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Tentative and Incomplete

The Education Department’s “framework” for its college-ratings plan is surprisingly tentative, filled with verbs like “exploring” and “considering.” It can be seen as a smart move: Kick the ratings can down the road, telegraph what might be coming, get more stakeholder involvement, and so on. But it can also be seen as an OMG moment: After so much effort, so many meetings, and so much chatter, there remain far too many questions unanswered and far too many ratings criteria ill-defined.

The depar…

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Why We Need a Federal Ratings System

The plan just released for rating colleges and universities is a concept that higher education should welcome as a first step toward developing more-comprehensive ways to measure colleges’ value. The U.S. Department of Education’s Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS), a continuation of the existing College Scorecard, will be complex for many reasons, including the diversity of our higher-education institutions and our well-documented limitations on data. But we should start by con…

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Federal Ratings System Is a Lose-Lose Proposition

In the time-honored tradition of students’ slipping papers under professors’ doors before dashing home at winter break, the U.S. Department of Education released its first draft of the proposed college-ratings framework on the last day of the fall semester. Like many a late paper, the proposed ratings framework offers interesting insights into the student’s struggle to learn without much illumination of the actual problem the paper purports to solve.

The department’s hypothesis is that Americans…

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Use Civil Law to Adjudicate Campus Sexual-Assault Cases

There is no debate that more can and should be done to stop and redress sexual assaults and harassment on college campuses. What is debatable are the best methods for achieving those goals. A particularly thorny problem is how best to adjudicate sexual-assault cases involving students.

For a number of reasons, students are reluctant to file criminal complaints for rape or sexual assault, and district attorneys rarely proceed with prosecutions. Consequently, survivors continue to suffer, and thei…

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Academic Freedom and Repellent Speech

What are professors allowed to say? Where are we are allowed to say it?

Last week Deborah O’Connor, a senior lecturer at Florida State University, was pushed to resign after making racist and homophobic comments on a public Facebook page. She said some pretty horrible things, like blaming Europe’s troubles on “rodent Muslims.” She also told a well-known gay hairstylist to “Take your Northern fagoot [sic] elitism and shove it up your ass. ”

I am revolted by her remarks. However, I spent quite a l…

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Our Collective Apathy About Gang Rape

As soon as the Rolling Stone account of a gang rape at the University of Virgina was published, doubts about its veracity began to circulate. The  columnist Jonah Goldberg, for example, found it implausible that seven fraternity “pledges” would commit such a violent rape. Shortly thereafter, Rolling Stone apologized for its story, citing discrepancies, and The Washington Post continues to report new errors.

It’s true that rape victims’ statements almost always contain inconsistencies because…

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Reliving Newtown in a College Classroom

The only three-hour afternoon lecture that has ever held my attention was in this semester’s course on ethics in journalism, taught by Mark Bowden. The globe-trotting author told us colorful stories about the writing of his book Black Hawk Down, investigating the killing of the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, and bringing to light American interrogation practices during the war on terror.

We wrestled with the ethical issues surrounding graphic images, like the ISIS beheading videos, and debat…

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What’s Lost, and Maybe Gained, in the Collapse of ‘The New Republic’

The disaster at The New Republic should concern all who love the arts and humanities, or who aspire to share scholarship with a general public. The abrupt resignations last week of the editors Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier roiled the world of journalism. More than 20 of the magazine’s contributing editors also resigned, including the academics Alan Taylor, Helen Vendler, Sean Wilentz, Anthony Grafton, and John McWhorter.

Journalists aren’t tenured. Editors come and editors go, but the publ…

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Will and Grace

Thanksgiving week, news outlets worldwide trumpeted the discovery of a previously unknown copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio (the first collected edition of his works, published in 1623). Lacking its title page and other prefatory matter, the book had been incorrectly cataloged in the public library of a small French town near Calais. Once the book’s identity was confirmed, Rémy Cordonnier, the delighted librarian in Saint-Omer, was reported as saying: “It was very emotional to realize we …

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The Muddled Future of Mid-Major Athletics

While media attention is overwhelmingly focused on big-time intercollegiate athletics, a crisis is developing for most of the 351 Division I institutions that cannot afford to play at that level.

From the perspective of the cable networks, Division I is a world of gigantic stadiums and basketball arenas, with coaches’ salaries and egos to match. For most Division I members, however, the realities in that world look very different, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association has just taken…