Thursday, February 04, 2010

Mosque University

Dutch politician Geert Wilders is being tried in Amsterdam over some controversial remarks he made about terrorism and Islam. I’m glad I live in the United States of America, where such a trial would be prohibited by the First Amendment. I’m also glad I don’t teach at Temple University in Philadelphia, where students now have to pay an unconstitutional after-the-fact security fee levied by the university. This fee was for hosting none other than Geert Wilders.

The notion that it is permissible to charge a student group extra fees for security simply because a speaker's views are controversial (read: not approved of by university administrators) might be acceptable at the University of Havana or the University of Beijing. But it should never happen in America.

Geert Wilders came to Temple University on October 20, 2009. Wilders was invited in the wake of a controversy surrounding his film “Fitna” which was released in 2008. The film was controversial because it features passages of the Koran interspersed with scenes of violence on the part of Muslims. The movie was shown during the presentation at Temple. Extra security was provided and there was no disturbance.

On December 3, Temple University Purpose (TUP) – the group that hosted Wilders -was surprised with a bill from Temple for $800 for a "Security Officer." This came with the explanation that the charge was for the costs "to secure the room and building."

TUP Interim President Brittany Walsh pointed out that Temple had said – prior to the event - the university would pay any extra security costs. But, after repeated emails, she has received no substantive reply. This is odd because, as one can see from their mission statement, TUP is not a conservative group – the type most likely to be singled out for such treatment:

“The mission of Temple University Purpose is to advocate for justice and equality of oppressed and underrepresented populations. The Temple University Purpose welcomes the whole of the student body of Temple University’s Main campus schools. Demonstrated through advocacy, on behalf of vulnerable populations, towards the eradication of oppression, and guided by the NASW Code of Ethics, the Temple University Purpose honors diversity and is dedicated to social change, social justice, and social unity. The Temple University Purpose provides an open forum in which conventional and unconventional views are exchanged and challenged to enhance understanding of and appreciation for others’ strife, values, devotions, and passions. The voice of every member is most valued, shall always be heard, and genuinely considered, as it is the foundation of the Temple University Purpose. Through active participation in the community, it is possible to contribute to the development of not only one as an empathic human being but, also, to the growth of our immediate and surrounding society. The Temple University Purpose firmly believes in embracing and challenging scholarly discussion of most-critical issues and debates on present developments concerning the open field of social work and society in all parts of our country and world.”

Obviously, this group is being punished financially because it hosted a speaker likely to offend a particularly volatile segment of the population. As a consequence, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has written to the president of Temple. In that letter, FIRE cited the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992), which says, "Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob."

Temple is a public university and is bound by the Supreme Court's decisions. If they are smart, they will go the way of four other public universities—the University of Colorado at Boulder; University of Massachusetts Amherst; University of California, Berkeley; and University of Arizona—and abandon such security fees before they get sued.

Two years ago, Temple's speech code was struck down by the Third Circuit. That lawsuit was handled by my friends at the Alliance Defense Fund. If the university does not begin to respect the First Amendment, additional humiliation and litigation are certain to follow.

My message to Temple University President Ann Weaver Hart is simple: You have been warned. Reverse your course of action or face the consequences. If you do not think I am serious, just ask former Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough.


What a degree's really worth in earnings

A COLLEGE education may not be worth as much as you think, the Wall Street Journal reported today. In recent years, the nonprofit College Board touted the difference in lifetime earnings of college grads over high-school graduates at $US800,000 ($899,000), a widely circulated figure. Other estimates topped $US1 million ($1.12 million). But now, as tuition continues to skyrocket and many seeking to change careers are heading back to school, some researchers are questioning the methodology behind the high projections.

Most researchers agree that college graduates, even in rough economies, generally fare better than individuals with only high-school diplomas. But just how much better is where the maths gets fuzzy. The problem stems from the common source of the estimates, a 2002 Census Bureau report titled "The Big Payoff." The report based estimates on average high school and college graduates' earnings then multiplied the difference by 40 years, a rough working life span, to get the result.

"The idea was not to produce a definitive 'This is what you'll earn' number, but to try and give some measure of the relative value of education attainments," says Eric Newburger, a lead researcher at the Census and the paper's co-author. "It's not a statement about the future, it's a statement about today."

Mark Schneider, a vice president of the American Institutes for Research, a non profit research organisation based in Washington, calls it "a million-dollar misunderstanding." One problem he sees with the estimates: They don't take into account deductions from income taxes or breaks in employment. Nor do they factor in debt, particularly student debt loads, which have ballooned for both public and private colleges in recent years.

SOURCE (See more in the WSJ article linked at the source)

Failing government schools entrench the grip of the middle classes on top British universities

ELITE schools and the middle classes are tightening their grip on top universities, defying years of government attempts to curb their dominance, according to evidence presented to inquiries ordered by Lord Mandelson. The Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity favoured by Gordon Brown, has blamed “stark inequalities” in standards between comprehensives, grammar and independent schools for hindering change.

The trust finds that in 13 leading institutions, an elite of 200 schools won nearly 38% of places in 2007, a figure that had hardly changed since 2002. At Oxford and Cambridge they took 44.4% of places.

The evidence gathered by the trust, chaired by Sir Peter Lampl, the philanthropist, is likely to be used as ammunition by supporters of “positive discrimination” policies, when universities automatically favour candidates from poorly performing comprehensives.

“Universities, schools and the government have made considerable efforts to widen access to highly selective universities,” said Lampl. “But this evidence reveals the extent of the challenge we are facing.”

The study has been sent to Sir Martin Harris, former vice-chancellor of Manchester University, who has been ordered by Mandelson to draw up guidance for how universities should increase the numbers of students from state schools and poorer families. The trust recommends that they ought to create additional places reserved for these applicants. Harris’s inquiry, which will report in March, is expected to form part of the “aspiration” agenda backed by Gordon Brown and Mandelson for the election. It has led to fears that universities will be pushed into “rigging” admissions.

Critics argue it is justifiable to use talent-spotting schemes to favour individual pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds with strong ability. But they oppose “handicap systems” used by universities including Durham, which apply “modifiers” to help the applications of every pupil at a school with poor GCSE grades.

John Morgan, head teacher of Conyers comprehensive in Stockton-on-Tees and president of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “I don’t think any of us are happy with the idea that if you go to a particular school you are given modified points or a lower offer. It has to be about the individual.”

The Sutton Trust study also analysed admissions to three groups of universities — Oxford and Cambridge, the Russell Group of 20 research universities and its own selection of 13 institutions — and found similar patterns in each. The report will also be submitted to a review of university funding chaired by Lord Browne, former head of BP, the oil firm.

Between 2002 and 2007 the proportion of independent school pupils admitted by the top 13 universities, for example, rose from 32% to 33%, while those from the poorest socio-economic groups stayed at 16%. The figures contrast with a report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England that found big rises in university attendance by poorer groups. However, this looked at higher education as a whole and did not analyse research institutions separately.

The trust attributes the dominance of independent and grammar schools not to social elitism by universities but to their better performance at A-levels and their teaching of more academic subjects, such as science and languages.

Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said the trust’s figures were “a little out of date and do not reflect the fact that efforts by Russell Group universities to widen access and improve results in schools are making inroads into the stubborn problems of educational disadvantage”.

Tim Hands, master of Magdalen College school, Oxford, who chairs the joint universities’ committee of two independent school groups — the HMC and the Girls’ Schools Association — said: “With funding cuts and the emphasis on strategic subjects such as science and engineering, of which we are the key providers, this situation will only become more pronounced. “What is required is honest attention to problems in our education system which have been government-induced, not ineffectual social engineering.”


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