Monday, July 06, 2009

College Republicans Banned at Two Religious Universities

Political clubs are a traditional part of college life so this all sounds very craven

It's hard enough to be a Republican on most campuses these days. Now you can't even be a member of the Republican Club at two of America's most conservative colleges -- because the clubs have been banned. Liberty University in Virginia, which banned its College Democratic club in May for holding positions on abortion and gay marriage that were contrary to its conservative Christian values, recently de-listed its College Republican club as well.

And in a similar move, Brigham Young University at Idaho, a school run by the Mormon Church, demoted both its Republican and Democratic clubs to informal status.

While no one questions that a private university has the legal right to ban political speech on campus, the moves have been subject to criticism -- particularly, in these cases, from conservatives who say that campuses that espouse conservative social values should not be barring Republican clubs.

Liberty's chancellor, Jerry Falwell Jr., told in an interview that he did not de-list the school's Republican club in response to pressure he received from booting the Democrats from campus. Rather, he said, he was applying standards equally. He said he decided that both clubs would become "unofficial" -- meaning they receive no student funding but can meet on campus under approved circumstances.

Liberty's Democratic club initially was ordered to shut down entirely because it was deemed contrary to the school's Christian mission and doctrine. But after a month of public skirmishes and what Falwell calls "false statements fed to the press," he decided to recognize the club informally. At the same time, Falwell said, he received "revelations" that the school's College Republicans might have endorsed former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore in the 2008 gubernatorial election, despite Gilmore's opposition to a total ban on abortion. That, Falwell said, caused college officials to de-list the Republicans too.

Both groups can still assemble on campus, he said, but they must clear the content of their meetings with school officials before getting meeting space. "This is so we don't run into problems in the future," he said. "To be consistent, we took the same recourse with the Republican club. Outside pressure was not an issue."

Falwell says "both sides, Democrats and Republicans, are happy with the new policy." But the whole ordeal has generated mixed reviews. Jan Dervish, secretary of Liberty's College Democrats, told the Associated Press he was satisfied with the new arrangement, and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who heads the Democratic National Committee and had been critical of the ban on the Democratic club, was quoted saying the compromise at Liberty "makes a lot of sense."

But conservatives and fellow College Republicans are split. Robert Knight, a senior fellow with the conservative United Civil Rights Council, said Falwell should have stuck to his guns and expelled the Democrats, leaving the Republican students alone. "They had every right to withhold official endorsement of organizations promoting beliefs that are antithetical to theirs," he said. "Giving in to bullies only encourages them -- appeasement doesn't work."

Ashley Barbera, spokeswoman for the College Republican National Committee, sees the compromise as "hurting everybody." She said it further marginalizes political awareness and involvement among a generation that already grapples with apathy on campus. "I don't think anyone's interests are served when universities de-recognize any political organization, Republican or Democrat, for that matter," she said.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (F.I.R.E.), which typically defends free speech for conservatives on campus, said it doesn't hold a position on Falwell's decision, but it acknowledges that as a private institution offering no illusions about free speech and political and social tolerance on campus, Liberty was probably on firm legal footing from the start.

F.I.R.E. President Robert Shibley pointed out that students have to sign an agreement when they come to Liberty that binds them to the school's Code of Conduct. That code, which dictates everything from a strict dress code, random drug tests and behaving with the "highest ideals of moral virtue and professionalism," does not include free speech guidelines. "You can make the argument that those are rights you agreed to give up when you came," Shibley said.

The story has been similar at BYU-Idaho, which announced in May that it would be de-listing its College Republicans and College Democrats from "official" status. All BYU students must agree to uphold conduct "consistent with the ideals and principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The church's Code of Conduct sketches out behavior and standards, including a dress code, but no free speech.

But BYU-Idaho spokesman Andrew Cargal said the decision to ban political clubs was based on an update of the school's political neutrality policy, rather than on its strict religious policies or the university agreeing or disagreeing with any particular party . He insisted the changes had nothing to do with developments occurring at the same time at Liberty University.

The school's College Republicans have been well known for their large numbers and active presence on campus, and particularly for the campaigning they did for Republicans in the last presidential election. In contrast, the group of College Democrats on the campus is relatively small. "That was definitely a talking point," Cargal acknowledged. But he denied that the school might have been pressured to appear less Republican or that the disparity in numbers had anything to do with the school's decision to de-list. "We just shouldn't be a sponsor of any partisan politics at the university," he said.

Some College Republicans at the school said they felt slighted, especially since the main BYU campus in Provo, Utah, and BYU-Hawaii did not de-list their partisan clubs, nor do they have any plans to. "I'm really surprised and disappointed by the decision," said Brandon Johnson, chairman of the Idaho College Republicans.

"Hundreds, maybe thousands, of universities express their 'neutrality,' by allowing any political club to set up, and I think that working with them indicates their neutrality very well," said Johnson, who described the small group of Democrats at BYU as "pretty passionate" and well-meaning.

Others, like Knight, see the current scrutiny of these conservative campuses as the usual double standard. "If observers are worried about censoring political views on campus, they should look at the real egregious cases occurring every day on every state-run campus in America," he said. "They are perfectly comfortable with conservatives being shouted down at these tax-supported institutions. The hypocrisy is monumental."


If the British Government won’t learn, nor will children

In the new schools White Paper the need to impart basic knowledge has been obfuscated by jargon and dangerous guff

It would be nice if education ministers had take the five-year MoT they propose for teachers — if any stayed long enough in the job. There’s definitely something wrong with the steering in the Education Department. This week’s Schools White Paper left me bewildered. I am a diligent student of bureaucratese, but I couldn’t decide if it was dangerous or anodyne, a U-turn or a bunny hop — until I realised that an important component seemed to have fallen off.

Education, it seems, is no longer primarily about the transfer of knowledge. According to the White Paper, education is about pupils developing a “sense of responsibility for themselves, their health, their environment and society”, a “respect and understanding for those of different backgrounds” and “skills for learning and life”.

There is nothing much wrong with any of these. But it is hard to see how they, or any of the new quangos that litter the document, will make up for our failure to impart basic knowledge to enough children. The guide for children and young people (ugh) with the White Paper opines that “your health and happiness matter as well as maths and English”. There is no suggestion that health and happiness might depend on acquiring basic competence in those subjects.

I dug out the 2005 Schools White Paper, written when Lord Adonis was still driving common sense and ambition into the department. The 2009 paper is called “A commitment from the Children’s Plan: your child, your schools, our future”, and says that it is about “pupil entitlement”. The 2005 model was called simply “Higher Standards: better choice for all”, and aimed “to ensure that every school delivers an excellent education”. It talked about giving schools freedom to innovate, letting parents and others set up new schools, and making local authorities commission, not provide, education. It was written with logic and clarity.

The change is profound. Today’s well-meaning guff is most dangerous to those children whom ministers most want to help: the ones whose families don’t own books and won’t be supplementing their happiness hour with a private tutor. The ones assumed to be capable of “engaging” only with SpiderMan, not Michelangelo. Who, if they have the misfortune to be curious about the world, to want to step beyond the confines of what they already know, may become convinced that school is pointless. And may be right.

Those who feel most strongly about this are those who teach the most deprived. At a conference staged by the Hackney Learning Trust this week, two researchers presented compelling evidence from the US that raising the expectations of poor children is the most important factor in turning low-performing schools into high-performing ones. Hackney, which escaped the dead hand of its local education authority seven years ago, has broken the link between deprivation and poor performance.

Greg Wallace, head of Woodberry Down Community Primary School in Hackney, says that lecturing on emotional development “can do more harm than good”. Most of his pupils are on free school meals and a quarter are refugees. The school overcame hostility to refugees, Mr Wallace says, by teaching inference, deduction, reading and setting texts that helped other pupils to empathise with their plight, not by making them “pass bags around a circle and talk about how they feel”.

In six years the school has gone from being rated very weak to outstanding. The critical factor has been raising expectations. It considers some government measures of achievement, such as Level 4 SATs, are too low. It ditched the national literary strategy for synthetic phonics in 2002, because it wanted all its children, not just 80 per cent, to be able to read.

If such a school can surpass all expectations, why are ministers so keen to entrench failure? In the past two years, most comprehensives have given up offering separate chemistry, physics and biology because the Government endorsed a combined science GCSE. While independent schools increasingly opt for rigorous international exams, state schools get dumbed-down exams and Ed Balls’s new “diploma”.

As new Labour trickles away, it leaves Britain with one in five 11-year olds below the required standard in literacy, more independent school pupils getting three As at A level than in the entire state sector and the country falling back shamefully in many international league tables. But in the new order of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, standards and international scores have apparently risen. And schools offer the hope of solving the myriad social problems that the department thinks as important as education. The department now believes that “no school can meet the needs of all its pupils alone”. To solve social problems they must work in partnership with other schools and agencies, including new children’s boards and multi-agency teams.

I strongly believe that the mania for multi-agency working was central to the death of Baby P and fails other children — the bureaucracy sucks good people into meetings and saps them of responsibility. So I read the new acronyms in this paper with mounting despair. Good teachers do not speak this language, which is essentially the language of failure.

Even the proposed five-year MoT for teachers is a limp measure. Mr Wallace says that good heads do not wait five years to spot a bad teacher — they do it in six weeks. Michael Gove, the Shadow Schools Secretary, said yesterday that 13 per cent of trainee primary teachers were being allowed to resit basic literacy and numeracy tests three or more times, an astonishing figure. The Tories will set a higher bar for teacher training — in other words, weed out bad trainees before they enter classrooms. But that kind of ambition and logic has departed this Government.

The new ministers seem to have learnt nothing from the successes of the most disadvantaged schools. The danger is that pupils will learn nothing either.


Australian schools: More waste of "stimulus" money

Having bureaucrats spend money is a disaster. They don't give a stuff. They deny it where it's needed and grant it where it's not. It sounds like they just roll dice to make their decisions

A school with just one pupil for 2010 has been given a $140,000 government grant to build a covered playground - even though it already has a new one. Another $110,000 grant from the Rudd Government's $14.7 billion education stimulus package will be used for classroom refurbishment at tiny The Lagoon Public School, 20km from Bathurst in New South Wales central west.

But even locals say it is a shocking waste of money. The tiny rural school has one teacher and five pupils, two of whom go to high school next year. The mother of two girls there said she was considering transferring them to a larger school. That would leave just one pupil - the teacher's daughter - as the beneficiary of the federal funds.

The school is one of 1500 to receive Primary Schools for the 21st Century program funds. Government documents show it has been given $140,000 for a covered open learning area (COLA) and $110,000 for "upgraded classrooms".

But a neighbour told The Sunday Telegraph that the school had a new shaded learning area built just two years ago. "This school has been granted $250,000 for a COLA and classroom refurbishment - it already has a COLA, which was built over summer approximately two years ago," he said.

Monica Betts, whose daughters attend the school, said the funds could have been spent attracting more pupils. "It is a lot of money," she said. "They could have spent $50,000 trying to get more people here."

NSW Opposition education spokesman Adrian Piccoli said the program had been flawed. "Small schools need to be maintained, just like larger schools do, but it's the height of incompetence to spend borrowed money on unnecessary projects," he said.

The Opposition cited five new schools that received funding under the 21st Century scheme. One was John Palmer Public School, which got $546,000, despite opening only last year.

Australian Council of State School Organisations president Steve Carter said he was extremely frustrated by the scheme's inequitable allocation. "We would very much prefer a tighter, better thought out, needs-based allocation of funding, managed properly to give local school communities the resources they need," he said.

Arthur Phillip High School, in Parramatta, had sought money to repair its walls, floors, roofs and sewerage, but was rejected. Keira High School missed out on funds from the Science and Language Centres program, despite labs, built in the late 1960s, being below safety standards. Rooty Hill High also missed out, despite mould in its labs and cupboards falling off the wall.

Federal Education Minister Julie Gillard blamed the NSW Government for the funding decision and sought an urgent review of the school's eligibility. "The NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) must have assessed that it was in need of new or refurbished facilities," a spokesman said. "The Deputy Prime Minister has requested her department to hold immediate discussions with the NSW DET to investigate claims that this school may be non-viable in 2010".


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