For over a decade, each of us has been actively engaged in a national effort to help colleges and high schools combat an ever-increasing rise in the incidence of academic dishonesty among students -- cheating on tests and exams, on written assignments, and on class projects. Both of us are concerned that higher rates of academic dishonesty -- and student attitudes toward it -- have the potential to do lasting damage both to America's colleges and to the larger society.
Some educators are responding to the challenge by collaborating in what we call a "new honor code" movement. We applaud this effort and believe it must be accelerated. A unique opportunity to do so is now at hand as a new generation of college students more receptive to ethical leadership is arriving on campus.
Research confirms recent media reports concerning the high levels of cheating that exist in many American high schools, with roughly two-thirds of students acknowledging one or more incidents of explicit cheating in the last year. Unfortunately, it appears many students view high school as simply an annoying obstacle on the way to college, a place where they learn little of value, where teachers are unreasonable or unfair, and where, since "everyone else" is cheating, they have no choice but to do the same to remain competitive. And there is growing evidence many students take these habits with them to college.
At the college level, more than half of all students surveyed acknowledge at least one incident of serious cheating in the past academic year and more than two-thirds admit to one or more "questionable" behaviors -- e.g., collaborating on assignments when specifically asked for individual work. We believe it is significant that the highest levels of cheating are usually found at colleges that have not engaged their students in active dialogue on the issue of academic dishonesty -- colleges where the academic integrity policy is basically dictated to students and where students play little or no role in promoting academic integrity or adjudicating suspected incidents of cheating.
The Impact of Honor Codes
A number of colleges have found effective ways to reduce cheating and plagiarism. The key to their success seems to be encouraging student involvement in developing community standards on academic dishonesty and ensuring their subsequent acceptance by the larger student community. Many of these colleges employ academic honor codes to accomplish these objectives.
Unlike the majority of colleges where proctoring of tests and exams is the responsibility of the faculty and/or administration, many schools with academic honor codes allow students to take their exams without proctors present, relying on peer monitoring to control cheating. Yet research indicates that the significantly lower levels of cheating reported at honor code schools do not reflect a greater fear of being reported or caught. Rather, a more important factor seems to be the peer culture that develops on honor code campuses -- a culture that makes most forms of serious cheating socially unacceptable among the majority of students. Many students would simply be embarrassed to have other students find out they were cheating.
In essence, the efforts expended at these schools to help students understand the value of academic integrity, and the responsibilities they have assumed as members of the campus community, convince many students, most of whom have cheated in high school, to change their behavior. Except for cheating behaviors that most students consider trivial (e.g., unpermitted collaboration on graded assignments), we see significantly less self-reported cheating on campuses with honor codes compared to those without such codes. The critical difference seems to be an ongoing dialogue that takes place among students on campuses with strong honor code traditions, and occasionally between students and relevant faculty and administrators, which seeks to define where, from a student perspective, "trivial" cheating becomes serious. While similar conversations occasionally take place on campuses that do not have honor codes, they occur much less frequently and often do not involve students in any systematic or meaningful way.
The 'New Honor Code' Movement
A survey conducted under the auspices of the Center for Academic Integrity in the 1999/2000 academic year helps explain the benefits of honor codes -- even at larger campuses where academic dishonesty is often more common. Included in this sample were three colleges (including the University of Maryland at College Park) that have adopted what are known as "modified" honor codes. These modified codes -- adopted in recent years at a rapidly growing number of institutions -- differ from traditional codes in at least two ways: unproctored exams are used only at the instructor's option and students are generally not expected to report cheating they might observe. However, modified codes do call for significant student involvement in promoting academic integrity and in adjudicating allegations of academic dishonesty.
They also impose strict sanctions for academic dishonesty (like suspensions or transcript notations), but do so in a context where education and prevention take priority over the threat of punishment alone.
Neither traditional nor modified honor codes eliminate all cheating, even serious cheating. However, the Center for Academic Integrity survey showed that only 23 percent of students at colleges with traditional honor codes reported one or more incidents of serious test or exam cheating in the past year, contrasted with 45 percent of students at colleges with no honor code. At the three modified honor code institutions in the study, 33 percent of the respondents self-reported an incident of serious test or exam cheating -- intermediate between the levels found on traditional honor code and no honor code campuses.
The Maryland Model
The modified honor code at the University of Maryland is now in its 14th year -- the longest history among modified honor codeinstitutions. Before adopting an honor code, Maryland relied almost exclusively on faculty members and administrators to report and resolve allegations of academic dishonesty.
For years, under this administrative system, the university resolved about 60 cases a year -- a tiny fraction of the actual incidents believed to be occurring. Immediately after implementing a modified honor code in 1990, case referrals jumped to over 100 annually, climbing steadily to a record 300 referrals in 2002-3 (while enrollment held steady or declined as higher admissions standards were imposed).
Although 300 cases does not capture the full extent of academic dishonesty at most large public universities, Maryland's new approach (especially the creation of an all-student Honor Council with significant authority to resolve allegations and educate their peers) sent the critical message that students cared about academic integrity and were willing to set and enforce high academic integrity standards. Empowered by this student support, an increasing number of faculty addressed and reported incidents of cheating that had often gone unreported previously.
An important element of Maryland's success is the fact that faculty members and administrators were already accustomed to seeing students as participants in campus governance. A student sits on the statewide Board of Regents and students make up 20 percent of Maryland's University Senate (a body that reviews and makes recommendations about core institutional policies). The impetus for this level of student participation was the campus revolutions of the 60's and 70's, which institutionalized student power and all but ended the concept of "in loco parentis" in American higher education. Ironically, those campus revolutions also laid the groundwork for the revitalization of an old academic tradition: student-administered honor codes.
Honor Codes and 'Millennials'
The new honor code movement at American colleges will founder or flourish, depending on whether educators draw upon the best traits of the new generation of students now populating our campuses. This group, born on or after 1982, has been described by writers William Strauss and Neil Howe as the "Millennial" generation. No cohort of children has received such intense parental attention (shuttled relentlessly from day care to music lessons to soccer games) -- with results that appear to justify the effort.
Among teenagers, national data show significant declines in rates of pregnancy, smoking, drug use, violence, and suicide. On campus, the most observant college teachers and administrators report seeing a "different" generation of students, closer to their parents; more optimistic about the future, more engaged in community service, more academically oriented, more politically engaged, and less depressed.
No one suggests the Millennial generation will be an unequivocal blessing. One Millennial characteristic -- a strong peer orientation -- has potential for harm, and may help account for the higher rates of cheating observed in secondary schools. In their book, Millennials Rising, Howe and Strauss write that Millennials are "drawn to circles and cliques. Only three in ten report that they usually socialize with only one or two friends, while two in three do so with groups of friends."
A critical task for college teachers and administrators in the current decade is to help the Millennials reach their highest potential. Will the Millennial interest in rituals and traditions be used solely to revitalize homecoming parades and athletic boosterism -- or to enhance the campus ethical climate? Will the Millennials' peer orientation be allowed to undermine the core value of academic integrity, or protect it?
Committed and collaborative leadership will be required, emphasizing virtues likely to appeal to Millennial sensibilities, like trust, honesty, and community responsibility. If such leadership is provided, innovations like modified honor codes will prosper. If not, widespread cheating may become institutionalized in American higher education.
Donald L. McCabe and Gary Pavela
Donald L. McCabe is professor of management and global business at Rutgers University and founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity. Gary Pavela is director of judicial programs at the University of Maryland at College Park and past president of the Center for Academic Integrity.
I like to think of myself as an easygoing, at times even cavalier, teacher. I loathed the disciplinarians in my life when I was a student, so I eschew their tactics now. Missed a test? Come to my office hours and I'll give you a makeup. You're playing in the tennis semifinals and have to miss all of next week's lectures? I'll excuse your absence as one for the team. Your dog died? Go bury him and mourn over Fido -- you can give your paper to me next week (if he didn't choke to death on your essay, that is).
I'm a pushover and a softie. But there's one form of student behavior I can't stand: lateness. It's more than a pet peeve -- it's more like a pathological peeve. "Better late than never" appears in my mental phrasebook with the corollary "...but never late is better." Class must start on time because my classes are organized around maximizing every minute of that precious hour I get to expand their horizons. If students arrive late, I will go out of my way to try to scare the propensity for tardiness right out of them.
It troubles me that being a stickler about student promptness is perhaps the reigning cliché of the overbearing schoolmaster (diploma in one hand dangling over their heads, razor-edged ruler in the other), but I wield a mean tardy policy and I hold students to it. I don't know where I got this hang-up -- perhaps baby food was withheld from my lips too long as a child or something -- but whenever students are chronically late to my classes, I turn into Doctor Discipline. And I'm pretty good at it. In fact, I think of belatedness rehabilitation as an art form.
My methods of dealing with belatedness range from mundane "shaming" strategies to sublime and arcane forms of behavior modification therapy. If a student is late to class just once, it might be forgivable, of course, but it only takes one ignored latecomer to set a precedent for the whole class to follow for the remainder of the term. Students are harried with work and family pressure these days -- I see more and more of them wearing their work clothes and sports uniforms in the classroom -- but even on a snow day I give no quarter.
I care about my work as much as they care about their employment, and I refuse to accept the assumption that my classes are less valuable than their day jobs or their sports practices. Being late betrays not only a lack of courtesy and disrespect, it reflects the students' devaluation of the role of learning in their lives, and I refuse to silently endorse it.
I realize that most university faculty don't take attendance, let alone trouble themselves over tardiness. Because I frame my courses as grounded in active participation (from writing workshops to class discussions), for me, "being there" matters. Even when a lecture is on the agenda, my beginnings are as important as my endings, and to miss the start is to miss the whole lot. So to show students that I mean business, my boilerplate late policy appears in the same section as a mandatory attendance policy in my syllabi, and it reads like this:
Excessive lateness, early departures, or behavioral issues will generate absences at the instructor's discretion. You must contact the teacher in advance if you expect to miss assignments; in all cases, it is preferable to turn homework in early rather than late.
There's nothing overtly sadistic about this policy, and while I have yet to flunk a student for being chronically late, I have certainly knocked down the final grades of students who had accumlated enough "tardies" to make even the most apathetic slacker drop his jaw. If these chronic latecomers were punching a clock on the job, they'd be docked pay (if not fired!), and that's precisely the justification I use when I give them a grade reduction. For the pathologically late, I'd say they deserve worse -- like earning only two college credits instead of three, since credit is measured by in-class time -- but that's not a weapon in my arsenal, unfortunately. (But imagine the possibilities!)
Of course, I should rise above such petty bean counting. My job is to teach adult learners in a collegial academic environment, not to count the heads of junior high children coming back from recess. My mission isn't really to train students to become well-disciplined members of the work force, and though I am mindful of their intent to seek careers and learn life skills, I don't see teaching as a career akin to being floor supervisor.
I've read that some instructors who face this problem in K-12 actually have their students punch time cards, but I'm not so anal-retentive that I would even want to keep a complete accounting of class time that way. I'd rather just live with being irked, and feed off that irk-etude to design clever ways of curtailing the behavior so it doesn't become routine in the first place.
Naturally, I employ the typical methods of dealing with late students. I ask to speak with them after class, or, if the habit becomes persistent, I invite them for a serious chat in my office and suggest counseling. I try to help them with their character flaw by giving them advice about everything from finding a good parking spot on campus to developing work habits that put an end to procrastination.
But it's the immediate response that's most important -- the reaction to the latecomer who ambles into the classroom after roll, let alone a lecture, has begun. I give them my patented "steely glare" -- a cold look that could freeze lava. If I'm in the middle of lecturing, I sometimes stop mid-sentence and wait until they stroll to their chairs and unpack their books, not beginning again until they are sitting and risk eye contact. I like to tell myself that they recognize in that instance that they've interrupted me and won't want to do so again. Once that point is made -- in silence -- I continue speaking as though nothing ever happened. But what really happens is that the other students already in the room recognize the rupture in educational time-space that happens whenever a student arrives late.
I fancy myself a pretty good sadist when it comes to generating shame and self-loathing in the tardy. If I spot a repeat offender in the hallway before class, and find that they're not in attendance even after I've given them a comfortable buffer of time, I might push trashcans and desks in front of the door, constructing something of an obstacle course between the doorway and the desk so that they realize they can't sneak into the room unnoticed. In fact, all eyes turn upon them, turning what would otherwise be my lone steely glare into a collective gaze that beams upon them like so many hot spotlights. I don't even pay attention to them, and just continue my teaching unabated.
Other tricks I've tried include: calling on the latecomer to answer a question the second they walk in the door, having students put their book bags on every remaining open seat, and even leaving a note on the board that says "we're outside" while promptly canceling class altogether. Well, okay, I haven't really done all these things. But I've thought about it, and they're all in my bag of tricks if I ever get desperate. I have, however, threatened to extend class for as many minutes as it took for the last arrival to enter the room.
When such cruel "ambush" tactics don't work, and a number of students somehow manage to get in the habit of showing up more than five minutes late every meeting (sometimes they commit the crime in clusters), I start giving quizzes -- easy ones -- right at the top of the hour, taking roll silently while students fill them out. This makes the impact of lateness on a grade concrete. An alternative strategy is to give an "extra credit code word" to the students who arrive early, and then include a bonus point question on the quiz that asks them, "What's the secret word?"
Of course, being cold, cruel and ceremoniously clever can backfire and if you ever want to emulate Doctor Discipline's techniques, remember that it means you can never be late yourself. I fondly recall being detained in a faculty meeting, and when I arrived late to a class found myself confronted with a giant green recycle bin when I opened the door. Everyone laughed, including me. Like I said, I'm an easygoing professor and all my students appreciate my humor and know that I mean no harm. But it took everything I had that day to not put their papers in the recycle bin at the end of the hour and let them go dumpster diving for their grades instead of handing them their essays when I returned them.
The pathology of tardiness has many origins -- from youthful rebellion to chronic time management dysfunction -- but there's one cause that troubles me above all: the professors who regularly arrive late to their own classes, and thereby establish a paradigm that timely starts don't matter in the classroom. You can spot these teachers in the faculty hallways, routinely locking their doors at three minutes after the hour or racing to the copy machine in a panic. Or perhaps they're the mellower ones, who always show up 10 minutes after the committee meeting has begun, fresh tea bag floating in a steamy Styrofoam cup.
In her self-help book, Never Be Late Again, Diana DeLonzor describes the "absent-minded professor" as an icon of the chronically late -- the person who is routinely tardy because they are "easily distracted, forgetful and caught up in their own introspection." It's easy to fool oneself into identifying with this icon of the charmingly-forgetful-yet-productively-musing scholar, but these same people are often quite timely when it comes to getting to the lunch line or happy hour.
Others among us might be what DeLonzor calls the "deadliner" who feeds off the thrill of racing against the clock or the "rebel" who resists the social contract as a way of feeling in control of the situation. Academic pressures and procrastination habits often result in such approaches to scholarship, true, but how thrilling is greeting the classroom at the finish line, really? And how can we expect students to meet deadlines and tamper their rebellion when we don't practice what we preach? In the end, teachers lead by example, and no matter what their motives, the chronically late instructor enables the chronically late student.
I recall a small faculty debate on my campus e-mail server awhile back about the "official campus policy" regarding faculty arriving late to class. There is no official policy, and there really shouldn't be. Faculty should just show up on time. If there is a policy that allows for late arrival, faculty will take advantage of that free time and always be late. But students always want to know: how long must one wait for a professor to arrive before leaving? In the e-mail exchange, one faculty member raised the notion that it depends on how long the class is -- 5 minutes for a one hour class, 10 for an hour-and-a-half-long course, and so forth, exponentially. That would give me plenty of time for dessert before my three-hour night class!
Another mentioned a campus myth that espoused the policy that teachers should be allotted courtesy time by rank -- so that students would have to wait 15 minutes for a full professor to arrive, but only 5 for an assistant prof. Half my students don't know how to spell my name correctly, let alone my academic rank. Another group suggested that a single policy should be adopted and posted in every classroom so students would know what to do. We might as well drape a huge banner beneath the campus's road sign that reads, "Where the Faculty Aren't Punctual!"
Even the college president eventually joined the fray, with what I felt was probably the most pedagogically sound option: to tell students ahead of time that if the teacher is ever late or absent, they need to hold class themselves, and write a report about what they did in class that day for homework. I like this because it retains the student-centered integrity of the class and puts the responsibility for learning where it existed all along: on the students' shoulders.
But I can guess how those reports might read: "We waited for you."
Have you ever had a student in your class who, out of the blue, stopped showing up to class for a week or two, and then magically returned as if nothing happened? I like to pretend that they're not in absentia, but just enormously late. For in the end, there's no difference between lateness and absence: It's all missed time, and I'm keeping track of it.
Michael ArnzenÂ is an associate professor of English at Seton Hill University. He produces Pedablogue, a "personal inquiry into the scholarship of teaching."
Over the last generation, most colleges and universities have experienced considerable grade inflation. Much lamented by traditionalists and explained away or minimized by more permissive faculty, the phenomenon presents itself both as an increase in students’ grade point averages at graduation as well as an increase in high grades and a decrease in low grades recorded for individual courses. More prevalent in humanities and social science than in science and math courses and in elite private institutions than in public institutions, discussion about grade inflation generates a great deal of heat, if not always as much light.
While the debate on the moral virtues of any particular form of grade distribution fascinates as cultural artifact, the variability of grading standards has a more practical consequence. As grades increasingly reflect an idiosyncratic and locally defined performance levels, their value for outside consumers of university products declines. Who knows what an "A" in American History means? Is the A student one of the top 10 percent in the class or one of the top 50 percent?
Fuzziness in grading reflects a general fuzziness in defining clearly what we teach our students and what we expect of them. When asked to defend our grading practices by external observers -- parents, employers, graduate schools, or professional schools -- our answers tend toward a vague if earnest exposition on the complexity of learning, the motivational differences in evaluation techniques, and the pedagogical value of learning over grading. All of this may well be true in some abstract sense, but our consumers find our explanations unpersuasive and on occasion misleading.
They turn, then, to various forms of standardized testing. When the grades of an undergraduate have an unpredictable relevance to a standard measure performance, and when high quality institutions that should set the performance standard routinely give large proportions of their students “A” grades, others must look elsewhere for some reliable reference. A 3.95 GPA should reflect the same level of preparation for students from different institutions.
Because they do not, we turn to the GMAT, LSAT, GRE, or MCAT, to take four famous examples. These tests normalize the results from the standards-free zone of American higher education. The students who aspire to law or medical school all have good grades, especially in history or organic chemistry. In some cases, a student’s college grades may prove little more than his or her ability to fulfill requirements and mean considerably less than the results of a standardized test that attempts to identify precisely what the student knows that is relevant to the next level of academic activity.
Although many of us worry that these tests may be biased against various subpopulations, emphasize the wrong kind of knowledge, and encourage students to waste time and money on test prep courses, they have one virtue our grading system does not provide: The tests offer a standardized measure of a specific and clearly defined subset of knowledge deemed useful by those who require them for admission to graduate or professional study.
Measuring State Investment
If the confusion over the value of grades and test scores were not enough, we discover that at least for public institutions, our state accountability systems focus heavily on an attempt to determine whether student performance reflects a reasonable value for taxpayer investment in colleges and universities. This accountability process engages a wide range of measures -- time to degree, graduation rate, student satisfaction, employment, graduate and professional admission, and other indicators of undergraduate performance -- but even with the serious defects in most of these systems, they respond to the same problems as do standardized tests.
Our friends and supporters have little confidence in the self-generated mechanisms we use to specify the achievement of our students. If the legislature believed that students graduating with a 3.0 GPA were all good performers measured against a rigorous national standard applied to reasonably comparable curricula, they would not worry much about accountability. They would just observe whether our students learned enough to earn a nationally normed 3.0 GPA.
Of course, we have no such mechanism to validate the performance of our students. We do not know whether our graduates leave better or worse prepared than the students from other institutions. We too, in recognition of the abdication of our own academic authority as undergraduate institutions, rely on the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, and GMAT to tell us whether the students who apply (including our own graduates) can meet the challenges of advanced study at our own universities.
Partly this follows from another peculiarity of the competitive nature of the American higher education industry. Those institutions we deem most selective enroll students with high SATs on average (recognizing that a high school record is valuable only when validated in some fashion by a standardized test). Moreover, because selective institutions admit smart students who have the ability to perform well, and because these institutions have gone to such trouble to recruit them, elite colleges often feel compelled to fulfill the prophecy of the students’ potential by ensuring that most graduate with GPA’s in the A range. After all, they may say, average does not apply to our students because they are all, by definition, above average.
When reliable standards of performance weaken in any significant and highly competitive industry, consumers seek alternative external means of validating the quality of the services provided. The reluctance of colleges and universities, especially the best among us, to define what they expect from their students in any rigorous and comparable way, brings accreditation agencies, athletic organizations, standardized test providers, and state accountability commissions into the conversation, measuring the value of the institution’s results against various nationally consistent expectations of performance.
We academics dislike these intrusions into our academic space because they coerce us to teach to the tests or the accountability systems, but the real enemy is our own unwillingness to adopt rigorous national standards of our own.
Imagine a college student returning to campus next fall and being greeted by a student government representative who asks her if she is devoutly religious or not. She answers “yes” and the representative responds, “I am sorry, the student government has decided that the separation of church and state means that, as state college, we have to be free of religious students. You may want to consider a religious college.” Next imagine this befuddled student taking her complaint to the president of the college and he says “Yes, I know the student government’s interpretation of the Establishment Clause is wrong and utterly violates the U.S. Constitution, but I don’t want to interfere with their autonomy. Besides this is a ‘teachable moment.’ If they eventually get this ‘no religious students on campus’ decision in front of me, however, I will veto it. In the meantime, have you considered a religious college?”
While I have seen abuses of the Establishment Clause almost as ridiculous as this in my career, I use the above example to illustrate the absurdity of a public college delegating students’ constitutional rights to the student government. In cases across the country, however, administrations have stood idly by while student governments pass rules and make decisions that flatly violate the Constitution. One recent case that demonstrates this phenomenon involves the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, where the student government passed a rule in March banning groups with a "particular ideological, religious, or partisan viewpoint" from receiving student-fee funding.
This may not seem like a particularly big deal to some. What the students and many observers don’t seem to understand is that profound moral and constitutional principles are violated by this rule.
The case no one seems to have adequately explained to these students is the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court case Board of Regents v. Southworth. In that case a group of students (also at the University of Wisconsin, in that case at Madison) objected to the mandatory student fee because much of the money -- money they were forced to pay in addition to their tuition -- went to support groups they fundamentally disagreed with. This is a serious civil liberties concern. As bad as it may be to tell citizens what they can’t say, it is far worse to tell them what they must say, and perhaps worse still to tell them they must directly fund groups that they fundamentally oppose. Why, for example, should pro-life students be forced to give money to pro-choice student groups, or gay students be forced to give money to groups that believe homosexuality is sinful?
The Supreme Court in Southworth, however, did not see this as forced support of other’s opinions as long as certain conditions were met. In this unanimous decision, Justice Kennedy argued that, while people should not be forced to directly subsidize speech they despise, the student-fee system was more akin to a subsidy of free speech for all students in general -- as long as the collected funds were distributed without regard to the viewpoint of the student groups. The decision was a kind of constitutional compromise: public colleges may collect mandatory student fees if, and only if, student groups of every opinion (or no opinion at all) could apply for funds on an equal basis. While colleges would have every right to set up “viewpoint-neutral” criteria for funding, like requiring a certain number of students to be a members before being recognized or only funding on-campus events, the fact that students or administrators did not like the message of particular student group could not be used to deny a group funding from the mandatory student-fee pool.
Other options are also open to public colleges under Southworth. Public colleges can, for example, eliminate student fee funding altogether, or they can designate its use for narrow content-neutral categories, like designating fees exclusively for intramural sports, or monthly social events. The analysis gets trickier if a college with mandatory student fees banned groups with formal ties to outside political groups like the College Republicans or the College Green Party.
In order to stand a chance of surviving a Southworth challenge, the college would likely have to ban funding for all groups associated with outside organizations (a tricky and difficult standard to administer, that would doubtless prevent many students from forming the groups they would prefer to form) but even doing that would not rule out the chance of a lawsuit. Anytime administrations, and, in particular, student governments are empowered to take the content of a group into consideration the possibility of such a standard being used against groups with unpopular viewpoints (and, thereby, violating Southworth) presents itself.
Unfortunately Southworth’s requirement of “viewpoint neutrality” is often badly misunderstood and the Eau Claire student government has turned the concept completely on its head. Over the past year the student government and some members of the student media have interpreted "viewpoint neutrality" as meaning that they could not fund student groups that had any particular viewpoint or "bias." As part of growing trend coming from both the left and the right to route out "bias" on campus, a ranking student representative was even quoted in Eau Claire’s student newspaper as saying, "We want to exclude any groups that would be religious in nature, political in nature or anything that would have a political agenda [from being funded through student segregated fees]."
This statement directly contradicts numerous binding Supreme Court cases, including Southworth and Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia, and flatly discriminates against both religious and secular viewpoints. Why didn’t the administration offer some guidance to the students? After all, the student government was publicly contemplating passing a rule that violated the U.S. Constitution for months.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wanted to know why the administration was allowing their students to flounder and then flout the Constitution so blatantly, so it wrote the president and the upper administration. In an April 6 letter, FIRE emphasized a point that should be clear to any high school civics class: "As a state institution, the university and its administrators should understand that UWEC has a non-delegable duty to ensure that the First Amendment rights of its students are protected, and that no federal, state, local, or university rule, policy, or regulation can trump the exercise of rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution ." FIRE received a belated reply from the general counsel that allegedly the policy was “not yet in effect” and was pending review by her office, which would guide the university to deal with the policy in compliance with Southworth .
While this gives some hope that the rule will eventually be overturned, during the previous fall the student government refused to recognize a student magazine called The Flip Side because of its "progressive bias." The new, highly unconstitutional, regulation passed on March 14, 2005. The students have been laboring under the viewpoint that strong points of view are bad for months now. What exactly is the administration waiting for?
In previous situations where student governments have attempted to limit the free speech rights of other students, like University of Oregon where the student government stripped a student magazine’s recognition for poking fun at a transgender student representative who asked to be referred to as “zi” or “hir” rather than gendered pronouns like “he” or “her,” administrators essentially argued that that they did not want to interfere with the autonomy of the student government. While respect for the democratic process is commendable under some circumstances, one of the basics of our democracy is that there are some rights we deem too important to vote away. That is the reason why we have a Bill of Rights. The importance of the autonomy of the Eau Claire student government does not exactly match in importance the protection of free speech principles.
Some of the students seem to genuinely misunderstand the law here, and due to this misunderstanding they are violating the U.S. Constitution. As soon as administrators found out about this debate they should have informed the students that their interpretation of “viewpoint neutrality” was not just wrong but unlawful. Instead they have allowed student groups and the student government to fight it out among themselves with no apparent effort by the administration to defend the groups that were faced with these unconstitutional criteria.
Meanwhile students write editorials interpreting Southworth to mean "student fees could only be used to fund content-neutral organizations." If this is one of those "teachable moments" that educators talk so much about, it has failed. It is time the Eau Claire administration — and other universities where student harbor similar misunderstandings — do their job and teach their students what "viewpoint neutrality" really means.
Greg Lukianoff is director of legal and public advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Graduation is seven months away. For a 22-year-old undergrad whose post-baccalaureate plans are nebulous, this might seem like forever. Not for me. In January 2000, at the age of 42, I returned to college after a long academic hibernation. I've been a part-time college student ever since, creeping up on a long-delayed graduation.
There is no single, overriding reason why I returned to college after so long away, but I felt trapped between a spouse wrapping up work on her M.A. in journalism and a son in high school who demanded to know why his college dropout father was pushing him into higher education. Unless I returned to college immediately, I would soon be the least-educated person in the house. Baylor's then-generous tuition remission program for employee family members -- my wife is managing editor of an academic journal -- eased my concerns about the financial burden of returning to school and ensured that Baylor was the only university to which I applied.
Since returning, I have been challenged in unexpected ways. Baylor does little to accommodate nontraditional undergraduate students, offering no weekend classes and few evening classes. Some offices close during the lunch hour, and entire buildings are sealed tighter than Tupperware promptly at 5:00.
Initially, I held a traditional full-time job, and I often flew across town with minimal regard for traffic signals, hoping to beat the English department's noon lock-down. Each time I arrived to find the office door handle still warm from the hand of the person who locked it, I taught new and imaginative curse words to Baylor's abundant squirrel population.
Back then, registration and payment of tuition and fees required a day off work, a beach ball-sized bladder, and the endurance of a sequoia as lines moved slower than frozen molasses. While Baylor's adoption of electronic solutions reduced my frustration by allowing me to register and pay fees online, the university's constant upgrading of hardware and software soon outpaced my personal budget. Now I must travel to campus just to find a computer powerful enough to complete these tasks.
Even though I successfully overcame real and imagined obstacles, I had no specific plan when I returned to school. At first, I enrolled in one course each semester. I soon realized that I would qualify for AARP membership while I was still receiving student discounts, so I began doubling and tripling my class load.
When presented with the opportunity to move from conventional employment to self-employment, I embraced it. Rather than forcing my class schedule fit my work schedule, I could adjust my workload to fit my class schedule. This becomes increasingly important as I approach the end of undergraduate life, when only single sections of required courses may be offered each semester.
Hardest to adjust to was the realization that I am no longer young. Desks are too small for someone who gained his "freshman 15" and then spent nearly 30 years developing middle-aged spread, and what's left of my hair is now more salt than pepper.
Despite raising one of my own, members of the wired generation confound me. While my family didn't own a television until I reached third grade, my classmates came out of the womb clutching a computer mouse and a cell phone. A once-peaceful walk across campus is now interrupted at every step by the nonstop chatter of the connected, and the beep, chirp and moan of student cell phones regularly disturb classes.
When I was born, there were only 49 states, and I soon learned that most important events in the constitutional history of the United States have happened during my lifetime. This means that my fellow students study history, while I study current events.
In many classes, I've been the oldest person in the room, leading to an awkward sorting out of social convention. Will the instructor treat me with the respect due my age, or with the disdain appropriate for an undergrad?
At the beginning of each semester, professors often question students' about their future plans, and my classmates mention doctor, lawyer and engineer. Me? I want to be a Social Security recipient because there isn't enough time between graduation and retirement to actually have a career.
When I tell my wife about some of my class discussions -- discussions where life experience clearly colors my opinions -- she says, "Don't frighten the children." And it's difficult not to think of my classmates as children, even though many of them are in early adulthood, because my 21-year-old son is among them, and I often find myself enrolled in courses with members of his high school graduating class.
In a university where students of my generation can probably be counted in single digits, there's little opportunity to develop friendships. Even sincere attempts make me feel like the creepy neighbor my mother always warned me about.
But I have tried to experience college life the way a traditional undergrad might.
I've eaten cafeteria food, quickly realizing that the cast-iron stomach I had as a teenager is now one of the seven largest methane producers in Texas, and I must monitor my diet.
My wardrobe slowly devolved, and T-shirts emblazoned with one of Baylor's many logos are now my apparel of choice.
I joined three academic fraternities, but soon decided that my days as a chaperone ended with my son's high school graduation party.
Although I've yet to pull an all-nighter, I've certainly had my share of late-nighters, not opening my textbooks until my family finally retires for the night.
Along with other Baylor students, I've sat in the stands through losing season after losing season of football, and sat glued to the television as our women's basketball team advanced through the NCAA tournament to take the title.
While my son speeds through college without stopping for marriage, children and career, I relish the few advantages of being a college student at my age. I especially enjoy the reaction at the local multiplex when I request the "student discount," and my wife takes great pleasure in telling people that she sleeps with a college student.
I'll be 48 when I finally receive my B.A. in professional writing, having spent six years finishing half of my undergraduate requirements. At this glacial pace, dare I even consider grad school?
Michael Bracken is a 47-year-old senior at Baylor University. His latest book is Yesterday in Blood and Bone, a collection of short stories published by Wildside Press.
In what may be the worst decision for college student rights in the history of the federal judiciary, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit this week turned back the clock a half-century and reinstated the old discredited doctrines of in loco parentis and administrative authoritarianism.
In Hosty v. Carter, the Seventh Circuit ruled by a 7-4 majority that administrators at public colleges have total control over subsidized student newspapers. But the scope of the decision is breathtaking, since the reasoning of the case applies to any student organization receiving student fees. Student newspapers, speakers and even campus protests could now be subject to the whim of administrative approval.
The case seemed like an open-and-shut example of unconstitutional suppression of dissent. On November 1, 2000, Patricia A. Carter, dean of student affairs at Governors State University, in Chicago’s south suburbs, called the printer of the student newspaper, the Innovator, and demanded prior approval of everything in the paper, which had annoyed administrators with its criticism of the university. Prior restraint is a classic violation of freedom of the press, and the editors Jeni Porche and Margaret Hosty soon sued the university.
Student press groups were alarmed when the Illinois attorney general’s office argued that the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier should apply to college newspapers. The misguided Hazelwood decision has been an unmitigated disaster for high school journalists, and the possibility of extending it to college students is terrifying.
Terrifying, that is, for anyone who cares about freedom of the student press. But for the majority of the Seventh Circuit, Hazelwood was a legal opening for conservative judges who wanted to reach a predetermined result. If the majority opinion by Judge Frank Easterbrook had merely extended the censorship of Hazelwood to colleges, it would have been a principled decision; a terrible principle, but a principle nonetheless.
However, because Dean Carter’s action violated even the Hazelwood standard, these activist judges had to rewrite the Hazelwood precedent to justify the censorship of all student newspapers and activities. The judges had to eliminate Hazelwood’s restriction to curricular-based newspapers, and then had to eviscerate any constitutional protections for a “limited public forum” such as a newspaper. It took the judges 18 months from the time of oral arguments, and some convoluted reasoning, to achieve their goal.
The Hazelwood case declared that high schools could only censor student newspapers that were created as part of the curriculum. However, the majority decision in Hosty goes far beyond this, expanding censorship of high school papers as well by eliminating the “curricular” limit.
Jettisoning the Hazelwood standard restricting only curricular-based newspapers was merely the first of Easterbrook’s violations of precedent. He also annihilates the common understanding of “limited public forum,” a term created by the Supreme Court to provide a middle ground between the unregulated public forum (such as standing on a soapbox on the quad) and a non-public forum (such as a university-controlled alumni magazine).
“If the paper operated in a public forum, the university could not vet its contents,” Easterbrook wrote. He then asked, “was the reporter a speaker in a public forum (no censorship allowed?) or did the University either create a non-public forum or publish the paper itself (a closed forum where content may be supervised)?” Of course, a newspaper isn’t a public forum like a soapbox. It’s limited to the students who run the newspaper. By declaring that only a pure public forum is entitled to Constitutional protection, Easterbrook eliminates the First Amendment on college campuses for any limited public forum, including any student-funded activities.
“What, then, was the status of the Innovator?” Easterbrook continued. “Did the university establish a public forum? Or did it hedge the funding with controls that left the university itself as the newspaper’s publisher?” By his logic, the only speakers or newspapers on a public college campus that fall under public forum protection would be those that receive no funding from student fees or university funds (a rare commodity indeed). Any funding “controls” are directly tied to ideological controls.
Easterbrook concluded, “Freedom of speech does not imply that someone else must pay.” This is the philosophy of “he who pays the piper calls the tune,” and the Supreme Court has rejected it over and over again at public colleges.
Easterbrook is claiming that if the university can require student groups to follow funding rules designed to prevent fraud (and demand that student fee money be spent on a newspaper rather than, say, a private party), then the administration must be granted total control over the content of the newspaper.
A Break With Precedent
This is a bizarre conclusion, considering that the Supreme Court has repeatedly banned such control by colleges in funding cases.
In Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, the Court ruled that a public university cannot ban funding for a newspaper based on its religious content. Now the Seventh Circuit has declared that a public university may be obliged to fund a religious newspaper, but it can impose any control over its contents. In Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin v. Southworth, the Supreme Court ruled that public colleges must ban all viewpoint discrimination in funding student groups. It would be bizarre if college administrators were granted the direct power to control the viewpoints expressed in student newspapers, while by expressly banned from making funding decisions based on viewpoint. Yet this is what Easterbrook’s opinion permits.
Any non-public forum that is funded by the university to any degree could be controlled and censored by administrators. Any use of campus space by a student organization is subsidized by the university, as are all registered student groups that receive any benefits or funding. Therefore, all of these groups are subject to total control by the administration under Easterbrook’s ruling.
In essence, Easterbrook argued that there is only one kind of censorship that is impermissible on a public college campus: banning someone from speaking for free on a soapbox on the quad. In all other cases, under the Hosty v. Carter ruling, college administrators across the country now have a green light to ban anything they want, from controversial campus speakers to critical student newspapers.
Although the Hosty ruling itself only applies to Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, the states covered by the Seventh Circuit, the “qualified immunity” test allows any public college administrators to avoid damages in any case where the law is unclear -- and the Hosty case certainly makes freedom of the student press an unclear idea.
The Hosty decision could also affect faculty academic freedom. If college students have no more Constitutional protections than first graders do, then college professors may have no more rights than elementary school teachers. Decades of cases establishing the unique legal status of colleges and academic freedom, based on the maturity and rights of college students, might be wiped away if Hosty is upheld.
Easterbrook also hauled out the dubious idea of institutional academic freedom: “Let us not forget that academic freedom includes the authority of the university to manage an academic community and evaluate teaching and scholarship free from interference by other units of government, including the courts.” If “academic freedom” means only the power of administrators to “manage an academic community,” then students and professors alike will be subject to censorship by the administration.
The Innovator has been shut down for almost five years, replaced by the administration with a more pliable newspaper where students never investigate or criticize their college. Unless the Supreme Court reverses the Seventh Circuit’s unprecedented act of conservative judicial activism, the Innovator may only be the first among many newspapers and student organizations silenced by administrators at public colleges, with the blessing of the courts.
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.
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 new survey of literary reading in America by the National Endowment for the Arts, " Reading At Risk " has once again raised the alarm about the cultural decline of America. This one provides the news that we read much less literature, defined as fiction and poetry, than we did some 20 years ago. Indeed, the decline is substantial (10 percent), accelerating and especially worrisome because the malady of literature non-reading particularly afflicts the younger members of society, that critical 18-24 year old group (which shows a 28 percent decline in this survey).
Academicians rushed in to analyze, comment and explain this decline, but some of the commentary both in the report itself and in the academic discussion it provoked seemed to miss the mark. The predictable villains of the visual media, the electronic media and the Internet all came in for blame. Truth is, I am not sure that the data represent a cause for alarm.
I know I should worry. I am a historian, after all, and if people will not read fiction, surely they will read less history. And I'm a teacher, and like everyone else in the humanities, I know students just do not read like they used to do.
The trouble is, I am not sure the changes in our cultural context are necessarily a bad thing. I read many airplane novels, and I have to say that if the younger generation is doing something else with their time, not much is lost. I read New Yorker fiction when I feel the need to be literarily virtuous, but the pieces tend to be mostly depressing stories about lives that do not work out in rather low-level ways.
Then I go online. Here I find a complicated world filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly. Alive and constantly changing, engaged and engaging, requiring my constant decisions about what is worth reading or seeing and what is not. From the lowest pornography to tours of the treasures of the Library of Congress, from the stupidest blogs of the radical fringes, to the most sophisticated discussions of the decline of America's reading habits, everything is there.
What is missing of course is the prescriptive, gate-keeping censorship of the academic and other cultural mandarins, sorting out what is good for me and what is not. The college students who now show up in my classroom come with an informational sophistication unimaginable in my generation. They find what they want, they use what they find, and they discard immense amounts of information made available to them.
Are they naïve about authority, methodology, logic and accuracy in these endless streams of information? Sure, they are. Who should teach them how to sort this stuff? We academics, sophisticated readers ourselves who all too frequently escape into trendy obscurantism rather than engage the real world information flow that constitutes the actual cultural context of our time.
We, the literate part of the American population, need to reconnect with the actual cultural context, rather than fight micro-academic battles of almost no interest to people outside the elite tiers of the academy. We need a better metric than reading print books, stories and poems to define the active imagination and the creative industries of our time. Why is a trashy airplane best seller more of a valuable cultural artifact than the telenovelas watched with enthusiasm and discussed in endless analytical detail by the large and growing Spanish speaking part of America? Why do we assume depressing short stories or over-hyped formulaic bestseller novels represent more significant cultural artifacts than the film version of The Lord of the Rings, the Star Wars series, or the computer game community's imaginative products?
The decline in reading may well reflect the decline in formal study of the humanities in American universities. However, the problem is not the students but the material we teach, the sectarian nature of our controversies, and our general reluctance to put the humanities in the center of our culture rather than relegating them to fragmented enclaves along the partisan byways of academic enthusiasms.
We lose influence on campus to the sciences on one side because they appear and act as if they know exactly what they are doing, how they do it, and for what purpose they do it. We lose influence on campus to the professionally oriented disciplines on the other side because they have a purpose and a method anchored directly in the center of the real world their disciplines address.
We in the humanities, and very frequently as well in the social sciences, often do not know and do not agree on what we think we are doing. We have few common standards and we ask little of our students who have time for non-academically related campus activities. We wonder why our voices carry such little weight when our culture seems to need us so desperately to sort out fundamental issues of values and judgment.
Our weakness on campus as humanists and social scientists reflects our frequent disconnect from the major issues that drive our culture and society. We know a lot, about many topics and issues. We have complex and specialized languages that define our place in political and intellectual sectarian spaces. While the best among us teach interesting courses to many students, most of us publish and build our prestige in the academy with mostly unreadable prose using such terms of art opaque to any but the specialists.
Although our scientific colleagues are often even more incomprehensible than we are, they have found ways to demonstrate the utility of their work so that a whole industry translates their science into terms ordinary citizens can understand. Some of our humanistic and social scientific colleagues find audiences outside the academy, but many people find it hard to distinguish between the opinionated rant of an e-zine commentator and the reasoned logic and well-researched judgment of a humanistic scholar. Often the rant is easier to read and more accessible than the reasoned argument.
What to do? I am not sure, but the first thing would be to pay close attention to what people are reading, what they are seeing, and how they do engage the common culture. The message of "Reading At Risk" is that something other than literature in print form engages more and more of our fellow citizens, and we might want to try to learn how to speak to them in the voices they want to hear.
Where better to learn how to do this than with our 18- to 24-year-old undergrads?