Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Where Credentialism has led

Burlington College closes under unwanted spotlight

Burlington College closed its doors for good on Friday.

Burlington College, once a thriving school for artists, now looks abandoned and bereft. The huge red-and-white sign congratulating graduates remains, but faculty name placards have been pulled from the walls. Empty nails line the corridors, and the front doors are locked.

After 44 years of operation, the college closed for good on Friday. And the timing couldn’t be worse: As they salvage artwork and pack up classrooms, former students and faculty are under an unwanted national spotlight because of their former leader.

Jane Sanders, the college’s president for seven years, is campaigning across the country for her husband, Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for president. She was the head of the college during a massive land deal blamed by many as the catalyst for closure of the school.

These last two weeks, students have been scrambling to transfer to other colleges and graduates have been rushing to save thesis projects promised to be archived in perpetuity as faculty members apply for unemployment while pulling together resumes for new jobs — all under the glare of a presidential campaign.

“It just has been a distraction,” Carol Moore, the college’s president, who was hired last year, said in an interview on campus earlier this week. “We’ve all been trying to focus all of our energies moving the college forward and to no particular end.”

But people want to talk about the “political race,” said Coralee Holm, the school’s dean of operations and advancement.

“We’re not really concerned about the political scene,” she said, sitting across from Moore in the president’s conference room. “So that’s been a real bummer. Neither one of us was here when Jane Sanders was here, and there’s no real connection, since we’ve been here as far as what’s going on at the institution.”

Jane Sanders served as president from 2004 to 2011, and during her tenure the school purchased 32 acres of nearby lakefront property from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington for $10 million. School officials said the goal was to expand the small, liberal arts school from about 150 students to 700 — or so was the thought. Administrators planned for tuition from the expanding student population to cover the cost of the new campus.

It didn’t. Burlington College never came close to the necessary number of students. Jane Sanders resigned as president in 2011 — about two years before her contract ended, according to the Associated Press.

The school sold about 80 percent of the new property to a developer last year, but Burlington College remained on probation from its accrediting agency because of its financial situation.

Even after the school sold the property, the debt from the land purchase and the property taxes were “crippling,” Holm said on Tuesday. Yves Bradley, chair of the school’s board of trustees, called the debt “crushing.”

The school came close to bridging the financial gap but ended about $350,000 short, said Moore, the college president. The bank pulled the plug in April.

“We were three months financially short of making it successful. We had a strong incoming class,” she said. “We would’ve had a surplus next year.”

Bernie Sanders’ campaign defended his wife’s tenure at the school, saying she helped it climb out of debt and become accredited as a “masters-level institution.”

“. . . She left the college with a detailed plan for the future, none of which was implemented,” said Michael Briggs, spokesman for Sanders’ campaign, in the statement, which did not specifically address the land deal. “Mrs. Sanders has tremendous respect for both the current and past Burlington College faculty, staff and students and . . . is terribly disappointed with its closure.”

Burlington College started as a group of nontraditional students — returning Vietnam veterans, single parents, and those seeking alternatives to higher education — meeting in Steward LaCasce’s living room in 1972.

And much of the school’s philosophy was the same when it closed. Faculty didn’t lecture, and students were practitioners of their studies — everything from film production to transpersonal psychology. Much of the study was self-guided, with professors acting as mentors.

Seventy students were registered to begin classes this coming fall — 30 of them new to the college.

But students were told May 16 that Burlington College would close. It was two days after graduation, where LaCasce gave the commencement address and Eric Farrell, the developer who bought part of the property, received an honorary degree.

Next semester would have been senior Jon Chamis’s last at Burlington College. The 23-year-old was wrapping up his bachelor’s degree in film production with a focus on screen writing.

Now, the Connecticut native will be completing his degree at Goddard College, a low-residency school that requires students to be on campus only eight days a semester. He had five days to find this alternative.

Chamis was part of a mock funeral students staged to mourn the death of their school. “I held the casket,” he said. “How do you process all this in five days?”

Recent graduate August Cyr resents that administrators sat through the graduation ceremony knowing it would be the last and students did not, saying it “ruined” her memory of graduation.

Cyr said she had become used to fielding questions about the health of her school given its negative publicity. Despite her love for her alma mater — and Cyr loves it — being a student there became stressful given the turmoil wrought by the land deal. That deal has also become ammunition for Vermont Republicans to use against Sanders.

The vice chair of the state GOP is asking for a federal investigation into the purchase of the land.

“I had a five-second conversation with myself: ‘Yeah, Jane and Bernie Sanders are connected and how do I feel about Bernie?’ ” Cyr said. Ultimately, she said, she’s still supporting his candidacy.

Dylan Kelley, a 2012 graduate of the school, wants to hear two words — “I’m sorry” — in response to what he described as a “real fracturing of the community.”

“We deserve an apology and some level of accountability,” he said.

But Sanders, for one, is not likely to apologize.

“Mrs. Sanders has not commented on Burlington College since she left in 2011, and she will continue in this vein,” said the statement from Sanders’ campaign.


School Choice Now More Than Ever

Two things happened this past week that make the most powerful case ever for school vouchers.

First, the Department of Education’s ruling that public schools will soon have to allow transgender bathrooms and shower facilities.

Many parents around the country are so infuriated by this ruling that they see no other alternative than to pull their sons and daughters out of the public schools. The Obama ruling applies only to public institutions, not private schools. Schools should be places that promote family and religious values rather than undermine them.

One advantage of parental choice in education through vouchers or scholarships is that values issues are left to the parents not politicians. Schools can announce their policies on issues from condoms or sexual identity accommodations to the best educational curriculum, and parents pick the schools accordingly. No one’s civil rights are violated and everyone is happy.

The only problem is that many poor parents can’t afford private tuition on top of the taxes they pay to finance the government schools. A voucher allows them options beyond the assigned school they are required to attend. Blacks have traditionally been a demographic group highly opposed to gay marriage, so it is doubtful that African American parents will be thrilled with transgender ‎bathrooms and showers in public schools. Solution: Give them a voucher to opt out.

The second alarming event was the announcement on Tuesday that segregation in public schools is getting worse, not better. The study by the Government Accountability Office that the percentage of schools with “racial or socioeconomic isolation” has nearly doubled (from 9 to 16%) between 2001 and 2014. These segregated schools tend to perform worse. As Democratic Rep. John Conyers put it: “There can be no excuse for allowing educational apartheid in the 21st century.”

‎We have recreated an education system that is separate and unequal with the poor stuck in the worst inner city schools.‎ Inadequate spending is not the problem. Cities with some of the worst government-run schools in the country–places like Chicago and Washington, D.C.–spend $15,000 to $20,000 per student. Many catholic schools in these cities spend one-third to one-half less, and get much better results.

The obvious, and perhaps the only solution, is school vouchers. Free the children. This will allow the poorest kids to go to superior public, private, or religious schools that perform better academically. ‎We know in Washington, DC, where voucher programs already exist, voucher kids are more likely to graduate and go on to college than those stuck in the public schools.

One thing is certain. The unions hate vouchers because it means fewer jobs and union dues for the labor bosses. But who are the schools for? The teachers or the kids?

The findings in the GAO study remind us that one of the best ways to put our kid’s education first, is to offer universal school choice for all parents regardless of income or skin color. It is also a way to allow parents to choose schools that reinforce the values they want imparted on their children.

‎Thanks to the Obama administration’s radicalism, millions of children will be now stuck in schools that the parents believe are unsafe and immoral. Millions more are stuck in failing schools that are racially segregated. Fifty years ago George Wallace wouldn’t let minority poor children into the public schools. Now the unions and others on the left won’t let minorities and poor children out. ‎It’s hard to know which is worse.


The Perils of Writing a Provocative Email at Yale

Last fall, student protesters at Yale University demanded that Professor Nicholas Christakis, an academic star who has successfully mentored Ivy League undergraduates for years, step down from his position as faculty-in-residence at Silliman College, along with his wife, Erika Christakis, who shared in the job’s duties.

The protesters had taken offense at an email sent by Erika Christakis.

Dogged by the controversy for months, the couple finally resigned their posts Wednesday. Because the student protests against them were prompted by intellectual speech bearing directly on Erika Christakis’s area of academic expertise, the outcome will prompt other educators at Yale to reflect on their own positions and what they might do or say to trigger or avoid calls for their own resignations. If they feel less inclined toward intellectual engagement at Yale, I wouldn’t blame them.

Nicholas Christakis will continue on as a tenured Yale faculty member. Erika Christakis, who gave up teaching at Yale last semester, recently published a book, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups.

She has no future classes scheduled.

The controversy that culminated in this week’s resignations began last October, when Erika Christakis was teaching a Yale class called “Concept of the Problem Child.”

An expert in early childhood education, she’s long been critical of ways that adults deprive children of learning experiences by over-policing their behavior. When Yale administrators sent an all-students email advising Yalies to avoid “culturally unaware or insensitive choices” when choosing their Halloween costumes, Erika Christakis responded with an email of her own, acknowledging “genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation,” lauding the “spirit of avoiding hurt and offense,” but questioning  whether students were well-served by administrators asserting norms rather than giving them space to shape their own.

“Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity—in your capacity—to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you?” she asked. “What does this debate about Halloween costumes say about our view of young adults, of their strength and judgment? Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people? It’s not mine, I know that.”

Many students were outraged by the email, particularly a portion that Erika Christakis attributed to her husband: “Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”


No comments: