Researchers determine that sustainability is now a science; Occupy Wall Street's sustainability committee plays house; Harvard looks to hire someone who can "cultivate an understanding of food"; and a debate asks whether the campus sustainability movement detracts from the better purposes of higher education.
Thomas Bertonneau discusses the reasons why course syllabi have been mushrooming over the years: students are less and less accustomed to academic work, more inclined to complain if things aren't spelled out for them in minute detail, and apt to engage in plagiarism if written assignments are not carefully crafted to militate against it.
In one of the best Chronicle Review pieces I have read in a long time, Professor John Swallow argues in favor of a simple (but often forgotten) principle: "A necessary part of making an argument is the investigation of potential opposition." (It's a subscribers only piece, sorry to say.) Bravo! Far too often, professors are happy to have students regurgitate the conclusions they like. As an example, today I came across a book entitled Organizing the Curriculum: Perspectives on Teaching the US Labor Movement. It's clear that the editors want educators to "teach the labor movement" in a way that makes students think well of unions, not by taking an academically detached look at the totality of costs and benefits. Colleges so often talk about how they teach "critical thinking" to their students, but rarely do students hear an admonition to investigate potential opposition to their ideas. That's where critical thinking really begins.
At the Chronicle of Higher Education's Innovations blog, NAS president Peter Wood shares some insights about what has been lost in higher education:
I refer to the slow disappearance of the sense that higher education has anything genuinely “higher” about it. The notion that the academy should distinguish most important knowledge from the vast realm of knowable stuff somehow began to flicker out—when? The fifties? The sixties? As we lost the confidence to make that distinction, the college curriculum lost its essential shape. In a way, everything became an elective, even if some of the courses were still required.
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.
Clare Cavanagh was in town last week for our colloquium on “Imaginative Freedom and Political Freedom.” A celebrated translator, Clare is also the author of Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics (2010) in which she analyzes how the lyric poem served as a form of resistance and subversion in communist Eastern Europe. She stresses how the lyric presumes that each of us has a solitary, private, and unique inner being which determinist, mechanist, and collectivist communism cannot tolerate since that unitary self lies beyond the reach of the state. The same week, the Wall Street Journal (10/22) published an article about quantifying the worth of professors (from the same folks who brought you the Skinnerian snake oil of SLOs). In this latest move, professorial value reduces to profit produced for the college with no notice of anything that can’t be immediately observed, measured, or counted. But the real value of a professor can’t be observed, much less measured, because it happens for the student in Cavanagh’s internal and private self, sometimes years later. Last week I got two emails from former students, the first on Robert Hutchins’ The Great Conversation:
I opened that book and I felt like Hutchins spoke to me personally across the decades, saying that `…reading these books will make you a better companion to yourself.’”
Almost a year and a half after taking your class (Summer 2009), I'm still finding all sorts of references to the materials we read/watched and love that I have a broader perspective on the topics they address.”
I think my students found my classes worthwhile but darned if I know what metric can quantify my value.
In light of SUNY-Albany's cuts to its foreign language programs, the New York Times asked eight higher ed experts, "Do colleges need French departments?" Heres a takeaway sentence from each one. (See also this SUNY-Albany professor's remarks on the language cuts, posted at NAS.org.) Martha Nussbaum, author of Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities: "Even if a nation’s only goal were economic prosperity, the humanities supply essential ingredients for a healthy business culture." Louis Menand, author of The Marketplace of Ideas: "The loss of any department is a loss to every department at that institution." John McWhorter, author of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English: "I believe we should reconsider having vocational tracks like those in European educational systems." Mark Bauerlein, English professor at Emory University: "Lose [the humanities] and the college produces a half-educated graduate." Ellen Schrecker, author of The Lost Soul of Higher Education: "Languages, literature, philosophy, history – by exposing students to a wide range of new and old ideas and allowing them to articulate their own responses to those ideas – can create the reflective and self-aware citizens our nation needs." Gaye Tuchman, sociology professor at the University of Connecticut: "No one put a price tag on either the appeal or utility of Latin, of reading Racine or Confucius, or of learning the structure of a symphony." Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity: "As resources tighten and that luxury no longer is available, universities need to do what businesses routinely do – reinvent what they do to meet the changing needs of society." Anne E. McCall, professor of French at the University of Denver: "That said, the attraction of particular subjects does shift, and universities need to adjust offerings that make sense for their mission, size, geographical location, and budgets."
Texan professors who thrive on taxpayer funding are irate about a state law that requires them to make course content clear to students before the latter are, as Accuracy in Academia labels it, "trapped" in the classroom. To whom do we owe this salutary development? One, to University of Texas (Austin) junior Taurie Randermann, who lamented to her boss that her course titled "Communication and Religion" was actually about trendy cults such as Wiccans and Heaven’s Gate; and, two, to her boss, Texas Republican State Representative Lois Kolkhorst, who put forth a bill requiring public, online access to course information. The state chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), among other status quo academic groups, has protested this new law. As AIA notes, "They usually like to exercise their academic freedom behind closed doors where they can deny everyone else’s." Kudos to Randermann and Kolkhorst, and may Texas' victory for transparency a trend make.
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.
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.)
That's the subject of my Clarion Call today. I like some aspects of the book. Best of all is Wildavsky's argument that we should abandon educational mercantilism -- the notion that nations have to compete to be tops in educational "investment," university prestige, and similar distractions. Because knowledge is not constrained by national boundaries, we should stop worrying about musty old "us versus them" ideas. Also, Wildavsky doesn't go for the tendency to bash for-profit higher ed, showing that it fills some important niches. What I didn't care for so much was the author's enthusiasm for the trend toward globalized universities, with lots of American universities setting up campuses in places such as Abu Dhabi. I see that as mostly glitz and conspicuous consumption rather than true educational advance.
How does traditional American culture and Western civilization fare on your campus? What are some of the obstacles or difficulties a traditionalist, conservative, or libertarian might find on your campus? What can you tell us about the aesthetics of everyday life on your campus, from dating and sex, to dress and tastes, to behavior and mores? NAS asked 8 undergraduate college students these questions for a student symposium in the forthcoming "Student Culture " issue of Academic Questions (vol. 23, no. 2). We left it up to each respondent to choose which question to answer and how to answer it. The students' essays are the following: Beneath the Rungs: Locating the Liberal Arts at Harvard by Brian Bolduc From Raging to Engaging at Vanderbilt by Mary Frances Boyle Catholic or Bust? The Spirit of Inclusion at Notre Dame by Mary K. Daly Generation A at Fordham by Amanda Fiscina Debate Denied: Conservatives Stifled at Stanford by Gregory Hirshman Intolerant Tolerance at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by Nash Keune Conservatives and Libertarians Face Challenges at the University of Michigan by Adam Pascarella Pursuing Truth and Virtue: The Great Tradition at Hillsdale College by Julie Robison
A project I have been imaging for a long time is now actually a reality. The Center for the Study of American Ideals and Culture has received its first funding, from the new Apgar Foundation. With this first seed money, we can now get this enterprise off the ground. I must admit I am quite proud, as they said that of the forty or so applications they requested, ours was the best. Here is the mission statement: The Center for the Study of American Ideals and Culture at the University of Arizona will provide the leaders of the future with an ennobling vision, a sense of a larger purpose and a higher calling, through an understanding of the theoretical foundations of American institutions and culture. With the management and direction of a new undergraduate major, the development of curricular and pedagogical innovation, research, performance, and public outreach, the Center will restore balance in the dialogue over the value of the heritage of Western civilization, the development of the American polity, and the expression of the American soul through the arts. Founded and directed by composer Daniel Asia, the new program will combat the rising ignorance of the American intellectual experience, especially of the philosophical principles of the founding of America, science and religion and its interaction with social policy, and of high culture, especially the rich legacy of high art and music." Comments, as well as million dollar gifts, are appreciated.
In today's Pope Center Clarion Call, Jay Schalin writes about the "Economic and Social Justice" minor offered at UNC-Chapel Hill. Unfortunately, the minor is the brainchild of a far-left professor who wants to turn out students who are dedicated to increasing government domination of society and the elimination of what she thinks is "capitalism." Students do not need to take a course on the principles of economics in order to earn this minor; nor will they encounter the devastating counter-attack on the very concept of "social justice" by F. A. Hayek in his book The Mirage of Social Justice. In one of the courses the students may take (Philosophy 273), however, they at least get a taste of Robert Nozick's criticism of the mega-state. This minor is far more agitprop than education.
A common fear about the accountability movement is that edu-babble such as “alignment,” “assessment,” and “best practices” will erect an authoritarian, standardized, dumbed-down national curriculum which could mandate that on March 12, every high school student in the United States be on page 27 of To Kill a Mockingbird and that the following week, a computerized test may measure student reading comprehension by asking “Was the main character a Mockingbird or a Finch?” But haven’t advocacy teaching and the liberal preponderance among educators already produced a de facto national curriculum? Having sat on many hiring and evaluation committees, I can testify that applicants for English positions always find ways to confess their faith in the liberal sacred texts. One says, “I always assign Brent Staples’s `Black Men and Public Space,’” while another recites “I use Fast Food Nation and Nickel and Dimed” as if chanting a mantra. They screen Outfoxed, An Inconvenient Truth, Jesus Camp, and Baraka. And everyone assigns a paper analyzing an advertisement so that students will learn that [gasp] ads are just trying to sell you something and that “big corporations” are trying to make money. Social justice, multiculturalism, health and wellness, sustainability, what the New York Times reported that morning and what they just heard on NPR provide each day’s lesson plan. An officer of my bank recently whispered that she had been required to read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States “in several different classes” at a nearby state university. Zinn’s Marxist polemic is also required by the entire history department of a local community college. With such uniformity, we needn’t fear a future national curriculum—we already have one.