Thursday, March 15, 2007

Take the High Out of Higher Education

By Richard Vedder

A new study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse shows that a very significant minority of college students are drug and/or alcohol dependent. Almost half have a substance abuse problem. The drinking culture has expanded everywhere, but is now increasingly supplemented with other forms of abuse. Harvard now tells its students to obey the laws and drink moderately --but then opens a pub so it can be "with it" and soften its hard core academic image. My university in the past year saw nearly 20 football players arrested on alcohol related charges, not to mention the football coach --who was not punished by the university for his actions. Similar things are happening elsewhere. Yet when Ben Wildavsky appropriately pointed this out in his landmark first draft of the Spellings Commission report, it was met with a firestorm of protest. When a prominent American (former Notre Dame President Rev. Edward Malloy or former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joe Califano, depending on which news account you believe) said that college presidents are acting like Pontius Pilate, he was savagely attacked by one of the leaders of the Higher Education Establishment, Peter McPherson. But Father Malloy and Joe Califano are right.

The facts are a lot of our students have a substance abuse problem of varying proportions, that they study typically vastly less than 20 hours a week, and that the academic duties of students therefore rarely take more than 1,000 hours a year or so to perform (compared with close to 2,000 hours for adult workers). With grade inflation, expectations of professors are modest. Kids have tons of time on their hands, and often a lot of money, some of it borrowed from taxpayers at low interest rates.

Residential colleges, despite their high costs, exist in part because there is a legitimate non-academic dimension to higher education -- learning to be mature, to lead, to be disciplined and develop interpersonal communication skills. College is a somewhat protected sanctuary where kids grow to be adults and to learn right from wrong. They go to college to learn the business of life, and a lot of that business cannot be learned inside the classroom or in books. Yet colleges have some obligation --arguably a major one -- to temper the passions of students, to provide them with limits on their behavior, and to encourage good moral and ethical standards. Yet schools seem to want to subsidize hedonism, giving the kids bars, hot tubs, and, proposed for Carnegie Mellon university --co-ed roommates. College is a place to get drunk, to fornicate, to get high --and, occasionally, to study. At most campuses, students have to pay for textbooks, but get "free" condoms. Why should taxpayer dollars be used to buy condoms for affluent oversexed college kids who do little studying? Why should tax exempt dollars and government subsidies be used to promote hedonism? Why don't universities teach students values such as honesty, moderation, and tolerance? And, mostly, why does the public put up with it? Is it because Americans are going the way of 4th and 5th century Romans, wallowing in moral decay and making their civilization vulnerable to conquest by the barbarians at the gates?


meerkat said...

The teaching of morals and work ethics begins early at home. If the kids can't handle college by the time they get there it is not the college's fault. Parents need to quit blaming outside causes and look to their own parenting. Sure it is a lot tougher now but that should not be an excuse. Parenting is a lot of hard work. Schools aren't there to replace parenting.

TC said...

"Is it because Americans are going the way of 4th and 5th century Romans, wallowing in moral decay and making their civilization vulnerable to conquest by the barbarians at the gates?"


And add to that anger, hatred, divisiveness and I think one can pretty much sum up the state of our society today. I hate to sound so pessimistic, but moral decay is part of the left wing liberals and secular progressives who are also dumbing down standards of measurement in nearly all values that should be held to high standards and held in high regard.

We're in an age of entitlement and "I deserve" as a substitute for competing and earning. And our congress nutures this phenomena.

I think there are quite a few people who are silently watching the poor state of affairs and the disrespect that's thrown around like manure on a farm field somewhere in Iowa. I can only hope that there comes a time when those who are silently keeping their eye on the "anything goes crowd (as long as we agree with it)" stands up and says ENOUGH!! Before the former turns our country into a socialist state. But I digress.

Bob Yates said...

I am always amazed at the historical ignorance of such comments:

I hate to sound so pessimistic, but moral decay is part of the left wing liberals and secular progressives who are also dumbing down standards of measurement in nearly all values. . . .

I think there are quite a few people who are silently watching the poor state of affairs and the disrespect that's thrown around like manure on a farm field somewhere in Iowa.

Such comments seem to suggest there was some golden era of "respect." I am old enough to remember in parts of this country where there were two water fountains and two toilets and many public accomadations not available to people of color. Does the writer of comments cited above really believe that segregation was not also a sign of moral decay?

And, then I see those photographs of the whole communities standing around lynched blacks. (Google without sanctuary.) I would suggest that those pictures show a moral rot in entire communities that exceed anything tc could cite today.

(As an aside, the person who adopted the Rosenberg boys wrote Billy Halliday's famous "Strange Fruit.")

TC said...

The Left's favotite tactic - equivocation.

Throw in the race card and justify a wrong with another wrong.

Making a blanket statement like you have Yates is a gutter ball.

Bob Yates said...

It has been my experience that, when you make an observation that questions another's claim and that person ignores the observation or accuses you of something you did not say, you have won.

I did not say one wrong justifies another. I question, and still question, the notion that the "moral decay" of today equates with past practices in our country.

Racism is the great moral blot on our country's history. The "greatest generation" fought fascism with a segregated army and, as best as I can tell, didn't do anything about it. Of oourse, it was the black members of the "greatest generation" who refused to be second class citizens anymore.

When I read from people that today that our country is suffering from moral decay, I try to think when was there a golden era of morality. Apparently, tc doesn't want to consider that question. Was there ever a "golden era", tc?

Those pictures of entire communities around the dead body of a black man hanging from a tree or a lamp post are chilling. Is today's society really worse on issues of "anger, hatred, and divisiveness" than a time when such events could happen? That is a very serious question. I can appreciate the fact that tc doesn't want to consider it.

And, given what tc has written, it is worth noting the people who kept track of such lynchings and tried to get federal laws against them were the "secular progressives and left wing liberals" of their time.

TC said...

You are creating an empty strawman to basically say that because of horrible wrongs of the past, we should accept moral decay in the present. Just think, if the moral decay continues, we may go full circle and see the past repeat itself. Is that what you are arguing for?

I remember a time when kids respected their parents, students respected their teachers, kids didn't bring guns and knives to school, young people respected their elders, there was respect for family, respect for not shooting out babies like an M-16 on "rock-n-roll" before marraige, et al. But you remember and wallow in the dubious past to justify going right back down the very path you are citing. You want payback by dragging everyone else down to the lowest level possible.

Your argument is empty. Why not turn your face toward the future and try to help solve problems rather than being part of the problem by regurgitating the past over and over again? What do you hope to gain? What is your *real* point? Are you playing the victim?

I'm finished with you. But I would like to leave you with the words from a song by Don Henley:

I turn on the tube and what do I see
A whole lotta people cryin' 'Don't blame me'
They point their crooked little fingers ar everybody else
Spend all their time feelin' sorry for themselves
Victim of this, victim of that
Your momma's too thin; your daddy's too fat

Get over it
Get over it
All this whinin' and cryin' and pitchin' a fit
Get over it, get over it

You say you haven't been the same since you had your little crash
But you might feel better if I gave you some cash
The more I think about it, Old Billy was right
Let's kill all the lawyers, kill 'em tonight
You don't want to work, you want to live like a king
But the big, bad world doesn't owe you a thing

Get over it
Get over it
If you don't want to play, then you might as well split
Get over it, Get over it

It's like going to confession every time I hear you speak
You're makin' the most of your losin' streak
Some call it sick, but I call it weak

You drag it around like a ball and chain
You wallow in the guilt; you wallow in the pain
You wave it like a flag, you wear it like a crown
Got your mind in the gutter, bringin' everybody down
Complain about the present and blame it on the past
I'd like to find your inner child and kick its little ass

Get over it
Get over it
All this bitchin' and moanin' and pitchin' a fit
Get over it, get over it

Get over it
Get over it
It's gotta stop sometime, so why don't you quit
Get over it, get over it

Jean Marc Perez said...

Hey Bob,

I thought the "great moral blot" on America's past was the genocide of the Native Americans by the "white man" and "The Cowboy(s)". Sorry TC - couldn't resist.

Butter Cup said...

I read TC's comments and Bob Yate's comments. It seems to me that TC was talking about moral decay in the present tense and Bob Yates was talking about the past.

I don't understand why the past should be used as an excuse to avoid the societal problems we have today much less even acknowledge them.

We need to get beyond the past because our nation is going down the toilet. Who knows, maybe in the future we will divide into two nations again. But instead of blue & gray, they will be red & blue.

By the way, I think we have strayed way off topic.

Parentalcation said...

Have you seen this op-ed in the Los Angeles times.

"The tragedy of all this selectivity and competition is that it is almost completely pointless. Students trying to get into the best college, and colleges trying to admit the best students, are both on a fool's errand. They are assuming a level of precision of assessment that is unattainable. Social scientists Detlof von Winterfeldt and Ward Edwards made this case 30 years ago when they articulated what they called the "principle of the flat maximum." What the principle argues is that when comparing the qualifications of people who are bunched up at the very top of the curve, the amount of inherent uncertainty in evaluating their credentials is larger than the measurable differences among candidates. Applied to college admissions, this principle implies that it is impossible to know which excellent student (or school) will be better than which other excellent student (or school). Uncertainty of evaluation makes the hair-splitting to distinguish among excellent students a waste of time; the degree of precision required exceeds the inherent reliability of the data. It also makes the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings of colleges silly for assuming a precision of measurement that is unattainable."


There is a simple way to dramatically reduce the pressure and competition that our most talented students now experience. When selective institutions get the students' applications, the schools can scrutinize them using the same high standards they currently use and decide which of the applicants is good enough to be admitted. Then the names of all the "good enough" students could be placed in a metaphorical hat, with the "winners" drawn at random for admission. Though a high school student will still have to work hard to be "good enough" for Yale, she won't have to distort her life in the way she would if she had to be the "best." The only reason left for participating in all those enrichment programs would be interest, not competitive advantage."