In today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Dr. Troy Camplin observes that the center of gravity for the rebellion in Egypt seems to be un- and under-employed college graduates. The Egyptian government concluded that having a large number of college-educated people would be good since having more “human capital” is beneficial. The trouble is that there isn’t any direct relationship between the number of people who have college credentials in a nation and the creation of productive jobs that call for the skills and knowledge imparted in the classrooms.
In today’s Pope Center piece, Troy Camplin discusses that strange campus phenomenon known as “Interdisciplinary Studies.” He argues that this could and indeed should be a serious field of study, pointing to a book making a strong case for it. Unfortunately, colleges and universities don’t take it seriously.
In today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I comment on the recent, wonderfully iconoclastic New York Times piece on law schools. Students are lured into law school in much the same way they’re lured into college — easy government money to pay for education that is supposed to lead to great careers. But just as there aren’t nearly as many high-skill, high-pay jobs for BA holders as we are led to believe, there are not nearly enough legal jobs for all the people who are getting JDs. To keep the good times rolling, some schools utilize deceptive tactics to make it seem as though graduates are very likely to find lucrative legal jobs. Many won’t. The root of this problem is state regulation mandating that prospective lawyers must go through an approved (i.e., long and costly) educational experience known as law school. There is no reason for that mandate. Legal education ought to be opened up to free-market competition and discovery.
In a recent post, Ashley Thorne discusses "Lessons of a Professional Paper-Writer". Thorne cites a fascinating Chronicle of Higher Education column entitled "The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students' papers tells his story." Obviously this is a class (inequality) issue: those with money can afford to buy entrance to careers, those without cannot advance in life unless they work hard--something not required of their affluent peers. Therefore I propose a federal program, "No Term Papers Left Behind" to close the writing gap by 2025. This means-tested program will fund ghost writing in high school and college. No child, no term paper ought to be left behind. Those who are more affluent but lack the proper skills may also be eligible if their standardized test scores fall below a certain level. Differences in intelligence and upbringing are no excuse for failing our children. We need to embrace those differences! Statutory definition: “children” are eligible until 26 or until they complete their degree. This vital federal program will “grow the economy” and give a hand up to the disadvantaged. With a degree in hand, they will earn (but not learn) more. With this increase in aggregate demand, they can stimulate the consumer durable sector of the economy and buy houses to soak up the inventory of unsold homes. Privacy and confidentiality are ensured and will be protected to the utmost. The U.S. Department of Education will not tolerate revelations of plagiarism: it is nobody’s business but the student who does (or doesn't do) the work. After all, if someone does the work, then American productivity continues to rise---to the benefit of rich and poor alike. So, those dirty rats who would undermine the American dream of college credentialism will be punished. Meanwhile, practice safe cheating until bourgeois morality (work, thrift, excellence) fades with the introduction of these new teaching methods. It is in the interest of "social justice" and American competitiveness that we have more college graduates. Only then can we boast "We 'r Numbyr Wun!" Be patriotic! Cheat! Spend!
Last week the Chronicle of Higher Education published one of the most disturbing articles on higher ed I have ever read. The author, writing under the pseudonym Ed Dante, is a man paid by students to write their papers for them. This rare opportunity to hear from a "shadow scholar," as the Chronicle dubbed him, has been a shock to academia's system, confronted by the reality of cheating students and the lengths to which they'll go to avoid doing their own work. One unsettling nugget from Dante was his observation that he gets many requests from seminary students, nursing students, and education students. Andrew J. Coulson considers this last cohort in a post at CATO:
Again, we can’t know from a single ghost-writer’s experience if ed school students systematically cheat more in college than their peers in other fields, but we certainly shouldn’t be surprised if they do. We’ve organized education in this country in a way that decouples skill and performance from compensation, and instead couples compensation to the mere trappings of higher learning (e.g., masters degrees). We’ve created a powerful financial incentive for existing and future teachers to cheat.
The ghost-writer says he's never heard of one of his clients getting caught plagiarizing. Instead, they have graduated free of implication, to go on to careers in the real world, taking their cheating habits (and educational gaps) with them. Dante both disdains and pities his clients, which he says are usually either ESL students, "the lazy rich kid," or "hopelessly deficient students." Clients' interactions with the author are desperate, often unintelligible, and sometimes so measured as to make one wonder whether they could have just saved the money and done the work. In a live chat hosted by the Chronicle, I asked Dante, "How can we put you out of a job?" He was reluctant to make suggestions, but then answered, "Tell [students] that their grades aren't the most important thing going....I've seen a number of professors respond to my article by insisting that more severe penalties and a greater threat of failure are needed to address this problem. This is exactly the opposite of the point I'm trying to make." But if grades aren't a big deal, academic dishonesty may decrease, but it won't solve the problem of incompetent college graduates. And we'll still see sentences like this one in an email from one of Ed Dante's clients: "thanx so much for uhelp ican going to graduate to now." Thus it's a bit tricky trying to glean a moral from this story. Readers are crying, "This is a wake-up call. We need to do something to stop plagiarism!" But what? Dante gets lots of requests for papers on academic ethics . Clearly we have failed this generation in teaching character - the way you behave when no one is watching - and as a result, much of higher education has become a grand charade. At least now we have, if not a solution, a clearer picture of the problem.
New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane consulted the NAS for his article, "Scholarly Work, Without All the Footnotes," published yesterday:
Peter W. Wood, an anthropologist who is president of the National Association of Scholars, observes that scholars are filling a rising appetite for science writing in the popular press and that the protocols for giving credit there remain murky. “A scholar-beware label might be needed here,” he said.
And Katherine Kersten exposed the shallowness of most college common reading programs, referencing NAS's comprehensive study:
College is a time to introduce young people to humanity's greatest minds -- to the best that has been thought and said. It is a time for students to transcend the intellectual clichés of the moment and to explore the larger perspectives of philosophy and history. In the process, they should encounter a wide array of answers to questions of how we got where we are and how best to live. Students won't get that opportunity from most of the books on the common text list. That list includes no works of classical antiquity, only a handful of first-class novels, and no historical or scientific classics, as the report points out. In response, the NAS has compiled a list of worthy alternatives, entitled "Read These Instead: Better Books for Next Year's Beaches."
Gary A. Olson of Idaho State University has a good article on "The Limits of Academic Freedom" at the Chronicle of Higher Ed. An excerpt:
One chair described a senior professor who missed a substantial number of her classes. When confronted with evidence of her absenteeism, she told her chair that as an academic she had the freedom to conduct her courses in any way she deemed appropriate. [...] The magical incantation—"I'm protected by academic freedom"—is thought to offer instant indemnity. [...] Some people confuse the constitutional concept of freedom of speech with the less grandiose notion of academic freedom, but they are two distinct concepts. Academic freedom is limited to the confines of academic discourse while free speech is a broad constitutional right central to our democratic system of government. [...] Academic freedom is a right we should all cherish because it ensures an environment of free inquiry. That is precisely why we must guard against attempts to make the concept so limitless, so capacious, that it loses its power to protect the academic enterprise. When academic freedom becomes all things to all people, then it becomes nothing at all.
I've noted that financial gain surely figured in the motivation of the scientists who appear to have conspired to suppress climate data. But of course there is also this possible motive, suggested in an historically grounded article by Rand Simberg that explores the ideal of and deviations from the objective pursuit of science:
It is easy to postulate that they have political aims, and there are certainly many “watermelon” environmentalists (green on the outside, “red” on the inside) who see the green movement as a new means to continue to push socialist and big-government agendas, after a momentary setback with the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago. But ... science doesn’t always follow the idealized model of the objective scientist seeking only truth; it is often driven by fashions and fads, peer pressure, and a lust for glory and respect by the other courtiers of the court that fund [these scientists] ... [perhaps] this defense of a flawed theory arose from the sense of power that it might give them over the rest of our lives. Or perhaps it was due to simply an emotional attachment to a theory in which they had invested their careers. Either way, what they did was not science, and they should be drummed out of that profession. They can no longer be trusted.
My friends at NAS.org have posted on the “Climate Conspiracy” that broke when hackers revealed global warming scientists had apparently manipulated data, organized attacks on skeptics, and much more. Surprise, surprise. The timing couldn’t be worse for those who would cripple economies with the plaintive cry: “Do as we say or we all die!” Worldwide there is growing skepticism about the benefits of micromanaging every aspect of daily life while measuring “carbon footprints.” The Wall Street Journal even contributed to this Nanny Project with a long piece measuring the carbon footprint of various common products. I was relieved to see that beer had the lowest carbon footprint. How far have we gone when we decide whether or not it is “good for the planet” to drink beer? Now we must ask: Did German scientists manipulate the beer data to preserve their national beverage? (I'm kidding). It's a good cause (beer drinking) but who studies this stuff? And when is enough enough? To read more, click here.
Many professors in the humanities and social sciences have been taking heat for years about the quality and integrity - in particular, the tendentiousness - of their research and teaching. But, now, along comes the worldwide airing of data obtained by a hacker implicating a major group of UK university scientists in what seems to be deliberate fraud -- a long and systematic effort to manipulate data to "hide the decline" in temperatures. Charlie Martin at Pajamas Media speculates where these revelations, if confirmed, may lead:
If these files are eventually corroborated and verified, it is a bombshell indeed — evidence that there has been a literal conspiracy to push the anthropogenic climate change agenda far beyond the science. It will mean the end of some scientific careers, and it might even mean those careers [sic] will end in jail.