Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category

Here we go again.  First large-scale formal quantitative test confirms Darwin’s theory of universal common ancestry.

Until now, the theory that makes ladybugs, oak trees, champagne yeast and humans distant relatives has remained beyond the scope of a formal test. Now, a Brandeis biochemist reports in Nature the results of the first large scale, quantitative test of the famous theory that underpins modern evolutionary biology.

Yet, it doesn’t disqualify faith. People get exercised over evolution v. creationism. To me one is a subset of the other, it appears to be just one arrow in God’s quiver of miracles. Like all of His ways, a mystery. Relax and try to understand the basis of both, and keep the faith.


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Stranger in a Strange Land, former President Bush attorney John Yoo at home in Berkeley CA, despite calls for his ouster.

“I think of myself as being West Berlin during the Cold War, a shining beacon of capitalism and democracy surrounded by a sea of Marxism,” Yoo observes, sipping iced tea in the faculty club lounge, a wan smile registering the discomfort of colleagues walking by en route to the bar.

Having heard this guy on TV, he was super on John Stewart, and the radio, I like the cut of his jib. Well done, and carry on.

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Rush Limbaugh referred to this survey , “The Shaping of the American Mind: The Diverging Influences of the College Degree and Civic Learning on American Beliefs,” today during the second hour of his show today. Its hard to believe some of the findings:

Here are a few frightening figures certain to keep you up at night:

  • 71% of Americans failed the civics knowledge test;
  • 51% of Americans could not name the three branches of government;
  • The average score for college seniors on the civics knowledge test was 54.2% (an “F” by any standard);
  • The average student’s test score improved only 3.8 points from freshman to senior year;
  • Freshmen at Cornell, Yale, Princeton, and Duke scored better than seniors on the civics knowledge test.
  • 79% of elected officials that took the civics knowledge quiz did not know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits the government from establishing a religion.
  • 30% of office holders did not know that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence.
  • 27% of politicians could not name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.
  • 43% did not know the purpose of the Electoral College.
  • 39% of lawmakers believe the power of declaring war belongs to the president.
  • The average score for college professors who took the civics knowledge quiz was 55%.

So, while our nation’s most elite colleges are not imbuing our children with a knowledge of our history and our government, the study makes it clear that those universities are becoming round the clock factories churning out poorly instructed liberals with little civic knowledge and even less faith and less devotion to principles of liberty than those Americans who didn’t go to college.

I took the test too. Follow the link at the end of the story.  Sheepishly I’ll admit to missing 4 answers and getting an 87.8 on my exam. (no’s 7, 14, 30, 31) Even more shocking is the factoid that 55% of college professors failed! Philo??

One of Limbaugh’s callers, self-described as a conservative, said that she didn’t see the use of this information, that she was more concerned with day to day education, the civics knowledge did not affect her daily life. Limbaugh properly teed this up and drove it down the fairway. These are the basic tenets and foundations of our country.

I will agree with Rush again as he closed on this topic. This is why the Left targets young voters – they’re easy and they don’t know any better – and this study supports that conclusion.

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How to Get Smart

There’s some evidence that thinking makes it so—not in the obvious sense that thinking makes you smarter, but in the sense that thinking you’re getting smarter actually makes you smarter. Positive thinking really does have power.

I hesitate to endorse this, because I’ve known plenty of people who thought they were smarter than they really were. But I suspect there’s something to it nevertheless. Your brain makes connections all the time. If you think negatively, react skeptically, or simply lack confidence, you’ll discard most of those connections before you devote any time to thinking about them. Many of course ought to be discarded. But quite a few are worth developing, and it requires positive thinking and a certain degree of tenacity to follow where they lead.

Good teaching, especially in a seminar setting, requires the same thing. You have to think positively and be willing to track ideas for a while, hunting them, noticing them, exploring them, and working through them. Sometimes that takes you off track for a while. But often it leads to something really interesting that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Good research requires the same thing—it just isn’t done as publicly, in real time.

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Wretchard (in his new home in Pajamas Media!) writes of the political correctness of academia, with some optimism that it is now around halfway through its life-cycle. Picking up on his theme that higher education functions primarily to sort students by IQ, a commenter remarks that the growth of higher education stems from Griggs v. Duke Power, the case in which the Supreme Court held that employee testing is discriminatory, and permitted arguments from discriminatory effect, without the need to establish anything about intentions. It became impossible, in short, to identify smart people in any other way than demanding credentials. (Why the Court has not extended its reasoning to that demand is an interesting question, since it too is discriminatory in effect.) There’s something to this, though the large expansion in higher education preceded the decision, coming about in the 1960s for a variety of reasons (Sputnik, economic growth, Vietnam).

Many other commenters advise getting a degree in engineering, business, math, or the hard sciences, but avoiding the other parts of the university.

My perspective on this is somewhat more optimistic. Those fields are indeed still solid and offer excellent intellectual training. But so do philosophy, psychology, economics, and linguistics, fields minimally affected by political correctness at most universities. Even within fields rife with PC, there are large areas that are little affected. Empirically based social science is generally quite solid. Departments of English and History that house many leftist scholars who bring politics into their teaching still contain legions of professors who teach literature and history brilliantly without doing so. In all these fields, it remains possible to get an excellent education in reading, analyzing, writing, and problem solving.

It’s fairly easy to avoid most political correctness. Stay away from most _____-Studies programs. Look at course descriptions and book lists. Stay away from anything that talks about “theory” (not as in “quantum theory,” but sans phrase). Stay away from any mention of race, class, or gender. Stay away from PC buzzwords: “problematizing,” “contextualizing,” etc. Look at student evaluations from previous semesters. Talk to other students.

It’s easier to avoid political correctness at some universities than others. At my own university, it’s easy. At Duke, Brown, or Haverford, good luck. Students could learn a lot by looking at recent course offerings and descriptions when they’re applying.

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Inside Higher Education publishes figures on expenditures in higher education, confirming what those of us on the inside have known for a long time: the far-above-inflation increases in tuition over the past twenty years have not gone to faculty or anything else involving instruction.

Median Spending Per Full-time Enrolled Student, 2005, by Sector

Sector Direct Instructional Costs Other Educational Costs Non-Educational Costs Total
Private research university $14,134 $11,214 $8,940 $34,288
Public research university $7,255 $4,416 $9,393 $21,064
Private master’s institution $6,577 $8,520 $693 $15,790
Public master’s institution $5,064 $4,620 $1,734 $11,418
Private bachelor’s institution $6,655 $10,598 $1,208 $18,461
Public community college $4,051 $3,976 $1,092 $9,119

The percentage spent on instruction has been going down; the percentage on noninstructional costs has been increasing.  The absolute amount spent on instruction, moreover, has been increasing very slowly, far below the rate of inflation:

Further, across sectors, spending on instruction has become relatively flat, and is increasing at slower rates than in the past. For example, at private research universities, the report finds that the average percentage change in median spending per full-time enrolled student on instruction was 2.2 percent in the period 1987-1996. But in the period 1998-2005, the increase was only 1 percent. (For public research universities, the figures were 0.5 percent and 0.4 percent in those two periods.)

So, where does the money go?

Some goes to student amenities.  My own university has just built an outdoor pool complex that rivals that of any resort hotel.  I’m losing my parking lot to a new student activities center.

Some goes to student services—advisors, counselors, writing centers, etc.—some of which are badly needed, and others of which are a waste of money.

Much goes to administration.  What’s the function of a vice-president? To hire assistant vice-presidents to do his/her job.

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when it sounds as if it should be the other way around. “Worst professor ever”—well confirmed. What on earth is going on at Dartmouth? Consider her qualifications for a position at Dartmouth Medical School:

After obtaining a BA from Dartmouth College, I have an MS in Genetics from UC Davis and a PhD in Literature from UC San Diego.

Literature!  And the sentence is only marginally grammatical.

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