Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/31/2017: The Too Many Year Ending Ethics Issues To Handle In One Day Edition

Happy New Year!

1 Arrgh! In an op-ed called “Higher Ed’s Low Moment, Farnk Bruni bemoans the fact that colleges “found themselves on the defensive.” Citing the Pew Center’s findings that I discussed here, he writes of declining opinions about the value of college,

“That’s not so surprising, given Americans’ intensifying resentment of anything that smacks of elitism and given Republicans’ attacks on science and intellectuals. As Ron Daniels, the president of Johns Hopkins University, recently told me, “Even if we were completely unblemished in the way in which we pursued our mission, it would be hard to imagine that in Trump’s America, we wouldn’t be targets for scorn.”

Incredible. (Or, as my late, schizophrenic cousin Trefon would say, “Umba!“, as in “Umbelieveable!” I always found that funny, and I would love to see his slang word enter the popular lexicon. Trefon was a great kid who had a short, empty life, and ended it by jumping off an overpass into an oncoming truck. It would be nice if he left some enduring contribution to the culture, even if it was a silly one.) No, the reason so many Americans no longer think college is a wonderful thing is that they can see and hear. Students aren’t being educated. Graduates have minimal knowledge of history, literature, government and culture. They can’t write, and they can’t argue. Their professors get on social media and issue things that would destroy trust in any institution that employed them.

The campuses are increasingly hostile to free speech, free thought, democracy, capitalism and the United States of America. None of these factors penetrate Bruni’s biases and conventional wisdom. He keeps repeating the mantra that caused me to resign from an education board many years ago: ” a college degree is one of the surest harbingers of higher earnings and better economic security.” That’s how college has been regarded as a reflex for a century now, and the policies that followed that starting point–a degree,  means jobs and money—have created the sick system in which students who are not qualified to attend college are accepted anyway, and tuition has soared to obscene level., all while the actual content of the curriculum and teaching have become an afterthought. It’s the diploma that matters!

No, it’s the education. Bruni says, ” [T]he continued competitiveness of the American economy depends on the skills of our work force, the intellectual nimbleness of our citizens, the boldness of our scientific research and the genius of our inventions. Our colleges and universities are central to that.”  If getting as many people diplomas as possible is the mission, however, seeking “intellectual nimbleness” is obviously an afterthought.

This emperor has no clothes, and hasn’t had for a long time. The disturbing development isn’t that so many conservatives have finally realized that the golden ideal of an American college education no longer comports with reality. It is that so many opinion makers and policy makers hold on to that ideal when it is so evidently false. If college degrees don’t prove that  graduates have core knowledge, writing and critical thinking skills, then they are  just high-priced tickets to be incompetent.

And they don’t.

2. That’s how we get this...Gina Bellafante writes for the Times News Service:

Economic mobility will remain a pipe dream until we improve the city’s public college graduation rate. This month, a report from the Center for an Urban Future, a nonpartisan policy group, pointed out that while New York City’s high school graduation rate reached an all-time high of 76 percent in 2016, graduation rates at the city’s public two- and four-year colleges — where poor, immigrant students have remade themselves for decades — remain alarmingly low. Among community-college students in the City University of New York system, only 22 percent who enter associate degree programs finish in three years; among students at four-year schools, about 55 percent finish within six years.

Well, colleges just have to make it easier to graduate, right? The problem is really in that “good” stat: more kids are graduating from high school. More kids are graduating because policy makers kept saying that high school diplomas were essential to getting a job. Now they (and columnists like Bellafante) are saying that college degrees are essential to jobs, so the response will be the same. Lax standards. Easy grading. Near automatic graduation. Worthless degrees. Defrauded graduates. Dumber and dumber Americans.

I will never forget the look on the face of an intern I had at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a college junior, when I told her that a memo she had prepared for me was pathetic—virtually illiterate. “But I’m a good writer!” she protested. “I got an A in my composition course. I got all A’s in English in high school!”

“You’ve been lied to, and I’m sorry,” I told her. “You can’t write at all, and I would never hire you, because I don’t have the time to teach you, and I shouldn’t have to.”

She’s a lawyer now, by the way.

Think about that.

3. Protests? What protests? The mainstream news media is finally beginning to cover the protests in Iran.  As I noted yesterday, Trump and his State Department were lightening quick to show support for the protesters and their cause, in stark contrast to how President Obama handled the violent street protests in Iran his first year in office. ABC, CBS and CNN all began by either ignoring these protests or downplaying their importance.

In Tablet, Lee Smith makes a powerful case that mainstream media biases and progressive agendas, as well as the realities of reporting in Iran, make fair and competent coverage impossible, writing,

The short answer is that the American media is incapable of covering the story, because its resources and available story-lines for Iran reporting and expertise were shaped by two powerful official forces—the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Obama White House. Without government minders providing them with story-lines and experts, American reporters are simply lost—and it shows.

It nearly goes without saying that only regime-friendly Western journalists are allowed to report from Iran, which is an authoritarian police state that routinely tortures and murders its political foes. The arrest and nearly two-year detention of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian drove this point home to American newsrooms and editors who might not have been paying attention. The fact that Rezaian was not an entirely hostile voice who showed “the human side” of the country only made the regime’s message more terrifying and effective: We can find you guilty of anything at any time, so watch your step.

The Post has understandably been reluctant to send someone back to Iran. But that’s hardly an excuse for virtually ignoring a story that threatens to turn the past eight years of conventional wisdom about Iran on its head. If the people who donned pink pussy hats to resist Donald Trump are one of the year’s big stories, surely people who are shot dead in the streets in Iran for resisting an actual murderous theocracy might also be deserving of a shout-out for their bravery….

Networks like like CNN and MSNBC which have gambled their remaining resources and prestige on a #Resist business model are in even deeper trouble. Providing media therapy for a relatively large audience apparently keen to waste hours staring at a white truck obscuring the country club where Donald Trump is playing golf is their entire business model—a Hail Mary pass from a business that had nearly been eaten alive by Facebook and Google. First down! So it doesn’t matter how many dumb Trump-Russia stories the networks, or the Washington Post, or the New Yorker get wrong, as long as viewership and subscriptions are up—right?

The problem, of course, is that the places that have obsessively run those stories for the past year aren’t really news outfits—not anymore. They are in the aromatherapy business. And the karmic sooth-sayers and yogic flyers and mid-level political operators they employ as “experts” and “reporters” simply aren’t capable of covering actual news stories, because that is not part of their skill-set.

The current media landscape was shaped by years of an Obama administration that made the nuclear deal its second-term priority. Talking points on Iran were fed to reporters by the White House—and those who veered outside government-approved lines could expect to be cut off by the administration’s ace press handlers…

So the New York Times writes this as an op-ed, still endorsing Obama’s studied indifference after President Trump tweeted (and Iran shut down access to the internet in protesting regions),

Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching!

The Times:

“One reason to worry that Mr. Trump may try to seize the moment by championing the protesters is that it has become an article of faith among President Barack Obama’s critics than in 2009 he missed a golden opportunity to do just that, when many Iranians took to the streets after a disputed election result. But it was never clear what difference American rhetorical support would have made then, other than allowing the Iranian government to depict the protesters as American lackeys, giving the security services more of a pretext to crack down violently.”

We do know that Obama’s way did not lead to successful reforms or the weakening of the current rogue regime , don’t we? Doesn’t that suggest that another approach might be wise, and have more promise? Isn’t the United States supposed to be the champion of freedom and the foe of oppression and dictatorship?







20 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/31/2017: The Too Many Year Ending Ethics Issues To Handle In One Day Edition

  1. Isn’t it plausible that the current unrest in Iran is viewed in the Kremlin as an opportunity for more Russia-friendly powers to gain (or seize) dominance?

    I mean, don’t ALL roads lead to RUSSIA and TRUMP?

    • ”don’t ALL roads lead to RUSSIA and TRUMP?”

      RUSSIA and TRUMP are mere on ramps to THE thoroughfare that rules our collective being: the Global Warming that’s here and worse than the models predicted.

      On the subject of weather/climate…

      …were you aware that “cold weather was raaaaaaaaaacist?

      The talented Damon Young believes so.

      Bearing in mind that many a truth is spoken in jest:

      “How exactly is cold weather racist, you ask? Where is my proof? Well, first, fuck you for asking me to provide proof of racism.”

  2. “Among community-college students in the City University of New York system, only 22 percent who enter associate degree programs finish in three years;”

    This made me roll my eyes. I attended two community colleges, and my mother used to teach at them. Even back in the late 90s everyone knew you didn’t graduate from a community college in two or three years; many of the students are part time and go to school between jobs and family obligations. The idea that you can take one or two night classes a week and eventually earn a degree is one of the selling points and many colleges are structured for these people, so that it can be difficult to take a full course load as a typical student.

    So yes, even if you think a college degree is a good thing, this isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Most of that remaining 78% of students don’t have time to be attenting college at all.

    • I certainly didn’t get MY Associate’s in two years. I think sometimes young people may be better off anyway as part-time students, working to support themselves, rather than treating college as merely an extension of high school.

  3. a college degree is one of the surest harbingers of higher earnings and better economic security.

    I find this to be terribly disingenuous, a perfect example of the statistical distortions occasioned by poor binning. In one bin, we gather the electricians, pipefitters, and other skilled trades, along with the high school dropouts who went to prison. In the other bin, we gather the Pop Culture and Gender Studies majors with the doctors, lawyers, engineers, and registered nurses. It paints an unjustifiable flattering image of myriad low-demand degrees while downplaying the economic value of trade apprenticeships.

  4. 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 images to 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 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 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.

    The teachers.
    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 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 has him, this was just a joke.

    Though 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 stated 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.

    This says nothing about the classes that exist themselves. 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.

    The students:
    Here I have two sections. The agressors in the victims.

    The victims. There is a whole groups of people out there which solo purpose is to protect the rights of students on campus. Most notablely is which boost (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 that were involved. Imagine the millions more who are still affected or suffering. Colleges have set up kangroo 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).

    The agressors. Groups like Antifa and BLM have been a constant destruption to the educational process (See your own sources) where speakers have been threatened (pretty much any Berkerly conservative event), administerators have resigned (see Mizzou) and normal citizens who did nothing but follow the rules are not racist (see Oberlin College and Gibson’s Bakery).

    Mr. Bruni, since I know you’re a smart guy. Logically, college’s 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 artice written last June by 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. …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 your that article you cite by the Pew Research center, is this is almost a bi-partisan perception. While it is true 33% of Republicans only 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 it’s 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 got something to say (and you do) then say it. Cut the crap that doesn’t matter, stick to the facts, and use good reseach 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.

    • GREAT post, JP.

      However, as a proud alumnus (Class of ’79) of the University of Wisconsin (GO BADGERS!!), I come to find that I ought now feel academically cheated.

      ”The Vampire in Literature and Cinema” and ”Elvish,” and Lord only knows how many others, were unconscionably unavailable during my matriculation.

      I feel unfulfilled, short-shrifted, & victimized; you know, rode hard and put away wet.

      Kinda like Derek Lutz (Robert Downey, Jr. in “Back to School”): ”I got the Latin and the Sanskrit… but then they canceled my Ancient Greek. Just blew my whole dead languages motif.”

      Anywho, the Alumni Association (their generous annual contribution hanging in the balance) will be expected to determine the extent of professional impairment this has caused; whatever number they offer will require another zero. I wonder if they’re trying to ride the coattails of their Polar Opposite:

  5. Jack, This isn’t absolutely the best fit with the subjects of your post, but I thought it something you (and others) might find interesting (trust me, it’s worth a read…or don’t, ), and it does touch on certain aspects of your comments. It’s an opinion piece from The Daily Beast, of all places, and, in part, presents challenges to what some might considered the conventional wisdom regarding “educated, productive” blue states and their citizens, vs their “benighted, dependent” red counterparts.

  6. It’s been a couple of decades since I got my degrees, so things have undoubtedly changed, but compared to what I experienced, this whole debate on the value of college is like a bizarre fictional world. That’s probably because my degrees were in Computer Science, and I got them at an engineering school.

    During the orientation process, they stressed that while we had earned good grades in high school, so did everyone else in our classes, so the classes would be a lot harder than we were used to. It must have been at least somewhat true, because all the heavy drinking and hard partying students were on academic probation by the second semester and either calmed down or gone by the start of sophomore year.

    I can’t recall any protests on campus while I was there. We were all a bit too busy. It’s hard to find time to march for a cause when you’ve got a big engineering project that’s due in two weeks. Classes were expensive, engineering is hard, and we all wanted to graduate so we could get good jobs (possibly in the defense industry). Science and engineering education is essentially a form vocational training. The graduates are expected to be able to produce results, and therefore so are the instructors and their departments. (Which is not to say there weren’t problems.) I doubt this has changed much in the intervening years.

    I’m not saying this to put down non-STEM degrees. It’s just that (as DaveL alludes to in his comment) there are different paths through higher education, and there’s a whole academic world out there where the problems you’re talking about are mostly the subject of legends. They may not learn the Great Books canon, or be well-rounded in history, philosophy, and literature, but neither do they have to care about conforming to their professor’s political beliefs.

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