Why Did UMass Ban Iranian Students From Some Graduate Programs?

After a week of outrage over their decision to ban Iranian students from certain graduate science programs, officials at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst backed down on Wednesday, stating that they had “always believed” the ban conflicted with their institutional values. In the future, the university announced, the admission of Iranians would be handled on a case-by-case basis, rather than simply being prohibited outright.

The reversal represented a triumph for those who had mobilized …


Journalism Curricula? Get Me Rewrite

A year ago, in February 2014, the metrics on journalism education were trending in worrisome directions. Enrollments were down at some of the most prestigious programs in the country for the second year in a row, and a Poynter Institute study revealed that journalism faculty members viewed their programs as far more central to the journalistic enterprise than their professional colleagues did. More troubling, almost 40 percent of educators themselves acknowledged that their programs were not kee…


We Can’t Judge Community Colleges’ Success by the Numbers

I am a community-college teacher jumping with joy at President Obama’s America’s College Promise proposal, which would undoubtedly send more students to community colleges. But I can’t help but ask: Doesn’t he know that, by federal accountability standards, we’re an abysmal failure?

As Eduardo Porter writes in The New York Times, “precious few of the students at community colleges are likely to complete their education.” He has some “bottom of the barrel” (his words) statistics to show i…


A Literary Scramble for Africa

Hiring: an annual ritual at the MLA. This year the Yale English department advertised a position in the 20th and 21st centuries. What we were really looking for, though, was something much more specific: Anglophone world literature. Already we had hired a senior Africanist, so Africa was not a high priority for us; we were looking for (and were sure we would be inundated with) work on South Asia and the Caribbean—the admittedly great but hardly eyebrow-raising trinity of Salman Rushdie, Derek …


Affirmative Action for the Advantaged at UT-Austin

The University of Texas at Austin’s president, William C. Powers Jr., has been seen by many academics during his term in office as a liberal icon. He consistently stood up against interference in university affairs by the conservative Texas governor, Rick Perry, who wanted to de-emphasize research. And Powers has been a staunch champion of affirmative-action programs, defending Texas’s use of race in admissions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at…


Why ‘Sniper’ Trumps ‘Selma’ as History and Drama

Ava DuVernay’s Selma and Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper have both been lavished with praise and award nominations. They are also the focus of intense historical and political controversy. Normally, I don’t believe movies should be judged by their historical accuracy. They are dramas, and occasionally, works of art. But any consideration of these two films can’t be divorced from the events they describe. And as historical interpretation and as drama, I think, Selma is terrible while American Sn…


How to Make Area Studies Relevant Again

Area studies in the United States has its roots in national interests. The National Defense Education Act of 1958 jump-started the teaching of less commonly taught languages, and the Department of Education’s Title VI framework references maintaining the “security, stability and economic vitality of the United States” as the central motivation for supporting area studies. The guiding belief behind these programs is that area studies yields practical knowledge that can be used to make better poli…


The Professor as Comedian

“But, no jokes.”

Thus said my first, otherwise excellent, class performance-evaluation sheet. Just starting my undergraduate teaching career at twentysomething, I had been more concerned about the mastery of the subject (accounting), the fulfillment of class objectives, the clear delivery, the professional deportment. Check. Students’ opinions had been positive too: Their professor was “knowledgeable,” “helpful,” and “concerned with their learning.” Check. Overall remark from my el…


Are Universities Serene Temples?

Their mottos might suggest to uninitiated visitors from abroad that Latin is still the lingua franca of our universities. Lux with its implication of enlightenment, along with truth (veritas), and knowledge (scientia) are among the favored terms, from Harvard’s veritas by way of Yale’s lux et veritas to Berkeley’s fiat lux and Michigan’s artes, scientia, veritas.

Probably no campus bristles with more Latin inscriptions than Princeton, even though its motto—Dei sub numine viget—promises that we…


Attending to Attendance

Sound pedagogy involves communication, not just of the ideas we teach, but also of the expectations we have and the demands we make. Especially with regard to policies that can incur a tension-filled backlash, a few minutes of explanation can help students approach our classes in the spirit in which we offer them.

One issue where “buy-in” can be particularly tricky is attendance. At large urban institutions like mine, where many students live off campus and cannot merely roll out of bed, don…