What We Would Like to See in the New Year

It’s been a remarkable year for higher education. We ranked the most important events of 2018 in last week’s article. But now it’s time to look ahead. Here is what members of the Martin Center staff would like to see happen in academia in 2019.


Jenna A. Robinson, President

More States Adopting Due Process Legislation

As the #MeToo movement sweeps through college campuses, it’s more important than ever to have proper processes in place to ensure that both accusers and accused are treated with fairness and dignity. On most college campuses, student courts treat defendants as guilty-until-proven-innocent and give them few opportunities to clear their names. The new standard promulgated by the Department of Education in November is a vast improvement over the Obama-era rules made infamous in the 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter.” But there are still many areas of concern. States should remedy this problem—at least at public colleges and universities—by adopting legislation that guarantees student defendants the right to counsel, requires parties to make good-faith efforts to exchange evidence, and allows students and their advocates to make opening and closing statements, and to present and question witnesses.

States should also ensure that accused students are given adequate notice of adjudication processes, including details of the allegations. Most importantly, states should demand that universities use “clear and convincing evidence” as the standard of proof of responsibility for proving sexual misconduct.


NC State Finally Earning Its Green Light from FIRE

It’s been more than a year since North Carolina passed a bill ensuring free speech on its public university campuses. Many campuses have responded by reforming their speech codes and rewriting problematic policies that ran afoul of the First Amendment.

But my alma mater, NC State University, still has one policy on its books that prevents it from receiving a “green light” from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. (A green light indicates that a university has no policies that seriously imperil speech on campus.) The policy in question regulates employee’s computer usage: “University employees using University IT resources may not convey personal statements that could be construed as representing the positions or beliefs of the University. For example, religious views, political campaign positions, proselytizing remarks and quotations are not allowed in e-mail signature blocks.”

In 2019, I hope NC State removes this policy to become the eighth school in the UNC System to receive a green light from FIRE. This move would cement North Carolina’s status as the nation’s leader on campus free speech.


Jay Schalin, Director of Policy Analysis

New Year, New UNC President, New Priorities?

Let’s hope the New Year brings the University of North Carolina system a new president who is a reform-minded leader and not just another establishment follower.

It does not benefit North Carolina to stay the higher education course it has followed for decades. During that time, it has focused on increasing college attendance in the hope that doing so will improve the economy. But the economy of North Carolina is already in good shape, except in rural areas where higher education has little effect (except to advance a “brain drain” dynamic). Past presidents have also focused on making higher education more accessible to all students. And they have; North Carolina’s higher education system is one of the most affordable in the country.

But the UNC system’s real problem is not who gets taught, or how much it costs to get taught—it’s what gets taught. The faculty and curriculum tilt far to the left, to the point at which the school is in conflict with much of the state. The university system should not be a place from which academics mount campaigns to transform the country into something most people do not want it to be; the politics need to end.

It is therefore imperative that the new president is somebody who recognizes the political imbalance on campuses. He or she should be somebody who realizes that the university system should stick to teaching the best ideas that have been written and thought, not forwarding a political agenda.

Whoever is selected will need a completely different mindset from his or her predecessors. The job requires a higher level of awareness and more willingness to stand against the prevailing winds than previous presidents have shown.


Time for Independent Alumni Associations

My New Year’s wish is that more alumni follow Mark Pulliam’s lead at the University of Texas and start independent alumni associations. Most alumni organizations have been reduced to mere extensions of the administration. As the saying goes (sort of), administrations treat alumni like mushrooms: they are kept in the dark and fed fertilizer. Alumni receive glossy magazines that put a happy face on their alma maters, showing all the wonderful things students, faculty, and campus organizations do. They get fundraising letters and invitations to fun events; no controversies are mentioned, except those cases for which the administration wishes to get their perspective on.

A few alumni make it onto their school’s governing boards, but often they are handpicked in some political process that ensures they will be subordinate to the administration. Other than that, they are expected to be something like a cross between a cheerleader and an ATM.

But there are real problems in academia that need immediate attention. Foremost is the excessive politicization in all its various forms, including the silencing of dissenting opinions. It is exceedingly difficult to reverse the politicization of a campus, given academia’s current governance structure.

That is where an informed, independent, and organized alumni association could prove valuable, serving as an important counter to this inertia. Generally, they have a wider range of beliefs than faculty or administrators, who tend to be somewhat one-sided politically. And they have a claim to “ownership” of the college or university at least as strong as those of the faculty or administration.

Alumni can have a great effect because of their financial support; administrators will respond to alumni withholding gifts or targeted giving. They also are well-connected throughout the campus and can expose problems that now remain hidden until they are irreversible. It’s time they took part in what matters.


George Leef, Director of Research

Falling Public Confidence in Higher Education is a Good Thing

For most of our history, Americans were quite indifferent towards higher education. Early 20th-century business leaders like Andrew Carnegie thought ambitious young Americans were wasting their time in college. Following World War II, enrollments slowly increased as the country became more prosperous.

The big surge in public support for and confidence in higher education began in the late-1960s. More and more high school graduates went on to college because of the widespread belief that earning a degree was both intellectually and occupationally a good move. Not going to college came to be seen as a stigma.

But that long trend appears to have crested. Recent public opinion surveys show that confidence in higher education is falling. According to a Gallup survey released in October, less than half of American adults say that they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence. (The Gallup survey and others coming to the same conclusion are discussed in this Inside Higher Ed story.)

The results found that the drop in confidence was seen across the political spectrum, although more pronounced among Republicans than Democrats. No American institution has suffered as steep a decline in confidence from 2015 to 2018, Gallup reported.

Those results should be a wake-up call for college leaders. For years, they’ve been taking high enrollments and the accompanying inflow of money for granted. It’s now clear that many Americans no longer think that college is worth the cost.  When customers lose confidence, service providers had better examine their product.


The Diversity Mania Keeps Getting Worse

One of the worst trends in higher education – the mania for diversity – keeps getting worse. The idea that colleges must have quotas of students and faculty to “represent” certain racial and ethnic groups has been with us for decades. Instead of settling down, this obsession has been expanding.

Two recent examples, both from California, exemplify the trend.

The University of California at Davis has begun a program to increase hiring of faculty from “underrepresented” groups. The university says it wants to “cast a broad net and reach out to candidates who enhance diversity through their research, teaching and service.”

What is new about this is that the university is dispensing with the standard requirement that the scholars have to fit into any particular academic field. Just “enhancing diversity” is enough.

The other troubling case is at UCLA. The university has announced that candidates for faculty positions and those who seek promotions, must submit a “diversity statement.” UCLA officials explained that they believe faculty candidates’ “diversity accomplishments” should be given equal weight with their scholarly achievements.

Two problems stand out. First, scholars who want to teach at UCLA or be promoted will feel pressure to come up with “diversity accomplishments” and that means diverting time away from true research.

The other problem is that anyone who thinks that diversity is a harmful delusion will think twice before saying so. To criticize diversity will probably sink your chances under this requirement


Anthony Hennen, Writer/Editor

Get Colleges Focused on Completion Growth, Not Enrollment Growth

Media attention in recent years has focused on more students attending college, but relatively few outlets have asked whether these students actually graduate college. Instead of looking at whether more high school graduates go to college, policymakers need to ask why so few college students earn a degree.

Some college presidents are finally taking the problem seriously, like Arizona State University’s Michael Crow, who told CNBC that America has a “completion crisis, not a debt crisis.”

One sign of that crisis is that degree attainment is now measured by six-year graduation rates, rather than four-year rates. The latest six-year graduation rate is 56.9 percent, but the four-year graduation rate is a paltry 40.6 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Students need to do their part in attaining a degree within four years by planning their courses of study and knowing what classes to take and what credits they need. If they struggle in a subject, they need to devote more time to studying and speaking with their professors or taking advantage of university tutoring services, often provided free of charge. But universities also have a responsibility of identifying struggling students and offering them assistance.

College officials should also be more honest with students about how long it takes to finish a degree. Students rarely expect to take more than four years to earn a bachelor’s degree, and extra time can be costly. If university officials warn college freshmen during orientation about the risk and cost of an extra semester or year to finish a degree, students might take summer classes or work harder. Not every student will graduate on time—or at all—but college leaders all too often get a pass on their poor completion records.


Don’t Make Graduate School the Next Victim of Credential Inflation

One promising trend that American college graduates should follow their international counterparts in is to stop applying to graduate school so much. International student enrollment in graduate school fell by 3.7 percent in Fall 2017 compared to Fall 2016, but American student enrollment increased 1.1 percent in the same period, according to a report published by the Council of Graduate Schools.

The reason why prospective graduate students should rethink grad school is simple: they’re likely to take on high debt with weak job prospects. The median debt for graduate students is almost $58,000 and, since 2000, graduate enrollment has increased by 38 percent. On an individual level, going to graduate school can pay off, especially in high-paying fields. But many graduate programs train students to become academics—and finding a permanent, stable position in academia is difficult. The overproduction of PhDs in some fields means graduates may have to find low-paying jobs for years before they find a steady job. Many students would be better off joining in the workforce after earning their bachelor’s degrees.

But there is another non-economic reason to avoid graduate school. Higher education in the United States, more and more, is becoming an all-consuming institution. Rather than remaining one route to success among many, college in America is becoming the only route to success. Businesses require employees to have a college degree now—even for work that didn’t previously require one. Requiring a college degree for someone to be successful in America will narrow who can become successful. If America is to stay the land of opportunity, its people need to preserve many routes to success instead of pushing everyone through one or two accepted avenues. Revolting against graduate school except in specific circumstances would be a small step in the right direction.


Shannon Watkins, Policy Associate

Increase Accountability for University Foundations

Ordinarily, North Carolina state law, the Umstead Act, does not permit publicly funded colleges and universities to engage in commercial activity or to compete in the private sector.

Of course, there are some exemptions to the law. For example, universities are allowed to run hotel and food services on their premises. Yet, even with those exemptions, the law still subjects universities to a great deal of oversight: If a public institution were to build a hotel on its premises, it would have to consult with the state legislature’s Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations and share its plans as well as its financial projections.

However, there is a loophole in the Umstead Act that allows public institutions of higher education to bypass standard oversight and public record laws by means of institutionally-affiliated—but private non-profit—university foundations. And UNC institutions have taken advantage of that legal loophole. UNC Charlotte’s foundation, for example, is in the process of building an $84 million university-affiliated hotel and conference center on campus.

But foundations’ lack of transparency should disturb both lawmakers and tax-paying citizens alike. Even though foundations are exempt from state law, they still directly benefit from university resources, assets, and personnel. As a member of the UNC system Board of Governors, Marty Kotis, said: “money clearly flows” between universities and their foundations.

Given university foundations’ close relationship and involvement with taxpayer-funded schools, the North Carolina legislature should try to close the existing legal loophole and subject universities and their corresponding foundations to the same oversight and sunshine laws.


Cut Funding for Politicized Women’s Centers

College women’s centers at public universities exist to advance the progressive agenda on campus and primarily—if not exclusively—serve students whose ideological beliefs align with that agenda.

Examples of overt political activity promoted by women’s centers— in North Carolina and nationally—are seemingly endless.

One recent example was a panel event entitled “Gender and Politics: A Carolina Seminar” co-sponsored by UNC-Chapel Hill’s women’s center (along with the American Association of University Women and the Institute of Politics). The women’s center’s director, Gloria Thomas, hosted and moderated the event.

The purpose of the panel discussion was to hear about what motivates women to participate in politics, what issues women disagree on, as well as their experiences and advice. Such an event has the potential to be formative for students by exposing them to a broad range of political viewpoints. However, not surprisingly, the panel’s organizers only invited women speakers who worked for the local Democratic party.

When the chairwoman of the UNC College Republicans, an undergraduate student, pointed out the lack of viewpoint diversity on the panel, the organizers attempted to rectify the situation by inviting the student herself to participate in the panel.

However, what would have been more fair—and appropriate—would have been to invite experienced representatives from both sides of the political aisle. The fact that this was not done demonstrates the strongly leftward political leaning of the center’s programming.

Yet, women’s centers are funded in large part by taxpayer money. In the 2013-2014 academic year, for example, UNC-Chapel Hill’s women’s center received $126,902 from the legislature. The state of North Carolina should take a close look at the activities facilitated by its campus women’s centers and determine whether they serve any true educational purpose.