Campus Scenes

Campus Scenes

One Fewer Good Ol’ Boy at the University of Texas

By 7.9.14

He fondly loved, for instance, his position as a "persecuted" man and, so to speak, an "exile." There is a sort of traditional glamour about those two little words that fascinated him once for all and, exalting him gradually in his own opinion, raised him in the course of years to a lofty pedestal very gratifying to vanity.

Demons rarely gets the respect accorded Dostoevsky’s other masterpieces, in part because its merciless satire of academic dissidents is so unflattering to many of the people who dispense that respect.

His Stepan Trofimovitch publishes a few obscure journal articles early on, then slips into a comfortable life of no significance tutoring rich kids. He still regards himself a dangerous revolutionary, a persona based on some faded associations from his youth and a dumb “allegory in lyrical-dramatic form” published in a collection of revolutionary verse. When that publication outs him, he writes “a noble letter in self-defence to Petersburg,” but in “his heart he was enormously flattered.”

Campus Scenes

‘Ivory Tower’ — A Documentary Babel

By 6.12.14

Conservatives have assumed that young people are coming to understand that increased government inducements to take out student loans for college are traps that keep graduates from becoming financially independent, starting families and otherwise embracing full adulthood. What started modestly as scholarship aid is now a trillion dollar loan program that perversely gives colleges and universities incentives to continue raising spending and tuition rates, thereby promoting the still further government expansion of student loans.

Students are hurt, taxpayers are hurt, but universities — part of the political base of progressivism — are the financial beneficiaries.

Campus Scenes

Know-Nothing Know-It-Alls

By 5.16.14

Commencement ceremonies now serve as an exclamation point to the horrible education received by students. Too ignorant to know that they don’t know, graduating activists regard successful attempts to block speakers as triumphs instead of reflections on their failures to learn.

Former University of California-Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, a champion of illegal aliens receiving in-state tuition, racial preferences, and gay marriage, is the latest unlikely target of the campus Jacobins. A group of Haverford College students notified him through letter that “we are extremely uncomfortable honoring you” and that his presence at graduation “deeply disturbed” them. His offense? During his chancellorship, police arrested a group of protesters, fulfilling, of course, their ambition.

The know-nothing know-it-alls, which included just sixteen of the several hundred graduating seniors, issued nine abasing demands to the elderly physicist. “If you choose not to confront the issues before you,” they warned, “we will have no other option than to call for the college to withdraw its invitation.”

Campus Scenes

The Screw Turns at the University of Texas

By 5.14.14

A Texas politician named Dan Flynn really liked my piece in this publication last month, which was weird, since I called him and his colleagues “crooked,” and accused them of putting on a show trial meant to intimidate a whistleblowing university regent into silence.

But Flynn liked my piece so much that he apparently copied it. He seems to have cut and pasted long passages from this article and two others that I wrote for, and put them into his own letter, right down to a typo that slipped past this magazine’s usually squinty editors.

In fairness, I have to admit that my arguments were devastatingly effective. If he needed to refute a 2,380-page report in just a few paragraphs, I can see why he’d want to borrow some choice irony and hypocrisy.

Campus Scenes

Kangaroo Courts on Campus?

By 5.13.14

There seems to be a full-court press on to get colleges to “do something” about rape on campus.

But there seems to be remarkably little attention paid to two crucial facts: (1) rape is a crime and (2) colleges are not qualified to be law-enforcement institutions.

Why are rapists not reported to the police and prosecuted in a court of law?

Apparently this is because of some college women who say that they were raped and are dissatisfied with a legal system that does not automatically take their word for it against the word of someone who has been accused and denies the charge.

There seem to be a dangerously large number of people who think that the law exists to give them whatever they want — even when that means denying other people the same rights that they claim for themselves.

Campus Scenes

Moral Bankruptcy

By 5.7.14

If you want to get some idea of the moral bankruptcy of our educational system, read an article in the May 4th issue of the New York Times Magazine titled, “The Tale of Two Schools.”

The article is not about moral bankruptcy. But it is itself an example of the moral bankruptcy behind the many failures of American education today.

Someone had the bright idea of pairing public high school kids from a low-income neighborhood in the Bronx with kids from a private high school that charges $43,000 a year.

When the low-income youngsters visited the posh private school, “they were just overwhelmed” by it, according to the New York Times. “One kid ran crying off campus.” Apparently others felt “so disheartened about their own circumstances.”

What earthly good did that do for these young people? Thank heaven no one was calloused enough to take me on a tour of a posh private school when I was growing up in Harlem.

Campus Scenes

Degrees of Difficulty

By 5.5.14

It is graduation season. The time of year for caps and gowns, for cheers and tears, for joyous celebrations, for poignant class reunions… and, of course, for the awarding of hundreds of honorary degrees.

A friend is planning to be in New Haven later this spring to celebrate his 50th Yale reunion. He tells me that, as his class prepares to celebrate the half century since their 1964 graduation, a classmate is circulating a petition demanding that the University withdraw an honorary degree it awarded in 1996 to a Swiss billionaire whom an Italian court has recently convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison for criminal activities and negligence resulting in the deaths of 2,000 people from asbestos disease.

The Yale grad’s petition raises a host of questions. Are there legitimate precedents for universities withdrawing such degrees in light of (then) unknown circumstances in a recipient’s past? Surely there are many others who received such honors who have proven to be equally unsavory.

Campus Scenes

The University of Texas Show Trial

By 4.16.14

From the way the University of Texas at Austin’s boosters latch on to a bit of marketing jargon, bragging about their school’s invented standing as a “nationally recognized tier one research institution,” you’d almost think the term meant something. The truth is that the state’s best attempt at a public university ranks fifty-second in the nation.

So the school effaces its conspicuous mediocrity by talking up its research, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year supporting its globe-spanning research projects and world-class research libraries filled with millions of volumes (of research, for researchers). In one five-minute promotional video, I heard the word research 33 times.

The university’s president, Bill Powers, is the chair of the nation’s largest association of research universities, and his supporters hold him out as a champion of free inquiry. So it’s no small irony that this cult of research has waged a brutal campaign against a reform-minded university regent named Wallace Hall with this accusation: He has been doing too much research.

Campus Scenes

God and Sexuality at Bowdoin

By 3.9.14

To be at home in all lands and all ages;
To count Nature a familiar acquaintance,
And Art an intimate friend;
To gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work
And the criticism of your own;
To carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket,
And feel its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake

I remember hearing these words — “The Offer of the College” — in my earliest days as a Bowdoin College first-year. They came in a whirl of initial activity: a “pre-orientation” trip to a beautiful coastal locale filled with awkward conversation between pre-oriented students; kissing my parents goodbye after all the boxes were moved in; and, this being a Maine college, a lobster bake to formally kick the year off.

Campus Scenes

Save Our Catholic Schools

By 11.27.13

About 10 years ago (ancient times) there was a song on the radio from a sensitive hipster band. One of the song’s plaintive rhymes described “Catholic schoooool, as vicious as Roman ruuule.” The singer described a lady in black, hitting his knuckles, asserting that “fear is the heart of love.” From the first I heard it, I was perplexed. This individual couldn't be much older than I; unless parochial schools vary in a radical fashion, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the lines sprang from some retro-minded muse, rather than life.