Friday, November 27 , 2015, 1:59 pm | Fair 62º

Michael Barone: The Tyranny of Good Intentions at U.S. Colleges

By Michael Barone | @MichaelBarone |

In 1902, journalist Lincoln Steffens wrote a book called The Shame of the Cities. At the time, Americans took pride in big cities, with their towering skyscrapers, productive factories and prominent cultural institutions.

Steffens showed there were some rotten things underneath the gleaming veneers — corrupt local governments and political machines, aided and abetted by business leaders.

In recent weeks, two books have appeared about another of America’s gleaming institutions, our colleges and universities, either of which could be subtitled “The Shame of the Universities.”

In Mismatch, law professor Richard Sander and journalist Stuart Taylor expose, in the words of their subtitle, “How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It.” In Unlearning Liberty, Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, describes how university speech codes create, as his subtitle puts it, “Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.”

Mismatch is a story of good intentions gone terribly awry. Sander and Taylor document beyond disagreement how university admissions offices’ racial quotas and preferences systematically put black and Hispanic students in schools where they are far less well prepared than others.

As a result, they tend to get low grades, withdraw from science and math courses, and drop out without graduating. The effect is particularly notable in law schools, where large numbers of blacks and Hispanics either drop out or fail to pass the bar exam.

This happens, Sander and Taylor argue, not because these students lack ability but because they’ve been thrown in with students of exceptional ability — the mismatch of the authors’ title. At schools where everyone has similar levels of test scores and preparation, these students do much better. And they don’t suffer the heartache of failure.

That was shown when California’s state universities temporarily obeyed a 1996 referendum banning racial quotas and preferences. The UCLA School of Law had fewer black students but just as many black graduates. The university system as a whole produced more black and Hispanic graduates.

Similarly, black students interested in math and science tend to get degrees in those subjects in historically black colleges, while those in schools with a mismatch switch to easier majors because math instruction is pitched to classmates with better preparation.

University admissions officers nevertheless maintain what Taylor calls “an enormous, pervasive and carefully concealed system of racial preferences,” even while claiming they aren’t actually doing so. The willingness to lie systematically seems to be a requirement for such jobs.

The willingness to lie systematically is also a requirement for administrators who profess a love of free speech while imposing speech codes and penalizing students for violations.

All of which provides plenty of business for Lukianoff’s FIRE, which opposes speech codes and brings lawsuits on behalf of students — usually, but not always, conservatives — who are penalized.

Those who graduated from college before the late 1980s may not realize that speech codes have become, in Lukianoff’s words, “the rule rather than the exception” on American campuses.

They are typically vague and all-encompassing. One school prohibits “actions or attitudes that threaten the welfare” of others. Another bans emails that “harass, annoy or otherwise inconvenience others.” Others ban “insensitive” communication, “inappropriate jokes” and “patronizing remarks.”

“Speech codes can only survive,” Lukianoff writes, “through selective enforcement.” Conservatives and religious students are typically targeted. But so are critics of administrators, like the student expelled for a Facebook posting critical of a proposed $30 million parking garage.

Students get the message: Keep your mouth shut. An Association of American Colleges and Universities survey of 24,000 students found that only 40 percent of freshmen thought it was “safe to hold unpopular views on campus.” An even lower 30 percent of seniors agreed.

So institutions that once prided themselves as arenas for free exchange of ideas — and still advertise themselves as such — have become the least free part of our society.

How? One answer is that university personnel almost all share the same liberal-left beliefs. Many feel that contrary views and criticism are evil and should be stamped out.

It also helps to follow the money. Government student loan programs have pumped huge sums into colleges and universities that have been raising tuition and fees far faster than inflation.

The result is administrative bloat. Since 2005, universities have employed more administrators than teachers.

There are signs that what’s Glenn Reynolds calls the higher education bubble is about to burst. And perhaps people are waking up to the rottenness beneath the universities’ gleaming veneer.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. Click here to contact him. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelBarone.

comments powered by Disqus

» on 12.01.12 @ 01:12 AM

We’ve lost thousands of American soldiers lives with thousands more grievously wounded in our longest war in American history in Absurdistan and there’s still hardly a peep of dissent.
The positions of the two Presidential candidates concerning the war were nearly indistinguishable.
Colleges and universities are so quiet, you can almost hear a pin drop.
Although World Trade Center forensic crime scene evidence was illegally removed and criminally destroyed to prevent force and temerature profiling of building components for an indisputable reverse engineering of mechanisms of failure, not a single university professor objected.
When MIT Professor, Thomas Eagar, violated the Engineer’s Code of Ethics as the official designated liar by publicly pontificating about the Structural Engineering of the World Trade Center Towers (PBS NOVA: Why the Towers Fell) without being an expert in structural engineering (he’s an expert in welding) not a single professor or professional engineering organization objected to his incorrect pancake theory bamboozling of Americans.
American universities and colleges have committed high treason.
They have betrayed the human species and TRUTH.
Americans have become slaves without a peep of dissent.

» on 12.02.12 @ 08:56 PM

Give Barone credit. He still tries to read, skim, or read reviews of, books. Plus, he
still tries to occasionally think and write outside his Fox-News and Party of NO!
lifelong mindset.

Costs for college education have been rising much, much faster than inflation for years now, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Why?

While executive compensation for college presidents still lags far behind its
private sector-corporate equivalents, ranks of education executives and their
pay packages are rising much faster than pay for teachers, researchers, staff,
or teaching assistants on all levels. Again, why?

Are we still getting top value for dollars invested? Based on what parameters?

Those are all questions worth exploring, and answering honestly, no matter where it takes us.

Nevertheless, quality, accessible, affordable higher education is America’s path
to future prosperity.

States now provide less tax money per student or per teacher for state colleges
than ever before. Why? How are those differentials made up, and in exchange for

Similarly, the national role for research and development, which used to be a
private, individual, corporate mix for hundreds of years now balances between
federal research grants and university advanced research initiatives, often tied
to the skill or curiosity of individual star professors.

Compared such large changes in the role of higher education, Barone’s concern
that there aren’t enough “conservative”-friendly college classrooms is weird.

Unless you’re going to some southern Baptist denominational school, it will be
tough to find many classrooms where teachers, teaching assistants, students
can be expected to give equal debate time to those who still argue against
evolution, for God’s design, against climate change, for more nation-building
foreign wars.

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