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Ranking Colleges by “Economic Diversity”

In an effort to show which colleges are reaching out to low-income students, U.S. News & World Report has published “economic diversity” rankings of American colleges and universities. That sounds ambitious, but the rankings are based solely on the percentage of students at each institution who receive federal Pell grants, which mostly go to applicants from families with incomes under $20,000 a year. The magazine concedes that the percentage of Pells “isn’t perfect” as a measure of commitment to enrolling low-income students, but says many experts consider it the best available gauge.

Highest in the rankings is an institution most American have likely never heard of—the University of La Verne, La Verne, California, with 89 percent of students on Pell grants. Many colleges at the top of these rankings, unsurprisingly, are non-selective institutions, many of which explicitly cater to low-income students. Among the highest-ranking high-prestige colleges and universities are UCLA (35 percent) and the University of California, Berkeley (32 percent). The most selective institutions tend to cluster low in the rankings, at 10 percent (Yale, Princeton, Duke, Tufts, Northwestern) or below (Notre Dame, William and Mary, Virginia, Washington University in St Louis).

The rankings respond to complaints that U.S. News focuses too tightly on rich private universities, as well as to complaints that race and gender preferences ought to be converted into class-based ones that help the children of the poor regardless of race or gender. Pell-based rankings are simple, easy to compile and demonstrate U.S. News’ social concern. But are they helpful? Not yet. It isn’t useful to know a college’s percentage of Pell students (the figure at the University of Texas—El Paso is 53 percent) unless you also know the likelihood that those students will succeed (small in the case of UTEP, which has a graduation rate of 7 percent after six years).

An Anti-Israel Campus Conference?

Every now and then an American university sponsors a conference on Israel and Palestine that appears to be an open and fair-minded event, but turns out to be a one-sided anti-Israel rally. Wesleyan University, for example, sponsored one such conference in 2004, with much anti-Semitic commentary and some printed material covered in swastikas.

The Toronto Globe & Mail reported today that a government minister has been called on to resign for challenging the public funding of an Israel-Palestine conference in Toronto last June sponsored by York and Queens Universities. After a peer review approved the meeting, science minister Gary Goodyear called for a second review in response to Jewish complaints. The minister’s chief of staff warned the agency that funds social-science research that it could lose a chance to increase its federal funding if the conference went on. That comment was attacked by the Canadian Association of University Teachers as a violation of academic freedom. Jim Turk, head of the CAUT, called for the minister’s resignation.

Two Jewish groups saw the matter differently. “The conference devoted virtually no time to suggestions about a reinvigorated peace process and concentrated instead on Israel as a military machine determined to dominate the Palestinians,” said a statement by the UJA Federation and the Canada-Israel Committee. “There were no speakers who presented an Israeli centre-left or centre-right perspective… Speakers who defended Zionism were often jeered and hackled and virtually all of the publicly available material was anti-Israel.” If the conference was in effect a government-funded anti-Israel rally, an appeal based on the principle of academic freedom seems unusually lame.

Liberals for free speech at UNC

The script is almost always the same: a campus conservative group invites a speaker who opposes illegal immigration; angry leftist students denounce him as a white supremacist and shout him down, knocking over tables or breaking a window; the president or chancellor of the university promises to investigate, but no penalty descends on the censors.

At the Universty of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, however, where members of Students for a Democratic Society and some off-campus radicals disrupted a talk by former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo and tried to shout down a second speaker, the standard script went through re-write.

The chancellor of the university, Holden Thorp, did something right, apologizing to Tancredo and offering the conservative group, Youth for Western Civilization, $3000 for a replacement speaker. But then Thorp made a controversial decision about a response to an implied threat against the group and its faculty advisor. The students had chanted “Against racists we will fight, we know where you sleep at night.” An anonymous flier made a similar statement, listing the advisor’s address and telephone number and including his photo. The advisor, emeritus professor Elliot Cramer, said in an email, “I have a Colt .45 and I know how to use it.” Cramer maintained that this was an off-hand, light-hearted comment, but chancellor Thorp suspended him for incivility. This put YWC in jeopardy. It had 30 days to get a new adviser or it would have to disband.

Jay Schalin, who posted a long analysis of the story on the site of the John William Pope Center, wrote: “The focus should not be on the wise-cracking professor, but on the anonymous individuals who created the threatening flier. It would be hard to imagine that, if a collection of radical right-wing groups were conspiring to deny a liberal organization of its right to hold meetings and speak freely on campus by using violent and threatening means, that the official response would not be swift and severe.”

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, writing on his web site The Volokh Conspiracy, said: “Now it may well be that publishing a person’s home address is protected speech; I have so argued, and some courts agree, though there’s controversy about that. But surely publishing a group advisor’s home address—against a backdrop of criminal thuggery (albeit short of deadly violence) aimed at that group—is indeed potentially threatening. It seems to me that a professor, no less than anyone else, is entitled to respond by expressing a willingness to defend himself.” Such a professor, he said, should not be removed as an advisor on grounds of lack of “civility” as the chancellor did in this case.

Though the chancellor acted with the customary lameness of top college officials in free speech cases, there’s unusual good news here. The threatened advisor, Elliot Cramer, is no conservative, but an “old-fashioned liberal” and an ACLU member, who took the job because he thought WTC ‘s right to free speech should be protected. He said he will stay on as an unofficial advisor. Two new faculty members agreed to act as official advisors. They do not appear to be conservatives either, and the new president of WTC, senior chemistry major Nikhil Patel, announced, “I am not conservative by any measure.” Liberals and other free-speech advocates coming to the aid of campus conservatives is a rarity. College presidents and chancellors acting badly in these cases is not.

A toast to Pete Peterson

Pete is a very distinguished man. We all know that. But do you know that for years some mysterious factor has been shaping his choice of friends and activities?  Let’s learn more about this. Listen to this list of his friends: John Johnson, the publisher; Tommy Thompson, the former governor; Brian O’Brien, the actor; Jamie Jamieson, the renowned highland dancer; Willie Williams, the football star; Pat Patterson, the wrestler and Nick Nicholson, the Hall of Fame motorcyclist. In music, he reached out to Robbie Robertson of the Band, guitarist Steve Stevens, British bandleader Jack Jackson and singer Phil Phillips, who as you all know, warbled the famous hit, “Sea of Love.” Now why does Pete collect all these people, and what could they have in common? Try as he might, Pete couldn’t figure it out. He thought about it a lot while reading, usually Ford Maddox Ford, William Carlos Williams and biographies of Galileo Galilei and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Pete loves the Muppets, particularly Count von Count, the Dracula look-alike who handles math duties for Sesame Street. At a party, he met a fascinating woman who knew something about the Count and a lot about Sesame Street. They got along quite well despite the fact that the woman had three completely unrelated names—Joan, Ganz and Cooney–which Pete thought was so striking that she could truly be regarded as sexy.

As you probably know, hiking is one of Pete’s favorite activities, and one day on the Appalachian Trail, Pete met a man named “Sandy” Sanford. “Sandy” explained that he was not only governor of South Carolina, but also a secret diplomat. In fact, he was on a mission to Argentina so delicate that even his own wife couldn’t be told about it. Later Pete was crushed to learn that he had misheard the gubernatorial emissary. His name was Mark, so Pete immediately lost interest. Later he made a similar mistake, referring to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson as “Paulie Paulson,” thus confusing the Treasury Department with the Sopranos—two distinctly different, or maybe just somewhat different, organizations.

Well, eventually Pete grew so troubled by his obsessive collecting of double-named friends that he decided to consult a psychiatrist about it. So he went to see Erik Erikson. The famous shrink quickly diagnosed Pete as suffering from NRS, or Nomenclature Repetition Syndrome, which often afflicts people whose first names, for some unfathomable reason, are carved out of their last names. Erikson was candid. “I’m a sufferer myself, Pete,” he confided, “and I can tell you, it’s no picnic. But remember, it’s not your fault. And you can’t be so hard on yourself,” said Erikson, evoking the two most popular insights in the entire history of psychotherapy. “It’s actually your parents’ fault, “which as you all know, is the third most popular of all therapeutic observations. “I must urge you, Pete,” Erikson continued, “Control yourself or repetition could overwhelm you.  Let me say that again: repetition could overwhelm you! For instance, you might find yourself telling the same anecdotes over and over in your speeches. Or famous friends may jocularly accuse you of writing the same book every time out, changing only the title. The names of these friends aren’t important, but do you know anyone named Ted Sorenson or Les Gelb…….”

Suddenly, the scales fell from Pete’s eyes. NRS! So this was why he listened to Duran Duran, watched 20-20, argued about Sirhan Sirhan, hung out with Boutros Boutros-Ghali and vacationed in Walla Walla! Who knew? So Pete did what he had to do. He joined NRS Anonymous and resolved to reach out to more people whose first names weren’t cobbled out of their last names like Matty Mathews or Ziggy Zigurat. And he promised himself he would write a completely different book– personal, lively and winning, with deft touches of humor–and he would call it “The Education of an American Dreamer” (and not “The Dream of an American Dreamer,” his original title).Well, that’s what he did, and it’s the reason why we are all gathered here tonight and why we honor him. Pete, here’s to you.

White and Non-White Freshmen to Spend Time Together!

In the early 90s we noticed that Brown and Yale were conducting separate freshman orientations for non-white students. Since then this casual segregation of new students has spread widely and has come to be seen as normal. Typically minority students arrive a week early and are instructed on how to cope with a historically white institution before the whites appear. The theory seems to be that arriving minority students need special protection and a thorough race-based analysis of themselves and American culture before facing Caucasian classmates. By the time the whites show up, minority students have bonded with one another, thus reinforcing for yet another college class the identity politics and separatism so dominant on the campuses today.

Over the years, separate orientations have gradually come to be seen as analogous to separate water fountains. So the new trend is to blur the enforced segregation a bit. Mount Holyoke has just announced a new plan: a special orientation for whites. This fall whites and non-whites will have parallel orientation programs, meeting separately and “exploring their own racial identity and thinking about power and privilege,” said Elizabeth Braun, dean of student at Mount Holyoke, then coming together as an “inclusive” group discussing (white) power and privilege. Braun said the college will look for white freshmen “with an interest in anti-racism,” as if that were a hard -to-find hobby on an elite campus today. According to Inside Higher Ed, “she said she viewed this as a valuable alternative to eliminating special orientations for minority students.” This means that even on a relentlessly PC campus like Mount Holyoke, pressure is rising against segregating freshmen along racial lines. That’s a good sign. A better sign would be a move away from freshman race-and-gender indoctrination and just have a normal orientation.

Fuzzy Math in California Admissions

The nine-campus University of California system is reducing the number of freshman admissions because of the financial crisis. But “underrepresented groups”—non-Asian-American minorities—shouldn’t worry at all. Apparently all the cuts will come from white and Asian-American applicants. Down in the ninth paragraph of a 13-paragraph Associated Press story in the San Jose Mercury News, we learn this: “Admission offers to California residents increased 2 percent for African-Americans, 4 percent for Latinos and 21 percent for American Indians. Offers remained relatively unchanged for Asian-Americans and declined 6 percent for whites.”

In raw numbers, compared with fall of 2008, admission offers for this fall are +59 for Latinos, +71 for American Indians, +73 for Pacific Islanders, +290 for African-Americans – 241 for Asian-Americans and -1236 for whites. The category of “other” is – 220, and those who “declined to state” race or ethnicity, believed to be mostly whites who don’t want to play the racial game, is – 861. How can the system get away with these selective racial and ethnic cuts? Doesn’t California’s Proposition 209 make affirmative action in public college admissions illegal? Good questions.

Sometimes Juries Get it Wrong

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) took its customary bystander role in the Ward Churchill case, as it regularly does when academic integrity is the issue and the evidence of malfeasance is obvious. But among the many mealy-mouthed statements by AAUP president Cary Nelson, one was surely true: “Colorado knew what it was getting when they hired him.”

Nelson would not say so, but his statement can be translated as follows: if you hire, purely for diversity reasons, an unprepared, erratic, ideologue with no sense of fairness and no academic credentials except a b.a. in communications, you should not be surprised by what you get. Churchill’s main claim to a teaching post and tenure at the University of Colorado was a claim of Indian blood-–no evidence for that, though—with the claims of various fractions of such blood shifting from interview to interview.

A jury in Denver ruled yesterday that the university had fired Churchill for his political views, not for his hideous and embarrassing “scholarship.” It is surely true, as Churchill claimed, that the university finally began to investigate Churchill’s work after his 2001 denunciation of 9/11 victims as “little Eichmann’s” drew wide attention in speech four years later at Hamilton College in upstate New York. If the university had been only mildly alert to hoax-scholarship Churchill was churning out during his nearly three decades on the faculty, it would now not be saddled with the prospect of having to take an egregious falsifier and plagiarist back on campus.

Churchill has been investigated by several panels of academics. The findings were clear: he was guilty of repeated and intentional academic misconduct, including appropriating and distorting the work of others, and citing himself (under an assumed name) as an outside source supporting his work. Churchill has proven that he shouldn’t be teaching anywhere. He is a disgrace, but so is the university for letting the diversity ethic force him on campus.

Endowments Are Still Massive–-So Spend!

Many people think the colleges and universities are overreacting to the sharp drop in their endowments. Lynne Munson, former deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is one of these critics. In a letter (subscription only) to the Chronicle of Higher Education, she argues that higher ed endowments haven’t lost much value if you put the recent drop in context of the astonishing gains of the last few years.

She writes: “College and university endowments increased, on average, 17.2 percent in the 2007 fiscal year and 10.7 percent in 2006. Taking compounded gains into account, these funds went up more than 26 percent just in the two years preceding their recent decline. And endowment increases at wealthy schools soared far past those averages. Harvard and Yale Universities increased the size of their endowments 45 percent from 2005 to 2007.

“So how concerned should we be that higher-education endowments have suffered a dramatic loss? The answer is: not very. Today college and university endowments are basically worth what they were in 2005. In other words, they’re massive….Being concerned about the value of college and university endowments today is a little like worrying about whether Warren Buffett still has enough inheritance to share among his children.”

The real problem, Munson argues, is that colleges will cite their recent losses to justify cutting endowment spending. Before the market drop, the colleges had come under heavy pressure from Congress and the public to spend at least the minimum payout required of private foundations–five percent.

In a recent survey, 27 percent of colleges and universities said they would decrease endowment spending while only 1 percent planned an increase. Munson writes: “This is the absolute reverse of the reaction they should be having at a time when students and families need help — particularly since colleges still have plenty to share.”

Munson currently studies college and university endowments for the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.

How to Finesse a Student Occupation

What kind of mark does NYU deserve for its handling of its student occupation? Let’s give the university a “B-plus” or even an “A” for a performance marred only by a poor end game—immediately reinstating the suspended perpetrators of the sandbox revolution, thus letting them claim that they had won. (“We did it”, said the Take Back NYU web site. “You made our cry heard around the world and it worked!!”)

The University of Rochester deserves a “D-minus” for caving in last month to an SDS sit-in only nine hours after it started. The university did not yield to the occupiers’ major demand—divestment in Israel—but it promised economic and humanitarian aid, including scholarships for Gaza students. Universities and colleges would do well to plan ahead for more anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian occupations by the hard left. More than 20 student occupations have been mounted in Britain and sponsors want to inspire similar actions across the pond.

In preparing for such occupations, American administrations should take a look at a model response from the 1960s, possibly the only “A-plus” in the student occupatrion sweepstakes. It took place at the University of Chicago, drew little publicity at the time and is recalled by few today. The Chicago Maroon, the university newspaper, wrote recently that “awareness of this story is mostly limited to its eyewitnesses” and is “nearly absent from the collective memories passed down to each new generation of students.”

The central figure in the story is the late Edward Levi, president of the university, later to be the attorney general (under President Ford) who cleaned up the justice department after the Watergate mess. He faced a far more serious threat than NYU did last month. NYU had a handful of comic protesters, who explained that they wanted to “consense” (they meant form a consensus), screamed about brutality without being touched, and bitterly accused the employees who evicted them of drinking “corporate water.” Then there was the demand that NYU reconsider the lifting of its ban on selling Coca Cola. The administration disarmed protesters by offering food, even vegetarian options. It’s always hard to hate oppressors who care about the vegan menu. In contrast, the Chicago protesters were sophisticated and experienced. Some were members of Students for a Democratic Society and many went on to join the terrorist Weather Underground.

Levi had taken office at a tense time, only a few months after the upheaval at the 1968 Democratic national convention. On January 30th, more than 400 students took over the administration building, the third occupation of a campus building in four years. Vietnam and anger at “the system” were obvious issues. So was resentment that students played no role in university governance. But the excuse for the takeover was the sociology department’s decision not to rehire Marlene Dixon, an eccentric Marxist and radical feminist who had drawn attention by chanting “Work, study, get ahead, kill!” to students during Levi’s inaugural procession.

Despite heavy pressure to call in police, Levi refused to do so. No police meant no photos of abused students and therefore no dramatic storyline. “The whole thing builds to the police raid,” said classics professor James Redfield, decribing the ideal conditions for a successful student takeover. “That’s the big scene and when that doesn’t happen, they don’t quite know what to do.”

Levi refused to capitulate or negotiate. Students generally supported the administration. Faculty was split, and on the seventh day, Milton Friedman held a press conference vehemently opposing amnesty. Left alone for 16 days, the protesters grew weary and left the building. After the 1966 sit-in, a faculty body had recommended “appropriate disciplinary action, not excluding expulsion” if another takeover occurred. That’s what happened in 1969. Levi called 165 students in for hearings, suspended 81 and expelled 42. Students who convincingly expressed remorse got off the hook. In statements afterward, Levi talked about the integrity and civility of the university, its mission to pursue truth and the need to resist coercion. He said, “There are values to be maintained. We are not bought and sold and transformed by that kind of pressure.”

During the takeover, a bomb threat was called in and someone threw a typewriter during a confrontation among students. During an SDS-sponsored rally against the disciplinary committee, student kicked in the door of Levi’s house. But the tumult that burst forth on other campuses subsided at the University of Chicago. This success in Chicago in the 60s and NYU today should lead other colleges and universities to take note. The low key, no-police, no-negotiation strategy works.

NYU Is Safe Again

New York University students, or at least a few dozen of them, have just set several records for student occupations of a campus building: fewest occupiers, shortest occupation (3 days) , least support among the student body and longest list of demands. Surely the strange litany of demands had much to so with the adventure’s quick collapse. The protesters wanted public disclosure of NYU’s endowment and operating budget, a student on the university board of trustees collective bargaining for TAs and student workers, tuition kept at or below the rate of inflation, access to the library for the general public, and priority for student groups in building owned or leased by NYU. After his list, the demands got showier: 13 scholarships for Gaza students, extra NYU supplies sent to rebuild Gaza University, amnesty for all occupiers and—perhaps to guard against the possibility that the occupation would be taken seriously– a serious reconsideration of the lifting of the campus ban against Coca-Cola. Nothing about a longed-for reduction of salt in cafeteria French fries, however.

Noam Chomsky, clearly dodging the Coca-Cola issue, put out a statement supporting the protesters’ call for “universities to end their participation in the brutal oppression of Palestinians.” The New York Daily News published an editorial making fun of the occupiers as weeneies and wusses, and mocked their slogan, “Take Back the University.” Who took the university, the News asked. “Was it the Klingons?” Two NYU alumni set up a web site, “Fake Back NYU” explaining that the protesters may seem laughable, “largely because they speak a language of knee-jerk-faux-liberal-college-speak.” The Washington Square News said it had interviewed thirty NYU students and not one of them fully supported the list of demands. Maybe the occupiers, 18 of them now under suspension, just got their timing wrong. Takeovers and non-negotiable demands seem to work better in the spring and fall, when the weather is better.