Monday, February 25, 2013

Brown Shirts at ECU

Mike Adams

East Carolina University (ECU) has launched a new campaign that attempts to pressure employees to affirm homosexuality despite their religious and moral objections to the lifestyle. Couched in the language of safety and inclusion, the program promises to brand as intolerant those who refuse to accept the university's official position on matters of private sexual morality. This is especially problematic, given that ECU is a public university.

The campaign was launched with a profoundly unwise email, sent by university employee Summer Wisdom under the subject line "Gay? Fine by me." She begins:

"This spring the LGBT Resource Office (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) is hosting a program called 'Gay? Fine By Me' and we would love for you and your department to share in this opportunity. The LGBTRO will be ordering shirts that say 'gay? fine by me' and distributing them to faculty, staff and students to promote an atmosphere of support on campus. This simple message helps to combat homophobia by publically (sic) affirming our LGBT community and creating an inclusive environment where all students can feel safe to express who they are. The shirts will be distributed free of charge, though the LGBTRO welcomes donations to the project."

Note that Wisdom, while not demonstrating wisdom, does demonstrate honesty in two ways. First, she admits that affirmation, rather than tolerance, is the goal of her movement. Second, she characterizes refusal to affirm homosexuality as evidence of a "phobia," which needs to be combatted. Her position is simple: Pro gay is fine by me. Anything else is not fine by me. She continues her assault on reason:

"Everyone will be encouraged to wear the shirts on campus and to participate in a campus wide ally project where we will create a Human Rainbow during the annual Barefoot on the Mall celebration. Photos of this massive showing of LGBT support will be publicized on the LGBTRO’s website and social media accounts."

Wow. Everyone will be encouraged to wear a t shirt saying "Gay? Fine by me." Why? Because they know there is opposition on the campus and they need to combat it. In other words, they are going to promote inclusion on campus by "encouraging" people to promote a message with which they disagree. Then they will take a picture to preserve a record of those who conformed. These are the same people who oppose prayer in schools because they think kids will be stigmatized for refusing to bow their heads. She continues:

"The LGBTRO would also like to create an internal marketing campaign by taking pictures of ECU faculty, staff, administrators, student leaders and student groups wearing the shirts. This is where you come in. If you, your department or office, or the student group you advise would like to participate, you can reserve the correct number of shirts on the org sync order form below. Shirts will be distributed March 18th - 20th on Wright Plaza, at the LGBTRO ... times and location for the photo shoot will be e–mailed to everyone who reserves shirts or picks one up at Wright Plaza."

In other words, just in case the photo at the Human Rainbow event fails to identify all dissenters, Ms. Wisdom will arrange for departmental photo shoots. So, for example, if there are ten professors in a department and only nine in a picture, we all know who needs an extra nudge in keeping up with "diversity" and "progress." One could say of the photos that if you're not included, then you're not inclusive. She continues:

"The picture will be yours for your own marketing materials but will also be part of a campus wide poster campaign of Pirate Allies. We are also willing to bring a photographer to you if you are part of a large group or department and would like the photo to take place in your own building or during a pre-arranged meeting instead of walking everyone over to our photo shoot. Please communicate with my (sic) directly if you would like to set up something like this. This is a wonderful opportunity to be a part of something great while showcasing support for positive change on ECU’s campus."

Why not offer to put rainbow stickers on the doors - and rainbow buttons on the lapels - of all staff and faculty members who support the cause? That way, when their "Gay? Fine by me" t shirts are dirty, they can have something to transfer from garment to garment. For those who disagree, just give them yellow stars (or come over and sew them on their outer garments). She continues:

"If you or your department would like to participate, the link below will take you to an order form on OrgSync where you are provided multiple options: 1. Reserve the correct number of shirts and sizes for your group, 2. Reserve your shirts AND make a donation to the project, 3. Make a donation to the project without ordering shirts. (Donations to the project of $500.00 or more will add your office or department’s logo to the event publicity flyers as a sponsor)."

Well, that was a real shocker, wasn't it? After all that preaching, she had to ask the congregation for money. Finally, Wisdom signs off:

"Summer Wisdom, LGBT Resource Office, Sociology Instructor."

So Ms. Wisdom teaches sociology. Another shocker! No wonder she is so fixated on ideological conformity. The question is whether ECU department heads will use these photo ops as an opportunity to pressure people of faith into promoting beliefs that conflict with their deeply held religious convictions.


How Universities Devalued Higher Education

By Thomas K. Lindsay
An illuminating controversy erupted recently over a higher-education statistic I employed in a recent op-ed in the Austin-American Statesman. In the piece, I argued that we need strong medicine to mend ailing student-learning outcomes. To accomplish this, I argued, the Texas legislature should enact two bills. The first would require all Texas public colleges and universities to follow and expand on the example of the University of Texas System, which for eight years has been administering the Collegiate Learning Assessment to a statistically significant sample of its undergraduate students — this with the view to measuring “academic value-added,” that is, to measure how much students increased in fundamental academic skills (critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills) as the result of spending four years in college.

It was my second recommendation that sparked doubts. I argued that, “to increase transparency and accountability further, the Legislature should require all universities to include on transcripts not only the grade the student received for each class, but also the overall average grade for the class. This would tell prospective employers whether or not a given student’s high grade-point average was the product of exceptional work or of enrolling in what today’s students call ‘Mick’ (for ‘Mickey Mouse’) courses.”

We need such legislation, I wrote, because studies reveal that the time students spend studying has declined in the last 50 years from 24 to 14 hours a week. “Worse, grades during this period have, paradoxically, increased. Approximately 43 percent of all college grades today are A’s, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960. Inflated grades only serve to diminish the value of a college degree.”

The claim that raised questions was my recounting a study that finds that “43 percent of all college grades today are A’s, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960.” PolitiFact, which has a partnership with the Statesman, was contacted to test the accuracy of my statement.

The results of PolitiFact’s inquiry are a good news/bad news story. The good news (but only from the standpoint of my credibility) is that the assertion scored an unqualified “True” ranking on the column’s “Truth-o-Meter.” To arrive at its judgment, PolitiFact conducted a thorough, professional investigation, questioning a half-dozen sources, chief among them the authors of the grade-inflation study that formed the basis for my claim: Professors Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy. The two academics also explained the basis their findings that, in the 1960s, roughly 15 percent of all college grades were A’s. Unless one wants to claim that students are so much wiser today as to merit the near-tripling of the A’s given a half-century prior, grade inflation is the only explanation left.

The bad news? It’s the same as the good, and infinitely more important: My assertion regarding grade inflation scored an unqualified “True” ranking.

These now-verified facts constitute the rationale for my recommendations to the Texas legislature. The good news here is that last week the “CLA Bill” was filed in the Senate (SB 436), and the “Transparency in Student Transcripts Bill” will soon follow in the House.

My hope is that Politifact’s vindication of my claim will lead to a sober evaluation — in both the legislature and, more important, among the public at large — of the seeming madness currently reigning in grading standards. Such an evaluation may already be beginning to happen. I continue to hear nearly daily from both legislators and citizens about the study. As one recent graduate told me yesterday after reading the PolitiFact piece, “I’m angry. My parents and I spent a lot of real money, in exchange for monopoly-money grades.”


The donor culture in American versus British universities

Comment from a Brit

I came to America for the same reason as most immigrants or expats: money. Yes, I was looking for streets paved with gold, and I found it, in the shape of America’s university system. I am incredibly fortunate, and I do not take my funding for granted, but recent news has reminded me just how different the US and UK are in terms of university assets.

On Wednesday, it was widely reported that Stanford University has set a new record for college fundraising, by becoming the first university to receive donations of more than $1 billion in a single year. This is a significant slice of the all-American apple pie – overall, in 2012, $31 billion was donated across approximately 3,500 U.S. universities. Compare this to UK figures, and it becomes clear why the US is the dream destination for so many international students. From 2009-10, the total sum collected by all UK universities was £693 million, according to a 2012 Review of Philanthropy in UK Higher Education by HEFCE. In one year, then, Stanford received approximately the same amount of money as every single university in the UK combined.

No wonder that universities here are attractive prospects for so many Brits (myself included). I have spent time at two institutions here in the US – Harvard (which came second behind Stanford with $650 million of donations last year) and the Bard Graduate Center. Both institutions are well-funded, both staffed with academics who lead their field. Resources are second-to-none, buildings gleam and are up-to-date, and most students receive significant financial aid.

When I contrast these universities with my alma mater, Oxford (who recently received a newsworthy £75 million for the purposes of supporting the poorest applicants), there are clear differences. Of course, Oxford’s resources are unparalleled in the US – no institution here in America can beat centuries of collections, buildings, and reputation. But in the US, there seems to be far more funding for the best students – more money to support students who need to travel for research, well-funded conferences with budgets for speakers, better staffed libraries with brand new digital services. As I look to return to the UK, I see that funding for graduate students is harder than ever to obtain. Government cuts mean that so many UK universities have hiring freezes, and every year it seems that funded places for graduate students are axed.

Of course, I do not mean to say that all US universities are rich and full of brilliant resources, nor do I want to claim that the UK is lagging behind (far from it, UK universities are justifiably world class). But I do want to draw attention to the culture of giving that is so widespread here, and is still in its infancy in the UK. Donations from alumni are not simply commonplace in America, they are expected. Most universities get students to donate in their senior year, and the ‘Class’ donation is put towards a visible, tangible, gift. Before one even leaves, the habit of giving (usually just $5 or $20 at first) begins. Donations are celebrated, every time I log on to the digital library JSTOR, a little window reminds me that “Your access to JSTOR provided by the generosity of the members of Bard’s Classes of ’62 and ’63 in honor of their 45th Reunion.” At Harvard, I would often notice that a gate had been given by a class, or a building refurbished thanks to a reunion fund. Donors can completely transform a university – it was recently revealed that New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has given $1.1 billion to his alma mater Johns Hopkins, enabling it to transform its campus and increase financial aid. His first donation, of just $5, was as a recent graduate.

Apart from named prizes at Oxford, most donations are not evident – though I understand that students are indebted to the thousands of generous gifts offered by alumni in the UK too. But there is no ‘Class of…” gift, no precedent to give a small sum in one’s final year. As far as I am aware, none of my friends donate, and I will admit that I have not donated either. In fact, I cannot even comprehend giving when I still have outstanding student loans. I was actually offended when Oxford first contacted me to ask for money, as they ‘suggested’ that I write them into my will – a rather blah leaflet asked me to tick a box if I wanted to leave them the entire sum of my assets, or a named amount – all quite morbid when I had received the flyer as part of my graduation information packet.

The main difference, of course, is that American universities tend to be run as businesses. Though there are public state universities, the highest ranked universities are all private enterprises, unlike back in the UK. I think British universities should remain public institutions, and do not want them to rely on students like me for donations. They are making big efforts to attract donors, and are using the US as a model for this, but it will probably take several generations of students before ‘class gifts’ and regular small donations become the norm amongst alumni. Maybe Stanford could give us Brits some crucial tips. For as long as American institutions are pulling in big bucks, there will be a steady brain drain of British students across the Atlantic.


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