Mark Bauerlein on The Adolescent Instinct & ‘The Dumbest Generation’

Andy Nash speaks with Dr. Mark Bauerlein on how modern social technology and targeted media isolate and absorb young people as often, if not more, than those technologies empower them as thinkers, as intellectuals, and as maturing adults.

Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University, is author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30).

Key Take-Aways

  • 2:25 – There’s a lack of scrutiny among digital natives about tech assimilation (2 mins)
  • 6:22 – Homework rates have fallen even as remedial ed has skyrocketed (30 secs)
  • 7:00 – There’s a diminishing interest in humanistic understanding (30 seconds)
  • 7:38 – In the past, youth culture wasn’t 24/7; there was more adult exposure (2 mins)
  • 11:11 – Youth culture is anti-intellectual, anti-eloquence, anti-historical. (1 min)
  • 12:47 – Their personal lives are overwhelmed by a hyper-social existence (1 min)
  • 14:36 – Peer pressure has a whole new arsenal in an always-on culture (2 mins)
  • 16:50 – Mentors need to keep pressing the message of engaging intelligent media (1 min)
  • 18:00 – One of our jobs as elders is to rebuke adolescence and narcissism (1 min)

Andy’s Show Notes

Is technology making students dumber?  Before you continue reading, shut your phone off.  In his book “The Dumbest Generation,” Mark Bauerlein argues how the constant, hyper-accelerated use of technology for social-networking and for non-stop digital social communication is inhibiting young people from spending any meaningful time engaging intelligent media and in thought.  What he refers to as the “anti-intellectual, anti-eloquence, anti-historical” youth culture has become more or less, thanks to technology, a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week continuous process, in which there is no end to the exposure and interaction with social adolescent preoccupations and distractions.

What affect is this having on academia and collegiate life?  When he was growing up, Mark explains there was a time and place for youth culture and social interaction.  But when you were at home, or among other than your peers, you were exposed to teachers, parents, and a host of others who mentored you and served to rebuke your adolescence and worked to pull you up through it.  Today, there seems to be no escaping the endless texts that come in (and replies going out) during class lecture, during homework, the family dinner, Sunday mass, even amidst working certain jobs.  Any train of thought necessary to think deeply or contemplatively is derailed by some digitally delivered instant message.  This, coupled with students’ reading of fewer books and articles, even non-academic ones, clearly doesn’t help one to develop any mental discipline nor to elongate one’s attention span.

Schoolwork, Mark argues, thus becomes mercenary, in which students only care to find out what they need to answer for the test, rather than truly learn by taking time to step out of their contemporary social world and immerse themselves into that of their studies.  In other words, there is no time left to even be exposed to such things so as to trigger the imagination, as virtually all time is devoted to social connections via digital technology.  When most break-ups are done by way of a text message, and when people sleep with their phones on to not miss the incoming 2am text, the desire becomes to stay constantly connected so as not to miss anything, because if you blink you may have missed it.

But even before the constant digital bombardment of information—most of it fleeting—in the age of mass higher education, many students, by the time they got to college were no less intellectually lazy, and no less academically mercenary in pursuing their credentialism.  But today, it would seem the digital age, predicted to supposedly make us smarter, hasn’t made young people any more contemplative, intellectually curious, nor desirous of greater ideas.  Understanding the mindset and mentality of a historical figure, such as Lincoln during the Gettysburg address, requires one to step out of the trappings of one’s own contemporary time, and think in the full breadth of humanistic terms.  Perhaps a bigger sociological point within education is that amidst this digital age we’ve reduced the very essence of human learning to trafficking, acquiring, and collecting data, as opposed to synthesizing knowledge and pursuing wisdom.  All this requires lots of reading, attention, discussion, and discipline, and exposure to older people for both intellectual ideas and for their life experience.

But today, apparently more so than before, teachers in school, and even lecturers and professors in college, seem to try to befriend their students at the level of the students, rather than to play the mentoring role.  They want to be “hip” and “with it” so they aren’t tuned out by the students who have them pegged as the “old fogies” who aren’t up with the technology.  Bauerlein argues that this is precisely what educators need to stop worrying about and get back to their traditional roles of rebuking adolescence and mentoring.  You won’t expand your vocabulary, he says, from your friends.

Nonetheless, the extent to which younger generations are too busy to interact with elders and mentors to learn from them in a challenging and robust way, and continue to remain isolated from them, will most likely only serve to prolong their adolescence—both socially and intellectually—rather than growing them out of it.  And this, for decades now before the digital age, has been a downward trend within higher education, and it’s now arguably exacerbated, if not caused, by the digital age.  If Bauerlein is correct, then we certainly have a lot to be concerned with.  How can we mentor adolescents with out being tuned out as “old fogies?”  Find out in our interview with Mark Bauerlein on Inside Academia.

David French on The False Advertising of Free Thought on Campus

Andy Nash speaks with David French, who serves as senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom. Nash and French speak about the bait-and-switch nature of higher ed, where freedom of inquiry and expression is promised, even while campuses desperately work to enforce a rigid uniformity of opinion on controversial issues.

French is author of the Guide to Religious Liberty on Campus and a frequent contributor to National Review Online’s Phi Beta Cons.

Key Take-Aways

  • 2:25 – The dominant world view in our public universities is secular and Left-leaning (20 secs)
  • 4:38 – Students have been expelled and professors have been denied promotions (20 secs)
  • 8:06 – Colleges promote free inquiry, but then demand conformity on controversial issues (1 min)
  • 10:11 – Private colleges must deliver on what they promised, or it’s a breach of contract (2 mins)
  • 12:28 – Federal money doesn’t automatically subject a private university to the constitution (1 min)
  • 13:55 – ADF’s goal is increasing liberty and opening the market place of ideas (1 min)
  • 16:28 – Ideologues and bureaucrats team up to craft broad campus policies (1 min)
  • 17:55 – The Left dominates campuses, and so crafts policies that are advantageous. (1 min)

Andy’s Show Notes

Why do colleges and universities block pro-life expressions and have the students of such demonstrations arrested?  Why do they illegally require nursing students to perform abortions?  And why do some exclusively define religious discrimination as “Christians oppressing non-Christians,” while others use technicalities to de-recognize Christian student groups?  And what prompts some schools to craft overly broad speech code policies that state “acts of intolerance shall not be tolerated,” in which they get to subjectively define whatever “attitude or belief” is intolerant?

In our recent interview with David French of the Alliance Defense Fund, we tackled the question of where universities’ rights and authorities begin and end, and examined why they craft the policies they do.   Specifically, we looked at examples of religious associational and expressive rights, and free speech rights within higher education, and the legal work of the Alliance Defense Fund.  David French has handled several dozens of such cases with the ADF, as well as when he was with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (although the focus of the ADF is not limited to educational institutions).

David explained that public universities are agents of the state and therefore are subject to guaranteeing all the same protections for individuals as the government.  However, private institutions have the same rights as other private citizens, and are free to define themselves however they want.  Thus first amendment guarantees–congress shall make no law–does not apply in the same way as for public universities.  What does apply to private institutions is to honor their contracts and promises.  Private colleges for example have every right (and duty) to make clear from the outset to students what expectations must be followed, (such as codes of conduct, dress, etc.) and what values are to be upheld.  As long as they act accordingly with those prescriptions, there is no breach of contract.  The only other factor outside of contract, is that private schools must follow the specific guidelines, or “strings attached” for public money they receive.  But this does not force them to act in every other way as an agent of the state.

Universities often will craft policies in the name of tolerance and diversity to foster a climate of openness and inclusiveness.  This is arguably done to proactively try to avoid contentious conflicts as well as to show they took proactive steps in cultivating an environment free from hatred and bigotry.  This tends to be very important when a school is being sued by a student or an employee for some form of perceived discrimination or harassment.

However, there are two problems with many of these policies.  The first is that they are often overly broad and far-reaching, leaving a very open-ended vague sense of what the policy could or could not apply to and how.  That lack of certainty in a policy arguably leads to a chilling effect on free speech.  The second problem ends up being the very specific and selective application of the broad policies.  When a school exclusively defines religious discrimination as “Christians oppressing non-Christians”, then we begin to see who will bear the brunt of potentially applicable intolerance policies.

So why do universities do it?  Is it merely a question of political and social bias, or something more pragmatic?  In my review of our interview of with Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, I asked why universities, supposedly bastions of free thought and expression, would risk such First Amendment liabilities.  I concluded that review with:

“They know that students are largely ignorant of what rights they do have as adults coming into college.  Their prior years of schooling did little or nothing to educate them of their individual rights.  So over the years it has become apparent to college administrators which types of squeaky wheels needed to be immediately greased and which could be safely dismissed as empty cans rattling the most.

Some colleges may have bought into the false choice that it is safer for them to err on the side of legal challenges of free speech violations as opposed to claims of harassment.  Lukianoff argues the massive expansion of university bureaucracies over the last decade is a huge impediment to bringing about significant reform…”

However, I now put the question to David French.  Would not even a politically neutral administrator, under strong legal advice from their counsel on retainer, choose to err on the side of abridging free speech rights (usually mitigated by groups like ADF in letter-writing campaigns), as opposed to dealing with the far more costlier discrimination or harassment suit?  In other words, wouldn’t the university, as any institution simply just give in to whoever gave them the greater pressure?

David argues there is a combination of ideology and bureaucracy at play within universities leading them to continue drafting policies that end up being no longer ideologically neutral.  He says the combination is typically one in which the ideologues of the Left who predominate the university are the ones crafting the policies, and therefore they produce policies that are designed to satisfy those ideological needs of the college.  David says that if 8 or 9 out of 10 professors (and similar numbers of administrators) are on the Left and are having a policy discussion, then it’s no surprise we see the policies we do.

However, it would be interesting to investigate if the over-representation of left-wing ideology is more-so among faculty–who are chiefly responsible for writing academic policy–as opposed to administrators who are presumably responsible for codes of (non-academic) conduct and policies governing employees, hires, etc.  Just who exactly is responsible for drafting policies such as “intolerance shall not be tolerated”.  This is something we’ll explore further on Inside Academia.

But we come full circle with the false advertising of free thought on campus.  Private schools must at least be consistent with their existing policies in guaranteeing promised due process, the right of free inquiry and freedom of conscience, or what have you.  Public universities, as agents of the state, must guarantee the full range of such protections by law either way, in both the written word and in deed.  But neither private nor public colleges can claim to uphold such rights and then deny them.  The extent to which they do, groups like the ADF and the FIRE work to hold them accountable.  Find out how the ADF has worked to rectify these discrepancies and injustices in our interview with David French.

Jason Fertig on The New Normal, or Yesterday’s ‘F’ as the ‘C’ of Today

Jason Fertig joins Andy Nash for a discussion on career-prep, and the lowering of college standards and intellectual enrichment. Dr. Fertig is an assistant professor of management at the University of Southern Indiana and a contributor to National Review Online’s Phi Beta Cons and other journals.

Key Take-Aways

  • 2:33 – Students’ oral communication/writing ability suffers due to career-prep approach (1 min)
  • 5:00 – Colleges as “everything to everybody” are a key part of the bloat in higher ed (1 min)
  • 8:00 – Are schools incentivized to maintain robust standards, or sell an experience? (30 secs)
  • 9:30 – Should we wait for the higher ed bubble to burst? (30 secs)
  • 11:55 – Yesterday’s B might be today’s A, but the real problem is yesterday’s F is today’s C. (1 min)
  • 14:00 – There’s a jadedness among students from dumbly “going through the motions” (1 min)

Andy’s Show Notes

Aren’t colleges making students better candidates for the “real world” if and when they prepare them for careers and jobs?  Not so fast says Dr. Jason Fertig, assistant professor of management at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, Indiana.

In Professors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, the authors conclude that students in not only communications but business, are developing less critical thinking skills than their upper level counterparts in the humanities. Students in such disciplines, as Arum and Roksa point out do not achieve the comparable skills as some in the humanities and social sciences because of the lack of writing being demanded of them.

Fertig says that he too finds himself being pulled in two directions: to educate for the intellectual enrichment of his students vs. to prepare them for careers.  He says career prep is often being promoted to students, and they’re given clichéd messages about motivating workers and conflict management.  They see their curricula in management as job prep, and without much actual work experience it’s hard to get students to connect what they’re learning with the working world. So they bide their time and wait to become credentialed to be ready to go out in the work force.

But why have the “two directions” become distinct and opposite?  Was not college the place where by way of intensive mental and intellectual training you developed the thinking necessary to be able to make the decisions as that of a manager?  How and when did preparing you for the job end up at odds with intellectual enrichment?  And if colleges are watering down their academic rigor in the specified programs that are supposedly preparing one for their field, then why go to college?  Why not some specific certification program?  Wouldn’t that be a whole lot less expensive?

But perhaps the most important question is why are colleges watering down their standards?  As he mentions in his article on NAS.org, “students see school as a social and credentialing experience more than one of intellectual growth”. New gyms and luxurious dorms are all part of the dazzle used to lure in students.  But on graduation day Fertig admits in our interview that “when students walk across the isle there is a certain jadedness about them that they just went through the motions, they didn’t learn anything, they just got their piece of paper and they’re moving on”.  So how did it get this way?

We may find a clue in the 2005 PBS documentary series Declining by Degrees.  In one segment, spotlighting a typical large lecture hall with students practically falling asleep in the back, it alluded to the unspoken understanding between students and teachers that in exchange for certain bear minimal work, students expect to receive passing grades.  It covered the trend of grade inflation, as Fertig even admits, that many today think that a “C means degree”.

But this is where Fertig warns of the real danger.  He says there is the assumption that everyone is capable of doing better than the C or D they received but they were just being lazy.  But the real problem with grade inflation is not if yesterday’s B is today’s A, but what if yesterday’s F is today’s C?

If a teacher finds he has to correct punctuation, grammar, word choice, syntax and overall (lack of) organization in their students’ papers, then how can they pass them?  So the more students are allowed to be detached from and unchallenged by academic demands, the more they indeed become “demoralized by low standards” as he claims in his article, and thereby all the more indeed academically adrift.

But the vicious cycle not only occurs among students as they advance from one year to the next. It also occurs between students and faculty.  In Declining by Degrees, the professor in the large lecture hall cannot simply fail all the students who do not demonstrate an expected mastery of the material.  As we discussed with Fertig, many college faculty, especially adjunct faculty, have to produce the outcome of a realistic mean average grade for the class at the end of the term.  If too many receive A’s, then obviously they’re grading too light; and if too many fail, then the assumption is the professor can’t effectively teach the material.  So the lower the standards, the less enthused the otherwise curious and capable students become.  And the more disinterested, non-interactive and mentally asleep students are in the class, the less the professor has any desire to do much more than “go through the motions” himself.  And with student evaluations of professors weighing in on the assessment of that adjunct’s rehire, the tacit, subconscious understanding seems to be, ‘you pay the fee and collect your degree, and we’ll collect a paycheck’.

Fertig notably concludes that as a matter of ethics, professors owe one another effective and accurate grading so that they’re not passing on poor writing and poor ability to the next level, so that today’s underperforming juniors do not become next year’s graduating seniors.  The degree is supposed to signify that the graduate is a thinker and an intellectual.  So part of his solution is to harness the best and the brightest students in honors and Continuing Ed classes and other such programs with demanding writing work, because it is precisely “the top students who lose out the most when we inflate the F to a C.”

Find out how in our interview with Dr. Jason Fertig on InsideAcademia.tv.

Peter Wood on The Radicalization of the College Campus

Dr. Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, anthropologist, author, and former provost, talks with Andy Nash on how the ideology that began as political correctness has resulted in radicalizing thought and scandalizing free inquiry.

Key Take-Aways

  • 1:29 – NAS focuses on academic curriculum and education bubble (1 min)
  • 3:30 – NAS opposes racial preferences in admissions. (1 min)
  • 7:21 – Liberals far outweigh conservatives in humanities and social sciences (1 min)
  • 8:45 – Classrooms should be free of ideology, politics should end at door (1 min)
  • 11:00 – Mass education results in regression to the mean/poor performance (1 min)
  • 12:19 – Nearly 1/3 of college students (7 million) learn virtually nothing in four years (1 min)
  • 13:25 – Idea of college shifts from culture transmission to societal transformation (30 seconds)
  • 14:20 – Political agendas of radical left and mass education movement converge (30 seconds)
  • 15:45 – College itself does not produce social, economic or personal prosperity (30 seconds)

Andy’s Show Notes

What does mass higher education (sending everyone to college with the hopes of a good education presumably for greater prosperity), have to do with the politicization and radicalization of academia?

In our most recent interview with Dr. Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, we coalesced that very subject by examining NAS’s founding mission and efforts since their inception in 1987.

Two recent stories have emerged in the news.  The first is the research study and subsequent book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses; and the second is the controversial NYT article Social Scientist Sees Bias Within, spotlighting the “statistically impossible” disparity among academics–particularly in psychology and sociology– along political and ideological lines.  These are just the two newest installments, serving as reminders, of the trends and problems in higher education that have been stewing for decades, for which groups like NAS were founded in the first place.

In Academically Adrift, the authors reveal an alarming level of a lack of critical thinking skills being developed by most college students today.  Dr. Wood even mentions that about a third of college seniors (about 7 million students), under a testing instrument called the Collegiate Learning Assessment, were shown to have learned virtually nothing more than when they were freshmen.  Marty Nemko, in our previous interview, pointed out similar trends; and consequently not only argues for the reform of universities, but questions the very idea behind mass higher education by pointing to the large proportion of students unprepared and unable to handle what should be the rigor of collegiate level work. 

In the subject of political bias, Dr. Jon Heidt observes a “tribal moral community” among many academics, who “embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value”.  In our interview with Dr. Wood, he cited the Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society from 1962.  He explained that the push to politicize and radicalize the universities came as a result of the American working classes proving too uninterested in fomenting revolution.  But universities produce future leaders, writers, journalists, scholars, thinkers, opinion leaders, etc.  By 1972, he says that the idea that institutions assumed they could be the instruments of societal transformation became pretty mainstream.

So how does that tie into mass higher education?  Presumably, the more people you send to college, and the more you use college as the vehicle to transform certain social ideals, then the more proponents you’ll have for those changes.  Thus Dr. Wood argues, in sending everyone to college, the benign well-intentioned desire to ensure everyone’s educational and economic betterment begins to converge with the agenda of the radical Left.

But we should consider an additional effect of mass higher education, in relation to politicization.  If the research studies and statistics are true, and so many students are not honing the critical thinking skills they should in college, then how can they evaluate and critically analyze politicized agendas in the classroom, especially when they are subtle?  It stands to reason they’d be all the more ill-equipped to challenge, scrutinize, and demand more from their professors.  After all, is not he who is uncritical and of undisciplined mind more susceptible to ideologies of the day?

But while some may argue that the watering down of grading, course-work rigor, and degree requirements, combined with general apathy and laziness has left many students oblivious to social and political agendas, others contend that the rigors of humanities and social science curricula has suffered at least in part directly from the shift in academia’s mission.  One of the very issues that NAS identifies is “the post-modernist evisceration of the humanities”.

Clearly these issues are distinct, but they conflate as far as shaping what modern higher education has become and the effect it has had on today’s college student.  Will students continue to be saddled with enormous amounts of debt to attend college, developing no real skills or scholastic achievements, while being imbued with advocacy of socio-political change? And will or can such graduates successfully change society at all, and if so into what?  And what can groups like NAS do about it?

Find out in our interview with Dr. Peter Wood, and in our ongoing series at InsideAcademia.tv.

Ben Novak on The Glory Days of the Fraternity System

Dr. Ben Novak joins Andy Nash in a discussion on what principles made the fraternity system so memorable and so culturally important in the history of higher education.

Key Take-Aways

  • 3:40 – The role of a fraternity: to “polish and form” students (1 min)
  • 5:45 – Many times colleges outlawed them for fear of organized power. (1 min)
  • 8:00 – Animal House effectively destroyed fraternities as an institution. (1 min)
  • 9:54 – Fraternities weren’t “elitist;” majority of students joined. (2 mins)
  • 12:15 – Before collapse, fraternities helped the lower classes move to the top. (1 min)
  • 14:15 – The purpose of parties was to show you had social grace. (30 secs)

Andy’s Show Notes

The Golden Age of College Fraternities: Forgotten history or a way for the future?

Do we really need to ask why a young college-aged male joins a college fraternity? Of course not. What no one asks is why one joined a fraternity in the past.

In our most recent interview with Dr. Ben Novak, alumnus and former professor and trustee of Penn state, he revealed a very different kind of fraternity, and attitude that went along with it.

As Dr. Novak concedes, a college fraternity, as any institution, will be to a considerable degree, a reflection of the society that populates it. However, he argues that a fraternity was formed and joined by young men during its heyday for the purpose of becoming polished and formed into gentlemen, who–at land-grant colleges such as Penn State, which attracted students from the farms and poorer classes unlike east-coast Ivy League universities such as Harvard–could then move up the social ladder.

But isn’t that why people went to college, to get the knowledge and education and develop the skills necessary to be able to climb the economic ladder? What does that have to do with fraternities or social clubs of any kind?

In the latter half of the 19th century and for the better part of the first half of the 20th, knowledge and certification were not the sole qualifications sought by society. Society desired, and often demanded, dignity and class and a semblance of character that hinted to one’s trustworthiness and integrity. Although far less formal and less rigid than some kind of finishing school, college fraternities were places where one was compelled to learn and hone social graces and classiness through their customs, rituals, formal and semi-formal activities, as well as through their honor codes and the strong bonds of loyalty they formed. And often they held one another to such standards and expectations since the actions of one or a few reflected upon the group as a whole. Consequently fraternities played a vital experiential role outside of the university classroom in shaping one’s character. Virtue was not merely some aspect of the epics of Greco-Roman classics one studied in the humanities. It was something they had to apply in their daily lives to truly be the well-rounded and well-formed men of honor. The Penn State Alma Mater reads: May no act of ours bring shame, To one heart that loves thy name. May our lives but swell thy fame, Dear old State, dear old State.

With much of society changing with the counter-cultural 1960′s and ’70′s, fraternities were still a reflection of the society from which their members came. The difference was that the values for why fraternities conducted themselves the way they did in the past had become far less important, or even non-existent. Dr. Novak argues that the 1978 movie Animal House (whose storyline was set in the early 1960′s), by advancing the narrative that the old guard of the fraternities were stodgy, pretentious and elitist, emboldened future generations in adopting the irreverent John Belushi attitude of being as outlandish and outrageous as possible, paying no regard to any sense of dignity or self-respect at all. Over the course of a few decades, there were real “animal house” fraternities at almost every school, to some varying degree.

To what extent the movie Animal House was the cause, or merely the symbolic icon that gave the debaucherization of fraternities its form or rallying cry, can be eternally debated. What is clear is that over the last three to four decades problem-child fraternities have plagued countless residential colleges and universities across the country seeing everything from sexual assaults and rapes to death from alcohol poisoning and becoming dens of illicit drug use–leading to university and police crack-downs, liability lawsuits, decolonizations, etc. Dr. Novak has frequently pointed out that the local fraternity district at Penn State, one of the largest in the country, at one time was one of the safest places in town one could walk through at night. In over the last 30 years, the opposite was sadly often the case.

But weren’t young people of any past generation, away from their parents at school, always looking to party and have a blast? Dr. Novak argues that fraternities of the past had everything from house mothers to self-imposed regulations and curfews, customs, etiquette, honor codes, fellowship, and women were typically not permitted above the first floor of a house. Parties were occasions where they showcased their social graces rather than any disregard for them. And when problems arose or tempers flared, they often surrendered themselves to one another in true spirit of brotherhood. The college fraternity, in its “golden age”, embodied a sense of dignity and honor and respect, the cultivation and development of which was its very purpose. As the Penn state Alma Mater says: When we stood at childhood’s gate (changed from boyhood’s gate), Shapeless in the hands of fate, Thou didst mold us, dear old State. One of the ways Penn State, and countless other schools accomplished this was with their proud and rich student-founded tradition of fraternities.

So if much of what fraternities stood for has dissolved over time, why do students still join them today? Aside from the partying and social pursuits, they’ll say leadership. And to be fair, while animal houses have come and gone, many fraternities today in fact do a good a job in developing leadership. But with modern culture having changed so drastically, and our institutions including fraternities along with it, we can only wonder as to the effectiveness, and thereby very purpose of fraternities today.

While some may dismiss the “golden age” thesis as myth, the bigger question is can fraternities harken toward, if not back to, the positive aspects and ideals that Dr. Novak alludes to. Find out in our interview on Inside Academia.

Michael Oriard on College Athletics & the Myth of Amateurism

Michael Oriard joins Andy Nash to tackle the subject of college athletics, and the “myth of amateurism” in big time college athletics. Dr. Oriard is an associate dean at Oregon State University, and author of numerous books and articles on college athletics, including Bowled Over: Big-Time College Football from the Sixties to the BCS Era.

Take-Aways

  • 1:24 – Grotesque disparities between coaching salaries and student athletic compensation (30 seconds)
  • 3:06 – College sports relies on a “myth of amateurism” to distinguish it from pro sports. (1 min)
  • 4:52 – Without improved athlete compensation, NCAA risks death by a thousand lawsuits (1 min)
  • 7:52 – When colleges reap millions from licensing, is free tuition, room, and board enough? (1 min)
  • 10:36 – Scholarships create an illusion that it’s about academic rather than athletic talent. (1 min)
  • 12:09 – Student athletes could be on the verge of winning major intellectual property rights  (2 mins)

Andy’s Show Notes

Is amateurism still alive in college athletics?  In our recent interview with Oregon State University English professor and Associate Dean Michael Oriard, we explored what vestiges of amateurism there still remains in the big business of College sports.

Prior to 1956, student athletes weren’t really compensated for their play.  Oriard suggests that the first break with the code of amateurism was with the establishment of scholarships for such players (as opposed to stipends), which was compensation brought about under the auspices of academics, thereby retaining the mystique of amateurism in the minds of most.  Any given football player on scholarship in the 1960’s, such as Oriard, was covered for tuition, room & board, while the average coach may have made anywhere from $25,000 – $50,000 ($173,060 – $ 346,120 in 2010 dollars).  Contrasting that with today, while the scholarships still cover the cost of a student’s tuition, room and board (which may have unduly gone up at least ten-fold), Oriard says you’ll see coaches earning between two and five million.

College sports has become a multi-(hundred million or billion dollar?) professional business with the many people involved, except the players.  Thus, as Oriard states, the disparity between the two is “growing more and more extreme and grotesque”.  It’s interesting when stars like Terrelle Pryor and other players from the Ohio State squad are suspended for selling personal items like jerseys, rings, and awards for a total of $2,500, in light of the money involved in College Football.  It’s also more curious that the suspensions don’t take affect until after the Sugar Bowl.

But a bigger question also looms.  What was the relative value of the compensated education and the degree received by a student over 40 years ago compared to the compensated ones today?  In the end, what does it matter to a student if his scholarship is covering the entirety of a $2,500 tuition and housing bill, or the entirety a $25,000 bill if the degree is no where as likely to get you as readily or comparably gainfully employed short of becoming a professional athlete?  Oriard cites graduation rates and the clustering into easy majors as reasons to question the relative value of the student athlete’s education today, and thereby whether the programs are still delivering on the implicit contract with the athletes of truly offering education in return for athletic services.

But perhaps an even bigger question still, is that if you open the door just a crack to allow players to profit off of physical items connected to their personas, then you enter down the slippery slope of risking one thing after another, eventually shattering whatever myth of amateurism there remains.  Oriard cites the O’Bannon case in which he argues that the NCAA could relax its rules so as to find some arrangement otherwise risk the courts deciding—and thereby setting the precedent of—players’ legal rights and status as workers in athletes’ rights lawsuits.  Could either route cause the whole system to fall apart like a house of cards?  If not, it could undoubtedly lead to massive reorganization of the entire system, perhaps turning some of it into some type of semi-professional league of some sort.  Would that lose the appeal to fans, or would today’s fans, as consumers of entertainment, adjust like everything else?  Find out Michael Oriard’s thoughts in our candid interview on Inside Academia.

Katherine Mangu-Ward on The Demand-Debt Link, or How to Burst the Bubble

Katherine Mangu-Ward, senior editor at Reason Magazine, joins Andy Nash for a discussion of how federal aid can result in the perversion of the missions non-profit universities.

Key Take-Aways

  • 2:16 – Why not disclosure requirements for non-profit schools? (1 min)
  • 4:41 – Companies jockey to get around mandatory disclosure rules (1 min)
  • 5:36 – “Two Bad Guys:” Federal government and private businesses (:30)
  • 8:15 – Regulators notice over-consumption of education (:30)
  • 10:27 – Letting banks gauge loans to measure market interest and worth of a degree (1 min)
  • 11:51 – We’ve gone too far in thinking of education as a public good (:30)
  • 12:34 – Eliminate federally-subsidized student loans (:30)

Andy’s Show Notes

Ever wonder why Colleges never disclose the failure rates of gainful employment for their graduates after completing the degrees those institutions offer?  Of course not, if you pose the mere suggestion to college administrators you’d likely be met with a reaction of disbelief that any such rates exist.

Our previous interviewee Marty Nemko has for years insisted that schools disclose the results of their graduates—how many, with what degrees, what levels of gainful employment, within how many years of graduating, what amounts of debt are incurred, etc. — not unlike reading the stats on tread life when purchasing a new tire.  If schools brag of their successes based on statistical outcomes, why not disclose the risks and failures no less based on statistical outcomes?  Would people not then be able to make better informed choices?  Millions of high school grads every year are bombarded by everyone from their career guidance counselors, parents, education experts, to government officials with insistence the only ticket to real middle class success is college.  Not only are prospective students sold on the idea of what a tremendous private good college is to the attendee at whatever the cost, but everyone basks in the warm and fuzzy ideal of what a public good it is for all of society to have more (supposedly) better educated people.

However, our recent interviewee Katherine Mangu-Ward, senior editor of Resaon.com, pointed out, “We’ve gone too far in thinking of education as a public good.”  Despite some positive externalities, she argues “the notion that we as a society are gleaning value from most peoples’ degrees, is pretty misguided.”  Hence, we need to seriously re-assess who is getting what and at what cost, and at what cost to society.  After all, how can millions of unskilled graduates with several tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, also lacking critical thinking skills, be a public good?

Is there accountability in the works?  This past year the Department of Education has proposed “gainful employment” regulations requiring for-profit colleges to show their students aren’t encumbering loans whose repayment rates would exceed 8% of their income from such gainful employment.  Mangu-Ward notes that failing to meet that, or some comparable standard, “means the schools would be forced to disclose data about debt levels to all prospective students. Programs with loan repayment rates below 35 percent or debt loads above 12 percent of student income become automatically ineligible for federal grants and loans.”

If enough for-profit college graduates don’t earn enough to repay their federal loans, the schools could lose access to federal loan funding.  As Andy Kroll notes in For-Profit College Loan Fail, with for-profit colleges receiving 75% to 90% of their revenue coming in the form of federal loan funding (University of Phoenix), 46.3% of all loan money lent to students from 2008 going into default, and the for-profit default rate, dollar per dollar, being nearly three times higher than the rest of academia, it’s no surprise the Education Department has been asking how well is that government money being spent.

But as Mangu-Ward points out, the “useless hordes of art history majors and other liberal arts dilettantes” from non-profit state schools aren’t offered the same protections.  If we want to hold the for-profits to account for “measurable outcomes” as Obama put it, why are we not concerned with the non-profits, who after all comprise the vast majority of colleges and universities?  The vast majority of college undergrads are attending either public colleges or some non-profit private schools.  It’s ironic that State schools now stand poised as the redeemer for all those students who dropped out of a for-profit program, despite the non-profs own drop-out rates.  With for-profits foreseeably having to retool their programs to the most lucrative fields of study so as to meet the proposed regulations, as well as their own bottom lines, it will mean more of these schools will have to cut back on their admissions, effectively pushing even more students into the public and/or non-profit educational sector (who are always competing for greater public subsidy amidst dwindling state support).  But yet, “measurable outcomes” aren’t being expected there, and no forced disclosure data about student debt is even being mentioned.

Why?

In our interview Mangu-Ward noted that public subsidy of art history majors is not subject to the regulations, but career oriented for-profit programs are.  While all the public subsidy going to for-profits whose stock prices we all see rise, reeks of the corporate welfare system, the government,, she notes, considers public support for non-profits “sacrosanct.”

But it’s precisely the public support that has the same effect on the for-profits as on the non-profits.  More public subsidy means tuition artificially goes up (way beyond the rate of inflation or the cost of living), and they can get away with ‘Guerrilla Registration,’ because they can be less accountable to the student since demand for admission is so high from more students beating down the door to get it.

She argues people are “over consuming” education that is “not justified by their earning potential after they get their degree,” and “as long as we’re not willing to acknowledge this tension, we’re going to keep dumping money in, and we’re going to keep lamenting the tragedy in which people take out lots of loans that they can’t pay back.”

So why not expand the mandate of disclosures to all schools benefiting from public money, as opposed to merely pointing to their inconsistency?  She noted that mandated disclosures lead to companies and schools jockeying to get around the rules, and with Pay Day lending we see massive disclosure rules while companies are also expected to make the disclosures simple to understand.

Maybe so, but one thing is clear, not everyone can be a liberal arts academic.  So if the government wants to lower unemployment levels and get the economy back on track, it’s time we distinguish the need for career oriented post-secondary technical education (in the form of two-to-four-year for-profit schools) from the vast chasm of public and state school higher education, and thereby realize that policies that push more students into the latter sector will not necessarily always bode better for the students (or society) educationally nor economically.  Perhaps less public subsidy to the for-profits will make them more accountable to market forces, and thereby their students.  Too bad the same can’t be said of the non-profits.

But for now, getting direct public appropriations or federally-subsidized grants and loans for their students, both for-profit and non-profit institutions have taken the position of what a grand public good higher education is.  But when it’s time to pay the piper, the onus is put back on the student who is regarded as receiving a private good, with neither public nor market driven accountability for how they’ve been banged for the buck.

So what’s the solution for reform?  What do we do with federally subsidized student loans, and how do we ensure the poor can still get access to education?  Find out in our interview with Katherine Mangu-Ward.

Greg Lukianoff on First Amendment Freedoms on Campus

Greg Lukianoff joins Andy Nash for the third episode of Inside Academia. Mr. Lukianoff, an attorney, is president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE. He is co-author of the Guide to Free Speech on Campus, has testified before Congress on college free speech, blogs for The Huffington Post, and has written for numerous publications including the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Key Take-Aways

  • 2:56 – Mandatory counseling for posting a flier (2 min)
  • 5:36 – Students don’t know their rights, schools exploit that (:30)
  • 6:33 – 67% of 390 Top Colleges maintain “laughably unconstitutional” speech codes (2 min)
  • 7:41 – Anti-bullying bill in Congress, makes existing laws overly broad (1 min)
  • 10:34 – Administrators just don’t like being criticized (:30)
  • 11:30 – Are FIRE’s efforts working? (1 min)
  • 12:31 – For cost of college you should get due process and freedom of speech (:30)
  • 13:22 – Higher ed falling down on the job (:30)

Andy’s Show Notes

“Universities cannot defend in public what they do in private” was one of the guiding principles for University of Pennsylvania professor of the Enlightenment Dr. Alan Kors in founding the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).  Colleges and universities seem to believe they can take existing state and federal laws on harassment and expand them so broadly with their policies that almost anything can qualify as “harassment.”

Hence, it is no wonder some end up crafting policies stating, for example, “intolerance will not be tolerated,” and countless others that amount to what FIRE calls speech codes.  Founder Alan Kors articulated the purpose of FIRE as upholding rights that include “freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience – the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity.”

The current FIRE president, First Amendment attorney Greg Lukianoff, stated his organization has chronicled and challenged in the court of public opinion (far more so than in the courtroom) hundreds of egregious cases from colleges across the country since the group’s inception in 1999, in which schools have violated students’ individual or associational rights in some way shape or form.  Their research found that, despite a common belief that college speech codes withered on the vine in the 90′s, “67% of 390 top colleges maintain speech codes that are laughably unconstitutional, and that’s an improvement from 79%”.  Lukianoff believes that increased litigation, including instances of administrators being held personally liable in some cases, is helping to decrease this number, which is still embarrassingly high.

The infamous 1993 “water buffalo” case at UPenn, where a student was about to be expelled for calling a group of loud students “water buffalos” below his dorm room window, was the culminating event that served as the beginning of what is now FIRE.  It was one of thousands of cases from colleges across the country where students would be denied due process and castigated in a judicial-style proceeding by their school’s discipline office.  Lukianoff offers other examples, such as a student kicked out of the dorms at the University of New Hampshire, given two years probation and (believe it or not) mandatory psychological counseling – all for putting up a sign telling girls they could lose weight for taking the stairs one floor instead of the elevator.  Students at Yale stirred controversy with a quote from celebrated American author F. Scott Fitzgerald on a T-shirt mocking rival Harvard, because it contained the word “sissies.”  Students at the University of South Florida were denied chartering a chapter of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom, because “there already was a libertarian club,” despite the dozens multicultural and Left-leaning special interest groups on campus.

So why do overly broad speech codes get made?  Aside from fearing legal liability from legitimate claims of harassment, university officials do have a set of values they seek to foster, and they also want to come down hard on perceived intolerance that shocks the sensibilities.  The fact that they are usually obsessed with the sensibilities of the socially liberal and none too concerned with those of the socially conservative notwithstanding, Lukianoff says many college administrators just don’t like to be criticized and insulted.  Moreover, administrators have genuflected to special interests in the name of tolerance and diversity at the expense of others’ individual rights, and at the same time have arrogantly rebuffed claims and abuses.

But that doesn’t entirely explain why universities, supposedly bastions of free thought and expression, would risk such First Amendment liabilities.  They know that students are largely ignorant of what rights they do have as adults coming into college.  Their prior years of schooling did little or nothing to educate them of their individual rights.  So over the years it has become apparent to college administrators which types of squeaky wheels needed to be immediately greased and which could be safely dismissed as empty cans rattling the most.

Some colleges may have bought into the false choice that it is safer for them to err on the side of legal challenges of free speech violations as opposed to claims of harassment.  Lukianoff argues the massive expansion of university bureaucracies over the last decade is a huge impediment to bringing about significant reform, despite the some 200 victories FIRE has seen in getting schools to change their policies.  It speaks to the insecurity and tone-deafness with which administrators proceeded in touting their social values, while arrogantly defying individuals’ first amendment rights and their assorted grievances.  To universities, external groups publicly exposing them and sometimes legal groups suing them, mean that (in their minds) they have to increase their rank and file of PR spokespersons and attorneys on retainer.

Lukianoff ultimately concludes that we need to replace the ethos of “not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings” with one of diving in and having robust discussions.  It’s a shame that many colleges today have become so dysfunctional that it requires external watchdog organizations to publicly expose abuses, and in some instances, even challenge them in court.  If we truly had a healthy and vibrant university community to speak of, and that students found themselves a part of, then incidents would be either so minimal or settled fairly, that there arguably wouldn’t be a need for groups like FIRE.

Kevin D. Williamson on ‘More Spending for Less Output’ in Public Education

Kevin D. Williamson joins Andy Nash for the second episode of Inside Academia. Mr. Williamson is a deputy managing editor at National Review, author of its Exchequer blog on debts and deficits, a theater critic for The New Criterion, an adjunct professor at The King’s College in New York City, and author of the just-released book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism.

Key Take-Aways

  • 2:21 — System doesn’t work, horribly ineffective, expensive, unaccountable (1min)
  • 3:35 — The public system fails the underprivileged (:30)
  • 4:55 — Wealthier school districts can get away with more waste (1 min)
  • 7:43 — Spending more per pupil, but getting worse results (:30)
  • 9:34 — A Model of Education (1 min)
  • 11:40 — “The problem w/ higher ed is not so much socialism as it is corruption.” (2 min)

Andy’s Show Notes

“The problem with higher education is not so much socialism as it is corruption.” That was Kevin Williamson’s response when asked about colleges and universities doing all they can to limit costs of educating undergraduates, while simultaneously raising tuition and receiving greater public funding.

In his new book, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism,” Williamson devotes a chapter to American primary and secondary public education.  In it, he highlights how the costs of education are driven up by everything from teacher and administrative salaries, non-instructional costs that range from generous benefits to faculty pensions, and smaller classes that require more instructors and facilities.  Teachers’ unions have successfully touted the virtues of smaller class sizes and lobbied for requirements that faculty earn advanced degrees (with corresponding salary increases), all in the name of providing better education.

Although these outcomes obviously enrich the unions and membership, Williamson cites studies that show no appreciable benefit or increased performance by students (given the costs). For example, no real increase to the quality of instruction in a class of 40 as opposed to 20, nor due to the degree held by the teacher.  Although he concedes some affluent public schools perform better than others, there still remains no competition, and no incentive to succeed for fear of failure.

“More spending for less output–that’s a good definition of socialist economic outcomes.”

In ironic contrast to primary and secondary ed, higher education has largely behaved in the opposite manner, particularly at taxpayer-supported public institutions.  With the focus shifting to research in most major universities, class sizes have grown and more non-professors, adjuncts, teachers’ assistants and grad students have been utilized to teach undergrads–none of which has necessarily increased the quality of education either.

Williamson clarified the difference of a state-owned operation (socialist) versus a state-supported operation (more akin to that of a welfare state).  He questions the need for state-run education at any level, and argues that in universities where there is very little competition and a lot of collusion, they offer very little service at a very high rate.  He concludes that by making the BA the main credentialing mechanism universities have in effect created a hostage situation if you want to (supposedly) have any kind of decent middle class life.  He therefore calls it “an ugly system.”

All of this, while true and important to address, fails to even scratch the surface of deeper and equally relevant considerations – that students’ relationships to their alma maters, and their very development as enlightened human beings, can and should be pursued beyond a simple consumer/supplier paradigm.  Unfortunately, systemic failure at this basic level obstructs our view of the bigger picture.

Marty Nemko on the Bachelor’s Degree as America’s ‘Most Overrated Product’

Dr. Marty Nemko joins Andy Nash for the inaugural episode of Inside Academia. Dr. Nemko, adviser, career counselor, talk radio show host, and prolific blogger, talks about his controversial article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “America’s Most Overrated Product: The Bachelor’s Degree.”

Key Take-Aways

  • 0:35 – Why college is not a good idea for everyone (2 mins)
  • 3:14 – Why tuition skyrockets (2 mins)
  • 5:10 – Liberal arts (made relevant) as central to a life well-lived (1 min)
  • 8:27 – Who is best suited to teach a college student? (3 mins)
  • 11:35 -  Toward “college report cards” and mandated transparency (2 mins)
  • 13:23 – Tuition increases due to lack of public support? “It’s a lie.” (1 min)

Andy’s Show Notes

“They Lie” was Marty Nemko’s response when we asked him in our recent interview about Universities citing lack of sufficient public support as the cause for raising tuition. Among the most powerful lobbies in America, he explained they’ve managed to lobby for great increases in federal aid. And every time they are successful in lobbying for more financial aid, students are then able to get more money which allows the institutions to raise tuition.

“They are a business, higher ed must be a viewed as a business. Like any other business, what they are all about is making more money to do what they want to do, which in the case of Universities primarily is to expand their bureaucracies and/or to do more research – 99% of which is of very very little value. And most times universities know up front–and the funders know–it’s going to be of very little value,” said Marty.

If you ask most people, it may initially seem counter-intuitive to expect that increased public sector support fuels tuition increases rather than keeps them in check. But that assumes that the universities are judiciously and wisely spending their finite resources on the education and needs of the tuition-paying undergraduates –education of a quality presumably commensurate with the costs.

Tuition, going into universities’ General Funds budgets, partly covers everything from administrative overhead on research, mortgages on building expansions (often for research facilities), to the maintenance, upkeep and new hires for such facilities. And as Marty explained, much of that research is arcane and abstruse.

College tuition has been going up in the last several decades far above the rate of inflation. The government has ensured and expanded financial aid, partly in the form of loans, to allow more students to attend; and colleges have successfully lobbied to make student loans non-dischargeable in courts of bankruptcy. However, the value of the education that students are paying for, and for what many are going into considerable debt for, Marty argues is a “bad deal for everbody in terms of value received for the money and time involved”.

Listen to Marty explain how and why today’s University education and research have lost their value,
how they are of little meaningful use to students, and why research, and an oversupply of students thanks to public support, water down education while simultaneously driving up its cost.