Thursday Theatrics

Ashley Thorne

Every once in a while we like to round up several topics of interest in one posting. This week we are proud to recognize the writings and accomplishments of several of our members. We also note some of the theatrics of the academic world, as well as our own drama in our newly printed Academic Questions issue themed “The Dead, the Dying, and the Not Feeling Too Well.” 

Fighting Feminist Falsehoods

Christina Hoff Sommers, a member of our board of advisors and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has picked a fight and won. Two months ago Sommers wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Persistent Myths in Feminist Scholarship,” (subscription required) pointing out errors in the textbook Domestic Violence Law edited by Nancy K.D. Lemon. Sommers’ excellent article shows how feminist scholars undermine public policy, intellectual integrity, and their own credibility when they refuse to correct mistakes in their work. This week the Chronicle gave Lemon a chance to respond and Sommers another opportunity for rebuttal.

Lemon’s defensive comeback relies on myths, unreliable sources, and twisted facts. Indignant that her work has been called into question, she huffs, “I have been teaching law students for 22 years and am the author of one of the leading textbooks on domestic violence.”

Sommers demolishes her argument once again, taking down Lemon’s errors one by one. Her rebuttal concludes, “My complaint with feminist research is not that the authors make mistakes but that the mistakes are impervious to reasoned criticism. They do not get corrected, and the critic’s motives are impugned. Nancy Lemon’s response to my article illustrates the problem perfectly.” We are proud of Dr. Sommers’ courageous challenge to the propagation of inaccurate scholarship. Her willingness to defend intellectual integrity (and make lemonade out of Lemon) is a superb example for all of us.

Merit-al Bliss?

Last month NAS published a major review essay by Russell K. Nieli on three “River” books supporting affirmative action. These books attempt to defend racial preferences by showing that diversity is beneficial for education. But Nieli responds with seven propositions that he believes the “River Pilots” fail to grasp. His compelling essay, “Selling Merit Down the River,” is the latest of numerous contributions that NAS has made to the debate on racial preferences. Last summer we published a PDF version of Larry Purdy’s book Getting Under the Skin of “Diversity” and last fall, we published a special issue of Academic Questions on racial preferences.

Yesterday George Leef writing for the Pope Center drew attention to Nieli’s essay in his article “Diversity versus Merit,” and Jane Shaw praised it at Phi Beta Cons. We are glad that this important review is receiving notice, and we hope that the River Pilots take heed as well.

Also in this vein, our Illinois affiliate president Jonathan J. Bean recently published a book called Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader. Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) and recipient of NAS’s Sidney Hook Memorial Award, said of Race and Liberty that “this fantastic book is destined to become America’s new textbook about ‘race,’ civil rights, and what it means to be a classical liberal on the subject of race.” Click here to read Professor Bean’s announcement and what others have said about the book.

UT-Austin Quashes Western Civ Curriculum

Robert Koons, our Texas affiliate president and professor of philosophical logic at the University of Texas, created a Program in Western Civilization and American Institutions several years ago with the help of the NAS. The program was part of our strategy to build strongholds to help keep alive the endangered studies of free institutions, American history, Constitutional democracy, and the Great Books. Koons’ program developed a course sequence for students seeking a certificate and academic credit toward graduation.

At first things looked hopeful for the UT-Austin program. The university granted it “concentration” status, Koons succeeded in raising over $1 million for it, and student enrollment filled up. But after an article entitled “Conservatives Try New Tack on Campus” (which mentions NAS) appeared on the front page of the New York Times last year, the program in Western Civilization and American Institutions got pegged as a conservative scheme. The dean of the College of Liberal Arts reacted by withdrawing support for the program and firing Professor Koons from its directorship. Tom and Lorraine Pangle were appointed as the interim directors, and on their initiative the name of the program was subsequently changed to the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas.* 

Barbara Moeller has the full story at Minding the Campus, and last week Professor Koons told what he learned from the experience. He wrote in the Clarion Call, “Unfortunately, the faculty saw our program as foreign and threatening, and therefore attacked it, much as the human body automatically attacks transplanted organs. We need to prevent that from happening in the future.” Koons called on trustees, much like Anne Neal did in her recent wake-up call, to “get their hands dirty by dictating the details of curricular reform, over the objections of the faculty gatekeepers and their administrative allies.”

We join Professor Koons in regretting the overturn of the Program in Western Civilization and American Institutions and we appreciate him publishing his message.

*Editor's note: The original language of our posting indicated that the dean of the College of Liberal Arts changed the program’s name, but in fact the name change was the Pangles’ initiative.  

Clinton and the Climate

Today and tomorrow the signers, sponsors, and friends of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) are meeting in Chicago for the annual Climate Leadership Summit. The summit’s keynote speaker, delivering his address as I post this, is Bill Clinton. He is speaking on the Clinton Climate Initiative, which helps fund the ACUPCC.

Earlier this month I published “A First Look at Second Nature,” on the organization founded by John Kerry and Teresa Heinz that sponsors the climate commitment. Second Nature seems to be the driving force behind the “education for sustainability” movement that has swept over colleges and universities in the last decade. NAS has begun examining the history and key players in this movement. We have found that sustainability is a buzzword used by the campus Left to promote a particular social, economic, and environmental agenda in higher education. The Clinton Climate Initiative, like Second Nature, is a powerful politically-backed propeller of the campus sustainability movement. It seems to deserve a closer look from us sometime soon.

AP Exam-Graders Must 'Drink the Kool-Aid'

One of our members directed our attention to this letter to the editor (subscription required) in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The author, Daniel R. Doyle, has returned from “a horrible experience working as an AP World History exam reader,” where he was shocked by the exam’s dismal grading standards. After making several compromises of his own standards to accommodate those of the College Board, he asked other graders whether they shared his concerns. Here are some answers he received:

1. These are high-school students, not college students.

2. College professors always have problems adjusting to the scoring rubric.

3. You have to trust the system (or, worse, "drink the Kool-Aid").

4. We are not here to grade historical accuracy or content. We score to the rubric.

5. A plausible interpretation can include counterfactual history.

6. You would have been happier with the first-year standards. They have been dropping every year since.

7. I don't grade my college world-history students by these low standards, but it is not my decision.

8. If we graded by college world-history standards, too few would pass.

9. If we don't have enough students pass, we won't be able to continue to expand the program.

10. The number taking AP classes, taking the exam, and earning college credit increases every year.

11. You have to remember this is a nonprofit company, so the employees will get bonuses only if the program makes a profit.

Professor Doyle concluded, “Based on my experience as a reader, I conclude that a thorough outside review of the AP program is overdue. I hope this letter will begin a debate that could lead to that review.”

We mention Doyle’s letter to lend him a hand in starting that debate. We’ve commented on the AP exams before, both on the website (“Testing, 1, 2, 3”) and in Academic Questions (“Declining Credibility for the AP Program”), and we believe the test could use some revision.

New AQ

Speaking of decline, we are pleased to announce that the newest issue of our journal is now available in print. It has been online for several weeks, but now we have a version you can hold in your hands. As I mentioned earlier, the issue is themed “The Dead, the Dying, and the Not Feeling Too Well” and focuses on the different ways that colleges and universities go into decline.

It features outstanding articles by Stephen Zelnick, Richard J. Bishirjian, Adam Kissel, Howard S. Schwartz, Sheldon Avery, Norman Fruman, and NAS president Peter Wood. The issue also contains an interview with Diane Auer Jones, poetry by Paul Mariani, and book reviews by Russell K. Nieli, Robert L. Jackson, and NAS’s academic correspondent Thomas Wood.

Academic Questions in print is delivered free of charge to NAS members. To read the journal online, click here and log in. If you have not yet accessed the journal online, click here to learn how to do so. If you are not a member of NAS you can click here to become one and receive free future copies of Academic Questions.

Well, that's all the theatrics for today. Time for some peace and quiet. Don't worry, we promise new installments of drama very soon.

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