College Summer Reading Can Be Useful – Or Not

Many colleges and universities these days have a “summer reading” program for incoming students, which requires them to read a book and be prepared to discuss it during the first few days of class. The programs are designed to create a common ground among new students, challenge them to think critically about new ideas and introduce them to university work and intellectual life at a university.

This is a splendid idea. Done well, such reading programs can help to get college students off to a good start by concentrating their minds on the nature of and reasons for academic study.

Unfortunately, if it is done poorly this becomes at least a missed opportunity. If a school chooses a book that has no timeless message, it will fail to make any lasting impression on the students. And if a school selects a book that is faddish or polemical, it is worse than a missed opportunity. It conveys to the students the idea that college is more about what to think than about how to think. Sadly, at some institutions that happens to be the case in many of the courses taught, but still it’s best to start freshmen off with a good impression.

UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Defeat Achievement Index

CHAPEL HILL – At the end of the spring semester, the Faculty Council at UNC-Chapel Hill considered and narrowly defeated a policy that would change the way the grading system works. The proposed Achievement Index (AI) is a number similar to the typical grade-point average (GPA) but it would be used to determine class rank and degrees with distinction.

The index is a way of combating grade inflation and would be a trend-setting step if adopted. The proposal to adopt AI at UNC originated with the Educational Policy Committee of the Faculty Council.

Paying the Profs – How Much is Enough?

Is the University of North Carolina system experiencing a “brain drain” because of inadequate faculty compensation?

The UNC administration seems to think so. In 2006, the UNC Board of Governors approved a plan proposed by UNC President Erskine Bowles to raise UNC faculty pay to the 80th percentile among peer institutions. (Why the 80th percentile and not 75th or 85th or some other figure was not made clear.) This plan would also provide merit-based pay increases of four percent per year and $2 million to match private funds for distinguished professorships. To pay for all of that, Bowles has asked the legislature for an additional $87.8 million in fiscal years 2008-09.

Protecting Against “Heterosexism” — for $200,000?

Harvard’s president Derek Bok has written that universities have something in common with gambling addicts and exiled royalty – there is never enough money. One reason why that’s true is that people on campus are almost always spending other people’s money and when that’s the case, there’s a strong tendency to demand all sorts of unnecessary things. After all, if available money doesn’t get spent on what you want, it will get spent on what someone else wants.

The story of the proposed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) Center at NC State is a good illustration of the infighting that erupts when interest groups battle over how to spend other people’s money.

V-Day: Stripping Away Modesty and Dignity

Ask a random stranger what “V-Day” is. You might get some interesting answers. Some will probably confuse it with VE-Day or VJ-Day, the days marking the end of World War II in Europe and Japan. Perhaps some will think it’s simply an abbreviation of Valentine’s Day. However, no incorrect guesses could possibly be as interesting, or as shocking, as the truth. V-Day stands for “Vagina Day” and takes place the same day as the more traditional Valentine’s Day.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of 17 universities in North Carolina hosting “The Vagina Monologues” on or around Valentine’s Day this year. Nationally, “Vagina Warriors” at over 1000 universities will participate in the unusual festivities.

Is Leftist Bias on College Campuses a Myth?

Conventional wisdom has long claimed that campuses are hotbeds of leftist thought with professors far more likely to be Marxists than Republicans. Recent research has taken steps to substantiate these claims. Eight separate studies of faculty politics and campus climate have demonstrated that professors with a leftist philosophy vastly outnumber those with a conservative or libertarian philosophy at four-year universities across the nation. The various studies address two major themes: that faculty members are liberal and that their liberal inclinations can affect classroom performance.

Now, a new study conducted by John B. Lee for the American Federation of Teachers concludes that those studies documenting liberal bias on campus might be incorrect, or at least inconclusive. “The ‘Faculty Bias’ Studies: Science or Propaganda,” takes eight of the recent studies on faculty politics and judges them by five general tests of social science research. According to Lee, “basic methodological flaws keep a critical reader from accepting the conclusions suggested by the authors.”

Unfortunately, Lee misses the point. Instead of refuting the results, Lee devotes his time to dissecting the methods employed by the researchers who have found evidence of leftist domination. Quibbling over details shouldn’t detract from the seriousness of the problem. Whether the number of professors who use their classrooms to peddle their own socio-political views is in the millions or in single digits, it shouldn’t be tolerated at all.