JP’s Comment of the Day actually was sent in today, and so, despite the injustice of allowing him to jump in line (for there still are Comments of the Day from the Holiday Challenge of two days ago awaiting their honors), I’ve decided that this one should be published in close proximity to its target, which was #1 in today’s Warm-up, about Frank Bruni’s column, “Higher Ed’s Low Moment, in the Times today. You should read Bruni’s column first to be fair to fine JP’s work, which is in the form of an open letter.
Here is JP’s epic Comment of the Day on the post,Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/31/2017: The Too Many Year Ending Ethics Issues To Handle In One Day Edition:
Dear Mr. Bruni,
Thank you for that colorful article you posted in the NYT. As a college graduate from two universities (almost three), I can appreciate what you said regarding higher learning and its importance on the future of Americans (and in general the world). You see, I agree there is a lot that college has to teach us. Higher education should be focused, involve critical thinking, and provide much-needed life skills that are just not acquired at the at the high school level. While these could have been excellent points when defending the role of colleges and universities, you chose to skip right over them altogether. Instead, you chose to write about how people are wrong to not trust the system with not so subtle attacks on Trump, the Republicans, and the recent tax law.
I will give you some credit. You were able to point out some reasons why some of that trust is not there. You wrote, “I also hear more college presidents talking with more concern about their campuses’ images as enclaves of a distinctly illiberal liberalism. Especially ugly episodes this year at Middlebury College and The Evergreen State College fed that impression and, I think, increased many presidents’ resolve to do something about it.”
You also pay due attention to the much-noted lack of political diversity on campuses. However, it is clear from your article you believe these examples to be trivial based on your piece’s lack of focus, language used, and quick transitions.
With that in mind, let me ask you a question, Mr. Bruni:
Have you been hiding under a rock these last 10 years, or are you just so hidden in your elitist tower you can’t see Rome burning around you?
There are many good reasons that the public doesn’t trust college campus anymore. Follow me a little bit as I explore reasons.
Just this past year alone we have witnessed a number of statements made by the professionals whose job it is to shape the minds of these students. These are the people who direct them, but with statements like the following, it is a wonder we haven’t had more students following the actual advice made by them (perhaps I don’t give these students enough credit on their critical thinking skills).
- One professor at Montclair State University wished someone would shoot President Trump outright. He was later let go.
- Another professor at Austin Community College said it was ok with him if Betsy DeVos was sexually assaulted. He later quit.
- A University of Tampa Professor said Hurricane Harvey was “Instant Karma” for Texas because it was a red state. Nevermind that Houston, the heaviest area affected voted Democrat (moral luck) during the previous election, this professor had to get his two cents in. He was fired as well.
- A Drexel professor said the shooting in Vegas this past year is what happens when white people don’t get what they want. His last day is officially today.
What is notable here is 70% of the staff tried to get his full reinstatement. This is somewhat bewildering because the professor is no stranger to racist tweets. writing last Christmas that the white genocide during the Haitian Revolution was a good thing. But of course if you here him, this was just a joke.
There are many more; this last is just icing on the cake: A professor at California State University tweeted that Trump must be hanged. He later tweeted that “Justice = The execution of two Republicans for each deported immigrant.” This isn’t even retribution theology, it is just advocating for murder. He will be teaching again in the spring.
People go to college for the purpose of preparing them for a particular field that will be useful to the job market. It is hard to find college useful when you have classes like the following:
- “Arguing with Judge Judy: Popular ‘Logic’ on TV Judge Shows”: Ever felt like the plaintiffs on TV judge shows have some pretty questionable logic? This class addresses that subject directly, allowing students to pull apart courtroom excuses just like Judge Judy. [UC Berkeley]
- “The Adultery Novel In and Out of Russia”: Who doesn’t love a good tale of adultery? This class asks students to consider it as a literary theme, however racy or immoral it may be. [U Penn]
- “The Vampire in Literature and Cinema”: The growing popularity of vampires in popular media should make many students out there pretty jealous they can’t take this class focusing on the infamous bloodsuckers. [U of Wisconsin]
- “Invented Languages”: Klingon and Beyond”: You don’t have to be a sci-fi nerd to appreciate the subject matter in this course at the U of Texas focusing on the reasons, rules and social realities of created languages. [U of Texas, Austin]
- “Elvish, the language of ‘Lord of the Rings’”: This course was taught by the world’s foremost expert on this language, who was even a consultant to the makers of the films. While not practical, it certainly speaks to super fans of the series. [U of Wisconsin]
These were just the first five listed on a website of the 100 Hilarious college campuses courses that really exist. Here is a skill I learned in high school: provide your source:
Here I have two sections. The aggressors and the victims.
I. The victims. There are a whole groups of people out there which solo purpose is to protect the rights of students on campus. Most notable is Thefire.org which boasts (which is sad) that they won victories affecting more than 1 million students in 2017 alone. Understandably that isn’t a million cases, but only the ones the had time and resources to get involved in. Imagine the millions more who are still affected or suffering. Colleges have set up kangaroo courts where the defendant is presumed guilty until proven innocent, especially if that person is white, male, and cisgendered (You can thank Obama’s Department of Education for that “Dear Colleague” letter).
II. The aggressors. Groups like Antifa and BLM have been a constant disruption to the educational process (See your own sources) where speakers have been threatened (pretty much any Berkeley conservative event), administrators have resigned (see Mizzou) and normal citizens who did nothing but follow the rules but were attacked as racist (see Oberlin College and Gibson’s Bakery).
Mr. Bruni, I know you’re a smart guy. Logically, colleges have to be more helpful than not. Four extra years of education should produce a better quality student for the work force or life in general. Perhaps you missed this article written last June for the WSJ.
Feel free to read it, but let me highlight the important points for you:
- Freshmen and seniors at about 200 colleges across the U.S. take a little-known test every year to measure how much better they get at learning to think. The results are discouraging.
At more than half of schools, at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table, The Wall Street Journal found after reviewing the latest results from dozens of public colleges and universities that gave the exam between 2013 and 2016 that…at some of the most prestigious flagship universities, test results indicate the average graduate shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years. . . .
- Some academic experts, education researchers and employers say the Journal’s findings are a sign of the failure of America’s higher-education system to arm graduates with analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in a fast-changing, increasingly global job market. In addition, rising tuition, student debt and loan defaults are putting colleges and universities under pressure to prove their value.
What is really interesting about that study you cite by the Pew Research center, is that this is almost a bi-partisan perception. While it is true that only 33% of Republicans have confidence in college, only 56% of Democrats (in a system that heavily favors them) do as well. According to the numbers 43% of Democrats have some/very little confidence. While this is not the majority, it is quite close to being so. At its rate of growth, this is quickly becoming a bipartisan issue. But hey, I get it! You had to get your shots in at those evil Republicans as well.
Let me give you a little bit of advice that I learned after turning in my first paper in college. If you have something to say (and you do) then say it. Cut the crap that doesn’t matter, stick to the facts, and use good research to back it up. After all, only 11% Republicans, 34 % Democrats, and 15% Independents trust national news organizations.
Your article is a good reason why.
A Guy Who is Loosing Faith in Colleges.
20 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/31/2017: The Too Many Year Ending Ethics Issues To Handle In One Day Edition””
Boy, that vampire course sounds like fun—Buffy, Angel, “Fright Night.”
In my college, the most derided course and the only one I took that I was made to feel guilty about was John Kenneth Galbraith’s course about “The New Industrial State.”
Now I don’t feel so bad. Thanks, JP…
I don’t see how the existence of such courses is good evidence that college isn’t useful. You can’t graduate on those courses alone, they do include a certain level of actual academic content in order to justify their existence, and they’re fun.
It speaks to a certain cheapening of the education, though. There are extra-curricular activities for fun: at the price of college tuition, such courses inflate costs pointlessly and dilute the educational process and content. If even one such course takes the place of a substantive course, that’s a less well-educated graduate, no?
That much depends somewhat on your field and where it fits in the departments. As a 300 or 400 level English course, it certianly could be useful for potential critics, editors, publishers, and writers/film makers. At least no less useful than a class like “Religion and the Reniassance” might be for history majors– not strictly necessairy, depending on your focus, but in theory it promotes critical thinking about a specific motif that’s been very influential in those fields for a long time.
Any course on anything can promote critical thinking, and any course, no matter how serious the topic, can be worthless. I don’t think it is much in doubt, however, that there are better uses for courses than studying Klingon, no matter what one’s chosen field might be.
I’m not entirely sure. I don’t know the development of Klingon well enough to comment on that one. I do know that Tolkein was a respected linguist, and that for linguists there are probably a lot of jumping off points for examination in Elvish, just as there are for English majors in the discussion of vampire literature as both a classic and enduring theme. Same with adultry.
I’m not doubting there are stupid classes out there, but it is worth keeping in mind that what sounds frivolous in one dicipline can be a useful thing to teach where it’s relevant, especially in arts and humanities to students who are fovused on those areas. “The History of Micky Mouse” might sound like a dumb class — unless you’re a graphic designer, in which case it’s an in depth study of one of the most significant and successful graphic designs in history.
I do know the song.
“I do know that Tolkein was a respected linguist, and that for linguists there are probably a lot of jumping off points for examination in Elvish,”
Studying invented languages like Klingon or Elvish are probably useful hypotheticals or thought experiments INSIDE the framework of a more practical class, but as a stand alone topic?
I’m not certain.
That being said:
Tolkien invented several languages, the most developed of which was Elvish…full grammars, lexicons, rules of inflection, development through ages much like our languages do.
Names the key enemy stronghold Mount Doom…
‘Amon Amarth’ -Gondor (Common speech)
‘Orodruin’ -Sindarin elvish
‘Schicksalsberg’ -German (just cuz I like how it sounds)
What seems to be lost is the opportunity costs of delivering some of these courses. Every course requires a classroom for 3 hours per week. Fun courses with limited academic rigor precludes offering sections of required content that invariably leads students to not graduating in four years, or sitting in lecture halls of 200-300 students taught by a TA. Many students directly or indirectly wind up taking many more courses than needed because of the inability to access all required courses in a 4 year program.
If the average tuition books and fees at a public 4 year university is $5,000 per 12 credits then student aid/debt rises by that amount.
These courses should be treated as continuing ed offerings or like cosmetic medical procedures by which the cost is borne by the student and paid at the time of registration.
I agree with Jack here. There is nothing wrong with the classes themselves. Personally, I think they are a waste of time, but given that electives themselves are a waste of time, there is no point in making your GPA suffer. What is the problem here is perception and these classes only degrade that perception.
“electives themselves are a waste of time”
I think we need to differentiate programmatic electives such as international economics for an econ major and underwater basketweaving.
The problem I have with some electives is that grading is often subjective such that there is no objective criteria or researched body of knowledge whose transference to the student can be measured. As a result, grade inflation is more rampant. Then when we compare academic achievement between students, one who took more rigorous disciplinary electives and one who took an equivalent number of “easy A” classes for electives we have a distorted concept of merit when GPA is used as a decision making marker.
Haha, you’re welcome. I went to a small college and the electives I took were archery (which I dropped once my military credits transferred) and piano. I was often jealous of my friend who took a class on James Bond.
I already sent my check to FIRE. I hope many on this blog will do likewise.
Actually I kind of like a class on vampire novels with the proviso that every one has to read Bram Stroker’s *Dracula* before they read any Stephen King novels.
“Loosing”, is that the opposite of “tighting”?
Eh, mistakes happen. Jack fixed a lot more than that. Either way, I appreciate the correction.
Thank you Jack for allowing me to skip the line and the honors. I wanted to write about this subject for a while now. I want to give Mrs. Q props for the snarkiness of the style and you for the drive to meet the COTD weekend.