Why We Need an Open Curriculum

A few weeks ago, a student came to say goodbye. She brought along a younger friend, recently offered admission to my university, who was trying to decide whether to come to Brown or go to Duke. Given all that Duke could offer, the friend wondered, “Why come to Brown?”

We didn’t talk much about majors, or alumni networks, or the social atmospherics of the campus. Instead, we talked about curricula.

Duke’s general-education requirement “encourages breadth and depth, and balances structure with…


War, With Popcorn

hotchkiss photo

Israelis look for outgoing rocket fire in Sderot, Israel. (Andrew Burton, Getty Images)

Over the past week, some of the most widely circulated photos from the Middle East have not been of corpses or leveled buildings, but of Israeli civilians gathering to watch the bombardment of Gaza outside of Sderot, a city in the western Negev that has itself repeatedly been targeted by rockets since 2001. The Danish reporter Nikolaj Krak described the scene as “something that most closely resembles the fr…


Affirmative-Action Ruling Could Be Pyrrhic Victory for UT-Austin

On Tuesday, in the latest ruling in the long-running case of Fisher v. University of Texas, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the ability of the University of Texas at Austin to use race in admissions. The decision was understandably celebrated by proponents of affirmative action. But the victory in this battle may, paradoxically, tee up a major loss in the larger war.

The ruling came in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the case, a 7-to-1 opinion. In…

Wanted: A Future for Philosophy

How goes it with the institution of philosophy? Consider the situation of “Jeremy,” a Ph.D. student in the graduate program at the University of North Texas. As a second-year student, he has a teaching fellowship. This means that in addition to taking nine credit hours of graduate coursework, he teaches two sections of “Contemporary Moral Issues” each semester. Each section has 45 students. Jeremy is responsible for the entirety of the class, just as any professor would be.

In 2014, for teaching…


It Takes a Campus to Stop Assaults

Sen. Claire McCaskill’s investigations into the state of sexual-assault policies on the nation’s college campuses have revealed a system badly in need of reform. Many of us who work in this area have been arguing as much for decades—and we welcome the increased political attention to this topic that has been catalyzed, in part, by the courageous activism of sexual-assault survivors.

While reform is needed at multiple levels, I would like to provide some recent historical perspective and context …


Lessons Learned From the Facebook Study

By now, anyone who is remotely interested knows that the Facebook data-science team, in collaboration with some researchers at Cornell University, recently published a paper reporting “experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks.” If you’ve heard about this study, you probably also know that many people are upset about it. Even the journal that published it, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has issued an “editorial expression of concern


Facebook Is Good for Science

Over the past two weeks, an important debate has taken place about the ethics of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by researchers at Facebook Data Science and Cornell University. In the study, researchers manipulated some parameters in news feeds to evaluate how the changes influenced readers’ moods as defined by their subsequent posts. While it is easy to get lost in the weeds of this debate, the controversy has raised significant questions about the role o…


Milton, Locke, and Net Neutrality

To gain some perspective on the debate about Internet neutrality, we would do well to consult John Milton and John Locke. The Federal Communications Commission is considering the creation of a fast broadband lane that would permit companies like Netflix to purchase more-rapid delivery from Internet-service providers like Verizon. The defenders of net neutrality oppose that proposal and invoke ideals expressed in manifestoes such as the “Digital Declaration of Independence”: “We hold this t…


All Knowledge Starts Somewhere in Faith

It is bracing to have my institution—Wheaton College—held up in the pages of The Chronicle as the embodiment of “The Great Accreditation Farce,” the headline on Peter Conn’s essay. Conn suggests that Wheaton and other religious colleges are “intellectually compromised institutions” that betray the intellectual standards that should mark accredited institutions of higher education. Colleges like ours, he argues, “systematically undermine the most fundamental purposes of higher education,”…

The New Misogyny

When Elliot Rodger set out to kill what he described as “hot” sorority women, his actions set off a nationwide discussion about sexism. That Rodger had posted a YouTube video and an extensive manifesto stating his murderous intentions, and that he had frequented an online message board called PUAHate, where users employed extremely misogynistic language to rail against “pick-up artists,” focused attention on the possible role new media might play in facilitating sexist violence.

Feminists have a…