Saturday, September 25, 2010

Honor denied to terrorist Ayers

When retiring University of Illinois at Chicago Professor Bill Ayers co-wrote a book in 1973, it was dedicated in part to Sirhan Sirhan, Robert F. Kennedy's assassin.

That came back to haunt Ayers on Thursday when the U. of I. board, now chaired by Kennedy's son, considered his request for emeritus status. It was denied in a unanimous vote.

Sirhan Sirhan was one of more than 150 "political prisoners" to whome the book "Prairie Fire" was dedicated. Sirhan is serving a prison sentence for assassinating Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968.

Before the vote, an emotional Chris Kennedy spoke out against granting the status to Ayers. "I intend to vote against conferring the honorific title of our university to a man whose body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father," he said. "There can be no place in a democracy to celebrate political assassinations or to honor those who do so."

Later, Kennedy told the Chicago Sun-Times he and the board have not seen any signs of remorse from Ayers in the nearly 40 years since the dedication. "There's no evidence in any of his interviews or conversations that he regrets any of those actions -- that's a better question for him," he told the Sun-Times.

Kennedy, who was 4 when his father was killed in 1968, said the board's decision did not hinge on his own personal feelings. "The decision was grounded in great university governance," he told the newspaper. "Obviously, there was a personal angle for me, but Ayers' actions were inconsistent with open dialogue and debate that should define any great university." Ayers should not expect any change in that position.

"He asked for this privilege," Kennedy said. "He's not going to get it from me or that board."

In his remarks to the board Thursday, Kennedy noted that emeritus status is a privilege and not automatic, and that Ayers had initiated the request. "Our discussion of this topic therefore does not represent an intervention into the scholarship of the university, nor is it a threat to academic freedom."

Emeritus status at the U. of I. is purely honorific and does not include perks granted by some other schools, such as office space, insurance benefits and free parking.

University spokesman Tom Hardy said no one could recall the last time a request for emeritus status had been denied. "It's highly unusual," he said.

Before he became a professor of education at UIC, Ayers was a co-founder of the radical anti-Vietnam War group the Weather Underground. The group participated in several bombings, and Ayers spent time on the run from the FBI. Federal charges against Ayers were dropped, and he joined the UIC faculty in 1987.

The dedication to Sirhan Sirhan appeared in the book Prairie Fire. Sirhan was one of more than 150 "political prisoners" to whom the book was dedicated.

Ayers went on to contribute to Chicago's school reform program and was one of three co-authors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge grant proposal that won $49.2 million to study public school reform. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Ayers' connections to Barack Obama became a lightning rod. Ayers has denied any close association with Obama.

Contacted by a reporter, Ayers declined to comment about the board's action, but when he announced his retirement in August, his former boss, Vicki Chou, dean of UIC's College of Education, told the Sun-Times, "He's done a spectacular job as a teacher here."

Kennedy told the board that he "is guided by my conscience and one which has been formed by a series of experiences, many of which have been shared with the people of our country and mark each of us in a profound way. "My own history is not a secret. My life experiences inform my decision-making as a trustee of the university."


Nanny State Goes to College

The Department of Education (DOE) has proposed new rules for accrediting colleges and universities, including expanding the power of states to authorize higher education institutions, definitions of what constitutes a “credit hour,” and de facto price controls through measures to ensure graduates’ “gainful employment.” According to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the new rules will mark a substantial shift in the accrediting process:
Current regulations do not define or describe the statutory requirement that an institution must be legally authorized in a state. Under the new rules, the institution’s authorization must be subject to adverse action by the state. [The DOE] notes that, while state authorization was in the past viewed as a “minimal” requirement, the Department now views state authorization as a “substantial requirement where the State is expected to take an active role” not only in approving institutions but also in monitoring and “responding appropriately” to public complaints about institutions.

The DOE has also proposed a new rule pertaining to the definition of a credit hour, which could include standardizing the definition of a credit hour by the federal government.

But Sylvia Manning, president of the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association (a regional accrediting agency for 19 states), argued that universities are better equipped to establish the metrics that demonstrate student learning than is the federal government, especially when it comes to non-traditional higher education—such as what the University of Phoenix offers.

“Alternative modes of delivery, most notably Internet-based distance delivery that permits a student to participate in classroom activities at any time from anywhere, make nonsense of the idea of seat-time,” says Ms. Manning. Federal overreach into the definition of a credit hour would end up increasing the amount of resources spent by universities in “demonstrating compliance with the regulation.”

Finally, the Administration has proposed a new “gainful employment” rule that would affect virtually all for-profit private higher education institutions. The new rule is based on a requirement in the Higher Education Act, which requires for-profit universities to provide “an eligible program of training to prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” According to Inside Higher Ed, the new rule would create three tests for for-profit colleges to qualify for federal financial aid funding:
The debt-to-earnings ratio, the debt-to-discretionary income ratio, and the loan repayment rate. If a program does better than the department’s preferred standard on any one metric—8 percent debt-to-earnings, 20 percent debt-to-discretionary income, 45 percent repayment rate—then it is fully eligible for Title IV [funding].

Insider Higher Ed also notes that, according to Terry Hartle of the American Council of Education, the new gainful employment rule is “the most complicated regulatory package that the Department of Education has ever promulgated—this really is a brave new world.” The DOE will issue final rules by November 1, 2010, in order to have the new gainful employment regulations take effect by July 1, 2011.

Some U.S. Senators have voiced support for the gainful employment regulations, including Tom Harkin (D–IA), Dick Durbin (D–IL), and Al Franken (D–MN). But in a letter signed by numerous Representatives on the House Education and Labor Committee, Ranking Republican Member John Kline and others expressed concern that “the proposed regulation imposes arbitrary debt-to-income caps. The result will be virtually the same as federal price controls, rewarding low-cost institutions regardless of quality and limiting students’ access to higher-cost institutions.”

Whether it’s through new, powerful state accrediting authority, federal definitions of credit hours, or price controls imposed through gainful employment measures, the Obama Administration appears intent on limiting the growth of the for-profit college sector. But it’s not just the for-profit schools like Capella and DeVry Universities and technical colleges that could be affected.

In a July 30 letter sent to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, former Senator Bill Armstrong, now President of Colorado Christian University, expressed concern that the proposed rules would “subject both public (government owned and operated) colleges and universities and private schools to ‘substantive’ regulation by state government.”

The regulations under consideration by the DOE would have the net result of encumbering student access to higher education and weighing providers down with compliance burdens. Many for-profits could even be forced to close their doors.

During these tough economic times, the last thing the Obama Administration should be doing is creating a bottleneck in the pipeline to employment by limiting access to higher education for working-class families.

Manning summarizes the matter well:
Voluntary accreditation has been in place in the United States for over a hundred years and has handled issues related to the evaluation of quality for most of that time. … What strikes us as curious is that the call for minimum thresholds in matters such as the credit hour and program length runs counter to the country’s expressed interest in increasing, significantly and rapidly, our nation’s attainment in higher education. To meet our national goals for educational attainment and a workforce for the 21st-century economy, higher education is asked—by policy makers, legislators, foundations, opinion leaders—to break out of old molds, seek efficiencies, open doors, reach new populations. Strict accreditation requirements based in 19th-century models don’t seem likely to get us there.


Why are so many British Liberals against school choice?

One of the many ‘storms in a teacup’ at the Liberal Democrat conference has been about school choice. Lib Dem members have successfully passed a motion against Michael Gove’s free schools and several lively fringe debates have been had on the subject. The question is why would any party that purports to be liberal reject the idea of giving parents and schools more freedom?

While we may speculate as to why this is, we should note the existing schools system is both unfair and needlessly bureaucratic. Currently, parents who are not wealthy enough to send their children to private schools, have no choice. The central planners at the LGA’s ‘match’ supply and demand for school places, somehow entrusting in Soviet style economic models which have been laughed out of existence elsewhere. House prices reflect the local schools quality, leading to ‘post code lotteries’ and making a mockery of any claims that the system is comprehensive (not that it should be).

Peter Downes, the Lib Dem councillor who tabled the motion seems to be quite happy with this. He says, “"Academies and free schools are likely to be divisive, costly and unfair. They're in the statute book, on the shelf, and that's where they should stay."

Downes’ evidently relies on the state to magically provide better schools, arguing that the most dangerous element of free schools is "the idea that the principles of the marketplace can be applied to state-funded education". Downes is clearly rejecting the self-evident way forward in providing greater choice, a concept that was first laid down by Andrew Adonis and is now picked up by Gove and the Coalition.

Quite how schools are meant to improve without being subject to the market forces is between Downes and his comrades against the Coalition. No doubt they purport the answer lies in ‘great resources’ (read: more money) for schools.

Without some element of competition or rights to exit from a market (for parents to take their children elsewhere), Britain’s schools will remain in the sclerotic socialist system we have today. Successive ministers in both Labour and Conservative governments have clearly seen that this cannot continue, and have sought the obvious alternative in markets and freedom of choice. The only question is, when will the Lib Dem’s wake up and smell the coffee?


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