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In Praise of ‘Paper Space’

In the old school, a professor graded a student’s paper or essay test in what I call paper-space. That is, the student wrote and printed out an embodied object containing his work, complete (the professor hoped) with page numbers, staple, and a title page on which the student should have, at minimum, spelled the professor’s name correctly—something I cannot assume.

This is how many of us were initiated into the fine art of grading: Thoughts were inscribed in paper-space, and we responded in pape…

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Cheated of a ‘Real Carolina Education’

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently released the findings of a detailed investigation into “irregular” classes run through the African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department.

For those, like me, who proudly call themselves Tar Heels, the investigation provided plenty of disappointments: Students received credit for courses that never met and papers filled with unoriginal text. Support staff connected to university athletics—evidently aware that certain AFAM classes ha…

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UNC-Chapel Hill Should Lose Accreditation

The revelations from the report on the academic-fraud scandal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have been startling: More than 3,000 students over a period of 18 years were awarded grades and credit for nonexistent courses.

But much of what has been said and written to date about the extraordinary failures in ethics and oversight seems to miss both the seriousness of the misbehavior and the extent to which it strikes at the core of any college or university.

This is not chiefly …

Welcome to the Big-Time College-Sports Sausage Factory

At midafternoon on Wednesday, on a day that had dawned crisp and clear, with fall clearly in the air, Carol L. Folt, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spoke to the press. Her comments seemed to personify a sense of resignation at the release of the long-anticipated Wainstein Report, which found that the department of African and Afro-American studies had created no-show classes to help athletes remain eligible to play: “I think it’s very clear that this is an aca…

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The Satiric Lesson of ‘Dear White People’

WhitePeopleRarely is a white audience afforded a lucid and freewheeling response to the deluge of indignities blacks still endure. Instead, reaction to the barrage of stereotypes embodied in many Tyler Perry films, the one-dimensional depiction of blacks in news or reality television, or whites’ insulting appropriation and commodification of a hard-earned black urban culture, is seldom considered.

Now Dear White People, appropriately set on an elite and predominantly white university campus, delivers a tim…

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Reclaiming History for the Future

A specter is haunting our time: the specter of the short term. We live in a moment of accelerating crisis that is characterized by a shortage of long-term thinking. Rising sea levels and other threats to our environment; mounting inequality; rotting infrastructure. Our culture lacks a long-term perspective.

Where can we turn for deep knowledge?

To history—the discipline and its subject matter.

Putting long-termism into practice is hard. When we peer into the future, instead of facts, we routinel…

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Why I Don’t Want Guns in My Classroom

Every morning as I head to my office at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, I have to drive past two armored military vehicles aimed in my direction: an M60 tank and an M42 Duster anti-aircraft gun. The vehicles are on display in front of the National Guard Armory, which happens to sit beside my academic building, and the campus and the armory share an access road. While the armored vehicles may be an appropriate symbol for the armory, they create an unfortunate and unwelcoming entrance to camp…

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Silicon Valley’s Empathy Problem

Facebook is no stranger to controversy, but last month the company found itself in a public scrap with its fiercest opponents yet. The cause? Facebook’s decision to delete the accounts of several San Francisco drag queens, enforcing a longstanding policy that users go by their real names on the site.

Here in San Francisco, the activist queens known as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence reacted with anger and disbelief. As queens like Sister Roma rightly pointed out, alternative names are a mean…

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A Prophet of Higher Ed’s Financial Woes

Earl Cheit got it right.

His 1971 book, The New Depression in Higher Education, relied on good data to deliver the bad news that many American colleges were in financial trouble. The message was disconcerting, because most colleges had had a decade of full enrollments and major construction, combined with generous support from donors and state legislatures, and abundant federal grants for research. If there were problems in higher education, most news coverage focused on student protests.

Cheit …

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A Good, Dumb Way to Learn From Libraries

Too bad we can’t put to work the delicious usage data gathered by libraries.

Research libraries may not know as much as click-obsessed Amazon does about how people interact with their books. What they do know, however, reflects the behavior of a community of scholars, and it’s unpolluted by commercial imperatives.

But privacy concerns have forestalled making library usage data available to application developers outside the library staff, and often even within. And the data are the definition of…