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

Time to Found a New University

Warren Treadgold

A major new university dedicated to academic excellence and freedom is what America needs.

Invitation: Inside the PROSPER Act

Rachelle Peterson

Join our conference call on Friday, June 22, to learn about the Higher Education Act reauthorization.

Thinking Small in the Age of Greatness

Peter Wood

Universities seek micro-credentials as an alternative to traditional course studies; is that a problem? 

Is College For Everyone?

Peter Wood

Doubts about the possibilities of higher education are becoming non-partisan.

Western Civilization's Ticking Clock

Ashley Thorne

A new documentary, The Fight for Our Lives, details the ideological war against the West. 

Federalist Universities

Rachelle Peterson

To what extent is the university a microcosm of the political party system?

Non-Trump University

Chance Layton

NAS President Peter Wood writes about the "bait-and-switch" of American higher education.

Peter Wood Speaks at Heritage Foundation Event on the Modern University


NAS president Peter Wood spoke on a panel at a Heritage Foundation event titled "Who Rules the Universities?"

College Scorecard: How Much Will You Earn?

Peter Wood

NAS President Peter Wood examines the fuzzy numbers of the U.S. Department of Education's new College Scorecard.

The Liberal Arts as Conversation

Jack Kerwick

Philosophy professor Jack Kerwick writes that the purpose of education is not traditionalism, careerism, or activism, but what he calls "conversationalism."

Education: That a Republic Is Only One Generation Old

George Seaver

An argument for why the part of education that is civic virtue, as seen throughout history, is essential to the survival of a republic.

Is 'Get a Job' the Purpose of College?

Peter Wood

Governor Scott Walker's call for changes at the University of Wisconsin, which initially included major revisions to the school's mission statement, reveal a fundamental shift in the purpose of education. 

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."

Indignation: Abusing the Language of Dignity

Peter Wood

The latest buzzword of the academic left is the nebulous term, "dignity."

Democratic Engagement and Governance: Part II

William H. Young

William Young concludes an examination of the unfolding civic engagement initiatives by higher educational institutions.

What STEM Can’t Do

David Clemens

A story of pets and furry friends exemplifies how a science and math core overlooks a large portion of the human experience.

Advice for a Young Scholar

George Leef

President Obama's Graduation Delicacies

Daniel Asia

Comments on the President's graduation remarks at Barnard College.

Higher Ed and Plato's Cave

George Leef

American higher ed is like Plato's parable of the cave.

Sustainability News

Ashley Thorne

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.

Debate: Does the Sustainability Movement Belong on Campus?

Ashley Thorne

At Bloomberg Businessweek, Ashley Thorne and Paul Rowland debate: The campus sustainability movement subtracts from the better purposes of higher education. Pro or con?

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.

Keep the Critique Coming: Why Teacher Preparation Deserves the Spotlight

Nicholas J. Shudak

As education associations debate how and whether it's possible to measure the efficacy of the student teaching experience, a professor of teacher education argues that Americans must always be striving for educational reform.

Investing in Debt

Peter Wood

NAS President Peter Wood analyzes the burgeoning problem of post-graduation student debt.

Mission Creep -- Does the UNC System Need to Own Hospitals?

George Leef

Duke Cheston writes about a controversy in North Carolina — should the UNC system keep expanding into the field of health care? It has become common for higher ed leaders here (and elsewhere) to proclaim that it’s part of the university’s mission to do all kinds of things besides education, such as helping the economy grow, helping protect the environment, helping to improve the health of the people, helping to foster multicultural understanding, and so on. Perhaps it would be better if UNC stuck to its educational knitting.

The Real Purpose of Education

David Clemens

Good teaching should result “in a lighting of those lamps in the mind and in the heart that shall eventually show the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Missionally Adrift

Ashley Thorne

The fundamental reason higher education is faltering is that colleges and universities have simply forgotten why they exist in the first place.


Peter Wood

Peter Wood reflects on the intellectual vacancy at the heart of the contemporary college curriculum.

The Vacancy in the Heart of Higher Education

Peter Wood

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.

If Even Krugman Says It...

Peter Wood

Peter Wood weighs the liberal commentator’s view that American higher education is no longer the path to prosperity in America.

My Top Ten List

George Leef

Top ten books about higher education, that is. In today's Pope Center piece, I give my picks for the books people should read if they want to understand American higher education, and invite readers to suggest others.

Academic Impactorators

Peter Wood

Peter Wood finds a more meaningful direction for colleges in the book “Academically Adrift” than in the U.N. program Academic Impact.

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.

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.)

Shimer College Adopts Liberty-Centered Mission Rejected by Faculty

Ashley Thorne

Tom Lindsay, president of the Great Books college, has made himself highly unpopular by insisting on a return to the ideals of Western civilization. Faculty members unanimously opposed a new mission statement which emphasizes, "Liberal education at Shimer is an education for and through liberty."

An Elbow in the Ribs: Prof-Prodding Toward Sustainability

Ashley Thorne

Campus administrators and leaders of sustainability organizations come together to think of ways to get "reluctant professors" to teach sustainability. Their answer: "Change how they think."

Social Role of the University...No Comment

Ashley Thorne

A 1962 newspaper clipping recaps the message of a campus speaker who asked, "What is the university's fundamental social obligation?"

What to Do About Centers for Social Justice

Peter Wood

Last week an NAS member, a professor at the University of Southern Indiana we'll call Professor Smith, brought to our attention a new “Center for Social Justice” at the university. He asked for advice on how to mitigate the adverse effects of such a center. I replied: Dear Professor Smith, Thank you for your inquiry last week about the recently created “Center for Social Justice” at  the University of Southern Indiana.  I agree that it sounds like another instance of political advocacy masquerading as academic inquiry. Centers such as this are in vogue.  After getting your email Ashley Thorne and I started doing some checking and included some comments on these centers in an article we posted to the NAS website last week, “Stories We’re Watching.”  In that article we noted some of the other colleges and universities that have similar centers. Your deeper question is what can you do about this?  Certainly there is no silver bullet.  But these centers are very dependent on a handful of conditions that can be challenged.  The conditions they depend on include:

  1. Camouflage for off campus.  They typically like to grandstand to their supporters about their radical credentials, but they typically go to great trouble to present themselves to alumni and people outside the university as just another academic enterprise engaged in wholesome scholarly work and teaching.  They try to phrase their advocacy in terms that make it blend into the campus surroundings—perhaps a little edgier than Shakespeare or engineering, but basically the same sort of “educational stuff.”  This is deeply and thoroughly dishonest.  Advocacy and education are not the same thing, which leads to the next point.
  2. Blurring the definition of academic work.  If you make out that volunteering for a politician’s campaign or helping out at the local ACORN office is an “educational” experience worthy of academic credit, you can make almost anything “academic.”  The trick here is the elasticity of the word “educational.”  Surely it is “educational” in some sense of the word to organize street protests or for that matter to throw a brick through a storefront window.  But is that the sense of “educational” that should prevail in a university?  Among the community of the learned?  Among students seeking to gain understanding of their society, science, culture, and heritage?  Is it educational in the sense of helping students distinguish truth from falsehood or good reasoning from fallacy?
  3. Opportunism.  These centers like to hitchhike on popular causes.  If students are upset about something, they try to fan the flames and then come forward as the natural leaders.  Much of this is quite cynical.  The key participants don’t care about the issue per se.  They care about the opportunity to make their work more salient on campus.  When they do this, there are always students who catch on that they have been used.
  4. Appropriating successful campaigns from other universities.  Denouncing bottled water, or asserting that Coca Cola harms third world nations, or setting up “bias reporting” sites—there is always a trend, and the Centers for Social Justice are extremely alert to these straws in the wind.  Their members attend conferences and stay in close communications with their counterparts.  This gives them easy access to pre-made propaganda and spares them the trouble of actually having to think about things.
  5. Institutional influence seeking. Center officials are often among the busiest and most connected people on campus.  They volunteer for committees and nominate their own to every possible opening.  Chances are pretty good that the Center at USI is the result of this kind of log-rolling, but it is now in a position to do even more of it.  Watch out for the Center asking for “representation” on campus committees, and watch out as well for claims that it speaks for certain “constituencies” that have been “excluded.”  Those are all claims worth challenging.  Typically they are sheer assertion.  The “communities” in question have never heard of them and may themselves be imaginary.
  6. Resource hoarding. These centers usually demand hefty budgets and nervous administrators grant them more than their fair share. The truth is that their fair share may be zero, since they do nothing to advance the academic mission and may do quite a bit to hinder it.

You can challenge any of these things.  A successful challenge must always be based on the facts.  So the first thing I suggest is that you and anyone else you can find who is interested just begin to assemble a well-organized file of what the Center for Social Justice publishes, says, and does.  This doesn’t require any skullduggery—and in fact shouldn’t.  the publicly available stuff will be more than adequate.  That’s because the Center itself will assume until it learns otherwise that it can do and say whatever it wants.  Think of ACORN before Breitbart.

The Spirit That Makes a College

Ken Daniszewski

Given the problems facing higher education today, this speech on the purpose of college delivered by Justice Wendell Phillips Stafford at the Sesqui-Centennial of Dartmouth College in 1919 seems as timely as ever. Here is an excerpt:

(The spirit of college) has shown itself in men who never knew how the inside of a college looked. When Lincoln jotted down the main facts of his life for the Congressional Directory, he wrote: "Education defective." And yet, tried by the test we are applying now, he was college-bred. The question is not, whether you studied Euclid in a classroom or stretched out on the counter of a country store. The question is, whether you mastered it. Lincoln did. And the thews and sinews of his mind, which he developed so, stood by him in the day when he threw Douglas down. John Keats was as innocent of the Greek language as the new curriculum assumes all men should be; yet out of some stray book on mythology the " miserable apprentice to an apothecary " contrived to draw into his soul the very spirit of Hellenic art, until he left us poems which Hellenists declare to be more Grecian than the Greek. He, too, was college-bred, as we now mean it, for he was impelled by that determination to subdue and fructify his powers, with the aid of all the past has left us, until they yielded something glorious and undying for his fellow men. His spirit was not the spirit of the dove, but of the eagle: "My spirit is too weak! Mortality Weighs heavily on me, like unwilling sleep; And each imagined pinnacle and steep Of godlike hardship tells me I must die, Like a sick eagle looking at the sky." If I am right, there lie wrapt up in this determination those three aims: (1) to discipline one's powers and make them fruitful; (2) in order to accomplish this, to make use of all that men have gained before us; and (3) to devote these powers and acquisitions to the common weal. The advantage the college has is this: that here the determined spirit finds the tool-shop and the arsenal. That spirit itself the college can foster and encourage but cannot create. It can and does lay open to its use the weapons and the tools. It can and does teach, in a fair, general way, what men thus far have done. It leads the newcomer to the point where they left off, and says: "Begin here, if you would not waste your time. This territory has been conquered. Go forth from this frontier." It also shows the worker of the present day what other men are doing. It brings him into touch with them, that he may put his effort forth where it will tell the most."

Stafford's entire text can be found here.

Do Too Many Students Go To College?

George Leef

The Chronicle Review recently ran a lively discussion on that question, featuring nine people with widely divergent views. In today's Pope Center piece, I comment on it and offer my own answers to some of the questions posed.

Liberal Education vs. Liberal-Arts Education

Ken Daniszewski

Maurice O'Sullivan has an excellent article in the latest issue of Change magazine, (subscription required), on the shortfalls of the current liberal education movement.  He argues that the liberal-education movement rests upon several myths, such as a spurious belief that a narrow focus on processes such as "critical thinking" can somehow take the place of the rich content found in the traditional liberal-arts curriculum. Sullivan writes:

For those of us who believe that success in business and the professions will come relatively easily to students who have been well prepared to engage in all the dialogues of life--an engagement that requires a broad range of historical and contemporary knowledge; the ability to reflect deeply on that knowledge and to evaluate it critically; and the ability to present informed opinions orally and in writing in a clear, powerful, and sophisticated way--the relentless movement toward narrower and narrower career education is disconcerting. And claiming that the smattering of knowledge provided by a liberal education component offers an adequate balance to narrow majors seems both disingenuous and dangerous.

Readers unfamiliar with the current state of the liberal-education movement might also want to browse through this issue of the Association of American Colleges and Universities' publication Peer Review which, we are told,  "illustrates the potential for public health education as a vehicle for liberal learning".

Boutique Colleges Can Thrive

George Leef

My Pope Center colleague Jay Schalin writes here about the difficulties that very small colleges face, but also their prospects for success at filling a niche in the vast educational marketplace.

"An Unsuccessful Education Can Ruin You"

Ashley Thorne

A CUNY graduate professor teaches education ethics; his students discuss the meaning of academic freedom and the question of university neutrality. Now if only all faculty members and administrators took this course...

A First Look at Second Nature

Ashley Thorne

Will education for sustainabiity become Second Nature?

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.

Vote on Administrator's Political Showcasing

Ashley Thorne

Should a campus dean use his university platform to advertise his politics? Vote now!

Reality Checks

Peter Wood

Secrets, Secrets Are No Fun

Ashley Thorne

The college-driven trend to divulge says something about higher education's vision of itself as therapeutic.

A Couple of Curiosities

Peter Wood

A note on two interesting pieces of education news: PBS hosts the

How to Defeat the Res Lifer's Nouveau Indoctrination Program

Tom Wood

It's not the university's job to save the planet.