Thursday, May 07, 2015

Trigger warning: College kids are human veal

Abetted by idiot administrators, today’s students seem incapable of living in the real world

Every time we seem to have reached peak insanity when it comes to the intellectually constipated and socially stultifying atmosphere on today’s college campuses, some new story manages to reveal vast new and untapped reservoirs of ridiculousness. In a world of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and official apologies featuring misgendered pronouns that start a whole new round of accusations, wonders never cease.

So when ’60s-radical-turned-Reagan-fanboy David Horowitz shows up at University of North Carolina to equate Islam with terrorism for the thousandth time, the student body gets the vapors, tries to shut him down, and creates the hashtag #notsafeUNC.

When a student publication prints a story called “So You Want to Date a Teaching Assistant?” in a special satirical issue, the whole run gets pulped.

When Laura Kipnis, a feminist professor at Northwestern, publishes an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education extolling her experiences sleeping with professors while a student, two current undergrads lodge complaints with the university’s Title IX office.

What does it say about the state of the campus today that comedian Chris Rock says he skips college tours now because today’s students are too “conservative”? He doesn’t mean that in a political sense. He means “in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody.”

But really, what is wrong with kids these days and, more important, the supposed adults who look after them? They act as if they are raising human veal that cannot even stand on their own legs or face the sunlight without having their eyeballs burned out and their hearts broken by a single deep breath or uncomfortable moment. I’m just waiting for stories of college deans carrying students from class to class on their backs.

As a first-generation college student way back when, one of the very greatest things about college was engaging with ideas and attitudes that were different than what you already knew. Attending Rutgers in the early ’80s, you could walk from one end of the centuries-old College Avenue Campus to the other and encounter screaming matches over divesting the stocks of companies that did business in South Africa, whether Nicaragua was already a Soviet satellite, and the supposedly self-hating theology of Jews for Jesus.

Hardly a week went by, it seemed, without a public demonstration for and against the burgeoning gay rights movement, a protested showing of the anti-abortion movie Silent Scream, and debates over how great and/or evil Ronald Reagan actually was. The whole idea of college was about arguing and debating, not shielding ourselves from disagreements.          

Even as it seemed to be an all-you-can-eat buffet of exotic new ideas, outrages, and attitudes, it wasn’t paradise, and I shudder to think of the insensitivities that were taken for granted by the privileged and internalized by the oppressed of the day. Nobody wants to return to the days when campus was segregated by race, gender, and lest we forget, class.

But the way students and especially administrators talk about college today, you’d think parents are paying ever-higher tuition so their children can attend a reeducation camp straight out of China’s Cultural Revolution. It’s as if college presidents, deans, and the ever-increasing number of bureaucrats and administrators and residence-life muckety-mucks walked away from Animal House firmly believing that Dean Wormer was not only the hero of movie but a role model. At all costs, order must be enforced and no space for free play or discord can be allowed!

A case in point is the administrative reaction to an April 16 lecture at Georgetown University by Christina Hoff Sommers. Way back in the 20th century (1995), Sommers, then a professor at Clark University, published Who Stole Feminism?, a wide-ranging and controversial critique of what she termed “gender feminism.” Where “equity feminists” such as herself pushed for legal and political equality under the law, Sommers accused “gender feminists” of discounting massive and ongoing improvements between the sexes, calling for privileged status for women and, ironically, reinscribing the idea that females needed special protection from brutish males.

Fast-forward 20 years. Sommers is now a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and talking at one of the nation’s leading basketball factories at the request of the College Republicans and the Clare Booth Luce Institute, a conservative organization named for the late playwright, stateswoman, homewrecker, and acid-eater. Sommers’ talk, titled “What’s Right (and Badly Wrong) with Feminism,” was in no way mandatory (like chapel used to be at religious schools) and it contained no surprises to anyone even barely acquainted with her work.

In a nutshell, Sommers still believes in “equity feminism” and still abjures “gender feminism.” She talked about the themes of her 2001 book, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism in Harming Our Young Men, which started as an article in that seething crucible of misogyny The Atlantic. And she covered similar ground to that discussed in her popular YouTube series, The Factual Feminist.

During her talk, which can be viewed online here, protesters stood with signs warning that Sommers might trigger post-traumatic-stress flashbacks. They also denounced her as a rape apologist. (She regularly notes that sexual assaults have been declining for years, especially on college campuses, and she’s argued that Rolling Stone’s retracted story of a nonexistent gang rape at the University of Virginia exemplifies how ideology clouds the minds of many activists, journalists, and scholars.) At various points, some of the protesters asked questions and Sommers gamely answered them.

So far, so good. This is exactly the way college is supposed to work. Student groups invite speakers who give talks and answer questions. Words are exchanged, ideas debated, tempers flared, and everyone walks away hopefully a little wiser in epistemological humility or, more likely, even more secure in the fact that she alone possesses Truth with a capital T.

Then there’s Georgetown, which boldly claims to provide “a unique educational experience that prepares the next generation of global citizens to lead and make a difference in the world.” Which in this instance means demanding that the protesters’ faces and questions be edited out of the video posted at YouTube by the Clare Booth Luce Institute. The university’s assistant director of the center for student engagment, Lauren Gagliardi, emailed the College Republicans demanding that an “edited version [of the video] needs to be released without students who did not give permission to be taped.” Gagliardi also threatened that if the folks at the Luce Institute were “unwilling or unresponsive to the request, [then] Georgetown will need to step in.”

Good luck with that. Over at the blog Legal Insurrection, Laurel Conrad of the Luce Institute is having fun with the request and staking out a common-sense defense, writing, “It stretches credulity that Georgetown and its students would not understand that the lecture was a public event. The video camera was in plain view, and audience members themselves appear to be taking video and photos. It could not shock any student that he or she was on camera.”

In her post about the incident, Conrad invokes the “Streisand Effect,” which refers to attempts to shut down publicity that inadvertently increase it. (In 2003, La Barbra tried to block publication of her Malibu home in an online public database of aerial photographs, which caused over 400,000 people to access the site hosting the picture. Before Streisand’s demand, the image of her spread had been accessed just a half-dozen times.) By raising a stink, Georgetown has made the incident and video bigger than it ever was by inspiring news coverage on Fox News and at various news sites (including this one).

Perhaps the negative publicity from threatened reprisals will help break the spell that lies upon today’s campus climate like a patient etherized upon a table. Or perhaps all the stories of political correctness run amok and demands for “freedom from speech” are wild exaggerations and the phenomenon barely exists outside the confines of a few elite academies warehousing the overindulged offspring of America’s upper classes until they are shunted off into make-work jobs at their parents’ firms.

Either way, this much seems likely: Today’s students are even less prepared to deal with anything approaching the real world than those of us who graduated into a world that didn’t even pretend to care what our senior thesis was about. Take it from me, kiddos: The whole world is a microaggression when it isn’t openly kicking you up and down the street. And if your vast clone army of administrative busybodies can’t fully protect you from disappointment on campus, they’re even more useless once you’ve graduated and start paying off your student loans.


Charter schools and the aspiring classes

There is significant research concluding that the ever-spreading charter schools in the U.S. are markedly improving pupils’ performance. Charter schools are free to attend, open to all children and publicly funded but independently run – the most similar comparison close to home being the Free Schools Programme in England. Since the first charter school law passed in Minnesota in 1991, almost seven thousand have opened with two and a half million children now being educated in a charter school.

Previous studies have looked at lottery estimates. These compare how charter applicants perform when admitted to a charter school with how they would have performed had they attended a state school as the randomness ensures there are no systematic differences between those selected and not selected. But these studies do not account for pupils who never applied to a charter school and ended up attending one. Or for pupils attending charter schools for which demand is weak.

A new discussion paper (pdf) by Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Joshua D. Angrist, Peter D. Hull, and Parag A. Pathak does just this by testing the treatment effects of charter school attendance on middle-schoolers that are part of the new takeovers in New Orleans and Boston.

Takeovers see traditional state schools closed and then re-opened as charter schools. Students enrolled in schools designated for closure are eligible to be ‘grandfathered’ into the newly-opened charter schools. This means that they are guaranteed a place.

What this new paper finds is that highly disadvantaged students have experienced substantial gains in their achievement after enrolling in takeovers passively. It was previously believed that urban charter lottery applicants enjoy an unrepresentatively large benefit from charter attendance because they are either highly motivated or uniquely primed to benefit from the education these schools offer. Now we have both estimates from grandfathering and lottery-based research that weigh against this view.

These successes have also prompted similar approaches to be explored in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee despite the controversy caused by the proliferation of charter takeovers in New Orleans, Boston and elsewhere.

Charters Without Lotteries: Testing Takeovers in New Orleans and Boston is one report of what is becoming a substantial compilation of literature on why charter schools are working. They are some of the top-performing schools in the country with a higher percentage of charter school students accepted into a college or university. They are raising the bar of what is possible and should be expected in public education.

Teachers in charter schools are given the freedom to innovate and have more powers to explore the best practices. The schools can adopt themes and focus on specific fields like STEM subjects, performing arts or meeting the special needs, for example, of autistic children.

How charter schools are quickly extending choice to the poorest is exciting. And crucial. It is not widely recognised that choice already exists – but for the wealthiest. The most privileged can not only afford private schools but through the state school catchment system the housing market is the market for schools. An accepted way of boosting real estate is by improving schools as families want to buy houses in areas with good schools. School choice gives the poor a way to access the already existing market.

The disadvantaged are on the rise and benefiting more than ever from state education as a result of what is the best prominent educational movement in the U.S right now.


For-profit college chain files for chapter 11 bankruptcy

After Education Department pressure

Embattled for-profit college operator Corinthian Colleges Inc. on Monday filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the final step toward a full shutdown in the wake of a financial crisis that began last summer.

Corinthian’s bankruptcy filing Monday morning came as a group of former-Corinthian students lobbying for blanket forgiveness of their debts said they canceled a meeting with the U.S. Department of Education for fear that the department would use the meeting to announce extremely strict loan-forgiveness procedures.

When Corinthian said last week that it had closed overnight all of the 29 schools that hadn’t been sold in an earlier deal or previously wound down, 16,000 students that were enrolled at the time of the shutdown became eligible to have their student loans forgiven. However, the tens of thousands of students that previously attended a Corinthian school aren’t eligible because they weren’t enrolled at the time of the closure.

The bankruptcy filing doesn’t legally change those students’ bid for loan forgiveness, but the timing does highlight the law’s disparity between corporate and student debt, said Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the nonprofit student-debt advocacy group Institute for College Access & Success.

“Our laws allow for a clean start for corporations,” Ms. Abernathy said of the current bankruptcy laws under which Corinthian is seeking protection, “and essentially the students are requesting the same things.”

She added the Corinthian students are seeking essentially the same relief that would be provided under so-called lemon laws, which don’t require each purchaser of a car that is shown to be a lemon to prove individual harm.

“Corinthian was essentially a lemon,” she said.

Corinthian spokesman Joe Hixson Monday disputed that, saying, “Hundreds of thousands of satisfied students who completed their programs, passed relevant certification programs and earned employment in their chosen field.”

The Department of Education didn’t provide specific comment Monday about the meeting with Corinthian students.

However, in a statement the department said, “Corinthian’s bankruptcy filing follows aggressive enforcement actions taken by the Department to protect students; bringing accountability and transparency to the entire for-profit college sector remains a top priority for us. The Department remains committed to protecting students and ensuring that those who have been hurt by fraud—including at Corinthian—receive the debt relief they are entitled to.”

Corinthian’s bankruptcy filing does put a halt to pending litigation against the company, including scores of lawsuits brought by state attorneys general and federal agencies alleging the company used illegal tactics in marketing itself to students and inflated of job placement rates—charges the company has consistently denied. The filing also will allow the company to liquidate what remains of its assets to repay creditors and lenders.

At its high point, before a cash crunch threatened to take the company down overnight, Corinthian Colleges employed more than 10,000 people, operating more than 100 campuses attended by 81,000 students.

Early last year, the Education Department asked for certain educational statistics from the company, which Corinthian said it couldn’t produce by the deadline. In response, the agency placed a 21-day hold on the company’s access to federal student loan funding. Corinthian eventually provided more than 1.2 million pages to the department in response to the request, the company said in court documents.

That funding accounted for 90% of Corinthian’s revenue and the company said it wouldn’t survive. Ultimately, the Education Department agreed to provide Corinthian with enough federal funding to keep operations going as it attempted to sell some of its assets and wind down the others. That process was still going on until April 22 when the last potential buyer for its remaining schools withdrew from the process, forcing the immediate shut down.

But during the roughly 10-month long process, Corinthian did manage to sell 50 campuses to ECMC Group, a nonprofit education company that specializes in the collection of student loan debt. As part of that deal, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau helped negotiate $480 million in private student-loan forgiveness, but federal loans weren’t affected.

Since then, hundreds of former students have organized under a group called the Debt Collective and began refusing to repay student loans, arguing that all Corinthian students should receive blanket student loan forgiveness because of the fraud allegations.

The company listed assets of $19.2 million and debts of $143.1 million in its chapter 11 petition filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del.

Corinthian said it filed for bankruptcy with the support of its lenders to “conduct a prompt and responsible closure of the campuses in the interest of the Debtors stakeholders, including creditors, employees and students.”


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