Friday, January 10, 2020

Russell Kirk on Higher Education

Russell Kirk isn’t known as a policy wonk. The Great Books, not the mathematical or statistical models of economic technicians, were his organon of choice. He devoted essays to broad, perennial themes like “the moral imagination,” “liberal learning,” and “the permanent things.”

Read his numerous columns about higher education, however, and you might come away with a different impression, one of Kirk as a political strategist with a strong grasp of educational policy.

Kirk wrote on a wide variety of issues involving higher education: accreditation, academic freedom, tenure, curriculum, vocational training, community colleges, adult education, college presidents, textbooks, fraternities and Greek life, enrollment, seminaries, tuition, teachers’ unions, collective bargaining, student activism, British universities, urban versus rural schools, boards of trustees, university governance, the hard sciences, grade inflation, lowering academic standards, libraries, private versus public schooling, civics education, sex education, school vouchers, university presses, and more.

One of his go-to subjects implicates several of those issues: federal subsidies. He believed that federal money threatened the mission and integrity of universities in numerous areas.

For starters, he believed that federal subsidies—and, it must be added, foundation grants—created perverse incentives for researchers, who might conform to the benefactor’s “preferences” and “value judgments.”[1] Recalling the proverb that “[t]he man who pays the piper calls the tune,”[2] he cautioned against financial dependency on outside influences, which, he worried, could impose ideological conditions on grants to advance or purge particular viewpoints.

Moreover, the grantors, whether they were foundations or the government, would, he believed, quantify the value of their funded work according to measurable outcome assessments that were “easily tabulated and defensible.”[3] The intrinsic value of reading Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Herodotus, or Euripides, however, is not easily assessed in instrumental terms.

More fundamentally, Kirk viewed federal involvement in higher education as a step toward the centralization and consolidation of power at the expense of local variety. He foresaw the creation of the U.S. Department of Education long before it occurred.[4] Fearing the growth of an “educationist hierarchy” or an “empire of educationism” corrupted by “sinecures” and “patronage,”[5] he favored small, private, liberal-arts colleges, which, he believed, flourished when they committed to mission and tradition.[6]

“The American college—the small liberal arts college—is worth preserving,” Kirk wrote, “but it can be preserved, in our time of flux, only if it is reformed.”[7] Kirk’s reform was reactionary, not progressive.[8] It rejected the popular focus on vocation and specialization and sought to train “men and women who know what it is to be truly human, who have some taste for contemplation, who take long views, and who have a sense of moral responsibility and intellectual order.”[9] Even if they can’t be calculated precisely, these vague-yet-discernable qualities of literate people are beneficial to society writ large, in Kirk’s view. In other words, there’s an appreciable difference between literate and illiterate societies.

Kirk decried the alarming escalation of tuition prices. In 1979, he wrote, “Attendance at colleges and universities is becoming hopelessly expensive.”[10] Forty years later, the costs of attending college have risen exponentially. Kirk opposed federal aid or scholarships to students,[11] but not, from what I can tell, for the economic reason that the ready availability of federal funding would enable universities to hike tuition rates to artificially high levels. Perhaps, even in his skepticism, he couldn’t conceive of university leadership as so systematically exploitative.

We continue to hear echoes of Kirk’s observation that the typical college student “oughtn’t to be in college at all: he has simply come along for the fun and a snob-degree, and his bored presence reduces standards at most American universities.”[12] Elsewhere, he claimed that “[w]e have been trying to confer the higher learning upon far too many young people, and the cost per capita has become inordinate.”[13] The question of why students attend college is closely related to that of the fundamental purpose of college.

Uncertainty regarding the point of higher education—whether it’s to develop the inquisitive mind, expand the frontiers of knowledge, equip students with jobs skills, or something else entirely—seems more pronounced today in light of technological, economic, and population changes. Moreover, it remains true that “most of the universities and colleges are forced to do the work that ordinary schools did only a generation ago.”[14] Shouldn’t higher education accomplish more than remedial education? Doesn’t it have a greater end?

Kirk certainly thought so—at least if higher education were properly liberal. “By ‘liberal education,’” he explained, “we mean an ordering and integrating of knowledge for the benefit of the free person—as contrasted with technical or professional schooling, now somewhat vaingloriously called ‘career education.’”[15]

Kirk’s surprising wonkishness, and his facility in policy debates, always submitted to this overarching goal: Defending order against disorder, in both the soul and the larger polity.[16] “The primary purpose of a liberal education,” he said, “is the cultivation of the person’s own intellect and imagination, for the person’s own sake.”[17]

The aspiration of policy wasn’t policymaking. Kirk’s short-term strategies serviced a paramount objective: Namely, to seek wisdom, virtue, truth, clarity, and understanding. You can’t simply quantify the value of that.


UK: Ofsted chief accuses over 400 schools of 'failure of the highest order'

Schools reflect their pupils so where you have a lot of dumb and disruptive pupils it takes Herculean efforts to improve them

The head of Ofsted has accused more than 400 schools of “failure of the highest order” as heads say that when it comes to raising standards, tough discipline is the answer.

The schools watchdog estimates that around 210,000 children are being educated in “stuck” schools which have only been graded as “inadequate” or “requires improvement” since 2006.  

In a major new report, Ofsted identified 415 “stuck” schools which have been “letting down children for over a decade”.

The report said that in some parts of England, a pupil will go through their whole primary or whole secondary school life never "having attended a good school", adding: "This is failure of the highest order. The whole school system has been letting down these children for over a decade."

Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector, commissioned the research which involved in depth interviews with teachers and governors from ten “stuck” schools.

Interviews were also conducted at ten “unstuck” schools, meaning ones which have managed to secure “good” Ofsted ratings following a long period of negative inspections.

Five schools described themselves to researchers as a “dumping ground” for problem children in the local area, with one saying it was seen as the “toilet of schools”.

Meanwhile, schools which had managed to improve generally credited this to changes in behaviour policies which they said had a “transformative effect”.

Headteachers told Ofsted that in order to improve, they raised expectations and changed the culture “from one that accepted disruption and violence to one that challenged it with clear processes.”

Ofsted found stuck schools suffered from a "deep and embedded culture" making them resistant to change, while others were "inundated" with advice from local and central government officials, which was often “thrown at them without enough thought".

"Stuck" schools were often in undesirable locations, making it hard to recruit good quality teachers to the area, the research found.  Another common problem was parents suffering from a lack of motivation, it added.

"Stuck schools are facing a range of societal problems such as cultural isolation, a jobs market skewed towards big cities and low expectations from parents," Ms Spielman said.

"However, we have shown that schools in these places can still be good or better by holding teachers to high standards, tackling bad behaviour and getting the right leadership in place.”

She warned against a “carousel of consultants” giving unhelpful advice to schools, adding: “What the remaining stuck schools need is tailored, specific and pragmatic advice that suits their circumstances.”

Stephen Rollett of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that Ofsted’s “blunt judgements” have a “stigmatising effect” on schools, which makes it harder to recruit better teachers. 

He said that schools face an “extremely harsh” accountability system which makes leadership “perilous”.  “It is right that schools are held to account but the system could be made more proportionate through sensible reform without being any less robust,” he added. 

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Whilst 86 per cent of schools are rated good or outstanding, we know there is more to do and we will continue our relentless focus on standards by backing teachers and intervening where there is entrenched underperformance. 

“Ofsted plays an invaluable role in improving standards and we are working with them to look at how best to support these schools. We have also created a specialist academy trust to work with these schools and make improvements, as well as six new training hubs to ensure the best leaders can provide support.”


Australian University is prosecuting a whistleblower -- to send a warning to any future whistleblowers

The issue is an old one in Australian universities: Do you admit overseas students even though they are not really qualified and do you give them a pass when they have really failed? 

Why is that an issue?  Because overseas students bring in a rich harvest of fees -- so you want as many as possible of them.  And you don't want to upset any of them

So do universites really do those things?  The official answer is a scandalized "No".  The real answer is: Frequently. The professor let the cat out of the bag

In my days as a university lecturer I saw how easily favoured students could be granted marks they did not earn.  In my case the favoured ones were student activists and Aborigines but it would work equally well for Asians

Whistleblower mathematics professor Gerd Schroder-Turk, and his young family, must be wondering if they will be pushed into bankruptcy by his employer, Murdoch University. His crime was to expose on the ABC’s Four Corners program alleged corruption at Murdoch University’s enrolment section. According to Schroder-Turk, Murdoch was letting in students with inadequate skills in the chase for cash.

Murdoch University has ignored universal adverse media reaction against it. Condemnation by the union, staff, students, and a huge public petition have made no difference. It is continuing its legal action against Schroder-Turk, claiming he has affected its reputation and profitability. Schroder-Turk could lose everything he owns.

Murdoch’s legal action is not about retrieving lost earnings. I am guessing that Schroder-Turk’s entire wealth would be less than vice-chancellor Eeva Leinonen’s overly generous yearly salary. It would certainly be less than a day of the university’s operational cost.

This court action is about power. It is the university sending a message to the academic staff — “speak out and we will destroy you”.

It does not matter about the truth. It does not matter if Murdoch was acting disgracefully.

A frightened academia is a compliant academia. Just the way a modern university administration likes it.

The other universities, most of which have similar authoritarian streaks in their administration, will be cheering Murdoch from the side of the courtroom. It is in their interests for Schroder-Turk to be crushed. They also want fearful academics.

History is littered with examples where people stood by and watched bad things happen when they had the power to stop it.

Such a person appears to be the West Australian Education Minister, Sue Ellery. Murdoch University is set up under West Australian state legislation.

The state government has huge influence over Murdoch through the university’s governing senate. But Ellery seems too often silent about Schroder-Turk.

Another is federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. His department gives Murdoch hundreds of millions of dollars each year. There are many things he can do to persuade Murdoch that it is doing the wrong thing and not acting in the interests of the public that funds it.

But the minister seems to be showing signs of being captured by the universities he administers. This is a common problem and an occupational hazard in politics.

One must have some sympathy for him. Universities are very powerful organisations with slick media departments. Through their peak body, Universities Australia, they are ruthless in publicly pursuing their interests. A minister decides to cross an Australian university at his or her peril.

Nevertheless, the universities look at the Schroder-Turk case and see the inaction by Tehan and Ellery. I worry the collective university vice-chancellors are laughing at how easily and quickly Tehan seems to have been caught, reeled in, and brought to heel on a nice short leash.

Murdoch University has interpreted the inaction by both state and federal education ministers as a green light to do whatever it wants.

In the meantime, Tehan needs to lay down the law to show a little steel to Leinonen and her chancellor, Gary Smith. He should call Leinonen and Smith and tell them he is commissioning a review of Murdoch’s activities under the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s objective 4: “Take prompt and effective action to address substantial risks to students or the reputation of the sector.”

He would appoint an investigator who was sympathetic to the cause of academic freedom and critical of some of the tendencies of modern universities. I am sure the National Tertiary Education Union — which, again, has stood by Schroder-Turk throughout his ordeal — would be very happy to put forward some suitable names.

The minister should tell Leinonen and Smith that if Murdoch were found wanting by this investigation, they could lose their accreditation to operate as a university.

He has the power. He has the duty to protect whistleblowers such as Schroder-Turk. Although universities should be independent of government, they must behave like universities to deserve that privilege.

As it is, Murdoch University has forfeited that right.

That simple phone call by the minister to Leinonen would shatter Murdoch’s illusion that it can ignore the taxpayers who fund it.

Problem solved.

Happy public, happy Gerd Schroder-Turk, happy university staff, happy students, happy union.

Popular Dan Tehan.

There is no public support for Murdoch University.


Thursday, January 09, 2020

“We” Should Not Regulate Homeschooling

The desire to control other people’s ideas and behaviors, particularly when they challenge widely-held beliefs and customs, is one of human nature’s most nefarious tendencies. Socrates was sentenced to death for stepping out of line; Galileo almost was. But such extreme examples are outnumbered by the many more common, pernicious acts of trying to control people by limiting their individual freedom and autonomy.

Sometimes these acts target individuals who dare to be different, but often they target entire groups who simply live differently. On both the political right and left, efforts to control others emerge in different flavors of limiting freedom—often with “safety” as the rationale. Whether it’s calls for Muslim registries or homeschool registries, fear of freedom is the common denominator.

A recent example of this was an NPR story that aired last week with the headline, “How Should We Regulate Homeschooling?” Short answer: “We” shouldn’t.

Learning Outside of Schools Is Safe

The episode recycled common claims in favor of increased government control of homeschooling, citing rare instances in which a child could be abused or neglected through homeschooling because of a lack of government oversight. Of course, this concern ignores the rampant abuse children experience by school teachers and staff people in government schools across the country.The idea that officials, who can’t prevent widespread abuse from occurring in public schools, should regulate homeschooling is misguided.

Just last month, for example, two public school teachers in California pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a student, a public school teacher in New Mexico was convicted of sexually assaulting a second grader after already being convicted of sexually assaulting two fourth graders, two public school employees in Virginia were charged with abusing six, nonverbal special needs students, and the San Diego Unified School District in California is being sued because one of its teachers pleaded guilty to repeated sexual abuse and intimidation of a student.

Child abuse is horrific, regardless of where it takes place; but the idea that government officials, who can’t prevent widespread abuse from occurring in public schools, should regulate homeschooling is misguided. Many parents choose to homeschool because they believe that learning outside of schooling provides a safer, more nurturing, and more academically rigorous educational environment for their children. The top motivator of homeschooling families, according to the most recent data from the US Department of Education, is “concern about the environment of other schools.” Being regulated by the flawed government institution you are fleeing is statism at its worst.

Homeschooling Is Growing

Brian Ray, Ph.D., director of the National Home Education Research Institute, offered strong counterpoints in the otherwise lopsided NPR interview, reminding listeners that homeschooling is a form of private education that should be exempt from government control and offering favorable data on the wellbeing, achievement, and outcomes of homeschooled students.

Homeschooling continues to be a popular option for an increasingly diverse group of families. As its numbers swell to nearly two million US children, the homeschooling population is growing demographically, geographically, socioeconomically, and ideologically heterogeneous. Homeschooling families often reject the standardized, one-size-fits-all curriculum frameworks and pedagogy of public schools and instead customize an educational approach that works best for their child and family.

Modern homeschooling now encompasses an array of different educational philosophies and practices.

With its expansion from the margins to the mainstream over the past several decades, and the abundance of homeschooling resources and tools now available, modern homeschooling encompasses an array of different educational philosophies and practices, from school-at-home methods to unschooling to hybrid homeschooling. This diversity of philosophy and practice is a feature to be celebrated, not a failing to be regulated.

The collective “we” should not exert control over individual freedom or try to dominate difference. “We” should just leave everyone alone.


UK: Jo Johnson warns against cutting university tuition fees

The prime minister’s brother, Jo Johnson, has warned against a proposal to cut university tuition fees.

The younger, remain-supporting Johnson – who was universities minister until September when he resigned from government citing an “unresolvable tension” between his family loyalty and the national interest – argued that lowering student fees would do “grave damage” to higher education finances.

The former Tory MP, who stepped down at the election and is now chairman of the group that owns the Times Educational Supplement, said cutting fees would also be “very bad politics”.

The Conservative manifesto pledged to consider a review by former financier Philip Augar last year that recommended reducing fees from £9,250 to £7,500. The report, commissioned by Theresa May, suggested extended payments from 30 to 40 years, as well as reintroducing maintenance grants for poorer students.

Meanwhile, Labour said in its own manifesto that it would scrap tuition fees entirely, citing spiralling student debts. Fees were introduced under Tony Blair’s New Labour administration before they were trebled during the coalition government, prompting huge student protests. Government figures highlighted last year showed interest charged on student loans is forecast to rise by £4.2bn to £8.6bn a year by 2024.

Speaking on Saturday, Johnson backed the government’s pledged increase in science funding. He also said he wanted universities to remain properly funded, warning against lowering tuition fees. “I think that would do grave damage to our institutions’ financial stability and, also, I think it would be very bad politics as well but that is rather beside the point,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “So we’ve got to continue to fund our universities successfully and build on our research excellence and I think that’s the priority for the government.”

Asked if there would be a significant impact if fees were lowered by a third, he replied: “Yes, there would be a substantial impact, particularly if that funding were not made up by the Treasury which, given the current politics, I would have grave doubts that it would be. The priority, where there is discretionary income within the Department of Education, is to put it towards schools and to put it towards further and technological education. We need to level up, rather than level down, university funding to create some sort of false parity.”

He added: “I think where there clearly are grounds for concerns about universities are, as the sector has expanded, has quality been maintained? Are there issues around degree inflation? Are there issues around unconditional offers? Which are legitimate areas for criticism and for reform but I think to be vindictive and to be, sort of, punitive about universities because they were on the wrong side of a perceived culture war over Brexit, I think that’s completely the wrong way to go if we want to make a success of global Britain and our future post-Brexit.”


Teachers Go to Court to Fight Union Over Choice of Charities

Teachers who object to paying union fees on religious grounds are too political, some union leaders in Pennsylvania argue in a new twist on long-standing complaints about organized labor’s involvement in elective politics.

But at least two of those teachers, who just had their day in court to put state labor laws under scrutiny, see more than a little irony at work in the union complaints.

Lawyers for Jane Ladley, who taught in public schools for 25 years before retiring in 2014 from Avon Grove School District in Chester County, argued her case Dec. 11 before the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.

Joining Ladley in suing the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a teachers union, was Chris Meier, a history and economics teacher at Penn Manor High School in Lancaster County for the past 10 years.

Neither teacher is a member of PSEA, but the union secured contractual agreements with their respective school districts that require nonmembers such as Ladley and Meier to pay what the union calls “fair share fees.”

This is one of about 80 lawsuits filed across the nation by public employees against labor unions to recover union fees, terminate union membership, halt dues deduction, or challenge exclusive representation, according to the Pennsylvania-based Commonwealth Foundation.

Pennsylvania law permits teachers such as Ladley and Meier, who object on religious grounds to paying the mandatory union fees and what they fund, to steer money from their paychecks to the charity of their choice rather than the teachers union.

But there’s a catch, as David Osborne, an attorney with the Fairness Center, a nonprofit law firm based in Harrisburg, explained in an interview.

“For some time, the law has allowed religious objectors to send money to a charity of their choice that’s equal to the amount that would otherwise be sent to the union,” Osborne told The Daily Signal. “But, at the same time, the charity has to be agreed upon between the nonmember and the union.”

What State Law Does

The way the law works, money is withheld from a public employee’s check and deposited into a separate account while the PSEA, or other union, processes the employee’s selection of a charity. In the case of Ladley and Meier, the PSEA objected to their choices.

Ladley had settled on a scholarship fund for high school seniors who want to study the U.S. Constitution, but the union objected. She then selected the Constitutional Organization of Liberty, which supplies educational information highlighting American history and the ideals of the Constitution.

The teachers union didn’t respond to Ladley’s proposed alternative, according to a press release from the Fairness Center.

“They are telling me which groups I have to choose,” Ladley is quoted as saying. “It’s a wrong that needs to be righted. I’m doing this on principle and for the other teachers coming up through the ranks, so that they can have these options available to them.”

As his charity, Meier selected the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a nonprofit based in Virginia that provides legal assistance to public employees who seek to free themselves from union membership.

“I want freedom of choice—to be able to donate to the charity I choose,” Meier said in a statement released by the Fairness Center.

So far, that choice has not materialized.

“The PSEA refused Chris’s selection on the basis that the [National Right to Work Legal Defense] Foundation provided legal representation to teachers who sued the PSEA,” the Fairness Center said of Meier’s case.

According to the teachers union, it said, allowing Meier to help fund the foundation “would be a ‘conflict of interest’” for the union.

Union’s Giving to Politicians

Osborne, the Fairness Center attorney, also said he was unimpressed with the union’s objections to the selected charity of the other teacher, Ladley.

“The PSEA said it would not agree to the selected charities because the union thought they were too political,” Osborne said. “Ms. Ladley thought that was laughable because the PSEA is one of the most political organizations in the whole state.”

The Pennsylvania State Education Association has more than 181,000 members, including teachers and other education professionals, making it the largest public employee union in the state.

In 2018, the union contributed more than $1.5 million to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, during his successful reelection race. Campaign records also show Wolf was the top recipient of the union’s contributions from 2010 to 2016, receiving $865,000.

In the past quarter-century, the union has contributed more than $14 million to Pennsylvania Democrats and a little more than $3 million to Republicans, campaign records show.

The Fairness Center represents the plaintiffs in the Ladley case and in a related case, Hartnett v. PSEA.

In the second case, teachers who have chosen not to become union members object to the collection of “fair share fees” as a violation of their First Amendment freedoms. Greg Hartnett, a teacher in the Homer Center School District, is the lead plaintiff.

The Daily Signal asked media relations officials of the Pennsylvania State Education Association for comment on the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the Ladley and Hartnett cases.

The Daily Signal also asked the teachers union whether it had concerns that that “fair share fee” requirements included in its contracts are illegal in light of the Supreme Court ruling.

The union had not responded at publication time.

Role of the Supreme Court

The Fairness Center has partnered with the National Right to Work Foundation to represent Hartnett and the other schoolteachers in the second case.

“The Hartnett and Ladley cases have become very similar, even though they held different facts at the outset,” Osborne said.

That’s because the Supreme Court struck down mandatory union dues and fees for public sector workers in deciding the case of Janus v. AFSCME in June 2018.

“What unified the two cases was the Janus decision,” Osborne said. “Janus could change everything. If the court applies Janus and rules to invalidate that part of Pennsylvania labor law that makes fair share fees possible, then that settles both cases.”

Osborne also said he sees potential for the Ladley and Hartnett cases to reverberate across state lines.

“These cases could have an impact in other states, many of which still have agency fee statues on the books,” the teachers’ lawyer said.

The funds for the teachers in the Ladley case were initially held in an escrow account while the Janus case was pending before the Supreme Court. But the union refunded the money after the high court decided Janus.

“The union tried to moot this case to avoid a ruling on the merits,” Osborne said, adding:

Fortunately, the court understood the argument we were making and that Pennsylvania law has not been addressed on this point. The PSEA is arguing that the court doesn’t need to rule because the union claims it has already done everything that is required. But the problem is that PSEA’s promises are self-serving and they could change their mind anytime. There’s still a collective bargaining agreement with fair share fees, and the PSEA has done nothing to change this.

Pushing Back

Charles Mitchell, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank based in Harrisburg, has followed both cases. In a press release, Mitchell said the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling is beginning to arouse government workers who have been denied their free speech rights.

“More workers are realizing that their union’s leadership is acting for themselves rather than for workers,” Mitchell said. “Our friends and neighbors in public service shouldn’t have to sue to have the same rights as you and I.”

The Fairness Center’s lawsuits against the teachers union in Pennsylvania figure into a larger national picture, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Foundation detailing the legislative and legal response to Janus across the country.

In 2019, lawmakers introduced more than 100 Janus-related bills at the state level, the report says.

“In many states, union leaders are using their considerable lobbying resources to slow legislation that would enforce Janus and to pass union-friendly bills,” Mitchell says in the report.

But Pennsylvania is among the states pushing back from the other direction with legislation that would bring state labor laws into compliance with the Supreme Court ruling, the report notes.

The report says Pennsylvania and California account for nearly half of the roughly 80 lawsuits filed by public employees against labor unions to recover union fees, terminate union membership, halt dues deduction, or challenge exclusive representation.


Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Our educational industrial complex is broken, time to reform higher education and student loans

Our educational industrial complex is broken, and swift reform is needed. College costs continue to rise much faster than inflation, and too many students are plowing themselves into debt and wasting years of their lives pursuing pointless degrees. Upon leaving college, these students are often surprised to discover that their degrees have little value. Of course, most colleges are liberal indoctrination centers, where conservative voices are few and often drowned out.

It is time for the federal government – and state and local governments – to stop picking winners and losers. Just as it is unfair for the federal government to recognize the American Bar Association as the sole accreditor of law schools and allow it to erect unnecessary hurdles to keep people from pursuing law degrees; just as it is indefensible for governments to subsidize unreliable solar and wind projects that drive up electricity bills; just as it is illegitimate for state governments to license hair braiders and interior designers to lock competitors out of the field; just as it is improper for the federal government to grant immunity to credit reporting agencies in spite of their negligence and incompetence; just as it is wrong for governments to deny poor people due process and allow predatory towing companies to sell their cars when they cannot afford exorbitant towing fees; and just as it is improper for states to subsidize moviemaking; so it is wrong for the federal government to shovel money to colleges via student loans.

To begin to address these problems, the federal government should do four things: privatize student loans once again, sell off its portfolio of student debt, allow students to discharge college debt in bankruptcy, tie lending rules to the value of a degree and require colleges to repay half of the remaining value of discharged loans.

The first step is the federal government ending its own college loans, but it should also sell off its student loan portfolio, which is nominally worth more than $1.5 trillion. Unfortunately, more than 40 percent of student loans are considered to be “in distress.” Furthermore, according to one estimate, 40 percent of student loan borrowers may be in default in just three short years. If for no other reason, the federal government should sell off its student loan portfolio to stem its losses on these toxic assets.

In addition, Congress should pass legislation to once again allow former students to discharge college debt in bankruptcy if a borrower is unable to find a decent job years after leaving college. In the past, borrowers were allowed to do this, but bankruptcy laws were tightened after lobbying by the banks. One reason that conservatives should support allowing the use of bankruptcy to discharge crushing student debt is to allow more young people to move on with their lives. Conservatives are often dismayed that more young people are not moving out of their parents’ homes, marrying, buying a home, and having children – things which tend to make one more conservative.

One of the reasons for this situation is student debt. Unfortunately, bankruptcy for student debt is seen by some as merely a way of letting borrowers off the hook, but it should really be viewed as a way of holding lenders accountable. For years, government lenders have happily loaned money to unserious students and those who wish to pursue frivolous degrees.

Bankruptcy for student debt, plus privatization, would encourage lenders to be more prudent with their money.

Prudent regulation would tie lending practices to the value of a degree and job prospects in chosen fields. The fewer jobs available in a chose major, the riskier the loan.

Finally, colleges should be required to cover half of the outstanding loan balances when alums discharge debt in bankruptcy, thereby sharing the risk with lenders. Because colleges have been admitting unserious students, coddling and indoctrinating students, offering junk degrees, and cranking out graduates who are unprepared for the real world. Requiring colleges to reimburse banks for a portion of their losses would motivate colleges to stop trying to enroll anyone and everyone with a pulse. It should also lead to colleges cutting costs, eliminating pointless degrees, and focusing less effort on training social justice warriors and more on helping the next generation build the economy.

One way or another, our country needs less college debt, fewer college graduates with worthless degrees, and more trade school graduates, more apprentices, and more entrepreneurs. These straightforward reforms should help advance these goals while making a positive difference for students, parents, and taxpayers.


Defending Higher Education

Higher ed gets a lot of criticism from supporters and reformers alike. Sometimes it’s necessary, though, to look at its benefits and note the strengths of colleges.

Steven Brint, distinguished professor of sociology and public policy at the University of California, Riverside, has given the public a reminder of why so many students value a college degree. He is an organizational sociologist who focuses on the sociology of higher education; in his most recent book, Two Cheers for Higher Education (Princeton University Press), he defends the university system against the concerns of the current zeitgeist.

1) Professor Brint, you seem to be cautiously optimistic about American Universities. How did you arrive at this conclusion, or am I wrong?

Yes, I am optimistic. Undoubtedly, American universities are plagued by many problems. The most notable are high cost, the very uneven quality of undergraduate education, and the fraught climate for speech on campus. But the critics who focus exclusively on these problems miss the big picture. Between 1980 and 2015, American universities contributed greatly both to our economy and our society.

They produced a huge number of technological innovations and even new industries such as biotechnology and nanotechnology. They trained hundreds of thousands of scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, and businesspeople. Enrollments nearly doubled at both the undergraduate and graduate level, providing mobility opportunities that otherwise would not have existed for many students born into low-income families. This does not sound like an institutional sector that is failing.

2) American universities have been attacked by some as promoting socialism, communism and all kinds of other isms—What is the truth here?

University faculty members tend to be on the liberal side of the political spectrum. There are many reasons why this is true. They tend to be more interested in solving puzzles, conducting research, and teaching than in making money. Other very intelligent people who are more interested in making money tend to gravitate to business, law, medicine, and engineering instead.

Universities are about making new discoveries and that may encourage a kind of elective affinity between professors and progressive social attitudes.

Social movements that advanced the cause of minorities and women have had a continuing influence in academe, perhaps to a greater degree than in some other American institutions. And, yes, there are some radical critics of American society who hold professorial positions. Some of these people are ideologically rigid. But ideologically rigid leftists are a small minority of the total faculty – surely under 5 percent.

To those of us in academe who pursue our work in a scientific and scholarly spirit, these people are extremely vexing and unappealing. But we should not overestimate their impact relative to other groups. They are a small minority within academe. The evidence is strong that right-wing authoritarianism is a much bigger problem in American society right now than left-wing authoritarianism. Right-wing authoritarianism has its main home in the small business community, among very religious people, and among less-educated white men. It seems likely, based on the evidence I have seen, that at least 20 percent of American adults could be classified as right-wing authoritarians, and probably more than that.

3) How high are the standards at American Universities overall? As compared to say the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and so on?

The answer to this question depends on what you mean by standards. This has been a golden age of research. University faculty at the top 200 universities have produced much more research over the last few decades than at any other time in American history. They dominate internationally in highly cited research. The level of sophistication in working with data is unmatched. So standards in research are much better than in the past. Something similar would be true of doctoral training and probably also training in the leading professional fields. All of this is heads and shoulders above what we saw in the past.

On the other hand, if the focus is on undergraduate education, the standards are not high enough. There’s been a dramatic drop in study time among undergraduate students since the 1960s. Reading lists have been pared down and grade inflation is rampant. I discuss these problems at length in my book. We will not make progress in undergraduate education unless more professors take seriously the findings of the now large literature on how students learn.

4) There seems to be a plethora of varying “majors” and “minors” that did not exist back in the 60s, 70s, 80s. Will students be able to get employment with these “frivolous” majors and minors?

As I show in Two Cheers, the largest growth in majors and minors has been in business, computer science, and health professions. Are these frivolous? You’d have to look more carefully at business majors on individual campuses. At some schools, business is a weak major. But at other colleges, business is among the most rigorous majors on campus. Only the top undergraduate students at UC Berkeley are able to be accepted into the Haas Business School, for example.

More generally, yes, there are undoubtedly some majors that sound frivolous to me. Recreation and leisure seems at first like a good example. Even so, I would want to look more carefully at what is taught in the required courses for these majors before I would feel comfortable categorizing them as frivolous. Kinesthesiology is certainly a reputable field and courses in that field make up a fair amount of the work in some recreation and leisure majors.

5) Let’s talk learning for learning’s sake—A veteran comes back from 20 years in the military and just wants to learn about the world: What advice would you give him or her?

The answer would have to be highly individualized. I believe in a liberal arts education as the best preparation for seeing the world in its full complexity. But some liberal arts courses are not very good. So it is a matter of finding professors who can make their subjects come alive. I would invest a lot of time in finding out which faculty members were the strongest teachers and I would take as many courses as I could from these master teachers. I was very fortunate to study with some of the greatest teachers in the social sciences in my era.

I would have had an even better experience if I had asked students and teaching assistants about who the best teachers were in the fields I studied. In some cases, the reading material required can carry the course in spite of mediocre performance by the teacher. I had a 17th– and 18th-century English literature course that I found deeply engaging because of the quality of the material we read (Dryden, Donne, Pope, Swift, and others). The relatively dull professor in charge of the course could not reduce the interest of the material.

6) Recently there was some news about Hollywood parents attempting to buy their children entrance into various prestigious universities. How will this impact higher education?

The category of “development admits” has been around for a long time, as Daniel Golden established in his 2006 book, The Price of Admission. The President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner may have been one of these development admits – meaning that he was admitted with lower qualifications because his family was wealthy and could help the college’s development efforts. Public universities tend to police these admissions violations pretty well, but privates have leeway. And a case can be made that a few developmental admits should be acceptable; private colleges, after all, require constant infusions of donations to maintain their excellence.

In the case of the Varsity Blues scandal, parents paid coaches to advocate for their children or found ways to allow their children to cheat on entrance examinations. That’s a more overt violation of rules than the implied quid pro quo found in the case of development admits. Obviously, none of what occurred in the Varsity Blues scandal is acceptable.

7) What were some of the main points that you wanted to make in your book?

American research universities continue to hold 29 of the top 50 ranks in the most recent Shanghai rankings of world universities. They also continue to hold the largest share of world publications and, notably, a very large share of the most highly cited publications.

Critics say that the United States is falling behind the rest of the world in human capital development because a higher proportion of young people have baccalaureate level degrees in 16 countries. But the European degree is a three-year degree, so the comparison is not entirely apt. In fact, enrollments at baccalaureate, masters, and doctoral levels have increased fairly steadily in the United States, with baccalaureates nearly doubling since 1980 and master’s degrees increasing by 60 percent.

Of course, not all colleges and universities are faring well and critics of American higher education make many valid points, but they miss the big picture: Institutionally, American colleges and universities have grown stronger both intellectually and financially, and, and, as I show, they are playing a prominent role in public life.

I argue that the success of the American system is due to high levels of investment by federal and private donors and individual families combined with the interplay of three propulsive logics of development.

First, with respect to investment: Compared to the state-dependent systems in most of the world, the U.S. system is distinctive with respect to the variety of revenue sources on which institutions can draw, including federal and state research funds, state subsidies, student tuition, and philanthropic support. By 2015, the federal government alone poured $65 billion into student financial aid and made hundreds of billions available in subsidized loans, and it disbursed more than $30 billion to universities for research and development. Donors provided billions of dollars more. It is hard to overestimate the importance of these multiple and comparatively abundant sources of revenue.

By “logics of development,” I mean guiding ideas joined to institutionalized practices. The first of these logics is the traditional one: the commitment to knowledge discovery and transmission in the disciplines (and at their interstices). I refer to this commitment as academic professionalism. It remains fundamental and provides a necessary autonomy for universities from the priorities of the state and the economy.

During the period I cover (1980-2015), I argue that two movements hit colleges and universities with great force. One was the movement to meet new market demands, and especially to use university research to advance economic development through the inventions of new technologies with commercial potential. The other was to use colleges and universities as instruments of social inclusion, providing opportunities to members of marginalized groups. These movements, in conjunction to the traditional aims of higher education, created a new dynamism because of the strength of partisan commitments to them, backed up by high levels of patronage.

I show that tensions arose at times between these three logics of development, as when faculty entrepreneurs seemed to flout their academic responsibilities in favor of building their enterprises or when the racial or gender backgrounds of candidates seemed to supersede their scholarly achievements as a basis for advancement.

But, I argue, accommodation was the norm. Deans of engineering, for example, found themselves promoting colleagues who made fundamental advances, but also encouraging those who worked with industry and sponsoring programs for minorities and women in engineering. Chairs of sociology departments found that they celebrated scholars who accumulated influence through the citation of their research, while at the same time seeking to diversify their faculty and graduate student bodies and adding new “self-supporting” master’s degree programs in subjects like applied social statistics.

The book also addresses the most serious problems facing American higher education and provides evidence-based recommendations for policy changes to address them. These include the problems of increasing cost, under-performance in undergraduate teaching, the growth of the adjunct labor force, and online competition. I am very much aware of the problems that festered during the period, and I examine them in detail drawing on my own and others’ research.


How to futureproof your career in your 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond – and why a degree isn't the answer

It’s that time of year again. Ucas applications deadline. There are more and more students, acquiring more and more degrees, and more and more debt.

It’s obvious why. Graduates earn more. Not only that, they are much more likely to be protected from the ravages of automation than lower-skilled workers. To make a living - hell, to protect yourself - qualifications matter more than ever.

The relationship between education and employment is self-reinforcing. Employers need to make decent decisions about whom to hire. And what better mark of quality than a degree certificate from a university they can trust, an institution which has three or four years experience in training and marking an applicant whose CV companies might scan for three or four seconds?

But here’s the strange thing. This relationship is breaking down. Employers consistently say they can’t find the right employees. Graduates, they say, don’t have the right skills, soft and hard. Educational institutions are pumping out more and more students holding framed certificates, and yet those certificates mean less and less. 

Indeed as we live longer, and as the world of work is shattered irreversibly by digital technologies, the old self-reinforcing relationship between employment and education increasingly resembles a dance of death, a partnership in which failing companies and doomed workers pretend that qualifications matter more than skills; that education is a one-off for the young, not lifelong; that learning is monolithic not personalised; lengthy not bite-sized.

It is a worldview which ignores that fact that knowledge, once the preserve of the few, is now universally accessible and that what matters is not remembering it all but being able to access what you need when and where you need it.

The whirlwinds of change are sweeping through the world of work, and that has profound implications for both learning and, as employment is fundamental to self-worth, happiness too.

Today, when you interview for a job at the consultancy, you play a game whose ostensible object is to save a coral reef. But the real object is to evaluate you – how fast you respond, your teamwork.

“It doesn’t matter where you went to college,” says Susan Lund, a partner at the company who has written several reports on automation and employment. “Across the corporate world there’s this realisation that a degree was a pretty rough estimation of worth and talent,”

And when you begin to think about it, it’s obvious why. What was valuable yesterday is on the scrapheap today. David Solomon is CEO of Goldman Sachs.

“Fifteen to 20 years ago,” he explained last year, “we had 500 people making markets in stocks. Today we have three.” Consequently this has been what the FT called a “brutal summer” for bankers. Investment banks have culled tens of thousands of jobs.

And not just any jobs. The jobs that only a generation ago were the most sought after by top graduates for mega-salaries and status so high incumbents used to call themselves “Masters of the Universe”. Today, algorithms can do their jobs, and don’t need team-bonding outings to Spearmint Rhino. So what will all those ex-Masters do now?

For a new range of educational institutions and employers trying to move beyond the dance of death, the answer remains “learning”. Just not as we know it.

The new way to learn

Take, first of all, the information explosion. The number of internet users has almost doubled in five years, to more than four billion. As a result, 90pc of the data in the world has been created since 2016. Some 400 hours of YouTube footage is uploaded every minute.

As knowledge expands, the shelf-life of education decreases. Degrees decay. Courses whose specialist content once stayed fresh for a decade or longer, are now only relevant for a year or two, sometimes becoming outdated before students even begin paying off their debt.

As Yuval Harari puts it in his new book, 21 lessons for the 21st century, “the last thing a teacher needs to give her pupils is more information... Instead, people need the ability to make sense of information, to tell the difference between what is important and what is unimportant, and above all, to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world.”

There are other ways to describe this approach. The New York Times journalist Neil Irwin, author of a new book on building careers inside companies which are successfully adapting today, calls them “glue people”. Emilie Wapnick, in a hugely successful Ted Talk, opted for the ugly term “multi-potentialite”.

They both paint a picture in which polymaths are increasingly vital, nurturing skills as they bounce from one job to another, even if those jobs can appear unrelated. Look at Rayna Patel [box]: Doctor, neuroscientist, government policy advisor, entrepreneur. “Your career should not be like a marriage but a series of hook-ups,” says Irwin.

This has huge consequences. It rubs at the binding loyalty between employer and employee that has been the bedrock of western economies and prosperity since Henry Ford offered his skilled workers benefits to keep them from fleeing to rival production lines. Freelancing is on the rise.

Yet the world is set up for steady pay cheques. Just try applying for a mortgage or renting a flat without one. Social safety nets and worker-benefits, from pensions to holidays, need reimagining too. Fortunately, many start-ups are responding to help freelancers, smoothing their irregular income to satisfy and reassure landlords, for example.

But perhaps technology responding to the new world of work will have its greatest effect on education itself. “Our polling shows that freelancers and gig workers think lifelong learning – not regulation or welfare – is the number one form of support that could improve their security,” says Alan Lockey, Head of the Future Work centre at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

Its annual awards highlight the areas where tech is already encroaching on education and will force it to change: Catalyte uses AI to analyse whether job applicants will make good hires based on skills not background; Credly provides digital credentials that can be verified - no more framed certificates; EDUK is a subscription platform that provides quality online courses; Knack matches workers to jobs through games, rather than CVs.

The idea that universities have a lock on issuing the qualifications that matter is crumbling. Credentials are being verified and vouched for in new, better, more meritocratic ways. And financed too. StepEx funds qualifications through “income share agreements” (ISAs) - which take a cut of future earnings – with students like Jesse Connor [see box].

Unlike student loans they can be taken out beyond a first degree, allowing them to be turned to career-enhancing retraining. ISAs are an idea causing great excitement among venture capitalists, who see an echo of the way they fund new companies (taking a stake in the best, irrespective of background and profiting only if they succeed).

“It’s like equity, except in people,” sas Dan George, founder of Step-Ex. “We call it Angel Investment in individuals.” StepEx plans to expand lending by a factor of 40 next year.

This flowering of alternative education is in part a result of a new entrepreneurial spirit being embraced by millenials at school and starting to enter the workforce.

“Entrepreneurship is the new ambition,” says Matt Clifford, co-founder of Entrepreneur First (EF), which helps people become start-up “founders”. EF’s polling of 10,000 18-30 year-olds suggests nearly half see setting up their own company as the best way of fulfilling their career ambitions. The job-for-life, dutiful corporate suit mentality is dying.

“It is very, very hard for traditional education to adapt quickly enough to the world now,” says Clifford. “Public policy assumes higher education is the way you boost productivity. But the evidence is clear that you can’t simply increase [university] enrolment and expect that to do the job. If we really want to adapt we’ll need to look beyond the world of higher education and ask what skills are amenable to the boot camp model?”

The rise of the micro-credential

Boot camps - short, intense technical courses focusing on specific skills like coding for students pre-, post- or mid-career - have become extremely popular. “Everyone is going to need some post-secondary education, some boot-camp credential,” says Susan Lund.

The trends are clear: shorter degrees, often at a distance, and often “unbundled” into their constituent parts, each of which has value, and can be stacked together over many years to create a formal qualification.

“The phrase we use is a ‘micro credential’,” says Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn, the social learning platform founded in 2013 by the Open University, which has since attracted almost 10m learners. “For example, rather than having to take a full MBA, people can take just the bit they need at that moment, like data science, then another next year, eventually stacking those credentials together.”

FutureLearn is launching a suite of such microcredentials next year – 12 weeks of study, 120/150 hours of study and assessments - which will be, Nelson says, “endorsed by industry so that it’s clear to learners that it will enhance their chances of getting work or progressing in work”.

Futurelearn is one of a host of providers around the world – others include Udacity, Coursera, edX – which provide “nanodegrees” or “Micromasters”. “In the next few years there is going to be a radical shift in attitudes among learners, students and employers to education,” says Nelson.

“That’s both because so many people are going to be uprooted in their careers, but also due to the digitisation of the education sector itself. Play forward 20 years we’ll find major shifts.”

One will be consolidation as degrees, or the institutions that provide them, are found to offer poor value. “Some degrees you pay 30k and earn 20k, if anything. It doesn’t make sense,” says Dan George. But as many traditional qualifications are devalued, others - from boot camps to micro-credentials - will move the other way.

This may also go some way to solving what Jon Yates, top advisor to Damian Hinds, until recently education secretary, calls the “esteem problem” around non-academic learning – things like apprenticeships and technical qualifications.

Some 50pc of students don’t do A-Levels, and yet such qualifications, Yates thinks, are written off as for the “disadvantaged, stupid and incapable”. In fact, as he points out, “technical education means being trained to be competent at a job”.

And in that, it mirrors what the most pioneering companies in the world are doing themselves. Google has had to retrain countless software engineers in new, machine-learning techniques. Last month Amazon announced plans to invest $700 million in retraining a third of its US workforce to do more technical tasks.

For optimists, all this leads to vastly improved social mobility, as the poorest can finance MBAs, and the most disadvantaged can learn their way out of precarious, bottom-rung jobs, all while staying in work. “We can’t just draw on the talent of the top 10pc who can afford [elite retraining, like MBAs],” says Dan George. “That’s wrong from a social justice aspect, but also for national need.”

Such widespread, workforce “upskilling” is viewed by some as the magic formula that not only increases productivity but also wages, while reducing inequality. That is the formula, as economist Carl Frey points out, that built The American Dream postwar.

“The most pervasive force,” behind this unparalleled era of expanded prosperity, he writes, “was the upskilling of the American workforce” driven by “enabling technological change and the expansion of education”.

From 1940-1970, he writes, skills outran demand. The results were that “a young male high school graduate could expect to find a secure job at a decent wage. The American economy was able to generate sufficient opportunity for blue-collar workers to attain a middle-class lifestyle on the basis of nothing more than their wages.”

Today, by contrast, “middle income jobs that have supported a broader middle class are disappearing and we see that those people have also lost in political clout and populists are capitalising.”

Some teachers, like Luke Pearce are themselves taking part in self-education. He took a free, two-month FutureLearn course on “Flip Learning”, which inverts traditional teaching by doing homework first - getting school children to plunge into available online resources, like YouTube videos - then analysing that information back in the classroom.

It is a method that uses short snippets of information, on-demand, with initial independence, and reflects the reality of how young people – the 14-24 year olds known as Gen Z – learn today: from each other, online, by copying and doing.

Influential digital entrepreneur Tim O’Reilly, in his book “What’s the Future?” notes that “69pc of [Gen Z] say they go to YouTube to learn just about everything and prefer it as a learning mechanism far beyond teachers or textbooks.”

 Education is lagging behind technology

Yet by and large education is still “lagging behind on [the impact] of technology,” says Niall Alcock, a former teacher who now runs the “We are in Beta” podcast for educational professionals. Unlike employees in other sectors, he says “teachers don’t sit around in the pub complaining that their jobs are being threatened by technology. Education will be the last sector to be disrupted.”

In part that is for good reason: classrooms are astonishingly complex places. “Being in a room with a group of teens, understanding what they had for breakfast, the arguments they’ve had, the weather, how late they stayed up playing Fortnite – there are so many things that add up to the outcome of a lesson,” says Alcock.

“At the moment, only teachers can understand that. “But,” he adds, “there’s lots to be done on capturing how they do that.”

This is the transformational analytical capability of technology, allowing teachers to better understand what they do uniquely well, and then distributing that knowledge widely.

It is a model perfectly illustrated, the venture capitalist and Cambridge University economist Bill Janeway says, by JFK. “In 1961 the US President enlisted [economist] James Tobin to help educate his administration about how the world worked, to inform policy.

"Now the Tobin Project, named for him, is a course open and available to Harvard students, teaching case-based American history. Over the last two years they’ve brought it on a pilot to schools from Palo Alto at the top, to inner cities at the bottom. It’s practical, problem-based, much more engaging than lists and facts. They haven’t dumbed down the content.

"And it is being welcomed by the teachers because it enhances what they do, rather than replaces them. Oh, and the kids love it.”

What to do if you are...

At school

Ask yourself if university is the right option for you. A degree is a product. Is it worth the price? As Simon Nelson says, “Silicon Valley is coming for education.” While top universities will thrive, others will crumble under competition from microcredentials, nano-degrees and boot-camps.

You will still need other elements that uni has traditionally fostered, like the self-starting discipline to go out, do research and get work done, as well as a network of friends and contacts. But unlike a degree, you don’t have to go to uni to get them.

A parent

Ask if your child’s school is making the most of digital resources, echoing the bite-sized, on-demand, learning-by-doing culture that young people prefer and have come to expect from how-to videos.

Be open to your children taking risks - say by trying to start their own business. That might look better on their CV than a run-of-the-mill degree, and foster skills that employers are looking for. Anyway, employers increasingly look beyond CVs and, even if your children do get a traditional degree, it is no passport to a safe steady job. There are none.

In your 20s

Avoid the squeezed middle. The most successful, dynamic places to work are likely to be the very big and the very small, with a few large, prestigious companies in most sectors at one end, and what Susan Lund calls “a golden age” for entrepreneurs and new artisanal workers at the other.

In your 30s

Trust your judgement. Even at mid-level, employees today must understand their company’s strategy to survive. But once you’ve made that effort, you are best placed to determine if your company is adequately responding to market pressures. Those at the top are typically most insulated from change.

Don’t be loyal. If your company or its leadership is failing, move.

In your 40s

Demand education. Your schooling is now more than 20 years old, and just as out of date. Employers have a duty to provide workplace learning. It is as essential a benefit as a pension or health insurance. Without it, redundancy beckons ever quicker.

But be focussed. Do you really need a full MBA? Settle on what you need and stack “segments” to complete a degree over time.

In your 50s and beyond

Remember that, in all likelihood, you still have almost 20 years left to work. That is ample time to change career. And if your children are reaching independence and the mortgage is nearly paid off, this may feel like the first time since you left school you can afford to take a risk.


Tuesday, January 07, 2020

BU assault case will test limits of schools’ oversight

Under Leftist doctrine everybody is responsible for everybody else but not for themselves.  A woman who failed to take basic precautions for her own safety now blames the university

The entrance to Boston University’s Student Village 2 dormitory certainly looks safe: Two uniformed security guards sit at a desk flanked by monitors streaming video from surveillance cameras in the 26-story building. No one gets in without an ID or an authorized host.

But one night during Head of the Charles weekend in 2015, two unescorted MIT students entered 11 unlocked rooms without being detected. One of them, Samson Donick, came upon a sleeping student and sexually assaulted her until her screams drove him from the room; he ultimately pleaded guilty and received five years probation for the attack.

Now, “StuVi2,” as the gleaming tower is known on campus, has become a testing ground for the duty of colleges and universities to keep students safe. The victim, known publicly only as Jane Doe, is suing the university and top administrators, arguing that BU officials gave students a false sense of security in the dorm while failing to enforce security policies that could have prevented the attack.

BU contends that Jane Doe could have protected herself if she had simply locked her bedroom door as officials recommend. She “was given the tools to assure her safety, a door with a sturdy lock, but she elected not to use it,” BU lawyers wrote in a court filing that also included a section entitled “The University Made No Definite Or Certain Promise To Keep Students Safe.”

In response, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Rosemary Connolly has admonished university attorneys for seeming to blame the victim.

“Here, this student was just in bed sleeping. That’s all she did, and . . . the thread through BU’s brief is that it’s her own darn fault this happened,” Connolly said during a June hearing.

BU officials declined to comment for this story.

Long gone is the era of “in loco parentis,” when colleges acted much like parents, freely setting curfews and otherwise restricting student freedom in order to keep order on campus. Today, as BU’s attorneys wrote in a court filing, “College students are young adults who are given the freedom to make responsible decisions. As a matter of law, universities do not serve as surrogate parents.”

Nonetheless, as Connolly wrote in rejecting the university’s motion to dismiss the case in October, “BU owes a duty to the plaintiff beyond that of an ordinary landlord.”

A case involving the sexual assault of a student at Pine Manor College in Brookline has, for decades, set the minimum standard for the obligation of Massachusetts institutions of higher learning. In 1977, the attacker broke into a freshman woman’s room, took her away from her dorm through an unsecured gate, and assaulted her, undetected by the campus patrol guard who was responsible for checking the gates — all breaches that the state Supreme Judicial Court said could have been prevented only by the school.

“No student has the ability to design and implement a security system,” wrote Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Liacos for the majority in the 1983 opinion. The student was awarded a verdict of $175,000 from both Pine Manor itself and William P. Person, its vice president responsible for the security system, but the trial judge later reduced it to $20,000 on the school’s end due to a state law limiting judgments against charitable institutions.

But more recent cases have seemed to limit schools’ responsibilities.

In 2018, a state superior court judge dismissed a lawsuit against Northeastern University from a student who argued that the university’s failure to install automatically locking doors had allowed an intruder to enter her room and assault her while she was incapacitated by date rape drugs.

In a major decision earlier that year, Massachusetts’ top court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit by the father of an MIT student who had committed suicide, finding that, although institutions could be held accountable for student suicides, the school should not be held responsible in that case.

The family of 25-year-old graduate student Han Nguyen argued that the school knew of Nguyen’s struggles with mental health but failed to provide adequate services for him. MIT, supported by BU and 17 other Massachusetts schools, argued that Nguyen had autonomy to make his own life decisions and that there was little advisers could do when he refused help.

The state’s highest court agreed.

“Universities are not responsible for monitoring and controlling all aspects of their students’ lives,” wrote Associate Justice Scott Kafker in the unanimous decision. “University students are young adults, not young children.”

In the StuVi2 case, BU’s lawyers drew on the Northeastern and MIT holdings in shaping their motion for dismissal, emphasizing the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s rejection of the old “in loco parentis” standard, and the Superior Court’s finding that non-automatic locks were adequate.

The “guiding principles apply with equal force here: even if the University has a duty to provide reasonably safe dormitories, it is unrealistic to require (or expect) a university to assume the role of insurer or custodian over its adult students,” BU’s lawyers wrote.

Jeffrey Beeler, who argued for the Nguyen family against MIT, said he sees a growing pattern among universities.

“They are very quick to brand the students who will be attending . . . as being adults legally, and therefore pretty much on their own relative to the risks they will face in a college environment,” Beeler said. “What colleges have been trying to do is convince courts to view them as a bystander to risks that are foreseeable in connection with their students.”

StuVi2 became an instant landmark when it opened in 2009: 26 stories of floor-to-ceiling windows towering over the Massachusetts Turnpike and an entrance with the elegance of a hotel lobby. Boston University called the dormitory, which houses about 960 students, “a jewel in the crown of BU’s campus.”

It also had a prominent 24-hour security presence, including not only guards, but scanners where students must swipe their IDs to reach the elevators. Visitors can enter only after both they and their host have provided identification.

Donick, an MIT sophomore, signed in as a guest of a female BU student in the early morning hours of Oct. 18, 2015, before leaving his host behind. Despite BU housing policy requiring guests to remain with their hosts at all times, Donick and at least one other man roamed the building alone deep into the night.

The two MIT students didn’t show up on surveillance cameras as they went from floor to floor upstairs, making their way through upper stairwells and hallways where there are no cameras or regular patrols, according to court depositions. They easily entered unlocked apartments on seven floors before coming to the front door of Jane Doe’s apartment on the 13th floor, which she shared with a suitemate.

Then, “at approximately 2:45 a.m.,” Donick “entered the suite and then individual bedroom of [Boston University junior] Jane Doe, who was sleeping, and sexually assaulted her,” according to court documents. Doe woke to the assault and screamed at Donick to leave, then rushed to wake her suitemate when he fled, according to the Suffolk district attorney at the time.

Donick eventually pleaded guilty to indecent assault and battery, assault and battery, and breaking and entering.

Other students who lived in StuVi2 said they would have been equally vulnerable to attack. One former student said she was fortunate that her roommate was awake when the two MIT students entered their apartment that night.

“I kept thinking, you know, what if my roommate hadn’t been awake?” said the student, who asked that her name not be published. “It’s definitely not uncommon for students to leave their doors unlocked when they’re physically home.”

Jane Doe argued that BU and individual administrators bear responsibility in the incident for failing to enforce the guest policy, selecting locks without an automatic function, and not pressing students to keep their bedroom doors locked.

Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore, one of the named defendants, acknowledged knowing that students sometimes kept their doors unlocked — and that the school’s guest policy was not consistently enforced. “We don’t want to create a place where we’re disciplining every student who does not walk a resident out of the building,” Elmore said in a deposition. “It starts to feel stifling and restrictive on the total environment that they’ve got to live in.”

Doe’s lawyers argue that BU didn’t crack down on unlocked doors even after the 2015 attack, noting that in 2016 another unescorted guest entered multiple female students’ StuVi2 suites and asked them sexually explicit questions.

“It is stunning that BU takes the position that its security measures in October 2015 were ‘reasonable,’ and that this event was unforeseeable, given that an almost identical event happened just over a year after the assault of Jane Doe,” her lawyers wrote.

Elmore acknowledged in his deposition that an e-mail warning students to lock doors and follow guest policy was sent out to students only after the second incident, in 2016.

Lisa Parlagreco, who is cocounsel on a brief for another sexual assault case against Northeastern University, said the challenge for Jane Doe’s attorneys will be proving that BU’s security failings were more like the Pine Manor case and less like those in the Northeastern and MIT cases. If Jane Doe does prevail, Parlagreco said, it will send a message “to any other college or university in the Commonwealth that might be following BU’s model . . . that they continue that practice at their peril.”

The case of Jane Doe v. Boston University is scheduled to go to trial sometime in 2020. Currently named defendants include Elmore; David Zamjoski, BU’s director of residence life; and Thomas Robbins, former chief of the BU police. Doe argues that all of them should be held accountable, saying, “BU promised and represented to me and my family that the dormitory would be safe, that BU was committed to preventing sexual assault, and that the safety and security of students was their number one priority.”

“My family and I relied on these representations,” she said.


Dreamy old-fashioned conservatism at Princeton

PRINCETON, N.J.—Here on Prospect Avenue, among a row of august mega-mansions masquerading as academic buildings, the next generation of America’s conservative elites is being groomed. Far away in Washington, D.C.—well, not so far away on the Acela—American politics seem to keep getting more and more chaotic, with Donald Trump’s impeachment, nonstop Twitter drama, and White House staffers staging their own spin-off of Survivor. At Princeton, however, conservative-leaning students and professors are mostly insulated from the day-to-day tumult. They’re more interested in a bigger question: What should conservatism—and America—look like moving forward?

It’s a weird time to be young and conservative, especially at a school like Princeton. Elite conservative circles at these universities tend to focus on great books and big ideas, on statesmanship and lofty principles. Nothing could be further from the culture of American politics at the national level today, driven as it is by tribalism and thirst for the blood of political enemies. The students I spoke with mostly cast a side-eye at the meme-driven, own-the-libs mentality promoted by organizations such as Turning Point USA that are popular on many college campuses.

Instead, students at Princeton who lean to the right have helped build a robust suite of conservative groups, most prominently the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, an expansive academic center overseen by the prominent scholar Robert P. George. At a distinctly anti-elite moment in American politics, the leaders of this microcosm are doubling down on one of the oldest theories of politics: that ideas have the power to shape the direction of the country.

It remains an open question, however, whether conservative intellectuals and their ideas still matter in determining what happens to the Republican Party and the conservative movement after Trump. If the past few years have proved anything politically, it’s that conservative elites aren’t great at predicting what the American people actually want. At least at Princeton, students and their mentors are betting that romantic ideals such as collegiality and intellectual rigor have not totally lost their relevance in the Trump era.

Of America’s elite universities, Princeton has a plausible claim to being one of the most powerful incubators of young conservatives who want to work in politics. The campus is largely apolitical or vaguely liberal, students told me, but George has carved out a mini-kingdom for right-leaning academics and students, who have gone on to hold all sorts of influential positions. Many leading conservative luminaries, including Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Senator Ted Cruz, have degrees from the institution. Like graduates of other prestigious colleges, Princeton alumni serve as Hill staffers, diplomats, think-tank wonks, and even Fox News personalities.

While Princeton’s conservative life may be flourishing, its intellectual environment is distinctly at odds with conservatism on the national stage. On a recent chilly morning, a collection of like-minded professors, postgraduate fellows in the Madison Program, and university staffers gathered for a weekly coffee chat in one of those Prospect Avenue faux mega-mansions, sipping coffee in armchairs near a cozy fire. One professor held a mug bearing the slogan “The dogma lives loudly in you,” a reference to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s now-infamous comment to the conservative judicial scholar Amy Coney Barrett ahead of her 2017 confirmation to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

No one seemed particularly dispirited by the mind-bending task of teaching students about conservative thought in the age of Trump. “We shall overcome,” said George, the group’s informal leader, with a chuckle. George, a native West Virginian, is an amateur bluegrass musician, and these freewheeling discussions occasionally turn into impromptu folk-music jams, complete with hippie-era protest songs. He still believes that America is a creedal nation, accessible to anyone who believes in its principles and wants to participate in civic life in good faith.“There will come a time after Trump,” he said. When that happens, “conservatism, and the country, are going to have to figure out: What do we do then?”

The students and professors who move in Princeton’s conservative worlds have a diverse range of political views: They are pro-Trump and anti-Trump, stalwart supporters of the Republican Party and politically homeless wanderers with conservative leanings. I talked with students who like some of what Trump is doing, but for the most part, they were hesitant to go full MAGA. Regardless of their political persuasions, they seem to share a vision of how politics should be done, prizing respectful debate, principled arguments, and guidance from thinkers such as John Locke and Alexis de Tocqueville. It’s an ethos focused, above all, on civility and erudition.

Akhil Rajasekar, a junior who founded an undergraduate chapter of the Federalist Society and serves as the editor in chief of the conservative journal The Princeton Tory, told me that issues such as impeachment have gone all but unmentioned among his friends and peers. “We are just debating the way we see the world and how it should be,” Rajasekar said. Conversations about politics at restaurants and bars are always cordial and respectful, he added. “We place a high premium on that kind of collegiality.”

Even something so basic as collegiality can seem quaint these days. Although American politics have always been ugly and divisive, elite manners and sensibilities at least superficially governed how political life was conducted. The art of persuasion was at the very least afforded lip service. Not so much anymore.

I asked George whether he and his colleagues are training horse-and-buggy drivers in a world built for cars, giving his students the arguably false impression that the political world can be won with nothing more than persuasive arguments and compelling ideas. “We have a motto for students in the Madison Program—it’s on some of the swag we hand out,” he said. “It’s ‘Think deeply, think critically, and think for yourself.’” George, a long-respected figure in the conservative political world, has been a vocal critic of Trump since before the 2016 election. As a result, unlike in prior Republican administrations, he has largely remained on the sidelines of policy initiatives and debates happening in Trump’s Washington. Still, he’s committed to his vision of what the conservative movement, and American politics, can look like. “I have a kind of faith in the power of clear, coherent, deep thinking to produce good citizens and good people,” he said.

Students immersed in the conservative world at Princeton don’t always share George’s starry-eyed optimism, however. In the face of a national political culture that can be profoundly cynical, some have become jaded. “Idealism is dead at Princeton,” Christian Schmidt, a senior who has been involved in nearly every conservative organization on campus, told me over apple cider at a local coffee shop. “The primary emotion, I think, on Princeton’s campus is apathy. Or apathy fused with resignation.”

Other students said they don’t see a clear place for themselves in conservative politics, no matter how engaged they might be in the world of conservative ideas. “I’ve always been kind of wary to identify as conservative,” Will Nolan, a 2019 graduate and the former president of the Anscombe Society, a student group focused on promoting traditional notions of marriage and sexuality, told me. He believes that climate change is real, for example, and has been dismayed by the resistance to the issue he has encountered among some people in conservative circles. Being a “flag-holding Republican has never been the highest priority for me,” he said.

Another student, Lucy Dever, who has been active in Princeton Pro-Life, said she doesn’t really think of herself as a political person. But when she attended the annual March for Life in D.C. last year, there was “a lot of cheering for President Trump,” she told me. This made her uncomfortable: “I think the pro-life cause is not a party-politics cause, or shouldn’t be,” she said. “It’s a moral issue, and not a political one.”

Most of the people I spoke with described feeling welcome to share their ideas on Princeton’s campus—a number of students and faculty specifically mentioned that the school’s president, Christopher Eisgruber, has made a point of creating space for diverse viewpoints. In elite circles beyond Princeton’s tony campus, however, they do not think this is necessarily the case. “It can be very lonely if you feel like you’re the only one who believes these things,” said Serena Sigillito, who works at the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank near Princeton’s campus that also falls under George’s umbrella of influence.* Especially for conservatives who make their life in elite worlds, there can be a “temptation to withdraw into [our] own little communities and bubbles.”

In recent years, conservative thinkers and writers have debated a question among themselves: Has American culture been so thoroughly captured by progressives that retreat from mainstream life is the only sensible path forward? Some conservatives have taken Trump as a counterpoint to this argument, interpreting his election as the beginning of a long-term right-wing pushback against the dominant political order. Those who find themselves somewhere in between, however—wanting neither a full retreat from nor a full concession to the Trumpian way of politics—don’t necessarily have a clear path forward.

At least at Princeton, there seems to be hope. “We have gotten over these moments, these eruptions of no confidence,” said Allen Guelzo, a historian of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, during the conversation with George and other professors. “And I think we will get over this as well.”

Those in the room seemed to know that their status as intellectuals might not buy them the automatic credibility and power it once did. They also seemed well aware of the irony inherent in a bunch of elite academics sitting around, parsing the revolt of the populist masses. As one attendee joked, “We represent the people. Some of my best friends are people!”

And so the young conservatives of Princeton will head out into the world, hoping that their knowledge of Thomas Aquinas and John Locke has not been totally outmoded by memes, cable television, Twitter, and Trump. In this cloistered bastion, the work of grooming conservative elites will continue. “If I were the last man on Earth to believe this stuff,” George said, “I would still believe I’ve got the best product to sell.”


The Struggle to Repay Student Loans

Each year, thousands of young people leave college with significant student debt. Most of those who choose the right majors, graduate on time, and find solid employment pay off their loans with little difficulty.

But students who never graduate, who choose the wrong majors, who take extra time to get a degree, or who can’t find lucrative, full-time employment often struggle with debt. A report conducted last year by Student Debt Crisis shows just how much student debt can burden young people. The report surveyed 7,095 adults with student debt from all 50 states in October 2018.

The survey found that many borrowers face financial hardship. In total, 65 percent of student loan borrowers reported having less than $1,000 in their bank account.

Borrowers spend a significant amount of their monthly budgets on student loan payments. Of all respondents, 30 percent reported having a student loan bill higher than their rent or mortgage bill. Another 56 percent said their student loan bill was higher than their health insurance bill. And 65 percent of borrowers reported having a student loan bill higher than their monthly food budget.

Many students struggled to make their loan payments. Eighteen percent reported being in default on at least one student loan. And 20 percent reported being unable to make their next loan payment.

Survey respondents also reported that student loan debt has prevented them from meeting certain financial goals. Eighty percent of respondents said student debt prevented them from saving adequately for retirement. Fifty-nine percent said it prevented them from making large purchases. Fifty-six percent reported that debt prevented them from buying a home. And 42 percent reported that debt prevented them from buying a car.


Monday, January 06, 2020

Sky-High Athletics: UNC Spends $125,000 on Private Planes for Recruiting

To reach far-flung towns, private planes can be indispensable. The University of North Carolina system, for instance, has an air fleet to shuttle doctors around the state. UNC Air Operations expands the reach of high-quality health care to remote parts of the state and allows doctors to train medical students while still practicing medicine.

The flights, however, aren’t only used for health care. Though UNC Air’s website only mentions medical flights, UNC athletics coaches and high-ranking UNC officials also take flights, often for athletics recruiting or for meetings.

A Martin Center review of public records found that, from September 2018 to August 2019, the UNC-Chapel Hill athletics department was billed $125,825 for UNC Air trips and the UNC system office was billed $71,578. Many of those flights were for trips within a two-hour drive or to large cities serviced by commercial airlines.

In total, athletics and administrative flights made up about 27 percent of the roughly $725,000 in flight expenses, while about 65 percent of UNC Air’s costs were for medical flights. A service created to expand health care access in North Carolina has expanded into a perk for top officials and coaches funded by student tuition payments and taxpayer money.

UNC isn’t unique in using private planes for athletics purposes. As ESPN reported in August, at least 20 public universities own small planes for school business and many others use charter flights hired through a private service.

UNC Air has four planes and four pilots, Alan Wolf, news director for UNC Health Care, said in an email. Administratively, it falls under the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers program. “Since the NC AHEC program started, the planes have been available for university business, including athletics,” Wolf said.

And those planes are used often. In flight logs, football coach Mack Brown and former women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell were among the most common names listed. Brown took at least 22 flights while Hatchell, who resigned in April, caught 17.

Brown and Hatchell took trips to Cincinnati, Ohio; Pensacola and Jacksonville, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; and Washington, DC. Their flights came with a premium price tag: A flight Hatchell took in January 2019 to Baltimore cost $1,360 round-trip. A Cincinnati flight in October 2018 was $2,240 round-trip. Despite many commercial options, the athletics department opted for private flights.

Coaches didn’t only fly to far-flung cities, however. Brown flew to cities in North Carolina within 150 miles, saving time but driving up costs. Public records show flights to Wilmington, Greenville, Pikeville (near Goldsboro), Winston-Salem, Charlotte, and Fayetteville—which is a 90-minute drive from Raleigh. At least 18 flights were to cities in North Carolina, eight of them to Charlotte.

Brown’s roundtrip flight from Raleigh to Fayetteville in January 2019 was $480. Another January 2019 flight to Charlotte was $560. In-state trips per passenger, according to invoices, could cost $800 or more.

UNC officials say that private flights are standard for big-time college athletics.

“Many Division I universities use private flights to recruit, and UNC Air Operations is an important tool to help us find, visit and ultimately sign great students,” Robbi Evans, the associate athletic director for strategic communications at UNC, said in an email.

Evans isn’t wrong, either. “Universities often use planes for athletic recruiting, mostly football and basketball, and to shuttle administrators on trips to woo donors or lobby lawmakers,” ESPN noted. UNC isn’t an outlier in its use of private flights.

To officials, the cost is worth the time saved. “It’s much quicker to fly to those destinations than to drive,” Evans said. “In some scenarios, a coach might be trying to fit a recruiting trip around practice—or may need to get to multiple cities in one day.”

The flight logs reviewed by the Martin Center, however, were rarely for multi-city trips. Brown had a few hectic days, such as January 28, 2019, when he flew from Raleigh to Elizabeth City and Rocky Mount, then back to Raleigh. But most flights were one-city stops.

And with such large coaching staffs—14 coaches and advisors for football and 10 for women’s basketball—a few missed practices might not be a disaster.

Men’s basketball is conspicuously absent in UNC Air’s records. That might be due to donor aircraft. One February 2019 invoice noted that a donor lent their private plane to UNC athletics, but it’s unclear how often donor aircraft are used.

UNC officials argue that private flights are standard for big-time college athletics.

“Football and men’s basketball coaches have used other private flights through donations,” Evans said. But because those donations go through the Rams Club, the private athletic booster club, they are not legally required to say how often donor flights have been used. “Those numbers are not publicly available,” he said.

UNC’s defense of its private flights is similar to most colleges. When journalist Lucas Daprile looked at the University of South Carolina’s private plane use for The State, he found that the school had spent almost $2 million over the last five years for private flights, usually for fundraising and athletic recruiting.

A spokesman for USC told him that the flights are “the most efficient use of staff time…It helps us raise money. It helps us get grant funding.”


Colleges Dupe Parents and Taxpayers

Walter E. Williams
Colleges have been around for centuries. College students have also been around for centuries. Yet, college administrators assume that today’s students have needs that were unknown to their predecessors. Those needs include diversity and equity personnel, with massive budgets to accommodate.

According to Minding the Campus, Penn State University’s Office of Vice Provost for Educational Equity employs 66 staff members. The University of Michigan currently employs a diversity staff of 93 full-time diversity administrators, officers, directors, vice provosts, deans, consultants, specialists, investigators, managers, executive assistants, administrative assistants, analysts and coordinators. Amherst College, with a student body of 1,800 students employs 19 diversity people. Top college diversity bureaucrats earn salaries six figures, in some cases approaching $500,000 per year. In the case of the University of Michigan, a quarter (26) of their diversity officers earn annual salaries of more than $100,000. If you add generous fringe benefits and other expenses, you could easily be talking about $13 million a year in diversity costs. The Economist reports that University of California, Berkeley, has 175 diversity bureaucrats.

Diversity officials are a growing part of a college bureaucracy structure that outnumbers faculty by 2 to 2.5 depending on the college. According to “The Campus Diversity Swarm,” an article from Mark Pulliam, a contributing editor at Law and Liberty, which appeared in the City Journal (10/10/2018), diversity people assist in the cultivation of imaginary grievances of an ever-growing number of “oppressed” groups. Pulliam writes: “The mission of campus diversity officers is self-perpetuating. Affirmative action (i.e., racial and ethnic preferences in admissions) leads to grievance studies. Increased recognition of LGBTQ rights requires ever-greater accommodation by the rest of the student body. Protecting ‘vulnerable’ groups from ‘hate speech’ and ‘microaggressions’ requires speech codes and bias-response teams (staffed by diversocrats). Complaints must be investigated and adjudicated (by diversocrats). Fighting ‘toxic masculinity’ and combating an imaginary epidemic of campus sexual assault necessitate consent protocols, training, and hearing procedures — more work for an always-growing diversocrat cadre. Each newly recognized problem leads to a call for more programs and staffing.”

Campus diversity people have developed their own professional organization — the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education. They hold annual conferences — the last one in Philadelphia. The NADOHE has developed standards for professional practice and a political agenda, plus a Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, which is published by the American Psychological Association.

One wonders just how far spineless college administrators will go when it comes to caving in to the demands of campus snowflakes who have been taught that they must be protected against words, events and deeds that do not fully conform to their extremely limited, narrow-minded beliefs built on sheer delusion. Generosity demands that we forgive these precious snowflakes and hope that they eventually grow up. The real problem is with people assumed to be grown-ups — college professors and administrators — who serve their self-interest by tolerating and giving aid and comfort to our aberrant youth. Unless the cycle of promoting and nursing imaginary grievances is ended, diversity bureaucracies will take over our colleges and universities, supplanting altogether the goal of higher education.

“Diversity” is the highest goal of students and professors who openly detest those with whom they disagree. These people support the very antithesis of higher education with their withering attacks on free speech. Both in and out of academia, the content of a man’s character is no longer as important as the color of his skin, his sex, his sexual preferences or his political loyalties. That’s a vision that spells tragedy for our nation.


Why Are Fairfax County Schools Propping Up the Disturbing Trend of Child Activism?

As Climate Inc.'s wonder child Greta Thunberg dominates headlines, the school board in Fairfax County, Va., has decided to grant one day of absence from school to students who participate in political protests. Beginning January 27, students in seventh through twelfth grades will be permitted one excused absence each school year to engage in "civic engagement activities." Parents may fear that schools are trying to turn students into liberal activists, but the true reason behind the new policy may be less nefarious and perhaps even more terrifying.

Students had already taken days off school to attend protests, but the policy had not been formalized, Fairfax County Public Schools Spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell told WTOP. "The school board felt that this was something that could be formalized and wanted to put into writing. There were many students who were engaged and have been engaged and it was decided that it was time to go ahead and put into place," Caldwell said.

Liberal activist groups have long aimed to indoctrinate kids and weaponize them for far-left causes. Greta Thunberg's success is at least partly attributable to her celebrity parents and to a climate industrial complex that has a great deal to gain from her activism. The far-left Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has issued grants to support school activism projects, including one denouncing a state flag as "violent" against Native Americans and another supporting the Green New Deal.

As National Review's Jim Geraghty pointed out, "using teens and children as spokesmen for political causes turns them into a sword and shield; they can make wildly inaccurate comments and false accusations and avoid scrutiny, and any pushback against their statements is construed as 'attacking a child.'" This rhetorical strategy makes children effective pawns in political battles and provides incentives for teachers to spin their classes in a partisan direction.

Yet the true tragedy in the new Fairfax Public Schools policy may have less to do with teachers indoctrinating students and weaponizing education. Many teachers may do this, but most would agree that it is wrong to skew education in the direction of activism.

As Geraghty pointed out, the Fairfax policy "represents a fundamental surrender on the part of educators."

There was a time, not so long ago, that teachers and school administrators would feel comfortable telling political activists of any stripe: “we know you believe that your cause is important; that’s how we feel about educating children. If you want middle-schoolers and high-schoolers to attend your event, please schedule it for after school, on a weekend, or during one of the multiple ‘teacher workdays’ during the year when students are not attending school. We believe that during school hours, children and teens belong in the classroom. This is why we spend money and have staff enforcing truancy.” Fairfax County Public School administrators are now afraid to make that argument. If they do so, they will be denounced by the activist class as insufficiently “woke,” progressive, or aligned with the popular causes of the day. The administrators are afraid to be authority figures, making a decision based upon the best interests of the children in their school system.
A liberal teacher may skew education toward liberal views, and that would be a tragedy. It would arguably be worse if the teacher did not believe in education enough to say "no" to requests for activism. That would be a tragedy of a completely different sort.

As a new parent in the Washington, D.C. area, I am very concerned about the state of local schools. New fads like transgender identity, climate change activism, and opposition to gun rights are increasingly invading public schools and undermining the purpose of education — guiding children toward maturity and truth. School should not teach children to become activists, it should teach them to be citizens. Political movements should be regarded with skepticism, not blind loyalty.

I am increasingly convinced that public schools are not an option for my family, for conservative Christians, or for those who believe in traditional American values like limited government and adherence to the Constitution. Only when teachers believe in education more than activism can schools do what they are supposed to do.