We are excited to announce that Arizonans have approved Prop. 107, a ballot initiative that prohibits racial preferences in the state’s public institutions, including public colleges and universities. This is a great victory for racial equality and merit-based higher education, and NAS is proud to have played a part. Read NAS's argument in favor of Prop. 107.
Thanks to a tip from our CUNY affiliate, NAS published an article exposing the gaffe of a Brooklyn College faculty member, Jocelyn Wills, who wrote in an email, "Please spread the word among your colleagues and friends on Faculty Council, that we need to correct the lily-white imbalances of the Dean's Search Committees, all four of them." NAS pointed out 4 problems with such a statement: 1. It is blatantly racist against white faculty members. 2. It assumes that racial balance should be the norm. 3. It calls on colleagues to discriminate based on race. 4. It disrespects the non-racial merits of the people Wills wants to help. The day after this article was published, the New York Post covered the story in "Lily-White Prof-Panel Slam," which notes that Wills resigned after she was elected to the search committee.
New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane consulted the NAS for his article, "Scholarly Work, Without All the Footnotes," published yesterday:
Peter W. Wood, an anthropologist who is president of the National Association of Scholars, observes that scholars are filling a rising appetite for science writing in the popular press and that the protocols for giving credit there remain murky. “A scholar-beware label might be needed here,” he said.
And Katherine Kersten exposed the shallowness of most college common reading programs, referencing NAS's comprehensive study:
College is a time to introduce young people to humanity's greatest minds -- to the best that has been thought and said. It is a time for students to transcend the intellectual clichés of the moment and to explore the larger perspectives of philosophy and history. In the process, they should encounter a wide array of answers to questions of how we got where we are and how best to live. Students won't get that opportunity from most of the books on the common text list. That list includes no works of classical antiquity, only a handful of first-class novels, and no historical or scientific classics, as the report points out. In response, the NAS has compiled a list of worthy alternatives, entitled "Read These Instead: Better Books for Next Year's Beaches."
Possibly you’ve had the chance to read Peter Wood’s piece, Shut Up, They Explained. This was a response to the many ill-tempered, intemperate comments attached to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s story about our recent report, Beach Books, a survey of the readings assigned by selected colleges to their incoming freshman classes prior to the beginning of Fall semester. If you take the time to peruse them, you’ll be struck by how little they actually say about our report. Instead, our critics attack our funding sources, liken our study to “right wing talk radio,”(Yes, we must have been inspired by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and FOX News) and fling bizarre allegations about the clandestine activities for which NAS serves as a “right wing false front.” That’s an intriguing term, one whose significance escapes me. It suggests that there must also exist a “genuine” or “true” front. Would it be “left” or “right?” Can anyone help? We took a few similar hits at Inside Higher Education, where the discussion was a tad milder and more constructive. But you also won’t have to read very far at the IHE comments thread before you come to the same kind of petulance and bile that was so abundant at the Chronicle. Go to the article at IHE and scroll down to the comment from “Goethe,” (How the NAS Describes Itself and Report Bias as a Result). Read it, I think you'll see what I mean.
Cross-posted from NAS.org NAS President Peter Wood appeared on New Jersey's My9 News on Wednesday along with Todd Zipper, co-founder of Test Drive College Online, in a segment on the pros and cons of online education. Dr. Wood said, "I'm regretful that we can't have everybody go to college in a form of traditional education, but that isn't going to happen; we have to learn how to make this new medium really work." Click here to watch the 3-minute video.
Over at NAS.org, we've got a nice debate going between NAS and University of Alaska Professor Richard Steiner. After I wrote about him in "Sustainability Skepticism Has Arrived," I contacted Professor Steiner to let him know about the article. He subsequently wrote to the University's president Mark Hamilton to challenge him to a debate over academic freedom:
President Hamilton – Given recent circumstances, I would like to invite you to debate with me, openly and publicly, re: the issue of academic freedom, and the influence of corporate donations to the university. You have said many things in support of academic freedom over the years, but when push came to shove in my case, you made a decision in opposition to free speech. In 2002, you received an award for your support of academic freedom from a group calling itself the “National Association of Scholars”, who it turns out, actually opposes sustainability movements on today’s college campuses. They say that sustainability is “deceptive, coercive, closed-minded, a pseudo-religion, distorts higher education, shrinks freedom, programs people, is anti-rational, by-passes faculty, and is wasteful.” This group apparently supports free speech only when they agree with what is spoken, and opposes it when they disagree with what is spoken. Apparently this is your position as well. That you chose to accept an award fro this group calls into serious question the progressive character of the University of Alaska. All of this is an extremely serious transgression of the very role a university is supposed to fulfill in civil society. I look forward to your reply, and to debating this issue publicly and honestly. Sincerely, Rick Steiner, Professor
His challenge to President Hamilton, as well as his response to NAS which we posted unedited on our website, called into question our dedication to academic freedom. NAS president Peter Wood responded here. He wrote:
And, yes, we support the right of Professor Steiner to speak his mind about sustainability, but his academic freedom gives him no follow-on right to accept public funding under false pretenses. Sometimes we have to make choices. Taking money for scientific investigation and then using it to fund political advocacy isn’t an exercise in academic freedom. It is, at best, an act of deviousness. It sounds to me like a form of academic dishonesty, not an act of academic freedom. But let me hold that criticism in abeyance. If Professor Steiner can defend his actions without twisting the terms of academic freedom into self-serving knots, let him do so.
We hope this exchange will open up the doors of debate over the role of advocacy in higher education and the true meaning of academic freedom.
In response to our article noting the arrival of CampusReform.org, a reader commented:
The recent article on CampusReform.org has the following statement: "NAS is politically non-partisan. We do not take positions on issues such as health care, immigration, and foreign policy. And we believe that reason, civilization, intellectual freedom, civil debate, and the pursuit of the truth are principles that transcend the political lines that have traditionally divided most Americans. But we also believe that CampusReform.org has a potentially vital role to play in helping the beleaguered partisans of American conservatism get a fair intellectual shake at our universities and colleges." I strongly agree with the first two sentences, above. However, I have been increasingly disturbed that the NAS has a reputation of being a politically conservative organization, and the tentative endorsement of CampusReform.org will tend to strengthen this widespread belief . Further, statements like, "At each college subsite, students can also identify 'leftist faculty' and review 'biased textbooks,' while they may be appropriate to a conservative organization, are not appropriate to ours. I think this endorsement should be rewritten to make it clear that we are not endorsing a witch hunt of any kind and that our kind thoughts towards this organization has nothing to do with its conservatism, but only seeks to bring some balance into what has become a growing tendency to make liberalism an approved doctrine on college campuses. - John C. Wenger
John C. Wenger’s comment raises some important points. NAS indeed has a reputation as a “conservative organization.” I’ve tried in numerous posts to address this, most conspicuously in an article titled, “Is NAS Conservative?” Plainly in the sense of the word used by most Americans when speaking of politics, NAS is not a conservative organization. We have been labeled “conservative” by opponents as a tactic aimed at de-legitimizing NAS in the eyes of fellow academics. The tactic itself displays the extraordinary level of bias in academe. Calling a person or a group “conservative” should on its face be neutral, but it is not. The matter is further complicated by the other, non-political meanings of the word “conservative.” NAS is not about to abandon its commitment to enduring principles, such as the foundational importance of the pursuit of truth in the university or the need for the university to find its place among free institutions, even if these principles are caricatured as dowdy and out-of-date by fashionable ideologues. So NAS is conservative in this larger civilizational sense. I disagree with John C. Wenger on the question of whether, to prove our purity, we ought to distance ourselves even further from groups such as CampusReform.org. We declined an invitation to participate in CampusReform.org, just as we would decline to participate in any organization that defines its primary purpose as political. CampusReform.org, however, promises to bring a badly needed element of ideological balance to campus debates, and we welcome that prospect. NAS can stand on its own record on the question of “witch hunts.” We’ve been around for 22 years without ever engaging in behavior that could be credibly characterized that way. At the same time, I have no objection to an explicitly partisan group such as CampusReform.org attempting to make its case by inviting students to identify “leftist faculty” and to review “biased textbooks.” The university left has made a central part of its activity over the last several decades the effort to identify (and often demean on spurious grounds) scholars who dissent from leftist positions, and fields such as women’s studies have long promoted the practice of combing textbooks for instances of “bias.” I don’t see a particularly good argument that these tactics should be allowable to the left but not to the right. They aren’t NAS’s tactics. Our ideal would be a de-politicized university. But the reality is that we now have a university that is overwhelmingly dominated by the political left, and with that in view, we welcome the challenge that CampusReform.org poses to the status quo. Will this arm’s-length welcome deepen NAS’s reputation as a “conservative” organization? I doubt it. We are routinely mentioned in the Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, and other publications as conservative. Nothing we say or do seems to shake this caricature. Not long ago, a liberal professor tried to involve us in a project to promote “civic literacy” on the terms that we would represent the “conservative” view of things. We declined on the grounds that we aren’t conservative and don’t speak for conservatives. He was incredulous, then angry. “Everybody knows…” Well, no everyone doesn’t. Distinctions need to be drawn. That is supposedly what scholars are good at. No fair-minded scholar looking at the facts would say that NAS is politically conservative. The label is inaccurate, but I am not going to form NAS policy in a deliberate—and no doubt futile—effort to disprove it. We will continue to make decisions on the basis of where we see the most benefit for the core principles of higher education. On that ground, CampusReform.org looks to be, on balance, a wholesome organization, and we do indeed welcome it.
Greetings! This is the first entry of the National Association of Scholars blog. We're glad you found us. We created this blog in order to keep our readers attuned to higher education news and up-to-date on articles posted on the NAS website. We are continuing to publish new articles every day, but we realize that sometimes a one or two thousand-word essay is a lot to swallow in the midst of a busy schedule. So we present this blog as a place you can check for quick updates with sound-byte versions of the originals. Stay tuned for entries here contributed by our members and friends. In the meantime, check out our three most recent articles. In "What's Cooking," NAS president Peter Wood rounds up some of the latest issues in higher education:
The Virginia Tech "diversity" tenure and promotion requirement;
The professor who seems to have been fired for criticizing his college's sexual harassment policy;
EMU's eagerness to accomodate gays and lesbians;
A scholarly association's quandary when it schedules a conference at a hotel owned by a Prop. 8 supporter;
A new organization's stand against "21st-century skills"; and
Campus Reform, a new web-based effort to repair American higher education.
"Spring and Summer Highlights" presents our top 5-8 articles from each month since April. If you've been on vacation and missed some of these, or if you want to revisit one of your favorites, this posting is a great place to catch up. Finally, in "What Good are People?" I wrote about the MAHB (Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior) and a new UK-based Handbook of Sustainability Literacy. The MAHB is a group led by Paul Ehrlich that wants to control population growth and figure out "what people are for." And the handbook contains the skills and dispositions needed to be sustainably literate. These include "Gaia Awarenss," "Effortless Action," and "Social Concience."