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History > 2008 > USA > Education (III)




Illustration: Jason Logan


Priority No. 1: Educate Our Kids


















In Texas School,

Teachers Carry Books and Guns


August 29, 2008
The New York Times


HARROLD, Tex. — Students in this tiny town of grain silos and ranch-style houses spent much of the first couple of days in school this week trying to guess which of their teachers were carrying pistols under their clothes.

“We made fun of them,” said Eric Howard, a 16-year-old high school junior. “Everybody knows everybody here. We will find out.”

The school board in this impoverished rural hamlet in North Texas has drawn national attention with its decision to let some teachers carry concealed weapons, a track no other school in the country has followed. The idea is to ward off a massacre along the lines of what happened at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

“Our people just don’t want their children to be fish in a bowl,” said David Thweatt, the schools superintendent and driving force behind the policy. “Country people are take-care-of-yourself people. They are not under the illusion that the police are there to protect them.”

Even in Texas, with its tradition of lenient gun laws and frontier justice, the idea of teachers’ taking guns to class has rattled some people and sparked a fiery debate.

Gun-control advocates are wringing their hands, while pro-gun groups are gleeful. Leaders of the state’s major teachers unions have expressed stunned outrage, while the conservative Republican governor, Rick Perry, has endorsed the idea.

In the center of the storm is Mr. Thweatt, a man who describes himself as “a contingency planner,” who believes Americans should be less afraid of protecting themselves and who thinks signs at schools saying “gun-free zone” make them targets for armed attacks. “That’s like saying sic ’em to a dog,” he said.

Mr. Thweatt maintains that having teachers carry guns is a rational response to a real threat. The county sheriff’s office is 17 miles away, he argues, and the district cannot afford to hire police officers, as urban schools in Dallas and Houston do.

The school board decided that teachers with concealed guns were a better form of security than armed peace officers, since an attacker would not know whom to shoot first, Mr. Thweatt said. Teachers have received training from a private security consultant and will use special ammunition designed to prevent ricocheting, he added.

Harrold, about 180 miles northwest of Dallas, is a far cry from the giant districts in major Texas cities, where gang violence is the main concern and most schools have their own police forces. Barely 100 students of all ages attend classes here in two brick buildings built more than 60 years ago. There are two dozen teachers, a handful of buses and a football field bordered by crops.

Yet the town is not isolated in rustic peace, supporters of the plan point out. A four-lane highway runs through town, bringing with it a river of humanity, including criminals, they say. The police recently shut down a drug-producing laboratory in a ramshackle house near school property. Drifters sometimes sleep under the overpass.

“I’m not exactly paranoid,” Mr. Thweatt said. “I like to consider myself prepared.”

Some residents and parents, however, think Mr. Thweatt may be overstating the threat. Many say they rarely lock their doors, much less worry about random drifters with pistols running amok at the school. Longtime residents were hard-pressed to recall a single violent incident there.

Others worry that introducing guns into the classroom might create more problems than it solved. A teacher tussling with a student could lose control of a weapon, or a gun might go off by accident, they said.

“I don’t think there is a place in the school whatsoever for a gun unless you have a police officer in there,” said Bobby G. Brown, a farmer and former school board chairman whose two sons were educated at the school. “I don’t care how much training they have.”

His wife, Diane Brown, added: “There are too many things that could happen. They are not trained to make life-and-death-situation judgments.”

Mr. Thweatt declined to say how many teachers were armed, or who they were, on the theory that it would tip off the bad guys. He also declined to identify the private consultant who provided teachers with about 40 hours of weapons training.

Most critics question whether teachers, even with extra training, are as qualified as police officers to take out an armed attacker.

“We are trained to teach and to educate,” said Zeph Capo, the legislative director for the Houston Association of Teachers. “We are not trained to tame the Wild West.”

Texas gun laws ban the weapons on school property. But the Legislature carved out an exception allowing school boards to permit people with concealed handgun licenses to carry their weapons. No local district had taken advantage of the exception until the Harrold school board acted.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said the state’s hands were tied. “We have really tried not to get involved in this,” Ms. Ratcliffe said. “Frankly, it’s a matter of local control.”

Gun-control advocates say, however, that while the school district may be complying with state gun laws, it appears to be violating the education statute. That law says “security personnel” authorized to carry weapons on campuses must be “commissioned peace officers,” who undergo police training.

“It seems to us not only an unwise policy but an illegal one,” said Brian Siebel, a lawyer in Washington for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

The school district has countered that teachers are not “security personnel” and so do not need to become peace officers.

As a general rule, the seven school board members — a collection of farmers and oil workers led by an ambulance medic — have referred all questions from reporters to Mr. Thweatt. But one member, Coy Cato, gave a short interview. “In my opinion, it is the best way to protect our kids,” Mr. Cato said. Asked if others in the community shared his view, he said that he had not taken a poll, but “I think so.”

Still, several residents complained that the board made little or no effort to gather public opinion on the matter. Some said they did not hear about the plan until reporters started asking questions about it in early August.

Mr. Thweatt said the board discussed the proposal for nearly two years and considered several options — tranquilizer guns, beanbag guns, Tasers, Mace and armed security guards — but each was found lacking in some way. “We devil-advocated it to death,” Mr. Thweatt said.

That discussion went unnoticed by many parents.

Traci McKay, a 34-year-old restaurant employee, sends three children to the school, yet said she had not heard about the pistol-carrying teachers until two weeks before the start of the semester. She was stunned.

“I should have been informed,” Ms. McKay said. “If something happens, do we really want all these people shooting at each other?”

Ms. McKay said Mr. Thweatt had yet to explain why a town with such a low crime rate needed such measures. She is afraid, however, that her children might face repercussions if she takes up a petition against the idea.

“We are pretty much being told to deal with this or move,” Ms. McKay said.

In Texas School, Teachers Carry Books and Guns, NYT, 29.8.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/29/us/29texas.html






A Teacher on the Front Line

as Faith and Science Clash


August 24, 2008
The New York Times


ORANGE PARK, Fla. — David Campbell switched on the overhead projector and wrote “Evolution” in the rectangle of light on the screen.

He scanned the faces of the sophomores in his Biology I class. Many of them, he knew from years of teaching high school in this Jacksonville suburb, had been raised to take the biblical creation story as fact. His gaze rested for a moment on Bryce Haas, a football player who attended the 6 a.m. prayer meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the school gymnasium.

“If I do this wrong,” Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, “I’ll lose him.”

In February, the Florida Department of Education modified its standards to explicitly require, for the first time, the state’s public schools to teach evolution, calling it “the organizing principle of life science.” Spurred in part by legal rulings against school districts seeking to favor religious versions of natural history, over a dozen other states have also given more emphasis in recent years to what has long been the scientific consensus: that all of the diverse life forms on Earth descended from a common ancestor, through a process of mutation and natural selection, over billions of years.

But in a nation where evangelical Protestantism and other religious traditions stress a literal reading of the biblical description of God’s individually creating each species, students often arrive at school fearing that evolution, and perhaps science itself, is hostile to their faith.

Some come armed with “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution,” a document circulated on the Internet that highlights supposed weaknesses in evolutionary theory. Others scrawl their opposition on homework assignments. Many just tune out.

With a mandate to teach evolution but little guidance as to how, science teachers are contriving their own ways to turn a culture war into a lesson plan. How they fare may bear on whether a new generation of Americans embraces scientific evidence alongside religious belief.

“If you see something you don’t understand, you have to ask ‘why?’ or ‘how?’ ” Mr. Campbell often admonished his students at Ridgeview High School.

Yet their abiding mistrust in evolution, he feared, jeopardized their belief in the basic power of science to explain the natural world — and their ability to make sense of it themselves.

Passionate on the subject, Mr. Campbell had helped to devise the state’s new evolution standards, which will be phased in starting this fall. A former Navy flight instructor not used to pulling his punches, he fought hard for their passage. But with his students this spring, he found himself treading carefully, as he tried to bridge an ideological divide that stretches well beyond his classroom.


A Cartoon and a Challenge

He started with Mickey Mouse.

On the projector, Mr. Campbell placed slides of the cartoon icon: one at his skinny genesis in 1928; one from his 1940 turn as the impish Sorcerer’s Apprentice; and another of the rounded, ingratiating charmer of Mouse Club fame.

“How,” he asked his students, “has Mickey changed?”

Natives of Disney World’s home state, they waved their hands and called out answers.

“His tail gets shorter,” Bryce volunteered.

“Bigger eyes!” someone else shouted.

“He looks happier,” one girl observed. “And cuter.”

Mr. Campbell smiled. “Mickey evolved,” he said. “And Mickey gets cuter because Walt Disney makes more money that way. That is ‘selection.’ ”

Later, he would get to the touchier part, about how the minute changes in organisms that drive biological change arise spontaneously, without direction. And how a struggle for existence among naturally varying individuals has helped to generate every species, living and extinct, on the planet.

For now, it was enough that they were listening.

He strode back to the projector, past his menagerie of snakes and baby turtles, and pointed to the word he had written in the beginning of class.

“Evolution has been the focus of a lot of debate in our state this year,” he said. “If you read the newspapers, everyone is arguing, ‘is it a theory, is it not a theory?’ The answer is, we can observe it. We can see it happen, just like you can see it in Mickey.”

Some students were nodding. As the bell rang, Mr. Campbell stood by the door, satisfied. But Bryce, heavyset with blond curls, left with a stage whisper as he slung his knapsack over his shoulder.

“I can see something else, too,” he said. “I can see that there’s no way I came from an ape.”


Fighting for a Mandate

As recently as three years ago, the guidelines that govern science education in more than a third of American public schools gave exceedingly short shrift to evolution, according to reviews by education experts. Some still do, science advocates contend. Just this summer, religious advocates lobbied successfully for a Louisiana law that protects the right of local schools to teach alternative theories for the origin of species, even though there are none that scientists recognize as valid. The Florida Legislature is expected to reopen debate on a similar bill this fall.

Even states that require teachers to cover the basics of evolution, like natural selection, rarely ask them to explain in any detail how humans, in particular, evolved from earlier life forms. That subject can be especially fraught for young people taught to believe that the basis for moral conduct lies in God’s having created man uniquely in his own image.

The poor treatment of evolution in some state education standards may reflect the public’s widely held creationist beliefs. In Gallup polls over the last 25 years, nearly half of American adults have consistently said they believe God created all living things in their present form, sometime in the last 10,000 years. But a 2005 defeat in federal court for a school board in Dover, Pa., that sought to cast doubt on evolution gave legal ammunition to evolution proponents on school boards and in statehouses across the country.

In its wake, Ohio removed a requirement that biology classes include “critical analysis” of evolution. Efforts to pass bills that implicitly condone the teaching of religious theories for life’s origins have failed in at least five states. And as science standards come up for regular review, other states have added material on evolution to student achievement tests, and required teachers to spend more time covering it.

When Florida’s last set of science standards came out in 1996, soon after Mr. Campbell took the teaching job at Ridgeview, he studied them in disbelief. Though they included the concept that biological “changes over time” occur, the word evolution was not mentioned.

He called his district science supervisor. “Is this really what they want us to teach for the next 10 years?” he demanded.

In 2000, when the independent Thomas B. Fordham Foundation evaluated the evolution education standards of all 50 states, Florida was among 12 to receive a grade of F. (Kansas, which drew international attention in 1999 for deleting all mention of evolution and later embracing supernatural theories, received an F-minus.)

Mr. Campbell, 52, who majored in biology while putting himself through Cornell University on a Reserve Officers Training Corps scholarship, taught evolution anyway. But like nearly a third of biology teachers across the country, and more in his politically conservative district, he regularly heard from parents voicing complaints.

With no school policy to back him up, he spent less time on the subject than he would have liked. And he bit back his irritation at Teresa Yancey, a biology teacher down the hall who taught a unit she called “Evolution or NOT.”

Animals do adapt to their environments, Ms. Yancey tells her students, but evolution alone can hardly account for the appearance of wholly different life forms. She leaves it up to them to draw their own conclusions. But when pressed, she tells them, “I think God did it.”

Mr. Campbell was well aware of her opinion. “I don’t think we have this great massive change over time where we go from fish to amphibians, from monkeys to man,” she once told him. “We see lizards with different-shaped tails, we don’t see blizzards — the lizard bird.”

With some approximation of courtesy, Mr. Campbell reminded her that only a tiny fraction of organisms that ever lived had been preserved in fossils. Even so, he informed his own students, scientists have discovered thousands of fossils that provide evidence of one species transitioning into another — including feathered dinosaurs.

But at the inaugural meeting of the Florida Citizens for Science, which he co-founded in 2005, he vented his frustration. “The kids are getting hurt,” Mr. Campbell told teachers and parents. “We need to do something.”

The Dover decision in December of that year dealt a blow to “intelligent design,” which posits that life is too complex to be explained by evolution alone, and has been widely promoted by religious advocates since the Supreme Court’s 1987 ban on creationism in public schools. The federal judge in the case called the doctrine “creationism re-labeled,” and found the Dover school board had violated the constitutional separation of church and state by requiring teachers to mention it. The school district paid $1 million in legal costs.

Inspired, the Florida citizens group soon contacted similar groups in other states advocating better teaching of evolution. And in June 2007, when his supervisor invited Mr. Campbell to help draft Florida’s new standards, he quickly accepted.

During the next six months, he made the drive to three-day meetings in Orlando and Tallahassee six times. By January 2008 the Board of Education budget had run out. But the 30 teachers on the standards committee paid for their own gasoline to attend their last meeting.

Mr. Campbell quietly rejoiced in their final draft. Under the proposed new standards, high school students could be tested on how fossils and DNA provide evidence for evolution. Florida students would even be expected to learn how their own species fits into the tree of life.

Whether the state’s board of education would adopt them, however, was unclear. There were heated objections from some religious organizations and local school boards. In a stormy public comment session, Mr. Campbell defended his fellow writers against complaints that they had not included alternative explanations for life’s diversity, like intelligent design.

His attempt at humor came with an edge:

“We also failed to include astrology, alchemy and the concept of the moon being made of green cheese,” he said. “Because those aren’t science, either.”

The evening of the vote, Mr. Campbell learned by e-mail message from an education official that the words “scientific theory of” had been inserted in front of “evolution” to appease opponents on the board. Even so, the standards passed by only a 4-to-3 vote.

Mr. Campbell cringed at the wording, which seemed to suggest evolution was a kind of hunch instead of the only accepted scientific explanation for the great variety of life on Earth. But he turned off his computer without scrolling through all of the frustrated replies from other writers. The standards, he thought, were finally in place.

Now he just had to teach.

The Limits of Science

The morning after his Mickey Mouse gambit, he bounced a pink rubber Spalding ball on the classroom’s hard linoleum floor.

“Gravity,” he said. “I can do this until the end of the semester, and I can only assume that it will work the same way each time.”

He looked around the room. “Bryce, what is it called when natural laws are suspended — what do you call it when water changes into wine?”

“Miracle?” Bryce supplied.

Mr. Campbell nodded. The ball hit the floor again.

“Science explores nature by testing and gathering data,” he said. “It can’t tell you what’s right and wrong. It doesn’t address ethics. But it is not anti-religion. Science and religion just ask different questions.”

He grabbed the ball and held it still.

“Can anybody think of a question science can’t answer?”

“Is there a God?” shot back a boy near the window.

“Good,” said Mr. Campbell, an Anglican who attends church most Sundays. “Can’t test it. Can’t prove it, can’t disprove it. It’s not a question for science.”

Bryce raised his hand.

“But there is scientific proof that there is a God,” he said. “Over in Turkey there’s a piece of wood from Noah’s ark that came out of a glacier.”

Mr. Campbell chose his words carefully.

“If I could prove, tomorrow, that that chunk of wood is not from the ark, is not even 500 years old and not even from the right kind of tree — would that damage your religious faith at all?”

Bryce thought for a moment.

“No,” he said.

The room was unusually quiet.

“Faith is not based on science,” Mr. Campbell said. “And science is not based on faith. I don’t expect you to ‘believe’ the scientific explanation of evolution that we’re going to talk about over the next few weeks.”

“But I do,” he added, “expect you to understand it.”


The Lure of T. Rex

Over the next weeks, Mr. Campbell regaled his students with the array of evidence on which evolutionary theory is based. To see how diverse species are related, they studied the embryos of chickens and fish, and the anatomy of horses, cats, seals and bats.

To simulate natural selection, they pretended to be birds picking light-colored moths off tree bark newly darkened by soot.

But the dearth of questions made him uneasy.

“I still don’t have a good feeling on how well any of them are internalizing any of this,” he worried aloud.

When he was 5, Mr. Campbell’s aunt took him on a trip from his home in Connecticut to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. At the end of the day, she had to pry him away from the Tyrannosaurus rex.

If this didn’t hook them, he thought one Wednesday morning, admiring the cast of a T. rex brain case he set on one of the classroom’s long, black laboratory tables, nothing would. Carefully, he distributed several other fossils, including two he had collected himself.

He placed particular hope in the jaw of a 34-million-year-old horse ancestor. Through chance, selection and extinction, he had told his class, today’s powerfully muscled, shoulder-high horses had evolved from squat dog-sized creatures.

The diminutive jaw, from an early horse that stood about two feet tall, offered proof of how the species had changed over time. And maybe, if they accepted the evolution of Equus caballus, they could begin to contemplate the origin of Homo sapiens.

Mr. Campbell instructed the students to spend three minutes at each station. He watched Bryce and his partner, Allie Farris, look at the illustration of a modern horse jaw he had posted next to the fossil of its Mesohippus ancestor. Hovering, he kicked himself for not acquiring a real one to make the comparison more tangible. But they lingered, well past their time limit. Bryce pointed to the jaw in the picture and held the fossil up to his own mouth.

“It’s maybe the size of a dog’s jaw or a cat’s,” he said, measuring.

He looked at Allie. “That’s pretty cool, don’t you think?”

After class, Mr. Campbell fed the turtles. It was time for a test, he thought.


‘I Don’t Believe in This’

Bryce came to Ridgeview as a freshman from a Christian private school where he attended junior high.

At 16, Bryce, whose parents had made sure he read the Bible for an hour each Sunday as a child, no longer went to church. But he did make it to the predawn meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a national Christian sports organization whose mission statement defines the Bible as the “authoritative Word of God.” Life had been dark after his father died a year ago, he told the group, but things had been going better recently, and he attributed that to God’s help.

When the subject of evolution came up at a recent fellowship meeting, several of the students rolled their eyes.

“I think a big reason evolutionists believe what they believe is they don’t want to have to be ruled by God,” said Josh Rou, 17.

“Evolution is telling you that you’re like an animal,” Bryce agreed. “That’s why people stand strong with Christianity, because it teaches people to lead a good life and not do wrong.”

Doug Daugherty, 17, allowed that he liked science.

“I’ll watch the Discovery Channel and say ‘Ooh, that’s interesting,’ ” he said. “But there’s a difference between thinking something is interesting and believing it.”

The last question on the test Mr. Campbell passed out a week later asked students to explain two forms of evidence supporting evolutionary change and natural selection.

“I refuse to answer,” Bryce wrote. “I don’t believe in this.”


Losing Heart

Mr. Campbell looked at the calendar. Perhaps this semester, he thought, he would skip over the touchy subject of human origins. The new standards, after all, had not gone into effect. “Maybe I’ll just give them the fetal pig dissection,” he said with a sigh.

It wasn’t just Bryce. Many of the students, Mr. Campbell sensed, were not grasping the basic principles of biological evolution. If he forced them to look at themselves in the evolutionary mirror, he risked alienating them entirely.

The discovery that a copy of “Evolution Exposed,” published by the creationist organization Answers in Genesis, was circulating among the class did not raise his flagging spirits. The book lists each reference to evolution in the biology textbook Mr. Campbell uses and offers an explanation for why it is wrong.

Where the textbook states, for example, that “Homo sapiens appeared in Africa 200,000 years ago based on fossil and DNA evidence,” “Exposed” counters that “The fossil evidence of hominids (alleged human ancestors) is extremely limited.” A pastor at a local church, Mr. Campbell learned, had given a copy of “Exposed” to every graduating senior the previous year.

But the next week, at a meeting in Tallahassee where he sorted the new science standards into course descriptions for other teachers, the words he had helped write reverberated in his head.

“Evolution,” the standards said, “is the fundamental concept underlying all biology.”

When he got home, he dug out his slide illustrating the nearly exact match between human and chimpanzee chromosomes, and prepared for a contentious class.


Facing the Challenge

“True or false?” he barked the following week, wearing a tie emblazoned with the DNA double helix. “Humans evolved from chimpanzees.”

The students stared at him, unsure. “True,” some called out.

“False,” he said, correcting a common misconception. “But we do share a common ancestor.”

More gently now, he started into the story of how, five or six million years ago, a group of primates in Africa split. Some stayed in the forest and evolved into chimps; others — our ancestors — migrated to the grasslands.

On the projector, he placed a picture of the hand of a gibbon, another human cousin. “There’s the opposable thumb,” he said, wiggling his own. “But theirs is a longer hand because they live in trees, and their arms are very long.”

Mr. Campbell bent over, walking on the outer part of his foot. He had intended to mimic how arms became shorter and legs became longer. He planned to tell the class how our upright gait, built on a body plan inherited from tree-dwelling primates, made us prone to lower back pain. And how, over the last two million years, our jaws have grown shorter, which is why wisdom teeth so often need to be removed.

But too many hands had gone up.

He answered as fast as he could, his pulse quickening as it had rarely done since his days on his high school debate team.

“If that really happened,” Allie wanted to know, “wouldn’t you still see things evolving?”

“We do,” he said. “But this is happening over millions of years. With humans, if I’m lucky I might see four generations in my lifetime.”

Caitlin Johnson, 15, was next.

“If we had to have evolved from something,” she wanted to know, “then whatever we evolved from, where did IT evolve from?”

“It came from earlier primates,” Mr. Campbell replied.

“And where did those come from?”

“You can trace mammals back 250 million years,” he said. The first ones, he reminded them, were small, mouselike creatures that lived in the shadow of dinosaurs.

Other students were jumping in.

“Even if we did split off from chimps,” someone asked, “how come they stayed the same but we changed?”

“They didn’t stay the same,” Mr. Campbell answered. “They were smaller, more slender — they’ve changed a lot.”

Bryce had been listening, studying the hand of the monkey on the screen .

“How does our hand go from being that long to just a smaller hand?” he said. “I don’t see how that happens.”

“If a smaller hand is beneficial,” Mr. Campbell said, “individuals with small hands will have more children, while those with bigger hands will disappear.”

“But if we came from them, why are they still around?”

“Just because a new population evolves doesn’t mean the old one dies out,” Mr. Campbell said.

Bryce spoke again. This time it wasn’t a question.

“So it just doesn’t stop,” he said.

“No,” said Mr. Campbell. “If the environment is suitable, a species can go on for a long time.”

“What about us,” Bryce pursued. “Are we going to evolve?”

Mr. Campbell stopped, and took a breath.

“Yes,” he said. “Unless we go extinct.”

When the bell rang, he knew that he had not convinced Bryce, and perhaps many of the others. But that week, he gave the students an opportunity to answer the questions they had missed on the last test. Grading Bryce’s paper later in the quiet of his empty classroom, he saw that this time, the question that asked for evidence of evolutionary change had been answered.

    A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash, NYT, 23.8.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/24/education/24evolution.html







Priority No. 1: Educate Our Kids


August 1, 2008
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “The Biggest Issue” (column, July 29):

A big thank you to David Brooks. We need to focus on education and, in particular, how to close the educational gap between children who begin life with large human capital resources and those who don’t.

Mr. Brooks cites Barack Obama’s focus on early childhood education as a positive start. But before we can rely on schools, we need to make sure that they are places of nurture where children can develop “motivation levels, emotional stability, self-control and sociability,” traits that Mr. Brooks mentions.

How do we create schools where this can happen? Questions like this are necessary and require an honest and open debate. Martina Forgey Lay

Chautauqua, N.Y., July 30, 2008

The writer is a kindergarten teacher in Alexandria, Va.

To the Editor:

David Brooks writes that “the happy era ended around 1970 when America’s educational progress slowed to a crawl.”

Richard M. Nixon was president in 1970, and in the almost 40 years since he took office, we have had Republican presidents for all but 12 years. This is not to say that our education problems are all the fault of Republican presidents, but it is to say that their philosophy of unregulated free markets overwhelmed this country’s belief in promoting the common good.

As a result, support for economic growth for everyone declined, replaced by increased income inequality and the accompanying problems, as noted by Mr. Brooks, that low-income families face today.

I believe that the growing inequality leads to the lack of school preparedness by groups low on the economic ladder, as well as to the inability of the United States to keep its education system up to the standards of other advanced nations. Rex Costanzo

Silver Spring, Md., July 29, 2008

The writer is an education researcher.

To the Editor:

David Brooks rightly recognizes that gaps in educational attainment identifiable at age 5 ultimately undermine school success.

We knew this when Head Start was founded. We knew it when Head Start was evaluated as effective. We know it now that Head Start has been effectively decimated.

Rather than rail at preschool gaps, finance programs that resolve them.

Miriam Cherkes-Julkowski

Apache Junction, Ariz., July 29, 2008

The writer is a retired professor of educational psychology at the University of Connecticut.

To the Editor:

David Brooks comments on the decline in the commitment to education since the 1970s, but he doesn’t point out the rise in the emphasis on faith and ideology over the same time period. Coincidence? Tom Schiavetta

Dallas, July 30, 2008

To the Editor:

David Brooks is right. If you want to choose one issue that will have the biggest effect on our economy and our nation’s well-being, choose education.

CEOs for Cities, a national network of urban leaders, has calculated that if we can raise college attainment by just one percentage point in each of the country’s top 50 metro areas, the nation will realize an annual $50 billion “talent dividend.”

That is the amount of the House Democrats’ proposed economic stimulus package. And education attainment is the stimulus that keeps on giving.

Mr. Brooks points out that one candidate, Barack Obama, has made early childhood education central to his message and his policy proposals. For all our sakes, we must regain our momentum on what ought to be our national priority. Carol Coletta

President and Chief Executive

CEOs for Cities

Chicago, July 29, 2008

To the Editor:

David Brooks is right to tie America’s rise and vigor to investments in education. That’s why I wish he’d also mentioned the passage of the new G.I. Bill, which was signed into law in June. The bill greatly increases college benefits for veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of the wisest things we ever did was to consolidate the wartime experience, leadership skills and sense of self-sacrifice of World War II veterans with a college education at taxpayer expense. One of the most foolish (and ignominious) was the callousness we showed the Vietnam War generation.

Following his point through to its pertinent political conclusion, Mr. Brooks should have called John McCain to task for his opposition to and failure to vote on that bill. Dakin Hart

New York, July 30, 2008

    Priority No. 1: Educate Our Kids, NYT, 1.8.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/01/opinion/l01brooks.html






Op-Ed Columnist

The Biggest Issue


July 29, 2008
The New York Times


Why did the United States become the leading economic power of the 20th century? The best short answer is that a ferocious belief that people have the power to transform their own lives gave Americans an unparalleled commitment to education, hard work and economic freedom.

Between 1870 and 1950, the average American’s level of education rose by 0.8 years per decade. In 1890, the average adult had completed about 8 years of schooling. By 1900, the average American had 8.8 years. By 1910, it was 9.6 years, and by 1960, it was nearly 14 years.

As Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz describe in their book, “The Race Between Education and Technology,” America’s educational progress was amazingly steady over those decades, and the U.S. opened up a gigantic global lead. Educational levels were rising across the industrialized world, but the U.S. had at least a 35-year advantage on most of Europe. In 1950, no European country enrolled 30 percent of its older teens in full-time secondary school. In the U.S., 70 percent of older teens were in school.

America’s edge boosted productivity and growth. But the happy era ended around 1970 when America’s educational progress slowed to a crawl. Between 1975 and 1990, educational attainments stagnated completely. Since then, progress has been modest. America’s lead over its economic rivals has been entirely forfeited, with many nations surging ahead in school attainment.

This threatens the country’s long-term prospects. It also widens the gap between rich and poor. Goldin and Katz describe a race between technology and education. The pace of technological change has been surprisingly steady. In periods when educational progress outpaces this change, inequality narrows. The market is flooded with skilled workers, so their wages rise modestly. In periods, like the current one, when educational progress lags behind technological change, inequality widens. The relatively few skilled workers command higher prices, while the many unskilled ones have little bargaining power.

The meticulous research of Goldin and Katz is complemented by a report from James Heckman of the University of Chicago. Using his own research, Heckman also concludes that high school graduation rates peaked in the U.S. in the late 1960s, at about 80 percent. Since then they have declined.

In “Schools, Skills and Synapses,” Heckman probes the sources of that decline. It’s not falling school quality, he argues. Nor is it primarily a shortage of funding or rising college tuition costs. Instead, Heckman directs attention at family environments, which have deteriorated over the past 40 years.

Heckman points out that big gaps in educational attainment are present at age 5. Some children are bathed in an atmosphere that promotes human capital development and, increasingly, more are not. By 5, it is possible to predict, with depressing accuracy, who will complete high school and college and who won’t.

I.Q. matters, but Heckman points to equally important traits that start and then build from those early years: motivation levels, emotional stability, self-control and sociability. He uses common sense to intuit what these traits are, but on this subject economists have a lot to learn from developmental psychologists.

I point to these two research projects because the skills slowdown is the biggest issue facing the country. Rising gas prices are bound to dominate the election because voters are slapped in the face with them every time they visit the pump. But this slow-moving problem, more than any other, will shape the destiny of the nation.

Second, there is a big debate under way over the sources of middle-class economic anxiety. Some populists emphasize the destructive forces of globalization, outsourcing and predatory capitalism. These people say we need radical labor market reforms to give the working class a chance. But the populists are going to have to grapple with the Goldin, Katz and Heckman research, which powerfully buttresses the arguments of those who emphasize human capital policies. It’s not globalization or immigration or computers per se that widen inequality. It’s the skills gap. Boosting educational attainment at the bottom is more promising than trying to reorganize the global economy.

Third, it’s worth noting that both sides of this debate exist within the Democratic Party. The G.O.P. is largely irrelevant. If you look at Barack Obama’s education proposals — especially his emphasis on early childhood — you see that they flow naturally and persuasively from this research. (It probably helps that Obama and Heckman are nearly neighbors in Chicago). McCain’s policies seem largely oblivious to these findings. There’s some vague talk about school choice, but Republicans are inept when talking about human capital policies.

America rose because it got more out of its own people than other nations. That stopped in 1970. Now, other issues grab headlines and campaign attention. But this tectonic plate is still relentlessly and menacingly shifting beneath our feet.

    The Biggest Issue, NYT, 29.7.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/29/opinion/29brooks.html






With No Frills or Tuition,

a College Draws Notice


July 21, 2008
The New York Times


BEREA, Ky. — Berea College, founded 150 years ago to educate freed slaves and “poor white mountaineers,” accepts only applicants from low-income families, and it charges no tuition.

“You can literally come to Berea with nothing but what you can carry, and graduate debt free,” said Joseph P. Bagnoli Jr., the associate provost for enrollment management. “We call it the best education money can’t buy.”

Actually, what buys that education is Berea’s $1.1 billion endowment, which puts the college among the nation’s wealthiest. But unlike most well-endowed colleges, Berea has no football team, coed dorms, hot tubs or climbing walls. Instead, it has a no-frills budget, with food from the college farm, handmade furniture from the college crafts workshops, and 10-hour-a-week campus jobs for every student.

Berea’s approach provides an unusual perspective on the growing debate over whether the wealthiest universities are doing enough for the public good to warrant their tax exemption, or simply hoarding money to serve an elite few. As many elite universities scramble to recruit more low-income students, Berea’s no-tuition model has attracted increasing attention.

“Asking whether that’s where our values lead us is a powerful way to consider what our values are,” said Anthony Marx, the president of Amherst College, who considered the possibility of using Amherst’s $1 million-per-student endowment to offer free tuition but concluded that it would make no sense, given Amherst’s more affluent student body and the fact that the college already subsidizes about half the cost of each student’s education.

“We’re not Berea, much as we respect them,” Mr. Marx said, adding there would be no social justification for giving free tuition to students from wealthy families.

Although this year’s market drop is taking its toll, the growth in university endowments in recent years has been spectacular. Harvard’s $35 billion endowment, Yale’s $23 billion, Stanford’s $17 billion and Princeton’s $16 billion put them among the world’s richest institutions.

Such endowments have helped make higher education one of the nation’s crown jewels. As Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, said in her spring commencement speech this year, endowments at Harvard and other research universities help fuel scientific advances as government support is eroding, and help drive economic growth and expansion in a difficult economy.

Although most universities have only modest endowments, the wealth of the richest has made them increasingly vulnerable to criticism from parents upset about rising tuition costs, lawmakers pushing them to spend more of their money and policy experts arguing that they should be helping more needy students.

“How much do you need to save for future generations, and at what point are you gouging today’s generation?” said Lynne Munson, of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity in Washington.

In January, the Senate Finance Committee requested detailed endowment and spending data from 136 colleges and universities with endowments of at least $500 million, with a possible eye to forcing them to spend at least 5 percent of their assets each year, as foundations are required to do. Large, tax-free endowments “should mean affordable education for more students, not just a security blanket for colleges,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who is reviewing the data.

The commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service’s tax-exempt section said this spring that he wanted his agency to be more aggressive in ensuring that universities made “appropriate use” of their endowments. And officials in Massachusetts are studying a proposal for a 2.5 percent tax on the part of university endowments greater than $1 billion — a threshold exceeded by nine of the state’s universities.

“The endowments have grown to such an astonishing extent that people are asking, if the wealth and the value of the tax exemption are increasing, is the public benefit increasing, as well?” said Evelyn Brody, a tax professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

This year, Ms. Brody said, the debate has entered new territory. Traditionally, discussion about endowments has focused on the balance between using the money for the current generation versus saving it for the benefit of future generations.

“Endowment spending has usually been a ‘when’ question, about when the money would be used for a charitable purpose,” she said. “But now, it’s also being viewed as a ‘what’ question. What is the money for? And I think that’s new.”

In part, it is simply a question of itchy fingers. When one sector amasses great wealth, other sectors find it irresistible.

“That’s why Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 16th century,” Ms. Brody said. “In those days, it was real estate, which was not easy to hide. Now it’s the disclosure, which makes the universities’ wealth impossible to hide.”

The mounting scrutiny by lawmakers has already prompted some action. Dozens of wealthy colleges have increased their aid to low- and middle-income students, many substituting grants for loans. Many have announced plans to expand their student bodies, and some are doing broader outreach and working with nearby K-12 schools to improve academic preparation.

Nonetheless, according to 2002 data, only one in 10 of the students at the nation’s most selective institutions come from the bottom 40 percent of the income scale. And the proportion of low-income undergraduates at the nation’s wealthiest colleges has been declining, as measured by the percentage receiving federal Pell Grants, for families with income under about $40,000. At most top colleges, only 8 to 15 percent of students receive Pell grants.

At Berea, more than three-quarters of the students receive Pell grants.

Overall, Berea’s statistics speak worlds about the demand for affordable higher education; this year, the college accepted only 22 percent of its applicants. Among those accepted, 85 percent attended Berea, a yield higher than Harvard’s.

Berea can be a haven for the lower-income students at high schools where expensive clothes and fancy homes demarcate the social territory.

“When I first heard about Berea, I didn’t think I wanted to come here,” said Candice Roots, who will be a junior in the fall. “But I visited in my senior year, and as soon as I got here, I knew this was what I wanted. Everybody was like me. You don’t have to have all this money to fit in.”

With its hilly campus, Georgian president’s mansion and old brick buildings, Berea looks much like any elite New England college. But its operating budget is less than half that of Amherst, which has a $1.7 billion endowment and about 100 more students. Faculty pay is much lower, and the student-faculty ratio higher. With no rich parents and no legacy admission slots, fund-raising is far more difficult at Berea.

Lacking tuition, Berea receives 80 percent of its $43 million education and general budget, and about two-thirds of its $55 million operating budget, from the endowment income.

Families bringing a student to a campus interview may stay, free, in a four-bedroom house, complete with flat-screen television and handmade sleigh bed. Students who are single parents have their own residences.

To satisfy the work requirement, some students have jobs in the academic departments, administrative offices and labs, while others are assigned to the college farm, the workshops that make and sell traditional mountain crafts (its handmade brooms, especially, are well-known treasures) or the college-owned hotel, which anchors the town square.

Mr. Marx, in homage, keeps a Berea broom in his Amherst office.

While Mr. Marx is not trying to match Berea’s student population, he is proud of Amherst’s efforts to attract top students from all income brackets. The college has increased the proportion of Pell recipients to nearly 20 percent of its student body, from about 15 percent five years ago, for example. With more than half of Amherst’s students on financial aid, the college announced last year that it would replace loans in all aid packages with grants. A full-time staff member recruits community college graduates as transfer students. Admissions are need-blind, for both American and international applicants.

Although he, like other college presidents, opposes the idea of a required 5 percent payout, Mr. Marx said the current debate over the use of endowments was healthy.

“Congress, the media, the public all have an interest in knowing whether we’re using our resources to make sure the best students have access to the best education,” he said. “They should be asking, are we really affordable? Are we offering the highest quality education? Are we directing graduates to think about their social responsibilities?”

Berea’s president, Larry D. Shinn, also opposes a required 5 percent payout but wants colleges pushed to do more for needy students.

“You see some of these selective liberal arts colleges building new physical education facilities with these huge sheets of glass and these coffee and juice bars, and charging students $40,000 a year, and you have to ask, does this contribute to the public good, or is it just a way for the college to keep up with the Joneses?” Mr. Shinn said. “We are a tax-exempt institution, so I think the public has a right to demand that our educational mission be at the heart of all of our expenditures.”

    With No Frills or Tuition, a College Draws Notice, NYT, 21.7.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/21/education/21endowments.html






The ’60s Begin to Fade

as Liberal Professors Retire


July 3, 2008
The New York Times


MADISON, Wis. — When Michael Olneck was standing, arms linked with other protesters, singing “We Shall Not Be Moved” in front of Columbia University’s library in 1968, Sara Goldrick-Rab had not yet been born.

When he won tenure at the University of Wisconsin here in 1980, she was 3. And in January, when he retires at 62, Ms. Goldrick-Rab will be just across the hall, working to earn a permanent spot on the same faculty from which he is departing.

Together, these Midwestern academics, one leaving the professoriate and another working her way up, are part of a vast generational change that is likely to profoundly alter the culture at American universities and colleges over the next decade.

Baby boomers, hired in large numbers during a huge expansion in higher education that continued into the ’70s, are being replaced by younger professors who many of the nearly 50 academics interviewed by The New York Times believe are different from their predecessors — less ideologically polarized and more politically moderate.

“There’s definitely something happening,” said Peter W. Wood, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, which was created in 1987 to counter attacks on Western culture and values. “I hear from quite a few faculty members and graduate students from around the country. They are not really interested in fighting the battles that have been fought over the last 20 years.”

Individual colleges and organizations like the American Association of University Professors are already bracing for what has been labeled the graying of the faculty. More than 54 percent of full-time faculty members in the United States were older than 50 in 2005, compared with 22.5 percent in 1969. How many will actually retire in the next decade or so depends on personal preferences and health, as well as how their pensions fare in the financial markets.

Yet already there are signs that the intense passions and polemics that roiled campuses during the past couple of decades have begun to fade. At Stanford a divided anthropology department reunited last year after a bitter split in 1998 broke it into two entities, one focusing on culture, the other on biology. At Amherst, where military recruiters were kicked out in 1987, students crammed into a lecture hall this year to listen as alumni who served in Iraq urged them to join the military.

In general, information on professors’ political and ideological leanings tends to be scarce. But a new study of the social and political views of American professors by Neil Gross at the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons at George Mason University found that the notion of a generational divide is more than a glancing impression. “Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960s,” they wrote, making up just under 50 percent. At the same time, the youngest group, ages 26 to 35, contains the highest percentage of moderates, some 60 percent, and the lowest percentage of liberals, just under a third.

When it comes to those who consider themselves “liberal activists,” 17.2 percent of the 50-64 age group take up the banner compared with only 1.3 percent of professors 35 and younger.

“These findings with regard to age provide further support for the idea that, in recent years, the trend has been toward increasing moderatism,” the study says.

The authors are not talking about a political realignment. Democrats continue to overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans among faculty, young and old. But as educators have noted, the generation coming up appears less interested in ideological confrontations, summoning Barack Obama’s statement about the elections of 2000 and 2004: “I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation — a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago — played out on the national stage.”

With more than 675,000 professors at the nation’s more than 4,100 four-year and two-year institutions, it is easy to find faculty members, young and old, who defy any mold. Still, this move to the middle is “certainly the conventional wisdom,” said Jack H. Schuster, who along with Martin J. Finkelstein, wrote “The American Faculty,” a comprehensive analysis of existing data on the profession. “The agenda is different now than what it had been.”

With previous battles already settled, like the creation of women’s and ethnic studies departments, moderation can be found at both ends of the political spectrum. David DesRosiers, executive director of the Veritas Fund for Higher Education Reform, which contributes to conservative activities on campuses, said impending retirements present an opportunity. However, he added, “we’re not looking for fights,” but rather “a civil dialogue.” His model? A seminar on great books at Princeton jointly taught by two philosophers, the left-wing Cornel West and the right-wing Robert P. George.

Changes in institutions of higher education themselves are reinforcing the generational shuffle. Health sciences, computer science, engineering and business — fields that have tended to attract a somewhat greater proportion of moderates and conservatives — have grown in importance and size compared with the more liberal social sciences and humanities, where many of the bitterest fights over curriculum and theory occurred.

At the same time, shrinking public resources overall and fewer tenure-track jobs in the humanities have pushed younger professors in those fields to concentrate more single-mindedly on their careers. Academia, once somewhat insulated from market pressures, is today treated like a business. This switch is a “major ideological and philosophical shift in how society views higher education,” Mr. Schuster and Mr. Finkelstein write in “The American Faculty.”

And with more women in the ranks (nearly 40 percent of the total in 2005 compared with 17.3 percent in 1969), different sorts of issues like family-friendly benefits have been brought to the table.

One way to understand the sense that a new mood is emerging on American campuses is to look at the difference between the world that existed when Mr. Olneck was making his way and the one in which Ms. Goldrick-Rab is coming up.


The ’60s Generation

Michael Olneck slides into a booth at Kabul Restaurant on State Street, a few steps from the sprawling Madison campus and its 41,000 students. “I was a pink-diaper baby,” he said pushing his bicycle helmet aside and smoothing the unruly strands of gray hair on his head.

His father was a Socialist. Right out of high school, in 1964, Mr. Olneck organized support for the Mississippi Project’s black voter-registration drives. Later, he took a bus to Washington to protest the war in Vietnam, served on the strike coordinating committee at Harvard during the American invasion of Cambodia in 1970 and demonstrated at President Nixon’s inauguration in 1973.

Similar events embedded themselves in the minds of many students at the time. A few blocks from the restaurant is a plaque commemorating protests that rattled the university in the 1960s and ’70s: the seizure of the student movement by radicals, the deadly bombing of a campus research lab, the clubbing of antiwar demonstrators.

Those sorts of experiences are alien to younger professors, Mr. Olneck explained, so “they may not be as instinctively anti-authoritarian; they just don’t have that in their background.”

The protests ultimately died down here and elsewhere. Mr. Olneck ended up in front of the class, and like many academics from his generation, he brought the same spirited questioning and conscience that had animated his student years to his job as an education and sociology professor.

Yet to some traditionalists, preoccupations like Mr. Olneck’s grated. The conservative philosopher Allan Bloom captured the bitter splits — better known as the culture wars — in his influential best seller “The Closing of the American Mind” in 1987. He detailed fights over the scarcity of women and people of color in the curriculum, the proliferation of pop-culture courses, doubts about the existence of any eternal truths and new theories that declared moral values to be merely an expression of power. These rancorous disputes often spilled into the nation’s political discourse.

When Mr. Olneck earned his degree, traditional views of American education were also being upended. Radical revisionists ridiculed the view of public education as a beneficent democratic project. They raised questions about equal access, how schools reinforced class differences, and whether social science should, or even could be free of ideology.

At the start of his career, Mr. Olneck traced the links between where someone’s family came from and where they ended up on the economic and social ladder. Although he has done quantitative research, 20 years ago he jettisoned number-centric studies for historical narrative, exploring how schools throughout the 20th century responded to immigrants and diversity. In his work one can detect some of the era’s preoccupations when he argues, for instance, that fights over bilingualism and standard English were about power.

The same goes for his extracurricular activities. In 1989 he worked to kick the R.O.T.C. off campus because of the Defense Department’s ban on homosexuals. (The effort failed.) More recently, his neighborhood was riled by a Walgreens plan to open a drugstore. “All these people who had protested the war and civil rights,” Mr. Olneck said, laughing; Walgreens “didn’t know what hit ’em.”

Last fall, he taught Race, Ethnicity and Inequality in American Education, which he introduces in the syllabus: “Schools in the United States promise equal opportunity. They have not kept that promise. In this course, we will try to find out why.” Like many sociologists and education researchers, Mr. Olneck said that today both the kinds of analyses and the theories that prevailed when he was in college have changed. Overarching narratives, societal critiques and clarion calls for change — of the capitalist system or the social structure — have gone out of style. Today, with advances in statistical methods, many sociologists have moved to model themselves on clinical researchers with large, randomized experiments as their gold standard. In their eyes, this more scientific approach is less explicitly ideological than other kinds of research.

Ms. Goldrick-Rab has embraced such experiments. A graduate course she created — partly based on her research of community colleges — focused on “educational opportunity and inequality” at community colleges, with an “emphasis on the critical evaluation and assessment of current up-to-date research.”

Another Wisconsin professor, Erik Olin Wright, a 61-year-old sociologist and a Marxist theorist, described it this way: “There has been some shift away from grand frameworks to more focused empirical questions.”

As for his own approach, Mr. Wright said, “in the late ’60s and ’70s, the Marxist impulse was central for those interested in social justice.” Now it resides at the margins.


A New Generation

“I was part of a new wave of hires,” Sara Goldrick-Rab said, peering over the top of her laptop at her favorite off-campus work site, the Espresso Royale cafe. She came to the University of Wisconsin in 2004 and, like Mr. Olneck, has a joint appointment in educational policy studies and sociology, both departments considered among the best in the country.

Now 31, she grew up in a Washington suburb, Fairfax, Va., when Ronald Reagan was in the White House and corporate mergers were the rage. At George Washington University she was active in a campaign to end the death penalty, but for most of her classmates the late 1990s were marked by economic growth, peace and student apathy.

“My generation is not so ideologically driven,” she said.

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to engage a larger audience and influence policy. She considers herself the “intellectual heir” of her senior colleagues — “It’s like working with your grandparents,” she said fondly — and she cares deeply about educational inequality, often writing about the subject on a blog she created with her husband.

But she also is aware of differences between the generations.


A Sensibility Gap

“Senior people evaluate us for tenure and the standards they use and what we think is important are different,” she said. They want to question values and norms; “we are more driven by data.”

Her newest project is collaborating on what she calls the “first rigorous test in the country” to measure whether needs-based financial aid increases the chances that low-income students will graduate from college. It involves 42 colleges and 6,000 students, and will combine statistics with more in-depth interviews.

As for partisan politics, when she wrote an article in May for Pajamasmedia.com about welfare reform cutting off poor people’s access to higher education, some friends and co-workers were surprised by its appearance on that conservative blog. She said she didn’t know; she had not paid attention to its political bent.

When Ms. Goldrick-Rab speaks of added pressures on her generation, she talks about being pregnant or taking care of her 17-month-old while trying to earn tenure. The lack of paid leave for mothers is high on her list of complaints about university life.

At a conference titled “Generational Shockwaves,” sponsored in November by the TIAA-CREF Institute, Joan Girgus, a special assistant to the dean of faculty at Princeton, underscored how these sorts of concerns were increasingly on the minds of younger faculty members. Universities need to focus more on the “life” side of the work-life balance “because faculties historically were almost entirely male and the wives took care of the family side,” Ms. Girgus said. “I don’t think we can do that anymore.” Ask Ms. Goldrick-Rab if she believes there is a gap between her generation and the boomers, and she immediately answers yes.

Mr. Olneck and Mr. Wright are more cautious. “Some of my closest colleagues are 25 years younger than I am and I feel absolutely no barrier of sensibility,” Mr. Wright said.

For him, the institutional shifts outweigh any others: “I don’t think the big things have anything to do with generational change, but with financial pressures on education,” he said.

Wisconsin is part of the state’s university’s system, for example, but it receives only 18 percent of its total budget from the Legislature. The rest comes from donations, foundations, federal research grants and corporations. Mr. Wright and Mr. Olneck worry how constantly having a hand out — particularly to corporations — may affect attitudes and policies. Mr. Olneck mentioned the long list of labs and classrooms named after companies like Halliburton, Pillsbury and Ford Motor Company.

The market sensibility may account for what Mr. Olneck and others call an increasing careerism among junior faculty members. Jackson Lears, 62, a historian at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said, “I don’t think that necessarily means a move to the right, but a less overt stance of political engagement.”

Gerald Graff, president of the Modern Language Association and author of the 1992 book “Beyond the Culture Wars,” is more skeptical, saying he hasn’t seen evidence of change at the University of Illinois in Chicago, where he teaches English. “You’d think that the further we get away from the ’60s, where a lot of our political attitudes are nurtured, there would be,” he said, “but I have to say it doesn’t seem to be happening.”

Certainly some disciplines, like literary studies, seem more resistant to change. Elsewhere, senior faculty members are more likely to hire young scholars in their own mold, while some baby boomers have adopted the attitudes and styles of their younger peers.

But as scholars across fields argue, the historical era in which a generation develops — the Depression, wartime or peaceful affluence — is a defining moment for its members. “My generational paradigm is the end of the cold war,” said Matthew Woessner, a 35-year-old conservative and political scientist at Penn State Harrisburg. He and his wife, April Kelly-Woessner, a political scientist at nearby Elizabethtown College who is a year younger and a moderate, have been analyzing faculty survey responses for a new book. The notion that campuses are naturally radical or the birthplace of social movements, Ms. Kelly-Woessner said, was specific to the 1960s and ’70s. “I think the younger generation does look at it differently.”

    The ’60s Begin to Fade as Liberal Professors Retire, NYT, 3.7.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/03/arts/03camp.html






At One University,

Tobacco Money Is a Secret


May 22, 2008
The New York Times


On campuses nationwide, professors and administrators have passionately debated whether their universities should accept money for research from tobacco companies. But not at Virginia Commonwealth University, a public institution in Richmond, Va.

That is largely because hardly any faculty members or students there know that there is something to debate — a contract with extremely restrictive terms that the university signed in 2006 to do research for Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest tobacco company and a unit of Altria Group.

The contract bars professors from publishing the results of their studies, or even talking about them, without Philip Morris’s permission. If “a third party,” including news organizations, asks about the agreement, university officials have to decline to comment and tell the company. Nearly all patent and other intellectual property rights go to the company, not the university or its professors.

“There is restrictive language in here,” said Francis L. Macrina, Virginia Commonwealth’s vice president for research, who acknowledged that many of the provisions violated the university’s guidelines for industry-sponsored research. “In the end, it was language we thought we could agree to. It’s a balancing act.”

But the contract, a copy of which The New York Times obtained under the Virginia Freedom of Information law, is highly unusual and raises questions about how far universities will go in search of scarce research dollars to enhance their standing. It also brings a new dimension to the already divisive debate on many campuses over whether it is appropriate for universities to accept tobacco money for research.

Dr. Macrina would not specify how much money Philip Morris gave for the restricted research. Historically, the company has not been a major contributor to the university. Last year, it gave $1.3 million in research grants that included the restricted contract and a more traditional independent grant, Dr. Macrina said.

Over all last year, Virginia Commonwealth, with nearly 32,000 students, received $227 million in research grants from government and private sources, a sum dwarfed by the amounts the nation’s largest research universities take in. For example, the University of Washington received $1 billion in grants last year, while Johns Hopkins got $1.4 billion in federal money alone.

Philip Morris, based in Richmond, is a likely source for Virginia Commonwealth in its hunt for dollars from a finite number of corporations. Among tobacco companies, Philip Morris is the leader in investing in academic research. And for Virginia Commonwealth, expanding ties with its neighbor could produce other benefits like additional grants and support for other university functions.

About a dozen researchers and research ethicists from other universities were astonished at the restrictions in the contract, when they were told about it.

“When universities sign contracts with these covenants, they are basically giving up their ethos, compromising their values as a university,” said Sheldon Krimsky, a professor at Tufts University who is an expert on corporate influence on medical research. “There should be no debate about having a sponsor with control over the publishing of results.”

Stanton A. Glantz, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine who has lobbied for banning tobacco money on campuses, said, “University administrators who are desperate for money will basically do anything they have to for money.”

Although Dr. Macrina would not discuss many details of the research, Philip Morris officials were less reticent.

Rick Solana, the senior vice president for research and technology, said university scientists were studying how to identify early warning signs of pulmonary disease, and how to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus drained into rivers from processing tobacco leaves.

Dr. Solana also said the contract represented a new focus on developing tobacco products with reduced risks, a shift in strategy in underwriting university research that requires more confidentiality to protect the corporation’s intellectual property rights. And he said Philip Morris had similar arrangements with other universities — although he declined to say how many or which ones.

About 15 public health and medical schools no longer accept donations from the tobacco industry, and many major research universities continue to do so only if guaranteed independence to carry out the research and publish the results.

The business school at the University of Texas at Austin decided in December to stop accepting tobacco money. The University of California system tightened its oversight of tobacco-financed research last fall, after rejecting a proposal for a ban.

Virginia Commonwealth’s president, Eugene P. Trani, declined to be interviewed. But Dr. Macrina defended the contract, saying it struck a reasonable balance between the university’s need for openness and Philip Morris’s need for confidentiality, even though it violated Virginia Commonwealth’s own rules.

“These restrictive clauses seek to protect the rights and interests of multiple parties in the agreement,” Dr. Macrina said, pointing out that Virginia Commonwealth scientists would be working with other researchers.

Virginia Commonwealth’s guidelines for industry-sponsored research state, “University faculty and students must be free to publish their results.” The guidelines also say the university must retain all patent and other intellectual property rights from sponsored research.

Under the agreement, though, Philip Morris alone decides whether the researchers can publish because the contract defines “without limitation all work product or other material created by V.C.U.” as proprietary information belonging to the company.

“We would have discussions, and there could well be agreements that could ultimately result in the publication of proprietary information,” Dr. Macrina said.

Dr. Solana agreed, saying that once the company determined that its competitive interests were protected, it could permit researchers to publish.

“We have to start out with is anyone’s intellectual property going to be compromised?” Dr. Solana said. “Once the intellectual property is protected, then it’s usually O.K. to publish.

“Something being proprietary does not mean something cannot be published. We try to be very supportive in the health area of work being published.”

The contract also includes a longer than usual time for Philip Morris to review any possible publications by the researchers for potential patent or other proprietary problems — 120 days, with the option to continue for 60 days more. Again, this violates university guidelines, which call for reviews of no more than 90 days.

“When you have multiple parties involved at the level of the sponsor, we’re willing to agree to more time than we usually would,” Dr. Macrina said.

Dr. Macrina also defended the requirement that the university decline comment and tell the company if asked about the agreement by news organizations and other third parties.

“Language like that occurs in agreements like this because the sponsor wants to be sure there are no slip-ups, that things will not be released inadvertently,” he said.

Dr. Solana said the prohibition was intended to prevent participants in the research, both at the university or at other companies, from using the relationship with Philip Morris to promote themselves.

At Virginia Commonwealth, few professors appeared to know about the contract; when told about it, a number of them said they were concerned about its secretiveness.

“It’s a controversial area, and I personally prefer transparency,” said Richard P. Wenzel, chairman of the department of internal medicine at the university’s medical school, who had not heard of the contract before a reporter’s call.

Dan Ream, the president of the Faculty Senate, said he, too, knew nothing about the contract.

“It hasn’t come up as an issue of debate in the Faculty Senate at all,” said Mr. Ream, who works in the university’s library. “I’m highly committed to open access to information. That’s one of the tenets of librarianship.”

A tenured scientist at Virginia Commonwealth, who would not be interviewed for attribution because he said he feared retribution against his junior colleagues, called the contract’s restrictions, especially the limitations on publication, “completely unacceptable in the research world.”

For most of the decade, Philip Morris financed conventional research grants, using a scientific panel to select worthy research proposals from professors. The company granted independence to the professors whose work it sponsored and left them free to publish.

Even so, opponents of smoking opposed the grants, arguing that universities should not take money from tobacco companies because of the public health impact of smoking and what they viewed as the industry’s misuse of scientific research.

Last fall, Philip Morris began phasing out this program to switch to developing new products, said Dr. Solana, the company vice president. Some of the new research will be conducted internally, he said, at a new company research center in Richmond, and some will be contracted out to universities and corporations case by case.

The restricted contract with Virginia Commonwealth, Dr. Solana said, was part of what he hopes will be a new and different relationship between the company and universities. But scientists said such restrictions — especially the constraints on publication and what university officials can say publicly — are contrary to the open discussion essential to university research.

“It’s counter to the entire purpose and rationale of a university,” said David Rosner, a professor of public health and history at Columbia University. “It’s not a consulting company; it’s not just another commercial firm.”

    At One University, Tobacco Money Is a Secret, NYT, 22.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/22/us/22tobacco.html






Top Colleges Dig Deeper

in Wait Lists for Students


May 9, 2008
The New York Times


In what may be a happy surprise for thousands of high school seniors, Harvard plans to offer admission to 150 to 175 students on its waiting list, and Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania each expect to take 90, creating ripples that will send other highly selective colleges deeper into their waiting lists as well.

“This year has been less predictable than any recent year,” said Eric J. Kaplan, interim dean of admissions at Penn, adding that when one college in the top tier goes deep into its wait list, others are affected. “We all need to fill our classes and replace students who have been taken off wait lists at other institutions. The wait-list activity could extend for a significant time.”

Although colleges turn to wait lists to fill out their classes, it is unusual for the most selective to go so deep, college officials say.

For high-school students graduating in an unusually large class and for colleges trying to shape a freshman class, this has been an unusually challenging year, with the changes in early-admissions programs and the broad expansion of financial aid at many elite universities.

Right up until the May 1 deadline for students to respond to admissions offers, colleges have been unsure what to expect.

“Our class is coming in exactly the way we wanted it to, fitting into the plan we had to get to a class of 1,240,” said Janet Rapelye, dean of admission at Princeton, which, like Harvard and the University of Virginia, eliminated early admissions this year.

Ms. Rapelye said that with such a big change in policy, it was difficult to predict results, so “we deliberately aimed to have a slightly smaller group.”

In an e-mail message sent on Thursday to colleagues at dozens of other institutions and passed on to The New York Times, William Fitzsimmons, the Harvard College dean of admissions, said, “Harvard will admit somewhere in the range of 150 to 175 from the waiting list, possibly more depending on late May 1 returns and other waiting list activity.”

AHarvard spokesman said the college had accepted fewer students this year to avoid overcrowding the freshman class.

The Yale dean of admissions, Jeffrey Brenzel, said there would be about 45 wait-list offers this week and probably another round later this month.

Even colleges that had more than filled their freshman classes were wondering how many students would melt away if admitted off waiting lists elsewhere.

“We’re over target right now, so we’re in good shape,” said Rick Shaw, the Stanford dean of admissions. “But I’m keeping a small group on the wait list, because I think there’ll be some impact of wait-list activity at other schools.”

At Dartmouth, Maria Laskaris, the dean of admissions, said although Dartmouth had more than enough accepted students committing, she was “in a holding pattern, because it depends on what other schools do.”

“If they go deep into their wait lists,” Ms. Laskaris said, “there’s a domino effect that has an impact on all of us.”

Amherst College offered admission to 15 students on the wait list Wednesday and expected to make offers to about 10 more. Swarthmore and Pomona planned to take 15 to 20 students from the wait list, admissions officials said.

At Bowdoin College, William Shain said he was slightly over the 480-student target, “but not so much that going to the waiting list is out of the question, if we lost a lot to other schools.”

Some high school guidance counselors said the wait-list activity this year seemed to have occurred especially quickly.

“In the last few years, more and more kids have been getting put on wait lists,” said Margaret Loonam, assistant principal at Ridgewood High School in New Jersey. “Now we’re seeing more get off the wait lists and earlier. It used to be a formal letter.

“But this year, it’s still early May and we’ve had a kid who got a call at home at night saying, ‘You’re off the wait list, do you want to come?’ We’ve already had kids get off waitlists at N.Y.U., B.U., Fairfield and Quinnipiac.”

At the University of Virginia, which also ended early admissions this year, John Blackburn, the dean of admission, said because he had received 3,200 deposits for a target of 3,170 freshman, he might not go to the wait list, unless an unusual number of students defect to other colleges.

Mr. Blackburn said he considered the move from early admissions a success because it seemed that, as hoped, it had brought in more low-income students.

Harvard, which ended early admissions this year and greatly expanded its financial aid to middle-income families, sent out offers of admissions to 1,948 students March 31, for a freshman class that is to number 1,650. Harvard would not say how many students had accepted the admissions offers.

Top Colleges Dig Deeper in Wait Lists for Students,




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