Reform in 2022: Our Hopes for the New Year

While the year 2021 wasn’t quite as tumultuous and unpredictable as 2020,  the higher education landscape continues to look very different: overall enrollment continues to drop and countless institutions have issued vaccine mandates. At the same time, schools have become all the more emboldened in demanding ideological allegiance to the “diversity, equity, and inclusion” movement. But there also has been some notable progress. More and more, influential alumni, for example, are standing up for free expression on campus.

There is plenty more work to be done to reform higher education. Here is what members of the Martin Center staff would like to see happen in academia in 2022.

Jenna Robinson, President

End Discrimination and Special Preferences in UNC Admissions

The most important reform I’d like to see in 2022 is for UNC institutions to end all discrimination and special preferences based on immutable characteristics such as race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. Such a reform is already being considered by the North Carolina General Assembly. In July, Republican state senators Phil Berger and Deanna Ballard proposed legislation to amend the North Carolina constitution to ban racial preferences in public education and hiring.

The idea is popular among North Carolina voters. In a November poll, nearly 70 percent of likely North Carolina voters said they would support an amendment “to prohibit the State and its political subdivisions from discriminating or granting preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

If passed, North Carolina would be the tenth state to ban race preferences in college admissions. Others are: California (1996), Washington (1998), Florida (1999), Michigan (2006), Nebraska (2008), Arizona (2010), New Hampshire (2012), Oklahoma (2012), and Idaho (2020).

End the Use of Political Litmus Tests in Hiring

In January 2019, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that “more colleges are asking scholars for Diversity Statements.” Now, they’re nearly ubiquitous. In order to be considered for a faculty position, candidates must submit a statement explaining their views on or contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.

Such statements can easily be used to screen out ideological and political dissent. As Dorian Abbot’s experience at MIT demonstrated, a commitment to fair and equal treatment of all individuals regardless of their race, class, gender, or other identity groups will not pass muster. At most universities, such opinions are more likely to get a professor blacklisted or canceled than hired or promoted.

Writing for Heterodox Academy, Alex Small lists several additional reasons to end mandatory diversity statements. Chief among them is the lack of evidence that “selecting for social views will net more effective and compassionate teachers and mentors.”

Ideally, faculty senates and boards of trustees would work together to end the practice of mandating diversity statements. Barring that, state legislatures should prohibit public colleges and universities from requiring diversity statements in hiring, promotion, and tenure.

 

George Leef, Director of Editorial Content

Colleges and Universities Need to Get Serious about the Assessment of Learning

Higher education in America is on the brink of major change. That is the persuasive argument put forth in The Great Upheaval by Arthur Levine and Scott Van Pelt. Their main point is that colleges and universities used to exist in a seller’s market and could get away with slapping degrees on students no matter their academic accomplishments, but that is changing. They will soon operate in a buyer’s market where they’ll have a hard time surviving unless they provide concrete educational value.

Among other things, modes of assessment will have to change. In the past, all students had to do was to pass enough courses to get the number of credits needed to graduate. Lots of evidence suggests that many students coasted through without learning much of lasting value. Inflated grades helped to deceive them into believing that they were doing high quality work. Many of them now flounder, facing student loan bills but lacking in marketable skills.

Therefore, it will become increasingly important for college leaders to insist that academic departments demonstrate their worth by showing that students have made intellectual gains, both in general and specific to that field. Thus, schools might develop (perhaps on their own, but more likely in a consortium) a test of basic knowledge and skills, along with tests for learning gains in majors: biology, accounting, history, English, mathematics, and so on.

By administering the tests to incoming students and upon their graduation, school officials will have a means of telling whether their departments are contributing to students’ academic growth, or just going through the motions. They will undoubtedly find that some are doing very well (I’d surmise that students in, say, accounting and physics, will show solid gains), while others are merely slapping credentials on students for sticking it out (identity studies programs and other “soft” fields are apt to look poor when put under the microscope).

Such assessments will enable school leaders to tell the weak departments that they must either improve or face elimination before they drag the institution’s reputation down.

Improve the Curriculum with a Course on Logic and Argumentation

Most colleges and universities proclaim that they turn students into “critical thinkers.” That, however, does not mean what you might think; in the world of higher education, “critical thinking” means acceptance of various doctrines (such as Critical Race Theory) that are hostile to America and its traditions. It does not mean that the students have become sharp analysts who are able to detect poor reasoning. If students had to take a course on logic and argumentation, that would go a long way towards lowering the heat on campus battles.

To accomplish that, schools would need to require at least one course on logic and argumentation, but few offer such a course and almost none require one.

Such a course would cover formal logic and informal logic, the latter encompassing the many fallacies that we encounter in everyday argumentation. As an example, consider the common argument that someone’s position should be disregarded because he has received funding from a “bad” source (maybe the Koch Foundation). Most college students think that to be a sound mode of argument, but it is fallacious.

Whether someone’s argument is good or not doesn’t depend on external circumstances like the receipt of money. The soundness of any argument depends on its internal strength—are the premises true and does the conclusion follow from them?

If students had to take a course on logic and argumentation, that would go a long way towards lowering the heat on campus battles. Most importantly, they would understand that you cannot make a reasoned response to someone unless you have first heard what that person has to say. Students who are true “critical thinkers” would never demand that someone be prevented from speaking, but instead would be eager to present counter-arguments—if indeed they can formulate any.

Many colleges have mandatory “diversity” courses, but students would be far better served by mandatory logic and argumentation courses.

 

Jay Schalin, Director of Policy Analysis

Time for Governing Boards to Get Tough

The year 2021 highlighted just how depraved the “woke revolution” can be—making it much harder for university boards to ignore their duties. They must now govern instead of rubber-stamping the wish lists of politicized or self-interested academics or face ridicule. For instance, last spring, at UNC-Chapel Hill, “L’affaire Hannah Nikole-Jones” made the school’s Board of Trustees look weak and confused. In the past, the trustees would have just accepted their humiliation. But this time, they responded by stiffening their spines a bit. While it’s hard to know all the inside machinations that occur on campus, a whole bunch of high-level administrators have announced they were leaving in the past few months, including Bob Blouin, the provost and executive vice-chancellor, Terry Rhodes, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, and Susan King, dean of the School of Journalism. These are all positive developments, creating hope that the trustees are cleaning house with the intent to bring in more sensible replacements. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, they say they were planning on leaving anyhow—that’s what every academic says today when they’re being pushed out the door.)

The UNC Trustees so far have made sure that the estimable Chris Clemens was elevated to the provost’s position—one of the best actions they have taken in the past couple of decades. Let’s hope the Board’s collective spine remains stiff for the New Year—not just at Chapel Hill, but throughout all of academia.

Schools of Education Must Change or Die Off

I would like to see the growing chorus of demands for change at the K-12 educational level—as witnessed in the recent Virginia governor’s election—target the main source of the madness: the Ivory Tower’s schools of education. These schools produce the ideas, the teachers, and the administrators who are driving the radicalization of K-12 education. They are where idealistic young students with a desire to teach children are turned into classroom social justice warriors and then into radical administrators on a mission to indoctrinate.

Alternate pathways for training K-12 teachers must be created so that the education school-driven agenda of the radical left is disrupted.

What has to change at these education schools? Just about everything. They need to teach that American and Western civilization have been positive forces in world history instead of teaching that our people and our culture are responsible for all that is wrong in the world. And they need to focus on developing practical skills instead of the inculcation of politically correct attitudes.

With the sort of thinking that produces critical theory pedagogies, encourages gender dysphoria, and rejects tried-and-true methods of instruction such as rote memorization or the “times-tables” so entrenched in our schools, it may even be that many of them are already too far gone to reform. If so, alternate pathways for training K-12 teachers must be created so that the education school-driven agenda of the radical left is disrupted. Or perhaps, new schools must be founded that train teachers properly instead of using them to change the world according to a twisted vision as is so often the case today. Letting today’s education academics control K-12 education is a form of child abuse—and will destroy society.

 

Shannon Watkins, Associate Editor

Make Syllabi Public

Public universities should not hide what students are being taught in the classroom. As an institute that seeks to shine a light on universities, the Martin Center will occasionally submit a public records request for copies of syllabi from a public university. At times, some universities fully cooperate. However, several North Carolina institutions have stated that the professors own the copyright to their syllabi and therefore do not have to share those documents with the public.

The Martin Center has questioned the validity of this excuse. As Jenna Robinson previously noted, federal law on “fair use” says that “some copyrighted material can be used for nonprofit and educational purposes, including news reporting.” Students and parents—as well as taxpayers—should be able to find out what students will be taught in college. Syllabi, therefore, should be treated as public information.

Record and Post all Board Meetings

Transparency is also needed in what takes place during board meetings of the University of North Carolina system and its constituent institutions. Currently, the UNC system live streams each of its meetings, including committee and subcommittee meetings. However, most meetings—except the full board meeting—are not recorded and later posted online. If members of the public want to hear what is said during committee and other special meetings, they are required to attend as it is happening. Of course, that is not always possible. Every tax-paying citizen has the right to have easy access to what is discussed during meetings of public interest.

The good news is: this is an easy reform for the university system—and all its constituent institutions—to implement. For most of the pandemic, most system-level meetings have been live-streamed. All that needs to be done is to record those live streams and post them online, just as is done for every full board meeting. This is a very straightforward and low-cost way for the system to demonstrate its commitment to transparency. As for each of the individual universities, they should similarly live stream, record, and post online all public meetings—especially meetings of the boards of trustees.

 

Ashlynn Warta, State Reporter

Remove “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” Courses from General Education

North Carolina schools should not make “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) courses a mandatory component of general education programs. Too often, the rigor of general education programs is being gutted in favor of curricula that lectures students about white privilege and how it negatively impacts minorities. I will not deny that race is an important issue and there can be a time and a place for those discussions in higher education. However, something is seriously amiss when universities require students to take DEI courses, but not truly fundamental classes. Subjects such as mathematics, writing, science,  economics, and American history are all great examples of foundational courses that should be required of all students.

It isn’t surprising, then, that many universities are failing to train students to be critical thinkers and informed citizens. Instead of offering students the chance to discover greater wisdom, universities are training them to think about issues of race and other progressive talking points.

More Universities Should Adopt the Chicago Principles

The Chicago Principals, adopted by the University of Chicago in July of 2014, is a statement that commits to the freedom of speech and expression. As of 2021, three North Carolina universities (Appalachian State, Winston-Salem State, and UNC-Chapel Hill) have adopted a similar statement. I would like to see more North Carolina schools follow suit in the coming year. This type of statement is important as students, faculty, and staff face more situations in which their rights to freedom of speech and expression are being encroached upon.

This quote by President Hanna Holborn Gray reflects my thoughts on the role of free speech on college campuses: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think. Universities should be expected to provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.” Without the support of these freedoms and the encouragement to act upon them, students’ ability to think critically will be squashed.

 

Sumantra Maitra, Nonresident Fellow

Defund DEI bureaucracy

Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute recently tweeted about 132 bureaucrats and administrators at Ohio State University focused specifically on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI), with an average salary of $77,000 and total estimated payroll cost of $13.4 million, which would cover in-state tuition for 1,120 students. While this might be shocking, this is by no means an outlier. DEI bureaucracy in state colleges and universities is one issue that is easy to reform—and it is politically prudent to do so: there is massive public support, as the recent Virginia elections have shown. Parents and students might not be interested in the nitty-gritty of policy, but they are quite capable of understanding that the universities are taking them for a ride. It is also a politically easy issue for both conservatives and classical liberals to take up.

One of the reforms I want to see therefore is a massive slashing of funding for this bloated system. The jobs are not supposed to be there anyway, and one shouldn’t lament job losses. They are the primary drivers of wokeness in academia, as they stifle academic debate. Reforms are always difficult at first. This issue is politically a winner for anyone bold enough to take it up. Universities that receive public funds should be told where to spend those funds, as long as it doesn’t interfere with academic freedom, which this does not. The primary driver behind an extreme increase in student tuition is a corrupt and Soviet-lite bureaucracy, and to save universities, one needs to cut the fat.

Bring Back Classical History Studies

The second reform that I want to see is a return of classical history studies. History is a subject that has been corrupted the most due to the influx of unrigorous and parasitic social science theories which are mostly unoriginal, political, ideological, and corrupt. It has therefore started a massive debate, not just in the US, but also in Britain and France. A rollback of interdisciplinary studies and more funding to neutral history must be encouraged, from K-12 to higher-ed. The 1776 project in the US, and the History Reclaimed project in the UK, are good templates for a counter-movement. More should follow.