It's the holidays, college and university students are mostly back at home, and here's a thought. There's a great movie out about Abraham Lincoln, and with no classes to interfere, they ought to go to it and learn some American history. — Many students, you may not realize, don't know beans about their own country's past. Back some years ago, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni commissioned a study of how much seniors at 55 elite universities knew about fundamental, high school-level historical matters, and guess what. A startling 81 percent got either a "D" or an "F" on a test.
This year, the group commissioned another study, this one of college graduates, and found just a sliver knew James Madison was the father of the Constitution or George Washington the victorious general at Yorktown. Only 17 percent could identify the source of the phrase "government of the people, by the people and for the people."
The issue is not one of student stupidity, but of institutional neglect. The council has conducted another study showing you can get out of most institutions of higher learning without taking the kinds of courses that turn on the lights for you as a human being and a citizen, giving you a broad understanding of this world. By the reckoning of the council, schools ought to be requiring courses in U.S. history or government, science, math, literature, economics a foreign language and composition, and most are sloppy about it.
Only 2 percent of 1,070 surveyed schools get an "A" for mandating study in at least six of these knowledge areas, and I am proud to say I have taught at one of them, Colorado Christian University. By contrast, one university that received a "D" is supposedly one of the best in America, a place that is unbelievably tough to get into and proffers a degree that opens career doors hither, yon and in between. I mean Harvard, whose failings are the subject of "Privilege," a splendidly written 2005 book by Ross Gregory Douthat.
Douthat, a conservative columnist at the ultra-liberal New York Times, says being a student at Harvard is more nearly about success than learning, even though, yes, there are lots of brilliant people around, including professors who inflate your grades even as too few offer up terrific classes. One problem is that there's no guidance about what to take, and the choices available in core curriculum subject areas can be leaps and bounds from anything central and substantive.
All of which brings us to the "Lincoln" movie. Let's first get the criticism out of the way, namely that there are some false moments lessening instead of focusing the drama. But the movie as a whole is an intense experience of a great man pulling off the great accomplishment of winning a House of Representatives vote furthering the 13th Amendment that ended slavery in the United States. I am a fan of Lincoln and books about him and found the depiction of him incredibly convincing, as did some historians who have also commented that the movie is basically sound in its wondrously moving portrayal of events.
The short of it is that someone could go to this movie and learn more about a crucial episode in American history than during a four-year stay at one of hundreds of colleges, including the fact that Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was the source of the phrase about government of, by and for all of us. They would not have to spend a ton on tuition, either, or end up owing enough to the federal government's ultra-inflationary student loan program to be in debt for years.
Our universities need reform, serious, tuition-reducing, curriculum-improving reform that also sees professors putting teaching above publishing as the way to keep from perishing. Here and there are hints of steps in hopeful directions, such as Texas and Florida developing online degree programs costing a total of $10,000. Minus some experiments that work, the hurt will be grievous to a whole slew of people, and to something else as well: our American future.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is now a columnist living in Colorado and a Centennial Institute Fellow.
At the conclusion of the Washington Week trip I am left physically exhausted though intellectually and civically energized! Led by Professor Schaller, Dr. Krannawitter, and Dean Saxby, students visited think tanks, memorials, monuments, historical battlefields, renowned authors, museums, both chambers of Congress, the Becket Fund, and other influential D.C. individuals. We learned about foreign policy, education, our founding, the civil war and the ideas that led to the conflict, political persuasion, and many more issues facing our generation. [More]
(CCU Faculty) Thursday upon arriving on the CU Boulder campus, where I moonlight from CCU history professor job, I had a hard time finding a parking place to teach my 3pm Western Civilization class. Earlier that day I had received several emails from some of my Boulder students telling me that they would be missing class due to an event in the quad. What that was, I now learned.
On my way to class I passed through the quad and saw several thousand students (as well as many homeless folks and others who didn’t seem to belong there). They were all in small circles of four to five people, and every circle was passing around marijuana cigarettes. I almost felt high myself as I tried to make it across the quad to my class. Half the class never showed up; they were enjoying the activity out on the lawn.
My lecture that day was Calvinism, Puritanism and the Protestant Ethic, how these values made America great, but that we were now unfortunately losing them here in America. How appropriate! As I spoke of living a responsible and sober life, studying hard to be a success, becoming an upstanding member of the community, and of one day becoming a good spouse and parent, my students automatically juxtaposed the activities outside our classroom where the other half of the class was spending their time. I told them that I felt I was preaching to the choir, but promised them all extra credit for their faithful attendance, choosing to learn about responsibility, instead of blowing smoke in the quad.
Friday, 25 March 2011 11:46 by Admin
Equity, accessibility, broader choice, and educational advantage would have been the four benefits realized for low-income college students if Colorado Senate Democrats had followed the lead of House Republicans in supporting House Bill 1168 this week.
So argued a young Centennial Institute staffer on Wednesday before the Senate State Affairs Committee, which killed the bill a few minutes later on a 3-2 party line vote. Karthik Venkatraj, interning with Centennial as part of his John Jay Fellowship, brought to the hearing his personal experience on tuition policy in Texas. Our previous report on HB-1168 is here. An education-news website covered the issue here. Following is Venkatraj’s prepared testimony:
My name is Karthik Venkatraj and I am currently a post graduate fellow at the John Jay Institute based out of Colorado Springs. I recently graduated and commissioned from Texas A&M University and served within the Pentagon on a two month assignment before being assigned to Fort Carson as an Army National Guard officer.
Last year, I was appointed from Texas A&M University to serve as the student representative to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board under Governor Rick Perry. Working on higher education within the state of Texas, it became clear how important it is to promote choice within higher education in order to foster competition as well as growth within the private sector. Such a strategy has been crucial in keeping tuition and fees low compared to states of similar sizes and advancing goals within Texas’ strategic Closing the Gaps campaign. In particular, the Tuition Equalization Grant or TEG, provides needs based grants to Texas residents to attend private intuitions within the state of Texas. Such legislation has greatly expanded opportunity for students, especially for low income students.
Similar to TEG, this bill exemplifies four key principles that are integral within education policy. The first key principle is equity and the fairness within. The passage of this bill would send a clear signal to students that if you have done hard work and made right choices, we’re going to give you the opportunity pursue an education of your choosing. The second key principle of this bill is accessibility, particularly for those who would be precluded from attending a school of their choice for fiscal reasons. A third key principle of this legislation is freedom of choice for Coloradans, which involves illustrating to students that one won’t be penalized for choosing a private over public institution. A final and critical principle is that this bill serves the greater public interest for Colorado in creating a better educated populace and greater specialization therein
This legislation is not vested in any particular partisan ideology but embodies values and principles that inform our nation. It is the values of a free and just society predicated on equity and meritocracy. My parents came to our nation to pursue the American Dream and it is my fear that this dream is slipping away within the context of unprecedented difficult economic times. Within that context, this bill is rated at zero fiscal impact, so we wouldn’t take one penny more from our taxpayers. In fact, the legislation would take less than $6 away from a public student stipend recipient according to the Colorado Legislative Council Staff Fiscal Note. But this minute amount of fiscal impact has far reaching and powerful implications vested within the ability of younger folks to pursue their own dreams. It’s exemplified in the narrative of a young man who senses a calling to be a Pastor and minister to kids in inner city Denver. It’s in the narrative of a young woman who desires to be the next Condoleeza Rice and pursue her studies at the University of Denver like her hero. This bill exemplifies what we hold dear as Americans and what we seek to offer for future generations.
Sen. Nancy Spence (R-Centennial), the bill sponsor, listens Karthik Venkatraj testifies on HB-1168
Some of the Colorado tax dollars that support higher education follow the student to whatever college he or she chooses to attend, instead of being directed by politicians. That’s good.
But the formula for allocating those College Opportunity Fund dollars (known as the COF stipend) is politically stacked to favor government-run colleges over independent colleges – and that’s not good.
It works this way:
Suppose the Smith twins, Bob and Barb, graduated last year from East High. Because Bob chose CU, a government-run college, he got an $1860 boost from the state toward this year’s tuition, via the COF stipend.
But Barb’s COF stipend was only worth $930, half of what her brother got, because she chose DU, an independently-run college.
How was that fair? It wasn’t. How did it serve the public interest? It didn’t. Shouldn’t there be a law equalizing educational opportunities for all students who receive the COF stipend? There should.
To establish fairness and serve the public interest, and the Colorado House of Representatives is now considering just such a law.
House Bill 1168 calls for the stipend to be equal in value for every Bob or Barb who gets a Colorado diploma, demonstrates financial need, and enrolls at a participating Colorado campus, whether public or private.
The bill is rated at zero fiscal impact, meaning it will not spend a single additional dollar of taxpayer money in these tough budgetary times. It simply cuts up the existing COF pie into pieces of exactly the same size for all the students who get a stipend.
HB-1168 was approved by the House Education Committee on Feb. 28 with a bipartisan 8-5 majority. It won preliminary approval by the full House on March 11, and faces a final vote in the House the week of March 14.
The bill faces tough hurdles in passing a Democrat-run state Senate and then obtaining Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature to become law. But if enough Coloradans signal their support to legislators in both parties and both houses, it could happen.
In my opinion, HB-1168 is fundamentally fair in treating all students equally, fiscally responsible in holding spending level, and educationally smart in encouraging a wider diversity of college choices for the sons and daughters of Colorado. What’s your opinion?
Whether you agree or disagree with me, now is the time to make your views known to state representatives and state senators via email, phone, or seeing them in person one day soon.
A directory of contact information for all 100 Colorado legislators is here. House & Senate Emails & Phone
A fact sheet with more details on House Bill 1168 is here.
An economist’s memo on fiscal benefits to the state from equalizing COF stipends is here.
(CCU Faculty) In 2004 I taught Western Civilization and U.S. Foreign Policy as a Fulbright Scholar in Eastern Europe. My primary duties were at the largest state university in Belarus, as well as at their Institute of International Relations. While there I was contacted by George Soros’ Invisible College. It is one of several Invisible Colleges in European capitals, each funded by the Soros Foundation. It allowed students from both the State University and the Institute of International Relations to take courses and transfer them back to their other schools. Several of my students at the other institutions were at the Invisible College and one of them likely recommended me to them. I had the feeling that the students at the Invisible College were there by special invitation, being groomed for a particular purpose in the field of International Relations.
I was asked to repeat a presentation, which I had given at one of the other colleges, on how Globalization could bring prosperity to their country. My primary metaphor was that the stones in the wall which had divided East from West during the Cold War could be used instead to build bridges between East and West. That this country, which stood at the crossroads between East and West, could benefit by being a center of trade between Russia and the West. I encouraged the students to be more international in their scope and find some way in which they could help raise the standard of living in their country. It was received well by the Invisible College, and I was invited to return.
I was not assigned a topic for my second presentation, but when I suggested the foreign policy of George W. Bush they were interested. Apparently, I agreed with them on the importance of economic globalization, but I was soon to discover that we disagreed on the Global War on Terror. In that second presentation the following week I stressed the importance of America’s role in both Afghanistan and Iraq, that the world needed a police force, and that neither the U.N. nor the E.U. were up to the task. Since tyranny should not be tolerated, and there should be no safe haven for terrorism, America had to remain strong and vigilant in order to insure global peace and stability. At the end of my presentation I was ushered quickly out the door and was never invited back.
Over the past few years I have often reflected on my visits to the Invisible College. At the time I only knew Soros as a wealthy and successful currency trader, but wondered why he was so interested in spending so much of his fortune training young people for the new global economy. I have now become convinced that he has a broad reaching agenda for the world, and that he is training a cadre of young scholars for a specific purpose. What that purpose is, I am not quite sure. That is why I had resisted publishing anything on the topic. However, Glenn Beck has recently focused on George Soros, and has his own ideas on what Soros wants. All I can do is add my own experience to the public discussion.
Thursday, 28 October 2010 06:53 by Admin
The battle to prevent another power grab by the Obama administration, this time in relation to private colleges and universities, entered a new phase this morning when regulations mandating political oversight of such institutions were finalized by federal bureaucrats in disregard of a three-month national protest effort led in part by CCU President Bill Armstrong. Armstrong released the following statement just before noon Thursday:
Defying expectations, and a tidal wave of criticism, the US Department of Education today announced its “final” rules regarding higher education. Until yesterday, Washington insiders were saying the rulemaking would be delayed for 60 or 90 days, but the outcome is online today – an 894 page document – and will be in the Federal Register tomorrow.
According to a report from the Chronicle of Higher Education, the rules published today contain 82 changes from the original proposal, including “concessions” to colleges and universities, adopted in response to adverse congressional and public comment. Schools will be able to continue using their own definition of “credit hour” when awarding academic credit and “religious and tribal institutions” will be exempted from state oversight requirements. Whether these “concessions” are substantive or just window dressing remains to be seen.
The religious exemption could be of tremendous significance to Colorado Christian University and other faith-based schools. But it’s too soon to “declare victory” because, as always, “the devil is in the details.” It will take a while to sift through this massive document and understand exactly what has happened. However, one thing is sure – more control over students, faculty, staff and the nation’s colleges and universities. What a pity!
Fortunately, the rule is “final” in name only. Congress retains power to overturn the Department’s action, if it wishes to do so. In recent weeks, I have spoken to three members of the Senate Committee which has jurisdiction over the Department of Education, along with Senate and House staffers. They’re as upset as we are about what’s going on. Hopefully, the next session of Congress will be able to “get the genie back in the bottle.”
(CCU Faculty) In a political race that’s been too much under the radar, CU Board of Regents member Steve Bosley is running for statewide re-election, challenged by CU law school prof, Melissa Hart. This race will shape the board that governs the University of Colorado, and the main subject of political dispute is, well, politics, and whether it has any place in higher education.
[Editor: This article first appeared in the Denver Post, Oct. 20 online edition.]
Hart seems to want it both ways: She insists that politics be kept out of education, yet she brings to the CU regents a kind of self-serving politics—she’s employed by the public institution she wants to govern—that betrays the public trust.
In a recent radio interview, Hart suggested that Bosley and other regents should focus “not on politics,” while congratulating herself for being “less tied to politics.” But to suggest that politics should or even can be removed from education is silly. The choice “we the people” make to offer public university education for our children is a profoundly political choice. It’s a choice regarding the character of our future citizens, that we want them educated, not ignorant.
Trying to take politics out of education—maybe limiting courses to science and math?—is itself a political decision to leave future citizens ignorant of their country and the principles of political self-government. Politics always informs education. The question is what kind of politics: the politics of freedom required by citizens of a limited, constitutional government? Or some other politics?
The story of two men familiar with politics and higher education might be of benefit to candidate Hart. Thomas Jefferson and his longtime friend James Madison believed that founding the University of Virginia was among the most important things either had done (it’s one of only three accomplishments Jefferson wanted inscribed on the obelisk above his grave). They both agreed that within the University, the most important part offered instruction in law and politics, subjects befitting the best citizens.
While debating which texts would constitute the norma docendi for the UV law faculty, Jefferson wanted to include the Declaration of Independence, which he identified as “the fundamental act of Union,” and The Federalist Papers as the authoritative explanation of the U.S. Constitution and “its genuine meaning.”
Madison agreed, but, he advised his old friend, “the most effectual safeguard against heretical intrusions into the school of politics will be an able and orthodox professor.” The meaning of any text can be perverted. More important are professors who are “able” and “orthodox,” who understand and are excellent teachers of the self-evident truths of the Declaration and the “genuine meaning” of the Constitution.
Fast forward to today. Recently the CU regents adopted new “guiding principles” that call for “political diversity” to be included among the typical college campus diversities of skin colors, sexual orientations, etc. But Hart dissents from the idea of political diversity at CU. Diversity is fine, apparently, so long as it’s monolithically leftist politically. But if political diversity troubles Hart’s liberal heart, what might she think of Madison’s criteria for university faculty appointments? What was orthodoxy for Madison must be heresy for Hart.
While Hart rejects the sound political education advanced by Jefferson and Madison and gently welcomed by Bosley and other CU regents, she’s not apolitical. Rather, hers is a brand of self-serving politics that no politician openly supports, at least not since the days of divine-right kings. She wants to sit in judgment of her own case: Hart wants to serve as a CU regent while employed as a CU law prof!
How might she rule on possible salary reductions or class size increases? How will she handle a conflict with the CU President, who works at the pleasure of the Board of Regents, but who is a boss in part for the faculty? How could she claim even a hint of objectivity regarding such issues?
Clearly Hart is reluctant to disturb the dominant left-wing politics at CU, yet perhaps some credit is due her. Her self-serving politics of Hartism certainly differs from the Marxism, feminism, multiculturalism, deconstructionism, and relativism that typically dominate the politics of higher education. Diversity, indeed.
A story in today's Denver Post about the vigilant yet balanced regulatory monitoring of Westwood College by both federal and state authorities perfectly illustrates the point made by Krista Kafer's recent policy brief and Bill Armstrong's nationally-noted opinion commentary: There is already plenty of government oversight for institutions of higher education as far consumer protection goes.
No purpose for the latter goal would be served by the pending federal mandate for intrusive state-by-state "authorization" of all colleges and universities, due to take effect Nov. 1.
Ostensible justifications aside, the new rule's actual purpose would appear to be nothing more than aggrandizement of government power at the expense of private, voluntary accrediting agencies that are working just fine, thank you.
And if the expanded power were then used to enforce political correctness and other liberal agendas on campuses across the country (with faith-based schools like CCU having the most to lose), who could be surprised?
(Scripps Howard Syndicate, Sept. 23) There’s an old saying that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but that’s too simple and wise for the Obama administration, which is readying bureaucratic tools for massive work on the nation’s private, non-profit colleges and universities.
And what’s wrong with them? Nothing. Certainly nothing that requires this abomination the Education Department has in mind, a long-winded, frequently unclear new set of regulations that would intensify and increase oversight by states, in some cases conceivably overriding a long-established, thorough, fair, respected and effective accrediting process by non-governmental agencies.
The possible consequences are enormous, including a frightening assault on academic freedom as crucial decisions are transferred from faculty and administrators to bureaucrats and legislative bosses who just might use weapons of mass authority to demolish instruction of a kind they don’t like.
The excuse meanwhile is small potatoes. Some for-profit schools are accused of taking federal aid money from students in exchange for teaching them nothing much. That’s obviously bad to the extent it’s true, but the schools are few in number compared to the thousands of private, non-profit institutions that would be affected by a revised scheme of things, and there are remedies far short of federal intrusiveness. States can crack down on violations of law and cheated students can lodge civil suits.
You suppose any of this Education Department folderol scares anybody? You bet it does. Look at an Internet piece by Inside Higher Ed and you find the president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation worrying that the proposal “fundamentally undermines the role of accreditation” and that the suggested rules “call for states to intrude into academic areas.” Then there’s the American Council for Education, which has expressed concern about compliance costs, ambiguities and the invitation for political shenanigans. Look, too, at Colorado Christian University, with which I have an uncompensated association.
In a policy brief for the school’s Centennial Institute, Krista Kafer has treated the threats in scholarly detail, and the university’s president, former U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong, has written about his concerns in pieces I have turned to as well for my own understanding. I asked him if he feared the university could be especially at risk under the new rules, seeing as how it does not bow to some of the leftist orthodoxies preached at so many other schools. His answer was yes.
What strikes me (and Armstrong, too) is that the move is more of the same. The Obama administration does not much trust liberty. If something out there sneezes, regulate it. Surround it with endless pages of rules, blankets and blankets of rules, enough rules to smother the slightest hope of autonomy. Do more if necessary. Take over things. Take over health care. Take over the auto industry. Take over financial institutions. Government knows all. Government should do all. Government, we praise thee!
Something especially precious is at stake here. As Kafer has written, independent colleges and universities have created “a space for learning, exploration and debate that reaches far beyond students and the campus itself,” performing a role that along with the activities of various other organizations provides “the foundation upon which rests the nation’s marketplace of ideas.”
The Education Department’s own public explanation of what it’s up to makes it sound oh-so reasonable, just a way of protecting public money and consumers, and maybe the worst possibilities would never occur, at least if we get precise, corrective language where vagueness and power urges now reign supreme.
But why even take a chance in a process moving toward conclusion in November? Why not scotch the whole pernicious, pointless exercise or at least that part of it calling for state overreach? And if the bureaucrats won’t humbly retreat, admitting they just might otherwise break what’s now unbroken, maybe Congress will step in. Please.