In today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I review Richard DeMillo’s book Abelard to Apple. In the last few years, there have been quite a few books written on the theme of impending, revolutionary change in higher education and I think DeMillo’s may be the most persuasive. It’s also very well written and chock-full of fascinating history and details. Highly recommended.
Peter Wood reviews a new scholarly compendium on the relationship beteen Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings. It's a controversial topic, of course, but I'm beginning to wonder if there's anything you can discuss at CHE that doesn't induce terminal apoplexy in many respondents. If you liked the shrieking that Peter's recent post on Climate Thuggery generated, check out the discussion thread here. According to one poster, even mentioning that the authors of the book have doubts about Jefferson's guilt is equivalent to Holocaust denial, banning Darwin, anti-semitism and global warming denial (can't get away from that one, can we?). Wow.
In an excellent Wall Street Journal piece, Andrew Ferguson, author of Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College writes about his visit to one of the schools where his son was accepted. It's a warts-and-all portrait of college life, heavy on the amenities and light on the academics. What little attention was given to academics is troubling: "The professor boasted of his history course, which had transformed merely curious students into 'social activists.' Under his guidance the young scholars read books by Sally Belfrage, author of the Cold War memoir 'UnAmerican Activities' and the socialist historian Howard Zinn, author of 'A People's History of the United States,' and they emerged 'ready to change the world.' So we have that to look forward to. "The professor's speech was just a hint of what was to come: Later my son told me that he had three choices for a mandatory writing class: 'History of the 1960s,' 'TV's Mad men,' and 'Intro to Queer Theory.'" I hope young Mr. Ferguson already knows how to write.
A new book on ideology in academe leaves some questions unanswered. How do the perspectives of students in the humanities compare with those of a more general student body? Doesn't the high percentage of liberal freshmen tell us something about K-12 education? And what about the "received wisdom effect"?
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.
The Wall Street Journal ran a review of Professor Jackson Toby's book The Lowering of Higher Education in its December 23 edition. The reviewer, Ben Wildavsky, unfortunately buys into the standard line that college studies are highly beneficial and the country needs to encourage more students to enroll and graduate. Wildavsky asserts that keeping ill-prepared students out of college is "one trade-off we should not make" because "the indisputable benefits of college should be spread more widely, not less." Nonsense. The supposed benefits of attending and (maybe, eventually) graduating from college are highly questionable. Toby shows that many students enter college with feeble intellectual background and learning tools, then coast through without learning much of lasting benefit. (As I argued here, it's doubtful that students have any human capital gain from their college experience.) Moreover, there isn't necessarily any financial benefit from going to college, even graduating. Unfortunately, Toby didn't mention the mountain of evidence that college graduates often end up working in "high school jobs" that don't pay very well no matter what your educational credentials. (That's a point I have been making for years, for example, here.) Perhaps if he had, Wildavsky's belief that going to college confers indisputable benefits would have been shaken. In any case, it's hard to see how you could read Toby's book, which makes a strong case that many students graduate from college with an education in name only, and yet maintain that it's so beneficial that we must not cut back.
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, I review the new AEI book The Politically Correct University. I recommend the book highly. It provides an excellent analysis of the problem of ideological imbalance and politicization that besets our higher education system and the closing chapters explore the prospects for change.
Today's Inside Higher Ed has a piece on a new book lauding "affirmative action" (that is to say, selective racial preferences). My good friend Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a strong opponent of preferences posted a comment and all hell has since broken loose. My thoughts: I haven't yet read the new book, but what I wish the people who keep demanding racial preferences at elite schools would explain is what is so darned important about going to one of those "elite" schools. The courses aren't taught any better just because the faculty is loaded with "academic stars." If anything, it goes the other way. Students at schools where the professors actually handle most of the teaching are likely to get more out of a course than at schools where the profs are mainly preoccupied with their publications. I don't think the mania for admissions preferences is really about the students. Rather, it's about the academic administrators. It makes them feel good about themselves to believe that their little social engineering efforts matter a lot. When mean people like Roger Clegg say that they should drop racial preferences, that's like telling them to stop playing make believe and grow up.
A couple of months ago Carlin Romano of the University of Pennsylvania wrote an excellent review of Stephen H. Norwood's Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses in the Chronicle of Higher Education. At the time, I noticed that the word fascism is repeatedly used in the review to refer to Hitler's ideology. It was rather Mussolini who was the proponent of fascism. Hitler advocated national socialism. In his book Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred John Lukacs points out that the ideologies of Hitler and Stalin were eerily close. Hitler advocated "national socialism" while Stalin advocated "socialism in one country". The old saying that the extremes meet is inaccurate. The two were the same all along. But to cloak the obvious unity of national socialism and socialism in one country (an ideology intimately linked to Progressivism, which is why conservatives like James Burnham in his Managerial Revolution, socialists like Gunnar Myrdal, and New Deal Democrats like Joe Kennedy admired Hitler), the media used the term fascism to inaccurately denote Hitler's national socialism. In fact, it would have been more accurate to call Mussolini's fascism national socialism. The continued use of fascism to refer to Nazism suggests that the ideology that piqued the interest in protecting Stalin, a killer of equivalent proportions to Hitler, is alive and well in universities.
Jay Bergman, president of the NAS Connecticut affiliate and professor of history at Central Connecticut State University, has published a new book, Meeting the Demands of Reason: The Life and Thought of Andrei Sakharov. The 411-page, 22 ounce book about the nuclear physicist who helped create the Soviet hydrogen bomb but then became the “moral anchor of a dissident movement” represents the culmination of eleven years of careful research and writing. Click here to read reviews of this "superb intellectual history." Click here to purchase Meeting the Demands of Reason.
Today NAS completes its serializing of Getting Under the Skin of "Diversity" by Larry Purdy. Purdy, one of the lawyers who represented Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Grutter in the U.S. Supreme Court cases Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, takes us inside an upside down house of racial preferences.