Category Archives: Uncategorized


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…


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 …


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


The Widening Income Gap in Higher Education—and What to Do About It

The good news, according to a research report out on Tuesday is that the college-going gap between students from rich and poor families has narrowed somewhat since 1970. The truly devastating news? The gap in bachelor’s completion by family income has roughly doubled in those years. What’s going on? And what can be done to remedy the problem?

The report, “Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States: 45 Year Trend Report,” from the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Hig…


Poke, Prod, and Rile: Secrets of Good Teaching

Dogs tend to look like their owners, and often the same is true about academics and the historical figures they study. The reason could be as predictable as two friends’ becoming drawn to the same tastes after having spent considerable time together—I once heard a lecturer confess that her Southwestern wardrobe was inspired by her intellectual mentor. Or it could be something closer to what the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno wrote about his own experience in reading like-minded authors:…


CUNY’s Pathway to Shared Governance

William Bowen and Eugene Tobin’s new book, Locus of Authority: The Evolution of Faculty Roles in the Governance of Higher Education, has resulted in much commentary and discussion about the appropriate roles of faculty members and administrators in the activities and governance of colleges. Let us assume that the goals of all concerned are the best possible education for students and the best possible environment for faculty scholarship and creative activity. What should faculty members be doin…