Category Archives: Uncategorized

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The Growth in College Costs Is Slowing, Particularly for Poorer Families

In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, President Mitch Daniels of Purdue University said, “For decades college tuition has outpaced inflation, forcing students to increase their borrowing.” While this sort of hyperbole is rampant in the media, it’s disconcerting, to say the least, coming from a college president. Daniels claims “tuition has outpaced inflation” for decades. What tuition? Is it tuition at public or private colleges? Is it published tuition or net tuition? And what ab…

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Save the Academic Conference. It’s How Our Work Blossoms.

It’s fun to mock academic conferences. They are quite mockable, because academics are nerds. At our best, because we all know that we are nerds, we work hard but don’t take ourselves or our rituals too seriously.

And yet I was concerned when Christy Wampole, an assistant professor of French and Italian at Princeton, asked, in a widely shared essay in The New York Times, “What is the purpose of the conference?” Her purpose was to call for better behavior, promoting a manifesto of best practices (…

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How Sweet Briar Can Save Itself

Whether the “Saving Sweet Briar” campaign succeeds in bringing the college back from the brink of closure, the announcement last month of its imminent demise is still a harbinger of tough times ahead for other private liberal-arts colleges. In a conflict between closing with dignity and fighting with every last breath and dollar, how Sweet Briar College prevails or fails will be instructive for all small colleges, single-gender and coed.

As one aligned with fighting to the end (and as a former p…

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The ‘Story Behind the Story’: Making Lit Matter

In one of the first courses I took as an undergraduate, the English professor walked into class one morning invoking the name of Faulkner as if it were a sacred incantation: “Today, ladies and gentleman, we are going to read Faulkner.”  We students shivered at the sublimity of the name.  Since this trick seemed to work with his students, I figured I, now some 20 years later and new professor in my own right, would try the same trick with mine: “Today, ladies and gentleman, we are going to read—F…

The Silencing of Harvard’s Professors

Today Harvard faces a serious governance problem that requires institutional change. When we first came here, the university was organized on the constitutional principle: “Each tub on its own bottom.” This meant first of all that each of the component schools (arts and sciences, medical school, law school, and so on) had not only a high degree of budgetary independence but also that its faculty and dean had a large measure of autonomy. And at the level of the schools such administrators as ther…

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The Chilling Effect of Mandatory Reporting of Sexual Assault

Imagine that you are a college freshman who has summoned the courage to seek advice from a trusted professor. But when you review the course syllabus you find a warning, in bold type, that your professor is required to report the content of any conversation that might indicate the occurrence of sexual violence, or any kind of gender discrimination, on campus. This is precisely what could happen at a growing number of college campuses. Moreover, in most cases, the institution reserves the right t…

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Don’t Divide Teaching and Research

We excel, in the research university, at preparing our students to do world-class research — everywhere except the classrooms in which they teach. From the beginning we insist that Ph.D. applicants explain their research plans. When they arrive we put them through their paces in methodology classes, carefully taking apart their ideas of what they want to accomplish and introducing them to the hard work of gathering data, performing analyses, testing and retesting hypotheses, and exploring all …

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The Lonely Shame of Student Debt

The phone rings. I answer. Credit-card collector—again. A pleasant voice on the other end of the line: “Can you please verify the last four digits of your Social Security number?” I verify. The voice then asks me if I consent to letting them use my phone number to contact me about my credit-card debt. I say no, I do not consent. “Well, how would you like us to contact you to give you updates about your account?” You can send the updates in the mail, I tell the voice. “Very well, plea…

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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 …

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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…