02/11/2018  12:00 PM


VOL. 3,  NO. 1            winter  2018


T O P  S T O R I E S

Travesty for Michigan State  3… Identity politics takes some hits  2… Who is Jordan Peterson?  9… The case against education  14… Loan defaults on the rise  20… Online education on a roll  19… An endowment tax  7… and more.…

E M E R G E N T   O R D E R S  | Future of Higher Ed = Future of America  So argues a new report from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences 


Is Social Media a “Destructive Fad”?  As many observers are beginning to say, Let’s hope it’s a fad  17


Against the Grain: Three New Books Challenge Accepted Wisdom  The Square and the Tower, Why Liberalism Failed, and Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States  18


On a Megabyte Roll  Demand for online education is ramping up 19


Student Loan Defaults on the Rise  Almost a quarter of total student borrowers have defaulted on their loans  20


A Showdown Over Immigration  It’s not yet resolved, but 200 college presidents have urged Congress to protect the Dreamers 21


Congress Set to Clip Higher Ed Wings Or so it seems at the early stages of revising the Higher Education Act  22


Who Is Jordan Peterson? The trailer for his new book has 164,646 (and counting) views on YouTube  9


Violence Revisited  Several new reports on the Charlottesville protests last summer say that UVa wasn’t prepared  10


Bad News for Social Clubs & Frats  Some high-profile incidents, including sex assault and death, force colleges to act



Mark Bray: Anti-fascist Academic  The Dartmouth historian has leapt into current events with publication of Antifa: The Anti-fascist Handbook 


Failing to Track Suicides  Not only do most big colleges not publicize student suicides, they don’t even collect the data  13


P U B L I C   T R U S T  | Making “the Case Against Education” Only an academic would argue that college is a “waste of time and money”  14


Is DeVos Swimming Upstream?  She’s been called anti-intellectual and sued over new sex assault guidelines. Is it too early to tell what the secretary of education means for higher ed?  15


P U R P O S E | Life After College  Student anxiety about being ready for the job market  1


Identity Politics Takes Some Hits  Heavyweight academics tarnish the holy grail of liberal thought  2


G O V E R N A N C E  | Travesty for Michigan State  The Larry Nassar scandal hits the 163-year-old Great Lakes public university like a tsunami  3


“Elitist” is Beginning to Hurt  Some college presidents admit that being special is damaging their brand  4


Whom Does Endowment Tax Really Hurt?  It may not be the wealthy research universities  5


Some Endowment Data  The stash of cash held by colleges and universities has become a benchmark of college ratings 6


The Endowment Tax and Berea College  The tiny Kentucky college became a last-minute exception to the new tax rule 7


Sexual Harassment Charge Fells Rochester President The response to a misconduct charge included not telling the trustees   8









Life After College  A new survey reveals that many students do not feel prepared for life after college. The report, from Gallup and Strada Education Network, a former loan guarantor that expanded its mission last year, surveyed more than 32,000 students at 43 randomly selected four-year colleges and universities, both public and private. Only a third of students feel they will graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in the job market (34 percent) or in the workplace (36 percent). Students pursuing STEM degrees expressed the most confidence about their job prospects (62 percent), versus only 28 percent of liberal arts students who say they have the right skills and knowledge to succeed in the job market. A little more than half of students believe their major will lead to a good job, but as they progress through college, their confidence diminishes—from 56 percent of first-year students to 51 percent of seniors. Other research by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center suggests that 85 percent of career success comes from having well-developed “soft skills,” aka people skills, as opposed to technical skills and knowledge. Another study of college and university trustees found that only 22 percent believe that preparing students for careers is the most important role of higher education. Preparing graduates to lead meaningful lives and be engaged citizens is more critical, they say. Meanwhile, Purdue University has rolled out lifelong learning e-portfolios for its 40,000 students and 3,055 faculty members. The platform will allow students to capture, showcase, and, hopefully, translate their skills into more attractive job offers. 




Identity Politics Takes Some Hits In his new bookThe Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, Mark Lilla, a celebrity professor of the humanities at Columbia University and self-described liberal Democrat, set off an intellectual storm by criticizing one of the brightest stars of his party’s belief system: identity politics—defined, according to book reviewer Jonathan Rauch, as “political mobilization organized around group characteristics such as race, gender, and sexuality, as opposed to party, ideology, or pecuniary interest.” The identity politics fight has been at the center of the free speech battles roiling college campuses of late. Jonathan Haidt, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and another star academic, likens today’s identity politics to an “induction into a cult.” Students are being taught that bad people use their power and privilege to abuse good people, sending “them down the road to alienation, anxiety and intellectual impotence,” says Haidt. Meanwhile, John McWhorter, also a professor at Columbia, argues that students aren’t as lefty as is believed. While the perception is that college campuses are full of “snowflakes” who readily throw out terms like “white racism,” he writes, they actually represent a “vocal minority.” Most students, he says, don’t welcome sermons “about how the country is full of racists. 









3  Travesty for Michigan State  Once again an American college is at the center of a national scandal: a once revered sports-medicine doctor was exposed as a serial sex abuser during a trial that transfixed the world. In fact, hundreds of girls were abused by Larry Nassar over a nearly two-decade period, in which he worked for Michigan State and the Olympics gymnastics team—and the repercussions from that institutional blindness were immediate.  “Michigan State Goes on Trial” was one headline. The college’s president was forced to resign despite her expertise at increasing enrollment and fund-raising. Two former governors have since been appointed to replace her, one as president, over the objections of the faculty, the other as senior advisor. 


4 “Elitist” Is Beginning to Hurt More than a dozen college and university presidents say they have been “blindsided” to learn that people outside of academia view their institutions as elitist; this according to a series of recently released interviews conducted by Politico. Charges that top schools cater to the wealthy are coming from both sides of the political aisle, and these top administrators admit that they are hurting their brand. Liberals are increasingly alarmed by the lack of economic diversity among students attending top schools. According to a study last year, some schools enroll more students from the top 1 percent of earners than the bottom 60 percent. The GOP rewrite of the Higher Education Act and the GOP’s tax reform plan are serving as a wakeup call to university presidents, who are now going on the road to take on every speaking engagement they can. Speaking at the Department of Education’s recent “Rethinking Higher Education Summit,” Jerry C. Davis, president of the College of the Ozarks (known as “Work U.” because it requires students to work but charges no tuition), talked about the “horrific loans” parents think they have to take out for their child’s college education. Seeking new leaders who can bring a fresh perspective to the job, more boards are seeking college presidents who come from the business world or government. Some cases, like that of Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor turned Purdue University president, appear to be working out better than others. He’s “breathing new life” into the school, according to Education Dive. But Janet Napolitano’s tenure at the University of California has been more controversial.  


Whom Does the Endowment Tax Really Hurt?  Should university endowments be taxed? The GOP’s controversial tax reform plan, signed into law by President Donald Trump in late December, includes a 1.4 percent excise tax on the net investment income of private colleges and universities with at least 500 full-time students and assets of $500,000 or more per student. Wealthy research universities like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton—which are sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars in their endowments—protested the move, likening the tax to an attack on academia and a raid on university coffers. Endowment tax supporters, however, say it will discourage schools from acting like hedge funds and pumping cash into risky investments, while ultimately helping to curb waste and bloat. The richest institutions, they say, spend their endowments mainly “to elevate their status” rather than to make tuition more affordable. Surprisingly, some elite schools, such as Columbia University, New York University, the University of Southern California, Vanderbilt University, and Johns Hopkins University, will probably not have to pay the tax (at least for the foreseeable future) because they enroll so many students, their endowments fall below the per-student threshold. On the other hand, smaller schools with sizable endowments but limited enrollment could be the hardest hit. For example, Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, with 1,865 students and a $1 billion endowment, might be forced to increase enrollment to stay under the threshold and avoid a $500,000 tax bill. 


Some Endowment Data  Higher education endowments have been around for centuries, but they have become increasingly more important in recent years as other revenue streams have begun drying up. Today, endowment size is one of the main benchmarks used to compare colleges and universities. By 1920, eight private East Coast universities had the largest endowments in the country: Harvard topped the list then at $44,569,000. Today, Harvard’s endowment is still the largest in the nation, totaling $37.1 billion. As the stock market soared during the 1990s, endowments also soared, but by the early 2000s, critics began demanding that wealthy schools use their vast endowments to reduce tuition. Last year, another good one for the stock market, college endowment returns rose by more than 12 percent. However, there’s room for concern. Ten-year average returns, which schools use to set future funding models, fell to 4.6 percent. Most schools set a goal of long-term returns of 7 percent in order to cover institutional costs. In an effort to improve returns, Harvard marked down nearly $1 billion in natural resource assets (like trees, which take years to grow before they can be sold) during fiscal year 2017. As a result, Harvard posted the lowest return of the Ivy League. The cuts would have been even larger if not for pushback by the endowment board. (See “Whom Does the Endowment Tax Really Hurt?”) 


7   The Endowment Tax and Berea College  Berea College, a small liberal arts college (1600 students), founded by abolitionists in 1855 and now accepting only low-income students, was bracing to pay a whopping $14 million tax (1.4 percent) on its billion-dollar endowment.  The school’s president, Lyle Roelofs, said Berea would be forced to accept fewer students.  And thus home state Senator Mich McConnell, who happens to be the Senate Majority leader, proposed giving Berea a tax exemption. Democrats cried favoritism, saying Republicans were targeting universities; McConnell said Democrats were targeting Berea. McConnell won, securing an eleventh-hour exemption for the school on February 8.  


Rochester President Resigns After Controversial Handling of Sexual Harassment Complaints  Joel Seligman, president of the University of Rochester, has announced his resignation, effective at the end of February. The resignation came the same day as the release of an independent report examining the university’s response to sexual misconduct allegations involving the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department. The report noted that the university made “missteps” when looking into complaints against a prominent psycholinguistics professor. The investigators also noted that school trustees weren’t fully informed about the matter until the EEOC complaint was reported by the media





Who Is Jordan Peterson? Raising a ruckus on American campuses, from north of the border, is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson.  He started by drawing a silent protest in an appearance at Harvard last spring.  Published since then is a Peterson book taking issue with “identity politics” (see “Identity Politics Takes Some Hits”) and addressing the timeless question of happiness, 12 Rules For Life.  The book has been the subject of multiple reviews, the video trailer for which has attracted 164,646 views on YouTube. He has almost a half million followers on Twitter—and has gotten the attention of Peggy Noonan in her Wall Street Journal column.  In a like sign of the times, a record number of students are taking a “happiness” course at Yale.  And from his perch as the dean of 18th century American historians, Gordon Wood, in an interview about populism and identity politics, concludes as the Wall Street Journal headline suggests,  “Polarization Is an Old American Story”--while the figure who inspired campus violence at Middlebury last winter, Charles Murray, mused recently about his career’s being “one wrong answer after another as far as the left is concerned.” 


10  Violence Revisited: The Charlottesville Reports  In the aftermath of the violent clashes between alt-right and antifa demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer, a new report sharply criticizes campus officials at the University of Virginia and local police for how they handled the brawl, during which one woman was killed. A former US attorney, retained by the city, charged the college and the police with being ill prepared, lacking coordination, and not requesting aid “until it was too late.” A detailed analysis of over 3,000 pages of email exchanges among university staffers, including President Teresa Sullivan, drew the same conclusion, as did a report by the dean of the Law School. Only UVa’s Health System got high grades for its preparedness and care


11  Social Clubs and Fraternities: Drinking, Hazing, Sexual Assault, and Death  Agitating student life in undergraduate fraternities, as elsewhere, across the country, are issues of gender equality and sexual assault—and, unique to them, initiation rites. In the case of Harvard, an independent institution, the administration seeks to extend its campus values of gender equality to private social clubs. In Michigan, a state-governed university leaves sexual assault issues to a student council; in Ohio, the administration cracks down on fraternities; and in Florida and Pennsylvania, administrators avert their eyes to hazing deaths, leaving criminal issues to state courts. 


12  Mark Bray: Anti-fascist Academic  Dartmouth historian Mark Bray, may be more of an expert than anyone today on the far-left-leaning anti-fascist movement (aka antifa), which has adopted some of its right-wing (aka alt-right) opponent’s militant tactics. The author of Antifa: The Anti-fascist Handbook, Bray is no objective armchair historian and has come under fire from antifa’s critics, who blast the group for promoting violence. He writes that violence is “a small though vital sliver of antifascist activity.” “When pushed,” he told a Meet the Press audience, “self-defense is a legitimate response.” This prompted Dartmouth’s president, Philip J. Hanlon, to issue a statement saying that Bray’s views “do not represent the views of Dartmouth.” The school, he wrote, “condemns anything but civil discourse in the exchange of opinions and ideas.” 


13  Most Big Public Universities Fail to Track Suicides  Most of the largest public colleges and universities—including big-name schools like Arizona State University and the University of Wisconsin—do not track suicides among their students, despite making investments in prevention. A recent Associated Press investigation found that less than half of the 100 largest public universities collect annual suicide data about students. And those schools that do track the information do so “unevenly” and “loosely,” according to Inside Higher Ed. Without data, schools can overlook trends that might help them save lives. Part of the problem, administrators say, is that it’s not always clear what should or should not be counted—e.g., the confusion over how to report suicides that occur off campus or during a holiday break. These findings come at a time of surging demand among students for mental health services. Still, only 8 to 10 percent of students seek therapy. 









14  Making “the Case Against Education”  In a stinging critique of the popular notion that college is for everyone, a professor of economics at George Mason University, Bryan Caplan, has written The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. A follow-up Atlantic magazine article sums up his thesis: If everyone obtained a college degree, the end result would be “not great jobs for all, but runaway credential inflation,” he writes. To the argument that a college education pays off in higher income, he answers with a single word: “signaling. Even if what a student learned in school is utterly useless, employers will happily pay extra if their scholastic achievement provides information about their productivity.”  


15  Is DeVos Swimming Upstream?  In her first year as secretary of education, Betsy DeVos has met with a mixed reception in academia.  In an interview conducted by Bill Moyers, Joan Scott, a professor emerita at the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study, cited Richard Hofstadter’s famous book, written in the McCarthy period, Anti-intellectualism in American Life, when criticizing DeVos for warning students, said Scott,  that “they don’t have to be indoctrinated by professors at their universities,” even though “ the reason you go to university is to be taught, is to learn how to think more clearly, to call into question the ideas that you came with and think about whether or not they are the ideas you will always want to hold.” DeVos’s first appearance on a higher education campus, meanwhile, drew sharp criticism of the institution’s president for welcoming her, while the new sexual assault guidelines her office has issued have become the subject of a law suit in federal court.  









16  Is the Future of Higher Ed the Future of America?  Some 90 percent of young high-school grads, along with millions of adults, will enroll in college at some point in their lives, with the goal of improving their lives. Indeed, a new report from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, entitled "The Future of Undergraduate Education, the Future of America,” notes that an undergraduate institution is one of the few places where “people from different backgrounds and communities come together for a shared purpose.” Yet not every student will have a successful college experience or go on to graduate. The report, the final one in a set of research publications from the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, an Academy project begun in 2015, recommends three broad national undergraduate priorities: ensuring that all students have a high-quality educational experience; raising completion rates while reducing inequities among different student populations; and making college more affordable. Among the specific recommendations: improving teacher training and providing non-tenure-track faculty with stable professional careers, as well as teaching students the technical skills they will need in an increasingly automated future—one in which more and more workers will be hired on a task-by-task basis. But even if immediate action is taken, the Academy estimates that some of these goals will take decades to realize. (See also “Life After College.”)





17  Is Social Media a “Destructive Fad”?  Joining voices in academia, even Silicon Valley veterans are expressing skepticism about social media. In her new book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, San Diego State psychology professor Jean Twenge tells The Chronicle of Higher Education that she saw a “sudden shift in loneliness, symptoms of depression, life satisfaction, and happiness” among children. “It was right around when we reached market saturation with smartphones. And that’s when teens’ unhappiness began to spike.” Journalist Nick Bolton, in Vanity Fair, quotes numerous digerati sounding an alarm about what they helped create before concluding that “I’m now in the camp of people wondering what the hell were we thinking?” 


18  Against the Grain: Three New Books Challenge Accepted Wisdom  Coming to the defense of hierarchy in the social order is a new book by Niall Ferguson: The Square and the Tower.  In an essay summing up its thesis, Ferguson compares the disruption of contemporary culture by the social media technologies to Martin Luther’s exploitation of Gutenberg’s invention of movable type.  “It raises the question of just how much the unruly world should be governed--and by whom,” according to one review of the book. “Not everyone will agree, but everyone will be charmed and educated.” From a slightly different perspective, another recent book, Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick Deneen, takes issue with the “project of modernity itself,” in the words of a reviewer, “whose origins date to the 16th and 17th centuries and whose signal political achievement, arriving in the 18th century, was the founding of the United States. Yes, that `failure’--and that liberalism.”  A third book, James Scott’s Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, traces the origins of hierarchy, and civilization itself to the early agrarian states of Mesopotamia and China (see here and here).  





19  On a Megabyte Roll   Online education offerings continue to expand, particularly at the community college level for nontraditional students.  According to one study, demand is ramping up.  Some community colleges see that demand as a way to survive.  In California, the governor has proposed spending $120 million to establish an online-only program similar to those in Wisconsin and New York. To address the issue of accreditation, a New York philanthropist is promoting the idea of agency for online college courses, dubbed the Modern States Education Alliance.  And in an encouraging turn-around, in part due to the decline in for-profit higher education, the distance-learning arm of the University of Maryland has achieved record enrollment numbers in the last three years.  Not surprisingly, perhaps, faculty skepticism continues. (See “Is Social Media a Destructive Fad?') 



20  Student Loan Defaults on the Rise  At the end of the third quarter of 2017, 22 percent of total borrowers in repayment, or 4.6 million Americans, defaulted on their student loans. This is double the number from just four years ago. Defaulted federal student loans now total $84 billion. Exactly who are these individuals who struggle with student debt? Contrary to the stereotypical portrait of a young person who went straight from high school to a college dorm, defaulters are more likely to be nontraditional students or individuals who attended graduate school. A new study found that students pursuing advanced degrees took out 38 percent of federal education loans while making up just 17 percent of students. Grad students borrow, on average, three times as much as undergrads—$18,210 vs. $5,460. The results of another study suggest that tighter bankruptcy standards and wage garnishment policies would lead to lower student-loan default rates. A proposed plan by the Department of Education would make it more difficult for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, such as the now defunct Corinthian Colleges, to receive loan forgiveness. Former students would be required to show “clear and convincing” evidence that their schools had an “intent to deceive.” Loan forgiveness for such students could be cut by 60 percent. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is reaching out to finance and tech companies for help in managing the $1.3 trillion student-loan program


21  A Showdown Over Immigration  More than 200 university presidents have released a letter urging Congress to find a bipartisan “narrowly tailored solution” to protect so-called Dreamers from deportation. This comes as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children, nears the deadline, March 5, that President Donald Trump set phasing out the immigration program if Congress takes no action. According to estimates by Moody’s, in five years the nation’s gross domestic product would be $105 billion less without DACA recipients than with them. In addition, as a result of President Donald Trump’s travel bans, U.S. campuses across the country are seeing fewer new international students. However, it’s not just students who are affected. The current political climate also impacts the hiring of international faculty and researchers. There are concerns that leading scholars might choose to forego working in the US altogether. Despite a record-setting eight-hour speech on the floor of the House by Minority Leader Nancy Pelossi, as of February 9, there was still no DACA deal. 


22  Congress Set to Clip Higher Ed Wings  Late last year the House introduced a bill to overhaul the almost 50-year-old Higher Education Act. Later this year, the Senate will introduce its version. The final legislation is expected to take over a year to get through Congress. The current House version would scotch most for-profit regulations, including the unpopular gainful-employment regulation that ties student loans to graduates’ future earnings. The funding of $600 million in grants for minority schools would remain, with the stipulation that they graduate or transfer 25 percent of their students. Stating that six million skilled jobs are unfilled, the bill’s authors push for more credentialed programs, community colleges’ partnering with businesses, more apprenticeships, and for older students’ prior experience to count as credit. Also included are limits on “when and where free speech may occur.”


  ~ E N D ~