Sunday, March 04, 2012

Diversity: The Road to Hell for Black Americans Is Paved With White Benevolence

Often, kindly people believe foolish things, and in her 2003 opinion Justice O’Connor received, unexamined, the foolish notion bequeathed to the Court almost 35 years ago by Justice Powell in Bakke that “student body diversity is a compelling state interest.”

The theme of diversity runs throughout her opinion in the Michigan Law School case. Indeed, it is the basis of her opinion: “…respondents [the law school] assert only one justification for their use of race in the admissions process: obtaining ‘the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.’ In other words, the law school asks us to recognize, in the context of higher education, a compelling state interest in student body diversity….Today, we hold that the law school has a compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body.”

There are many reasons that argue against O’Connor’s opinion, but what seems to have been most neglected is an examination of O’Connor’s use of the concept of Diversity itself in the context of higher education. Although it is used dozens of times in her opinion it remains vague and enigmatic.

She accepts unquestioningly the school’s educational judgment that diversity is essential to its educational mission, and that diversity will “in fact yield educational benefits.” This despite the fact that a study by the National Association of Scholars has shown “that the only educational benefit of proportional representation is…proportional representation itself.” Despite the doubtful claims made by the school that racial diversity “promotes learning outcomes…and better prepares them [the students] as professionals…” these claims remain unexamined in her opinion.

When one searches the decision for some description of the way racial diversity could educationally benefit students one looks in vain. The best that you can come up with is “students who will contribute most to the robust exchange of ideas.” Or “classroom discussion is livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting when students have the greatest possible variety of backgrounds.”

What does this tell us about the notion that racial diversity enhances discussion—any kind of discussion, educational or not? First, it tells us how stupid the idea is that there is such a thing as a Black point of view or an Hispanic point of view. Eminem does not have the same view of the world as Colin Powell, or Phil Ivey, the world class poker champion, any more than my white point of view is the same as my daughter’s point of view.

Secondly, capacity for discussion is largely determined by thinking, and articulation skills, not by race. Educated individuals are better at discussion because the process of education occurs by means of verbal communication. Different occupations allow individuals to practice verbal skills more or less—teachers more, farmers less. Some families encourage verbal skills, some encourage sports skills. But how can having Blacks, or Hispanics in a class enhance robust discourse, by virtue of their ethnicity alone?

The only educational courses in which uninformed opinions are welcomed, are what is known among students as bulls..t courses—courses in which no education takes place because there is no tradition of knowledge that must be communicated to the student. All opinions are equal, all views are acceptable. These courses are usually centered on some multicultural, or ethnocentric subject—Discrimination in America 101. Such courses will be greatly enhanced by testimonies of racial discrimination from Blacks and anybody else who feels discriminated against.

Any program or course that teaches a discipline which has a body of knowledge, a method, a set of principles, and a body of facts acquired empirically will not have “bulls..t” courses in its curriculum. The teachers of such courses, if they are responsible, will be obligated to use class time to minimize discussion which is not focused on doing the job at hand—teaching the curriculum. Such teachers are not interested in a student’s opinions about the material, only that he or she understands it. Discussion in such classes exists for the purposes of clarifying the material, and only that.

Let’s take a course in neuroscience 101. The professor is not interested in the students’ opinion about the Amygdala (a part of the brain) but only that they understand that its function appears to be storing affective memories and the evidence for that currently accepted hypothesis. There could not possibly be any value in encouraging debate or discussion from the students about this matter simply because their opinions would not be informed opinions. Such a teaching attitude is not repressive, nor does it lead to crushing students’ imaginative or creative impulses. It is just common sense.

You wouldn’t want to learn about the way the brain works from your teenage son or daughter. You would want to hear the story from someone who really is well informed about it. And educational time is a precious commodity. The attitude of the professor of neuroscience towards robust discussion and disagreement is altogether different in a post-doctoral seminar on the Amygdala. There, free discussion is highly desirable, because the discussants are well-informed and the discussion occurs on the very cusp of what is now known.

The fact is that “higher education” is not very high. What passes for education in college is in reality an introduction to knowledge. Even in professional schools, like medical school, the student spends most of his or her time and energy in learning the most basic things in a vast array of clinical and non-clinical science. This is what a cancer cell looks like under a microscope. This artery is called the carotid artery. The signs and symptoms of inflammation are such and such. Baby medicine really. And there is not much room for robust discussion here either; you better know the stuff cold or you don’t get out of medical school—or if you just squeak by you won’t get an internship or residency. Or your colleagues won’t send patients to you. Real medicine starts when you start practicing. Nothing focuses the attention more than having a patient come to see you with a symptom you recognize is serious.

Now let’s turn to the University of Michigan Law School and their claim that racial diversity benefits the educational process by encouraging classroom discussion that “is livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting.”

Here is a description of the course in the law of property at the University of Michigan’s Law School:

“A basic survey of the law of property which examines the forms and methods by which property interests are held, used, and transferred, with emphasis on real estate. Includes present and future estates, concurrent ownership…. bailment, easements, promises respecting the use of land, water rights, control of air space, nuisance, adverse possession, gifts of personal property, vendor and purchaser, conveyances of land, land title insurance….”

A more spirited discussion on the law of easements? You must be joking. Clearly this is a survey course with much basic material to be got through in the time available, not much time for robust debate.

Now everybody who has seen the film “The Paper Chase” knows that one of the techniques in the teaching of law school is the Socratic method. The trouble is that anyone familiar with Socratic dialogues understands that the furthest thing from Plato’s mind in writing Socratic dialogues is a free flowing bull session in which every one’s opinion is equal. Students seek Socrates out to be enlightened, because he has the power to lead them from their error to his truth and wisdom. The same is true in law school. The professor has the right idea, and he engages the students in questioning to see if they have the right idea. And since some of the ideas are complex and subtle, many of the students must expose their ignorance or error in order to be corrected. The professor is not really interested in dinner party conversation, or even a more lively, spirited discussion by the students. He is interested in getting the basic ideas across, and if, in the bargain, out of his narcissism and exhibitionism he can present himself as being spirited, lively, and interesting, all the better.

The University of Michigan makes clear that the work of the first year of law school is the standard curriculum taught in most law schools. “Most of the work for the first year is required. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that there are some basic principles which any serious and thoughtful student would choose to study early in his or her career. The study of this fairly traditional material has become one of the experiences shared by almost all lawyers.”

And here is part of the Law School’s statement on the course in civil procedure: “This course is similar to the introductory civil procedure courses taught at most law schools for the last two or three decades…. In common with most courses, this course covers the basic institutions of civil litigation…. At least the rudiments of claim and party joinder and res judicata also are covered. Unlike most first-year civil procedure, however, this course does not cover any of the variety of topics loosely described as jurisdiction. Those topics have been moved into the upper level elective course in Jurisdiction and Choice of Law.”

The fact is that there is big chunk of basic learning that has to be accomplished in law school and there is little time or use for bull sessions—lively or otherwise. The classroom discussion is primarily for clarification, getting the concept right—not for spirited debate.

The basis for O’Connor’s decision was her unexamined acceptance of the idea that racial diversity in itself in some way has educational benefits. This notion is largely a sham, an empty suit, meant to disguise the same old, same old un-American social engineering practices, stacking the deck in favor of preferred groups—often made up of individuals who have never suffered discrimination—and against groups whose members may be innocent of discrimination themselves. Fairness requires getting rid of state empowered favoritism in all its forms.


British University targets 'discriminate against private schools'

Almost half of elite universities are setting targets to boost the recruitment of state school students, it has emerged, prompting fears privately-educated pupils face being penalised.

An analysis of official documents shows 15 out of 32 leading research institutions in England want to increase the proportion of places handed over to state pupils over the next five years. This includes Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, University College London and Warwick. Some universities such as UCL are seeking a 10 per cent rise in admissions from the state sector.

It also emerged that a number of institutions are barring students educated in independent schools from applying for lucrative scholarship programmes worth thousands of pounds.

The disclosure is made in a series of agreements drawn up between individual universities and the Government’s Office for Fair Access, which was set up by Labour to ensure the poor are not put off by higher tuition fees. It is likely to prompt fresh concerns over attempts to “socially engineer” university admissions.

The move follows claims from Prof Les Ebdon, the incoming head of OFFA, that universities failing to hit their targets could face “nuclear” penalties, including huge fines.

Last night, independent school leaders warned against “generic discrimination”, insisting they would fight any attempt to downgrade student applications “just because of the kind of school they come from”.

In recent years, the number of privately-educated pupils admitted to top universities has grown, with early indications that admissions will rise again in 2012. But Tim Hands, master of Magdalen College School, Oxford, said universities should resist attempts to “politically manipulate” results.

“It’s no secret that top universities resent interference with their admissions,” he said. “They don’t see why tertiary education should be forced to compensate for problems which government incompetence over secondary education has created in the first place.”

From this September, universities in England are able to charge up to £9,000 in annual tuition fees – almost three times the current total. Any institution attempting to charge more than £6,000-a-year must draw up an “access agreement” – signed off by OFFA – outlining targets and initiatives designed to ensure students from disadvantaged groups are not deterred by fee hikes.

In many cases, academics are targeting pupils from deprived families, those living in postcodes with a poor history of going on to university and schoolchildren previously involved in summer schools and other outreach programmes.

But an analysis of documents shows that many selective universities are also setting targets specifically relating to state schools. In all, 15 out of 32 mainstream English universities belonging to the Russell Group and 1994 Group – the two main organisations representing research institutions – want to increase state school admissions by 2016.

UCL, which currently has two-thirds of places going to state students, is targeting a 10 per cent rise, while Warwick is proposing an 8.5 per cent rise. Cambridge wants to increase the proportion from 59 to 62 per cent, while Durham is proposing a similar hike.

Other universities targeting state pupils include Exeter, King’s College London, the London School of Economics, Bath, Sussex and Queen Mary, University of London.

Private schools claim the move amounts to discrimination because it fails to account for the large number of independent pupils from poor homes who receive bursaries and those whose parents go the extra mile to cover fees. It also wrongly implies that all students from state schools – including those from sought-after comprehensives and academically selective grammar schools – are disadvantaged, it is claimed.

Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, attacked the enforced use of targets, saying more emphasis should be placed on raising achievement of state schools instead of tailoring admissions. But she added: “We know that even with good grades state school students are much less likely to apply to top universities than those at independent schools. “We cannot offer places to those who do not apply.

"By encouraging more qualified students from state schools to apply to us through outreach and access schemes, our universities will have a wider pool of applicants from which to select the brightest and the best.”

Prof Michael Farthing, Sussex University vice-chancellor and chairman of the 1994 Group, said: "Every institution faces a unique set of fair access and widening participation challenges and must be trusted to respond in the most appropriate way."

A UCL spokesman said admission was “only ever based on academic merit”, adding: “All successful applicants are required to satisfy our programmes' rigorous entrance requirements. Our access agreement does not contradict that fundamental principle.”

Cambridge said it set its target because a “representative balance between the [state] maintained and private sectors would be achieved if between 61 and 63 per cent of UK entrants come from the maintained sector”.


Major British universities reveal explosion in student cheating over the last three years

The number of students caught cheating at top universities has surged over the past three years, figures reveal. Thousands were found guilty of plagiarising, taking notes into exams or buying essays on the internet.

Nearly 1,700 students at 20 leading institutions were disciplined for academic misconduct in the year 2010-11 alone, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act. Around 100 were expelled.

Offences on the rise include cutting and pasting essays from the internet, bringing mobile phones into exams, impersonating other candidates and copying from classmates.

At Oxford University, one student was fined £100 for taking revision notes into an exam, while last year Cambridge stripped a graduate of his history PhD for ‘multiple instances of plagiarism’.

Cambridge also revealed instances of cheating recorded during this academic year, including the case of a land economy student who had their degree reduced from a 2.1 to a 2.2 after being found with a textbook in the exam hall.

And last October a medicine student was found guilty of plagiarism after using material from a sample exercise published as a learning resource.

The Freedom of Information request was sent to the country’s top 30 universities, as ranked by the independent Complete University Guide 2012. Of those, 20 supplied figures.

The University of Lancaster had the worst record with 194 incidents of cheating during the last academic year – up from 175 in 2009-10. It was followed by the University of East Anglia, which recorded 187 incidents of academic misconduct compared with 175 the year before.

Bath reported 182 incidents, a sharp rise from 66 in 2009-10.
Newcastle, where Princess Eugenie is studying history of art, English and politics, had 166 incidents – marginally down from 169 the year before.

‘Academic misconduct’ covers a range of offences including plagiarism, submitting work bought from essay banks, handing in the same piece of work for separate assignments and impersonating another student.

Sanctions range from docked marks to expulsion. In the last academic year alone, 100 students were expelled from the 20 universities for serious academic misconduct. King’s College London has expelled the most – 44 over the past three years.

In the last academic year, 1,665 students were found guilty of academic misconduct, a slight fall from 2009-10 when the figure stood at 1,849 students from 21 universities. The year before, 1,597 students were disciplined for the offence, making a total of 5,111 over the past three years.

The surge in cheating has been attributed in part to the cut-throat job market, which is piling pressure on graduates to do well.

There has also been an explosion in the number of websites that sell coursework – and universities are becoming more adept at spotting such plagiarism, thanks to specialist software.

The figures will fuel concerns over slipping academic standards, at a time when universities are also facing criticism for dumbing down degrees. A report last month found that English universities are ‘not keeping pace’ with international standards. For example, some have dropped maths from certain degree courses because students and their lecturers cannot cope with it.


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