Teaching students takes a backseat to universities’ new emphasis on “economic diversity.”
It’s a UNC ritual. Whenever a professor decides to take a better offer at some other university, usually a private one with a vast endowment and enormous alumni contributions, the administration will bemoan the “loss” and express fear over a “crisis” if the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill can’t spend enough money to compete with the top-tier schools. When the little drama is over, the administrators will go back to their offices and hope that they’ve convinced a few more politicians that UNC-CH’s budget must be increased.
Colleges and universities ought to provide their students with a well-rounded education that will equip them for good citizenship and a productive life. Historically, many schools have done that by establishing a core curriculum of courses covering the fields of knowledge that an educated person should be familiar with: American history, the classics of our literature, natural science and mathematics, logic, fine arts, and the social sciences. Throughout the UNC system, few schools insist that their students take courses that would be regarded as crucial components of a sound education.
Suppose that you have dropped your son or daughter off at one of the campuses of the University of North Carolina system. You have plenty to worry about: housing, roommates, clothing, money, and so forth. It’s quite a load.
At the risk of further depressing you, there’s one more thing that you should be worrying about, but probably aren’t. That is the college curriculum.
Last year, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s summer reading program managed to stir up controversy and even litigation by choosing Michael Sells’ book Approaching the Qur’an as the book incoming freshmen were expected to read. The problem with that book, which overlooks Islam’s propensities toward intolerance and violence, was not that it was promoting religion, but that it was a waste of the students’ time. This year’s choice is no better, and arguably it’s worse. Incoming freshmen are assigned to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.
The litigation over race-based admissions policies is probably the most important case the Supreme Court will decide in its current term. Those who think that it’s somehow progress for government institutions to treat classes of individuals differently because of their ancestry are pulling out all the stops to defend race-based admissions policies, including an intellectually dishonest argument that diversity enhances education and cries that the sky will fall if schools like the University of Michigan can’t stack the deck in favor of applicants in certain groups. Here are a few thoughts on this momentous case.
Every so often, you come across an article that leaves you thinking, “Gosh — I can’t believe he actually said that!” A recent essay that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Sept. 27, 2002) had that effect on me. It was written by a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Randall Collins. Collins entitled his piece, “The Dirty Little Secret of Credential Inflation” and what made it so remarkable was his audacity in speaking a truth so contrary to his professional interest.
Are claims that some professors use their classes more to indoctrinate students in their own political ideology than to teach them anything true? Or are they like Elvis sightings? Liberal faculty members and administrators often scoff at such complaints, saying that the students who lodge them are just hypersensitive gripers.
Suppose you are dining out at a fine restaurant. You look over a menu that has many excellent items you are sure you would enjoy. At the very bottom you see this: “Plate of Spaghetti Without Sauce.” It’s priced the same as the other entrees. Would you order the spaghetti, or something else?
In 1976, I was a student at Duke Law School. One of the campus speakers that year was Milton Friedman, who had recently received the Nobel Prize in economics. Prior to his talk, leftist student groups posted signs around the campus protesting Friedman’s appearance on the grounds that since he had once given some economic advice to Pinochet’s government in Chile, he was therefore complicit in that regime’s repression.