to your daughters, etc.” gives you an idea of some of the comments that I’ve received by voicemail this week (some have been forwarded to UM-Flint’s campus police).

It’s not clear whether Michigan State’s decision is based on Perry’s complaint or something else, but the school appears to be coming into line with state and federal law.

The Ruthless Folly of SLOs

by David Clemens reports that Biology Professor Robert Dillon was suspended from the College of Charleston for not having acceptable, accreditor-required student learning outcomes (SLOs) on his syllabus. Professor Dillon, in turn, is suing the college and questions the value of SLOs. This contretemps confirms that no matter how misguided SLOs may be, their proponents are ruthless. And accrediting agencies, anxious to appear scientific and corporate, are big proponents.

In my view, Dillon is right and the college cum accreditors are wrong. In The Origin of the Universe and the Origin of Religion, Sir Fred Hoyle writes that “When a starting point is wrong, the more impeccable the logical development the worse the result.” And SLOs’ starting points are spectacularly wrong: 

  • SLO theory holds that all learning is observable which is facially preposterous. Learning is internal and unavailable for analysis.
  • SLO theory holds that all learning is measurable. Some learning (mastery) in some subjects is measurable (mostly CTE and trades) but much learning in many subjects is not measurable (poetry, dance, fine art).
  • SLO theory holds that all learning is immediate. In fact, it can take years for a lesson to be fully realized. The seeds of David Denby’s college lessons on King Lear never flowered until decades later when his own mother became frail, demanding, and tyrannical.
  • SLO theory implies that all learning is permanent. SLOs were supposed to state what, following course completion, a student will be able to do. To make a guarantee of future performance is ill-advised, at best. As a teacher, I can tell you what a student did, but I can’t rationally promise you what a student will do in the future.

SLO theory, in fact, is warmed over behaviorism, not about learning at all, just conditioning. The Pavlov and Skinner crowd are concerned with stimulus and response, input and output, and not with the being that turns the one into the other. Hence, the most glaring of SLOs’ flaws is that they are silent about a major ingredient in learning: the student. That’s why when attainment of SLOs is used in teacher evaluation, it places the blame for student failure solely on the teacher. Maybe that’s the attraction.

A more rational depiction of the teacher-student learning encounter comes from Rob Jenkins in The Chronicle of Higher Education who is talking to students when he writes:

Whether you choose to accept [my] help — ultimately, whether you choose to learn anything — is up to you.

My role is not to tell you what to do, like your shift manager at the fast-food restaurant. Rather, I will provide information, explain how to do certain things, and give you regular assignments and assessments designed to help you internalize that knowledge and master those skills. Internalizing and mastering are your responsibility.

At my college, we face the same SLO juggernaut as Professor Dillon. Of course, teachers must follow orders, but they don’t have to agree or swear belief in those orders. For the last several years, our solution has been to state official course SLOs on our syllabi, but also to include the following disclaimer:

As a credentialed teacher, I want to state my belief that Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) violate both the spirit and the tenets of academic freedom.  I further affirm that my participation in SLO formulation and assessment has been under duress and coerced by threats of institutional probation and/or loss of accreditation.  I believe SLO assessment represents an un-negotiated increase in workload, and in my professional judgment, SLOs have no demonstrable positive effect on learning. They create a fundamental, detrimental change in what I do as a teacher, and it has not been demonstrated that SLOs achieve anything beyond creating an illusion that the student experience can be qualitatively measured. Furthermore, such measurement occurs in terms that may actually be irrelevant or antithetical to real learning.

In this way, obedience and profound dissent are nicely conjoined.

Conceding the Culture War

by Carol Iannone

Daniel Henninger is certainly right to point out how a second Clinton presidency would mean the further and deeper entrenchment of freedom-destroying political correctness, especially in  higher education (“The Clinton Default Mistake: Her Presidency Will Use the Federal Enforcement Agencies to Enforce Political Correctness,” Wall Street Journal, August 11, 2016). But if he means to imply that diversity originally meant something positive, “absorbing new immigrants, alongside blacks and women via affirmative action commitments,” he is quite mistaken and, furthermore, illustrates once again why conservatives are losing, or have lost, the culture war: that is, to believe that the original versions of various progressive agendas, such as feminism, such as diversity, were good, but descended into excesses that are bad.

These things were liars from the beginning, to paraphrase Jesus, and the fathers and mothers of it, that is, the lie. Diversity from the beginning meant group rights, enforced egalitarianism, absolute parity by group in all areas. If group equality becomes the supreme value, it necessarily tramples over individual rights, and over other values that are or should be the prime focus of the various institutions into which diversity is introduced. In academia, those values would include intellectual honesty, academic integrity, freedom of expression, and individual merit. By allowing a benign, desirable, justified dimension to these progressive agendas, conservatives concede an enormous amount of territory, and then are just left scrambling alongside to point out where the concept is going to excess.

Often, conservatives’ own premises are not clear, even to themselves. Henninger notes the unconscionable proliferation of diversity bureaucracy on campuses today, in which “university administrators know their next job depends on showing evidence of achieving diversity metrics. So they push them, relentlessly. In 20 years, diversity went from an idea to an industry.” But the industry was implicit in the idea. And, for that matter, what would have been the right stopping point for diversity, for feminism, for “social justice”?  

One More Problem with Students -- They’re Moral Relativists

by George Leef

What’s the matter with American college students? Besides the fact that many of them are lazy, feel entitled to good grades, and can’t be civil towards anyone who questions their “progressive” beliefs, there is something else — they’re moral relativism.

In today’s Pope Center article, Professor Richard Cocks, who teaches philosophy at SUNY – Oswego, laments that many of his students have been indoctrinated with moral and cultural relativism in their K-12 years and gives this close-to-home example: “My son’s high school English teacher wanted her students to say that child slavery in Ghana is morally permissible, the unstated premised being that there are no absolute moral principles that apply to all cultures at all times and places.” Lurking behind that, Cocks maintains, is the notion that it’s wrong to be “judgmental” about other cultures. (Of course, that doesn’t apply to western culture, which is fair game for the most outrageous attacks.)

When students get into his class, he finds that many are so imbued with that “who am I to criticize another culture” notion that when he brings up such atrocities as female genital mutilation in Sudan, they reply, “That’s just your perspective.” It’s hard to disagree with the conclusion that their relativistic education has left them lacking in a moral compass.

Cocks goes on to explain how he deals with this problem by getting them to see that justice is not specific just to some human cultures, but is universal, even extending to some animal species. He has been able to convince students that “there are indeed moral principles that apply to everyone and criticism of other cultures is not being ‘intolerant.’”

I think it speaks volumes about the state of American education that so many students think it’s “intolerant” to criticize the most abominable practices in other cultures, but can’t see anything wrong in their own nasty attacks on those who disagree with them on issues like gun control, abortion, minimum wage laws, and so on.


Segregation Is Back

by Jennifer Kabbany

Two stories on higher education this week captured national headlines. The first centered on students of color at the Claremont Colleges who did not want to room with white peers. The second focused on a professor who told students they would be marked down if they used the term “melting pot” on assignments. 

To be sure, the stories offer a very worrisome commentary on the state of affairs on college campuses today. But if you are surprised by the reports, you have not been paying attention. 

On students of color who did not want to room with white peers, that is nothing new. Black students have been openly demanding segregated “safe spaces” from white students for a year now. Places such as UConn and Berkeley offer segregated living spaces, for example.

Indeed at universities nationwide, segregated spaces for students of color has become a welcomed occurrence, seen not only in housing but also in campus social gatherings, protests and grief sessions.

As for the professor who forbids the phrase “melting pot” in her classroom, how is that a shocker when universities across the nation are teaching that the term is a microaggression? From California to Wisconsin to Indiana, this phrase has been presented on campuses as offensive because it suggests to minorities they must “assimilate/acculturate to the dominant culture.”

So students self segregating or professors banning the term “melting pot” are not random, isolated incidents. They are brushstrokes within a much larger, and troubling, higher education picture.