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Introducing The Conversation

Innovations readers: We’re excited to call your attention to The Conversation, The Chronicle’s new home for opinion and ideas online. Building on Brainstorm and Innovations, it includes many of the regular contributors you have seen over the years and offers new ones as well.

Please follow us there. We hope to enlighten and entertain, and we also hope to hear from you. Feel free to reach us at onlineopinion@chronicle.com.

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Obama’s Affirmative-Action Brief

On Monday, the Obama administration, along with most of the higher-education and business establishment, weighed in with amicus briefs in support of racial preferences at the University of Texas at Austin. Given Barack Obama’s mixed messages on affirmative action in the past—he has said his own daughters do not deserve a leg up in admissions and that he understands the resentment toward preferences by whites who do not feel particularly privileged—there was a modest hope that he would break wi…

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The Struggle to Save the University of Missouri Press

When I last wrote about the proposed closure of the University of Missouri Press on June 4, the story had recently broken and I had little, and as it turns out incomplete, information. My central point in that post was simply that the closing of a flagship university’s press, were it actually to happen, would mark a paradigm shift in American universities. However skeptical one might be about academic scholarship as the best way of disseminating knowledge, that is our current system; most import…

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Galloping to Insolvency

The spiraling rise of component costs in higher education is helping to inflate the higher-education bubble. One of the reasons those costs are out of control is that colleges and universities see no merit in keeping track of some of the larger ones. You cannot exercise fiscal discipline if you have no idea what you’re spending. Higher education has at least two major cost drivers that it hides from rational oversight: diversity and sustainability. In Green Acres, I wrote about a new Solyndra-li…

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The University of Texas’ Weak Affirmative-Action Defense

On Monday, as Peter Schmidt noted in the Chronicle, the University of Texas at Austin filed its brief with the U.S. Supreme Court defending the use of racial preferences in admissions. Like the brief of the petitioner, Abigail Fisher, the UT Austin argument is pitched directly at the likely swing vote on the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy. I doubt it will be persuasive.

UT Austin faces an uphill battle because the Supreme Court has long held that race can be used to promote diversity in …

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Aiming at the Suburbs and Hitting Higher Ed

Stanley Kurtz’s new book, Spreading the Wealth: How Obama Is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities, is not likely to be a campus bestseller. Some 88 percent of contributions from faculty members to candidates in the 2008 presidential election went to Obama and estimates of the percent of voting faculty members who voted for him range from 80 to 92 percent. Though some of the ardor for Obama has cooled, he remains far and away more popular on campus than Mitt Romney. Moreover, books arguing t…

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The Cost of Higher Access: Harry Stille’s Data

There are two persons of radically different political perspectives whose single-minded devotion to gathering and disseminating data on higher education set them apart from the rest of us: Tom Mortenson of Post Secondary Higher Education Opportunity, and Harry Stilles, of the Higher Education Research/Policy Center. Tom is a self-described “Minnesota socialist” dedicated to improving higher-education access, while Harry is a decidedly more conservative retired professor and legislator from South…

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Should Student Evaluations Be Anonymous?

The Gainesville Sun broke a story on July 19 that has potentially significant implications for postsecondary instructors across the country. The story concerned a lawsuit brought by Darnell Rhea, an adjunct instructor at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., who claimed that his contract was not renewed because a student filed a complaint against him. The e-mail “complains of Rhea’s classroom behavior, his humiliating remarks to students, and his unorthodox teaching methodologies.” Rhea simply …

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They Just Don’t Get It

Sen. Tom Harkin has issued his final report on for-profit higher education, a book-length indictment of one-tenth of American higher education, the for-profit sector. Obviously I have not had an opportunity yet to read the full report (I’ve been traveling for the past week or so), but from news reports alone, I see huge problems with it, much of it related to either an ignorance or contempt for how the capitalistic system of free enterprise does a very good job of delivering the goods—lots of …

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Too Many College Students? Yes, Unfortunately

I appreciate President Rosenberg’s praise of my skill as a writer and return the compliment. I also share his hope that my predictions about the financial mess that lies ahead for American higher education prove mistaken. I don’t welcome “collapse,” though I do think it is a distinct possibility.

Dr. Rosenberg takes strongest exception to my statement that too many students are going to college. His exception, however, is grounded on a quiet emendation of what I said, and several of the comment …