Reforming Higher Ed in 2021 | Beaufort County Now | The year 2020 brought changes that colleges would have never made by choice. | james g. martin center, reforming higher ed, higher education, colleges, january 4, 2020

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Reforming Higher Ed in 2021

Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of The James G. Martin Center. The author of this post is Martin Center Staff.

    The year 2020 brought changes that colleges would have never made by choice. Enrollment declines, remote classes, and dramatic employee cuts (for faculty and some staff alike) were unthinkable a year ago. But, for the sake of the future, more work remains. Below are some priorities the Martin Center staff would like to see catch fire on campus.

    Jenna A. Robinson, President

    Expand the Number of Universities Committed to the Chicago Principles

    In 2021, more universities should adopt the Chicago Principles of Free Expression — especially here in North Carolina. The Chicago Principles go beyond merely legal protection for free speech. They demonstrate a university's commitment to the importance of free and open inquiry, robust debate, and unfettered freedom of thought to the university's mission of preserving, discovering, and transmitting knowledge.

    The statement reads, in part:

  • Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.

    This should be a bedrock principle at all institutions of higher learning, because without this commitment true academic freedom and discovery are impossible.

    The Chicago Principles are needed now more than ever — to push back against the cancel culture, bias response teams, and self-censorship that plague university campuses. The Chicago Principles are a first step to real renewal at our colleges and universities.

    More Students Choosing Apprenticeships

    After the 2020 presidential election, proponents of student debt forgiveness began to revive their arguments for forgiving at least some student debt. They rightly point out that some graduates struggle to keep up with payments and never begin to make a dent in the principal. But they fail to point out the root causes: high tuition, low graduation rates, and too many students majoring in disciplines that don't help them pay off their debt.

    Many former college students who now struggle to repay their debt should have considered alternatives to the four-year degree, especially apprenticeships. Apprenticeships allow students to work and learn without going into debt. Apprentices leave their programs with valuable and high-demand skills that lead to rewarding jobs. As the Martin Center wrote last year, "the Department [of Labor] reported that the average wage for an apprentice-trained worker is $50,000 per year — nearly $4,500 more than the U.S. median individual income and $300,000 more than non-apprenticed workers earn over the course of their careers."

    The Department of Labor should remove barriers to employers creating more apprenticeships and more students should take advantage of this alternative opportunity to the four-year degree.



    Jay Schalin, Director of Policy Analysis

    Let Many Flowers Bloom

    What I hope for in the New Year is that there will be an explosion of higher education innovation.

    In particular, the time is ripe for the emergence of brand-new institutions that explicitly reject the "woke" academic zeitgeist. Lots of lessons have been learned in the mad, bad year of 2020. For instance, colleges' complicity with, leadership of, or submission to such organizations as Black Lives Matter and Antifa has raised awareness about how radical much of academia has become. More people have to be waking up to mainstream higher education's rejection of traditional American norms of individual achievement, empirical facts, and everyday objectivity (such as agreeing that gender is a matter of biology and not choice). Why would anybody attend a college that deems you a second-class citizen responsible for historic crimes way in the past, long before your grandparents were born?

    I'm already aware of a few new schools founded by people with whom I am personally acquainted. In September 2021, Thales College in Raleigh, North Carolina will open its doors to students for the first time. It has a unique work-study component in which all students will serve paid internships every term, year-round, to ensure they are business-ready upon graduation and to make the cost of attendance easy to pay for.

    In another case, a group of academics is putting together a consortium called "Lyceum College" that will not immediately be a degree-granting institution but will still provide high-quality online instruction from conservative academics. Learning, not credentials, will be the goal. (Although it may be that it will become a credential in its own right, as its students prove to be better learners than C-minus slackers at accredited colleges.)

    New colleges emerge all the time. It would be nice to see a rash of new ones appear this year that will hold the line against the current madness.

    Alumni of the Right, Unite!

    I'm not sure if this qualifies as a reform, but I would like to see an alumni revolt in 2021. For too long, alumni have passively accepted the leftward drift of their alma maters.

    They have continued to write checks, passively read the propaganda rags that serve as alumni magazines, and, when they serve on boards or committees, allow the administrations to lead them around by the nose like gelded donkeys. One would think that higher education's excesses — from silencing free speech to tearing down statues to promoting irrational radical ideas — would cause a national moratorium on giving to colleges or compel angry alumni to show up at board meetings demanding that common sense be restored. But so far, little of that has happened.

    Still, as higher education keeps pushing its agenda further to the left and reducing the marketplace of ideas to a one-sided propaganda machine, some alumni are waking up to the need to fight back. One place is at Washington and Lee University, where "woke" administrators and faculty are even attempting to remove all traces of Robert E. Lee from the campus — including changing the school's name. An alumni organization known as The Generals' Redoubt now keeps thousands of alumni and donors informed and can mobilize them against further politicization. Another is at the University of Texas at Austin, where a Facebook page called "Stop the Insanity at UT" has several thousand followers. Let's hope for more of this pushback in 2021.



    George Leef, Director of Editorial Content

    College Leaders Should Abandon Racial Preferences

    For almost 50 years, most American colleges and universities have been dedicated to the concept of "diversity" — meaning that they strove to create student bodies that had enough "representatives" of our large racial groups.

    As a result, admissions criteria have been made wildly unequal. Students with identical academic profiles might be virtually certain of acceptance or have no chance at all depending on which racial group they fit into. Some are preferred, others not.

    Higher education leaders defend their racial preferences, spending huge sums on litigation rather than just treating all applicants the same. So far, they've been successful. The University of Texas fended off a challenge to its preference system in a case that made two appearances before the Supreme Court (Fisher v. University of Texas) and Harvard has so far prevailed against a suit brought by Students for Fair Admissions, winning favorable judgments in the trial court and First Circuit.

    Nevertheless, college leaders should give up on racial preferences and the diversity mania. I say that because such preferences are very unpopular with the American people.

    Opinion polls have shown that for years, but the strongest evidence came in the recent election with the thunderous rejection of Proposition 16 in California.

    That proposition was put on the ballot chiefly at the behest of University of California officials who disliked the state constitution's language forbidding racial preferences in student admissions and other state functions — language inserted following the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996.

    The measure was backed by all important institutions in the state. Proponents outspent those who wanted to retain the racial neutrality required by law by about 16 to 1. They pulled out all the stops to get it passed, including media blitzes, editorials in the state's major newspapers, and even scurrilous charges of racism against the people opposed to it.

    Nevertheless, Proposition 16 failed, by 57-43 percent.

    Writing in USA Today, Ward Connerly, the architect of Prop 209, nailed the truth: "As it turns out, embracing equality, not mapping out racial proportions, is an American value. The NO on 16 campaign drew from Republicans, Democrats, independents, and men and women of all colors and creeds."

    If racial preferences are that unpopular in California, think about the rest of the nation. That's why college leaders should abandon them before the Supreme Court rules them unconstitutional or their own bases of support rebel against them.

    College Students Need to Learn Logic, but Very Few Do

    If you scan the mission statements of colleges and universities, most will tell you that they are dedicated to building "critical thinking" skills in their students. That sounds good, but do the students actually learn how to use their minds to evaluate claims and arguments?

    The answer, I say, is no. Let me point to just one of a vast number of examples.

    Last fall, a group of infectious disease experts published a paper known as the Great Barrington Declaration. The thrust of the argument made by the authors was that the "lockdown" approach to dealing with COVID-19 was a costly mistake and that a better policy would be to protect the small population groups clearly vulnerable to the disease, but allow others to go about their lives.

    The Declaration was immediately attacked, but not on the authors' reasoning. It was attacked because a small amount of the funding for the American Institute for Economic Research, which published the paper, came from "right-wing" funders such as the Koch Foundation.

    Those making that argument, college graduates all, ought to have seen that they were making a basic error of logic. Arguments stand or fall on their own merits, which have nothing to do with the circumstances, financial or otherwise, of the people making them. Logicians call that the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy.

    There are numerous logical fallacies and educated Americans commit them every day. They would do so less frequently if college curricula included a required course on logic — but hardly any do.

    People don't have an instinct for telling sound reasoning from fallacious reasoning; they need to learn how to detect the difference.

    If college students had to take a course on logic — even two credits and perhaps online — we would raise the level of "critical thinking" significantly. And if we could stop arguing on fallacious grounds and instead focus on logical argumentation, much of the bitterness and acrimony that we find in our political discourse would disappear.

    Higher education leaders ought to want that.

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