Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tel Aviv students afraid to challenge leftist professors

In faculty memo, TAU prof. says some students fear penalty for expressing contrary viewpoints in class

Tel Aviv University students are hesitant to express their political views in class, lest lecturers perceived to have left-wing political views penalize them with lower grades, the head of TAU's Department of Curriculum and Instruction wrote in an internal memorandum last month. Prof. Nira Hativa's comment in the faculty memo ignited controversy among professors, with some declaring that her sentiments should not be made public.

Hativa wrote: "There are no small number of students of lecturers with left-wing views who complain bitterly that they are extremely offended by the presentation of materials that oppose their views, but are fearful of expressing contrary viewpoints in class, lest it harm their grades."

In response to the uproar, Hativa, who is currently abroad, wrote Haaretz this weekend that "the things I wrote in the context of an internal disagreement are based on intuition and my personal impressions."

The chair of the university's students' union, Shahar Botzer, said his organization receives a number of complaints each year from students dissatisfied with what they view as lecturers' biased portrayal of material in favor of left-wing positions. He said that such complaints are the exception, however, rather than the rule.

"If lecturers express their views in class in a way that makes it illegitimate to express contrary views - that is inappropriate and unacceptable to us," Botzer said. "This university is founded on pluralism and on the ability to express a variety of opinions."

Hativa's statements were prompted by a story in the Haaretz English Edition on rightist activists monitoring lecturers who are considered to have leftist views, as well as an article in Maariv on what it described as the right-wing views of Daniel Schueftan, deputy director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa.

"At the end of each semester, I read comments from several hundred students on the teaching they receive," Hativa wrote on October 23. "I have come across many complaints from students about a small number of lecturers in various fields, who express radical left-wing opinions in their classes - that they are lashing out at the State of Israel, the army, the Zionist movement and worse."

TAU said in response that "informal discussions are held frequently on controversial issues, and people feel 'at home' in expressing opinions based on their understanding and intuition. The university is an institution where pluralism is a guiding principle."


The Lost Boys

This week, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced that it will investigate whether colleges discriminate against women by admitting less qualified men. It will strike many as odd to think that American men would need such a leg up. From the men-only basketball games at the White House to the testosterone club on Wall Street, we seem surrounded by male dominance.

And yet, when looking to America's future—trying to spot the future entrepreneurs and inventors—there's reason to be troubled by the flagging academic performance among men. Nearly 58% of all those earning bachelor's degrees are women. Graduate programs are headed in the same direction, and the gender gaps at community colleges—where 62% of those earning two-year degrees are female—are even wider.

Economists at both the Department of Education and the College Board agree that, to ensure high future earnings, men and women have an equal need for college degrees, and yet only women are getting that message. The numbers are startling. This summer the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University published the results of a study tracking the students who graduated from Boston Public Schools in 2007. Their conclusion: For every 167 females in four-year colleges, there were 100 males.

In theory, the surge in the number of educated women should make up for male shortcomings when we're looking at the overall prospects for the economy. But men and women are not the same. At the same levels of education, women remain less inclined to roll the dice on risky business start-ups or to grind out careers in isolated tech labs. Revenue generated by women-owned businesses remains less than 5% of all revenue. And while the number of women taking on economically important majors is rising, women still earn only a fifth of the bachelor's degrees granted in physics, computer science and engineering.

Why males don't seem to "get" the importance of a college education is a mystery, especially considering the current collapse of jobs that traditionally don't require post-high-school study. (Even "cash for clunkers" isn't going to mark the return of car companies as a major employer of uneducated men.) And who could miss the message of the recession, where as many as 80% of the workers laid off have been male?

Too many boys arrive at their senior year of high school lacking both the skills and aspirations that would get them into, and through, college. At a typical state university, a gender gap of 10 percentage points in the freshman class grows by five points by graduation day, as more men than women drop out.

All this explains why colleges have been putting a thumb on the scale to favor men in admissions. There just aren't enough highly qualified men to go around. Determining that colleges practice discrimination doesn't take much detective work. Higher acceptance rates for men show that colleges dig deeper into their applicant pool to find them. The final proof: Freshman class profiles reveal that the women, with their far higher high-school grade point averages, are more academically qualified than the men. Interviews with admissions officers reveal that the girls' essays sparkle compared to the boys', and girls far outshine boys in extracurricular activities as well.

The Commission on Civil Rights cited an example written about in U.S. News & World Report in 2007: Virginia's University of Richmond was maintaining its rough gender parity in men and women only by accepting women at a rate 13 percentage points lower than the men.

It would be patriotic to report that this discrimination against women is carried out in the national economic interest of boosting graduates in key math and science fields. But, in truth, it's really a social consideration. Colleges simply want to avoid approaching the dreaded 60-40 female-male ratio. At that point, men start to take advantage of their scarcity and make social life miserable for the women by becoming "players" on the dating scene.

The case to abolish male gender preferences is problematic. Most of those male preferences are granted by private colleges, which consider themselves on solid legal ground. (Some public colleges and universities also grant those preferences at considerable legal risk, an indication of the depth of the fear about broaching that 60-40 threshold.)

In truth, these gender preferences are a sideshow. The real issue is the flagging academic interest among boys, a phenomenon that dates back only about two decades. It's a new issue to most Americans but hotly debated in countries such as England. So far, nobody has solved the boy mystery, but some countries are years ahead of the U.S. Australia has had some success with literacy-boosting programs for young boys. Until the code gets cracked, there's a national economic interest in keeping those preferences in place—just for a few more years.


British Leftists angry at evangelicals' charity scheme

Teacher union leaders are warning schools to vet the charities they support after complaints from parents about a scheme to send gifts to the developing world run by an evangelical Christian group.

Under Operation Christmas Child, schoolchildren are asked to fill a shoebox full of presents and wrap it up before the charity Samaritan's Purse distributes the boxes to children in Africa and eastern Europe. Last year 1.2m boxes were sent by children in the UK and the charity received £23.5m in voluntary donations.

A booklet of Bible stories is sent with the boxes to some countries, including a pledge that children are asked to sign to "become God's child today", attend church, read the Bible and convince friends to do the same.

Samaritan's Purse is part of an American evangelical organisation run by the Rev Franklin Graham, who has called Islam "a very wicked and evil religion". The charity has been criticised in the past and five years ago was told by the Charity Commission to change its literature.

This year's campaign has sparked a debate between parents on website Mumsnet. Mandy Rabin, a parent in north London, said her children's school had withdrawn from the scheme. "The evangelical nature of this organisation is in complete contrast to the ethos of the school," she wrote.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: "Schools … have to be careful of the background of sponsors of these schemes. It's a minefield – careful vetting is required."

Samaritan's Purse insists it now makes clear in all its information that it is a Christian organisation.


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