Category Archives: Uncategorized

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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…