Friday, July 03, 2020

Are College Professors Less Supportive of Black Students?

"Are black students more trouble than white students?" would get to the heart of the matter.  And we all know the answer to that

The Gallup organization, perhaps America’s most respected surveyor of public opinion, recently conducted its annual Alumni Survey of nearly 20,000 adults who attended college, slightly more than 1,600 of whom graduated between 2010 and 2019. Presumably most of these respondents are in their twenties or early thirties. When asked, 63% of white or Hispanic students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “My professors at [University name] cared about me as a person,” compared with only 44% of Black students.

This seems broadly consistent with other evidence, including news accounts of campus protest demonstrations, that suggest that Black students feel less satisfied with their college experience than other students. I would note, however, that those truly most dissatisfied with their treatment by professors are those who explicitly disagree with the statement above—not believing their university’s professors “cared about me as a person.” Here, the racial differences are far less apparent. Only 19% of Blacks, compared with 16% of whites (and 14% of Hispanics), disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement Gallup posed to respondents. Among students who seem likely to be most dissatisfied with the way they are treated by professors, the racial differences are not very large, indeed possibly not even statistically significantly different at a high level of confidence (I did not see that information).

As a social scientist aware of pitfalls of making generalizations about phenomena based on very limited data, I have grave reservations about concluding “survey results show that Blacks are treated significantly different than whites by their professors.” There are other factors that the Gallup survey did not evaluate, as lead author Jessica Harlan acknowledged during a brief interview. For example, incomes of Black Americans on average are significantly lower than that of whites. Do professors tend on average to show less empathy and concern for lower income students, independent of their race? Numerous studies show that, probably because of affirmative action policies, Black students have lower average admission test scores than white students. If these tests measure something useful, as many believe, might the closer rapport observed between professors and white students be a function of differences in prior educational preparation and performance rather than race?

Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor asserted nearly a decade ago that well intended policies designed to narrow racial disparities often have undesirable academic consequences, leading to a mismatch of students with the institution that they attend. Sander and Taylor claimed, with considerable evidence supporting them, that some Black students are much worse off attending prestigious schools to which they are admitted rather than very good but somewhat less selective admission schools for which they had comparable qualifications relative to other students.

One of the advantages of teaching for well over a half a century is that one gets some sense of attitudinal change over time. If asked in, say, 1970, “Do you think some professors are not particularly cordial to Black students because of preconceived opinions about their likely performance simply based on race?” I probably would have answered “yes.”

Since then, however, universities have devoted huge resources to reducing racial disparities. Universities have high level administrators responsible for “diversity and inclusion.” If asked today the same question as stated above, I would answer “rarely, and, in fact, some professors sympathetic to Black resentment of racial disparities would probably show special encouragement and attention to Black students.” Perhaps those perceptions are wrong, but they nonetheless make me suspicious of blanket claims that “Professors care less about Black students.”

Gallup is providing a useful service with its alumni surveys, originally started in partnership with Purdue University. I think the information that Gallup has gleaned should encourage more high quality research where racial factors are evaluated along with a host of other considerations influencing professorial reaction to students.

Putting racial disparities aside, roughly 40% of full time students seeking bachelor’s degrees do not graduate from college in six years. Arguably, this is a national scandal, wasting vast human resources and causing much needless despair for college dropouts. The issue, however, probably goes far beyond race, and involves, for example, in some cases general faculty indifference to students in an era of Publish or Perish. More research is needed.


The problem with rescinding admission tests

As the country reckons with the reverberations of the May 25 murder of George Floyd, students nationwide are calling attention to their classmates’ racially offensive social media posts and asking for action. In response, colleges and universities are launching investigations, imposing discipline, and — for graduating high school seniors preparing to attend college in the fall — rescinding offers of admission.

It is easy to understand the anger. Many of the targeted posts are flatly racist. Even so,  colleges and universities should only rescind a student’s admission in narrow circumstances — if the post is a true threat of violence, for example, or falls into one of the carefully defined categories of unprotected speech.

This feels counterintuitive, as civil liberties principles often do in application. People are angry; the speech is ugly. Setting aside the legal questions, why shouldn’t a college revoke an offer of admission because it believes the student to have racist views?

Because rescinding admission lets both the college and the student off easy.

Colleges and universities are uniquely prepared to introduce students to the worldviews and experiences of others who have lived lives very different from their own — indeed, they are designed to do so. Confronting new ideas and reevaluating one’s own is the point of a liberal arts education. For many, this will be transformative. For those students who have authored racist social media posts, it may be especially so. Rescinding admission stops the educational process before it has started.

It is true that there is no guarantee that a college education will change a young person’s mind on matters of race or discrimination. But it is far more likely to do so than the other life paths available to a newly exposed and embittered 18-year-old. It is also true that granting a student who is a determined racist an opportunity for human understanding may represent far more generosity than he or she has afforded black Americans. But there is demonstrative power in allowing a young racist to realize as much, and to learn why his or her words offended and hurt others. A college education may serve as a powerful “call-in,” and colleges are well-equipped to do more lasting work than a social media call-out. 

Daily life at college after being identified as the author of offensive social media posts may well be difficult. Social sanctions against racism are real and powerful. But that’s how freedom of expression works. There’s no right to be free from offense; likewise, there’s no right to be free from criticism. Free speech protects racist speech. It also protects identification and criticism of racist speech. The student’s beliefs will be challenged, and if the student remains committed to racism, it will not be because that commitment was without serious consequences.

What about the law?

For enrolled students, the legal analysis is straightforward. The First Amendment protects a great deal of speech that many find deeply offensive, including hateful speech. This is for good reason: we can’t trust those in power to define what speech may be punished without critically endangering dissent.

Public universities are bound by the First Amendment. They can’t punish a student for a racist Snapchat post unless it falls into one of the carefully defined categories of unprotected speech. Likewise, the many private universities that make clear promises of freedom of expression to their students can’t abandon those promises in the face of criticism without rendering them worthless.

Racist speech is not uniformly protected. Colleges and universities that receive federal funding are legally obligated under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to prohibit and take action against discriminatory racial harassment, properly defined. Again, this standard is high for a reason; a lower standard would endanger a great deal of artistic and political expression, including speech intended to criticize racism. The racism contained in many of the social media posts targeted over the last few weeks would not meet it.

What about offers of admission? As I noted a few years back in discussing Harvard’s rescission of admission offers to students who had participated in a Facebook memes group that included racist and sexually explicit images, enrollment is a contractual agreement between college and student. The college may condition an offer of admission on certain standards being met prior to formal enrollment or the payment and acceptance of a tuition payment. Harvard, for example, reportedly warned the admitted students that the College “reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.”

These are broad provisions, and there is a question about whether they would be lawful if maintained by a public college or university bound by the First Amendment instead of a private institution like Harvard. Some applications of a clause like this by a private institution might also raise questions of law. But in either case, once the student has matriculated, his or her speech from then on should be judged by the First Amendment (at public institutions) or the institution’s promises of free expression (at private colleges and universities).

The fundamental question is how we should treat young adults who have expressed hateful views. Shunning them may be a rational individual response, and is itself an expressive or associational act protected by the First Amendment. But institutions committed to education should not allow themselves that easy out, or deny such a student a chance to actually examine his or her own views. As one university’s recent statement sagely noted, “Education is a daily confrontation with ignorance.” If we stop believing in the power of words and education to change minds and push us further along towards greater understanding, tolerance, and a more perfect union, democracy is in real trouble. Like democracy itself, the First Amendment isn’t easy, but the alternatives are worse.

A college shouldn’t change its mind about a student before the student has had a chance to change her mind about the world.


Supreme Court Hands Huge Victory to Families on School Choice

In a 5-4 decision Tuesday, the Supreme Court held that families have a right to seek the best educational opportunities for their children, by preventing states from blocking the participation of religiously affiliated schools in state school choice programs.

In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court ruled that the application of a “no-aid” provision in Montana’s Constitution violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, since it barred state tax credit scholarships from being used at private religious schools.

In a huge win for families, the high court held that states cannot apply the no-aid provision to discriminate against religious schools by excluding them from private school choice programs.

In 2002, the court’s ruling in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris held that the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution did not block parents from choosing schools that are the best fit for their children, including religious schools.

Tuesday’s decision in Espinoza removed the largest state constitutional obstacle by holding that so-called Blaine Amendments cannot be used to deny choice to parents.

Under the U.S. Constitution, states no longer may prevent parents from choosing religious schools if they are participating in a school choice program.

“A state need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools simply because they are religious,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion of the court in Espinoza.

This decision struck a blow to the notoriously anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment in Montana’s Constitution that sanctioned explicit discrimination against religious schools in funding. Montana’s discrimination hurt families who have a wide variety of values and preferences when it comes to their children’s education.

As the Supreme Court had previously noted, Blaine Amendments have an “ignoble” history. The amendments are named after Sen. James G. Blaine of Maine, who in 1875 sought a federal constitutional prohibition of aid to “sectarian” schools.

“Consideration of the amendment arose at a time of pervasive hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholics in general, and it was an open secret that sectarian was code for Catholic,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the court’s Mitchell v. Helms decision in 2000.

As Jarrett Stepman and one of us, Lindsey Burke, wrote previously in the Journal of School Choice:

Catholics sought to establish their own schools, and proposed that funding should follow, as it had to the common school (proto-public schools).

Supporters of the common school movement perceived a threat to its mission in such proposals. … Against this backdrop, Blaine [Amendments] sought to prevent aid to Catholic schooling as part of a wider reaction to increased Catholic immigration.

Blaine’s effort to amend the U.S. Constitution failed in 1875, but his effort still served as a major impediment to school choice, continuing to thwart modern-day school choice programs in the 21st century.

That’s because 37 states went on to adopt similar amendments, sometimes referred to as “baby Blaine Amendments.” Prior to today’s ruling, in states such as Montana, many of these state Blaine Amendments and similar “compelled support” clauses restricted or outright prohibited the use of taxpayer funds at private religious schools.

This timeline shows when states adopted Blaine Amendments and similar “compelled support” clauses.

The Supreme Court made it clear Tuesday that the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution prohibits discrimination against religious schools on the basis of their religious status—a status that provides families with more education options that best meet the needs of their children.

The high court said that if states create a publicly available benefit, such as a scholarship program, they must allow religious schools to participate. The states that have Blaine Amendments in place are now prohibited from excluding religious school options.

In Mitchell v. Helms, Thomas wrote of Blaine Amendments: “This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now.” On Tuesday, the Supreme Court’s decision in Espinoza took us one step closer to achieving that goal.

Now is the time for states to cast aside these 19th-century rules rooted in prejudice that unfairly punish religious families, students, and schools. The Constitution requires states to provide a level playing field for religious and secular education.

The legal impediment to school choice programs is now gone, and it’s up to state legislatures to move forward advancing education choice.

The court made it clear that policymakers across the country now have the power to enact robust school choice programs. They should do just that.


Thursday, July 02, 2020

Amid a national reckoning on race, college students lead a push for change on campus

When the student leaders of an antiracism club at Boston College discovered recently that the official Boston College Instagram account had followed their page, it seemed almost metaphorical.

For months the students had been posting information to fellow students about how to be antiracist, but suddenly it seemed the university was listening.

Leaders of the group, the FACES Council, said for years their organization has filled a void by providing workshops and events about diversity, inclusion, and antiracism, and their work has only ramped up in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. Now FACES is planning a training for professors, too, after a surprising number of faculty asked the group for guidance on how to be antiracist in the classroom.

“It’s this weird total power shift, but it’s also kind of welcome,” said Alyssa Iferenta, a codirector of FACES.

Amid the nation’s reckoning on race, students at universities across the city find themselves leading the way on efforts to confront systemic racism on their campuses. Some of these campaigns are not new, but students hope the unprecedented national spotlight in this moment will finally spark long-needed change.

Efforts are underway at schools including Suffolk University, Emerson College, Northeastern University, Boston University, the New England Conservatory, Tufts University, and Bentley University. Some campaigns center around defunding campus police, but others are about change that goes much deeper, from hiring more faculty of color to revamping curriculums that focus heavily on white perspectives.

College students have always played a pivotal role in movements such as the one underway now, said Quito Swan, an Africana studies professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and director of the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture.

“Student energy, student voices, the sense of ‘we have nothing to lose’ matters, and it has always mattered in these kind of moments,” he said. “What is particularly striking is the level of intensity.”

He compared students’ efforts now to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and its central role during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and said some members of that movement have sought out today’s student leaders to share their wisdom.

The challenge with student movements, he said, is that students graduate and move on, but in some instances, the change they produce is lasting, like the formation of degree programs or community housing. A lot of college Africana studies programs are the result of student organizers in the 1960s, he said.

In recent weeks, some students have caught the attention of campus presidents after criticizing the leaders’ public statements about Floyd’s murder, prompting the presidents to issue new statements and announce actions to accompany their words.

“This time there’s definitely going to be a change in how the administration responds to us pushing them,” said Madeline Bockus, another codirector of the FACES group at BC.

At Boston University, a group of students in the School of Theatre has developed a list of demands they delivered to the school’s new director, with the goal of broad and deep reform of the program. The requests focus in part on the types of plays that are taught and who is cast in what roles in productions.

“As a Black student, I don’t really get to see myself in the things that we are taught in class,” said Angela Dogani, a rising senior studying stage management.

At Northeastern, activism has focused largely on campus police. Sade Adewunmi, 21, the first executive director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for the student government, penned “In Pain and Enraged” and posted it on the student government website, calling for Northeastern to look more closely at its own policies and policing practices. The column went viral within the university community and attracted the attention of the university’s president.

Adewunmi said that although Northeastern president Joseph Aoun wrote two statements addressing the protests and the killings, he had said little about how the university would address its own racial inequities. For example, campus events sponsored by Black students, such as the annual Black Market, a vendor fair, always have a bigger police presence than sorority events which draw many more students, Adewunmi said.

The share of Black students at the university has also decreased over the years, Adewunmi said. In 2018, 4 percent of Northeastern’s undergraduates were Black, compared to nearly 6 percent about 15 years before, according to the US Education Department.

“Why does being a Black student at Northeastern feel like it’s the 1980s?” Adewunmi said. “Being Black on this campus is not as easy as people believe.”

Adewunmi was among a group of Black student leaders that Aoun spoke with recently before he released a statement outlining steps the university will take to address racial equity on campus. Aoun said Northeastern will aim to increase Black student enrollment, hire more diverse faculty, establish a community advisory board for the police department, and elevate the associate dean of cultural and spiritual life to a cabinet position.

“A message I have heard repeatedly in recent weeks is that our Black students, in particular, need to receive better student support. They must feel valued, included, and safe at their university,” Aoun wrote.

In other parts of the city, alumni are also engaged. A group of graduates of the New England Conservatory recently sent an open letter to the school’s president to push for a host of changes, including a curriculum less focused on European music and composers.

At Suffolk University, the Black Student Union has become a hub for activism. The group cohosted a workshop on the realities of police brutality with the college’s Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion this month, and union members attended another college discussion about student solidarity. The union plans to work with the university to create more on-campus mental health resources that can address the emotional impact of police violence and inequity in the Black community.

At Emerson College, which like many colleges in Boston is a majority-white school, student government leaders are urging the college’s senior officials to reevaluate the diversity of professors, few of whom are people of color, and encourage the termination of faculty who have frequently popped up in students’ complaints about racism and insensitivity.

“Sensitivity training isn’t going to do anything if some professors just don’t listen,” said student government president Claire Rodenbush. “So they really need to just fire some professors.”

The BC students plan to hold their faculty training this summer via Zoom. One simple tip, the students said, is that professors should make sure they know the names of students of color and pronounce them correctly.

Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said there is already a host of programs on campus to help faculty with antiracism, diversity, and inclusion, including an annual Diversity and Inclusion Summit for all faculty and staff. He did not otherwise comment on the student efforts.

Iferenta, the FACES codirector, said although the dynamic of students teaching faculty is bizarre, it is a reminder that learning is a life-long process. She doesn’t fault professors for needing training or asking for help. Any fault, she said, lies with the institution.

“They have either failed to recognize that there’s sort of like this lack of knowledge on race and racism in America and by Boston College, or they recognized it and they failed to do anything about it,” she said.


The Latest Strategy To Deceive Parents

Supporters who want to keep Common Core’s failed standards in place have come up with a new twist for deceiving unhappy parents. First, they point explicitly to Common Core as a failed strategy to increase the academic achievement of low achievers in order to alert parents to what has happened.

They do what seems at first confusing because it is widely known that most parents and teachers (if they felt free to speak their minds) detest Common Core’s standards, tests, and aligned textbooks or readings.  All Common Core’s failings and limitations are real. While the many articles on the decline in student achievement in a Common Core-aligned educational environment tell the truth, there is malice in the schadenfreude expressed about the many disadvantaged kids who have been deprived of the educational equity that Common Core was initially touted as creating.

The strong possibility of public deception is suggested by two phenomena.  First, there has been no media clamor in reports of Common Core’s failures for stronger standards and curriculum materials.

Second, Common Core’s major supporters — the bureaucracy at the U.S. Department of Education, most if not all state departments of education (such as the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education), and the Gates Foundation — have kept their financial and political commitment to the failed strategy. Not one major foundation has advocated that Common Core’s materials and approach be replaced with more effective materials and approaches despite the failure of Common Core. Neither has any decision maker for the U.S. Department of Education. Neither has a single National Assessment of Educational Progress educator.

The problems, they and many others claim, lie with the mandated tests — and lack of federal money.  Explicitly, they don’t like “standardized” tests but think “performance-based assessments” would do the trick, even though they are costly, time-consuming, and unreliable.

Strange.  State commissioners and departments of education have long known that in order to get rid of Common Core-based tests and replace them with tests that are actually different they must get rid of Common Core’s standards.  The problem starts with the standards, not with the tests based on the Common Core standards.

They also know that Common Core-aligned standards and textbooks are in each state’s four-year state education plan — all approved by the U.S. Department of Education bureaucracy in 2016 or 2017 — and that these Common Core-aligned standards MUST be used until 2020.  That’s why the strategy of public deception is taking place this year.

Some states may seem to be changing their K-12 math and English Language Arts standards right now. But check the details.

In every case, the state plan the U.S. Department of Education bureaucracy approved in 2016 or 2017 is in control. That plan conforms with the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is the title of the Obama administration’s revision of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, performed under the secretary of education at the time, Arne Duncan, who pushed Common Core on all 50 states.

In other words:  Even relatively new state tests (under the Every Student Succeeds Act) are compatible with Common Core’s original standards.

Every state department of education knows that, even if the public still doesn’t know who wrote the Every Student Succeeds Act and who paid for it.

But ways to strengthen the K-12 curriculum are available. Most of the old pre-Common Core standards (meaning pre-2009) are still available even if archived away.  (One example is  Massachusetts’s original pre-2009 standards.)

Or states could do what many countries like Finland have always done at the high school level:  (1) create syllabi (course outlines showing content and readings to be taught) for all the courses that students are required to take in high school for their particular curriculum program (in Finland, there may be over seven to choose from) and (2) also require all students who want to go on to a four-year college to take a “matriculation” test.

If states like Massachusetts do this, the governor or secretary of education has to ensure that the committees creating syllabi for high school courses consist of experts in both pedagogy and content, such as classroom teachers in grades 11/12 and college professors who teach math and science to freshmen in engineering schools.

If high school syllabi (or standards) are created by school administrators or teachers for learning disabled or low-achieving students below grade 11, they are useless and invalid. They will be Common Core standards warmed over. (On that point, see here, here, and here.)

In the meantime, the Heritage Foundation seems to think that removing cabinet-level status from the U.S. Department of Education will cure the ailments to public education inflicted on public education by the Gates Foundation. Making the federal education department a lower-level agency, it claims, will enable parents to regain control of the local K-12 curriculum.

How this miracle would remove the damage the Common Core project has imposed on public education is anyone’s guess. But if both “conservatives” and “liberals” support the idea, like the “lockdown,” it will happen and in another decade we will all wonder why this country chose to shoot itself in the foot.


Making sense of the Australian government's war on humanities degrees

It's pretty cheeky for Leftists to expect a conservative government to keep funding attacks on it

Let’s face it: the federal government’s overhaul of university fees in the humanities, widely interpreted as a swipe against what it sees as pesky leftists, is pretty stinging.

As a Gen X’er, I was primed for the possibility – even the desirability – of winding up behind the desk at the local video library where my high-honours paper on “reading ideology and desire in Ferris Bueller's Day Off” would come in handy.

Still, federal minister Dan Tehan’s announcement comes at a time when humanities graduates have been forced into an existential reckoning about our relative uselessness in a national crisis. We analysed and interpreted and poeticised our strange new world to death, but the pandemic brought into sharp relief our non-essentialness against cleaners, truck drivers and supermarket workers, let alone teachers, farmers, nurses, doctors and the scientists beavering away for a COVID-19 vaccine.

If this doesn’t ring true for you, brilliant. But the idea that a mere arts degree is a dead end runs so deep that Tehan’s policy feels almost like a parental rebuke – if it wasn’t smothered in disingenuousness.

In the same way a crusader for sexual morality is obsessed with sex, the Coalition’s culture warriors display niche preoccupations with culture. Don’t “silo” your degree, Tehan says. If you choose philosophy, study IT as well. I’m attracted to the folksy commonsense in that statement, but the government isn’t just making subjects in IT or agriculture cheaper – it’s doubling the cost of philosophy et-al, which actively discourages mixing and matching. It appears punitive.

Want to tease out the political and philosophical subtext to the conservatives’ decades-long antipathy towards the higher-education sector? Well, it’ll cost you – about $45,000. Roughly double what an arts degree costs now, bringing the humanities into the same price band as commerce and law.

Which, as others have argued, paradoxically raises the courses’ perceived value. And that’s only one example of how the overhaul is unlikely to achieve the stated aims of steering young people away from the queer, black-armband, coal-hating humanities and towards “job ready” degrees.

As higher education expert Andrew Norton says: “You’re not going to do something that will bore you for three years and bore you for another 40 simply because the course is cheaper.” Unless, to begin with, you’re poorer than most.

When in 2014 the Abbott government sought to slash public funding of universities by 20 per cent and de-regulate fees, Labor roared about the prospect of “$100,000 degrees” and Senate crossbencher Jacqui Lambie saw a plot to keep the battlers in their place. The plan failed to pass. Since then, the conservatives have avoided the appearance of undermining equal opportunity to higher education.

And in the context of the Coalition’s broader ideological war, deterring low-income students from arts courses didn’t make much sense to me, at least initially.

Back in 1970, when only 7 per cent of 15-to-64 year-olds had bachelor degrees, political affiliation tended to be dictated by income. These days, the tertiary educated are a reliable constituency for Labor – and its social democratic counterparts in the US and UK – with sections of what we loosely call “the working class” increasingly up for grabs.

The conservatives argue they’re the real materialists: emphasising Jobson Growth while progressives talk about shutting down coal and micro-aggressions. I found myself idly theorising that low-income students might be more inclined to bring a pragmatic perspective to the humanities, the kind the government professes to want.

“I’m pretty sure most Australian taxpayers preferred their funding to be used for research other than spending $223,000 on projects like ‘Post orientalist arts of the Strait of Gibraltar',” tweeted then Education Minister Simon Birmingham in 2018, when he spectacularly vetoed $4.2 million in recommended university research grants.

(Though I still don’t understand why he binned “Beauty and Ugliness as Persuasive Tools in Changing China’s Gender Norms” – a subject I would have thought useful in China’s new masculinist ethos under strongman Xi Jinping.)

But then my arts training (and a few extra hours of sleep) awakened me to the flaw in my reasoning about low-income students; once they make it to uni, and certainly after graduation, they’ve shifted into the tertiary-educated demographic that skews left, bringing a critical eye to the status quo.

That’s because conservative narratives have become taboo in the humanities, the hard-core warriors say – with some justification, I suspect, though that’s a subject for a thesis. While the government-commissioned inquiry into free speech on Australian campuses found no evidence of a “systemic” crisis of free speech on Australian campuses, former High Court judge Robert French left enough wriggle room for columnists in The Australian to warn about a potential, pretty much already realised, free speech crisis on Australian campuses.

I should disclose: while The Australian’s weekly takedowns of the ABC overwhelmingly leave me baffled, I’m occasionally amused at the reporting on totalitarian groupthink in humanities departments. Like the yarn about the history student reportedly instructed to use the adjective “enslaved” befor­e a noun such as African, in place of the noun “slave”, because, her guide said, “people weren’t slaves; they were enslaved”.

I’m fairly certain graduates of history, or sociology or political science come away with more than tactical skills in avoiding linguistic landmines. Gaining a thread of understanding about slavery, however we talk about it, or Western civilisation or the Spanish Flu pandemic or the Great Depression might just be worth the time.


Wednesday, July 01, 2020

If We Jettison Standardized Testing, What’s Its Replacement?

The COVID-19 pandemic probably won’t kill the SAT, but will no doubt leave it in a badly weakened condition.

Both the SAT (and its close competitor, the ACT) have had to cancel administration of their tests for the last few months and, according to this Washington Post story, universities have decided that they will make their admission decisions without those test scores.

Before COVID-19, support for standardized testing was already eroding and recent developments are sure to cause further slippage.

Undoubtedly, the greatest blow was the decision by the University of California (UC) system to stop relying on standardized tests and develop a new test of its own within five years. One opponent of standardized tests (quoted in this Los Angeles Times piece) declared that this marks “the beginning of the end” for the SAT.

Under the plan, UC schools will be “test optional” for incoming students this year and next. For the following two years, UC institutions would be “test blind” for California residents, meaning that SAT and ACT scores would not be used at all, although out-of-state students could still submit scores. And by 2025, the state will either have developed a completely new admissions test or, if no such test has been approved, the UC system will go completely test blind.

Many who say that the standardized tests are unfair and pose a huge obstacle to a truly equitable admissions system are gleeful. Xueli Wang, for example, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, stated that California’s suspension of standardized testing is “a monumental step” toward “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

What is so bad about using standardized test scores (always in addition to other information about the student) in deciding which applicants to admit?

One argument is that the SAT and ACT are unfair because affluent parents can afford to spend money on coaches and materials that will help their children do better on the tests. There may be a kernel of truth in that argument, but not much more than that.

In a recent essay on Education Next, Jack Buckley, president of the testing firm Imbellus, wrote that “evidence fails to show that the ecosystem of test prep providers, consultants, and coaches does much more than profit from parental anxiety. Moreover, both major testing companies that oversee SAT and ACT have introduced free test-prep material in an attempt to offset any advantage of test preparation, although the efficacy of such offerings is unknown.”

He’s correct; prepping for the SAT or ACT has, at best, small marginal effects. If you really don’t know much about math, a few hours with a tutor isn’t going to improve your score much. If prepping for these tests really made a big difference, all the parents who were implicated in the Varsity Blues scandal—employing out-and-out fraud to get their kids into prestigious schools—wouldn’t have needed such tactics.

The standardized tests have also been attacked as being culturally unfair, using some questions that students from poor families probably wouldn’t know, such as an analogy where the meaning of “regatta” was crucial. But is that a good reason to abandon the tests? The companies that produce the tests have long been aware of the cultural bias problem and have dropped questions that were clearly unfair, a point noted by the UC Faculty Senate in a lengthy analysis of the SAT that opposed dropping it.

Moreover, the supposed cultural bias of the standardized tests doesn’t explain why so many low-income immigrants do well on them.

In his May 25 Wall Street Journal column, Jason Riley quotes Wenyuan Wu of the Asian American Coalition for Education: “What about those Chinatown kids whose parents toil in ethnic enclaves with low incomes and tremendous language barriers?” Supposed cultural bias in the tests doesn’t keep them from scoring very well and securing admission to the top California universities in high numbers—13.6 percent of the state’s population, but 29.5 percent of the undergraduates.

Moreover, the supposed cultural bias of the standardized tests doesn’t explain why so many low-income immigrants do well on them.
Riley argues that the trouble with the standardized tests isn’t racial or cultural bias, but rather that kids from intact families where education is taken seriously greatly outperform those from broken families where education is often of slight concern. That is the root of the problem, not the tests, and dropping them does nothing to solve it.

Nevertheless, the University of California has decided to abandon the SAT and come up with its own test, which led to a flurry of commentary from educators on the ideal replacement for the old tests. A May 26 Inside Higher Ed story entitled “Experts consider how a new admissions test could change higher education” gave a window into the thinking of “progressive” educators.

In that story, Johann Neem, a professor of history at Western Washington University, argued that colleges should “rely on holistic measures of student ability” and that “no single test can substitute for the careful evaluation of students’ records, developed over time, in different contexts.” Neem advocates having colleges assess student eligibility simply by determining if the individual has the reading, writing, and math skills to do college work—no scores of percentiles, but just a yes or no decision.

Apparently, it does not trouble Neem that his “yes or no” approach would lead to student bodies where there’d be an enormous range of capability among students. That would cause further pressure on professors to lower their standards.

Professor Mary Papazian of San Jose State would create a test where “the questions allow all students the space to reflect on their diverse life stories and experiences. The approach to the new test should be to help students show what they know and can do, to show their potential.”

That sounds nice, but it opens the door to evaluators of the student responses favoring some students over others not because of academic ability, but because of their “diverse life stories.”

Lynn Pasquerella, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, wants to see the development of “a universal portfolio system that allows students to gather evidence of learning proficiency over time,” including their “authentic work they identify as most representative of their learning gains.” Such portfolios would be evaluated by “scorers trained to assess higher-order thinking, communication skills and the capacity for intellectual growth.”

She reveals her true agenda by adding that this system would address “persistent equity gaps and the growing economic and racial segregation in higher education.” In other words, college should be a tool for promoting group equality, not individual excellence.

That’s how most admissions people look at their job. Their overriding concern is to advance “social justice” (as they see it) by ensuring that more students from “underrepresented groups” are admitted to top colleges. Supposedly, getting into schools like Harvard, Berkeley, and UCLA will mean better life outcomes for those students, thus reducing group inequalities.

Harvard history professor James Hankins nailed the truth when he wrote,

College admissions officers today have come to see it as their responsibility to right the wrongs of society. They believe that African Americans, and to a lesser extent Hispanics, have been the victims of systematic racism, and that colleges must contribute to a more equal society by admitting disadvantaged minorities in greater numbers than their individual achievements might warrant.

The kind of new “testing” that people like Neem, Papazian, and Pasquerella have in mind is perfectly suited to giving admissions officers carte blanche to choose students who strike them as deserving simply on account of their backgrounds.

But such a system won’t be free of “bias” or the influence of money. Well-to-do families will quickly figure out how to game the system with carefully crafted “portfolios of authentic work” by their children that will hit all the right notes with admissions officers who believe that they must help the college promote social justice. In consequence, schools will drift further and further away from the ideal of providing a rigorous education for all.

An argument can be made that we need to improve our admission testing, but rather than obsessing over “diversity” the right approach would seek to identify those students who are truly ready for and interested in learning. That element of homogeneity should be what matters, not the happenstances of ancestry or the ability to strike politically correct poses.


Princeton University to Drop Former Democratic President Woodrow Wilson From School's Name

Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber announced on Saturday that Princeton will be removing the name of the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, from the university's school of public policy and residential college. Princeton's board of trustees approved the removal of Wilson's name on Friday, Axios reports.

"Wilson's racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time. He segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice," said Eisgruber.

As POLITICO reports, Wilson segregated the federal workforce in D.C., held a private screening of "Birth of a Nation" -- a movie that glorifies the Klan -- and blocked a proposal to include racial equality among the founding principals of Wilson's failed League of Nations.

“The board reconsidered these conclusions this month as the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks drew renewed attention to the long and damaging history of racism in America,” Princeton University President Chris Eisgruber said about dropping Wilson's name.

In none of the shootings cited by Eisgruber has racism been established as the cause of death.

Woodrow Wilson was a progressive leader in the vein of Franklin Roosevelt. FDR nominated the ironically-named Klansman Hugo Black to the Supreme Court, refused Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, and threw Japanese Americans into internment camps. Sounds like he's going next.

Conservatives have also pointed out that Yale University is named after a slave trader.


Australian Universities grapple with new ways to test students to combat cheating

Universities are exploring new ways to tackle cheating and prepare students for workplace demands in a post-coronavirus world, with a particular focus on how exams and other assessments are conducted.

Academic integrity researcher Cath Ellis, who is associate dean of education in the faculty of arts and social sciences at the University of NSW, has found the bulk of students who cheat do so under the noses of supervisors during old-fashioned exams.

"The trust that people put in the integrity of invigilated exams may be misplaced," she said.

Associate Professor Ellis and a team of researchers recently found that close to 6 per cent of more than 14,000 university students surveyed admitted to cheating. Of those, more than half said they had provided help with exams and 41 per cent said they received help. About 8 per cent admitted to taking an exam for someone else and 4.2 per cent admitted someone else had done their exam.

"This research showed that exam cheating remains the most common type of contract cheating behaviour to which students admit," she said.

It was also the most likely to have involved payment including through a professional service.

Some universities have started using expensive new software that monitors individual students through cameras and keyboards to keep an eye on students sitting exams. Different versions included directly watching students, tracking their eye movements and keyboard activity.

The changes come as the federal government establishes a $3.9 million integrity unit in the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA). New legislation will empower the unit to block access to cheating websites using court injunctions.

Associate Professor Ellis said the COVID-19 crisis had prompted universities to reconsider traditional ways of examining hundreds of students. "The real challenge we are facing is what can we do to replace exams," she said.

"I do appreciate there is a need for them in some circumstances. Whether we over-rely on them as an assessment technique is a valid question for us to ask ourselves.

"I think that there are cleverer more authentic ways to assess student learning and that is where a lot of universities are putting their efforts," Associate Professor Ellis said.

This included assessment of a broader range of skills students would be expected to demonstrate in the workforce. In that vein, the University of Sydney is trialling the assessment of student qualities including inventiveness, cultural competence and influence, which it hopes to adopt across all faculties.

The university's acting registrar and academic director for education policy and quality, Peter McCallum, said there had been a mixed response from different faculties including some that had raised concerns about their ability to fairly assess the graduate attributes.

Law professor Barbara McDonald said the law faculty had objected to the proposed assessment of students’ cultural competence or influence, among other things.

“Many academics have deep concerns about assessing cultural competence, and think it is ridiculous to be trying to assess whether a student has influence, as opposed to assessing their expertise and communication skills to go out and be influential," she said. "We think this is distracting us from our core responsibilities and would be impracticable to do fairly and meaningfully across hundreds of students."


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Why Do American Universities Lead the World in Scientific Research?

Miguel Urquiola is professor and chair of the department of economics at Columbia University. His special field is education and his book Markets, Minds, and Money: Why America Leads the World in University Research is about American higher education—its history, its relationship to higher education in Europe, and the trajectory it has followed from the first green shoots of the Ivy League.

Urquiola describes how the history of American universities put them on a path different from European universities, a path where economic forces could act in ways that allowed American institutions to diverge and, in the late 20th century, to become pre-eminent engines of scientific research.

This pre-eminence occurred despite statistics putting US scientific literacy well behind many European countries. For example, the second graph in the book shows PISA math scores for students from Germany, France, the UK, and the US: The US lags well behind in every year from 2003 to 2012. The first graph shows years of schooling: here the US leads. Despite more years of school, Americans do worse than the British, French, and Germans.

Nevertheless, something is working. The next graph in the book shows “the frequency with which Nobel winners’ biographies mention universities in different countries:” the US lagged massively in 1870, draws even in about 1920, and pulls way ahead thereafter. The US also leads in the number of science Nobels, but Urquiola’s point is that the work that contributes to the prize always occurs much earlier. The US leads in both.

How did the US achieve leadership in research despite several counter-indications and a slow start? Urquiola’s answer is that our higher education evolved in the direction of the free market. In European countries, institutions of higher education evolved in the opposite direction.

By the 20th century, US higher education conformed to three principles, what Urquiola terms

self-rule: the institution can go its own way,

free entry: new institutions face no barriers to entry, and
free scope: an institution can choose just what services it offers.

To make his point, Urquiola traces the history of higher ed in the US from its beginning with Harvard in 1636, William and Mary, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Princeton, and others. The land-grant colleges followed after the Civil War, and the growth of US academe accelerated to reach its contemporary peak of nearly 5,000 institutions.

Barriers to entry were modest and most of those institutions were essentially autonomous. The varied offerings of the schools conformed to what Urquiola calls free scope.

By contrast, universities in Germany, which was until the early 20th century a world leader in academic research, were all supported by the various states and were far from autonomous.

After Germany came Britain, where Oxford and Cambridge retained some autonomy. But by 1910, US research output had overtaken Britain and France; Germany, of course, fell behind after World War II and has yet to fully recover.

In Urquiola’s view, the process that propelled the US to the front works like this:

As [economist Gary] Becker…pointed out …when people purchase schooling, they do not buy a consumer good like a phone—they make an investment to prepare for subsequent markets. For example, individuals go to school to prepare for a career, or to render themselves more attractive to potential partners. In other words, they see education creating an asset that Becker called human capital.

American colleges and universities compete in a more-or-less free market, says Urquiola. The bases for competition, however, are not what you might think. It isn’t the quality of teaching. Teaching effectiveness is highly variable.  Excellent researchers may be terrible teachers and there is no reliable way to evaluate teaching. So, institutions compete mostly on other grounds.

Most important is what Urquiola calls sorting. In the early days, the sorting was religious: Baptists wanted to go to a school with Baptists, Presbyterians with Presbyterians, and so on. This tendency led to massive growth in the number of colleges but, Urquiola argues, inhibited interest in research, which was costly and essentially irrelevant, having no bearing on students’ choice of school.

But as schools became more autonomous, sorting operated differently. After the Civil War, Cornell and Johns Hopkins broke ground by specializing in research and advanced instruction instead of denominational sorting. Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, MIT, Stanford, and others followed, realizing that they could best compete by hiring specialists who could both teach and do research.

As a description of what happened, that is accurate. But exactly why did the denomination of a school become less important and its research excellence more?

Perhaps it was the industrialization of society, with an increasing need for a diverse range of skills, that provided the market to which Harvard and the others responded by beefing up their research capability. Whatever the reasons, the attractiveness of a school came to increasingly depend on the new services it offered and the kind of students it could attract. The student population itself then became an attraction: like-seeking-like or -wannabe-like.

“Best” necessarily has different meanings in different schools. Now, Caltech just looks for the best techies; Harvard looks for the brightest, yes, but not just the brightest but also children of faculty and alumni, ensuring the loyalty of the former and the donations of the latter. Approved minorities must also be favored. Harvard (like many other elite schools) must therefore sometimes discriminate against the brightest—Jews and Asians, for example (clashing with its professed search for excellence tout court and leading to a lawsuit)—in favor of what it judges to be the “best” for its market niche.

Colleges began to behave like businesses. To succeed, they had to offer a varied set of services, which demanded specialized practitioners: faculty who also did research. The most successful at this process could then supply a different kind of sorting. The better schools picked the smartest, most successful faculty. The most brilliant faculty in a given area will render a university more attractive to others with similar interests.

Then, by being recognized as the “best” schools, they could sort—attract—the best students. In short, selection/sorting for excellence involves positive feedback. The result is a steep gradient, with a few institutions at the top and a long tail of those below.

Research is an elite activity. A handful of universities dwarf the rest in terms of research output. Poor scientific literacy in the mass of the population is irrelevant so long as the brightest fraction of students are well-educated and offered research opportunities.

The disparity between the best and the rest is a source of continuing tension in US higher education. It means that admissions officers are constantly trying to re-adjust a recipe whose ingredients are academic (SAT, grades), athleticism, legacy, “diversity,” and the probability that the applicant or their parents will be of some help to the school. Their oft-expressed aim is to promote social mobility while at the same time ensuring the financial future of the institution. The debate persists because the two objectives are partly incompatible.

The “positional stability” of elite institutions may allow them to “cheat,” as Urquiola suggests, to slight teaching in favor of research excellence. It also allows them to support luxurious facilities for undergraduates and a plethora of academically questionable but politically trendy academic programs.

Urquiola’s book makes sense of a complex issue: How the current state of academe in the US evolved from its humble beginnings and how that evolution led to a level of research excellence eventually exceeding that of European universities. His explanation that American colleges and universities competed in a more-or-less free market fashion rings true.

European universities certainly do many things right. For example, the faculty exert more control over the structure of the institution than in the US and play a role in student admissions, unlike in American schools. They probably select students who are better qualified academically than in the US, where other considerations—donor probability, athletic ability, “diversity,” etc.—loom larger. But control by faculty also makes the institution less flexible. Control by an independent administration makes it easier to create new programs and departments. Score one for the US (except for all those dodgy “studies” departments that are less prevalent in Europe).

I must disagree with Urquiola’s assumption that grant-supported research is a net cost. In my experience, administrators routinely urge faculty to get research grants, with their hefty “indirect cost” supplements, while simultaneously complaining about the cost of research. The occasional researcher who can manage without an external grant tends to be criticized rather than lauded. External research funds enable an institution to expand; they may also make a profit.

Also, Urquiola remarks briefly on the escalating fees for elite schools, attributing their rise to “changes in their product” and the Baumol effect, apparently forgetting demand and supply. Demand has increased partly because of federal loan largesse. The supply of elite schools is fixed and always will be. They are what economists call a positional good: No matter how many schools there are, the handful at the top will always have a special attraction. Given a fixed supply and growing demand, “we don’t want to leave money on the table!” as an administrative colleague of mine once remarked. No need to invoke Baumol.

What does Urquiola’s analysis predict? The future of academic research is probably safe—assuming that those elite universities survive the COVID crisis relatively unscathed. Their positional status (and the high fees that it permits), together with large research budgets, still allows them to “cheat” by downplaying teaching and by encouraging academic programs that seem more interested in political activism than scholarship.

Urquiola deserves credit for highlighting American academic research pre-eminence and giving a plausible description of the historical process that made it possible. Our higher education system is messy, but due to competition, it works rather well.


Don’t Give Civics the Common Core Treatment

You shouldn’t build a “national church” if you’re a “minority religion,” University of Arkansas professor Jay Greene has cautioned for years. 

By that, Greene means that those working to reform existing systems shouldn’t look to the national level for policy implementation, as they risk creating an architecture that could be co-opted for different ends in the future.

Yet, education scholar Chester “Checker” Finn says that’s exactly what conservatives should do as he argues in favor of a national civics curriculum.

Finn says that it is “time for conservatives to suppress their allergic reaction to a ‘national curriculum’ long enough to encourage developing and deploying a national ‘citizenship’ course.”

Although, importantly, Finn says that this effort would “optimally” be undertaken by private philanthropy and that he is “nowhere close to suggesting that the federal government should impose such a course on anyone,” but he’s fine with federal funding incentives to states in return for adoption of a national civics curriculum.

That’s where a well-intentioned idea gets complicated.

As Greene has long warned, special-interest groups and teachers unions are far more politically powerful than those working to reform the system. So, those “minority religions” in favor of building a “national church” should recognize that “inevitably it won’t be their gospel being preached.”

Whose civics gospel will it be?

Perhaps that of The New York Times’ Nikole Hannah-Jones. After all, her “1619 Project,” which claims that “[o]ur democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written,” was recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The 1619 Project already has been adopted in an estimated 4,500 classrooms across the country.

Some of us are still battle-worn from the Common Core wars. As brutal as that fight was (and remains), the Common Core pushback was against national standards and tests for math and reading—seemingly innocuous when compared with what a debate over civics content would likely bring.

In the 1990s, the Clinton administration pushed for national history standards. Conservatives viewed them as highly politicized; others saw them as too lengthy and unwieldy for teachers. Ultimately, 99 members of the U.S. Senate voted to condemn the standards.

That’s a fight that would be relitigated under any national effort to define civics curriculum.

Finn’s desire for a stronger civics curriculum is understandable. Too often what we see today is civic activism without civic knowledge, to paraphrase David Bobb, president of the Bill of Rights Institute.

One need look no further than the Annenberg civics survey finding that just one-third of Americans can name a single branch of government. Or the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ civics outcomes. Just 23% of American eighth-graders are proficient in civics, according to the most recent administration of the test.

Clearly, we cannot abandon the debate about the content that is taught to the 45 million children in public schools across the country today. That’s a point Robert Pondiscio of the Fordham Institute makes forcefully when he says doing so “risks abandoning the next generation to semi-literacy and, therefore, less than full citizenship.”

Nor should that ground be ceded to the political left, which, former Education Secretary William Bennett has argued, “knows very well what it intends to do.”

But right now, the market is going gangbusters providing strong civics content in response to overall interest in how civics in taught. Crowning a single national curriculum as the model U.S. civics curriculum would threaten to blunt that welcome momentum.

Whether it’s the Jack Miller Center, the Bill of Rights Institute, the James Madison Institute, or the Ashbrook Center, scores of organizations are rising to the occasion to provide solid civics curriculums grounded in the founding principles.

What we need now is for public school principals to work with their school boards and have a curriculum- and textbook-adoption process in place to secure these excellent resources in schools across the country.

Parents should demand they do so.

At the same time, we should continue to expand private school choice and enable children to attend private schools that are the right fit for them.

The most rigorous research finds that private school choice increases political participation, tolerance, and voluntarism, and enhances overall civic values.

The district school monopoly has been failing in this regard for decades. National civics standards won’t correct a fundamental misalignment in power and incentives that exist due to an absence of school choice for most families. Indeed, such standards would complicate matters.

Choice, coupled with parents’ involved in the content taught in their children’s public schools, provides a better path forward.


Australia: Time for universities to ditch the uniform and change courses

I am afraid that I endorse the idea dismissed below:  That a university without a committment to research is just a technical college

A few years back, at a Melbourne book launch, Gareth Evans publicly confessed that he and the rest of the Hawke government had more or less allowed a 40-year-old firebrand to run amok with the nation’s higher education system 30 years ago.

The former foreign affairs minister, who later went on to be chancellor of the Australian National University, didn’t use those precise words, of course.

Instead, Evans said back then that “none of John Dawkins’s fellow cabinet ministers at the time, and that includes me — or for that matter anyone else outside the circle of university and college administrators most immediately and obviously affected — really took much notice of what he was up to from 1987-91, or had any real sense of the scale and significance of the changes he was forcing, as he mounted his blitzkrieg in the higher education system”.

This week, as the Coalition lobbed grenades into the system the former employment, education and training minister set in place three decades ago, Dawkins declined to comment on the past, present or future of Australian universities. But it’s a safe bet he would agree with the description of how he flew solo in a high-risk operation to shrink the institutions, expand the number of students and bring back the fees Labor giant Gough Whitlam had abolished on January 1, 1974.

They were radical reforms, quickly dubbed a revolution, yet the single system turned out to be essentially conservative. Australia held fast to the traditional idea of the university: an institution committed to high-level research, teaching and community engagement.

The unified national system is widely considered to have led to uniformity, not innovation or diversity, and across three decades, despite huge increases in fees, dependence on international students and successive attempts by governments to direct the sector, that notion has endured.

Former University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis has noted: “Decisions of a powerful minister more than a generation ago reinforced the singular Australian idea of a university.” In his 2017 book, The Australian Idea of a University (which Evans launched on that November day), Davis noted that our universities are not identical but they are all examples of a “specific style of university”.

Not everyone agrees. Some see evolving diversity in our system, but as former University of Canberra vice-chancellor Stephen Parker says: “There is no doubt if you look overseas we have a rather singular model compared to the diversity that exists in Holland, Germany and other countries.”

Parker, who now heads the national education sector practice at KPMG, doesn’t blame Dawkins but says Australia continues to “mime” the idea that a university must include research, with institutions “drifting” to that model rather than some adopting a teaching-first approach.

Dawkins himself has said through the years — during which there have been around a dozen other education ministers — that the profile process he set up allowed the institutions to choose their own direction. He has said it was never his intention that small colleges of advanced education would opt to copy the big universities rather than work on becoming teaching-only institutions. It’s understood that in his view, the lack of diversity that emerged was not mandated and was an unfortunate outcome of the decisions by autonomous universities.

Be that as it may, the system remains ready for reshaping for a modern era.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has not been explicit about his intentions but Parker says the new fee structure, based on teaching costs without recognition of research costs, is a de facto separation of the two elements. Tehan will make a statement soon about research and Parker believes it could finally change our view of what a “real” university should look like.

The Coalition is moving at a time of some disquiet about our universities. Some critics claim a corruption of standards in a system where 25 per cent of the money comes from overseas students. Some claim a corruption of free speech. Some argue for less thinking and more training. Arguments about the role of the university intersect with arguments about society’s willingness to spend the money, private or public, on higher education.

In that sense at least not much has changed since Dawkins.

The debate about the nature of the university had been running for years as the highly regarded institutes of technology — part of the second tier — showed they were bigger, better and bolder than some of the newer, smaller universities. Were they universities in all but name? What made the universities so special?

The 19 universities had a simple answer. They were dedicated to research and their teaching depended on academic research. Colleges and institutes were dedicated to teaching. They might do some research on the side but they could not be considered in the same breath as universities.

Sometimes the debate seemed to play out on the proverbial pin head and was confined largely to those inside the sector. There was little political interest in Canberra about whether Deakin University had more right to the title, for example, than the Queensland Institute of Technology.

But the colleges’ lobby for recognition and access to federal research money converged fortuitously with Labor’s need to justify spending more public money on more places by introducing a system of private contributions via the HECS scheme.

Labor would backtrack on fees but at the same time it would demolish an outdated distinction between colleges and universities to create a level playing field. The 73 institutions would reduce to half that number and would be free to carve out their own profiles, unimpeded by nomenclature.

Some might emphasise teaching or industry engagement. Some might elevate research while still teaching an expanding student population. It was an opportunity to change the mix. Dawkins delivered status and access to research funding to the colleges. They backed him on student fees. The vice-chancellors wanted fees too but they were not so keen on the CAEs getting a name change and sharing research funds. In the end, they signed up to Dawkins. They had little choice even if they feared the colleges would dilute the university brand they had nurtured since the establishment of the University of Sydney in 1850.

As David Penington, who led Melbourne University at the time, said this week: “It was true that the universities did look down on the others in those days, and that was the problem that Dawkins sought to correct by his radical changes.”

In the end, tradition beat innovation as the new universities worked to build the research they figured would let them into the club.

Melbourne University’s Vin Massaro, who worked as the policy director for the peak university body at the time, the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, has some regrets about the way it panned out. “We created one sector but we didn’t make it clear to the institutions that they had the right to be more diverse,” he says. “Clearly, we could not afford 39 high-level research institutions, yet we were suddenly asking people in the former CAEs to teach and research in a way they had not been employed to do.”

Despite the rush for status based on research and uniformity, there have been changes in the past 30 years, particularly, as Davis has noted, in the offerings for the international student market. As well as the Group of Eight, the big capital-city campuses that include Sydney, Melbourne and the ANU have continued to draw away from the rest with their aspirations for high-level research.

But the diversity is limited, according to Massaro. “We keep stopping the institutions from being truly diverse,” he says. “We still suggest that if they don’t do research they are inferior. We have not yet educated the Australian public to accept that universities can do different things; rather, we have built a theoretical definition into the system that doesn’t fit with the current reality. We need a new definition of a university that allows each to determine the mix of teaching and research that is appropriate for its mission.

“However, they must all be excellent teaching institutions with graduate outcomes that can be measured. The extent … they choose to do research should be based on their capacity to attract competitive research funding.”

Massaro cites the California binar­y model of universities; one teaching-intensive, offering courses to master level, the other research-intensive offering courses to PhD level with high-level research. And he argues the Coalition’s fee changes are being introduced without a coherent and comprehensive vision or plan for the sector.

Penington agrees on the need for change, saying: “I don’t think all the universities are going to be viable just doing things the way that they have been. You can’t undo what has happened in the past. The mistake was (colleges) seeking to become uniform with the classical research universities.

“What we ought to have is universities that identify themselves especially by their strengths. The title university no longer has a meaning in itself. It doesn’t bring quality, it has to be earned.”

He believes the Dawkins model has cost the country in skills: “Some of the colleges were doing applied education and some were close to industry. That was a fundamental flaw of the whole Dawkins model because we didn’t have that ongoing population of people with applied knowledge. It was a weakness of the outcome that is seldom mentioned now.”

Parker says his discussions through the years with Dawkins convince him the then minister wanted a uniform funding system, not uniformity.

Parker says: “It wasn’t necessary that CAEs became universities, but what actually happened is that the universities cherrypicked to their advantage and the CAEs thought by and large it was to their advantage to get the prestige of the university name.

“So the unified national system became uniform and it has in a way been reinforced since 1990 with protocols of what counts as a university — that there has to be a research mission.

“I think the government is now saying, we are only funding teaching through the normal commonwealth funding and there will be an announcement on research soon. This is a big deal: the separating out of the funding of research and teaching is what could lay the groundwork for some unis to be really high-quality teaching organisations and a smaller number being research-focused. That would drive real diversity.”

The Tehan “revolution” is just beginning and time will show if it brings the diversity so many regard as essential. But the need for change is clear. As Davis said in his 2017 book: “The Australian idea of a university has served us well. It may also have run its course.”


Monday, June 29, 2020

Defund America-Hating Universities

"They are the root of the virulent anti-Americanism" that is causing mayhem nationwide.

Amidst the current climate of violence, looting, arson, and the destruction of historical artifacts, cries of “defund the police!” have reached fever pitch. Columnist Peter Wood has a far better idea. “Now is the moment to defund the colleges,” he writes. “We should defund them because they are the root of the virulent anti-Americanism that feeds the riots, the looting and the learned helplessness that afflict the country.”

Spot on. Colleges have spent the last half-century teaching millions of young Americans that their nation is a fundamentally flawed entity where systemic racism abounds, white “privilege” is endemic, and that merit should be superseded by identity politics. These are institutions where students are coddled like infants and provided with trigger warnings for classical literature or safe spaces replete with coloring books and Play-doh. Students have their rank intolerance wholly indulged to the point where they are allowed to destroy anyone who would challenge any iota of the progressive orthodoxy, even when it involves something as puerile as “culturally insensitive” Halloween costumes.

This odious dichotomy is enabled by intellectually and morally bankrupt faculty members and administrators. “Wonder where today’s ‘cancel culture’ comes from?” asks columnist Liz Peek. “It comes from college campuses, fueled by young people and abetted by an older generation that has not had the courage to say no.”

Thus at UCLA, accounting professor Gordon Klein was put on leave for three weeks after insisting that minority students, who were attempting to use George Floyd’s death as an excuse, not be allowed to delay their final exams. And despite receiving police protection due to threats of violence, the school’s dean, Antonio Bernardo, promised to investigate Klein’s “troubling behavior” and apologized to students for the “added stress” Klein ostensibly precipitated. And despite University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer’s stated commitment to free speech, dozens of faculty members have demanded senior faculty member Harald Uhlig’s ouster for failing to support Black Lives Matter.

By contrast, University of Georgia teaching assistant Irami Osei-Frampong apparently remains employed despite an online post stating, “Some white people may have to die for black communities to be made whole.”

This dynamic is hardly isolated. As columnist John Daniel Davidson explains, you either support the Marxist, race-baiting, anti-cop, violence-abetting organization that is BLM, or “you will be harassed, shunned, and shamed out of mainstream America. If you dare to speak a word against BLM, you will be targeted, mobbed, and probably fired.”

California Associate of Scholars Chairman John Ellis explains why, noting that the ratio of progressive versus conservative faculty members has increased exponentially toward the progressive side of the equation, from three to two in 1969 to more than eight to one currently. Moreover, at the more recently appointed assistant and associate professor level, that ratio explodes to 48 to one. “Everyone can see that it’s wrong. It’s unhealthy,” Ellis states. “And no one does a thing to stop it.”

How did we get here? Former Ivy league professor Robert Weissberg reveals that once-prestigious universities began shifting in the ‘70s when student deferments from the Vietnam War and affirmative action precipitated lower college-entry standards. More telling, formerly tough professors who demanded educational excellence were cowed into lowering those standards by anonymous student evaluations.“No savvy instructor would now challenge a student who 'explained’ that socialism could end homelessness by eliminating all rent,” Weissberg writes. “If he did, the humiliated student would anonymously write how she felt ashamed, cried herself to sleep and felt diminished self-esteem.”

Enrollment-based budgets and soaring tuition costs fed this effort. Filling seats became a priority that led to “grade inflation, shortened reading lists, painless exams and no-brainer writing assignments,” Weissberg adds, while the increasing popularity of political correctness narrowed the field of “acceptable” information.

Yet perhaps above all else, the doubling of non-academic administrative and professional employees — including so-called “diversity specialists” — has far outpaced the growth of students and faculty. Such expansion has given rise to quota-mongering epitomized by Harvard, where black, Native American, and Hispanic students are invited to attend with SAT scores of 1,100, while Asian males and females requires scores of 1,350-plus and 1,380-plus, respectively, to get the same invitation.

Bloated bureaucracies are paid for by staggering tuition increases that have precipitated more than $1.5 trillion in student debt nationwide. All loan defaults on that debt are underwritten by the taxpayer, giving colleges no incentive whatsoever to control costs. And despite this increasingly untenable dynamic, colleges remain wholly unaccountable regarding whether or not what they are teaching can secure decent paying jobs for graduates — even as they have convinced America that a college degree is an absolute necessity.

Enough. Wood proposes several commonsense measures for reining in these America-hating entities. They include refusing to cut checks to alumni donation campaigns, enrolling students in educational programs beyond the reach of the indoctrinators, and “rolling back the massive subsidies that state and federal government put into higher education” that are nothing more than “a thick-shelled nut of special interests.”

Make that special interests whose contempt for this nation is blatantly evinced by their silent acquiescence — at best — of the cultural armageddon currently being perpetrated across the nation. At worst? “In recent years these young people have moved out into the world, carrying their intolerance with them,” Peek writes. “They now occupy newsrooms and social media firms.”

They also occupy positions of importance in “woke” virtue-signaling corporations that actively cheerlead this societal degradation. “You know, if I was a member of a political movement that stood up for working people and found myself every single time on the side of Amazon, on the side of Apple, on the side of Google, I might ask myself if I’ve actually chosen the right allies and what it says about me,” states author J.D. Vance. “But unfortunately, too many folks on the Left just aren’t doing that.”

Fortunately, there’s hope. The same China Virus devastating our economy and precipitating extended shutdowns has given the nation a golden opportunity to reassess the contemptible status quo. “The coronavirus pandemic threatens to remake U.S. higher education, speeding the closure of small, financially weak colleges and forcing others to make tough decisions about what they can afford,” Bloomberg News reports.

All well and good, but there’s nothing unaffordable about reinstituting ideologically balanced faculties and tolerance for dissenting ideas, or paring bloated bureaucracies that cultivate intolerance and call it diversity.

Yet if colleges choose to remain as they are, let them fund themselves.

“We are where we are today because of education,” former president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University Everett Piper asserts. “The fault for the nightly news lies with our colleges, universities and our public schools. But the blame also lies with us. All parents and other citizens who support these broken schools, with their tuition and tax dollars, need to wake up and face reality. Until we stop sending our kids off to intellectually bankrupt schools, we can expect nothing other than an intellectually bankrupt culture.”

It’s time America raised its expectations — and lowered the boom on these citadels of rank indoctrination.


UK: 'They're behaving like petulant kids': Star primary school head who was suspended for saying lazy teachers were 'sat at home doing nothing' during lockdown doubles down on claim and vows to fight for her career

A star primary school headteacher who was suspended after saying some of her staff had 'sat at home doing nothing' during lockdown described some of her teachers as 'behaving like petulant kids'.

Pauline Wood, from Grange Park in Sunderland, accused her staff of bragging that they were spending 'more time watching Netflix' at home than they were working during the coronavirus pandemic as they were only coming in to school two days a week.

Mrs Wood, a married mother-of-three, said she had been suspended on full pay on June 12 by the school's new chair of governors Mary Hodgson.

She claimed Ms Hodgson had told her the action was being taken due to her 'bringing the school into disrepute' by making her comments about teachers in an interview on local radio three days earlier.

Speaking exclusively with MailOnline, Mrs Wood, who spearheaded Grange Park Primary School's ascent up the Ofsted grading system, said she had been left 'disappointed' by her suspension and believed proper procedures had not been followed.

She disclosed that she had already handed in her notice at Grange Park School in Sunderland last January so she could leave in August, partly because she felt 'a small minority' of staff were not pulling their weight.

Mrs Wood was working out her notice, ready to leave at the end of August, when she was suspended over her and banned from going back into the 220-pupil school without permission.

She said she and her former chair of governors 'who had been amazing' had handed in their notice, partly because they had 'seen a few signals' that they were being undermined by some staff.

Mrs Wood said: 'We felt one or two staff were being niggardly and I thought, "Do I really need this now?"

'So we both decided we would resign in January so that the school had a really good chance of recruiting the cream of the crop for September. In December, it felt we had this little group who were acting like petulant kids.'

It came as education unions faced accusations they were sabotaging efforts to get children back to school, with the National Education Union insisting Boris Johnson's 'one metre plus' rule will still make teaching difficult.

School closures are overwhelmingly impacting disadvantaged children, with a recent survey revealing two million children in the UK had done barely any schoolwork at home during the coronavirus lockdown.

Around one in five pupils have carried out no schoolwork, or less than an hour a day, since schools closed partially in March. Meanwhile, only 17 per cent of children put in more than four hours a day. 

Other figures revealed that nearly a third (31 per cent) of private schools provided four or more online lessons daily, compared with just six per cent of state schools.

Meanwhile parents who are left in the dark about the future of their children's education have to look after them at home, meaning they cannot get back to work and help kickstart the UK economy. 


Lockdowns changed education for millions of students, and not always in a good way

When states closed American schools due to the coronavirus pandemic, state boards of education reacted quickly to ensure that students would continue to learn. Online technologies such as Zoom, for example, were implemented so teachers and students could meet in real time. On the surface, it seemed like the perfect solution. We’ve all seen videos or news clips of a computer screen filled with the faces of eager students hanging on the teacher’s every word. Parents walking into the kitchen were likely reassured to see their child staring into the laptop while the teacher explained the lesson in the background. But the reality paints a much less successful picture of the virtual schoolhouse.

For one, a significant number of students never show up for class — which makes sense, given how much easier it is now to hit the snooze button and grab another couple hours of sleep. Just email your teacher later and explain that your Internet was down.

Another issue is that students trained by our modern education system expect a reward each time they scribble down a word or solve an equation. Teachers today know that if there’s no carrot on that stick, students will shut down.

The Wall Street Journal relays the results of a recent report: “Students have an incentive to ditch digital class, since their work counts for little or nothing. Only 57.9% of school districts do any progress monitoring, the report found. The rest haven’t even set the minimal expectation that teachers review or keep track of the work their students turn in. Homework counts toward students’ final grades in 42% of districts. And some schools that do grade offer students a pass/incomplete.”

This is not only a problem in K-12 schools but also in higher education. Many colleges and universities encouraged their faculty to “go easy” on students this semester. A Columbia University professor this spring had a novel idea: pass everyone. As she admitted, “I wrote to both of my classes a week ago to say that I would give everyone an A based on the work they’d done already.” So much for those students who worked exceptionally hard all semester.

Another study finds that online education has several other downsides. The study mentions that “students without strong academic backgrounds are less likely to persist in fully online courses than in courses that involve personal contact with faculty and other students and when they do persist, they have weaker outcomes.”

Few seem terribly concerned about any of this, especially not the companies that provide platforms for online learning. As one might expect, this is now big business. According to Tech Startups, “[The] coronavirus pandemic is a boon to tech companies offering video conferencing software tools. These companies have seen a meteoric rise in the last five months. For instance, Zoom, a tech company that offers conferencing app, is now worth more than the world’s 7 biggest airlines combined. Zoom is valued at more than $50 billion.”

Some of this money comes from businesses whose employees work from home during the shutdown, but education makes up a significant part of the total.

None of this suggests that online teaching and learning doesn’t have a place. Online education can replicate on-campus courses to a large degree when done the right way, and for independent and self-motivated learners, it can be a good fit. But we can’t pull millions of young students out of school, sit them down in front of a computer, and expect them to learn as before. Younger children, in particular, need social interaction. They need in-person access to their classmates and their teachers.

When it comes to education, this may be the most important lesson of all.


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Rice University student group demands "Black House," better ID photos, statue removal

A student group at Rice University in Houston, Texas, is "demanding" the administration fund a "non-residential Black House" on campus, as well as remove a prominent statue of the university's founder -- and top student officials are deleting some comments disagreeing with those positions, Fox News has learned this week.

The extraordinary demand, and apparent censorship, came amid rising left-wing sentiment on campuses across the nation after the in-custody death of George Floyd. In recent weeks, a UCLA lecturer was suspended for pointedly refusing to cancel his exam for black students; a Cornell Law School faculty member was threatened with termination for criticizing Black Lives Matter, before the school dean intervened on his behalf; and a top University of Chicago economist was demoted for questioning the wisdom of defunding all police.

The call for a "Black House" was made in a public Facebook post on Rice's official Graduate Student Association (GSA) page, written by Rice graduate research assistant Dani Perdue. "Here are what black undergraduate students have demanded from Rice Universuty [sic] administration," Perdue wrote. "I hope they are listening! #NoMoreLipService #blacklivesmatter."

The post also sought the "removal" of an iconic statue of university founder William Marsh Rice; the hiring of "more black professors, faculty, well-being counselors and therapists"; the inclusion of "hate speech" in Rice's code of conduct; and an increase in the number of black students accepted to Rice.

An Instagram account representing the Rice Black Student Association (BSA) has published a longer list of demands, including that "If a Black new student requests to have a Black roommate [during orientation week], that request be honored." That request could run afoul of federal civil rights laws.


Cambridge University backs academic who tweeted 'White Lives Don't Matter' - and promotes her to professor

The University of Cambridge has spoken out in support of one of its lecturers who was hit by a wave of abusive messages and death threats for tweeting 'White Lives Don't Matter'.

Dr Priyamvada Gopal, 51, who teaches in the Faculty of English at Churchill College, took to the social media platform on Tuesday evening to write: 'I'll say it again. White Lives Don't Matter. As white lives.'

However the controversial message, which has since been deleted by Twitter, was met with a barrage of outrage, with many people responding both publicly and privately with death threats and racist abuse.

A petition titled 'Fire Cambridge Professor for Racism’ was also launched on the petition site on Wednesday demanding that Dr Gopal be fired by the university for the comment.   

Dr Gopal later shared some of the hate speech she had received, including from a  man sending her a picture of a noose and writing: 'We are coming for you you n***er loving piece of s*it'. 

As well as sharing some of the worst abuse she has received, Dr Gopal - who is also a journalist and activist - announced that on Wednesday night, the university promoted her to a full Professorship.

She added: 'I would also like to make clear I stand by my tweets, now deleted by Twitter, not me.

'My Tweet said whiteness is not special, not a criterion for making lives matter. I stand by that.'       

Following the torrent of abusive messages, the Russel Group University defended the academic and deplored the attacks she has faced since her tweet.

A statement released by the university read: 'The University defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions, which others might find controversial.

'[It] deplores in the strongest terms abuse and personal attacks. These attacks are totally unacceptable and must cease.'

Meanwhile, the Cambridge branch of the University and College Union (UCU), also showed their solidarity with Dr Gopal.

The union wrote: 'Solidarity with Priyamvada Gopal - being targeted with vile sexist and racist abuse for speaking up against white supremacists. 'We are proud to be your colleagues both on the picket line and off it. BlackLivesMatterSolidarity.'             

Many colleagues and students have since expressed solidarity with Dr Gopal following the incident, with even popular comedian Nish Kumar wading in to call her 'one of the best and brightest around'.

However, the university's defence of Dr Gopal has been labelled by some as inconsistent and politically biased.

Critics have pointed to the recent removal of Noah Carl from his research position at St Edmund's college over links with far right extremist groups.

And others have referred to the university rescinding a visiting fellowship invitation to controversial professor Jordan Peterson in March last year.

Opponents of the university's stance have suggested that the same defence of free speech and tolerance of controversial views was not extended in these instances.

Dr Gopal's tweet has since been removed by Twitter for 'violating the Twitter Rules'.  

The incident comes just a week after the academic announced she would no longer be supervising students from King's College because of 'consistently racist profiling and aggression by porters'.  

On June 18, Dr Gopal told her 20,000 Twitter followers she was taking the stand 'on my behalf and of other people of colour' calling the situation a 'festering sore'.

She said: 'With deep regret but with 17 years of consideration behind it, I have finally decided on my behalf & of other people of colour @Cambridge_Uni to refuse to supervise any students at @Kings_College. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH of the consistently racist profiling & aggression by Porters.'

She added: 'It's for the students that over the years I've hesitated to take this decision. But I think it's come to point where it is for students, BAME students who've shared their Kings stories with me, that I must do it.

'Oh and today, I repeatedly asked them to address me as 'Dr Gopal' and repeatedly failed to get them to address me as anything other than 'madam'.'

The academic went on to say that Kings' porters treated her differently because she was not white. But King's College hit back at her claims, saying there was 'no wrongdoing or discrimination' from its staff.

A King's College spokesperson said: 'We have investigated the incident and found no wrongdoing on the part of our staff.

'Every visitor was asked to show their card during the course of that day, as the College was closed to everyone except King's members.

'Non-members such as Dr Gopal were asked to take alternatives routes, around the College. This was a matter of procedure, not discrimination.

'King's College is a rich and diverse community, and take the wellbeing of its students and staff extremely seriously. We remain committed to being an inclusive and welcoming environment in which to work and study.

'We categorically deny that the incident referred to was in any way racist.'


Australian Universities blindsided by government's plan for integrity unit to monitor enrolments

Universities have hit back at Dan Tehan’s proposal for a new integrity unit to police “substantial shifts in enrolment patterns”, questioning whether it is an appropriate role for the regulator.

The education minister announced the new role for the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s integrity unit on Wednesday evening, in a move that blindsided the university sector.

Tehan’s proposal is an attempt to stem criticism from universities, including the Australian National University and the University of Western Australia, that the proposed government funding cuts and fee increases will encourage universities to enrol more students in humanities.

When Tehan announced the policy on Friday, he suggested fee cuts would encourage the study of science, technology, engineering and maths, and reduce the number of students taking humanities courses.

The minister said Teqsa’s integrity unit would “as part of its mandate … investigate substantial shifts in enrolment patterns at universities and consider the implications for educational quality and provider governance”.

Teqsa would then be able to consider “whether the best response is from a regulatory or policy action”, he said, to “ensure a high-quality student experience”.

The ANU’s vice-chancellor, Brian Schmidt, said the university would consider the expanded role for the integrity unit “when more information comes to hand”.

“But the proposal already raises a number of key questions and concerns, not least whether it is an appropriate use of Teqsa’s regulatory role,” he told Guardian Australia.

“It also seems to muddy the waters in terms of the already good work universities are doing with government agencies regarding foreign interference. I can’t see this idea having wide enthusiasm across the sector.”

Labor’s education spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, said: “The Liberals are just making things up as they go along.” She called the university changes a “dog’s breakfast”.

The chief executive of Universities Australia, Catriona Jackson, said: “It is important not to increase the regulatory burden unnecessarily, particularly when Covid-19 has imposed additional challenges on the higher education sector.”

The education department has reassured universities that none will be worse off in the short term, despite funding per place falling in a major shakeup of the sector, thanks to a $705m transition fund.

Despite the reassurance, the University of Sydney’s acting vice-chancellor, Stephen Garton, has joined a chorus of concerned voices saying the package imposed cuts on the government contribution that would mean universities “receive considerably less funding for teaching science, engineering, education, nursing, clinical psychology and agriculture”.

Talks with the university sector have now turned to a new funding model for research to supplement the changes, which double the cost of humanities subjects and cut the government contribution from 58% to 52% in an attempt to fund 39,000 extra places.

On Wednesday Margaret Gardner, the vice-chancellor of Monash University and chair of the Group of Eight universities, told Radio National the $705m three-year transition fund was designed “so that no university will face a decrease in funding for educating those students” despite receiving “less per place”.

Caroline Perkins, the executive director of the Regional Universities Network, confirmed that the department had told a stakeholder meeting on Wednesday that – assuming no collapse in domestic student numbers – the fund was designed to leave no university worse off.

“No regional university should be worse off after the three-year transition and indeed many regional universities will be better off,” she told Guardian Australia.

That is because they benefit from a $48m research fund, new regional student loading and growth in places of 3.5% in the regions and 2.5% in fast-growing metro unis, compared with 1% for the rest of universities.

But the University of New South Wales, the University of Tasmania and the University of Queensland have raised concerns that the package increases student fees and may decrease degree quality.

Garton told Guardian Australia the University of Sydney was concerned by “the shift in the funding burden from the government to the student, especially in the humanities and the social sciences and the cooling impact this could have on demand for these subjects”.

He said social science graduates learned “critical thinking, oral and written communication skills” which employers demanded, and that a “balance of skills is necessary for a healthy economy”.

“This is especially true as these students will not graduate for another three to five years, when the needs of the nation may be quite different.”

Garton said the impact on universities was “rather mixed”.

“Where both the student contribution and the [government contribution] amount both decrease universities receive considerably less funding for teaching science, engineering, education, nursing, clinical psychology and agriculture.

“This will put significant pressure on a university system already impacted by the pandemic.”

Debate is still raging about whether price signals to students will result in higher enrolments in Stem subjects or whether universities will have a perverse incentive to continue to enrol students in humanities.

Jackson said the peak body was still “assessing the consequences both intended and unintended” because it was not clear “what sort of push-and-pull incentives” it will create.

Jackson said the minister was now consulting the sector to create a “merit based research funding system”.

Tehan rejected the claim students would not respond to price signals to reconsider science subjects.

In an interview on The Briefing podcast, Tehan cited the fact fee cuts in maths and science in 2009 “did lead to extra demand” before a price increase of 78% in 2013 which did not move student numbers because “there wasn’t much publicity around it”.

“So, one of the things we’re very keen to do is, to be a lot clearer around the cost to a student of undertaking a degree.”