Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Harvard looks to Bowdoin as model in eradicating frats, but its decision had mixed results

This "dilemma" that Harvard is facing should be no dilemma at all.  What gives Harvard the right to interfere in the private lives of its students?  There is no such right but they have arrogated it to themselves anyway.  Might is right, apparently.

It is perhaps notable that the Harvard boss is Drew Faust. In literature, Faust sold his soul to the Devil. Ms Faust seems to have done likewise.  There is no evidence of a systematic ethical system in her thinking. 

Her thinking seems to be at the absolutely primitive level of:  "Young men get drunk and behave badly.  That should stop". She is a new Canute if she thinks she can indeed stop it. Maybe she should be exported to run a Muslim college somewhere.  They don't drink.  But whether they treat women better is a relevant question

I think she should be grateful for her campus of normal, robust,  healthy males.  That they don't fit submissively into a Puritan straitjacket is probably a strength not a weakness.  Women have been coping with their men for centuries without Leftist assistance.  There are always grievances but grievances are the price of opportunity

When Robert Edwards became president of Bowdoin College in 1990, he had an open mind about fraternities. He had attended Princeton and belonged to Colonial, one of the university’s exclusive eating clubs. But as he built his reputation at the elite liberal arts school in Brunswick, Maine, he began to have his doubts.

Edwards ultimately shut down all the fraternities at Bowdoin in 1997. Twenty years later, Harvard University is attempting a similar feat. A Harvard committee has pointed to Bowdoin as a model for eradicating final clubs, fraternities, and sororities from campus social life.

Harvard administrators share some of Edwards’s concerns. He did not like the heavy drinking or the way some members seemed to disrupt classes. Although the fraternities were coeducational, some treated women like second-class citizens.

Finally something tragic pushed Edwards over the edge: A student from another college died at a Chi Delta Phi party on Bowdoin’s campus. The 20-year-old fell three stories while trying to climb onto the roof.

“I thought that my future and the future of the college would have a lot to do with whether or not fraternities persisted,” Edwards said in an interview. “We had a really rather terrifying piece of evidence that this was not the sort of combination of institutions that could persist if we wanted to be a certain kind of place.”

But Bowdoin’s experience should also serve as a caution: Students and alumni say the elimination of fraternities hasn’t wiped out drinking and parties, just driven them off campus.

And former fraternity members say the school has lost the deep sense of community the fraternities had cultivated over more than a century.

“Fraternities become easy scapegoats to allow administrators to make it look like they’re doing something,” said Thomas Clark, who was a sophomore the year the decision to close the fraternities was revealed.

The former Bowdoin president said he is glad his school wrestled with this problem 20 years ago rather than today. Harvard has experienced major resistance not only from the clubs and their alumni but also from civil liberties advocates, who say the school is big-footing into students’ private lives.

“The political atmospheres then were less strident than they are now,” Edwards said.

There was plenty of objection at Bowdoin, too. The fraternity that most strongly resisted was the oldest of the eight, Alpha Delta Phi, a nerdy club whose members read literature aloud to one another each night before dessert.

The fraternity’s members felt at home there. The chapter gave women equal membership status and accepted minorities and LGBT students who felt otherwise out of place at the well-to-do, mostly white college.

“It shattered a lot of us because we felt like it was a rejection of our family,” said Clark, who was president of Alpha Delta Phi the year it closed.

In those days, Alpha Delta Phi’s two-story brick house on Maine Street had a fireplace always crackling and squishy couches donated by parents. Members quoted “Star Wars” and amused one another with comic-book references. At one point the presidents of both the college Democrats and the Republicans lived in the house. “Which made for great dinner conversations,” Clark said.

Similarly at Harvard, not all final clubs are prone to a party culture, and some organizations say they have been unfairly lumped into a category where they do not belong.

When Bowdoin administrators announced the decision to ban fraternities, Alpha Delta Phi members took chalk to the outside of the house and left a message for the administration: “Alpha Delta Phi Will Never Die.”

At the time, Nessa Burns Reifsnyder was the alumni president of the fraternity, and she began organizing. Alpha Delta Phi members worked with alumni who were attorneys and got the house appraised. Bowdoin paid them for it, and the fraternity used part of the proceeds to create a fund that still pays for literary programs at the college.

“I wouldn’t say it was easy, but we are determined to stay identified as who we are,” Reifsnyder said in a phone interview.

A photo of the Bowdoin Alpha Delta Phi members for the 1998 college yearbook. Thomas Clark is seen standing on the railing on the left.

Members still gather twice a year on campus. On New Year’s Eve, they ring in the new year in their former house with their spouses and children.

Bowdoin’s decision at the time was part of a trend across New England. Middlebury College banned fraternities in 1990; Colby College and Amherst did so in 1984. Williams College was one of the first, in 1962.

A spokesman for Bowdoin said that even though Harvard cited the college as a model, no one from Harvard contacted Bowdoin for information. Administrators were perplexed to read about their college in the news.

“Our decision was based on what was right at the time for Bowdoin and not necessarily relevant to what other colleges and universities face today,” college spokesman Scott Hood wrote in an e-mail to the Globe.

Hood said the decision did not hurt fund-raising. The school exceeded its goal for the campaign that happened as the decision was announced. The college’s endowment has soared since then, from $374 million in 1997 to $1.3 billion last year.

Bowdoin now owns all of the former fraternity houses except three that have been torn down. One is the admissions office and the rest are part of the college’s house system, the school’s attempt to recreate the community that the fraternities had afforded.

The houses are voluntary, and students apply to live in them their sophomore year. The application is complex, and not everyone is admitted.

Students eat in a central dining hall, but those who belong to a house are expected to plan social events there. They can organize parties that serve alcohol if they register with the school.

Raisa Tolchinsky, who graduated this spring, said she met some of her closest college friends in her house, people she would have otherwise never encountered. The college administration aggressively tries to keep the houses diverse, she said, and forbids hazing.

But the new system hasn’t eradicated frat-party behavior, she said; students just take such behavior off-campus, to private parties in apartments.

“It was interesting being in a system that was trying so hard to avoid these things, and yet there was still the same tendencies,” she said.

Former members said that the elimination of fraternities also meant the loss of some intangibles. One of the biggest losses, they said, was the network of alumni that helped them navigate Bowdoin and the years after.

Edwards, the former president, knows that. He knew his decision would have downsides, and he knew some alumni would never forgive him.

But he thinks he did the right thing.

“I felt that the need of the college was so great that the perspective of the alumni was probably secondary to the realities that we were confronting,” he said.


Student contracts will sign away trust

Jo Johnson, the UK universities minister, has recently announced a proposal to introduce student contracts to protect students. Such a contract would both encourage students to work hard, and enable them to pursue legal action against the university if tuition was ‘poor’.

Student contracts are nothing new. When I worked in special education they were called ‘learning contracts’, and used for students with behavioural problems in an attempt to specify exactly what behaviours were expected. This was an exceptional process for those few who could not, for a variety of reasons, be trusted to understand or follow norms of behaviour.

But then, as government policymakers and university managers became obsessed with behaviour problems (and would not trust teachers to deal with them), learning contracts began to crop up throughout the education system. In universities, they most often appear as general ‘charters’ of what students can expect from the university, and what the university expects from them. There are already many contracts for students with disabilities and for those on professional courses.

Some universities already require contractual agreements even at doctoral level. Students and their supervisors are often expected to set ‘objectives’ after each tutorial and sign them. This is largely down to the ideological domination of behaviourist theories of learning in universities, where each programme has a telephone directory list of ‘learning objectives’ and ‘learning outcomes’. Students are often asked to state the ‘aims and objectives’ of their study before they begin.

Many academics are so committed to this form of groupthink that they actively support contracting, and fear their students. They are keen to turn them into trainees who can be controlled. Johnson will encourage more institutional fear by sending out the message that lecturers must make their students happy, or face a court case. Universities will be stricken with institutional fear of legal action from students who don’t get the grades or the degree class they expected. Degrees will become receipts for fees paid.

Student contracts are an explicit expression of mistrust in both students and lecturers. Introducing them will not only create more bureaucracy, by requiring the endless signing and recording of contracts as well as the monitoring of teaching, it will also destroy the epistemological relationship that defines the university.

Turning any relationship between students and academics into a contractual one undermines the learning process. Acquiring and expanding knowledge is an unpredictable, challenging and demanding challenge for students and academics. It can lead to intellectual conflict and passionate disagreement. That is why there must be that unique trust between students and academics. Johnson’s attempt to smooth this process out will break that relationship and fossilise learning, making the pursuit of new knowledge impossible.

If the Office for Students requires universities to introduce student contracts, the university as we knew it is over.


Could Irish change cause ripples elsewhere?

The Irish education system is experiencing huge shifts. The entire structure of primary teaching is in overhaul while practical assessment is being trialled for the first time at secondary level. More students are opting for the optional gap year before completing their final years of school, and some gain exposure to science in a working, real-world context early-on as a result. The value of continued study in science appears to be appreciated as applications to study science subjects at university in Ireland have increased for the first time in 5 years.

For some of the same reasons the education system is changing, Ireland is actively encouraging more students to study at home. After many years of emigration, Irish teachers are also set to remain instead of looking for opportunities abroad after the Irish government recently announced a large increase in recruitment.

Ireland has been one of the largest suppliers of English speaking students and teachers to the UK, so will changes have knock-on effects elsewhere?

The recent STEM Education Review Group report recommended sweeping changes to STEM education throughout the Irish system, from teacher training to primary school students.

Some motivation for the reforms came from the first ever survey of the Irish public’s perceptions and awareness of STEM in society in 2015. Worryingly, half of those surveyed said they were put off science and maths by their experience of STEM during their school years. The ‘Science in Ireland Barometer’, commissioned by the state agency Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), also reported that half of the participants felt uninformed and 71% felt STEM was too specialised to understand.

This is significantly higher than in comparable countries such as New Zealand. However, 92% did agree with the statement, ‘young people’s interest in science, engineering and technology is essential for our future prosperity’.

One of the biggest changes to the Irish science and chemistry curricula is a move away from exam-only assessment for the first time, following the UK system and others.

However, the proposed Leaving Cert (equivalent to A-level) chemistry specifications have been shelved a number of times with various models for practical assessment debated. The confirmation of trials in some schools this coming year has been met with great interest from teachers and other educators, but questions remain about the logistics of carrying out practical assessment with little or no school technicians. In stark contrast to the UK system, the majority of Irish secondary schools do not have laboratory technicians.

More HERE 

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