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.
The campaign for the higher education bonds in 2000 told North Carolina voters that the bonds were the best way to handle the University of North Carolina system’s deteriorating facilities and its pressing needs for new buildings to accommodate an expected surge in enrollment. Bond supporters were adamant and explicit in promising voters that the bonds wouldn’t raise their taxes. Now two years after passage, taxes have already risen and the deepening state budget crisis threatens to see them increase again, UNC is favoring new construction over supposedly critical repairs, there has been no sign of a massive surge in enrollment, and UNC is unnecessarily and openly pursuing contracting procedures that are possibly illegal and likely more costly. A moratorium on the bond sales, allowed by the legislation approving the bonds, appears to be the most responsible way to navigate the state’s fiscal crisis and UNC’s crisis of credibility with N.C. voters.
Moeser wants people to equate “knowledge” and “learning” with the kind of formal education he represents. But in his book The Joy of Freedom, economist David Henderson calls this “one of the biggest snow jobs.”