Tuesday, July 01, 2008

East is West, North is South

By Richard Vedder

I took a vacation from blogging for a few days, for two reasons. First, I want to let some of my newer, younger staff take the limelight (such as it is) a bit more, and, second, I have been intensely busy working on the sequel to GOING BROKE BY DEGREE, a manuscript currently entitled UNIVERSITIES AND HUMAN WELFARE (with Andy Gillen). I am trying to get a prestigious university press to publish it, which may be naive on my part given the topic, so it may take a long time to reach the market (university presses are not know for their blazing speed).

Reading stories by Doug Lederman and Andy Guess in today's INSIDE HIGHER EDUCATION make me wonder if some revolution happened in higher ed the last few days that I missed. First, I find myself disagreeing with some friends at the Department of Education on an accreditation issue. While I am not a fan of federal bureaucracies, for the most part the Margaret Spellings Education Department has been very good on accreditation, thanks partly to the indefatigable Vickie Schray, aided and abetted by the likes of Sara Martinez Tucker, Cheryl Oldham, David Dunn, etc. Then I read Andy's interview with Stanley Fish, a guy for whom I have had mainly great disdain --and I agree with nearly everything he has to say!! What is going on here?
Regarding accreditation, I believe in the "let a thousand flowers bloom" theory --if we are going to have accreditation (which we would not need if we had good information on what colleges do), let's have lots of competition and different viewpoints. The American Academy of Liberal Education (AALE) is designed to promote accreditation of schools having something of a traditional, solid core of liberal arts courses as an integral part of the learning process. I like the idea of having such an accreditor. Top Department officials have resigned in part because of the resistance over giving AALE accrediting powers. Why? What is up? Is the White House calling the shots (my guess)? What do they have against this group? Is there a political "fix" at work? Or, is this another case of an incredibly slow moving bureaucracy? I hope Spellings acts on this before her "Higher Education Summit" in a couple of weeks in Chicago, or I am going to very publicly ask her about this--that assertion, of course, may itself elicit a phone call from the GMA (Gurus of Maryland Avenue). I might get excluded from the cocktail party during the summit. Who knows? Stay tuned.
Stanley Fish created a lot of mischief in his youth, and his preachy leftish ways --almost prototypically English professor style--have turned me off. But he has a new book out where he, by and large, says that professors should teach their subject matter, talk about what they know, and cool it on politics in the classroom. Amen. I agree with Fish that the conservatives complaining about classroom brainwashing exaggerate a bit the problem, that it is only 5-10 percent of the faculty who abandon professional standards. That is a problem, but it is not the overwhelmingly large problem on many campuses, not as big as my right-wing friends make it out to be. Fish also says composition teachers should teach composition, not social justice or other irrelevancies to the subject. Right on Stanley. Like fine wine, you age well.
Business Week has an interesting story out on the GMAT scandal. It turns out 6,000 students used information from a GMAT test preparation web site --that had ACTUAL questions (and answers) from the exam. The administrators of the test have won a huge cash settlement from the operator of the site, and are seizing his hard drive. He fled back to his native China. The test administrations vow to deny the 6,000 students the right to retake the exam, and will inform schools of their behavior. What, however, if kids in good faith went to the web site just to bone up for the exam? How do we know that all engaged in deliberate cheating? There is a bit of a blanket assumption that all are guilty here. I think that is a bit harsh. Fascinating also are comments to the Business Week article, with a Japanese writer claiming that non-Japanese Asians are inveterate cheaters, unlike the Japanese. This is probably creating a minor Asian civil war on the Internet. Such is life on Earth in the early years of the third millennium.

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