Category Archives: Uncategorized


They’re Colleges, Not the Minor Leagues

If colleges follow Bill Bowen’s advice and “untie the knot” between athletics and big-time commercial entertainment, they will also be untying, or at least loosening, the knot that binds colleges to the NFL, the NBA, and the WNBA. Today colleges have a near-monopoly on American students’ access to those leagues, a fact we are reminded of every autumn Sunday, when NFL starters introduce themselves on TV by calling out their college connections (including, of course, THE Ohio State University).



Good News for Low-Income Students

Opponents of affirmative action have leveled a new three-pronged attack on affirmative action in higher education that could significantly change admissions at selective universities and colleges for the better.

The Project on Fair Representation, which was behind the recent Supreme Court litigation in Fisher v. University of Texas, has launched websites soliciting white and Asian plaintiffs who believe they were discriminated against by racial-preference policies at three institutions: Harvard …


For the Persistent Ph.D. Impulse, Gentle Dissuasion

I teach in an M.A. program in history at a small liberal-arts college. We have a strong track record of placing our students in good doctoral programs. Because we do not offer a Ph.D., however, we are also free to be candid about why going on to a doctorate might not make much sense in financial and career terms.

Five years ago, we starting giving our students William Pannapacker’s essay “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go.” Some cohorts heard this earnest advice on as many as si…


Unsentimental Education

“So, do the characters in Flaubert’s novel act in accordance with Kant’s categorical imperative?” I looked around the classroom of my freshman composition students and was greeted with blank stares.

“Who actually read up to page 306?” Two hands went up, one only halfway. Others confessed that they had read only to page 147, or page 20, 72, 3. Some hadn’t even opened Sentimental Education. Why hadn’t they done the assigned reading?

“It’s too long and complicated.”

“There are too many characters…


The True Spirit of Law-School Reform

Although a storm of criticism surrounds contemporary legal education, a key group in developing accreditation standards recently responded with welcome caution. The Standards Review Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar voted on February 7 to recommend only three relatively modest changes to ABA standards. The committee took no action on what is likely the most contentious issue the section faces—whether to accredit law schools that do…

In Search of a Principled Stance on Toleration and Acceptance

Opinions are not hard to come by, but merely having a position is not enough. The great achievement is in having a point of view that is defensible, that does not buckle under the pressure of scrutiny. The same is true of belief systems. Most people are   interested not only in believing things, but in believing things that are true. The distinction between opinions and correct opinions, beliefs and true beliefs, has important implications, one of which is denying that all beliefs are on an eq…

Why We’re On Strike

Today the tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members who make up the University of Illinois at Chicago faculty union walked out of their classrooms and onto the picket line for a two-day strike. It is the first faculty strike at a major research university in the United States in a very long time.

Most of the state research universities that have unions got them in the 1960s and 1970s, but, in a renewed push to organize campus labor, UIC and the University of Oregon just won certification…


A Conservative Defense of Tenure

A standard feature of conservative and libertarian attacks on higher education is a polemic against tenure. My own view is that tenure is a fundamentally conservative institution—one that deserves to be defended.

Although tenure is not in immediate danger at some of our best colleges, it’s naïve to believe that it has much of a future. Its disappearance is part of our current movement from defined benefits to defined contributions. Risk is being transferred from the employer to the employee. …


Impostor Syndrome: Academic Identity Under Siege?

Not a day passes without my questioning my abilities: as a writer, a commentator, and—most of all—as an academic. I wonder if I have talent, or am I just faking it?

Despite those insecurities, I don’t feel like an impostor. On paper, I fit the profile of an academic. I am a white male. I trod a typical school-to-university path that—in addition to providing ample opportunities and advantages—normalized becoming an academic. I have been taught over and over again that my identity fits that …


The Gristmill of Praise

From August 2013 to January 2014, I—a humble, workaday professor of English and creative writing at the University of Minnesota—received more than 1,600 letters of recommendation.

In August, I vetted 56 applications for an administrative position in creative writing, each dutifully accompanied by three reference letters.

In September and October, 196 applications for a tenure-track position in creative writing arrived (I chaired the hiring committee), each trailed by the requisite three referenc…