Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cultural and Atlhletic Wars plus Study Abroad

By Richard Vedder

Three short issues from today's INSIDE HIGHER ED:


A new study in the journal PS shows that, yes, professors tend to be overwhelmingly liberal, but it really doesn't make too much difference, since students are not that easily brainwashed (and, perhaps, professors do not try to brainwash them).
In principle, I suspect that is roughly right --I do not see a radical shift in student attitudes over the college years at my overwhelmingly liberal school.

Yet I think the degree of student attitudinal shift is much greater than the authors of the study let on. The proportion of college seniors that are "far left" is stated to be over DOUBLE the proportion of freshman; the proportion of those who are left rises by a relatively impressive 5.8 percentage points, from 23.3 to 29.1 percent. Meanwhile, the proportion on the right falls. Whether all of this is due to college (as opposed to a natural shift associated with maturing) is debatable. But there is almost certainly some substance, if these numbers are correct, to the notion that --consciously or unconsciously --the collegiate experience involves occasionally successful efforts to move people to the left of the political spectrum. To some extent, this verifies Marx's axiom that capitalists will sell the rope that hangs them. Conservative philanthropists give money to their alma mater, who in turn hires professors who bash market based competitive free enterprise capitalism.


Prestigious wealthy southern liberal arts colleges are not supposed to make it into the NCAA basketball's Sweet Sixteen, but Davidson College has (as well as Stanford), which is kind of neat. It is nice, once in a while, to find a school that really excels academically also succeed athletically, despite competing in a true amateur way all year in a world of increasingly semi-pro jock wannabes that make up Division I sports. Will sports success impact positively on Davidson's fall freshman class? That would be interesting to know. That is an argument that the big sports advocates use to justify ever more corrupting practices to expand their ball throwing empire.


I am a great advocate and participant in study abroad programs, even taking 41 students to Italy with my new wife and I on our honeymoon four decades ago (seriously). Yet I have become a little cynical about colleges pushing these programs when I see some of the financial machinations that are occurring, where colleges insist that students pay the domestic top dollar tuition when they are studying with relatively less expensive professors in some foreign country. Today's INSIDE HIGHER ED says study abroad costs are soaring because of the fate of the dollar in the era of Ben Bernanke. Put an academic in charge of the Fed, foreigners reason, and you will get a less valuable dollar over time given the tendency for academics to believe they are smarter than markets or other mere mortals. Thus the dollar has tanked in value, raising the cost in local currencies of study abroad. In one sense, universities are being hoisted onto their own petard (whatever that means)--they promote fancy economic theories that are then less than successfully tested in the Real World, sending the dollar down and jeopardizing the study abroad programs that have become a cash cow to some schools.

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