Academia Under the Influence

Eleanor J Bader:

While we may tend to romanticize universities as bastions of free thought and intellectual rigor, Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira’s new book, The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent, demonstrates their subjection to the same ideological underpinnings as the general body politic.

The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent, Edited by Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira University of Minnesota Press, 400 pages, $29.95.

For the past 10 years, I’ve taught English at a large, public community college in Brooklyn, New York. Most of my students are the first in their families to attend a university – and while some are disaffected, the majority are engaged and eager, hopeful that the promise of a higher education will open doors and provide them with a stable future. They’re also largely immigrants, and it is not uncommon for 28 students from 20 countries to find themselves sitting side-by-side in a classroom, arguing and debating about the meaning of a particular text.

What good is math and why do we teach it?

Keith Devlin:

This month’s column comes in lecture format. It’s a narrated videostream of the presentation file that accompanied the featured address I made recently at the MidSchoolMath National Conference, held in Santa Fe, NM, on March 27-29. It lasts just under 30 minutes, including two embedded videos.

In the talk, I step back from the (now largely metaphorical) blackboard and take a broader look at why we and our students are there is the first place.

What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?

Wesley Yang

I understand the reasons Asian parents have raised a generation of children this way. Doctor, lawyer, accountant, engineer: These are good jobs open to whoever works hard enough. What could be wrong with that pursuit? Asians graduate from college at a rate higher than any other ethnic group in America, including whites. They earn a higher median family income than any other ethnic group in America, including whites. This is a stage in a triumphal narrative, and it is a narrative that is much shorter than many remember. Two thirds of the roughly 14 million Asian-Americans are foreign-born. There were less than 39,000 people of Korean descent living in America in 1970, when my elder brother was born. There are around 1 million today.

Asian-American success is typically taken to ratify the American Dream and to prove that minorities can make it in this country without handouts. Still, an undercurrent of racial panic always accompanies the consideration of Asians, and all the more so as China becomes the destination for our industrial base and the banker controlling our burgeoning debt. But if the armies of Chinese factory workers who make our fast fashion and iPads terrify us, and if the collective mass of high-­achieving Asian-American students arouse an anxiety about the laxity of American parenting, what of the Asian-American who obeyed everything his parents told him? Does this person really scare anyone?

Earlier this year, the publication of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother incited a collective airing out of many varieties of race-based hysteria. But absent from the millions of words written in response to the book was any serious consideration of whether Asian-Americans were in fact taking over this country. If it is true that they are collectively dominating in elite high schools and universities, is it also true that Asian-Americans are dominating in the real world? My strong suspicion was that this was not so, and that the reasons would not be hard to find. If we are a collective juggernaut that inspires such awe and fear, why does it seem that so many Asians are so readily perceived to be, as I myself have felt most of my life, the products of a timid culture, easily pushed around by more assertive people, and thus basically invisible?

Stopping a Shortcut to In-State Tuition

Ry Rivard

In a tit-for-tat with two companies that helped out-of-state students pay much lower in-state rates, the University of Colorado system changed its tuition policy.

The change, made last fall, has put one of the two companies out of business and may be forcing a change in tactics by the second. Both companies, Tuition Specialists and In-State Angels, promised to help parents and students save thousands of dollars by getting in-state tuition for nonresident students.

Both companies are based in Boulder and share the unusual business model. It’s so unusual that Tuition Specialists, founded in 2007, sued In-State Angels, founded in 2011, for stealing its idea.

The idea? “At Tuition Specialists we pave your road to in-state tuition,” claims the older of the two companies.

Minding The Knowledge Gap: The Importance of Content in Student Learning

Daisy Christodoulou, via Will Fitzhugh:

In 2007, I trained as a teacher and started teaching English in a secondary school in Southeast London that enrolls stu- dents between the ages of 11 and 18. One of the first things that struck me when I was teaching was that my pupils seemed to know so little. Even the bright and hard-working pupils seemed to me to have big gaps in their knowledge.

Before I became a teacher, I’d read newspaper articles about pupils lacking knowledge, but I had always assumed these reports had been exaggerated by the media. I wondered if my experiences were unusual, but the experiences of colleagues at other schools seemed similar to mine. Pupils who didn’t know where milk came from, who didn’t know the name of the British prime minister, who could barely name any foreign countries, and who had no idea of when important world-changing technologies had been invented.

I started researching the issue, and I found that my experiences weren’t atypical. I also found that many American teachers had the same experiences. For example, there’s a study showing that two-thirds of Americans can’t name the three branches of the United States government.1 In the United Kingdom, there’s a study showing that a third of pupils think the House of Lords is elected.

Wal-Mart has a lower acceptance rate than Harvard

Christopher Ingraham:

This year’s Ivy League admissions totals are in. The 8.9 percent acceptance rate is impressively exclusive, but compared to landing a job at Wal-Mart, getting into the Ivy Leagues is a cakewalk.

Last year when Wal-Mart came to D.C. there were over 23,000 applications for 600 jobs. That’s an acceptance rate of 2.6%, twice as selective as Harvard’s and over five times as choosy as Cornell.

The Northwestern University Football Union and the NCAA’s Death Spiral

Dave Zirin:

“Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered,” – Mark Cuban

The experts said that the efforts of the Northwestern University football team to form a union would crash and burn. The experts scoffed that these naïve jocks would lose their case before the National Labor Relations Board. The experts all believed that this is what they call “settled law.” After all, since the 1950s, when the widow of a football player who died on the field of play failed in her efforts to sue the NCAA for worker’s compensation, it was clear to the courts that these were not workers but “student-athletes.” The experts were proven wrong on Wednesday and the established order in the sports world has been shaken to its foundations.

The NLRB has ruled that& the Northwestern Wildcats are in fact workers. They ruled that since players do not get class credit for playing football and that they are given value for their time playing football, namely an annual scholarship that is worth over $60,000, then yes, they can organize themselves into a union.

Grad School Is a Debt Machine

Hamilton Nolan:

America’s student debt burden has been on the rise for years, along with America’s class of incredibly well-educated retail workers. A new report reveals who’s driving the train to debt hell: grad students. Don’t do it!

Do you really need to go to grad school? For the vast majority of those of you considering going to grad school, the answer is “probably not.” So consider this a bit of data to encourage you to skip it. Take a year off. Travel the world. Hitchhike. Join the Peace Corps. Be a bartender. Huddle in a remote cabin and write your novel. Learn the trombone. All of these are good, affordable activities to pursue as you consider the findings of today’s New America Foundation report, which shows that the increase in the debt load of graduate students in the past decade makes the student debt load for undergrads look paltry by comparison. From the Wall Street Journal:

As Maine Goes, So Goes the Nation: A Brief Report from the University of Southern Maine

Jason Read:

“Whenever you have a ‘southern’ or a ‘northern’ or an ‘eastern’ or a ‘western’ before an institution’s name, you know it will be wildly underfunded.” –Richard Russo

On March nineteenth the Chancellor of the University of Maine System, as well as the President, and select members of the Board of Trustees gathered in front of a crowd of students, faculty and staff in the Hannaford Lecture Hall, a spacious and new lecture hall (more often rented out than used for classes) to unveil the University of Southern Maine’s new vision as a “Metropolitan University.” Two days later, on the twenty-first, twelve members of the faculty from such programs as economics, theater, and sociology met with the provost of the University to be “retrenched.” Both of these events followed the proposal to eliminate four programs (American and New England Studies, Geosciences, Recreation and Leisure Studies, and Arts and Humanities at the Lewiston Auburn Campus) the week before. It was a strange and tumultuous week, and one that I fear offers a frightening glimpse of a future of higher public education in the US.

All of these events, the rebranding and the cuts, were in a response to a system wide budget shortfall of $35 million, of which USM is slated to absorb $14 million in cuts. Claims of poverty on the part of public universities need to be contextualized against the massive decrease in state allocations, on the one hand, and the increasing connection between the university and financial services, on the other (on this point in general see Edward Kazarian’s post) in which bond ratings matter more than educational mission. With respect to the former the University of Maine system has followed the national trend of divestment in higher education. In 1999 appropriations accounted for 63 percent of the university’s budget while tuition and fees made up 37 percent, by 2014 this was reversed to 62 percent from tuition and 38 from allocation. During this period Maine went through the largest tax cut in its history, cutting taxes on inheritance and otherwise making it easier for the wealthiest to keep their money. A tuition freeze instituted in 2012 followed closely on the heels of this cut. (The latter is a perfect example of faux-populism, taking measures to supposedly cut college costs while failing to address the real cause of those costs.) During this same period USM added several new buildings, such as the lecture hall noted above. As enrollment dropped by six percent from 2008-2012 the combination of reduced appropriations, fixed tuition, and decreased enrollment led to a perfect storm of budget problems.

College students bypassing degrees on purpose

Eddie Small:

Kevin Floerke has been down this route before.

A student at Santa Rosa Junior College in Northern California, Floerke, 26 years old, already graduated in 2010 from UCLA, where he majored in archaeology.

This time, however, he’s not after a degree. He’s just trying to master a set of techniques and technologies that will help him verify the details he finds while doing fieldwork.

“I’m really there to learn the program itself and be able to use it in a professional setting,” he said.

Floerke, who leads tours for the National Geographic Society, is part of a group of students known as “skill builders” who are using conventional colleges in an unconventional way: not to get degrees but simply to learn specific kinds of expertise, without spending time or money on courses they don’t think they need.

It’s a trend being driven by the rising price of higher education and a growing emphasis on paying for training in only the most marketable skills.