After this winter’s National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities meeting, the challenge voiced by a panel of Congressional staff members still rings in my ears. They asked: What is the return on investment for the $150 billion in federal grants, loans, and tax credits to higher education?
They suggested that this investment must have a pay-off measurable in the number of degrees completed, jobs attained, and salaries earned. It’s not only members of Congress and President Obama who want to know the value of a degree. The public – as reported in media coverage – also questions the cost of a college education, the debt incurred, the prospects for a job to pay off that debt, and whether recent graduates are employed, underemployed, or moving back home.
More urgently these days, colleges need to answer the question: Is it worth the cost? Just after President Obama’s State of the Union address, the White House released a “scorecard” on college performance measured by cost, graduation rates, borrowing, loan default rates and employment statistics. The public deserves to know these figures but the criteria do not go far enough in defining the value of a college degree.
The questions raised by politicians, policy makers, and parents remind me of another question, one not considered in the NAICU briefings: Are colleges and universities fulfilling their civic mission? What if we redefined “worth”? What if we could measure the return that educated citizens give to each other and the nation?
We need to redefine what the “return” means. We claim that we produce the inquiring, analytical, vocal, and engaged citizens required for a vital democratic system, but do we present the civic value of our missions forcefully enough to enter into and even change the public discourse?
I propose that colleges create a new Civic Scale, which does two things: 1) analyzes our courses, independent studies, and community activities to determine to what extent we teach democratic behaviors; 2) and surveys our alumni at various stages of their lives to determine if they are demonstrating key civic attributes.
What might we measure while students are undergraduates? There would be measures of history, political science and cultural studies courses that give students perspectives on our own democracy and other systems; humanities and arts courses that develop awareness of others’ lives and cultures; engaged learning and internships that develop skills in community organizing and instill knowledge about the competing forces in a democracy; and campus participation, where students practice voicing reasoned opinions and helping each other.
We should survey our alumni at least every five years to ask questions like:
Do you vote; how often?
Do you volunteer with a community organization?
Have you run for office?
Have you written to someone in elected office or published a letter to the editor?
Do you give to your favorite causes?
Do you attend civic meetings or organize to make change?
Do you participate in your children’s schools?
Do you attend cultural or other events that strengthen your community’s life?
Do you work for a nonprofit or an organization focused on education, the arts or social justice?
After college, did you join the Peace Corps or Teach for America?
We may find out that the more civically engaged students are also those who are the informed activists of today. Their behavior may even correlate with both economic success and the more elusive “pursuit of happiness.”
I’m an example of this interconnection, a product of a “liberating arts” education: a B.A. in philosophy from Bennington College, my M.F.A. in creative writing from Warren Wilson College, and a daily participant in the life of Marlboro College. My first job out of college was with the fledgling state arts agency, followed by 21 years in Washington as Senator Patrick J. Leahy’s chief of staff, deputy assistant to President Clinton and then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and founding director of the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center. The thinking, writing, and creative skills I learned prepared me for decades of service in the public arena.
Some colleges and their associations, such as the American Association of Colleges and Universities, are already working to define civic engagement and its relationship to student success and the demonstration of leadership skills. Dickinson College surveyed alumni and found, for example, that nearly 90 percent participated in volunteer work and 95 percent made a financial contribution to a nonprofit organization. At Marlboro College, students, faculty and staff convene monthly in a Town Meeting to discuss and decide the standards by which we conduct our community life together at this small liberal arts college. Students learn to present their arguments cogently and persuasively; they also learn to challenge a point with which they disagree with evidence and reasoning. These are valuable skills for practicing democracy.
My challenge, especially to leaders of liberal arts colleges, is twofold: to devise the attributes that belong in a Civic Scale and to join Marlboro College in creating one to highlight this crucial aspect of our mission.
Many leaders of liberal arts colleges and some other institutions are disappointed by the new College Scorecard from the Obama administration, observing that its measures leave out much of the true value of a higher education. But it’s not enough for us to say we think our model of education produces value. We need to start to analyze and measure outcomes beyond income if we are to challenge the idea that institutions should be judged primarily by how much their graduates earn one year after graduation.
Our democracy is threatened today by lack of participation by all segments of our society, including our optimistic and energetic young people. Corporate and secret money looms over our elections. The narrowing of media outlets means that it’s harder to find the tough investigative journalism and information that shine light on government policies and elected officials’ behaviors.
At a time when we must reanimate our democracy, let’s cooperate on a Civic Scale that shows the profound value of educating our future citizens. We want our students to thrive in their lives; that means finding jobs and supporting families. It must also, however, include finding meaning in life in service to others and to the country.
We must redefine “return on investment” to include civic behaviors that support our diverse and participatory democracy. As Thomas Jefferson said, "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people."
Ellen McCulloch-Lovell is president of Marlboro College, in Vermont.
Faculty members in Emory University's College of Arts and Sciences voted Wednesday to censure President James Wagner for his remarks seeming to endorse the Constitution's three-fifths compromise as a model for dealing with disagreements. While Wagner has since apologized for the "clumsiness" of his statement, many faculty members and students remain furious about his remarks and unimpressed by the apology. Faculty members said that the censure resolution passed on a voice vote, with strong support. The professors considered a vote of no confidence, but postponed consideration of that measure pending an appearance by Wagner. His spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment on the censure vote.
Clerical and support staff workers at the University of Akron have voted to unionize and to be represented by the Communications Workers of America, The Akron Beacon Journal reported. The union already represents skilled trades and crafts workers at the university.
Daniel LaVista, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District since 2010, has announced he will be leaving the position, The Los Angeles Times reported. During his tenure, the district has dealt with severe state-imposed budget cuts and faced considerable scrutiny over management of a massive construction program.
Texas legislators are rallying around Bill Powers, the University of Texas at Austin president who may be the target of another ouster attempt by regents close to Governor Rick Perry, the Associated Press reported. Lieut. Governor David Dewhurst on Tuesday announced plans for Senate hearings on whether the UT Board of Regents is meddling too much into the decisions Powers makes. Further, he denounced what he called "character assassination" of Powers and his family in the form of anonymous letters he said are circulating among board members. Dewhurst did not offer specifics on the letters.
Harvard University's investment arm has created a new position -- vice president for sustainable investing -- which will focus on the environmental, social and corporate governance issues related to Harvard's investments, The Boston Globe reported. While various groups have over the years urged Harvard to refrain from or sell certain kinds of investments, the university has generally focused on obtaining the greatest return.
Recently, my old friend, Alex Wolff, had an op-ed piece in Sports Illustrated in which he predicted that a metaphoric meteor would hit the National Collegiate Athletic Association. His meteor consisted of the lawsuit by various ex-players, led by Ed O’Bannon, that challenges the NCAA’s right to use their likenesses in video games and other profitable enterprises without any compensation whatsoever. Adding velocity to Alex’s meteor are the regular op-ed columns by Joe Nocera of The New York Times pointing out the hypocrisy and unethical behavior of the NCAA.
All this led to the article’s subhead: “Reviled and legally besieged, the NCAA faces the stiffest challenge yet to its power.”
All of Alex's assertions are true -- especially the hypocrisy and unethical behavior -- and yet strangely irrelevant, even the lawsuit which the plaintiffs might win in the lower courts. One of my advantages and disadvantages of having studied college sports for over 30 years, and also having tilted full blast against the NCAA’s windmills during that time, is that I have seen it all before and, therefore, hold in abeyance all judgments as to the NCAA losing its grip on college sports.
Since 1980, The New York Times has had a stream of editorials, articles, and even investigative reports attacking the NCAA. In addition, its best sports columnists, especially Ira Berkow and Robert Lipsyte, regularly pummeled the NCAA and, on occasion, George Vecsey and others joined in. Nothing changed.
Moreover, Sports Illustrated has hardly been silent -- in fact, one of Alex’s best pieces was done in the early 1990s and called for the death penalty for the out-of-control University of Miami football program. Miami and the NCAA played on.
Now, Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit is a nice twist on an old legal story -- the NCAA has been sued before, sometimes paid millions to settle, and grows in power. There is no question that the O’Bannon suit has logic, ethics and justice on its side.
But many cases with similar attributes die in the courts. If O’Bannon wins in the present court, the NCAA will appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. Because the case could set the precedent of turning college athletes into professionals and thus forever overturn the nature and history of college sports, the conservative majority may back away from finding for O’Bannon.
But if they did -- and the media never discusses this possibility -- the plaintiffs’ victory could be short-lived. The NCAA has close friends in Congress -- all those representatives sitting in the skyboxes of their local schools for football and basketball game -- and the association would immediately ask its political friends to write a new law to nullify the Supreme Court’s judgment, possibly to give the NCAA special status similar to Major League Baseball’s.
Ironically, congressional support for the NCAA transcends partisan politics. Members from both sides of the aisle would rally behind the association because the NCAA is the keeper of college sports, and the vast majority of Americans love college sports and politicians have no appetite for going against this love.
So, Alex, good try. As always, your heart is in the right place. It is important to keep fighting the NCAA and to point out its hypocrisy and cant. I would love you to be right about the NCAA’s decline but, sadly, all my years of observing college sports tell me otherwise.
Murray Sperber is a visiting professor in the Cultural Studies of Sport in Education program at the University of California at Berkeley.
Critics of Emory University President James Wagner don't appear to be satisfied by his apology for a letter in the alumni magazine in which he suggested the Constitution's three-fifths compromise was a model for how opposing parties can work together. While Wagner issued an apology for his wording and for the hurt it caused, students and faculty members report considerable discussion taking place (much of it online) about anger over the original statement. The Black Students Alliance and the NAACP chapter at the university are planning a rally Wednesday. They also will draw attention to other issues of concern, such as a student-run television show that in December referenced the Supreme Court case on affirmative action in college admissions and urged viewers to help identify students who "shouldn’t be here and are only at the school because of affirmative action." Methods suggested for finding such students included lynching, tarring and feathering, and cross-burning. (The university and the students who produced the show have apologized.)
Some of Wagner's critics used social media Monday to express their views, with a fake Twitter account in the president's name and with a new blog called "At Emory: We Are Sorry." The latter features images and words: a photo of the president with only three-fifths of the image visible, text from James Baldwin about the way the United States limited the rights of black people, a photo of an Emory student holding a sign saying "Sorry, everybody. I wasn't expecting someone to praise the 3/5 compromise in the year 2013 either." The site was created as "a way for us to signal to everyone else that the messages being sent out from Emory do not necessarily express the views of the students and faculty whose work is the actual backbone of the school."
On Emory's Facebook page, comments are mixed. Some of those posting are angry with Wagner. But other posts say that critics are trying to embarrass the president because of recent budget cuts with which they disagree. One comment along these lines: "Stop the faux outrage. You live privileged academic lives at one of the best institutions in America. In a time where every institution is tightening, you all have the gall to intentionally distort this man's words. Character assassination isn't going to help restructure the university's budget."
The presidents of 17 Sisters of Mercy colleges, along with educators at 32 secondary schools and 9 elementary schools affiliated with the order, have issued a letter calling for new measures to promote "a culture of non-violence" in American society. "The unspeakable use of a military assault weapon to massacre elementary school children compels us as leaders in Mercy education to speak, to say 'enough.'" says the letter. It calls for "sensible gun control measures" and "robust funding of mental health services." Further, it says that "for the sake of our children and young adults, we reject the overly simplistic belief that increasing armed security personnel in schools will increase student safety."
The letter was signed by the presidents of these colleges and universities: Carlow University, College of St. Mary (Nebraska), Georgian Court University, Gwynedd-Mercy College, Maria College (New York), Marian Court College, Mercyhurst University, Misericordia University, Mount Aloysius College, Mount Mercy University, Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, Saint Xavier University (Illinois), Salve Regina University, Trocaire College, University of Detroit Mercy, University of Saint Joseph (Connecticut) and Mercy College of Health Sciences (Iowa).