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The Role of the University in Building World Peace

When the American Association for Higher Education shut down this spring, many of its files went to Clara M. Lovett, its last president. She recently found a speech given in 1948 at the annual meeting of the higher education division of the National Education Association, which helped create the AAHE. Lovett thought the speech -- about challenges facing higher education as the U.S. confronted the Cold War -- had relevance today. With thanks to Lovett for the find and to the NEA for permission to reprint the text, we offer the following thoughts from an earlier generation.

Universities are among our oldest social institutions. Speaking generally they have characteristically been indifferent to their social responsibilities. They have often looked down their noses at modern problems and modern cultural development. They have been slow to change and slow to assume new social or educational responsibilities. Not infrequently have they viewed questions of social policy as practical matters which lie outside of the rightful concern of the university. The events of the last three decades have, however, shaken the complacency of many university faculty members and plunged a few of our leaders into a study of the ways and means whereby the university can make its appropriate contribution to the building of a decent and peaceful world.

There are several major developments which have been responsible for the change in the typical attitude of the university. Experience in Germany and other totalitarian countries proves conclusively that no true university is possible in a police state. This being so, every university has a stake in the preservation of freedom. Even though a university looks upon itself as an ivory tower, its staff members know that no ivory tower is even a remote possibility in anything but a free society. In the realm of the sciences, many leaders have looked in on the processes of nature in the area of atomic fission. What they have seen has so frightened them that they have become our most articulate and effective protagonists for the types of social change designed to insure a peaceful world. Thinking university people know that broad forms of adult education are the only means whereby social change can be sufficiently accelerated to head off worldwide catastrophe in the form of atomic war. Thus for the first time in academic history it now seems feasible to interest the academic world in the problems of world peace and the problems of social reconstruction upon which any enduring peace must be built.

In universities our characteristic response to a new responsibility is the addition of a new course, a new curriculum, or at leaset some proposal for the acquisition of new knowledge on the part of our students. We have every reason to doubt the wisdom of our past responses in such situations. It is going to take something more than knowledge of new facts to brings about a peaceful world. New courses can teach new facts, but they do not necessarily give our students and graduates the will to build a peaceful world or the social effectiveness for bringing such a world into being.

The plain fact is, we do not as a people understand the problem of world peace. We do not have a sufficient determination to build a peaceful world. We do not sense our own individual and collective responsibilities in relation to world peace. As a people we lack the consecration to human values and the devotion to human brotherhood that must of necessity be a foundation for a peaceful world. Perhaps most important of all we fail to realize that it is the success of free institutions inside our own country and other countries that is the primary requisite for the success of any international organization any effort at the maintenance of an enduring peace. If we are interested in examining the role of the university in building world peace, we should examine the course which has been followed by our own country in both the international and domestic scene since V-J Day. Through such an examination we can discover our major errors and identify the elements of unsoundness in our domestic and world leadership. From a study of these errors we can, I believe, map a sound emphasis for the university as it seeks to make a contribution to enduring world peace.

We have seen our country disappoint liberty-loving peoples the world over. Our international role has been characterized by confusion, uncertainty, vacillation, and, on occasion, downright dishonesty. While we have faltered in the international scene, we have stumbled about ineffectively at home. As of the present moment there is more fear in the heart of the average American than there has been at any time in the history of our country. This fear is not easily explained. It is an oversimplification to say that we are afraid of Russia. Our fears cannot be connected primarily with the rise of communism; nor is our state of mind due entirely to the development of the atomic bomb. While we may not be able to explain our fears, their results in our national and international behavior are plain to be observed. We carry on or propose witch hunts after communists. We send billions of dollars abroad in an effort to  stop communism, and we order a draft of our young men on the chance that we may have to fight our ideological enemies....

We have, it seems to me, made four major errors in charting the domestic and international course of our country and the entire democratic world. If the university is to play its proper role in the building of world peace, it must give its students a type of experience and equipment which will help us as a nation and as a world to correct these errors and chart a sound course in the direction of world peace.

In the first place, we in the Western world in general and in America in particular have failed to realize that human freedom is our most priceless asset. In one way or another we have been willing to compromise this freedom, sometimes in search of economic security, at other times in what we think is a battle to preserve this freedom. In this discussion I am taking the position that of all of the components of our culture and our heritage, our freedom is our greatest trust and our greatest hope for the future. With every passing year I am less willing to surrender any part of that freedom, regardless of the pretext upon which I am asked to make the surrender. I am thus wary of loss of individual freedom through over-centralization of government, through dictatorial organizations of labor and industry, through over-concentration of wealth and economic power, or through excessive controls of local affairs on the part of state and federal government.

Similarly, I am not only fearful of losing our freedom through a war, through a fascist or communist coup, but I am equally fearful of losing it through the adoption on our part of the police-state methods of the totalitarian world. I am accordingly extremely skeptical that the present much talked-of efforts to ferret out the Communists can actually be carried through without the loss of freedom for us all. And if through panic and fear of communism we lose our freedom, we have lost it just as truly as if it had been taken away from us by a foreign power.

Tragic as it may be, even our university graduates do not understand the meaning of our freedoms; nor do they realize the ways and means whereby these freedoms can be preserved. Therefore, teaching the meaning of human freedom is the first responsibility of the university in building world peace. We should, however, hasten to add that no perfunctory subject matter approach to the problem of freedom will be effective. For years our college students have studied our  history. They have read our Constitution. They have read the Declaration of Independence and other documents, but these and other materials have become stereotypes. They have been viewed in terms of political freedom alone. No organized and concerted attempt has been made to develop democratic principles in the area of economics, or of human relations, or in the field of the fine arts. As a result, a large proportion of our college graduates see no conflict between our great historic documents of freedom and segregation of whites and Negroes, poor housing, periodic unemployment, and lack of educational opportunities. Had our colleges and universities properly taught the meaning of human freedom, we would have had federal aid to education decades ago in this country. Had all the educational institutions in our nation really believed in our freedoms and taught them effectively, our country would today be vastly more democratic than it is.

But as a nation we have made a second tragic error since V-J Day. Somehow we have assumed that the problem of world peace can be solved through a world organization such as the United Nations, regardless of the success of our free institutions at home.... Our failure to see the relationship between the problems of our domestic society and  the difficulties of our world leadership grows out of our tendency to compartmentalize world problems, to blame our difficulties on other countries and on the weaknesses of governmental machinery and other forms of democratic implementation. We blame the machinery and we blame other countries when it is our own lack of moral conviction and sense of duty and responsibility that is to blame.

Clearly in this area the university has a large responsibility. It is not, however, enough for colleges and universities to convince the students of the inter-relatedness of our national and international problems. Something far deeper and more vital is demanded. The plain fact is, the whole Western democratic world has suffered a moral relapse in recent decades. The church has lost its hold on millions of our people. No substitute moral influence has come into our life. Opportunism, gross selfishness, and unbridled greed have had their unexampled innings. Irresponsible self-seeking has not only invaded business and labor but has made deep inroads into the profession of education itself. If freedom is to be saved and if world peace is to be achieved, the university must meet its responsibility in the realm of ethical and moral education.

In state-supported institutions, we cannot use the fact of legal restrictions on religious education as an alibi for failing to teach ethical and moral standards to our young people. Our own heritage of democracy is rich in ethical and moral content. Our literature presents enormous opportunities that can be exploited in many directions. The fine arts have a great potential contribution, and -- most important of all -- human relationships of the college and university campus can make an outstanding contribution if only we appreciate their importance and plan their programs and activities intelligently.

The third misconception which has undermined many of our domestic and international post-war policies has been the assumption that good can be accomplished through the doing of evil. We seem to think freedom can be saved for ourselves through a sacrifice of freedom for minorities and small nations and that we can further freedom for our own country by playing fast and loose with the welfare of small and less powerful countries and groups. Looking back over the period since V-J Day it seems almost impossible to understand how we can as a nation have been led into so many embarrassing and ambiguous positions. The most charitable way we can account for our blunders is to assume that we simply did not understand the processes whereby human freedom can be saved. There is in this connection a very simple principle. Freedom will not live unless it works. If it does not work, no amount of defense of freedom through persecution of its opponents, through spending money for relief, through propaganda, or through military efforts will avail....

If our universities are to play their appropriate role in the building of world peace, they must be the instrumentalities for making human freedom a working reality. As long as there are despotic, dictatorial police-state governments in the world there will be threats to peace. As long as there are social injustice, lack of educational opportunity, racial subordination, and discrimination, there will be threats to world peace. The problem of world peace has a unity and integrity which we in the academic world have failed to sense. We cannot preserve freedom for ourselves without doing all we can at all times to extend freedom to others. We cannot achieve prosperity for ourselves unless we do all we can to contribute to the prosperity of others. We cannot hope to enjoy uninterrupted liberty at home without honestly seeking liberty for the human spirit in all parts of the world, and we shall never sense this inter-relatedness until we come to understand the true foundation of our free institutions.

Freedom is not a mere accidental human aspiration. It is not only a philosophical conception; it is not only a theory or a hypothesis. On the contrary, free institutions are deeply rooted in the findings of those sciences which throw light on the nature of the human organism and on human behavior. Biology teaches us that all human individuals are different. Each person is unique, and it is out of this uniqueness that all creative power comes. We need a free society, therefore, in an effort to release the greatest creative powers of all individuals and through this release to enhance the achievements of society as a whole. We learn that personal and emotional security is essential to the greatest personal and intellectual growth. Thus respect for personality and for the worth and dignity of the individual has a sound foundation in the findings of science. It is essential that a university education should establish this scientific foundation for human freedom in the mind and heart of the student. With such understandings our citizens will be less vulnerable to propaganda, more effective in the defense of their heritage, and more zealous in the efforts to preserve it.

Our fourth serious error grows out of our tendency to feel that we have achieved the fruits of freedom merely through talking about it. Fourth of July speeches, political convention oratory, and speeches of educational philosophers are examples. We have in fact become so skillful in mouthing the beautiful phrases of our democratic heritage that the mere sound of the words themselves seems somehow to have brought a democratic society into being. In our saner moments we know that nothing is further from the truth, and here we, in the university, must hang our heads in shame. With all our talk about teaching the principles of human freedom and democracy we must openly confess that our universities are not democratic in organization, in administration, or in the conduct of their educational activities or campus affairs.

My own experience in university life is now of sufficient length and in a sufficient number of different institutions that I feel I have some experiential basis for the observations I am about to make. It is my honest conviction that the universities of this country will not become major factors in teaching human freedom and democratic ideals until they begin seriously to practice these ideals in their own organization and administration. Let us, however, be more specific in treating this issue. I refer to such specific and mundane things as the determination of faculty salaries. It is my observation that no single item of expenditure in a university is as difficult to increase as the salary of a professor. One can get money for new buildings, for new equipment, for research, for public relations, yes, for almost anything you can think of before one can get money for improved salaries. I have never read any religious or ethical document which held that increasing a professor's salary is a sin, but when I observe the attitude of university administrators toward salary increases I am almost led to the conclusion that they must view such increases as a dreadful sin. If we really believed in educational democracy, we would see to it that every possible dollar is spent on good faculty salaries in order to bring the finest teaching talent to our students and put our staff members in position to render the very finest and most creative service. My experience is that we operate on almost the direct opposite of this policy.

But it is not only in matters of salary that we are undemocratic. I have now seen successive generations of young men enter academic life with great enthusiasms, high hopes for the future, and commendable consecration to the welfare of their students. I have observed them five or ten years later only to see that they have become cynical, discouraged, embittered, and resigned to the doing of a routine job, the drawing of meager salaries, and the achievement of a tenuous security. It is the most distressing and painful observation of my entire academic experience. Primarily, it grows out of the way in which a university organization functions to restrict the individual in the exercise and development of his creative talent. Here it is not only the presidents and deans who are in error. Department chairmen, full professors, and perhaps even an occasional instructor are at fault.

Excessive regimentation on the part of administrators, on the part of faculty committees, and through faculty regulations plays its part. Here we are, of course, primarily concerned with the impact of the university on the problem of saving our freedom, preserving our democratic heritage, and building a peaceful world. Certainly we shall not achieve these far-flung and difficult objectives through a program of mealy-mouthed utterances concerning the glories of freedom. If we are really serious about teaching these human values, we must see to it that the institutions in which we teach are themselves fine examples of the democratic principles and concepts of freedom we are seeking to teach. As things are, much of what goes on in a university does not teach the student the meaning and glory of freedom, but gives him a cynical notion that freedom is something you talk about but probably never will enjoy.

Clearly we shall not give our college students the understandings of the problems of world peace through a few specialized courses in the social sciences, or through occasional lectures, or through any single pedagogical or curricular device. The meaning of human freedom, the devotion to human values, the understanding of human brotherhood, and the required social effectiveness for the practice of all of these are all too involved, too subtle, too difficult to come by, for any such lick-and-promise treatment. If universities are to be successful in their efforts to preserve human freedom, they must themselves believe in our free institutions. They cannot teach without a great faith.

It is the building of this great faith that is the major task of higher education. The progress made in human freedom to date has been made by those leaders who possess a great faith in the common man and in the processes of a free society. But the problem of building a great faith is not essentially or primarily a verbal undertaking. As human beings we believe in those principles and institutions which, over a period of time, serve mankind by bringing widespread human well-being. If we want our people to believe in democracy, we must make it a working democracy which delivers well-being to the masses of our people.

We tend also to maintain our faith in those principles and processes to which we can ourselves make a contribution. It is hard for an individual to continue to believe in a process that is for him remote, external, and detached. The individual citizen will keep his faith in those processes in which he can participate and to which he can contribute. We must find more ways whereby the average citizen can participate in the affairs of the community. In our universities we must discover more ways in which students can share in the improvement of university life. We must give our students an opportunity to experience the benefits of democracy in the source of their college education.

If freedom is to live, the world needs an honest and forthright America, an America that practices her freedoms at home and defends them abroad. Such an America must have citizens that have deep faith in freedom and a new consecration to human service -- citizens who courageously practice the ethical and moral principles of democracy. Universities will play their proper role in building world peace when they give us a citizenry with these qualities.

 

 

 

 

Author's email: 

The late Ernest O. Melby was dean of the School of Education at New York University when he gave this talk.

Why States Shouldn't Accredit

In my work as Oregon’s college evaluator, I am often asked why state approval is not "as good as accreditation" or "equivalent to accreditation."

We may be about to find out, to our sorrow: One version of the Higher Education Act reauthorization legislation moving through Congress quietly allows states to become federally recognized accreditors. A senior official in the U.S. Department of Education has confirmed that one part of the legislation would eliminate an existing provision that says state agencies can be recognized as federally approved accreditors only if they were recognized by the education secretary before October 1, 1991. Only one, the New York State Board of Regents, met the grandfather provision. By striking the grandfather provision, any state agency would be eligible to seek recognition.

If such a provision becomes law, we will see exactly why some states refuse to recognize degrees issued under the authority of other states: It is quite possible to be state-approved and a low-quality degree provider.Which states allow poor institutions to be approved to issue degrees?

Here are the Seven Sorry Sisters: Alabama (split authority for assessing and recognizing degrees), Hawaii (poor standards, excellent enforcement of what little there is), Idaho (poor standards, split authority), Mississippi (poor standards, political interference), Missouri (poor standards, political interference), New Mexico (grandfathered some mystery degree suppliers) and of course the now infamous Wyoming (poor standards, political indifference or active support of poor schools).

Wyoming considers degree mills and other bottom-feeders to be a source of economic development. You’d think that oil prices would relieve their need to support degree mills. Even the Japanese television network NHK sent a crew to Wyoming to warn Japanese citizens about the cluster of supposed colleges there: Does the state care so little for foreign trade it does not care that 10 percent of the households in Japan saw that program? You’d think that Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, who now chairs the committee responsible for education, would care more about the appalling reputation of their home state. Where is Alan Simpson when we need him?  

In the world of college evaluation, these seven state names ring out like George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television,” and those of us responsible for safeguarding the quality of degrees in other states often apply some of those words to so-called “colleges” approved to operate in these states -- so-called “colleges” like Breyer State University in Alabama and Idaho (which “State” does this for-profit represent, anyway?).

There are some dishonorable mentions, too, such as California, where the standards are not bad but enforcement has been lax and the process awash in well-heeled lobbyists.  The new director of California’s approval agency, Barbara Ward, seems much tougher than recent placeholders -- trust someone trained as a nurse to carry a big needle and be prepared to use it.

The obverse of this coin is that in some states, regulatory standards are higher than the standards of national accreditors, as Oregon discovered when we came across an accredited college with two senior officials sporting fake degrees.  The national accreditors, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, had not noticed this until we mentioned it to them. What exactly do they review, if they completely ignore people’s qualifications?

The notion that membership in an accrediting association is voluntary is, of course, one of the polite fictions that higher education officials sometimes say out loud when they are too far from most listeners to inspire a round of laughter. In fact, losing accreditation is not far removed from a death sentence for almost any college, because without accreditation, students are not eligible for federal financial aid, and without such aid, most of them can’t go to school – at least to that school.  

For this reason, if Congress ever decoupled aid eligibility from accreditation by one of the existing accreditors -- for example, by allowing state governments to become accreditors -- the “national” accreditors of schools would dry up and blow away by dawn the next day: They serve no purpose except as trade associations and milking machines for federal aid dollars.

The Libertarian View of Degrees

One view of the purpose and function of college degrees suggests that the government need not concern itself with whether a degree is issued by an accredited college or even a real college. This might be considered the classic libertarian view: that employers, clients and other people should come to their own conclusions, based on their own research, regarding whether a credential called a “degree” by the entity that issued (or printed) it is appropriate for a particular job or need.  This view is universally propounded by the owners of degree mills, who become wealthy by selling degrees to people who think they can get away with using them this way.

The libertarian view is tempting, but presupposes a capacity and inclination to evaluate that most employers have always lacked and always will, while of course an average private citizen is even more removed from that ability and inclination.   Who will actually do the research that the hypothetical perfect employer should do?

Consider the complexities of the U.S. accreditation system, the proliferation of fake accreditors complete with names nearly identical to real ones (there were at least two fake DETCs, imitating the real Distance Education Training Council, in 2005), phone numbers, carefully falsified lists of approved schools, Web sites showing buildings far from where the owners had ever been and other accoutrements.

To the morass of bogus accreditors in the U.S., add the world. Hundreds of jurisdictions, mostly not English-speaking, issuing a bewildering array of credentials under regimens not quite like American postsecondary education. Add a layer of corruption in some states and countries, a genial indifference in others, a nearly universal lack of enforcement capacity and you have a recipe for academic goulash that even governments are hard-pressed to render into proper compartments.  In the past 10 days my office has worked with national officials in England, Sweden, The Netherlands, Canada and Australia to sort out suspicious degree validations. Very few businesses and almost no private citizens are capable of doing this without an exhausting allocation of time and resources. It does not and will not happen.

Should state governments accredit colleges?

State governments, not accreditors or the federal government, are the best potential guarantors of degree program quality at all but the major research universities, but only if they take their duty seriously, set and maintain high standards and keep politicians from yanking on the strings of approval as happens routinely in some states. Today, fewer than a dozen states have truly solid standards, most are mediocre and several, including the Seven Sorry Sisters, are quite poor.

If Congress is serious about allowing states to become accreditors, there must be a reason.  I can think of at least two reasons. First, such an action would kill off many existing accreditors without having their work added to the U.S. Department of Education (which no one in their right mind, Democrat, Republican or Martian, wants to enlarge). This would count as devolutionary federalism (acceptable to both parties under the right conditions).

The second reason is the one that is never spoken aloud. There will be enormous, irresistible pressure on many state governments to accredit small religious schools that could never get accredited even by specialized religious accreditors today. The potential bounty in financial aid dollars for all of those church-basement colleges is incalculable.

Remember that another provision of the same proposed statute would prohibit even regionally accredited universities from screening out transfer course work based on the nature of the accreditor.  Follow the bread crumbs and the net result will be a huge bubble of low-end courses being hosed through the academic pipeline, with the current Congressional leadership cranking the nozzle.

The possibility of such an outcome should provide impetus to the discussions that have gone on for many years regarding the need for some uniformity (presumably at a level higher than that of the Seven Sorry Sister states) in standards for state approval of colleges. We need a “model code” for state college approvals, something that leading states can agree to (with interstate recognition of degrees) and that states with poor standards can aspire to.

The universe of 50 state laws, some excellent and some abysmal, allows poor schools to venue-shop and then claim that their state approval makes them good schools when they are little better than diploma mills. We must do better.

Should states accredit colleges? Only if they can do it well. Today’s record is mixed, and Congress should not give states the power to accredit (or allow the Department of Education to give states the power) until they have proven that their own houses are in order. That day has not yet come.

Author's email: 

Alan L. Contreras has been administrator of the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization, a unit of the Oregon Student Assistance Commission, since 1999. His views do not necessarily represent those of the commission.

Beyond Busy

For some time, it has seemed that we in the education world have come to define "quality" mainly in terms of "quantity.” We encourage students to add a minor or a second major, assuming more credits equals more learning. We advise students to add co-curricular activities to their growing list of academic credits, trusting that these additional experiences will enrich their lives and build attractive resumes, making a college education even more valuable.

The same emphasis on quantity has marked the evaluation of professors. The more articles published, the more classes taught, the more committees chaired, the more worthwhile the contribution.

Too often today the assumption is the busier the student, the more he is learning, and the busier the professor, the more she is contributing.

The tragedy and irony in this perspective is that when we stop to think for a moment (and, of course, we don’t have time to) we acknowledge -- especially those of us in liberal arts colleges -- that the wisdom we claim to value above all can only come when we have time to reflect. Activity and busyness, the gods of our culture, are demons in the life of those seeking the mind and the spirit. No matter how good the individual academic or co-curricular experience may be, the cumulative affect of so many experiences is destructive.

So what can be done?

The growing awareness among accrediting agencies that learning is not based on "seat time" -- time spent in a classroom seat -- has opened the door to new, creative ways to maximize time in higher educational institutions. In a recent meeting with the North Central Association, an association official expressed interest in working with my college, a Christian liberal arts institution in Iowa, to explore alternative ways of doing college: the goal being to encourage more reflection and make room for the kind of learning that will one day blossom into wisdom.

What might "a new way of doing college" look like?

One of the questions we will be exploring at Northwestern is this: Is it possible to organize a student’s four years in a more developmental manner, gradually cultivating a way of life that uses time effectively for lifelong learning -- rather than just lifelong busyness?

Here is one possibility: The freshman year would be much like it is today with a structured academic schedule and opportunities to participate in co-curricular activities. But as students move through their sophomore, junior and senior years, they would be weaned from a structured but busy schedule of many curricular and co-curricular experiences to a less structured schedule with more time for critical reflection and synthesis. The focus would be more on overall learning than on particular activities -- more on growing internal student discipline than on relying on external direction.

As sophomores they might replace typical 200-level general education courses with interdisciplinary seminars that integrate service learning and independent study with traditional classroom content. Significant time would be allocated for individual reflection and small group interaction -- the desire being to nurture a dialogue within the students themselves, and with each other and their professors, on what truly matters in life. Faculty and student life personnel might work together in guiding student learning. Knowledge, experience and personal development would merge to help shape the student’s view of the world as she embarks on courses in her major. The other segment of the sophomore year would introduce the foundational content of various academic majors.

The junior year becomes an in-depth exploration of the world through the lens of one particular academic discipline. This might be done best by studying one course at a time, for at least one of the semesters. It might also include an ongoing seminar throughout the year to stimulate reflection on the moral and spiritual implications of the material being explored.

For the senior year, the goal would be synthesis -- academic, professional and personal. Bridges would be built to the world students will encounter after graduation. A senior project culminating in a personal mission statement, incorporating both career and life goals, would provide an appropriate climax.

Developing an effective means of assessing student learning is, perhaps, the most important and difficult task we face once “seat time” is unseated as a critical measure for academic credit. But this challenging task also provides the opportunity to rethink what it is we want 21st century students to learn and how we ought to teach it. “Seat time” allowed us to avoid the central question of learning: What is important to know? The unspoken answer in our current educational culture is: whatever a professor can cover in three or four hours of class hours per week, plus two hours of reading per class period.

Beyond mastering information and acquiring the skills to communicate it, what is it we desire students to understand about our world, ourselves, God? What is wisdom? How do we introduce it to our students? How can we tell if they are moving toward it?  

With time opened up and vision restored, new pedagogical questions arise: How many hours should students spend in class? How many in the library, online, off campus ... in another part of our country or the world? What kinds of experiential and service learning would enhance understanding and excellent performance in our given field of study? In this new expanded world of learning, what is the role of the professor, staff, other students, practitioners off campus, and the individual student? Are there not better ways than only traditional letter grades to evaluate student learning and assist them in their life choices?

"Doing college in a new way" would also provide faculty with the opportunity to take a fresh look at how they spend their time. Where in the current configuration of faculty loads is time for reflection and the growth of wisdom? Is there room in our definition and practice of scholarship to create wisdom? Is the role of wise mentors to our students cultivated and rewarded?

In recent years many significant changes have come to higher education: interdisciplinary classes, innovative first-year programs, undergraduate research, service and distributive learning, to name a few. But is it not true that undermining even these admirable innovations as well as more traditional educational experiences is the problem of time? All too often, hasn’t change come by adding something new to an already crowded educational menu?

Isn’t it time to revisit time itself?

Author's email: 

Bruce G. Murphy is president of Northwestern College, in Orange City, Iowa.

Believing in Parking

What should a new faculty member value most about his or her institution? Salary? Library holdings? Student SAT scores? Health plan? Of the knowledge that can well prove absolutely decisive, especially on those days when it's raining and you're running late for class, I would suggest one neglected subject: parking.

Many are hired. But not all can park. Or at least not all can park close to the building where they need to go. How close depends upon many factors, ranging from the size of the college or university to how many years you've been there or what time on any particular day you drive into a lot.

But of course you don't just park. As a faculty member, you occupy a place relative to administrators and staff, as well as other faculty members, visiting professors, consultants, post-and pre-doctoral students, among others. If you're lucky, a space awaits you. If you're not, there's a space on a waiting list.

Such a list constitutes just about the only way faculty rank may matter anymore, whereby a secure parking spot becomes the reason an individual celebrates promotion to full professor. More commonly, though, it may not be. Indeed, are there still institutions where faculty parking is allotted on the basis of rank? My impression is that just about everywhere this is now a thing of the bad old hierarchical past.

Nowadays, everyone is free upon being hired to make a parking contract of some sort. (Even on small campuses where parking is free, a badge or sticker is required.) The seeming egalitarianism of the market rules. Associate professors lie down with, er, park next to, adjuncts. You get what you pay for, provided that you have enough money to pay.

But wait. Among faculty, don't full professors have the most money to buy into (or keep renewing) the choicest spaces? The market may rule. But it does not rule everybody in the same way. And of course it does not rule the highest administrators at all. Who among the faculty has not dreamed of swinging, just once, into the space designated for the Provost or the Dean of Liberal Arts?

Just so, who among the undergraduates has not dreamed of swinging into a faculty lot? In fact, many of the newest undergraduates do so on a regular basis, making the beginning of each semester a veritable revolutionary period, during which perhaps the most basic academic distinction -- between student and professor -- is regularly overthrown in the parking lots for a precious few weeks. Fortunately, the overthrow is sporadic as well as transitory.

Moreover, since the lots are literally peripheral (for the most part) to the campus core, the illegal parking of some freshest to campus is not nearly as threatening as if they had somehow begun to speak from the lecterns of classrooms or else to wave everybody past while overseeing the turnstiles of the main library. Parking reveals how order is so central to the life of any campus.

Fundamentally hierarchical, order is not easily eluded. What if everybody could park anywhere at any time? As well ask what if everybody could just get up in class and speak at any time, or walk out of the library with any book! And yet, the order that attends to parking is not quite the same as these things, and herein resides its
peculiar interest: the space of parking is a foundational one.

Suppose we ask, when does the work day begin? For some, it begins early, when the bedside alarm goes off, or else later when the office door is opened. The question can always be answered in a personal way, and the answer will always appear to some extent arbitrary. For most of us, though, the answer will be the same: the day begins not once we start our cars but succeed in parking them.

Who was it wrote, "beginning is a god?" Parking constitutes just such a beginning. This is why we worship it -- our lots veritable shrines, their sudden empty spaces revealed as akin to miracle. This is also why we must never take parking for granted -- we  linger over our lots in peril, converting what is after all a mere beginning into an end in itself.

Michael Moore has made the following statement to audiences on a number of occasions: "I didn't go to college because I couldn't find a place to park." What can we answer? That he should have come back later or arrived earlier? Tried another lot? Taken a bus? Perhaps we could now direct Moore's vision to for-profit colleges, such
as the University of Phoenix. They advertise plenty of free parking available. Whatever their educational merit of such institutions, even they testify to a larger transportational truth: we begin college with parking or we don't begin at all.

Perhaps best to try to console Moore on the basis of a religious model: He lacked faith. In academic terms as in all others, you ultimately either have faith or you don't. Not just in this case, faith in yourself as a student that you can succeed. But faith in yourself as a commuter that you can park. Poor Moore. He should have tried either an urban university where it's possible to get to campus by bus (and then get round by shuttle) or a rural college where it's possible to walk to campus.

To me, however -- and perhaps to Moore as well -- each of these possibilities seems lacking in seriousness and commitment. Taking a bus is too easy, walking is too casual. And neither testifies to some larger principle of order. An academic day that begins heedless of the presiding categories of faculty, staff, student, visitor, and all the wondrous interconnections among them? On what basis can such a day be said properly to begin at all?

Having to park a car means having to participate in a great collective rite. You don't necessarily have to believe in it. But going through the motions gets you started along the road. I know a woman teaching at a small college. Parking is free to all faculty and staff, who only have to show a permit, in order to distinguish them from students. Trouble is, staff have to begin work earlier than faculty. The result? Each day the staff gobbles up the parking places closest to main buildings or under trees. A faculty member often has to get to school early, even if she only has afternoon classes, in order to be able to park at all.

Sacrilege! No wonder (she claims) secretaries are often so dismissive or clerks so unhelpful. It appears as if the staff has assumed the prerogatives of the faculty, beginning with (not to say authorized by) parking. What to do when foundational power no longer serve the ends of right order? Already, it seems, there are some days when my friend parks in spaces marked for Visitors, although not before removing her faculty permit from the rearview mirror.

I thought of her awhile ago, when I had to do some research at the library of the largest university in my area. Its parking problems are legion. Legend has it that papers have been written or children raised while vigilant drivers, hopeful believers all, have circled the lots (a parking garage has yet to be completed) looking for a space. Fortunately, I had a faculty parking permit for the university. Unfortunately, it expired last August.

I bought the permit the previous August, when I agreed for the fall semester to teach a class there. Two reasons. First, the class was at 8 a.m., so I was assured of getting a good parking place. Second, the permit would be good for another semester, and so I would be free to park (whether I taught there again or not)  in order to use the library. Now, though, what to do? I have a friend who, as an occasional adjunct, has accumulated enough of the university's yearly permits that she can switch to the color coding of any particular new year, if she needs to park there herself. But I didn't think to ask her if I could borrow the template for this year.

Foolishly, I developed a plan of my own. I picked a Saturday, when parking wardens might be more lax, if on duty then at all. Then I proceeded to park in the last row of a faculty lot, where a warden would have to come round to the front of the car to see if I had a permit. Neglecting to notice how one looked  this year, I dangled my old permit on the rearview mirror, cleverly (I reasoned) obscuring the year by a sunscreen mat along the front window. A happy research day at the library passed. It was shattered upon my return to the car. There it was stuck to the windshield wiper: a ticket!

According to the posted time, a warden had pounced on the car in less than an hour. Had he been lying in wait? Not only was my out-of-date permit noted. So was my attempt to conceal it. Worst of all was the price of the ticket: $65!

Had I failed to respect an origin, or, more garishly, feigned too much respect? The order of the academic universe is a stern one. I conclude at least three things about the whole matter of parking on campus:

  • 1. Access to it costs.
  • 2. Restrictions always apply.
  • 3. Best to accept what you are designated to be.

With respect to the last of these: I was a Visitor. So confessed, I have since twice requested, and each time received, a Visitor's day permit. The first time I was assigned a Faculty lot, the second time a Student lot. What exactly is the meaning of these assignments? Perhaps that no order is entirely consistent either with itself or with the operations possible within it. But this does not prevent the order from having to be accepted, or even -- if only so that you can get inside it -- believed.

Author's email: 

Terry Caesar's last column was about fear of humor in the classroom.

10 Reasons

Back in the prelapsarian days of faculty unionization in the 1970s, when there were few laws on the books empowering and regulating collective bargaining in higher education, it was not uncommon for administrators to recognize a union simply because faculty had voted for it. It was an almost unspoken tenet of campus collegiality -- and a precursor to today's embattled concept of shared governance -- that institutions should honor the clear majority wishes of their faculty. That is essentially what happened recently to the graduate employee union drive at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After a decade's struggle, the enlightened chancellor -- who has since resigned -- simply recognized the union.

There was a difference, however; the graduate student vote had taken place years ago and been dismissed as legally nonbinding. What graduate student employees had to do to apply a bit of leverage was to occupy the administration building. Details of that story are in Office Hours: Activism and Change in the Academy (Routledge, 2004). There is a general lesson in the Illinois strategy: you can get a union if your employee group has majority support for it and if you are willing to go the distance, to disrupt daily life on campus by nonviolent civil disobedience. That may well be what will be required at New York University this fall.

Every unionization drive now includes an aggressive anti-union campaign organized and funded by the administration. Why? Why has the civility of an earlier (and far from utopian) era disappeared? Why do administrators fear graduate student employee unionization drives? I'd like to propose some answers to these questions:

1. The character of higher education administration is changing. I still prefer the model of an eloquent and progressive administrator whom one can admire. That is my notion of appropriate campus leadership. I encountered such people several times at my undergraduate college (Antioch) and have done so repeatedly at Illinois, but in the last decade I have increasingly witnessed administrators who make exploiting the campus workforce a primary aim. When an administrator prefers to deny campus employees decent health care, satisfactory retirement benefits, a living wage, safe working conditions, and effective grievance procedures, that administrator is an adversary. Unionization does not invent adversary relationships in such cases; instead it recognizes them and tries to negotiate them in a rational way.

2. Every administrator wants full control over the budget and maximum personal power. Unions alter the forces effecting budget allocation. They change campus priorities. Even the modest gains graduate employees have won represent a symbolic loss of centralized power. Administrators fear the symbolism as much as the real impact. But the message successful collective action sends about the potential to change campus power relations more generally is a potent one that worries administrators considerably.

3. Unionization threatens the increasing use of contingent labor. A legally binding union contract may be the only way to limit the growing reliance on contingent labor. A contract can potentially restrict the percentage of courses taught by part-time faculty and by graduate students. Administrators would prefer to decide the ratio of full-time to part-time employees themselves.

4. Union solidarity and negotiation threatens increasing administrative desire to control both appointments and the curriculum. I have encountered growing administrative discomfort with traditional faculty control over appointments and growing administrative resistance to faculty control over the curriculum. Some administrators want the power to shift appointments and curricula quickly to meet corporate needs. Others simply want to emphasize more profitable majors.

5. Union solidarity strengthens academic freedom. With tolerance for campus dissent decreasing, administrators should welcome union organized support for academic freedom. Yet some administrators would prefer to capitulate to outside political and corporate pressure. It is depressingly clear that some administrators at our most prestigious campuses have no fundamental understanding of or respect for academic freedom. For them unionization seems a threat, not a benefit.

6. Unions can seek a role in defining the institution's mission. Not only administrators but also governing boards have shown interest in redefining the basic mission of colleges and universities. Where faculty senates are weak and submissive, both faculty and graduate students need a vehicle to express their views of the institution's purposes and goals. Mission statements that faculty and students find abhorrent need to be resisted.

7. Union contracts counteract the dramatic differences in campus compensation. More and more are campus salaries mimicking the increasing gap between corporate managers' earnings and those on the shop floor. As the gap between administrators' salaries and the salaries of those who teach or perform other campus work widens, the sense of common purpose is undermined. Yet too many administrators are comfortable with this trend and fear union power to resist or reverse it.

8. The greatest worry is with for sciences. A union representing research assistants in the laboratory sciences is likely to have the power to initiate grievance procedures. The secret of how some such labs are run in science and engineering is not well known. Students are often privately warned they cannot expect positive evaluations or recommendations unless they work 80-120 hours a week in the lab. Even with beginning grad students, who do not yet have dissertation projects, the time above 40 hours is treated as the student's personal research. Often it is actually virtually all research for the faculty member in charge of the lab. Established grad employee unions have regularly won grievance complaints against such practices, and that has real budgetary implications for the labs at issue. Exploitive labs are often established around a core of foreign students, many of whom do not have family in the United States and all of whom increasingly risk being thrown out of the country or denied entrance in the first place. Once a core of lab employees accepts the requirement of an 80-120 hour work week it is then possible to integrate American citizens into the same culture. Some of the other rules such labs put in place are equally surprising. Grad employees may be denied standard university holidays unless they work overtime in advance to "pay" for them. They may be assigned breakage fees for the loss of ordinary glass equipment. All these abuses will be fought by a good union.

9. Relations with faculty will be poisoned. This is a false fear, because unions tend to displace potential student/faculty confrontations. Instead of grad employees in a lab having to protest unfair working conditions to their supervisors, union negotiators initiate far less emotional and confrontational grievance procedures. Having experienced union representatives negotiate grievances reduces rather than increases antagonism. That is true both for exploitive labs and for humanities or social science courses that overwork teaching assistants. It is not in fact unusual for humanities department faculty to endorse grad employee union drives. They do so because they want their students to be better paid and because they do not see themselves as employers in any case.

10. Unions promote new identities for faculty and students. The last decade has seen a growing tendency for members of a given union to reach out to other employee groups on campus and the community. After several decades in which the self-interested, entrepreneurial faculty member has seemed the major identity available in higher education, unions have begun to promote socially responsible, community oriented identities. Some American Association of University Professors unions have reached out to help their grad employee colleagues organize for collective bargaining. Grad students and faculty have joined city-wide living wage campaigns. Grad employee unions especially have joined other campus and off-campus unions in job actions. The new Ph.D.'s who come of age in these community oriented unions enter the profession ready to pursue not only their own careers but also the well being of the whole community in which they live. An enlightened administrator has nothing to fear in this development and every reason to welcome it. But administrators who worship corporatization, not community, are coming to fear the rise of a faculty class who identify with all workers.

The American Association of University Professors recognizes the right of all campus groups to decide for themselves whether they wish to negotiate their salaries and working conditions collectively. The organization takes no position on whether they should opt to unionize. It simply recognizes that the right inheres in each employee group. Increasingly, campus administrators seek to deny that right. Several campuses have spent more fighting these drives than they would be likely to spend paying for benefits won in contact negotiations. Perhaps the reasons above help explain that anomaly.

Author's email: 

Cary Nelson is Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Indestructible Student Relationships

 
par-a-site n. 1. An often harmful organism that lives on or in a  different organism. 2. A person who habitually takes advantage   of the generosity of others without making any useful return.  -- Webster's Dictionary.

It is the first day of class. A student in his early 20s strides into the classroom. A beautiful young woman walks quickly to keep up with him; she is so close to him that she bumps into his side. They sit in adjoining seats in the next-to-back row. I smile and look down at my census sheet. I call roll. He is Alex, with a last name I've never had the chance to pronounce before. She is Traci. "Ah, true love," I think. Smiling, I ponder young love as the students settle in to the assignment.

Three weeks into the fall semester, I realize the inequity. She is an A student -- bright, intelligent, motivated. He? A C student, haggling with instructors, looking for extra credit, borrowing her notes and time. The problem? He is bringing her down. Her grade slips because she turns her paper in late -- along with his. I know that she has done hers on time, but she holds on to it until he is ready, too.

In another world, I might think it is a beautiful sympathetic gesture; here I think it is a mismatched sign of her devotion. He does poorly on quizzes; she misses a few. I wonder if she does it to bridge the gap between them. In group work, he sits like a stone; she mimics his silence. Together they sit, mute, refusing to participate. They stride into class together every day -- late -- 5, 8, 12 minutes. Her attendance grade lowers, as does his. I can't help but want to take her into my office and tell her what I think. "Traci," I imagine myself saying, "He's bringing you down. He's a loser -- an underachiever. Think of what he'll be like later in the job force." With a wan smile,
I might add, "Yes, I know you love him, but consider your future."

But I do not intervene. Why? Because I do not think that she will listen. She will act just as I did when I "fell in love" with a 21-year-old underachiever while in high school. My parents tried to warn me. My grandparents lectured me. My sisters smirked; but I held on to that man, desperate to make my own choices -- to someday show them all.

The result? I dropped out of high school, worked as a waitress and tried to impress him, me and the world. Finally he found another young woman to admire him and I was lucky enough to bury my sorrows at a local junior college. I hope that Traci, too, will find her way, with or without the underachiever who tucks her hand into his coat pocket as he stands in the hallway, his textbook clean, untouched.

It's an odd partnership, I think. But is it? On every campus I have worked, I have seen it over and over. The academically weaker ones attaching themselves to the stronger; hoping for a lift, a chance, a ride on someone else's success. Blatantly exchanging sex (or sex appeal), bravado, status, money or simply a ride to campus for
another's brain-on-loan. Sometimes it develops into a romance -- but more often than not a partnership develops that seems mismatched. I want to be shocked; but I have seen so many things. Students buying term papers from one another. Students lying about work not produced. Excuses, excuses, excuses.

In my office, deluged with yet another onslaught of excuses, the phone rang. After four minutes of all the sympathy I could offer, along with the assertion that I would tape an assignment to my door, I turned to my colleague. "Guess she can only use that excuse one more time," I said to him. "Dead grandmother," I answered him before he could even ask. "Oh, yeah," he replies, his voice tired, "I've already had two and it's only four weeks into the semester."

Yes, we're cynical. But we buck up, lace our shoes tighter and get ready for another class. And we are prepared to see them arriving two by two, like a twisted version of Noah's ark. The all-too-attractive  girl who can't spell with the engineering major who has already received four scholarship offers. The funny returning front-row student who is attached to the young man who can't seem to make it to class one out of every three sessions. Even the pal-teams are suspect.

In class today I noticed a young man who has missed two deadlines for  papers. He sits and chats with a another young man on international status who has trouble with English. I can't imagine what that exchange
will provide. I can only hope the international student will receive some pronunciation tips while the local student will hustle through his work and turn it in on time.

In my night class at another campus, two women friends straggle in 15 minutes late. Both are in their early 20s, with the usual giggling and guffawing as they sit. Yet when it comes to class work, one is head and shoulders above the other. That night I notice that the overachiever has started to use the same make-up techniques as her friend. I wonder if poor study habits will follow now, too.

What is the drive to couple up in college? Why the buddy system in the face of education? I think that fear plays a big part. At one large institution where I've taught, there are more than 100,000 students registered. Even faculty can be intimidated by the numbers.

Fighting for spaces to park, seats in classes, books at the campus bookstore -- even for the limited financial aid available can turn the most motivated student mad. And they do not bring their complaints to staff or faculty; they share them with each other. Many of the students will not take the college catalog or schedule at its word. They talk to peers and press for the underground news on campus. Who is the easiest grader? Will this transfer to a
state university? If they take this course, how much will the instructor expect?

Can I get into this class -- or should I try at night? And by the time they get into the class, partnerships are forged. With the constant barrage of information, they steel themselves for another assignment. And who can understand their pain and confusion most? Their colleague in class. That sympathetic gal or guy sitting to their right who will not only lend them a #2 pencil, but will walk with them to their next  class. An alliance is born -- and having been forged under the pressure of academia, it may be tempered so strongly that it will not easily
break.

In some cases, these teams are really good for both students. One student's talents can help the other; they work to model positive behavior for one another. As a college student, I floundered. Wandering on a campus in Austin, Tex., I felt as though I would go mad if I saw yet one more big, shiny belt buckle. To my surprise, another West Coast student motioned me to sit next to him in accounting. Later he said that it was easy to see I was not a local -- my hairstyle and clothes branded me as "a little too liberal" for the crowd there.

Chuck helped drag me, complaining and wheedling, through bookkeeping practices. In return, I unofficially tutored him in English. At the end of two semesters, we had forged a partnership that made us each better
students. I was able to get the right side of my brain to function with numbers, and Chuck became a fair writer, turning out business letters and proposals in his class for a solid A. Teachers who saw us shook  their heads. "Those two," I heard an instructor mutter. Yes, we clowned around; yes, we laughed at the cafeteria food, but our transcripts took a tremendous leap.

Here is the value in student partnerships. Not the kind that are set up by well-meaning clubs or administrators, but born completely out of need. And the result? In this case -- fabulous.

But not all partnerships can claim success. I watch as a sympathetic working student hands his textbook to a newbie just out of high-school. She smiles at him, a Revlon red meant to attract. He looks dazed and his shiny eyes return to his handwritten notes. I know he means well, but I wonder if he will get his book back in time to study for the next quiz.

In another class, I watch as an experienced international student sweetly bullies another student into leading the group assignment. The newer student immigrant fights her natural shyness to rise to her new friend's challenge; I wonder if she will also help her more experienced friend write a thesis statement after class.
Realizing that there is not much I can do, I look at my syllabus and write down "in-class writing" for the next Monday. I hope to try and identify the students who are not really producing their own work. Even as I circle the note in medium-blue, I know that many of my students will connect, sit with another on a Tuesday night and struggle through the Wednesday homework together. I can only hope that both students lend a hand and walk away better for the experience.

My curiosity wins out and I consider these teams. At times I sense that the academically superior student receives a sense of belonging or being adored that is hard to match with simple numeric grading systems. But I admit that as we make our way into the semester, I look over my attendance sheet at night and close my eyes. I pray for the success of both students -- and hope that they both find what they need without wasted semesters. I ask for guidance and hope that none of my students will ever have to know the shame that follows when your transcripts can never be sent on to another campus.

Just as instructors find mentors useful, so do students. And like their less educated counterparts, academics find friendships more natural than forced mentorships through administration. Many of my friends at universities discuss freshman interest groups. The good news is that many students new to the campus will find support by those they trust most -- their peers. Yet even this caring environment may breed a parasitic relationship where one student takes advantage of another.  Here too, weaker scholars may find a less sophisticated counterpart to shore up their skills. The real solution is the confidence that comes with years of learning. When a student begins to sense the value of their knowledge, the cycle is less apt to continue.

On a day when I feel connected to the sky, to the grass around the campus buildings, to the instructor passing me in the hallway, and the flood of students from the parking  lot, I hope that I am wrong. That I have misjudged. I hope that the partnerships will strengthen their experience here rather than weaken  it; that they will move into
universities or the working world with all that they need. That is my hope.

Author's email: 

Shari Wilson, who writes Nomad Scholar under a pseudonym, explores life off the tenure track. Her last column was about the problems with once-a-week courses.

A Better Way to Evaluate Colleges

Today, U.S. News & World Report will once again come out with its annual college rankings. Having worked as a college administrator my entire professional life, I often get questions about the usefulness of such rankings in the search process.

While rankings such as those published by U.S. News and World Report offer some useful data, I have developed a different set of five simple criteria or considerations for evaluating the value and for choosing one of the best educational experiences offered by our country’s 600 liberal arts colleges. Were I to provide counsel to parents of students interested in attending one of these colleges -- or to educators wondering how their institutions are doing -- here are five lines of questioning I’d suggest they pursue:

1. Has the institution’s faculty been granted a Phi Beta Kappa chapter? Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest and strongest academic honor society. Only those colleges or universities that meet the most rigorous academic standards are granted chapters. Criteria for membership include the number of volumes in the library, the number of faculty members who hold terminal (doctorate) degrees, and the number of faculty members who are members of Phi Beta Kappa. Membership in Phi Beta Kappa is an icon for maintaining a faculty of high caliber. Of the more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the country, only 270 -- 7 percent -- have been granted Phi Beta Kappa chapters. Other measures of academic quality include accreditations by national organizations, honors and awards received by faculty, and participation of students in undergraduate research and related regional and national competitions.

2. Has the college or university earned a favorable rating (A or better) by Moody’s Investors Service or another rating service such as Standard and Poor’s? Moody’s rates bonds issued to finance capital projects. Each series of bonds carries a different rating, but taken in aggregate, the bond ratings provide a meaningful and important gauge of institutional health. No institution can get an A or better rating if it does not have a history of balanced budgets. In Texas, for example, only five of our private colleges have an A or better rating from Moody’s as of June 2005. Bond ratings show financial strength in the way Phi Beta Kappa membership shows an institution’s academic strength. A good bond rating is an indication that an institution has the funding to sustain important academic programs. Other measures of financial health include the annual National Association of College and University Business Officers Endowment Survey and the college’s annual report, which should include a financial statement that shows expenditures for instruction, library and technology, scholarship, maintenance and construction as well as income from tuition, endowment, and gifts and grants.

3. Do graduates of the college earn predominantly Bachelor of Arts degrees? Bachelor of Arts degrees, which often require mastery of a foreign language, are the “union cards” for people who truly pursue undergraduate study in the liberal arts. Generally, it can be said that the higher the ratio of B.A. degrees to pre-professional degrees such as the B.B.A., the greater the college or university’s commitment to teaching. At the strongest liberal arts colleges and universities, at least 75 percent of the degrees awarded each year are B.A.'s as opposed to pre-professional degrees.

4. What percentage of students resides on campus? Living on campus is an important component of a student’s education, as it helps develop a sense of community and civic duty and provides a more complete living and learning environment. Campus residency leads students to participate in campus organizations where they learn valuable leadership and teamwork skills. Ideally, 80 percent or more of a campus’s full-time undergraduates should reside on campus to ensure a vibrant collegiate experience.

5. How diverse is the campus community? Diversity comes in many forms: racial/ethnic, gender, socio/economic, age, geographic, to name a few. A hallmark of a broad-based undergraduate education is consideration of a variety of perspectives based on the different experiences of diverse students and faculty. This type of rich and vibrant dialogue proves invaluable in students’ future professional, civic and personal lives. As a threshold, campus communities of students, faculty and staff should include 20 percent or more who represent populations other than its dominant majority.

I’m not saying that we should throw out rankings such as those compiled by U.S. News. An unfortunate characteristic of our society is that we always want to know who is No. 1 – whether it be in the classroom or on the football field. But the problem with rankings is that they encourage institutions that are uniquely different to change their programs in an attempt to improve their rankings. This doesn’t make sense for institutions that have specific missions that do not complement the rankings game.

For students who want to choose a great liberal arts college, I believe the above five questions are the ones that should be asked. You won’t find a college in America that meets these criteria and isn’t a great liberal arts college.

Author's email: 

Jake B. Schrum is president of Southwestern University, in Georgetown, Tex.

Will to Power

For some time now, I have been collecting notes on the interaction between academics and journalists. In theory, at least, this relationship ought to be mutually beneficial -- almost symbiotic. Scholars would provide sound information and authoritative commentary to reporters -- who would then, in turn, perform the useful service of disseminating knowledge more broadly. 

So much for the theory. The practice is not nearly that sweet, to judge by the water-cooler conversation of either party, which often tends toward the insulting. From the mass-media side, the most concise example is probably H.L. Mencken's passing reference to someone as "a professor, hence an embalmer." And within the groves of academe itself, the very word "journalistic" is normally used as a kind of put-down. 

There is a beautiful symmetry to the condescension. It's enough to make an outsider -- someone who belongs to neither tribe, but regularly visits each -- wonder if some deep process of mutual-definition-by- mutual-exclusion might be going on. And so indeed I shall argue, one day, in a treatise considering the matter from various historical, sociological, and psychoanalytic vantage points. (This promises to be a book of no ordinary tedium.)

A fresh clipping has been added to my research file in the past couple of days, since reading Brian Leiter's objection to a piece on Nietzsche appearing in last weekend's issue of The New York Times Book Review. The paper asked the novelist and sometime magazine writer William Vollmann to review a biography of Nietzsche, instead of, let's say, an American university professor possessing some expertise on the topic.

For example, the Times editors might well have gone to Leiter himself, a professor of philosophy at UT-Austin and the author of a book called Nietzsche on Morality, published three years ago by Routledge. And in a lot of ways, I can't help wishing that they had. It would have made for a review more informative, and less embarrassingly inept, than the one that ran in the paper of record. 

Vollmann's essay is almost breathtaking in its badness. It manages to drag the conversation about Nietzsche back about 60 years by posing the question of whether or not Nietzsche was an anti-Semite or a proto-Nazi. He was not, nor is this a matter any serious person has discussed in a very long time. (The role of his sister, Elisabeth Forster-Nietsche, is an entirely different matter: Following his mental collapse, she managed to create a bizarre image of him as theorist of the Teutonic master-race, despite Nietzsche's frequent and almost irrepressible outbursts of disgust at the German national character.)

And while it is not too surprising that a review of a biography of a philosopher would tend to focus on, well, his life -- and even on his sex life, such as it was for the celibate Nietzsche -- it is still reasonable to expect maybe a paragraph or two about his ideas. Vollmann never gets around to that. Instead, he offers only the murkiest of pangyrics to Nietzsche's bravery and transgressive weirdness -- as if he were a contestant in the some X Games of the mind, or maybe a prototype of Vollmann himself. (Full disclosure: I once reviewed, for the Times in fact, Vollmann's meditation on the ethics of violence -- a work of grand size, uncertain coherence, and sometimes baffling turgidity. That was six weeks of my life I will never get back.)

Leiter has, in short, good reason to object to the review. And there are grounds, too, for questioning how well the Times has served as (in his words) "a publication that aspires to provide intellectual uplift to its non-scholarly readers."

Indeed, you don't even have to be an academic to feel those reservations. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, for example, many readers would spend their Saturday afternoons studying a weekly section of the Times called "Arts and Ideas," trying to figure out where the ideas were.
By a nice paradox, though, the coverage of ideas improved, at least somewhat, after the "Arts and Ideas" section disappeared. (See, for example, the symposium inspired earlier this summer by a Times essay on early American history.) 

So while reading Leiter's complaint with much sympathy, I also found some questions taking shape about its assumptions -- and about his way of pressing the point on Vollmann's competence.
For one thing, Leiter takes it as a given that the best discussion of a book on Nietzsche would come from a scholar -- preferably, it seems, a professor of philosophy. At this, however, certain alarm bells go off. 

The last occasion Leiter had to mention The New York Times was shortly after the death of Jacques Derrida. His objection was not to the paper's front-page obituary (a truly ignorant and poorly reported piece, by the way). Rather, Leiter was unhappy to find Derrida described as a philosopher. He assured his readers that Derrida was not one, and had never taken the least bit seriously within the profession, at least here in the United States.

I read that with great interest, and with the sense of discovery. It meant that Richard Rorty isn't a philosopher, since he takes Derrida seriously. It also suggested that, say, DePaul University doesn't actually have a philosophy program, despite appearances to the contrary. (After all, so many of the "philosophy" professors there are interested in deconstruction and the like.) 

One would also have to deduce from Leiter's article that the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy is playing a very subtle joke on prospective members when it lists Derrida as one of the topics of interest they might choose to circle on the form they fill out to join the organization.

An alternative reading, of course, is that some people have a stringent and proprietary sense of what is "real" philosophy, and who counts as a philosopher. And by an interesting coincidence, such people once ruled Nietzsche out of consideration altogether. Until the past few decades, he was regarded as an essayist, an aphorist, a brilliant literary artist -- but by no means a serious philosopher. ("A stimulating thinker, but most unsound," as Jeeves tells Bertie Wooster, if memory serves.) The people who read Nietzsche in the United States a hundred years ago tended to be artists, anarchists, bohemians, and even (shudder) journalists. But not academic philosophers.

In short, it is not self-evident that the most suitable reviewer of a new book on Nietzsche would need to be a professor  -- let alone one who had published a book or two on him. (Once, the very idea would have been almost hopelessly impractical, because there were few, if any.) Assigning a biography of Nietzsche to a novelist instead of a scholar is hardly the case of malfeasance that Leiter suggests. If anything, Nietzsche himself might have approved: The idea of professors discussing his work would really have given the old invalid reason to recuperate.

Vollmann throws off a quick reference to "the relevant aspects of Schopenhauer, Aristotle and others by whom Nietzsche was influenced and against whom he reacted." And at this, Leiter really moves in for the kill.

"As every serious student of Nietzsche knows," he writes, "Aristotle is notable for his almost total absence from the corpus. There are a mere handful of explicit references to Aristotle in Nietzsche's writings (even in the unpublished notebooks), and no extended discussion of the kind afforded Plato or Thales. And apart from some generally superficial speculations in the secondary literature about similarities between Aristotle's 'great-souled man' and Nietzsche's idea of the 'higher' or 'noble' man -- similarities nowhere remarked upon by Nietzsche himself -- there is no scholarship supporting the idea that Aristotle is a significant philosopher for Nietzsche in any respect."

Reading this, I felt a vague mental itch. It kept getting stronger, and would not go away. For the idea that Aristotle was an important influence on Nietzsche appears in the work of the late Walter Kaufman -- the professor of philosophy at Princeton University who re-translated Nietzsche in the 1950s and '60s.

Kaufman published an intellectual biography that destroyed some of the pernicious myths about Nietzsche. He made the case for the coherence and substance of his work, and was merciless in criticizing earlier misinterpretations. He has had the same treatment himself, of course, at the hands of later scholars. But it was Kaufman, perhaps more than anyone else, who made it possible and even necessary for American professors of philosophy to take Nietzsche seriously.

So when Kaufman wrote that Nietzsche's debt to Aristotle's ethics was "considerable" .... well, maybe Leiter was right. Perhaps Kaufman was now just a case of someone making "superficial speculations in the secondary literature." But for a nonspecialist reviewer such as Vollmann to echo it did not quite seem like an indictable offense.

So I wrote to Leiter, asking about all of this. In replying, Leiter sounded especially put out that Vollmann had cited both Schopenhauer and Aristotle as influences. (For those watching this game without a scorecard: Nobody doubts the importance of Schopenhauer for Nietzsche.)

"To reference 'Schopenhauer and Aristotle' together as important philosophical figures for Nietzsche -- as Vollmann did -- is, indeed, preposterous," wrote Leiter in one message, "and indicative of the fact that Vollmann is obviously a tourist when it comes to reading Nietzsche. The strongest claim anyone has made (the one from Kaufmann) is that there is a kind of similarity between a notion in Aristotle and a notion in Nietzsche, but not even Kaufmann (1) showed that the similarity ran very deep; or (2) claimed that it arose from Aristotle's influence upon Nietzsche."

Well, actually, yes, Kaufman did make precisely that second claim. (He also quoted Nietzsche saying, "I honor Aristotle and honor him mostly highly...") And there is no real ground for construing the phrase "Schoenhauer and Aristotle" to mean "similarly and in equal measure."

There are preposterous things in the writing of William Vollmann. But a stray reference to a possible intellectual influence on Nietzsche is by no means one of them. Nor, for that matter, is the novelist's willingness to venture into a lair protected by fearsome dragons of the professoriat. I wish Vollmann had read more Nietzsche, and more scholarship on him than the biography he reviewed. But whatever else you can say about the guy, he's not a pedant.

In fact, the whole situation leaves me wondering if the problem ought not be framed differently. There is, obviously, a difference between an article in a scholarly journal and one appearing in a publication ordinarily read during breakfast (or later, in, as the saying goes, "the smallest room in the house"). It need not be a difference in quality or intelligence. Newspapers could do well for themselves by finding more professors to write for them. And the latter would probably enjoy it, not in spite of the sense of slumming, but precisely because of it.

But does it follow that the best results would come from having philosophers review the philosophy books, historians review the history books, and so forth? 

The arguments for doing so are obvious enough. But just as obvious are the disadvantages: Most readers would derive little benefit from intra-disciplinary disputes and niggling points of nuance spill over into the larger public arena.

It is probably a crazy dream, even something utopian, but here is the suggestion anyway. The Times Book Review (or some other such periodical) should from time to time give over an issue entirely to academic reviewers commenting on serious books -- but with everyone obliged to review outside their specialty. Hand a batch of novels to a sociologist. Give some books on Iraq to an ethicist. Ask a physicist to write about a favorite book from childhood. 

It might not be the best set of reviews ever published. But chances are it would be memorable -- and an education for everybody.

Author's email: 

The Quotidian Miasma of Discrimination

In the hallowed halls of academia, Sexism no longer swaggers about in a wife beater with a Camel no-filter hanging from its defiant lip. Indeed, overt displays of machismo are rare, and all of the carefully crafted institutional rhetoric reflects and promotes principles of equality and tolerance. Our private liberal arts centered university, smack in the middle of a down-home red state, even has a women's caucus. In a stunning display of sheer determination and astounding courage, two of my colleagues (one untenured) swept away the decades-old dust left from the dirty dealings of the old boys' club and created the caucus. Today I am the head of this caucus, which boasts about 80 members of the faculty and staff.

Our most challenging work is finding the language to articulate the workings of an insidious sexism that results in what I like to call the quotidian miasma of discrimination, or the QMD (not to be confused with the chimerical WMD). The QMD is insidious because it is the byproduct of a constellation of factors that, when looked at individually, seem not to target women, but which converge on spaces where we are most likely to find women. This more nuanced version of sexism leaves us without a clear enemy, without the swaggering patriarch to flesh out the sinister intentionality behind the discrimination.

I remember as a grad student trying to understand the Matrix-like quality of the "patriarchal order." I always envisioned a bunch of old white men, semi-reclined in overstuffed chairs, hands clasped behind heads, cigars in mouths, gathered around a heavy wooden table in a locked room marked "Patriarchs." In the upper echelons of my university administration, there are plenty of Patriarchs who meet behind closed doors around heavy wooden tables, but the room lacks a clear label, although in the hallowed hall outside the university’s presidential suite, photographic portraits of trustees fill a wall with mostly male images. At my university, we have a male president and five male vice presidents.

Probably they don't overtly plan the continued subjugation of the second sex in their meetings, but regardless of their intentions, the dearth of women in the upper administration and in positions of power is a major contributing factor in the QMD. Because it is undetectable by the clumsy, outdated sexism radar we are still lugging around from the 70s, the QMD works stealthily and subtly.

So, if it's not wearing its hatred and fear of woman on its sleeve, what is Sexism wearing these days? On my campus, it sometimes saunters around in Birkenstocks, long hair, and maybe glasses. You know these guys. These are the men we went to grad school with, shared apartments with, read Judith Butler and bell hooks with. They eschewed virile formulas of manliness, embraced gender theory and were OK crossing their legs at the knees if it was crowded in the conference room. Now they have grown up and inherited the power positions at universities around the country, and, lacking real world experience as the discriminated, many of them have lost the sense of urgency they once felt about the rights of women and the distrust they once had for the administration.

Now they are the administration, if in a minor key. My friends and I have dubbed the administration "The Men's Caucus." Upon arrival, junior men are immediately and seamlessly made members of the Men's Caucus, invited to the all-male circles of power that spin the narratives of our professional lives in the lunch club, the wine club, the tennis group, Friday night basketball, Monday night poker.

To tell the truth, as I struggle through my Survivor-like work environment, male colleagues often have been my biggest supporters, and at times it was a senior woman colleague who made life miserable for the junior women in our department.  She had internalized the patriarchal reward system and aligned herself with a senior male colleague, whose behavior and demeanor sent women around him back to the kitchen to make his coffee and fetch his metaphorical pipe. This aging Lothario was often seen bopping around in biker shorts, no shirt, and a cap worn backwards, or swaggering into meetings 10 minutes late wearing a huge, black cowboy hat. His persona stood in contrast to the values he seemed to espouse in his postmodern, liberal scholarship.

His self-styling, bespeaking a hyper-masculine posture and a desire for stark gender distinctions, emulated three of our most extreme forms of embodied virility: the jock, the cowboy, and the hip-hop gangster musician. My negotiations with the Lothario were always easier and more successful when I honored his role as mentor, protector, patron, father, leader, and Don Juan. He liked to make comments about our secretary's weight, and once he referred to our retired women colleagues as "dingbats." When one of the junior women got pregnant, he claimed in her written department review that her pregnancy had affected her job performance. At one of my first faculty dinners, he tipped back several glasses of wine and asked if I would be dancing on the table.

Unfortunately, our soft-spoken, measured, diplomatic dean did not take seriously the women who came forward with complaints about life in the kingdom of Lothario. Instead, the dean read women as damsels in distress to be rescued and then sent on their way with promises of inheritance, departmental ownership and pats on the head for good measure. But alas, in the end he returned the women colleagues to the oppressor's fiefdom, unwilling to betray the code of male privilege and loyalty that works to keep women distressed and in constant competition with each other for validation from the male power structure.

One wonders what would motivate him in this case. Maybe his loyalty to Lothario is rooted in some repressed nostalgia for the patriarch, or maybe he is overcompensating for his own imagined inadequacies when measured against the absent, yet longed-for virile authoritarian. Maybe sometimes the Birkenstock liberal yearns for a pair of cowboy boots and a Camel no-filter.

I managed to live through years of torment by self-centered, self-important, yet mediocre senior colleagues who eventually did grant me tenure, on the strength of my credentials, but to this day, old men roaming the halls tell tales of how the dean "saved" my job, or of how some other man was instrumental in my rescue. I might as well have been wearing a pointed pink hat and waving a hankie out the window of a medieval stone tower. In the patriarchal grand narrative, I was the damsel in distress. I began to wonder if I could ever emerge from this male tale.

The damsel in distress is a motif in the 17th century plays we read in my Golden Age literature class this semester. In these comedies, the women characters must negotiate their positions in an oppressive patriarchy that defines them as objects to be adored, possessed, protected, and rescued by the men, whose honor, virility, and social status derive form the women-objects they control.

Wait a minute, I kept thinking.... I've heard this story before.... Woman plays to the men in power by assuming roles that highlight and affirm male strength, and by disavowing the facets of her identity that are deemed threatening, irritating, or downright hysterical by the reigning paradigm. We shape each other's behavior by rewarding and withholding, by subtly voting for the parts of each other we like best. With many male colleagues, my damsel in distress routine is their favorite performance -- some wouldn't even call to talk unless there was a crisis on the table.

There is a multifarious and indefatigable pressure to be read as a damsel in distress, and, let's be fair, if women don't recognize our own participation in this system, then we preclude the possibility of creating new roles for ourselves, ones that do not require pointy hats or being tied to railroad tracks.  How many of us let our need for substantiation from the powerful (all male, at least in my corner of academia) push us to create problems for our knights to solve? What will my professional future look like if I refuse to play the damsel in distress? I don’t want to play the women's roles we see in the formulaic Hollywood films like Pretty Woman, Maid in Manhattan, or Father of the Bride, but I don't want to end up playing roles like Monster or Thelma and Louise, either. I'm not ready for homicide or jumping off a cliff.

Women's Caucuses around the country must work to articulate the complex machinations of the QMD and to increase awareness about the ways many of us, including liberal men and feminists, are perpetuating it. Let us build alliances with our women cohorts and reject the paradigm that would have us compete against each other for male approval. We must be strategic and deliberate if we are to resist the immense pressure to accept prescribed roles that promise us "success" even as we are systematically excluded from the power structure that defines success and failure.

Author's email: 

Phyllis Barone is the pseudonym of an ex-damsel and associate professor at a Midwestern, private university.

Reading Left to Right

Once upon a time -- back in the days of dial-up and of press conferences devoted to the presidential libido -- there was a phenomenon known as the "web log." It was like a blog, only different. A web log consisted almost entirely of links to pages that the 'logger had recently visited online. There might also be a brief description of the site, or an evaluative remark. But the commentary was quick, not discursive; and it was secondary to the link. The product resembled an itinerary or a scrapbook more than it did a diary or an op-ed page.

So when Political Theory Daily Review started in January 2003, it already looked a little bit old-fashioned, blogospherically speaking. It was a log, plain and simple. There were three new links each day. The first was to a newspaper or magazine article about some current event. The second tended to go to a debate or polemical article. And the third (always the wild card, the one it was most interesting to see) would be academic: a link to a scholarly article in an online journal, or a conference site, or perhaps the uploaded draft of a paper in PDF.

In the intervening years, the site has grown wildly -- at least in size, if not in reputation. (Chances are that more bloggers read Political Theory than ever link to it.)  The same three departments exist, but often with a dozen or more links in each. By now, clearly, the Review must be a team effort. The sheer volume of material logged each day suggests it is run by a collective of gnomes who tirelessly scour the Web for eruditia.

But in fact, it is all the work of one person, Alfredo Perez, who keeps a pretty low profile, even on his own site. I got in touch with Perez to find out who he is, and how he puts the Review together. (I also wondered if he ever got much sleep, but forgot to ask that part.) Here, in any case, is the gist of our e-mail discussion, presented with his permission.

Alfredo Perez is 34 years old and originally from Puerto Rico. After going to college in the United States, he went back to the island to work in the government for a few years, then headed to New York in 1996. He ended up at the New School, where he is now pursuing a dissertation on political theory. He lists his research interests as "normative political theory, cosmopolitanism and sovereignty, theories of human nature, and political economy."

Now, alembicating all of that down to a manageable dissertation is not so easy. And it sounds like Political Theory Daily Review has had a complicating effect on the whole process. "Writing a dissertation is an exercise in becoming an expert in one small piece of scholarly real estate," he says. "It really hasn't helped in that way."

But the Review has also had its educational benefits for Perez. It has encouraged him to keep up with fields that are now in the news: "the debate regarding constitutional interpretation, the arguments about American foreign policy and its impact around the world, and the space for religion in the public sphere...." He says he "probably would have been much less informed about [these areas] without having to keep up the site."

Over the year or so that I've come to rely on the Review as gateway to new material online, the most striking thing has been Perez's mix of sources. On the one hand, he covers extremely topical material -- "ripped from today's headlines," with quite a few of those headlines being from the English-language editions of foreign newspapers and magazines.

On the other hand, some of the sites to which Perez links are exotic, esoteric, or just downright weird. I'm glad to hear about the debate over liberalism in a Slovakian journal called Kritika & Kontext -- but could probably have lived without seeing the United States Christian Flag. It is a relief, though, to learn that the latter Web site's sponsors "are not trying to overthrow the government or force anyone to be a Christian." Thank heaven for small favors.

How does Perez keep up with all  this stuff? What are his criteria for linking? Do readers send him tips?

To take the last question first: No, for the most part, they don't. Evidently he just has one wicked set of bookmarks.

"I try to link to things that are interesting to me or to anyone trying to keep up with current events," says Perez, "not just political theory.... I don't link to technical papers on, say, economics, but if I see an interview with Gary Becker or an article on Amartya Sen, I don't think twice about linking to that. Sometimes I link to articles on Theory, essays by literary critics, or events in the world of literature." He also has an interest in the natural sciences -- biology, in particular -- so he links to things he's following in Scientific American and other publications.

Perez doesn't link to blogs. That way, madness lies. "It would be too much work to consider linking to the blogosphere," he says."

He places a special emphasis on pointing readers to "articles that are sure -- or have the potential -- to become part of what's debated in the public sphere." That includes things like op-eds in The New York Times, articles on public policy in The American Prospect, and essays from the socialist journal Dissent -- "material that I think should be a part of the 'required reading' for anyone who wants to stay on top of the news and public debates."

His default list of required readings shows a certain tilt to the left. But he also links to material far removed from his own politics -- publications such as Reason , First Things , Policy Review , and "The Occidental Quarterly." Actually, it was Perez's site that first introduced me to the latter periodical, which describes itself as a "journal of Western thought and opinion." Its editors are keen on eugenics, stricter immigration laws, and the European cultural tradition (in particular the German contribution thereto).

"I think it obvious," says Perez, "that anyone interested in public debates about more philosophical matters has to be familiar with those on 'the other side.' I think it's just plain smart to do so. Reading counterarguments to your position can often be more helpful than readings that just confirm your own point of view." He says he makes no claim to be "fair and balanced," but also "doesn't want to alienate visitors who are on the right. I want them coming back!"

Any editorializing at Political Theory Daily Review tends to be implicit, rather than full-throated. It may be that lack of a sharp ideological edge, as much as the sheer number of links in the course of a week, that creates the impression that the site is the work of a committee.

Perez admits that he's "not very comfortable about publishing opinions willy-nilly like many people are when writing on their blogs. In fact, I am part of a group blog, Political Arguments, but I hardly ever post there." It's not that he lacks a viewpoint, or is shy about arguing politics and philosophy with his friends and family.

"I'm pretty sure I could defend those views well enough," he told me. "I guess it's my way of being a bit careful about the whole process. People in academia cannot be timid about their own views, of course, especially political theorists with regards to politics. But it's different when discussing day-to-day events as soon as they happen."

The line between public intellectual and pompous gasbag is, to be sure, a slender one; and it runs down a slippery slope. Perez's caution is understandable. "I don't think I have to mention any specific names in academia as examples," he says, "in order to make my point here."

Author's email: 

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