Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sacramento student body president back on the job after ADF letter to college officials

College agrees that recall election violated state law, but student government seeking to impeach him anyway

Sacramento City College’s Associated Student Government agreed Thursday to vacate its “suspension” of the student body president after he was subjected to an illegal recall election for refusing to censor a pro-life group’s display on campus. Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom representing Steve Macias issued a cease-and-desist letter to college officials on Nov. 5.

Unsatisfied, some ASG members have begun impeachment proceedings against Macias in the wake of the failed recall.

“Respecting people’s First Amendment rights is worthy of praise, not punishment,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel David Hacker. “The recall election against Steve was wrongly motivated and flawed. The entire process against him began because he stood up for the free speech rights of a pro-life group. In their haste to punish him for that stand, ASG members did not follow the law. Though we are pleased that they recognize this problem and reinstated Steve as president, we are disappointed with the ongoing and apparently relentless attempt to punish him by seeking to impeach him from office.”

Macias informed ADF attorneys that he refused to censor a pro-life group’s display on the grounds that ASG had already approved the group to participate in the school’s Constitution Day and that censoring them would violate the group’s First Amendment rights. ASG then subjected him to a recall election.

An attorney for the school has informed ADF attorneys that Macias will retain his office and that the recall election results are void because the election was not conducted in a manner consistent with state law. However, on Nov. 2, the ASG Judicial Branch reportedly received an application form to impeach Macias because the election had failed to remove him from office.

“We believe this is a baseless and discriminatory attempt to silence the voice of the opposition through whatever means possible. ADF will continue to monitor Steve’s situation,” Hacker said.


Oxford and Cambridge universities relying more on their own entrance exams

The inevitable result of dumbed down High Schools and grade inflation

Students are facing a battery of new tests to get into Oxford and Cambridge amid continuing fears that A-levels fail to mark out the best candidates. More than 70 per cent of Oxford applicants are required to sit an entrance exam in subjects such as history, English, languages, mathematics and science this term, compared with 50 per cent just two years ago.

The development has fuelled a dramatic rise in demand for private tutors set up to help teenagers negotiate the admissions process. One company reported a doubling in the number of enquiries for coaching specifically to pass Oxbridge entrance tests.

It comes as record numbers of school-leavers attempt to get into the two universities in 2010. Oxford has already announced a 12 per cent rise in applications, with a similar increase expected at Cambridge.

An increase in entrance tests – sat by thousands of candidates this month – will fuel fears that tutors are finding it increasingly difficult to select the best candidates from record numbers of pupils leaving school with at least three As at A-level. In the mid-1980s, fewer than half of Oxbridge applicants gained straight As, but this year every candidate is expected to achieve the feat.

Earlier this month, the Government announced a major review of university admissions, suggesting that A-levels should not dictate entry to the most sought-after courses.

Mike Nicholson, Oxford’s director of admissions, said: “Without aptitude tests as part of the admissions process, it would be impossible for Oxford to effectively shortlist candidates for interview in the subjects that are most over-subscribed. “When we are presented with 17,000 candidates for around 3,200 places, all of whom have glowing references and excellent academic records, aptitude tests and interviews allow us to differentiate between the very best and the very good.”

Applications to Oxford and Cambridge close in October – before the deadline for other universities. Both institutions largely abolished entrance exams in most subjects in the mid-90s under pressure from state schools which claimed they discriminated in favour of pupils from the private sector. But tests have been slowly reintroduced over the last decade. Students applying for 36 different subjects at Oxford are now required to take a pre-interview aptitude test. Subjects such as experimental psychology and PPP (philosophy, psychology and physiology) were added for the first time this year.

At Cambridge, students take a generic “thinking skills” tests after applying to study computer science, economics, engineering, land economy, natural sciences and PPS (politics, psychology and sociology) at some colleges. For the first time this year, Cambridge is also running its own law exam after dropping the Law National Admissions Test, which is used to dictate entry to many courses across the country. Most exams are taken in the first week of November or early December.


British university students betrayed by mindless Labour Party hype

Education, education, education. The almost half a million undergraduates who started at university this autumn probably don't remember Tony Blair's pre-election clarion call. And why should they? They were most likely only six or seven years of age when he promised to put their learning at the top of a Labour government's priorities; one rather suspects that their priorities at the time were eating sweets, watching cartoons and avoiding Nitty Nora the head explorer.

But back to that lovely little mantra. It probably doesn't cross Mr Blair's mind much now that he is raking in millions around the globe as a public speaker. Yet this week, 12 years on, the results of all that education, education, education were laid bare when the Office for National Statistics revealed that 746,000 18- to 24-year-olds are unemployed – a record rate of 18 per cent. It is thought that about 100,000 of those are university-leavers who, despite their degrees, cannot find jobs.

All those years of education, education, education and then they graduate around £20,000 in debt into a world where there are precious few opportunities for them, partly because Labour let the banks run wild and then run off with all of our money as a reward. (Oh, were it that the Government pumped even a fraction of that money into this country's academic institutions. But nah, let's make the students pay through the nose for their degrees that will probably end up being about as useful to them as their 50-metre swimming badge.)

It's nothing short of scandalous. David Blanchflower, an economist who used to help the Bank of England set interest rates, has even gone as far as to call it a "national crisis". In an interview last weekend, he said that "two groups have been affected in this recession. One is those that made foolish decisions and bought houses and racked up debt. I don't feel sorry for them. The other group is the young. They did all the right things. They paid for their degrees and now they have come out into the big world and there are no jobs for them."

But let us speak to the students themselves. My friend Ed, bright as a button, graduated from Cambridge with a 2:1 in English – yet as the nights draw in so, he feels, do his chances of gainful employment. Then there is Hannah, who left Warwick University in 2008, went on to complete a law conversion course this summer, and is now used to receiving "thank you, but no thank you" letters from companies. "I am struggling to earn the minimum wage in London," she says.

One of the people Hannah is now competing against for jobs in law is Catriona, who tells me that she has been doing voluntary work since graduating last year. "It's very depressing," she says. "I'm worried that once firms start recruiting again I'll be left behind, as by then there will be several years of graduates competing for the jobs."

Here I feel the need to question the Government's obsession with getting so many people into university. Designed to create opportunities for more people, it has instead produced disappointments, and for some people crushing ones – this, they say, could be a lost generation who never get jobs.

A degree used to get you employed because of the simple fact that there were fewer people with them. Now that everyone has one, their worth has been diminished. Indeed, perhaps it is time to accept that many people would have more success not going to university. Tom Mursell certainly believes that to be true. The 20-year-old set up notgoingtouni.co.uk, a website which he describes as an alternative Ucas. "I was quite militant about it when I left school," he says. "There was all this pressure to go – your parents, they want to be able to say in social circles that their child is going to university – but I wanted to look at the alternatives." He says that there is a snobbery around apprenticeships that should not exist. "There are all sorts of things you can do without a degree."

Are we really better educated than we were before Labour came to power? Perhaps a more appropriate mantra for Blair would have been this: qualifications, qualifications, qualifications. Qualifying for what, I am not sure.


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