The home of “things said” by the National Association of Scholars.

Academic Freedom, Academic Diversity, and Research Integrity at UCLA


The National Association of Scholars has submitted a comment to the WASC Senior College and University Commission, which is currently accrediting UCLA. We urge WSCUC to call on UCLA to admit wrongdoing in the case of Jim Enstrom and implement reforms to prevent similar violations of academic freedom.

The End of Meritocracy


In an excerpt from The Diversity Delusion, Heather Mac Donald describes the "diversity mania" taking over the academy.

On Adversity Scores


NAS President Peter Wood criticizes the College Board's proposed new "adversity scores."

The Incoming Flood of College Freshmen Won’t Learn How To Write

John Maguire

John G. Maguire discusses how to improve college students’ writing.

An Open Call for Reviewers


The Department of Education is seeking grant reviewers.

Debating Scientific Epistemology

Edward R. Dougherty

Professor Dougherty discusses the dangers of modeling complex systems in response to Professors Gilley and Goldstein.

Me, My Emotions, and I

Nayeli Riano

College English classes should train students in scholarship, not subjectivity. 

Are Your Kids Getting a Daily Dose of News Propaganda with Their Common Core?

Ashley Thorne

Common Core offers students dumbed down and biased news articles to fill an appetite of "informational texts."

War, What Is It Good For? Sometimes, Absolutely Everything

Peter Wood

Wars have significantly contributed to our identity as a nation.

The Pressure of Group Thought

Peter Wood

NAS president Peter Wood questions the legitimacy of always seeking academic consensus.

The New History Guidelines are Better

KC Johnson

KC Johnson gives four reasons the revised APUSH standards are an improvement. 

“Teachers Cannot Teach What They Do Not Know”

Mary Grabar

City Journal reviews NAS board member Sandra Stotsky's book on "improving American educational standards."

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the UNC Scandal

George Leef

George Leef reviews Cheated, an expose of the recent UNC scandal written by two faculty members. 

Academic Social Science and Scientific Literacy

William H. Young

William Young examines the misunderstanding and misuse of scientific concepts by academic social scientists.

Aspiring Adults Adrift

George Leef

George Leef reviews a new book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of Academically Adrift.

Assigning Blame for the Degradation of Higher Ed

George Leef

Establishment voices blame critics and innovators for the degradation of higher ed.

Should You Avoid Ivy League Schools?

Peter Wood

Peter Wood responds to William Deresiewicz's provocative New Republic piece, "Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League."

The New AP History: A Preliminary Report

Peter Wood

In this preliminary report, NAS president Peter Wood analyzes in detail the new AP United States history course.

Course Correction: It’s Time for UT-Austin’s President to Step Down

Publius Audax

A faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin calls on the president of the university to step down. 

Sonia, What Happened?

George W. Dent

Sonia Sotomayor's impassioned dissent in Schuette v. BAMN seems to contradict views she expressed in her memoir, My Beloved Land.

Bowdoin's Double Bogey

Peter Wood

"Bowdoin has a bad conscience. It knows that it has made some wrong turns but it doesn't like hearing that from a stranger."

Common Complaints

Peter Wood

Dr. Wood replies to Sol Stern and discusses the ways in which the Common Core will harm students and lower standards.

Common Core Mathematics Standards

Sandra Stotsky

Professor William McCallum remarks on college readiness in Common Core’s mathematics standards at a meeting sponsored by the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America.

What the Common Core Will Do to Colleges

Peter Wood

The Common Core will not make an appreciable number of students more "college ready." Rather, it feeds the illusion that a college degree is a ticket to personal prosperity.

Caught with Gay Books: South Carolina Punishes Colleges for Freshman Reading Choices

Ashley Thorne

South Carolina cuts funding from college common reading programs that assign gay-themed books.

Columbia Teachers College Study is Broad and Subjective

Marilee Turscak

The Columbia Teachers College's new study, College Educational Quality, aims to assess academic quality in higher education. The research methods, however, merit much questioning.

Educators vs. Employers

Marilee Turscak

A new Gallup survey shows a wide gap between the perspectives of business leaders and higher-education leaders on how prepared today's college graduates are for the work force.

Academic Scandal at WSSU

George Leef

Academic deceit under the guise of academic success.

Women and Philosophy

Tessa Carter

Will studying more female philosophers draw more women to philosophy? Dr. Wood weighs in.

Multiple Choice Math: A Mismatch of Standards

Tessa Carter

Wrinkles in the transition from high school to college come in several shades.

Introducing Summer 2013 Intern Tessa Carter


Tessa Carter begins her communications internship at NAS.

Don’t Know Much About History: Colleges Teach History with Politics Left Out

Jonathan Bean

Jonathan Bean responds to NAS's recent report on Two Texas Universities' U.S. History Courses. He's not optimistic about history education.

College Hurts Productivity!

George Leef

Robert Weissberg contends that for many students, college just delays the time when they'll have to drop the slovenly habits they've acquired through years in the soft and undemanding world of America's education system.

Perspectives Unbound

Robert L. Jackson

Confronted with the Howard Zinn-ing of history, Mary Grabar writes, “The abandonment of objectivity is an acknowledgement that one is no longer teaching history.”

Is this the best UNCW could do?

George Leef

Jay Schalin writes about the latest addition to the English faculty at UNC-Wilmington, a professor whose work ranges from the silly to the unprintable.

Ward Churchill: Still Fired

Glenn Ricketts

The sacked former ethnic studies professor loses another round.

A New Zealander Looks at American Higher Ed

George Leef

The bad habits in American higher education seem to have influenced the system in New Zealand.

For Its Own Sustainability, Education Needs More Diversity

Bill Roden

Higher education expert Bill Roden argues in favor of a multi-pronged approach to education, one that makes vocational training a viable option.

Letting the Higher Ed Crisis Go to Waste

George Leef

In California, shrinking budgets and enrollment numbers could have been the occasion for a redirection -- raising standards and trying to regain focus on the core mission of higher education.

UK Students And Their Blooping History Exams

Glenn Ricketts

UK history students demonstrate blooping proficiency.

Grade Inflation in Minnesota – Just Like Everywhere Else

Glenn Ricketts

Historian Chuck Chalberg analyzes the factors behind the surfeit of A's students get these days.

More Good News on the Value of Your College Degree

Glenn Ricketts

NAS board member Tom Lindsay describes the rewards of your degree in popular culture.

“Accelerated Learning”: Bullet Train to Success or Oxymoron?

David Clemens

Why are colleges so deeply invested in doing what is clearly not college?

Time Out On Extra Test Time

Glenn Ricketts

A Dartmouth undergrad thinks his extra test time gave him an unfair advantage over high school classmates.

Leftist Nostalgia for Academic Standards

Peter Wood

Peter Wood compares the second thoughts of a famous Marxist literary critic and the UCLA faculty’s rejection of a proposed diversity requirement.

What's Up with California Higher Ed?

Ashley Thorne

Three organizations have just published reports with concerns about the state of higher education in California and recommendations for how to fix it.

Politics, Education, and More Politics: NAS’s New Report on the University of California

Peter Wood

Peter Wood discusses the National Association of Scholars’ new report that says higher education has been hurt by the failure of safeguards against using the classroom to advance partisan ideas and loyalties.

Humanities, Anyone?

Jascha Kessler

Jascha Kessler explains why teaching the humanities just isn't what it use to be.

The Decline of Literate Thought

David Solway

Recalling an evening in Casablanca where he met students "in love with learning," David Solway considers the contrast between them and today's American college students who have little enthusiasm for intellectual growth.

Student Says Scrap Student Surveys

Glenn Ricketts

A student journalist states what should be obvious, but usually isn't.

Ratcheting Down on Student Ability

George Leef

Difference in results between an "honors" section and regular section is revealing.

California Dreamin'

David Clemens

David Clemens laments the latest announcement from California's commnuity college system.

Higher Education’s Role in America’s “Coming Apart”

Richard Vedder

Don't discount higher education as a source of some of America's problems.

Far Worse Than Mere Dumbing-Down

George Leef

Robert Weissberg questions APSA's assertion that all knowledge is race based.

NAS Beach Books Reports Reflected in MLA Panel Discussion

Glenn Ricketts

Our ongoing report on common reading is recognized at the MLA convention.

It’s Not the Test's Fault

Kate Hamilton

Should academe leave the SAT behind? Kate Hamilton examines the current state of the test-optional admissions movement.

CUNY’s Pathway to Whatever

Peter Wood

Peter Wood critiques The City University of New York's new "common core" requirements.

How Central is the Core?

Peter Wood

Peter Wood says students and faculty typically win when colleges build their curricula around a “common core,” but that the City University of New York’s common core is an exception.

A Professor Who Encourages His Students to Meet the Challenge

George Leef

Last Friday, the Pope Center published this letter from biology professor Steven Aird to his students, encouraging them to meet the challenge of his course and not expect a passing grade just for showing up. None of the infamous "faculty/student non-aggression pact" for him.

Event: New York Affiliate to Host Lecture by Sol Stern

Kate Hamilton

On Sunday afternoon Manhattan Institute senior fellow Sol Stern will speak in New York City on the current value of higher education.

Ready or Not, Here They Come

George Leef

About half of the students who enroll in college every year are not regarded as “college ready.” 

Freeman Hrabowski's Approach to Higher Ed

George Leef

Here is the "60 Minutes" segment on University of Maryland Baltimore County president Freeman Hrabowski. I am not sure he's right that the US needs to have a lot more math and science graduates, but I certainly wish that his no-nonsense, high expectations approach to higher education could be replicated at many other colleges and universities. The reason why it can't be is that far too many students want college to be easy and entertaining and far too many professors would rather do other things than spend time working with their students. UMBC looks like an oasis of excellence in a sea of mediocrity.

What We Pay Academics to Do

George Leef

View the announcement distributed for a call for papers for "THE ART OF GENDER IN EVERYDAY LIFE IX" conference.

What Does Bowdoin Teach?

Peter Wood

The National Association of Scholars announces the beginning of a new project examining the curriculum, student activities, and campus values of Bowdoin College as a case study to learn what a contemporary liberal arts college education consists of.

Competency and Western Civilization

William H. Young

William Young examines the decline of the competency that is vital to a skilled workforce.

The Mirage of Accountability at the University of Texas

Robert Koons

"The fundamental problem in American higher education is not that we award too few B.A.s: it is that too few of these degrees correspond to any objective and verifiable standard of competency."

Video: Richard Shavelson on How to Rate the Quality of an Education

Andy Nash

Richard Shavelson joins Andy Nash for a conversation on measurements and metrics in figuring out the quality of an education.

Video: Naomi Schaefer Riley on Colleges in the Prestige (Not Teaching) Business

Tenure and a heavy emphasis on research over teaching are among the factors that dilute contemporary higher education, says Naomi Schaefer Riley.

Treasure Abandoned: College Common Reading Programs Continue to Miss the Best Books

Ashley Thorne

An English professor's sense of the inadequacy of This I Believe as the choice for freshman summer reading echoes NAS's calls for more rigor in common book programs.

Keep Funding for Good Work in Social Sciences, Peter Wood Says

Ashley Thorne

 At a June 2 hearing of the Congressional Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, Peter Wood urged for "cuts to be made shrewdly" to national funding for the social sciences.

New York Association of Scholars Statement to the CUNY Board

NAS’s New York affiliate believes a CUNY resolution intended to help community college students transfer to four-year schools has the unintended consequence of severely undermining academic standards.

Random Thoughts On Student Evaluations

Glenn Ricketts

It's pretty easy to find bona-fide empirical studies illustrating some of the major limitations of those student surveys that most of us are obliged to administer to our classes every semester.

The Dangerous Mr. Khan

David Clemens

Khan Academy's video lectures may work for teaching math and science, but history gets short-changed in favor of quick information transfer and a too-zoomed-out big picture view.

Debate: Will a Push to Increase College Enrollment Lead to Lower Standards?

Ashley Thorne and Peter Wood debated Education Sector's Kevin Carey on Minnesota Public Radio's online forum Insight Now.

Tiger Mother at the Gym

Ashley Thorne

"I compared his math homework to a Chinese math assignment, and his is much easier."

Making the Grade

Glenn Ricketts

A recent piece at Inside Higher Education really has 'em going. The editor notes that it drew the most comments of any piece last month by far. The article focuses on a survey conducted by two economists, who conclude that Republican professors tend be tougher graders than their Democratic colleagues, who by contrast are more "egalitarian."

Changing the Incentives in College Teaching

George Leef

In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I continue with the topic that took center stage at our event on May 10 — the low quality of many college courses.

Excellence at Colby...No Comment

Ashley Thorne

At Colby, excellence means doing whatever you want.

Absent from Class

Will Fitzhugh

What are students actually doing when they are in class? Do we expect them to be academically vigilant?

The Weak Incentives for Good College Teaching

George Leef

In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I discuss our recent event on the convergence of criticism of higher education from the right and the left.

Two Canadian Profs Turn Thumbs Down on Their Higher Ed System

George Leef

In today's Pope Center article, I review the new book by sociology professors James Cote and Anton Allahar (University of Western Ontario), Lowering Higher Education.

YouTube U

David Clemens

At a recent Liberty Fund Socratic Seminar on “Education and Liberty in the Digital Age,” the conferees considered whether the Internet cum computer constitute “disruptive technology” that will subvert and fundamentally change today’s crumbling educational monolith.  We paid particular attention to online education, innovative for-profit programs, and the educational potential of videos on YouTube. 

They Can Write

Will Fitzhugh

Despite most people's willingness to dismiss their intellectual capabilities, high school students can rise to high standards if we expect them to.

"Shortsighted Utilitarianism" Has Ruined the Cal State System

George Leef

So argues Cal State Fresno professor Bruce Thornton in this excellent City Journal article.

More Evidence of Grade Inflation

George Leef

In today's Pope Center Clarion Call, Ball State University economics professors Clarence Deitsch and Norman Van Cott discuss grade inflation at their university.

Many British College Students Can't Write Either

George Leef

A common complaint with regard to American college grads is that they write very poorly.  Apparently, it's a problem in Britain as well.

Campus Favorite Greg Mortenson, Writing Lies?

Ashley Thorne

A recent journalistic investigation of a popular author, whose non-fiction books are often chosen as college "common reading," raised numerous questions as to his credibility.

Graduation Rate Data Aren't So Important

George Leef

In today's Pope Center Clarion Call, my colleague Duke Cheston and I examine a recent AEI paper arguing that students and parents should be leery of schools with low graduation rates and arguing that the federal government should require that grad rate data be prominently displayed on communications. .

Betrayed by Higher Ed...Again

David Clemens

My post “Betrayed by Higher Ed” has occasioned so many comments and emails that I want to offer a group response.

Disincentives to Academic Rigor Converge

Ashley Thorne

NAS member William Pannapacker (writing under the pen name Thomas H. Benton) has another insightful article in the CHE, asserting that a number of powerful forces have come together discourage academic rigor.

Jason Fertig Appears on Inside Academia TV

In an interview with Inside Academia this week, Jason Fertig speaks about credential inflation and the need for higher education reform.

What Can We Do About Adrift Students?

Jason Fertig

So college students aren't learning much. Let's do something to change that, Jason Fertig urges.

How Do the Big Football Schools Do Off the Field?

George Leef

In this video, Anne Neal of ACTA discusses how well (or poorly) the schools that took part in the big football bowl games do when it comes to having a good core curriculum. 

A Comment on My "Dumbing Down" Piece

George Leef

Annonymous Comment: In order to obtain my "Professional License" in order to be allowed to keep teaching, I have to take a bunch of inane Graduate Ed School classes.  In order to pay for those classes, I have to take on a part time job.  The part time job I have to earn the money to take the classes I need to be allowed to continue teaching high school math?  

Education Schools and the Dumbing Down of the Teaching of Literature

George Leef

There's a strong trend toward assigning students books that are easy and fun, then giving them written assignments that don't call for serious analysis. 

Undoing College

Jason Fertig

For students graduating this December, their real education is about to begin.

Delete Science from Anthropology?

Ashley Thorne

Last week Peter Wood, by discipline an anthropologist, was one of the first to analyze the implications of the American Anthropological Association's proposal to define "science" out of anthropology. He wrote:

Absent its scientific basis, anthropology would be little more than colorful travel literature (travelogues) occasionally mixed up with political hucksterism and theoretical obscurantism. But anthropology has never been only a science, and it ought to be sufficiently broad-minded to embrace the poetics of culture and some of its music as well.

After Peter published his piece on the story, it was covered by Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education and a number of blogs, including Nature.com, picked it up.

Graduation Rate Fuzzy Math

Jason Fertig

What do graduation rates really tell us?

He's Back! Bill Ayers, Robert Kennedy's Son -- and What This Has to Do With "Higher" Education

Jonathan Bean

 Bill Ayers is back in the news. Robert Kennedy's son, newly on the board of the U of I Chicago, led a move denying Ayers emeritus status as a retired professor. Newsweek covered the story here (they lost a bit of the nuance in my quote but the story is an accurate summation of the controversy). I had not thought of Ayers since I blogged about him two years ago (“Little Red School House”). In retrospect, while the issue was balance, not bias (so I argued) how does one balance someone so far to the Left? Can one even imagine a former member of the John Birch Society sans explosives being welcomed with open arms by education schools? On turning radicals into academic entrepreneurs: The more incendiary, the better (think Angela Davis, Ward Churchill). And think of the speaking fees one can draw as a radical professor! Sure, sure, the student fees are supposed to represent the range of opinions in society at large (U.S. Supreme Court, Southworth, 2000). But who polices such Court decisions? The barbarians within the gates? Hardly. Professor Ayers, erstwhile domestic terrorist, lived on the wild fringe of sixties radicalism. Like so many others, Ayers secured a position in academe that allowed him to bore within education by promoting "social justice" and "revolutionary education." While his ideas on education might seem "out there," they are taught in education schools as part of the canon of "progressive thought"--often in "School and Society" courses required of all future K-12 teachers. Not that I am ungrateful. I must thank the Ayers of the world for making education school so stultifying that I left and entered graduate school to become a historian – for better and worse.

More Higher Education for More People: Good for the Country?

Ashley Thorne

Do we finally have a national higher education agenda in the U.S.? Inside Higher Ed suggests we're close. The "now widely held view that the country must in the next 10-15 years significantly increase the number of Americans with a quality postsecondary credential," advocated by President Obama and numerous large foundations has its critics, IHE says. But "few strongly dispute the basic premise that more higher education for more people will be good for the country, its economy and its citizens." This is one of those times where NAS belongs to the "few." We  vigorously dispute the premise that assumes that expanding enrollments will expand national prosperity. The fallacy behind this idea is mistaking most-educated for best-educated. Those terms don't mean the same thing. By 2020, or 2025, or whenever we finally reach the big goals set by President Obama, the Lumina Foundation, and others, we may have the highest percentage of college-educated people, but will we be the world's best-educated? A commenter on the IHE article, Burke Smith, articulates skepticism along these lines:

For instance, without objective standards of educational quality (which higher education does not currently have), incentives for degree completion could very easily lead to a cheapening of the degree. The nationwide growth of grade inflation and corresponding reduction in the amount of time spent studying is one example of such a possibility.

Smith is the CEO of StraighterLine, a company that helps students transfer college credit. We at NAS agree with Smith that incentives for degree completion could very easily lead to a cheapening of the degree. A lot of people with mediocre education won't aid our country in innovation and international competition. And as George pointed out today, more college degrees do not equal economic growth. Check out the full list of NAS articles on higher ed expansion here.

Test Drive a Hybrid College Course

Jason Fertig

A combination of online and in-class instruction can help restore academic rigor in college courses.

"Just the Facts, Ma'am"

George Leef

That's the approach the Pope Center is taking with the release today of a piece loaded with facts about higher education in the U.S. It is not something that flatters the educational establishment. Jenna Ashley Robinson writes about her work in this week's Clarion Call.

Censored Study Unearthed - Why Teachers Don't Assign Research Papers

Ashley Thorne

The NAS has published a long-buried study on the state of the history research paper in American high schools. The 2002 study sponsored by The Concord Review (TCR) went unpublished when its benefactor, the Albert Shanker Institute, found the results unflattering to high school teachers. Why aren't high schools doing a better job of teaching students to write? The suppressed study finds that 95% of high school teachers think research papers are important, but 62% never assign them. According to the report, the biggest barriers to teachers are time and class size. Most teachers said that grading papers took too much personal time, and that not enough time was provided for this in the school day. Teachers surveyed taught an average of 80 students each. Assigning a 20-page paper then means having 1,600 pages to grade. The Concord Review urged high schools to support teachers by providing more time for them to grade papers. Click here to read the press release.

The Twilight Generation Can't Read

Sandra Stotsky

A new ALSCW study suggests that fragmented English curricula and neglect of close reading impair reading scores and college readiness despite major increases in funding for elementary and secondary education.

Teaching College Students to Write

George Leef

Most college composition courses teach students "next to nothing" writes Troy Camplin in today's Pope Center piece. The problem is that most students have great deficits in their understanding of English thanks to their K-12 years and the small amount of time college profs have to cover the fundamentals of grammar is not nearly enough. Many people in the business world lament that the ability to write decently is a skill that is badly lacking among college graduates. This piece helps explain why. I also give Camplin three cheers for his advocacy of putting logic into the college curriculum.

A College Course on What Fictional Characters Wore?

Ashley Thorne

I just read an article in the University Daily Kansan linked in Glenn's Collegiate Press Roundup this week. The article, "Women, Take Back Halloween" is written by a male student whose characterization of slutty Halloween costumes on campus echoes that of Nathan Harden in Proud to Be Right. He urges women at U Kansas to cover up this Halloween and dare to dress goofy instead of sexy. I'm heartened to hear this plea, especially from a male student, for sexual dignity, but what most caught my eye was his reason for entering a costume store: research for his class, "What Fictional Characters Wore: Jesus to Jacob from Twilight." First of all, why is Jesus being called a "fictional character"? Second, why is this a college course? The author is a in the film and media studies and journalism programs. His mention of the course is the only place it exists on the internet, and it's not included in the film and media studies course list. But if this really is a course at the U of Kansas, how is it justified as advancing higher learning? Is this what college level academic work has come to?

A Canadian Columnist Sees Through the College Hype

George Leef

David Warren writes for The Ottawa Citizen and has a firm grasp on the reality of higher education. Consider this column published Oct. 12. Is higher education a great, crucial investment in human capital? Here's what he says:

The great majority of the universities -- founded since the Second World War to bureaucratically process and credentialize a large part of the general population, as a matter of 'right' and regardless of their intellectual capacities -- are in effect 'community colleges' or trade schools. Many of the trades being taught are perverse and wouldn't exist without further government subsidy ("women's studies" for instance, to produce professional feminist agitators). But most are the commonplace trades, and the colleges only provide incredibly inefficient and ineffective ways to replace the older apprenticeship arrangements, while cosseting the young from demands of the job market until they are thoroughly spoiled.

Read the whole, wonderfully iconoclastic thing. If you can stomach pure bile, read the comments too. I'll be on the lookout for more of Warren's columns. Hat tip: Geoff Hawkins.

Opinion vs. Fact in Higher Ed - Are All Opinions Worthy of an Audience?

Ashley Thorne

Peter Wood takes on this question in "Nouveau Relativism in Academe":

What is the proper status of “opinion” in the university, as opposed to fact, established knowledge, theory, and belief?   Simply listing these words suggests layers of complication.  Higher education necessarily involves all these modes of knowing or thinking-you-know, and they are often tangled together.  Still, we usually acknowledge a distinction.  Opinions are what we hold when we cannot be sure.  It isn’t a matter of opinion that 2 + 2 = 4.  It is a matter of opinion that King Lear is a more profound play than Hamlet. We get into trouble when we confuse these matters.  And we are courting trouble when we exaggerate the provisional respect due to other people’s opinions and thereby lose sight of some more fundamental goals of liberal education.  Ideally, we teach students how to pursue truth, and where truth itself is unobtainable, to exercise the kind of discernment that separates the better-grounded views from the others.

Whither the MBA?

George Leef

In today's Pope Center piece, management professor Jason Fertig considers a recent book that is critical of, but still optimistic about, MBA programs. Fertig thinks that pessimism is perhaps more warranted. He sees the profusion of MBA programs as mostly credential inflation that does little to make the student a better decision-maker in business.

Newsflash: MSN Cites "Weird" College Courses

Glenn Ricketts

This just in from the MSN homepage, where there's a piece advising parents of prospective college students to check out what their hefty tuition buys them these days. The "weird" offerings include courses on dancing in laundromats (I'm not laughing - that really helped when my kids were young), the Philosophy of UFOlogy and the History of Furniture. Can you imagine that? Since I have a recollection that we may have run similar stories at this blog site, I thought I'd pass it along. I was unable to determine if any of them were freshman comp. courses, but I'll try to find out in light of George Leef's previous post on that fascinating subject.

What Has Become of Freshman Comp?

George Leef

That is the question Professor Robert V. Young of North Carolina State answers in this Pope Center piece we released last week. Back when he taught the course in the 1970s, it was like boot camp for college students who needed to improve their writing. There was a lot of work and it was rigorously graded -- tough on both the student and the professor. Unfortunately, the course metamorphosed over the years into one dominated by "composition theory" and like so many academic theories, that one has proven to be a dismal failure. More incoming students than ever need to improve their writing, but the way freshman comp is now taught, it's mostly a waste of time -- or worse.

A Course on Zombie Literature

George Leef

No, this isn't from The Onion -- a college course on zombie literature.

Higher Education? - A Devastating Critique of American Higher Ed

George Leef

In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, I review Higher Education? by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus. The book has been getting a great deal of attention -- and deserves it. To put the authors' case in a nutshell, college and university education in the U.S. (with a few exceptions) costs much more than it needs to and delivers much less education than it should. It's a splendid deal for administrators and tenured professors, but bad for the rest of us who foot the bills and especially the students who get little education of lasting value. Do we have the beginnings of a left-right convergence here? The critique Hacker and Dreifus give echoes themes familiar to those who have read Charles Murray and Thomas Sowell. (In fact, Sowell blasts Hacker's book Money in his Intellectuals and  Society, but they're in agreement on the waste and folly of our higher ed system.)

Will "Millenials" Take to the Classics?

George Leef

In Friday's Pope Center piece, English professor Sarah Adams argues that today's college students ("Millenials"), while often derided for their apparent indifference to serious reading and thinking, will respond to the material in a classical liberal arts curriculum. I think she's right. While some students will tune out (or avoid if possible) courses that make intellectual demands on them, others will rise to the challenge. That's better than serving up pabulum to keep everyone content.

The Paradox of the Participation Grade

Ashley Thorne

Recently NAS alluded to the increased frequency of grade inflation among institutions of higher learning nationwide. According to a new study, students are now doing less work than ever before, but are expecting A's. Since when did an A mean only completing course requirements? Wouldn't it make sense that a C, the middle grade, is reserved for satisfactory completion, while a B means above average, and an A signifies above and beyond the "call of duty," so to speak? We can argue about fair and appropriate grading measures all day long, of course, but we live in a culture obsessed with good grades, the pursuit of which often compromises the quality of work. My concern lies with one particular aspect of the college course grade. While attending a liberal arts institution a few years ago, I noticed that more than a handful of classes had dedicated a rather large percentage of the grading rubric to the nebulous notion of "participation." Sometimes it was a solid twenty to thirty percent, and in one case, it was an astronomic fifty percent. Personally, I enjoy participating in class. In fact, discussing ideas openly with the professor and my peers was one of the more intellectually stimulating aspects of my education. These classroom discussions, however, were organic—they arose out of students' sincere desire to engage with the texts and each other.  But when participation is a requirement, the outcome is a forced, stilted form of discussion. Since students are required to talk to make the grade, the carrot on the stick leads students by the nose into saying whatever comes into their heads, whether or not such musings are informed by a careful consideration of course materials. And because students are increasingly doing less work and expecting better grades, in a class with large participation requirements, students quickly learn how to cut corners. For example, the class in which participation counted for half of the grade was often a forum for empty talk because students quickly figured out that they didn't have to read everything prior to class in order to put their two cents in. They could spout opinions off the top of their heads with little consideration for critical thought, and they'd get their "check" on participation for the day. Of course, professors have the prerogative to set their own standards for their classes. And in certain class situations, like in introductory foreign language courses, participation grades are certainly appropriate, because speech practice—constantly talking in the foreign language—is a critical part of the learning process no matter what the content of the discussion. However, as someone who has gone through the system, paying close attention to what furthered critical thought and what didn't, I believe professors should reconsider the high emphasis placed on forced participation. Consider that some students may feel uncomfortable bringing up their real opinions in a classroom dynamic where everyone thinks the same. Consider also that a student who blabs away in class isn't necessarily the hardest working student who wishes to further critical thought. He may just be another grade-grubbing opportunist. In this sense, the participation grade is a paradox. While its purpose is ostensibly to further thoughtful inquiry and debate, it may end up producing a class full of parrots who talk just for the sake of talking. This guest post is contributed by Kate Cunningham, who writes about online university rankings.  She welcomes your questions and comments at her email: cn.kate1@gmail.com.

Obama Smites the Rock

Ashley Thorne

In a speech at the University of Texas this week, President Obama reminded the audience of his lofty - and contradictory - goals for higher education.

My Critique of "Help Wanted" Part II

George Leef

Today's Pope Center piece is the second part of my critique of the recent paper from the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce. It focuses on the prevalent notion that much of the labor force in the future will demand workers with "higher skills" and that going to college is the only way for someone to acquire such skills. It's almost amazing that the authors of the paper never pause to consider the impact of credential inflation when they write about the increasing numbers of jobs that "require" a college education. Nor do they ever tell us exactly what knowledge an intelligent high school graduate is lacking that would make it impossible for him to learn and perform most of the jobs that are available.

Dubious Standards Coming to American High Schools

Ashley Thorne

Sandra Stotsky has some doubts about the plans of two well-funded advocacy organizations to develop new high school exams and exam-based preparation.

Ask a Scholar: What Caused the Oil Spill?

Indrek Wichman

A reader asks, "What caused the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?" An expert in mechanical engineering answers.

Freshman Comp Ain't What She Used to Be

George Leef

We hear a lot of chatter about how it's so vital that we get more young Americans through college because college teaches them the "higher skills" that the globalized "knowledge economy" demands. I think that's baloney. For many students, college doesn't even teach the most basic skill of all, namely the ability to write clear English. In this video of a talk presented at the John  Locke Foundation, North Carolina State English professor Robert V. Young explains what has happened to freshman comp over the decades. It used to be a lot of hard work (for students and professor), but now.....

Who Should Be a Doctor?

George Leef

Medical school admissions people apparently think that medical training has been going too much toward students with demonstrated aptitude in science and the nation would be better served if more medical students were chosen on other grounds, including geography. In today's Pope Center piece, Duke Cheston, a recent UNC graduate who majored in biology, writes about the shifting emphasis in med school admissions.

Less Effort, Higher Grades!

George Leef

In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, Emory University history professor Patrick Allitt discusses the research finding that college students are putting in less and less time on their coursework, yet expect (and mostly get) high grades. I'm particularly glad to have Professor Allitt comment on this because his 2004 book I'm the Teacher, You're the Student was such an eye-opener, detailing his difficulties in getting students -- at a pretty strong university -- to take the work seriously. You can read my review of his book here.

Aikido-Style Grading

Jason Fertig

Some students just want to pass; others want to learn. One professor's study of martial arts inspired a method for dealing with this motivational disparity.

Final Destination for Harvard Finals...No Comment

Ashley Thorne

Chester Finn (Harvard '65) and Mickey Muldoon (Harvard '07) lament the end of final exams in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

In Memoriam

David Clemens

Most good teachers had a model. Robert Pinsky had Francis Ferguson; Mark Edmundson had Frank Lears. I was lucky; I had two. My Freshman Comp. teacher was Dr. Idelle Sullens, a Stanford-trained medievalist specializing in 14th century literature. But I was mystified to learn that she had also been a naval officer in World War II and Korea. And rumor had it that she was something called a “Daughter of Bilitis.” But what really fractured my high school brain was seeing Dr. Sullens pull up in her brand new `64 Mustang. That I understood, and it elevated her beyond cool. My disturbing discovery was that one could seem professorial but also be startlingly complicated.  Two years later, it was the Lincolnesque Beat Generation scholar Tom Parkinson. One drowsy afternoon in Berkeley’s Wheeler Auditorium, Parkinson recited Ezra Pound’s “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter”with tears streaming down his partially-paralyzed cheeks (he had been shot in the face by a student). I was embarrassed but also feared that this moment was profound in a way I might never understand. How could he so reveal himself? It took years to learn that throughout one’s life, good literature deepens and grows, accumulating, preserving, and incorporating intense personal associations. Now there are poems I can’t read aloud without leaking tears. Both are gone now, but the spirits of Sullens and Parkinson still gently remind me to be unexpected, singular, complicated, and exposed so that my students will see that one day they can do the same.

Russ Nieli Writes About "Diversity's" Dirty Little Secret

George Leef

Princeton's Russ Nieli has an illuminating essay on Minding the Campus entitled "How Diversity Punishes Asians, Poor Whites and Lots of Others." It absolutely knocks the stuffing out of the contention we hear so often from college administrators that their reason for using certain preferences is that a more "diverse" student body will enhance learning and break down stereotypes. If they actually wanted to do that, they would look for students who really do bring different beliefs and perspectives and would drop the bias Nieli shows against students from military families, those who have been active in groups like 4H, and so on. They aren't looking for Justice Powell's phantom "educational benefits of diversity" but are merely looking to fill quotas. Nieli advocates that elite colleges get over their diversity mania and follow what he calls the Cal Tech model: focus on enrolling students who are the most academically talented and the most eager to learn.

Re: Do Student Evaluations Help Improve Education?

Ashley Thorne

George, thanks for sharing the Pope Center piece on student evaluations. I thought this paragraph was especially poignant:

Today’s student-survey approach may tell us how students viewed the course, but the data tell us nothing about actual learning. It is not that questionnaire designers disdain knowledge; they just cannot measure it, and thus they exclude a key element of teaching. Ironically, universities can now hire or retain teachers who impart nothing of value but have superb ratings.

Incidentally, NAS published an article by Peter Cohee on student evaluations last week. Cohee concluded:

A decade spent writing evaluations of public school teachers has brought me to this disillusion: evaluations as they are don't make teachers better, don't get rid of bad teachers, aren't needed by good teachers, and don't improve schools or student learning. They tend to induce cynicism and to engender ill will between the teacher and the evaluator. They are an almost complete waste of the enormous time, energy, and money spent on them.

He argued that several factors render evaluations useless:

  1. Pre-written forms are created by those who don't teach and allow for mediocre teaching ("I’ve also seen altogether mediocre teaching that meets every formal requirement.")
  2. No meaningful consequences or rewards follow evaluation
  3. Evaluation is not tied to what and how well students have learned

Cohee offers some concrete suggestions for making evaluation meaningful and effective.

Beach Books: 2010-2011

Ashley Thorne

A report on the books assigned in 2010–2011 as "common reading."

Arkansas Toothpick: The Cutting Edge of Academic Reform

Peter Wood

To increase graduation rates, Arkansas cuts course requirements.

Best-Educated vs. Most-Educated

Ashley Thorne

Clarifying President Obama's 2020 higher ed goal - sending more students to college won’t make the United States the best-educated nation.

Expanding Enrollments, Declining Standards: American Higher Ed Prepares to Take the Plunge

Peter Wood

Do we really want to do to higher education what we have to K-12 education? We might achieve the hollow boast of the most college-credentialed citizenry in the world who also happen to be among the worst-educated.

Reply to Dave Taylor Re: March Forth

Peter Wood

A response to a comment on the NAS article "March Forth."

To Infinity and Beyond! Kevin Carey's Race to Over-the-Top

Ashley Thorne

Kevin Carey offers some overreaching reform ideas that line up with President Obama's goal to make the United States the most higher-educated nation in the world by 2020.

Making Higher Education Count

Ashley Thorne

How do we know whether American universities are really educating students?

A SUNY Prof Anathematizes Sellout of Standards

Candace de Russy

In a bid to to raise tuition revenues, the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill lowered admissions and retention standards to admit unqualified applicants who had little hope of graduating, according to a lawsuit filed by a former dean. (Disclosure: I served as a SUNY Trustee for 12 years.)
According to Inside Higher Ed, Thomas J. Hickey, who filed the suit, claims he was fired as dean in retaliation for querying financially-motivated academic policies instituted by top administrators -- policies which condemned students to failure at the campus.
In an extraordinary communication cited in the suit, Thomas Cronin, a physics professor,  ringingly denounced the practices:
“The list of academically and morally corrupt practices that ensue from our inability to adhere to our own standards is rather long. One of our worst offenses is that we admit, and re-admit students absolutely unqualified and absolutely incapable of achieving a college degree. Many go into debt or cause their families to go into debt into [sic] order to attempt a college degree. This is an absolutely corrupt practice and it may be criminal. If we have done this to even one student, then we are guilty of a low form of corruption."
That some campuses may engage in such practices would come as no surprise to seasoned observers of higher education. But what is remarkable, even shocking -- and encouraging in this age of general cowardice on the part of so much of the education status quo -- is the rare willingness of a professor and former administrator so boldly and publicly to take up the cause of restoring high academic standards.

Top Consideration: Not Education, But Money

George Leef

In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, I write about an enlightening lawsuit involving a demoted dean's allegation that his school deliberately trashed its academic standards to help retain weak students. My argument is that colleges and universities have been doing this for decades, but have usually been subtle enough not to get caught (or sued, at least). The case also highlights the need to employ what economists call "Public Choice" theory -- i.e., the assumption that public officials will generally make decisions that are in their own interest rather than for "the public good"--when we think about the actions of college officials.

Dispositions Back in the News

King Banaian

Katherine Kersten brings back an old topic on this blog: dispositions theory in education. There's a new design of teacher education at the University of Minnesota, she says:

The initiative is premised, in part, on the conviction that Minnesota teachers' lack of "cultural competence" contributes to the poor academic performance of the state's minority students. Last spring, it charged the task group with coming up with recommendations to change this. In January, planners will review the recommendations and decide how to proceed. The report advocates making race, class and gender politics the "overarching framework" for all teaching courses at the U. It calls for evaluating future teachers in both coursework and practice teaching based on their willingness to fall into ideological lockstep.

We were last down this road in 2005 during the KC Johnson controversy at Brooklyn College. Yet it continues unabated. At SCSU students in educational administration or in child and family studies have a form to fill out if they see a disposition that doesn't meet the professional standards. In the former field, if you "express an inability or unwillingness to work with some people" and "avoid collaboration", you have an area of need to work on. Teachers in graduate studies get courses in which their competencies are assessed to determine if they consider "multiple perspectives and willingness to challenge and analyze one’s own perspectives given alternatives" and "respond to items regarding lens of social justice and dispositions." Johnson reported on this blog last month that these Minnesota criteria are being highlighted at exactly the moment NCATE, the teachers' accrediting body, is turning away from them. So maybe this won't last for much longer around here.

UPDATE: Mitch has a link to the U of M policy.

Are We Sure That Students Add to Their Human Capital?

George Leef

A couple of weeks ago, I started reading the new book Crossing the Finish Line, which purports to make the case for getting a lot more young Americans not only into, but through college. Almost immediately, I got stuck on the authors' assumption that college does much to increase the human capital of students. That assumption is crucial to their case, but I think it's highly questionable. Many colleges and universities are chiefly interested in processing through as many bodies as possible and have therefore watered down their standards to the point where students can pass courses with only the mental toolkit they had in high school. In athletics, the saying is "No pain, no gain." To keep weak and indifferent students happy, a lot of schools make it possible to get through college without any pain. Whether college adds to human capital or is just a costly period of marching in place is the subject of my Pope Center Clarion Call piece today.

ALERT: Pelosi's Health Bill Would Mandate Race-Based Educational Preferences

Candace de Russy

The NAS has long and wisely opposed the use of racial, ethnic, or other criteria unrelated to merit in (among other aspects of campus life) student recruitment and admissions. Those who support this view will find troubling the following requirement embedded in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's 1,990-page health-care bill, which as I write she is trying to bring to a vote, and which fomer Lt. Governor of New York Betsy McCaughey, writing in The Wall Street Journal,  has unearthed:

Secs. 2521 and 2533 (pp. 1379 and 1437) establishes racial and ethnic preferences in awarding grants for training nurses and creating secondary-school health science programs. For example, grants for nursing schools should "give preference to programs that provide for improving the diversity of new nurse graduates to reflect changes in the demographics of the patient population." And secondary-school grants should go to schools "graduating students from disadvantaged backgrounds including racial and ethnic minorities."

The academic community en masse should, but of course won't, reject such heavy-handed and unfair federal manipulation of student admissions in the name of diversity. This bill - among its other ill effects - will only add to division and lowered academic standards throughout our educational institutions.

Where Do I Begin? A Lot More Than Simple Ignorance

David Clemens

At my college alone:

  • a writing professor reports that his students think Martin Luther King Jr. fought against slavery;
  • a history teacher says that "a good student” believes that the United States should not have started World War Two by attacking Pearl Harbor; 
  • a reading teacher adds that one student thinks Pearl Harbor was “where America won her independence;”
  • and a philosophy professor relates that students working on mathematical validity could not understand that “100” validly answers the question “what is the number of United States Senators?” because they knew neither how many Senators there are per state nor how many states there are.

Professors have complained about student shortcomings for millennia but something new is going on here.  I see two questions:  How is it that the Internet’s “information super library” co-exists with, and is the playground of, what Mark Bauerlein calls “the dumbest generation?”  And what is our role as professors when students display a fatal lack of elementary cultural, historical, political knowledge?  Do we ignore it or do we try to address it?  In my experience, most of us try to ameliorate the new vacuity—we are teachers, after all.  But the problem seems so convoluted and systemic that we immediately face the question:  “Where do I begin?”  In each of the above cases, the professor interrupted his or her college-level lesson and college-level responsibilities.  The philosopher, for example, decided to embark on a mini-course in Civics, taking his tabula rasa students on a quick tour of our nation’s founding and the establishment of the upper and lower houses.  But only at the cost of the logic lesson.  And the lingering question is:  how do you arrive at 18 years of age not knowing how many states there are?   No finger pointing at K-12.  Ignorance does not mean that students have not encountered the knowledge before—it just doesn’t stick.  In my Department, we are finding it harder and harder to teach anything that requires more than one class session.  Frequently, what students heard on Monday has evaporated by Wednesday.    At least the philosopher could solve his instant problem by supplying the absent knowledge, but the other examples are even more troubling.  Consider the history student who felt herself competent to pass judgment on something that didn’t happen.  She did not have a lack of knowledge, but a mix of garbled data and assumptions that she thought WAS knowledge.  It’s one thing to realize that you don’t know something but it’s another thing entirely to think that you do know something which turns out to be absurdly, ridiculously wrong. The decline in student knowledge is bad enough but the replacement of student knowledge with junk and noise is worse because it provides the illusion of knowledge.  How much class time would it take me to correct the one-in-ten Americans who believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife?   Where would I even begin?

Testing 1, 2, 3

Peter Wood

On the role of high school Advanced Placement courses and exams today.

American Character, the Remix: How College is Shaping Us Now

Peter Wood

A nation's manner of educating shapes the character of its people.

The Classroom Without Reason

Douglas Campbell

The following essay is a "Report from the Academy" which was published in Academic Questions (volume 22, number 2).

Caltech Competes

Peter Wood

The California Institute of Technology wants to retain its high academic standards, but it is also trying desperately hard to get on the diversity bandwagon.

Tuesday Tout Compris

Peter Wood

Be clear, nation of debtors, political science

Monday, Mon Ami

Peter Wood

The sultan's retainer speaks, old noise from the new school, white student orientation, woe, and sinisterly speaking

Slouching Toward the Therapeutic University: Part 3

Tom Wood

A university is about self-discovery, but in a sense quite different from person-centered therapy. It involves stretching the self and the mind with the thoughts of the great minds of the past and present.

New Tradition-Minded Academic Geographers Subgroup

Jim Norwine

Announcement: proposed new group of academic geographers dedicated to inquiry and "the whole range of human values."

Charles Murray and Progressive Education

Tom Wood

On doubting the liberal arts and learning transfer.

What Ed Programs Will Obama Purge?

Peter Wood

Berkeley in the Sixties

Tom Wood

With its excitement and passion in intellectual life, perhaps it was the Golden Age of the American university.

Good Practice: An NAS Series (2)

Peter Wood

What is the best way to teach a course? To organize a curriculum? To administer a college? To serve as a trustee? We want to hear from you.

Civilization and the Spirit of Scholarship: On the Continuing Need for the National Association of Scholars Part II: A Dissenting Voice

Peter Wood

The second in a multi-part series by Peter Wood surveying the past, present, and future of the NAS.

No Maintenance At All: Just Education

Ashley Thorne

The Salem campus of SNHU remembers why we go to college in the first place.

Art for Gold

Peter Wood

Cash flow collides with the higher things at Brandeis.

Beyond the Politics: Making the Case for the Liberal Arts

Tom Wood

Students must possess cultural literacy in order to realize true academic literacy.

Social Work Update: Grammatically Challenged Social Work Boards Bewildered by English Language

Glenn Ricketts

Are Students Customers? No

Peter Wood

NAS Executive Director Peter Wood replies to Ed Cutting with an opposing view, that "the 'customer service' model of higher education is an illusory path to real academic reform."

Can Social Workers Be Competent? And Other Conundrums Arising from Charles Murray's Call for Replacing College Degrees with Competency Exams

Peter Wood

Charles Murray asserts that the degree should be replaced by the CPA-like certification. NAS executive director Peter Wood comments on Murray's suggestion and indicates possible flaws in the scheme.

More Than a Few Degrees Off

Ashley Thorne

Oreos on the Higher-Ed-Way

Peter Wood

A truck-driver sleeps and spills 14 tons of double-stuffed cookies. We think this is a reflective metaphor as American colleges drowsily serve up ultra-packed, sugary doses of fluffy education.

How You Play the Game: NCAA Sticks to Academic Standards for Athletes

Ashley Thorne

NAS cheers the NCAA, which doles out rewards and penalties to college athletic teams based on academic performance.

Georgia Halts Curricular Overhaul: University System Will Reconsider Protested Core Changes

Ashley Thorne

After 400+ faculty and staff members signed a petition against USG's proposed core curriculum models, the University System of Georgia just announced that it will stop its push to revise the curriculum at 35 state colleges.

What Does 'Sustainability' Have to Do With Student Loans?

Peter Wood

Students spend too much on too little as colleges buy in to some flimsy trends.

Harder Core: UGA Nixes Regional Proposals; Opts for Rigorous Curriculum

Ashley Thorne

Rather than adopt proposals for a curriculum based on globalism and sustainability, the University of Georgia has made changes in favor of more academic rigor.

Update on Georgia Curriculum

A conversation with a UGA academic advisor

The Problem with Wikipedia

Wikipedia and Higher Education Online Forum

Buck Up

Wikipedia: peers, puppets, and dirty plates.

Getting at the Core

Peter Wood

Georgia may be headed for a new "core" curriculum.

Street Knowledge

Wikipedia and Higher Education

Know It Alls

Ashley Thorne

An invitation to an NAS online symposium on "Wikipedia and Higher Education"