Archives for category: Higher Education

Teresa Watanabe wrote a wonderful story about kids in a public school in Los Angeles who are college-bound, despite their demographic profiles. They don’t have college-educated parents or SAT tutors. What they do have is a school—the DowntownMagnets High School— where the professionals are dedicated to their success. Read about this school and ask yourself why Bill Gates is not trying to replicate it? Why is it not a model for Michael Bloomberg or Reed Hastings or the Waltons? Why do the billionaires insist, as Bloomberg said recently, that public education is “broken”? Despite their investing hundreds of millions to destroy public schools like the one in this story, they are still performing miracles every day.

They represent the new generation of students reshaping the face of higher education in California: young people with lower family incomes, less parental education and far more racial and ethnic diversity than college applicants of the past. And Downtown Magnets, a small and highly diverse campus of 911 students just north of the Los Angeles Civic Center, is in the vanguard of the change.

Last year, 97% of the school’s seniors were accepted to college, and most enrolled. Among them, 71% of those who applied to a UC campus were admitted, including 19 of the 56 applicants to UC Berkeley — a higher admission rate than at elite Los Angeles private schools such as Harvard-Westlake and Marlborough.

This month, the Downtown Magnets applicants include Nick Saballos, whose Nicaraguan father never finished high school and works for minimum wage as a parking valet but is proud of his son’s passion for astrophysics.

There’s Emily Cruz, who had a rough time focusing on school while being expected to help her Guatemalan immigrant mother with household duties. Emily is determined to become a lawyer or a philosopher.

Kenji Horigome emigrated to Los Angeles from Japan in fourth grade speaking no English, with a single mother who works as a Koreatown restaurant server. Kenji has become a top student and may join the military, in part for the financial aid the GI Bill would provide.

“The main thing my kids lack is a sense of entitlement,” said Lynda McGee, the school’s longtime college counselor. “That’s my biggest enemy: the fact that my students are humble and think they don’t deserve what they actually deserve. It’s more of a mental problem than an academic one.”

What the students do have is a close-knit school community, passionate educators and parents willing to take the extra step to send them to a magnet school located, for many, outside their neighborhoods.

Principal Sarah Usmani leads a staff mindful of creating a campus environment both nurturing and academically rigorous; she has scrounged for money for a psychiatric social worker to help with mental health problems, an attendance counselor to stay on top of absences, an intervention counselor to monitor whether grades drop and an additional academic counselor.

And the students have McGee, who since 2000 has helped shepherd thousands to higher education.

On a recent morning, students lined up to see her in the campus College Center, an inviting space with comfortable sofas, a bank of computers, colorful pennants and stuffed toy mascots from dozens of colleges.

Never mind that it was Thanksgiving break. UC and Cal State application deadlines were just a week away, and McGee’s students needed her.
Ms. McGee, I need a fee waiver! I’m not sure about a major. How do I figure out my weighted GPA?

“I can say no to evening, weekend and holiday work, but that means someone won’t go to college,” McGee said. “There are too many kids, good kids who will take themselves out of the process, and they’ll go to a community college with a 3.9. I can’t carry that guilt.”

McGee keeps close tabs on as many students as she can, often suggesting they consider options other than “the religion of the UC,” as she says many parents, particularly Asian Americans, regard the renowned public research university system.

It’s all about fit, she tells them. If you like personal relationships with faculty, consider smaller private colleges. Think about leaving California to stretch yourself. She gently nudges students with low GPAs away from pinning their hopes on hypercompetitive UCLA and Berkeley and suggests well-regarded but more attainable alternatives: Cal State Dominguez Hills, Woodbury University, Mount St. Mary’s College, Dixie State University.

But she also needs to make sure her top students are aiming high enough.

The day before UC’s Dec. 1 deadline, McGee called Nick into the College Center to check in. The soft-spoken senior and his family live on an annual income of $30,000; at one point, when his father lost his job and the family faced eviction, they had to turn to relatives for help. His parents instilled in him an ethic to never waste — not money, not food, not college opportunities.


At Downtown Magnets, Nick entered the International Baccalaureate program, staying the challenging course when his friends dropped out. He tackled his weakest subject, English, by poring over Harvard professor Matthew Desmond’s exploration of evictions and poverty, to master academic language, text analysis and oral expository skills.

Physics is where Nick soars. His face lights up as he describes his hunger to unravel the mysteries of the universe: why it expands and whether it will stop; how stars become black holes.

Nick has earned a 4.47 GPA, making him the school’s fifth-ranked senior. He didn’t realize that until McGee called him in to tell him.

“You are in the top five, and this is a very competitive senior class,” she said. “If you want to apply to the Ivy Leagues, go for it! Know your worth, and give yourself the opportunities.”

Ivy League schools offer large financial aid packages that can make them cheaper than UC for low-income students, a point McGee amplifies by handing out lists of schools that meet full financial need without loans.
Nick had applied to UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and UC San Diego, along with Stanford. But McGee’s encouragement expanded his thinking beyond top California colleges to the Ivy League.

“I didn’t think I could apply to the Ivy Leagues,” he said. “I didn’t have that much confidence. Hearing from Ms. McGee that I can, I’m going to try.”

The story goes on to offer many other stories of students who came from homes where money was scarce. At Downtown Magnets High, they learned to believe in themselves, and they had the support and guidance to make good choices.

Don’t write off public schools. They have been the gateway to opportunity for millions of students, and they still are.

Someone please send this story to Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, the Waltons, Reed Hastings, John Arnold, Laurene Powell Jobs, and all the other billionaires who waste their money on charter schools, instead of paying attention to successful public schools like Downtown Magnet.

This part of Capital & Main’s examination of union busting reviews the targeting of academics who study labor by corporate critics. It was written by Jo Constantz.

Many scholars who study the history and economics of organized labor are sympathetic to the union cause. These academics often encounter threats, harassment, and defunding of their research.

It begins:

Throttled by both strong-arm tactics from anti-union interests and a chronic lack of support from universities, the field of labor studies has dwindled in the U.S. in recent years.

Researchers in the field have been the target of legal threats and lawsuits, onerous public records requests and misinformation campaigns from union avoidance consultants, business executives, corporate lawyers and conservative think tanks. It’s one aspect of the business lobby’s relentless war against unions in recent decades, which has seen companies spend more than $340 million a year on consultants to defeat organizing efforts by their employees and helped sink union membership.

Labor studies, an interdisciplinary field in academia that examines workplace issues and worker organizations, reveals working conditions that motivate people to want to join a union. Much of the scholarship has illuminated the central role that labor’s decline has played in exacerbating income inequality. In doing so, the field has aroused the ire of anti-union companies and their allies. The field has never been a major force in academia and many centers have been gradually shuttered due to lack of funding or merged with other departments. Only a handful of universities currently offer a major or minor in labor studies. Faculty are often untenured, vulnerable to layoffs and budget cuts, and they are often not replaced when they retire.

Open the link and read on.

Niall Ferguson is a historian who has been a professor at Oxford, New York University and Harvard. He is now at the Hoover Institution, a well-endowed conservative think tank located on the Stanford University campus. The following essay appeared on the Bloomberg News site.

Ferguson doesn’t acknowledge the paradox behind his proposal. He argues that academia has become so stifling of conservative ideas that it has become necessary to open a new college where those ideas could be freely expressed. Yet if every college student has been indoctrinated for many years, what accounts for the power of Trumpian ideas in American society today?

It’s true that Trump ideology is favored more by non-college graduates, while college graduates are likely to reject xenophobia, racism, homophobia, encouragement of violence, and contempt for democratic norms associated with Trumpism. If American higher education was having such a stifling effect on conservatism, why the power and spread of such noxious ideology?

I suppose that Ferguson might disassociate conservatism from Trumpism, but who in the Republican Party today represents those conservative ideas that Ferguson honors? Mitt Romney? Liz Cheney? They are outcasts in their own party.

Ferguson wrote:

If you enjoyed Netflix’s “The Chair” — a lighthearted depiction of a crisis-prone English Department at an imaginary Ivy League college — you are clearly not in higher education. Something is rotten in the state of academia and it’s no laughing matter.

Grade inflation. Spiraling costs. Corruption and racial discrimination in admissions. Junk content (“Grievance Studies”) published in risible journals. Above all, the erosion of academic freedom and the ascendancy of an illiberal “successor ideology”known to its critics as wokeism, which manifests itself as career-ending “cancelations” and speaker disinvitations, but less visibly generates a pervasive climate of anxiety and self-censorship.

Some say that universities are so rotten that the institution itself should simply be abandoned and replaced with an online alternative — a metaversity perhaps, to go with the metaverse. I disagree. I have long been skeptical that online courses and content can be anything other than supplementary to the traditional real-time, real-space college experience.

However, having taught at several, including Cambridge, Oxford, New York University and Harvard, I have also come to doubt that the existing universities can be swiftly cured of their current pathologies. That is why this week I am one of a group of people announcing the founding of a new university — indeed, a new kind of university: the University of Austin.

The founders of this university are a diverse group in terms of our backgrounds and our experiences (though doubtless not diverse enough for some). Our political views also differ. To quote our founding president, Pano Kanelos, “What unites us is a common dismay at the state of modern academia and a belief that it is time for something new.”

There is no need to imagine a mythical golden age. The original universities were religious institutions, as committed to orthodoxy and as hostile to heresy as today’s woke seminaries. In the wake of the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution, scholars gradually became less like clergymen; but until the 20th century their students were essentially gentlemen, who owed their admission as much to inherited status as to intellectual ability. Many of the great intellectual breakthroughs of the Enlightenment were achieved off campus.

Only from the 19th century did academia become truly secularized and professional, with the decline of religious requirements, the rise to pre-eminence of the natural sciences, the spread of the German system of academic promotion (from doctorate up in steps to full professorship), and the proliferation of scholarly journals based on peer-review. Yet the same German universities that led the world in so many fields around 1900 became enthusiastic helpmeets of the Nazis in ways that revealed the perils of an amoral scholarship decoupled from Christian ethics and too closely connected to the state.

Even the institutions with the most sustained records of excellence — Oxford and Cambridge — have had prolonged periods of torpor. F.M. Cornford could mock the inherent conservatism of Oxbridge politics in his “Microcosmographia Academica” in 1908. When Malcolm Bradbury wrote his satirical novel “The History Man” in 1975, universities everywhere were still predominantly white, male and middle class. The process whereby a college education became more widely available — to women, to the working class, to racial minorities — has been slow and remains incomplete. Meanwhile, there have been complaints about the adverse consequences of this process in American universities since Allan Bloom’s “Closing of the American Mind,” which was published back in 1987.

Nevertheless, much had been achieved by the later years of the 20th century. There was a general agreement that the central purpose of a university was the pursuit of truth — think only of Harvard’s stark Latin motto: Veritas — and that the crucial means to that end were freedom of conscience, thought, speech and publication. There was supposed to be no discrimination in admissions, examinations and academic appointments, other than on the basis of intellectual merit. That was crucial to enabling Jews and other minority groups to take full advantage of their intellectual potential. It was understood that professors were awarded tenure principally to preserve academic freedom so that they might “dare to think” — Immanuel Kant’s other great imperative, Sapere aude! — without fear of being fired.

The benefits of all this defy quantification. A huge proportion of the major scientific breakthroughs of the past century were made by men and women whose academic jobs gave them economic security and a supportive community in which to do their best work. Would the democracies have won the world wars and the Cold War without the contributions of their universities? It seems doubtful. Think only of Bletchley Park and the Manhattan Project. Sure, the Ivy League’s best and brightest also gave us the Vietnam War. But remember, too, that there were more university-based computers on the Arpanet — the original internet — than any other kind. No Stanford, no Silicon Valley.

Those of us who were fortunate to be undergraduates in the 1980s remember the exhilarating combination of intellectual freedom and ambition to which all this gave rise. Yet, in the past decade, exhilaration has been replaced by suffocation, to the point that I feel genuinely sorry for today’s undergraduates.

In Heterodox Academy’s 2020 Campus Expression Survey, 62% of sampled college students agreed that the climate on their campus prevented them from saying things they believed, up from 55% in 2019, while 41% were reluctant to discuss politics in a classroom, up from 32% in 2019. Some 60% of students said they were reluctant to speak up in class because they were concerned other students would criticize their views as being offensive.

Such anxieties are far from groundless. According to a nationwide survey of a thousand undergraduates by the Challey Institute for Global Innovation, 85% of self-described liberal students would report a professor to the university if the professor said something that they found offensive, while 76% would report another student.

In a study published in March entitled “Academic Freedom in Crisis: Punishment, Political Discrimination and Self-Censorship,” the Centre for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology showed that academic freedom is under attack not only in the U.S., but also in the U.K. and Canada. Three-quarters of conservative American and British academics in the social sciences and humanities said there is a hostile climate for their beliefs in their department. This compares to just 5% among left-wing faculty in the U.S.

Again, one can understand why. Younger academics are especially likely to support dismissal of a colleague who has made some heretical utterance, with 40% of American social sciences and humanities professors under the age of 40 supporting at least one of four hypothetical dismissal campaigns. Ph.D. students are even more intolerant than other young academics: 55% of American Ph.D. students under 40 supported at least one hypothetical dismissal campaign. “High-profile deplatformings and dismissals” get the attention, the authors of the report conclude, but “far more pervasive threats to academic freedom stem … from fears of a) cancellation — threats to one’s job or reputation — and b) political discrimination.”

These are not unfounded fears. The number of scholars targeted for their speech has risen dramatically since 2015, according to research by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE has logged 426 incidents since 2015. Just under three-quarters of them resulted in some kind of sanction — including an investigation alone or voluntary resignation — against the scholar. Such efforts to restrict free speech usually originate with “progressive” student groups, but often find support from left-leaning faculty members and are encouraged by college administrators, who tend (as Sam Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College demonstrated, and as his own subsequent experience confirmed) to be even further to the left than professors. There are also attacks on academic freedom from the right, which FIRE challenges. With a growing number of Republicans calling for bans on critical race theory, I fear the illiberalism is metastasizing.

Trigger warnings. Safe spaces. Preferred pronouns. Checked privileges. Microaggressions. Antiracism. All these terms are routinely deployed on campuses throughout the English-speaking world as part of a sustained campaign to impose ideological conformity in the name of diversity. As a result, it often feels as if there is less free speech and free thought in the American university today than in almost any other institution in the U.S.

To the historian’s eyes, there is something unpleasantly familiar about the patterns of behavior that have, in a matter of a few years, become normal on many campuses. The chanting of slogans. The brandishing of placards. The letters informing on colleagues and classmates. The denunciations of professors to the authorities. The lack of due process. The cancelations. The rehabilitations following abject confessions. The officiousness of unaccountable bureaucrats. Any student of the totalitarian regimes of the mid-20th century recognizes all this with astonishment. It turns out that it can happen in a free society, too, if institutions and individuals who claim to be liberal choose to behave in an entirely illiberal fashion.

How to explain this rapid descent of academia from a culture of free inquiry and debate into a kind of Totalitarianism Lite? In their book “The Coddling of the American Mind,” the social psychiatrist Jonathan Haidt and FIRE president Greg Lukianoff lay much of the blame on a culture of parenting and early education that encourages students to believe that “what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker,” that you should “always trust your feelings,” and that “life is a battle between good people and evil people.”

However, I believe the core problems are the pathological structures and perverse incentives of the modern university. It is not the case, as many Americans believe, that U.S. colleges have always been left-leaning and that today’s are no different from those of the 1960s. As Stanley Rothman, Robert Lichter and Neil Nevitte showed in a 2005 study, while 39% of the professoriate on average described themselves as left-wing in 1984, the proportion had risen to 72% by 1999, by which time being a conservative had become a measurable career handicap.

Mitchell Langbert’s analysis of tenure-track, Ph.D.-holding professors from 51 of the 66 top-ranked liberal arts colleges in 2017 found that those with known political affiliations were overwhelmingly Democratic. Nearly two-fifths of the colleges in Langbert’s sample were Republican-free. The mean Democratic-to-Republican ratio across the sample was 10.4:1, or 12.7:1 if the two military academies, West Point and Annapolis, were excluded. For history departments, the ratio was 17.4:1; for English 48.3:1. No ratio is calculable for anthropology, as the number of Republican professors was zero. In 2020, Langbert and Sean Stevens found an even bigger skew to the left when they considered political donations to parties by professors. The ratio of dollars contributed to Democratic versus Republican candidates and committees was 21:1.

Commentators who argue that the pendulum will magically swing back betray a lack of understanding about the academic hiring and promotion process. With political discrimination against conservatives now overt, most departments are likely to move further to the left over time as the last remaining conservatives retire.

Yet the leftward march of the professoriate is only one of the structural flaws that characterize today’s university. If you think the faculty are politically skewed, take a look at academic administrators. A shocking insight into the way some activist-administrators seek to bully students into ideological conformity was provided by Trent Colbert, a Yale Law School student who invited his fellow members of the Native American Law Students Association to “a Constitution Day bash” at the “NALSA Trap House,” a term that used to mean a crack den but now is just a mildly risque way of describing a party. Diversity director Yaseen Eldik’s thinly veiled threats to Colbert if he didn’t sign a groveling apology — “I worry about this leaning over your reputation as a person, not just here but when you leave” — were too much even for an editorial board member at the Washington Post. Democracy may die in darkness; academic freedom dies in wokeness.

Moreover, the sheer number of the administrators is a problem in itself. In 1970, U.S. colleges employed more professors than administrators. Between then and 2010, however, the number of full-time professors or “full-time equivalents” increased by slightly more than 50%, in line with student enrollments. The number of administrators and administrative staffers rose by 85% and 240%, respectively. The ever-growing army of coordinators for Title IX — the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination — is one manifestation of the bureaucratic bloat, which since the 1990s has helped propel tuition costs far ahead of inflation.

The third structural problem is weak leadership. Time and again — most recently at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where a lecture by the University of Chicago geophysicist Dorian Abbot was abruptly canceled because he had been critical of affirmative action — academic leaders have yielded to noisy mobs baying for disinvitations. There are notable exceptions, such as Robert Zimmer, who as president of the University of Chicago between 2006 and 2021 made a stand for academic freedom. But the number of other colleges to have adopted the Chicago statement, a pledge crafted by the school’s Committee on Freedom of Expression, remains just 55, out of nearly 2,500 institutions offering four-year undergraduate programs.

Finally, there is the problem of the donors — most but not all alumni — and trustees, many of whom have been astonishingly oblivious of the problems described above. In 2019, donors gave nearly $50 billion to colleges. Eight donors gave $100 million or more. People generally do not make that kind of money without being hard-nosed in their business dealings. Yet the capitalist class appears strangely unaware of the anticapitalist uses to which its money is often put. A phenomenon I find deeply puzzling is the lack of due diligence associated with much academic philanthropy, despite numerous cases when the intentions of benefactors have deliberately been subverted.

All this would be bad enough if it meant only that U.S. universities are no longer conducive to free inquiry and promotion based on merit, without which scientific advances are certain to be impeded and educational standards to fall. But academic illiberalism is not confined to college campuses. As students collect their degrees and enter the workforce, they inevitably carry some of what they have learned at college with them. Multiple manifestations of “woke” thinking and behavior at newspapers, publishing houses, technology companies and other corporations have confirmed Andrew Sullivan’s 2018 observation, “We all live on campus now.”

When a problem becomes this widespread, the traditional American solution is to create new institutions. As we have seen, universities are relatively long-lived compared to companies and even nations. But not all great universities are ancient. Of today’s top 25 universities, according to the global rankings compiled by the London Times Higher Education Supplement, four were founded in the 20th century. Fully 14 were 19th-century foundations; four date back to the 18th century. Only Oxford (which can trace its origins to 1096) and Cambridge (1209) are medieval in origin.

As might be inferred from the large number (10) of today’s leading institutions founded in the U.S. between 1855 and 1900, new universities tend to be established when wealthy elites grow impatient with the existing ones and see no way of reforming them. The puzzle is why, despite the resurgence of inequality in the U.S. since the 1990s and the more or less simultaneous decline in standards at the existing universities, so few new ones have been created. Only a handful have been set up this century: University of California Merced (2005), Ave Maria University (2003) and Soka University of America (2001). Just five U.S. colleges founded in the past 50 years make it into the Times’s top 25 “Young Universities”: University of Alabama at Birmingham (founded 1969), University of Texas at Dallas (1969), George Mason (1957), University of Texas at San Antonio (1969) and Florida International (1969). Each is (or originated as) part of a state university system.

In short, the beneficiaries of today’s gilded age seem altogether more tolerant of academic degeneration than their 19th-century predecessors. For whatever reason, many prefer to give their money to established universities, no matter how antithetical those institutions’ values have become to their own. This makes no sense, even if the principal motivation is to buy Ivy League spots for their offspring. Why would you pay to have your children indoctrinated with ideas you despise?

So what should the university of the future look like? Clearly, there is no point in simply copying and pasting Harvard, Yale or Princeton and expecting a different outcome. Even if such an approach were affordable, it would be the wrong one.

To begin with, a new institution can’t compete with the established brands when it comes to undergraduate programs. Young Americans and their counterparts elsewhere go to college as much for the high-prestige credentials and the peer networks as for the education. That’s why a new university can’t start by offering bachelors’ degrees.

The University of Austin will therefore begin modestly, with a summer school offering “Forbidden Courses” — the kind of content and instruction no longer available at most established campuses, addressing the kind of provocative questions that often lead to cancelation or self-censorship.

The next step will be a one-year master’s program in Entrepreneurship and Leadership. The primary purpose of conventional business programs is to credential large cohorts of passive learners with a lowest-common-denominator curriculum. The University of Austin’s program will aim to teach students classical principles of the market economy and then embed them in a network of successful technologists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and public-policy reformers. It will offer an introduction to the world of American technology similar to the introduction to the Chinese economy offered by the highly successful Schwarzman Scholars program, combining both academic pedagogy and practical experience. Later, there will be parallel programs in Politics and Applied History and in Education and Public Service.

Only after these initial programs have been set up will we start offering a four-year liberal arts degree. The first two years of study will consist of an intensive liberal arts curriculum, including the study of philosophy, literature, history, politics, economics, mathematics, the sciences and the fine arts. There will be Oxbridge-style instruction, with small tutorials and college-wide lectures, providing an in-depth and personalized learning experience with interdisciplinary breadth.

After two years of a comprehensive and rigorous liberal arts education, undergraduates will join one of four academic centers as junior fellows, pursuing disciplinary coursework, conducting hands-on research and gaining experience as interns. The initial centers will include one for entrepreneurship and leadership, one for politics and applied history, one for education and public service, and one for technology, engineering and mathematics.

To those who argue that we could more easily do all this with some kind of internet platform, I would say that online learning is no substitute for learning on a campus, for reasons rooted in evolutionary psychology. We simply learn much better in relatively small groups in real time and space, not least because a good deal of what students learn in a well-functioning university comes from their informal discussions in the absence of professors. This explains the persistence of the university over a millennium, despite successive revolutions in information technology.

To those who wonder how a new institution can avoid being captured by the illiberal-liberal establishment that now dominates higher education, I would answer that the governance structure of the institution will be designed to prevent that. The Chicago principles of freedom of expression will be enshrined in the founding charter. The founders will form a corporation or board of trustees that will be sovereign. Not only will the corporation appoint the president of the college; it will also have a final say over all appointments or promotions. There will be one unusual obligation on faculty members, besides the standard ones to teach and carry out research: to conduct the admissions process by means of an examination that they will set and grade. Admission will be based primarily on performance on the exam. That will avoid the corrupt rackets run by so many elite admissions offices today.

As for our choice of location in the Texas capital, I would say that proximity to a highly regarded public university — albeit one where even the idea of establishing an institute to study liberty is now controversial — will ensure that the University of Austin has to compete at the highest level from the outset.

My fellow founders and I have no illusions about the difficulty of the task ahead. We fully expect condemnation from the educational establishment and its media apologists. We shall regard all such attacks as vindication — the flak will be a sign that we are above the target.

In our minds, there can be no more urgent task for a society than to ensure the health of its system of higher education. The American system today is broken in ways that pose a profound threat to the future strength and stability of the U.S. It is time to start fixing it. But the opportunity to do so in the classic American way — by creating something new, actually building rather than “building back” — is an inspiring and exciting one.

To quote Haidt and Lukianoff: “A school that makes freedom of inquiry an essential part of its identity, selects students who show special promise as seekers of truth, orients and prepares those students for productive disagreement … would be inspiring to join, a joy to attend, and a blessing to society.”

That is not the kind of institution satirized in “The Chair.” It is precisely the kind of institution we need today.

To contact the author of this story:
Niall Ferguson at nferguson23@bloomberg.net

What a relief! The conservative Supreme Court sided with Indians University’s demand that all students must be vaccinated.

The New York Times reported:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court allowed Indiana University on Thursday to require students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Eight students had sued the university, saying the requirement violated their constitutional rights to “bodily integrity, autonomy and medical choice.” But they conceded that exemptions to the requirement — for religious, ethical and medical reasons — “virtually guaranteed” that anyone who sought an exemption would be granted one.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who oversees the federal appeals court in question, turned down the student’s request for emergency reliefwithout comment. She acted on her own, without referring the application to the full court, which was an indication that the application was not on solid legal footing.

A trial judge had refused to block the requirement, and a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, declined to issue an injunction while the students’ appeal moved forward.

“Each university may decide what is necessary to keep other students safe in a congregate setting,” Judge Frank H. Easterbrook wrote for the appeals court. “Health exams and vaccinations against other diseases (measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, varicella, meningitis, influenza and more) are common requirements of higher education. Vaccination protects not only the vaccinated persons but also those who come in contact with them, and at a university close contact is inevitable.”

Judge Easterbrook, who was appointed to the appeals court by President Ronald Reagan, relied on a 1905 Supreme Court decision, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which ruled that states may require all members of the public to be vaccinated against smallpox or pay a fine.

The smallpox vaccination requirement allowed no exceptions, Judge Easterbrook wrote, while Indiana University’s requirement made accommodations for students with religious and other objections. (Exempted students must wear masks and take frequent coronavirus tests, requirements that Judge Easterbrook said “are not constitutionally problematic.”)

The university was entitled to set conditions for attendance, he wrote, just as it can require the payment of tuition and instruct students “to read what a professor assigns.”

“People who do not want to be vaccinated may go elsewhere,” Judge Easterbrook wrote, noting that many universities do not require vaccinations. “Plaintiffs have ample educational opportunities.”

Judges Michael Y. Scudder Jr. and Thomas L. Kirsch II, both appointed by President Donald J. Trump, joined Judge Easterbrook’s opinion.

Adam Liptak

Republicans have whipped up a frenzy in the states and in the conservative media that they control about “critical race theory.” They are blowing up the issue because it benefits their party in two ways:

First, it distracts public attention from the violent and unprecedented assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. They want to pretend that day—where their own lives were at risk—never happened. It was like “a normal tourist visit,” as one House Republican member said. It was a day of infamy that should never be forgotten, but Republicans are trying to bury it.

Second, the CRT dispute is the kind of cultural wedge issue that fires up the Republican base. They cheer as legislatures pass laws that would criminalize teaching about racism and sexism, because some students might feel bad to learn what really happened in the past.

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a celebrated journalist who has won major awards for her work. The current controversy was launched in reaction to “The 1619 Project,” which she organized and to which she contributed the introductory essay about the resilience of racism. It waspublished in a full issue of The New York Times magazine.

You know the story by now about how the journalism school at the University of North Carolina offered her the Knight Chair of Race and Investigative Journalism. But when the faculty decision reached the board of the university, they decreed that—unlike her white predecessors—she would not be offered tenure.

In response to ongoing protests by students and faculty, the board took another vote and agreed (9-4) to reverse their original decision and to offer her tenure. Hannah-Jones rejected their grudging offer and will instead create a journalism center at Howard University, the most prominent Historically Black University in the nation.

Mercedes Schneider posts here the story behind the scene, as written by Joe Killian of NC Policy Watch. Killian fills in the blanks about the influence on the original decision by Walter Hussman, the wealthy and conservative magnate who donated $25 million to UNC for the journalism school, which was renamed the Hussman School of Journalism. Initial reports suggested that he did not use his influence to affect the board’s decisions. Killian says otherwise.

In recent decades, states have reduced their subsidies to institutions of high education, shifting the financial burden to students and families. After World War II, the federal government recognized that investing in higher education would benefit society as a whole. The rise of libertarianism in the past forty years has promoted the view that the consumer, not society, should pay for what is now seen as a personal benefit. This attitude exacerbates inequality, since those at the top can more readily pay for their children’s education than those with less money. It’s worth mentioning here that all higher education in Finland is tuition-free. The Finns consider education to be a human right, which people should not be required to purchase.

Making college free for all creates problems, to be sure. What about students and families already deeply in debt? Shouldn’t their debts be forgiven? What about those who already sacrificed to pay staggering debt?

Two Connecticut professors—Stephen Adair of Central Connecticut State University and Colena Susankreed1 of Gateway Community College— review some of the issues here, in an article that appeared in the New York Times.

The last 40 years have seen an ever-widening income gap between those with college degrees and those without. Over that interval, incomes have soared for those with advanced degrees and declined for those with high-school diplomas or less. As a result, the route to economic security for young people depends increasingly on access to higher education. Yet it keeps getting more expensive.

Since the Great Recession, the public portion of the operating costs for state universities and colleges in Connecticut, where we teach, has declined 20 percent; since the 1980s, it has declined by nearly half. In the 1960s, tuition for a Connecticut state university was $100 a year, which could be earned by working fewer than 100 hours at minimum wage. Today, a student needs to work nearly 1,000 hours at the state minimum of $12 an hour to pay the $11,462 required for tuition at the least expensive state university in Connecticut.

Our state is hardly unique in abdicating its responsibilities to the next generation. By 2018, only four states had returned to prerecession funding levels at public two- and four-year institutions. In Arizona the decline has been especially acute: 2018 per-student higher-education funding was down 55.7 percent from 2008, and average student tuition costs at four-year institutions increased by 91 percent. In Louisiana, these figures were 40.6 and 105.4 percent, respectively.

The Biden administration has proposed reforms to ease the student-debt crisis. But a real solution must upend a system of cascading inequities. Restoring the dream of higher education as an equalizer requires a holistic solution that attacks all the sources of the problem: a lack of investment in common goods, growing tuition and student debt and exploitative labor practices that undermine the quality of education.

The rise in tuition costs, combined with the growing economic value of a college degree, fuels the crisis of student debt, which today totals $1.7 trillion. To pay for a year of school, three-quarters of American families pay at least 24 percent of their average family income, even after grants are distributed.

As students pay more, they often receive less. Nationwide, nearly 75 percent of all faculty positions are off the tenure track, often without benefits or long-term job prospects. Ironically, hundreds of thousands of some of the most educated people in the country now shuttle to and from campus, juggling gigs to try to eke out a living while unable to give students the attention they deserve.

While President Biden’s American Families Plan includes a provision for free community college, this is an incomplete solution.

The College for All Act of 2021, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Pramila Jayapal, would address the crisis in full. In addition to making community college tuition-free for all, it would make two- and four-year public colleges and minority-serving institutions free for poor and middle-class students and increase funding for programs that target students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Nationally, in 2016, the net average price of college attendance (the total cost minus all grants awarded) for students coming from the lowest family income quartile amounted to 94 percent of total family income. Unsurprisingly, poorer students are less present at higher levels of education nationwide. In Connecticut, students of color are overrepresented at the introductory levels and increasingly underrepresented at higher levels.

We stand to exacerbate racial and class divides if we create a dead end for poorer students by cutting off funding at the associate level, stunting their progress or requiring them to take on debt to continue. By including both two- and four-year institutions and by expanding Pell grants so they can be used to cover living and nontuition expenses, the College for All Act would help bridge the significant earning gap between those with some college education and those with bachelor’s degrees.

The measure would also address the labor precarity corroding learning conditions: It would require that at least 75 percent of courses be taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty members and help transition short-term and part-time faculty members to those positions.

To fund these reforms, the bill proposes a tax on trades of stocks, bonds and derivatives, to raise more than $600 billion over the next decade.

The College for All Act complements recent efforts in states like California, Connecticut, Georgia and New York to boost two- and four-year institutions. While these efforts are distinct, they all seek to facilitate the movement between two-year colleges and public universities and improve equity...

To the extent that higher education reinforces existing inequities, it contributes to the affliction it is supposed to ease. Solving this problem will expand opportunities for individuals, grow the middle class, improve the skills of America’s work force and strengthen democracy. But this won’t happen on its own; it needs a push. So let’s push.

I posted a delightful article by Jennifer Raab, President of Hunter College, celebrating the importance of public higher education, which has provided opportunity to so many students from low-income and immigrant families.

A faculty member of the City University of New York wrote to say that budget cuts are strangling the promise of public higher education.

He wrote:

Public education requires more than cheerleading: right now, we also need advocates who are willing to fight for it. And while Virginia may have been an impressive alumna of Hunter College, this year Governor Cuomo has held back 20% of CUNY funding based on an expectation of a dramatic state shortfall. While the shortfall has been much less than predicted, the cuts to public education have occurred anyways. 

At Hunter and other CUNY schools, those cuts have meant heavy lay-offs of adjunct faculty. Their courses have been cancelled and, as a result, students are being squeezed into over-crowded classes. A course that, a year ago, might have worked with 30 students in person, this semester will have 40 students in a Zoom room. That’s nowhere near the level of teaching and engagement that Virginia received. And that’s a real tragedy.


In a year in which our public officials have insisted they will fight for greater equity, we need leaders who will fight for the country’s largest public university to be fully funded and its students to be given the quality of education they deserve. We need leaders who don’t only celebrate CUNY’s past, but demand that its traditions of providing a first-rate education for all New Yorkers be maintained in the present and into the future. And if that requires fighting, let’s insist that they take up that battle.

This is a beautiful article by Jennifer Raab, president of Hunter College, which is part of the City University of New York. It appeared in the New York Daily News. When Virginia O’Hanlon attended Hunter College, the City University was tuition-free. In 1976, CUNY began to charge tuition, but it remains far less than private colleges and universities, and many students can piece together aid packages from state and federal funds.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” It may be the most famous sentence in the history of local journalism.

Virginia O’Hanlon of 115 W. 95th St. was just 8 years old when she composed a letter to the editor, writing: “Some of my friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

Yes, there is, the paper guaranteed her. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

Those in the know must have been shocked to learn that the words came from the pen of veteran journalist Francis Pharcellus Church, brother of the Sun’s editor. Known to colleagues as a hard-boiled cynic, Church had never written so sentimentally. Now he tenderly assured young Virginia: “Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders that are unseen and unseeable in the world.”

Soon enough, thanks to free public higher education, Virginia saw those wonders for herself. Many of today’s newspaper readers know about the editorial. It has been widely reprinted, in the Daily News among many other papers, each year since it first appeared. It has inspired musical pageants.

But few know what happened to Virginia — or that her path in life actually followed Church’s advice to imagine the best.

The daughter of an NYPD coroner, young Virginia soon began harboring dreams that stretched beyond St. Nick’s annual visits. She aspired to teach — and motivate — children herself. So 10 years after writing to the Sun, Virginia O’Hanlon enrolled at Hunter College, which then, as now, educated many of the teachers employed by the New York City school system. Crucially, Hunter offered higher education to women of all races and religions — a rarity at the time of the school’s 1870 founding.

Graduating in 1910, Virginia went on to earn a Master’s and Ph.D., lived through the 1918 influenza pandemic, and taught grade school for decades. Eventually, she became junior principal of PS 401 in Brooklyn, a school renowned for providing an early version of “remote learning” to chronically sick children confined to the borough’s hospitals.

In 1949, Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas returned to Hunter to address students at her alma mater (and of course, retell her Santa Claus story). She retired in 1959, and died nearly 50 years ago, in 1971.

Her life — both the storybook version and the equally uplifting reality — serves as a reminder not only of faith questioned and reignited, but of the opportunities New York public education continues to provide, even now, amid the most stressful and prolonged crisis in city history.

In fact, when CollegeNET recently released its annual Social Mobility Index rankings of America’s colleges, it did not look at all like the usual “Best Colleges” lists topped by Ivy League names. The index, which analyzes colleges’ success at graduating low-income students into well-paying jobs, was front-loaded with public universities. Hunter ranked 9th out of 1,449 schools.

More than a century after Virginia matriculated, Hunter’s student population still offers a springboard to opportunity. Hunter has already served as the launchpad for, among others, Bella Abzug, Martina Arroyo, Ruby Dee, Pauli Murray, Dr. Rosalyn Yalow — and from our high school, such luminaries as Elena Kagan and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Always, we’ve taken particular pride in students, from here and overseas, who are the first in their families to attend college.

Just look what the most recent graduating class is up to. Elliot Natanov, the son of immigrants who fled anti-Semitism in Uzbekistan, is now pursuing a career in sports medicine. Ahmet Doymaz, who immigrated from Turkey as a child, studies cancer and cell regulation. Evelyn Tawil, daughter of Syrian refugees, is pursuing a graduate degree in landscape architecture. Jennifer Dikler, whose parents fled Russia, won a coveted Luce Scholarship to study trade policy in Asia.

Among recent grads, Margarita Labkovich became a Schwartzman Fellow in 2020 and will spend a year at Beijing’s Tsinghua University before returning to medical school and resuming her career as chief operating officer of Retina Technologies (she already holds two patents). And Thamara Jean, daughter of a Haitian-born synagogue superintendent, now attends Oxford University as Hunter’s first-ever Rhodes Scholar. These remarkable young people are soaring above their circumstances, with Hunter’s full support at their backs — and no debt collectors at their front doors.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus: it’s called public education.

After President-Elect Biden announced his new national security team, a group of experienced, highly competent professionals, Senator Marco Rubio mocked them in a tweet, mostly because they are well-educated. Presumably he’s trying to grab Trump’s mantle as champion of the uneducated.

Brianna Keillor of CNN shredded Rubin’s baloney, pointing out that the Trump administration included many Ivy League graduates, such as Trump, who went to Penn and frequently boasted about his Ivy League credentials. Neither Biden nor Harris are Ivy Leaguers. Marco Rubio of full of baloney, even if it’s shredded.

Mitchell Robinson, a professor at Michigan State University, has advice for state Democratic parties about their message to voters. He suggests what they need to do to attract new voters and turn red legislatures blue. Two big ideas: expand internet access and promote public education, K-16.

He begins:

1. Better, more affordable access to broadband internet service

In a digital age, access to fast, secure internet service is not only a basic human need–akin to utilities like electricity, water, and gas/oil–but it’s a requirement for candidates building a digital campaign infrastructure. Not being able to reliably connect to persons in remote areas of your state, or to those who live in urban areas plagued by internet deserts, severely hampers the ability to convey a candidate’s or party’s message, policy beliefs, or positions on issues. It also leaves persons without reliable internet access to the mercies of our information sources like Fox News or the Detroit News–meaning that they are less informed than someone with no media access at all.

2. Improve support for public education, including community colleges and state universities

One of the single largest predictors of voting patterns is the level of education among a group of potential voters. In general, the more educated a person is, the more likely that person is to vote, and to vote for Democratic candidates. Areas and states with a lower percentage of college-educated voters tend to vote Republican, and more educated areas tend to vote for Democrats. It just stands to reason that increasing the number of college-educated voters would lead to a more Democratic populace.

At the same time, the concerted attacks on public institutions under Republicans have decimated public schools in both our largest cities and the most sparsely populated regions in the country. Aside from race and ethnicity, the demographics and socio-economic issues in cities and rural areas are surprisingly similar–including the damage that has been done by Republican and neoliberal ed reform policies to students, teachers, and schools in both urban and rural communities.

  • Imagine a Democratic platform that features free community college tuition and affordable access to state colleges and universities, and a return to the kind of financial support from state legislatures that was common as recently as the late 1970s.

Open the link and read his other strong ideas to change the political dynamic.