Election 2016

Campaign aims to bring college student voices and issues into presidential debates

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Initiative led by Dominican University of California brings students from scores of campuses together to craft questions for the presidential debates. Now they're focused on encouraging their peers to vote.

GOP senator: Save money by replacing instructors with Ken Burns videos

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, Republican in a tight re-election battle, says quality documentaries could replace many instructors, and blames tenured professors for preserving the "higher education cartel."

How campus leaders should deal with current racial tensions and violence (essay)

The wave of tragic and troubling events of recent days in our country -- such as the shooting of black Americans in Baltimore, Baton Rouge and St. Paul, the attacks against police in Dallas and Birmingham, and terrorist rampages in Orlando and San Bernardino -- has brought me back to another tumultuous time: the spring and summer of 1968.

I remember it well because I was a college senior about to graduate. I remember the night of April 5, when I had planned to go into Chicago for an event. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated the day before in Memphis, and that night, Chicago seethed and exploded: a 28-block stretch of Madison Street was left largely in ruins; 36 major fires were reported; 11 people were killed; 48 were wounded by police gunfire and 90 policemen were injured. In two days 2,150 people were arrested. Thousands of army troops were sent in to restore order.

The summer before, I had worked with teenagers in the Cabrini-Green Homes on Chicago’s Near North Side. I lived in a largely African-American church community. I felt comfortable joining pickup games on the asphalt basketball courts and visiting families in these high-rise apartments. After the spring of 1968, gunfire became commonplace from the upper floors of Cabrini-Green, and deep racial tensions made my normal kind of coming and going impossible.

On the Wednesday before graduation, June 5, 1968, I awoke to learn that Bobby Kennedy had just been shot in Los Angeles after winning the California Democratic primary. I can remember a deep sense that our nation seemed to be splitting apart -- a fear that seemed to be coming true when the Democratic National Convention met later that summer in Chicago and spiraled into chaos. Ten thousand demonstrators gathered outside and were met by 23,000 police and National Guard members. These violent clashes were broadcast live to the nation.

The current moment in America reminds me of 1968: the heightened racial tension, repeated incidents of violence, denunciations and defense of police -- all against the backdrop of an overheated political season. Then, many young people felt alienated from the system and found little hope in either candidate of the major parties.

In such troubled times, what are we to think? How are we to act? I have no grand answers to our deep problems as a nation and as a society. The fact is there are no easy answers. But what can we do as college and university leaders? What can our campus communities do? What can I do? What follows is what I am committing myself to, as best I can.

Acknowledge hard truths. The dilemmas of race continue to plague our society. Many of our students will return to campus feeling the pain of racial disparity and racial conflict, which are serious problems that we must not ignore.

Last fall, students across the country were hurt, angry and frustrated by a series of racially charged events and the unnecessary deaths of several unarmed black citizens. Some arrived at their campuses with lists of demands seeking social justice and equity. After another tenuous summer, we must again acknowledge their pain and outrage in the hopes that a modern university setting can help shape national discourse instead of simply being a backdrop for unrest and confusion. We must rededicate ourselves to the unfinished work before us: shaping a society in which everyone, created as equals, receives treatment as such.

Listen and learn. Increasingly in America today, we live in neighborhoods of the like-minded and gain information from like-minded sources. Even on a university campus, it takes effort to cross cultural and racial boundaries. I am convinced that party lines and pat answers are not sufficient to address such troublesome times. We must listen to voices other than accustomed ones. We must be open to adjusting our thinking and our behavior. We must push ourselves beyond what is comfortable, broadening our network of friends and deepening our capacity for empathy. How long has it been since we have, even imaginatively, seen the world through the eyes of someone very different than ourselves?

Like many institutions, Wake Forest University has its most diverse student body ever and is among the 10 fastest changing universities in the country, according to The New York Times. We refer to ourselves as a community in progress, which reflects our belief that we must actively practice what it means to be in community together and that regular updates must hold us accountable to each other. Our strength as a campus community -- and as a nation -- rests on our ability to listen to the voices of others and learn from experiences different from our own.

Start a conversation. Do the hard work of dialogue with those with whom we disagree. We all need occasions to frame challenging conversations and methods to facilitate those discussions. A college campus must foster honest, face-to-face conversation, however difficult, in the classroom, in residence halls and on structured and unstructured occasions. Doing the hard work of dialogue with those with whom we disagree is a common topic among college presidents today.

A recent article in Inside Higher Ed included a charge given by my friend and colleague Harry Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina, in which he urged students and faculty members to “recommit to airing our views in a way that is civil and responsible and recommit to opposing violence in all of its of forms,” including violent language and hate speech. “Come back to campus ready to learn and prepared for conversations to come,” the president wrote. “Most importantly, be ready to extend the hand of friendship to a new face.”

Conversation matters. And it must begin with us.

Retain hope. The United States has a wonderful -- and deeply flawed -- history. As the historian Edmund Morgan has emphasized, we are a nation founded both in liberty and in slavery. This land has provided much opportunity and social mobility for immigrants, and it has made progress since the 1960s in establishing broad gains for African-Americans in education, in business and the professions, and in civic life.

Yet whatever progress has been made in race relations and attitudes, racism is still a troubling reality, and patterns of poverty, particularly in urban communities, seem to extend from generation to generation. Today, we must redouble our efforts in the noble quest for which so many have given their lives: to build a society where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness remain within the grasp of everyone.

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. implored those who would listen. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that,” he said. “Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” As we -- on our campuses and in America in general -- walk through what feels like another dark hour, let us be people who carry the light and let us be people who choose to love.

Nathan O. Hatch is president of Wake Forest University.

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National Guardsmen after Chicago riots, April 1968

Democratic platform spurs excitement for advocates of free community college

After taking a backseat to debate over free tuition at four-year public colleges, free community college advocates see chance to build momentum.

Convention draws libertarian students, who shun main party candidates

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Convention brings together hundreds of libertarian college students, among whom Gary Johnson is a popular choice. Few back Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

Push for debt-free college moves to congressional campaigns

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Advocates who helped prod Democratic presidential candidates to embrace the concept seek to spread the issue into election drives for the U.S. Senate and House.

Hillary Clinton student loan proposals are a giveaway to Silicon Valley

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton offered new student loan forgiveness proposals as part of a broader set of ideas on technology and innovation. In trying to prove how much she believes in innovation and how much Silicon Valley investors should donate to her campaign, Clinton proposed some of the most complicated ideas for loan forgiveness ever. Not only are they hard to implement, but they would help wealthy Americans over everyone else.

Clinton has two loan proposals. First, anyone starting a business who has federal student loans can choose to not pay the loans for three years and not accrue any interest. She would also “explore” applying this to the first 10 or 20 employees of a new company.

If Clinton wants to give away money to people who will eventually be wealthy, this proposal is a great idea. People working in tech start-ups will likely go on to earn a fairly high income in life. If a young entrepreneur has a degree from a good school and highly valuable skills, she can still get a high-paying job even if the company fails. If her company succeeds, she will eventually have a lot of money.

Clinton's Innovation Agenda
The presumptive Democratic
nominee outlines her plan
for spurring innovation,
in part through changes
in higher education.

That person doesn’t need an interest-free loan. What she needs is a program that allows her to pay a low amount or nothing toward her student loans while she makes little to no money launching her business. Interest will accrue, but once she earns a lot, she’ll be able to pay everything back. If she never makes a lot, the loans will eventually be forgiven.

Of course, that plan is already available to all federal student loan borrowers. It’s called income-based repayment, it is used by many people, and it protects all borrowers, whether they’re “innovators” or not. Clinton’s plan is a giveaway to kids who went to Stanford and attend TEDx talks for the networking opportunities.

Clinton’s second proposal is that “for young innovators who decide to launch either new businesses that operate in distressed communities, or social enterprises that provide measurable social impact and benefit, she will offer forgiveness of up to $17,500 of their student loans after five years.”

Let’s see how that would work. Government officials would first have to define “distressed community.” Perhaps they would define it as any ZIP code where average earnings are less than 150 percent of the poverty line. That means that a bunch of Stanford graduates with master’s degrees in computer science who work out of office space in a poor part of Oakland could get $17,500 loan forgiveness after five years -- even if their company is being funded by venture capitalists. Why would we ever want that? If anything, this seems like a plan to speed up gentrification in Northern California.

But what about those businesses that help these “distressed communities”? The government will have to define “measurable impact.” How might that be done? If I invented the next Candy Crush and everyone in the neighborhood played it, that would certainly have a measurable impact on the community. Should I get loan forgiveness? If I start a farm and sell vegetables in a distressed community once a week, is that “measurable impact?”

There’s no good way to define it. When Congress tried to define “public service” for federal student loan forgiveness, it ended up counting any job with the government or a nonprofit. Which raises another question: the government already has public service loan forgiveness, so for whom, exactly, is Clinton’s proposed program? This election cycle, Clinton herself has seemed increasingly skeptical of greedy, for-profit businesses. If someone really wanted to help a community, why wouldn’t they just start a nonprofit?

Clinton seems to want more young people to start businesses. And while some economists are concerned that few young people are doing just that, it’s probably because of changes in demographics and the economy rather than young people having to pay interest on student debt. Students already have income-based repayment, which allows them to have affordable monthly payments. Those looking to help poor communities already qualify for public service loan forgiveness.

Our obsession with student loans leads to some terrible policy choices. With her new proposal, Hillary Clinton may be cultivating her next generation of Silicon Valley donors, but that’s not the same as prudent policy.

If anyone should get loan forgiveness, it’s not “innovators” who go on to earn high incomes, but those who never earn a high income. And it shouldn’t be for college graduates who start a business in a “distressed community,” but for borrowers who went to predatory schools and can’t find work. Those are the truly distressed.

Alexander Holt is a policy analyst with the education policy program at New America.

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Image Source: 
Gage Skidmore

On campus, voting behavior varies widely across college majors, regions

On college campuses, voter turnout is low. But voting behavior varies widely across disciplines and regions, a new study finds.

Essay on pluralism, conservative doctrine and 2016 campaign

The received wisdom about American political life celebrates the two-party, winner-take-all system as distinctly suited to containing and mitigating the ideological passions. Let’s fish it out of the dustbin of history for a quick look.

To win elections, a party has to stake out a fairly big tent. Its candidates and message must appeal to voters driven by an array of interests, with political opinions of numerous stripes, held with varying degrees of intensity. Party unity is celebrated with all due festivities but also with the expectation that it will prove flexible once the confetti is swept away. For pluralism in theory means horse-trading in practice. And because extremist moods don’t last, they tend to dry up whatever credit a party can draw on when it returns to the business of governance.

A duopoly of political parties turns each voter alienated by one side into a kind of asset (if not always an active supporter) of the other. The situation is quite different from that in countries where proportional representation sets the stage for numerous parties -- expressing regional, class, religious and/or ethnic interests (or hostilities, as the case may be) -- to compete along ideologically distinct lines. In America, the inevitable zero-sum outcome keeps political life on a steady, self-correcting course toward moderation and consensus.

For readers under the age of 30, and for more than a few older than that, it may be necessary to explain that yes, people did once believe in the foregoing vision of American politics. They would have pointed to the defeat of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964 or George McGovern’s in 1972 -- or both -- as demonstrating what happens when the big tent collapses.

But the aftermath was not a scramble to set both tents back up again as the analogy seems to require. By the mid-1990s, the Republicans were on a course to becoming something more akin to the sort of party that has been the norm elsewhere in the world, with a limited but cohesive set of principles (e.g., tax reduction as crucial to economic growth, opposition to new social-welfare expenditures, unconditional increases military spending, “traditional marriage”) and showing a tendency to attract a base of support along limited (though not exclusionary) demographic lines, as indicated by last year’s Pew Research Center report on party affiliation.

The Pew figures also show that Democratic Party support tends to be more diverse by race -- and recent news of tens of thousands of registered Democratic voters in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts changing their affiliation to Republican would be consistent with the Democrats being the more ideologically heterogeneous party (if a little less so, presumably each time someone jumps ship). The notion that American political parties were inherently pluralistic and pragmatic machines for uniting a continent-spanning nation might have been plausible 50 years ago, but the exodus of the Dixiecrats throughout the 1960s and ’70s trampled it into the dust, leaving the Democrats with a middling-largish tent with holes in it, while turning the GOP into what looks, in action, like a disciplined combat organization.

The 2016 election cycle, then, is a very murky paradox. The most ideologically focused and disciplined party ever to hold power in the United States is on the verge of nominating as its presidential candidate someone with no demonstrated adherence to its principles and no history of ties to the party’s infrastructure or personnel -- indeed, with no discernible bedrock of political conviction at all, apart from nativism (of a not especially lucid sort) and certainty that the country’s biggest problem is that he is not in charge.

The situation is worrying to everyone except his supporters. But more than that, it is confusing. Enemies of the Republican party like to say that Donald Trump gives blatant expression to tendencies its other candidates prefer to convey more discreetly. I no longer believe that to be an adequate assessment. Whatever else one might say about the GOP platform over the years, it cannot be reduced to xenophobia. Trump’s other beliefs, if any, remain inscrutable, perhaps even to himself. The man is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, topped with a hairpiece.

At the height of the primary season, Trump’s opponents periodically denied that he was a conservative (unlike themselves, of course). At the time it occurred to me that what they said was possibly more true than they realized, for it seemed impossible to think of Trump ever exemplifying the conservative doctrine of the inner check.

My dim recollection was that it was one of Edmund Burke’s ideas, something precipitated by the French Revolution. And ultimately it probably was, although the more proximate source turned out to be a couple of culture warriors of the last century, via the account in Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot. First published in 1953 (two years before William F. Buckley began publishing The National Review), the book was one of the foundational works of the postwar American right. Kirk offered something besides policy proposals or slogans; he tried to establish a usable tradition for the movement.

Two worthy ancestors he recommended were Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, professors at Harvard and Bryn Mawr, respectively, who advocated what became known in the late 1920s as the New Humanism. Quite a few brilliant people of that era -- T. S. Eliot, H. L. Mencken and Edmund Wilson, for example -- paid attention to the New Humanism long enough to attack it, and it was in one of their broadsides that I came across More’s idea of the inner check.

“Let him retire into himself and, in the silence of such recollection, examine his own motives and the sources of his self-approval and discontent,” More wrote. “He will discover that there is a happiness of the soul which is not the same as the pleasure of fulfilled desires, whether these be for good or ill, a happiness which is not dependent upon the results of this or that choice among our desires, but upon the very act of choice and self-control.” We have impulses and sensations, just as the animals do, and live in “the flux of experience,” but we also have the power to make choices, to restrain impulses and forgo sensations. Doing so is not our natural preference, but it’s what lifts us out of the flux of experience and expresses something higher, even divine.

The problem, back then, was that American society did not encourage the exercise of that power. The inner check was up against the temptations of jazz, bootleg hooch and the rumble seat. More followed this line of thought in the direction of Christian theology while Babbitt found it compatible with the teaching of the Buddha. They and their followers tended to write essays on literature and the history of ideas rather than editorials, but Kirk saw the inner check as having important political implications.

“The great contest in American society is the assault of the forces of moral and political aggrandizement upon the forces of moral and political stability,” Kirk wrote. “The federal Constitution and the Supreme Court and other checks upon immediate popular impulse are to the nation what the higher will is to the individual. Where our society succeeds, usually it is in consequence of this restraining influence on our thought and political structure.”

To its critics, the doctrine of the inner check sounded like warmed-over Puritanism, but at least it’s an ethos. You can see coherent policies (workfare and abstinence education, for example) coming out of it. It also seems to imply that those in power would be expected to lead by example. But a political party taking its bearings from the need to exercise the inner check would never let its own id take hold of the reins of authority, and the thought of what leadership by example would look like under Donald Trump must make a lot of his new political colleagues shudder to imagine.

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Bill Clinton speechifies on Hillary Clinton's plans for debt-free public college

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Bill Clinton hits the stump this week to make the case for Hillary Clinton's college affordability plan, criticizing states' "underfunding" of public higher education.

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