Keith Whittington: Tolerating Campus Dissent, Left and Right

WhittingtonThe reminders come nearly daily that tolerating freedom of speech and thought on college campuses—and in American society—is hard. It is very easy to say that we love freedom of speech in the abstract. It is much harder to adhere to that conviction when confronted with speech that we ourselves find to be, well, intolerable. When we encounter ideas or rhetoric that we find abhorrent, we are tempted to look for loopholes in the freedom of speech, to rationalize efforts to silence those who make us uncomfortable. This instinct is only natural and all too human, but it is an instinct at odds with the requirements of a liberal democracy and very much at odds with the ideals of a modern university.

The passing of Barbara Bush unfortunately became the occasion for another such reminder. An English professor at California State University, Fresno took to Twitter to celebrate the former first lady’s death, denouncing Bush as a “racist” and the mother of a “war criminal.” No stranger to provocative Twitter posts, the professor seemed to initially revel in the outrage she had generated before retreating from the increasingly intense public glare.

Fresno State president Joseph Castro was soon engaged in damage control, but in doing so did not represent the principles of either the university or the Constitution well. Castro did not content himself with reminding members of the public that the professor spoke only for herself and not the institution and did not even get around to emphasizing that universities are home to a large number of independent-minded individuals who hold a wide range of views and frequently disagree with one another. Instead, he chose to join the outraged public in denouncing a member of his own faculty for expressing views “contrary to the core values of our University,” which he identified as values of “empathy” and “respect.” The president subsequently emphasized that “we are all held accountable for our actions.” Indeed, the tweet was, in Castro’s view, “beyond free speech,” apparently because it was “disrespectful.”

Castro is, of course, correct that everyone is accountable for their actions. The question is what accounting is appropriate for appalling opinions expressed on a personal social media account. The speech of university professors can and should be criticized when it is wrong. Students and colleagues may choose to avoid quarrelsome professors. University professors are subject to discipline, and even termination, if they engage in professional misconduct. When American citizens who happen to be members of the faculty at a state university express unpopular political opinions in the public sphere, their speech is constitutionally protected from reprisals by state government officials, including university presidents. When members of the campus community spend their free time engaging in public debate, any university leader should refrain from asserting that “disrespectful,” uncivil, or odious comments are beyond the bounds of freedom of speech and subject to official sanction.

Universities should strive to nurture campus communities that are open to intellectual diversity and raucous debate. University professors should strive, even in their free time, to contribute positively to our social discourse and not to drag it further into the gutter. But freedom of speech is often messy and sometimes unpleasant. The disagreements among members of a diverse society are often deep and intense, and those disagreements will sometimes be expressed with passion. We are quick to recognize when others have offended us, but slow to recognize when we have given offense. We make greater progress in overcoming those disagreements and in making productive use of unconventional thinking, however, when we accept that we will sometimes be offended and we tolerate that with which we fervently disagree. Not every expressed idea is a good one. Not every disagreement will give way to greater insight. But intellectual and social progress is best made when we tolerate dissent rather than shout it down, when we criticize rather than punish, when we turn away from the provocateur rather than fan the flames.

Keith E. Whittington is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton University and a leading authority on American constitutional theory and law. He is the author of Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech.

Hanna Gray on An Academic Life

GrayHanna Holborn Gray has lived her entire life in the world of higher education. The daughter of academics, she fled Hitler’s Germany with her parents in the 1930s, emigrating to New Haven, where her father was a professor at Yale University. She has studied and taught at some of the world’s most prestigious universities. She was the first woman to serve as provost of Yale. In 1978, she became the first woman president of a major research university when she was appointed to lead the University of Chicago, a position she held for fifteen years. In 1991, Gray was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in recognition of her extraordinary contributions to education. An Academic Life is a candid self-portrait by one of academia’s most respected trailblazers. It speaks to the fundamental issues of purpose, academic freedom, and governance that arise time and again in higher education and that pose sharp challenges to the independence and scholarly integrity of each new generation.

Why did you decide to write a memoir?

In part because a number of people suggested that I write something about my experience as president of a research university and about my time more generally in higher education, given my long involvement in the academic world. I began teaching some 65 years ago and had grown up as a faculty child, my grandfathers and aunt were also academics. My parents were refugees from the Hitler regime, and I was interested in memorializing them and their exiled colleagues and in analyzing the difference the exiles had made in the American academic environment. I was interested also in reflecting on what it had been like to be raised in and to be the beneficiary of two cultures.

What is important about the Central European academic refugees?

The refugees from Hitler’s Germany, who began to arrive in 1933, represented very different fields of scholarship and science, and their considerable influence on the disciplines of learning in America varied accordingly. The impact was greatest where the ground had been prepared for their introduction of intellectual approaches and subjects that had not been widely adopted in the U.S. but which scholars and their universities were anxious to take up and incorporate into their programs. What the academic refugees as a group, however varying their academic offerings and specializations, brought to American higher education, was a cosmopolitan intellectual outlook, a breadth of culture and scholarly background, that helped transform a somewhat parochial academic world into a deprovincialized outlook and to international leadership in higher education. The European professors were models of a broadened and deepened culture to their students; their research opened new vistas in the fields they studied. At the same time, the European professors and the work they pursued were themselves greatly influenced by their new environment.

How was your life shaped by your parents’ immigration?

I was lucky in countless ways. My family’s early escape from Germany in 1933, my father’s already finding a position at Yale University in 1934 and receiving tenure there after a few years, meant that my family was more settled and my childhood more stable than was the case with many of the exiles. At the same time, I observed my parents confronting the inescapable difficulties of exile—understanding and adapting to a new culture, managing life in a new language (my father had to learn immediately to lecture with his imperfect English in an undergraduate setting foreign to his experience), establishing some financial security while never regaining a former prosperity, adapting to a changed social status and social environment, overcoming homesickness and separation from extended family, caught in anxiety over what was happening in their home country and to the people they cared about. My parents worried about their children being drawn to American popular culture, which they found difficult to tolerate (although they liked just about everything else in America). They encouraged our learning English even while sometimes saddened by hearing us chatter away in our new language, and they ensured that we would retain our German. So we lived in a German-speaking household with German cuisine and an emphasis on high European culture, on educational achievement, and on the priority of intellectual pursuits. To live in two cultures while wanting to be as like one’s American schoolmates as possible could be a source of tension, but it was an extraordinary gift that, as I came increasingly to see, enriched my life and my perspective. To be a little bit different was not a bad thing, given the slightly unusual path I ultimately chose.

Why did you become an academic?

Although I was determined in my youth not to follow in the footsteps of my parents and other relatives, not to become a teacher or an academic, I found already in my sophomore year in college that I wanted to be a historian, that the study of the past and understanding the present through the ways in which it had historically developed seemed my natural way of thinking, and  also the most interesting study imaginable. I think I was influenced in my decision to some degree by the models of my teachers at Bryn Mawr College.  My historian father never pushed or encouraged this direction, but of course he was a model also. To become a historian was to become an academic, and I was increasingly engaged in coming to know and becoming involved in the academic institutions in which I studied and taught, in their missions and in the powerful need to strengthen and preserve those as they were threatened or distorted in times of crisis or complacency.

What have been the principal changes and continuities for higher education you describe over the course of your career?

There have been very large changes since the thirties and especially since the end of World War II. The war saw the emergence of the essential partnership between government and the universities for the purposes of conducting major research, above all in the sciences. The end of the war saw the G.I. Bill of Rights. The first created  basis for the federal government’s support of areas that require both major investments of resources and highly trained experts in science and in other fields deemed to meet major public needs and the national interest. The G. I. Bill represented the beginnings of the greater democratization of higher education and of broadened access to its institutions; with that came a demographic change in the makeup of its student bodies and the backgrounds of the faculty. The end of the war saw a new international outlook on the part of American higher education and an explosion of growth in every part of the university world that brought American universities to the forefront of accomplishment and prestige. Higher education underwent a period of immense expansion and unprecedented prosperity. All this rested on a faith, pervasive in the postwar world, in the potential for education to create a better world and to produce both social mobility and a meritocratic society that would realize the true promise of democracy. That faith in education began to ebb as resources for its support began to decline and to be shifted toward other priorities, including those of elementary and secondary education. At the same time, as Increasing numbers of women entered higher education, and coeducation increased.  The burgeoning civil rights movement drew attention also to the need to bring minority students and faculty into higher education as well as to improve opportunities for women and lower income students. As the federal government entered this area of policy with its affirmative action requirements, as happened earlier in the areas of student and project support, new conflicts arose in university-government relation over the dangers of political intrusion into university affairs. The sixties saw an outburst of student radicalism and demands for higher education to become more “relevant” in addressing social problems and for students to obtain a strong voice in university governance; the time saw also a proliferation of curricular developments that focused on new areas of study such as women’s  and African-American and non-Western studies. The following decades witnessed periods of economic expansion and contraction and of an increasingly intense and not always healthy competition among its different institutions. As the costs of higher education grew, and as questions of educational quality and outcome and even of the worth of higher education came more and more to be raised, the public’s attitude toward universities became more skeptical and critical. Universities adopted a more consumerist style as they sought to satisfy their constituents and to recruit students in a highly competitive environment.  At the same time, they were being asked to prepare students for the world of work and to design programs more oriented toward that end. In the wake of these concerns, the traditional liberal arts have come increasingly under siege.

But the continuities that have marked higher education over the years are equally striking. The history of universities is a history of recurrence: the same basic questions and dilemmas re-emerge for reconsideration and debate over and over again, but in new contexts. The issues of academic freedom, its definition and sustenance, of free expression and discussion, of the university’s role in political and social matters, of its institutional autonomies and their limits may take new forms as they occur, but they are the same basic issues that have dominated the lives of universities forever. Today’s disputes over academic freedom and over free speech and its limits on our campuses represent one, and a highly significant, version of that. On the international front, too, we continue to witness countries in which the repressive treatment of universities by authoritarian regimes threaten their existence. For universities, too, the age-old issues of their role in both teaching and research and the balance between those missions continue to provoke fierce debate as the institutions seek understanding of their larger purposes and their contributions to the social order.

Hanna Holborn Gray is the Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Early Modern European History at the University of Chicago, where she served as president from 1978 to 1993. She is the author of Searching for Utopia: Universities and Their Histories. She lives in Chicago.

Keith Whittington: The kids are alright

SpeakIt has rapidly become a common trope that the current crop of college students belong to a generation of “snowflakes.” Unusually sensitive, unusually intolerant, the kids these days are seen by some as a worrying threat to the future of America’s liberal democracy. High-profile incidents on college campuses like the shouting down of Charles Murray at Middlebury College and the rioting in the streets of Berkeley during an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos give vivid support for the meme. Some surveys of the attitudes of millennials about tolerance and free speech lend some further credence to the snowflake characterization. When the Knight Foundation and Gallup asked college students whether diversity or free speech was more important, a slim majority chose diversity. When a Brookings Institution fellow asked college students whether it was acceptable to use force to silence a speaker making “hurtful” statements, a surprisingly large number said yes.

Should we be worried about the children? Perhaps not. Context matters, and some of the current hand-wringing over events on college campuses has tended to ignore the broader context. In particular, when told that the current generation of students do not seem fully supportive of free speech and tolerance of disagreement, we are rarely told in comparison to what. Compared to a perfect ideal of American values, the current generation of students might fall somewhat short—but so do the generations that preceded them. We aspire to realize our beliefs in tolerance and liberty, but we muddle through without a perfect commitment to our civil libertarian aspirations.

It would be a mistake to be overly complacent about American public support for civil liberties, including free speech, but we should also be cautious about rushing into excessive pessimism about the current generation of college students. It has been a routine finding in the public opinion literature going back decades that Americans express high levels of support for the freedom of speech in the abstract, but when asked about particular forms of controversial speech that support begins to melt away. In the middle of the twentieth century, for example, one study found that more than three-quarters of a sample of lawyers thought that university students should have the freedom to invite controversial speakers to campus, but less than half of the general public agreed. When asked if the government should be allowed to suppress speech that might incite an audience to violence, less than a fifth of the leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union said yes, but more than a third of the members of the ACLU were ok with it. In the 1950s, Americans said they supported free speech, but they also said the speech of Communists should be restricted. In the 1970s, Americans said they supported free speech, but they also said the speech of racists should be restricted. In the 2000s, Americans said they supported free speech, but they also said the speech of Muslims and atheists should be restricted.

Current American college students say that speakers with whom they strongly disagree should be allowed to speak on campus. But a majority of liberal college students changed their mind when they are told that such a speaker might be racist, and more than a third of conservative college students changed their mind when they are told that such a speaker might be “anti-American.” Fortunately, the evidence suggests that only a tiny minority of college students favor activists taking steps to disrupt speaking events on campus. Those numbers are not ideal, but it is important to bear in mind that the college-educated tend to be more tolerant to disagreeable speakers and ideas than is the general public, and that is pretty much as true now as it has been in the past. Public support for the freedom of speech has not always stood firm, and campus debates over the scope of free speech are likely to have large consequences for how Americans think about these issues in the future.

We should draw some lessons from recent events and surveys, but the lesson should not be that current students are delicate snowflakes. First, we should recognize that the current generation of college students is not unique. They have their own distinctive concerns, interests, and experiences, but they are not dramatically less tolerant than those who came before them. Second, we should appreciate that tolerance of disagreement is something we as a country have to constantly strive for and not something that we can simply take for granted. It is easy to support freedom for others in the abstract, but it is often much more difficult to do so in the midst of particular controversies. The current group of college-age Americans struggle with that tension just as other Americans do and have before. Third, we should note that there is a vocal minority on and off college campuses who do in fact question liberal values of tolerance and free speech. They do so not because they are snowflakes but because they hold ideological commitment at odds with values that are deeply rooted in the American creed. Rather than magnifying their importance by making them the avatar of this generation, those who care about our democratic constitutional commitments should work to isolate them and show why theirs is not the best path forward and why diversity, tolerance, and free speech are compatible and mutually reinforcing values and not contrasting alternatives. It is an ongoing project we hold in common to understand and reaffirm the principles of free speech that underlie our political system. Today’s college students are not the only ones who could benefit from that lesson.

Keith E. Whittington is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton University and a leading authority on American constitutional theory and law. He is the author of Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech

Christie Henry talks with Hanna Gray for International Women’s Day

This post is a transcribed excerpt from a forthcoming Open Stacks podcast interview.

I couldn’t be more fortunate to be in the company of Hanna Gray, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Chicago and Jeff Deutsch, director of the seminary co-op. As a proud member of the University of Chicago diaspora, I am in awe and admiration of these two individuals, whose integrity and erudition animate the scholarly culture. We meet on the occasion of the imminent publication of Professor Gray’s memoir, An Academic Life. Professor Gray and I overlapped briefly in 1993 as inhabitants of the 5801 Ellis Avenue Building, now Levi Hall. At the time, the University of Chicago Press occupied two floors of the building, and the University Administration was on the fifth floor. Two months after I joined the Press, Professor Gray stepped away from the presidency. But the resonance of her leadership endured for the entire 25 years I was on campus. She was the first European born and woman to lead the University of Chicago. As our paths intersect again, I now have the privilege of being the first woman to Direct Princeton University Press, and in that capacity, also to be the publisher of Professor Gray’s forthcoming memoir. I have savored reading the pages of this work and learning more about the fortitude and intelligence she used to shape experiences for so many of us at USC and throughout the world.

GrayChristie: We could use hours of conversation given that so many themes of our discussion—particularly the investment in thought and the benefits gained from communal thinking—are resonating beautifully. I wanted to ask you about on the privilege and responsibilities of being first. You were the first European born president of the University of Chicago as well as the first female provost at Yale and first female president at Chicago. You talk about these opportunities that you have had as you being in the right place at the right time. And I think that that’s often the way I have described my own narrative, as I too have been lucky to be in the right place at the right time. But if one of the responsibilities we carry is to try to create that right place and right time for others to enjoy these opportunities—and especially now as we’re thinking about how to intentionally diversify the demographics of publishing and of the university—what were some of your experiences of creating those right places and right times? Consider this my plea for advice as to how to be intentional and less serendipitous in creating opportunities for others.

Hanna: I’m the first European born president of the University of Chicago but we haven’t had a lot of presidents. So it’s not the biggest deal right? [laughs] I think my work at Yale was more complicated because it was a very early stage in the coeducation of Yale. Women wanted to be seen so much as integral parts of the university, but there were not a lot of women—to put it mildly—on the faculty.

The women surrounding the university wanted things to happen very quickly. And obviously my role was to be concerned for the whole university not only for those who were women.

And at the same time, I felt that I could understand the situation of women much more than my male colleagues had over the years, and obviously a lot needed to be done at Yale. And so there was always this tension between my knowing that and working to address it. And the sense on the part of many women was that not enough was being done because they hoped for almost overnight change, which is of course impossible. I mean, you know how appointments are made in institutions and obviously as provost or President, as I was briefly, you can only do so much. It’s not you who make the appointments. You could encourage appointments you can allocate appointments, but you shouldn’t have quota systems. Rather you have to wait until those opportunities come up and you have to prioritize and so on and so forth. It was very difficult for women who saw themselves as competent. Why was there not for them a position in the history of art, as an art historian so well-trained and so ready to be a member of a good department? But there were no places. There were no positions in that area. Those kinds of issues were there all the time. And so the question of pace was a very big question and I think I made a difference.

We made a slow difference, but that slow difference obviously was not satisfying to those who didn’t benefit from it. And that is an issue that one confronts as one hopes to make a difference. Institutions that move slowly move slowly in part because that’s their way. They don’t know how to run. But that moves slowly also because process is so important and people need to feel things have been done fairly and appropriately and according to policies and rules that everybody understands and has one hopes been a part of shaping. Now when I came back to the University of Chicago, the situation was very different.

Chicago, of course, has always been a coeducational institution that had women on the faculty from day one. But the extraordinary thing about the University of Chicago, which speaks to the larger history of women in higher education in America, was that the percentage of women on the faculty when I became president was no larger than it had been on the opening day of the university. That was an extraordinary fact and it was something I had seen in my own earlier time at the university where I was, I think, one of the first women to be appointed to her husband’s department.

There were some obstructions to women’s progress within the university. There were some women on the faculty, of course, but none of them were in the sciences except for medicine. But even there, there weren’t so many. And I think I was one of—I forget, how many—five, in the social sciences altogether. And then, one of only two tenured female faculty at some point. We did make steady progress because the institution had made, I think, an institutional determination that these figures were ridiculous and they did not represent “our” institution, which prides itself on going against the tide. Chicago recognizes merit where merit is due, and it should certainly be doing just that. It wasn’t always smooth progress and it certainly did not involve quotas of any kind, but we steadily did increase the number of women. And I think that having a woman president was a help in that respect. And I think once again, my responsibility was for the whole institution and for being sure that the appropriate appointments were made and other policies were followed. There was clearly some weight to the kind of encouragement. And you know, just the fact of being a woman made a difference.

Check this space later this month to listen to the complete interview on Open Stacks.

 

Scott Cowen on Winnebagos on Wednesdays

CowenIn Winnebagos on Wednesdays: How Visionary Leadership Can Transform Higher Education, Scott Cowen, president emeritus of Tulane University, acknowledges the crisis in higher education but also presents reasons for optimism as courageous leaders find innovative strategies to solve the thorny problems they face. Telling stories of failure and triumph drawn from institutions all across the nation, Cowen takes the reader on a fascinating trip through varied terrain. Recently, Cowen answered some questions about his book and what he sees as a burgeoning opportunity to reshape higher education for the future.

What’s up with the title? I’m intrigued.

The title emanated from something that happened in the spring of my first year as president of Tulane, after an undefeated season for our football team. I made the coach an offer he couldn’t refuse—and he refused. He said he was leaving for Clemson, where the program was so spectacular that fans lined up their Winnebagos on Wednesdays in anticipation of Saturday games. That’s when I realized Tulane was, for various crazy reasons, in the entertainment business, and we weren’t on the A list. For me, the anecdote became a metaphor for all the absurdities and challenges confronting higher education, and started me thinking about how to stop the madness and tackle our problems.

Why did you write the book?

We’re obviously at a tipping point in higher education, with rising skepticism about its value and escalating demands for accountability, affordability, and access. It’s a moment to take stock, and I finally had time to do just that—reflect on my entire career and the lessons I’d learned. A key moment for me was Hurricane Katrina, when the survival of Tulane hung in the balance. I saw then that the two critical elements required to sustain and invigorate an institution are an inspired, distinctive mission and leaders who have the guts and determination to convert that mission into meaningful results. In the book, I tell stories about crisis points when leadership counted most: I parse some of the failures but also show innovative approaches that are being implemented right now, and that point the way to creative, practicable solutions. My aim was to get people to rethink the issues that plague all our schools—value and impact, diversity, financial sustainability, athletics, medicine, mission, governance, leadership—in order to improve our institutions and forge a path into the future.

What are some of the most important challenges facing higher education?

The list above itemizes many of them, but financial sustainability in particular cuts across all the issues. Right now, the cost of a college education is out of reach for too many, fueling perceptions of elitism and raising questions about value. In the book I describe the many efforts underway to cut costs, expand enrollments, develop innovative no-loan policies, and create new programs that enhance the “real world” value of a degree. But the ultimate challenge facing the sector is not the solving of any single conundrum. The fundamental task before us is to find the right people, the right governance, and the right mission if higher education is going to continue to be an engine of innovation and progress. A friend of mine from my days in business management used to say, “Success is all about the ‘who.’”  And that’s the bottom line: people make the organization. They establish the structures, define the mission, set the tone, and create the ethos that helps an institution thrive.

What is the most surprising news in the book?

The news comes from schools people don’t know much about. Looking at the usual suspects—the Harvards, Yales, and Stanfords—you won’t see large scale institutional transformation occurring; the more famous and successful an institution is, the more likely it is to stick with the tried-and-true—and, ironically, the more likely it is to be sowing the seeds of its own decline. The most promising changes are occurring at lesser-known schools, where innovations have dramatically heightened impact. For example, Xavier University, a small Catholic historically black school in New Orleans, led for decades by Norman Francis, has become the major pipeline for black doctors, scientists, and pharmacists in the U.S. Paul Quinn, a historically black college in Dallas led by Michael Sorrell, has reinvented itself as a hub of urban entrepreneurship while expanding its outreach to Latino students. Arizona State University, with Michael Crow at the helm, has increased its student body by 50% to 83,000, expanded African-American and Hispanic enrollment, consolidated departments into institutes with shared administrative costs, launched innovative online programs, and forged partnerships with other universities and private businesses. The University of Southern California, under Steve Sample’s leadership, has become a first-rate academic institution and an anchor for south central Los Angeles, with well-funded institutes, a dramatic increase in productive research, and a menu of cutting-edge interdisciplinary studies. Northeastern University, with its century-old co-op program—academic credits for experiential learning in a range of paid internships—has finally caught up with the current zeitgeist, becoming a magnet for students seeking preparation for the job market. All these schools, and many others, demonstrate that regional presence, pedagogic innovation, and a strong sense of mission create value and enhance impact.

How are the leaders we need tomorrow different from those of the past?

The scholar-president—typically a white male in his sixties—may fast be becoming a relic. Given current cultural shifts and upheavals, it’s clear that we need leaders who are more diverse on every measure—race, gender, geography, ideology, experience— reflecting the nation at large, and with the potential to be models and mentors on their campuses. In addition to personal histories, we should also be looking for traits like versatility and adaptability. In the coming era, university presidents will need to be agents of change, crafting new directions that keep pace with unfolding events; skillful executives who can steer complex multibillion-dollar organizations; astute assessors of talent; and inventors of creative solutions to the problems they will inevitably face. We are likely to see more “unfiltered” leaders, without the standard scholarly résumé, who promise to bring fresh perspectives drawn from the worlds of business, government, and the military, and more “blended” leaders, with one foot in the ivory tower and one in the outside world, who should be able to bring the two domains together in fruitful ways. But the sine qua non of an effective president is the quality of emotional intelligence: the ability to listen and empathize is an indispensable skill in the fractious times we live in. At this precarious moment, when we are facing a paradigm shift in priorities and possibilities, we need people at the helm who will preserve what is best from the past, invent novel approaches for the future, and embody the enduring values of civility, compassion, and integrity.

Scott Cowen is president emeritus and distinguished university chair of Tulane University. His books include The Inevitable City (St. Martin’s) and Innovation in Professional Education (Jossey-Bass). Cowen has written for such publications as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Bryan Caplan on The Case against Education

CaplanDespite being immensely popular—and immensely lucrative—education is grossly overrated. In this explosive book, Bryan Caplan argues that the primary function of education is not to enhance students’ skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and conformity—in other words, to signal the qualities of a good employee. Learn why students hunt for easy As and casually forget most of what they learn after the final exam, why decades of growing access to education have not resulted in better jobs for the average worker but instead in runaway credential inflation, how employers reward workers for costly schooling they rarely if ever use, and why cutting education spending is the best remedy. Romantic notions about education being “good for the soul” must yield to careful research and common sense—The Case against Education points the way.

The “signaling model of education” is the foundation of your argument. What is this model?

The standard view of education, often called the “human capital model,” says that education raises income by training students for their future jobs. The signaling model, in contrast, says that education raises income by certifying students for their future jobs. Doing well in school is a great way to convince employers that you’re smart, hard-working, and conformist. Once they’re convinced, career rewards naturally follow.

Could you give an analogy?

Sure. There are two ways to raise the value of a diamond. One is to hand it to an expert gem smith so he can beautifully cut the stone. The other is to hand it to a reputable appraiser with a high-powered eyepiece so he can certify the pre-existing excellence of the stone. The first story is like human capital; the second story is like signaling.

Is it really either/or?

Of course not. The human capital and signaling models both explain part of education’s career benefits. But I say signaling is at least half the story—and probably more.

And why should we care about signaling?

Key point: In the human capital model, students go to school and learn how to produce the extra income they’ll ultimately earn. They get more of the pie because they make the pie bigger. In the signaling model, in contrast, school raises students’ income without raising their productivity. They get more of the pie without making the pie bigger. How is that possible?  Because in the signaling model, education is redistributive; it’s a way to grab more for yourself at the expense of the rest of society.

Selfishly speaking, of course, is doesn’t really matter why education pays. But from a social point of view—a public policy point of view—it makes all the difference in the world. If the signaling model is right, education enriches the individual student, but actually impoverishes society. Using education in order to spread prosperity is like telling the audience at a concert to stand up in order to see better. What works for the individual fails for the group.

But isn’t assessing workers’ quality socially valuable?

To some extent. But once workers have been ranked, giving everyone extra years of education is socially wasteful. Furthermore, since the status quo is supported by hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies, we’re probably underusing alternative certification methods like apprenticeships, testing, boot camps, and so on.

In 2001, Michael Spence won a Nobel Prize for his work on educational signaling. Can the idea really be so neglected?  What is your value-added here?

Signaling enjoys high status in pure economic theory. But most empirical labor and education economists are dismissive. Either they ignore signaling, cursorily acknowledge it in a throw-away footnote, or hastily conclude it’s quantitatively trivial. My book argues that there’s overwhelming evidence that signaling is a mighty force in the real world. There’s strong evidence inside of economics—and even stronger evidence in educational psychology, sociology of education, and education research. And finally, signaling has abundant support from common sense.

You say that both common sense and academic research support signaling. What are the top common sense arguments?

First and foremost, there’s the chasm between what students study in school and what they actually use on the job. How many U.S. jobs actually tap workers’ knowledge of history, social science, literature, poetry, or foreign language?

Signaling also explains why students are far more concerned about grades than actual learning. They want “easy A’s”—not professors who teach lots of job skills. Signaling explains why cheating pays—a successful cheater profits by impersonating a good student. And signaling explains why students readily forget course material the day after the final exam. Once you’ve got the good signal on your transcript, you can usually safely forget whatever you learned.

And what are the top research arguments?

First, there’s the diploma or “sheepskin” effect. Fact: Graduation years are vastly more lucrative than intermediate years. This is hard for human capital to explain: Do schools wait until senior year to finally start teaching useful job skills?  But it flows naturally out of conformity signaling. If your society says you should complete a four-year degree, anyone who only does 3.9 years looks weird, and hence bad. It’s just like going shirtless to a job interview: Either you don’t understand the social convention, you don’t care about it, or you’re actively defying it.

Second, there’s credential inflation. Fact: Over the last century, employers have dramatically increased the amount of education you need to get any given job. In the modern U.S. economy, many waiters and bartenders have college degrees. This would have been almost unheard of seventy years ago. This is hard for human capital theory to explain. Why would employers pay extra for workers with superfluous credentials?  But it’s simple for signaling to explain: When overall education rises, you need more education to distinguish yourself—to convince employers you’re worth hiring and training.

Third, there’s the employer learning/statistical discrimination literature. That’s rather wonkish, so anyone curious should just read the discussion in my book.

Finally, there’s the contrast between personal and national payoffs for education. Fact: Researchers have never found a country where education fails to noticeably raise individuals’ income. But there’s a messy debate about the effect of education on nations’ income. Plenty of researchers find that raising a country’s national average education level has little or no economic benefit for the country as a whole—precisely as signaling predicts. While others find modest national payoffs, the average estimate of the social return for education is far below the average estimate of the selfish return.

Wait, what’s the difference between “selfish” and “social” returns?

The selfish return evaluates educational investment from the point of view of the individual student. The social return evaluates educational investment from the point of view of the whole society (including all benefits the individual student enjoys, of course). A standard example: If taxpayers provide free tuition, your selfish return will generally exceed the social return, because you invest only your time, while society invests your time plus taxpayers’ money. The primary wedge between selfish and social returns for me, however, is signaling: If education boosts your salary more than your productivity, the selfish return exceeds the social.

Suppose you’re right. How should the education system be reformed?

Above all, we need far less education. And the cleanest way to get far less education is to sharply cut government education spending. Won’t this make education less accessible? Absolutely. But if I’m right, employers will no longer expect you to have the education you can no longer afford. In other words, spending cuts will cause credential deflation. You’ll once again be able to get low- and middle-skill jobs with a high school degree—or less.

We also need more vocational education, especially for early teens. Most researchers detect solid selfish payoffs. And if you take signaling seriously, the social advantages of teaching plumbing instead of poetry should be very large indeed.

If you’re right about signaling, should students drop out of school?

No. The whole point of the signaling model is that school is selfishly rewarding but socially wasteful. Although I also argue that even in the current regime, weaker students’ odds of academic success are so slim they’d be better off just getting a job (and job experience) straight out of high school.

Aren’t you being too much of an economist?  Isn’t the real point of education to spread enlightenment and sustain civilization?

For an economist, I have broad interests. Ideas and culture are my life. But if you look at the data, there’s little sign that education causes much enlightenment or civic understanding. Even at top schools, most students are intellectually and culturally apathetic, and most professors are uninspiring.

Given today’s political climate, who do you think will be most receptive to your message?  The most hostile?

Support for education is bipartisan. Most people, regardless of party, favor more and better education. It’s no accident that both Bushes wanted to be known as “education presidents.” That said, I think my biggest supporters will be pragmatists and fiscal hawks. And my biggest opponents will be ideological fans of education and fiscal doves. Most progressives will probably dislike my book, but they really shouldn’t. If you care about social justice, you should be looking for reforms that help people get good jobs without fancy degrees.

You’re a full professor at George Mason and a Princeton Ph.D. How can you of all people possibly challenge the social value of education?

I see myself as a whistleblower. Personally, I’ve got nothing to complain about; the education system has given me a dream job for life. However, when I look around, I see a huge waste of students’ time and taxpayers’ money. If I don’t let them know their time and money’s being misspent, who will? And if I wasn’t a professor, who would take me seriously?

Bryan Caplan is professor of economics at George Mason University and a blogger at EconLog. He is the author of The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. He lives in Oakton, Virginia.

Alexandra Logue: Pathways to Reform

Change is notoriously difficult in any large organization, and institutions of higher education are no exception. From 2010 to 2013, Alexandra Logue, then chief academic officer of The City University of New York, led a controversial reform initiative known as Pathways. The program aimed to facilitate the transfer of credits among the university’s nineteen constituent colleges in order to improve graduation rates—a long-recognized problem for public universities such as CUNY. In Pathways to Reform, Logue blends vivid personal narrative with an objective perspective to tell how this hard-fought plan was successfully implemented at the third-largest university in the United States. Shedding light on the inner workings of one of the most important public institutions in the nation, Pathways to Reform provides the first full account of how, despite opposition, a complex higher education initiative was realized. Read on to learn more about Pathways, the motivation behind it, and the challenges that had to be overcome.

What is Pathways and what motivated you to develop it?

For 40 years the worst academic problem facing CUNY students was difficulty in transferring their credits from one of the 19 CUNY undergraduate colleges to another.  CUNY students, similar to other current college students in the United States, transfer a great deal, and when students lose credits upon transfer, or credits taken to satisfy general education or major requirements are changed into elective credits, it can make it more difficult for students to graduate and their financial aid may run out.  These problems were hitting CUNY students particularly hard because their median family income is quite low, almost half are the first in their families to attend college, and almost half have a first language other than English.  Therefore, even without credit transfer difficulties, many CUNY students have an inordinate number of challenges to overcome in obtaining a college degree, in a society in which a college degree is increasingly necessary for employment and advancement.  In addition, New York State Education Law treats CUNY as a single university, and instructs CUNY to function as “an integrated system and to facilitate articulation between units,” too often the opposite of what was happening with undergraduate curriculum pre-Pathways.

What were the big goals for Pathways?

The immediate specific goal was, after students transferred, to have them lose fewer credits and to have fewer of their general education and major credits changed into elective credits.  We expected that result to lead to other important outcomes, particularly increased retention and graduation rates, fewer excess credits (students taking credits in excess of the number needed for their degrees), and a lower percentage of students having used up all of their financial aid prior to graduation.  However, we knew that it would take many years before we would be able to determine whether these other results had been obtained. To fully assess Pathways, we would need to assess students who started at one college and then transferred to another, with the total amount of time at the two colleges sufficient to obtain a bachelor’s degree (a total period of up to 6 years). Therefore, our immediate, most important, goal was simply to have credits transfer more effectively.  In the effecting of this goal, we also aimed to increase the quality of CUNY students’ education by clarifying and expanding the faculty-specified learning goals that courses were to accomplish, and by adding an additional layer of faculty review to all Pathways general education courses.

Was there a template for the program? Were there other institutions to which you looked for a model?

In the book I discuss how we examined the policies of other systems that had tried to solve credit transfer problems.  In particular, we examined what our sibling system, SUNY (the State University of New York), as well as the University System of Georgia had done.  However, we examined what these other institutions had done not simply to model them, but to learn from their not-so-perfect aspects.  Our goal was to construct transfer policies that were the best in the country.

What did you expect the challenges to be going into the process?

First, the CUNY system is huge (approximately 240,000 undergraduate students in 19 colleges) and complex, which makes any policy change difficult; communicating and effecting changes can be quite challenging.  Second, changes to curriculum, as occurred in Pathways, can take years (due to the time needed for multiple levels of approval as well as the time needed for the work on the curriculum itself), so we knew we would have to sustain our efforts over a long period of time. Third, we knew that everyone would not agree that the new policies were an improvement, or even needed, that some faculty would be particularly opposed, and that those faculty would try to stop Pathways.  As it turned out, the opposition was even larger than we expected.

Why was the program opposed by faculty?

I spend many pages in the book trying to explain the many different reasons that faculty opposed Pathways.  Much of it boils down to the fact that many faculty feel that they should have 100% control over the curriculum—that they are the experts and should make all curricular decisions.  However, the difficulty with this view is that faculty’s work lives are significantly affected by curricular decisions, so there is a built-in conflict of interest, and sometimes what faculty want can conflict with what is best for, or helps, students.  Therefore, in some cases, someone, in this case the CUNY Board of Trustees, may need to intervene and put some constraints on faculty choice in order to ensure that students’ rights to a high-quality, efficient, education are not violated.  We constructed Pathways under the overall principle that faculty and colleges could do whatever they wanted as long as it did not impede students’ progress towards a high-quality degree—the principle that all CUNY students are students of one university, and transferring from one college to another should not cause any harm to a student. In contrast, many faculty wanted no constraints whatsoever on their control over the curriculum.

How can we see, a few years in, that Pathways is making school easier to complete?

Each semester, many thousands more CUNY students are now transferring without losing any  credits.  In addition, transfer rates from community (associate’s-degree) to senior (bachelor’s-degree) colleges have significantly increased, and the percentage of these students transferring with an associate’s degree has increased 31% (very helpful to students in case a student for any reason doesn’t finish the bachelor’s degree).  Under Pathways, community college students know that their credits will transfer to the senior colleges, and therefore they do not have to transfer before finishing their associate’s degrees.  Thus even though it is only a few years since Pathways was first established, students are showing better degree progress than prior to Pathways.  CUNY Admissions offices are also now using the existence of Pathways in their marketing of CUNY, pointing out to potential applicants that if they come to CUNY, they will be able to switch to different colleges as their needs change, without losing credits.

This is not just a NYC story, how is the issue of credit transfers being handled nationwide? Are these other schools doing it really well?

Credit transfer is a national issue.  Over half of the nation’s bachelor’s-degree recipients now graduate with credits obtained from a college other than the one from which they are graduating.  Many states, national organizations, and researchers are now working on how to improve credit transfer.  Over half of the states already have statewide transfer policies for all of the public institutions of higher education in that state, and some states are even working together to facilitate credit transfer across state lines.  However, there is a paucity of data indicating how well any of these policies are working.  Many of the policies have large loopholes.  I am hopeful that CUNY will lead the way in obtaining excellent evidence as to whether or not its transfer policies are working, and in using that evidence to help future transfer students.

What do you hope administrators, students, and faculty can learn from your book about improving credit transfer systems here and nationwide?

There is much to be learned from my book.  First, the book has a great deal of information about why credit transfer can be difficult and about policies that can help.  However, more generally, the book contains a great deal of information about how higher education functions and why change in higher education can be so slow, tortured, and sometimes nonexistent.  The book also discusses lessons learned as a result of establishing Pathways, many of which can be generalized so as to help facilitate other aspects of change in higher education.

Why did you decide to write a book about what happened in establishing Pathways?

W.E.B. Du Bois said in 1949 that “Of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for 5,000 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental.” I believe in that right deeply, and I particularly believe in making excellent higher education available to everyone who can benefit from it. Unfortunately, there were many points during the establishment of Pathways at which I felt that the rights of CUNY students to an excellent higher education, the students’ voices, and the facts about what the students needed and how we were trying to address those needs, were all being lost in an overwhelming tide of college and faculty actions, misinformation, and rhetoric.  As a result, making the changes that we felt would ensure the rights of CUNY students to an excellent higher education was extremely difficult.  I wrote this book to show why the changes needed to effect Pathways were necessary and why they were hard–why change in general is hard in higher education.  My hope is that the book will facilitate future change that will help to preserve and enhance higher education for everyone.

What was it like writing about the events that you had lived through while establishing Pathways?

On the one hand, it was wonderful to have the space and the time to explain, in what I believe is a comprehensible, comprehensive, and accurate way, what Pathways is, why it is important, and why it is formulated the way that it is.  This is information that should be helpful for establishing good transfer policies everywhere.  On the other hand, some of what happened during establishing Pathways was quite painful, and living through those events again was difficult.  However, there were moments of pure joy that I also got to relive, moments that are described in the book.  For those of us working on establishing Pathways, we could be totally up one day and totally down the next, and this happened over and over for three years.  We truly despaired that the process would ever end and that we would accomplish our goal, to the point that we hardly noticed when Pathways was finally effected.  I felt all of that again while writing the book.  Now that the book is done, I can finally reflect on the benefits that Pathways is bringing to many thousands of CUNY students.

 

LogueAlexandra W. Logue is a research professor at the Center for Advanced Study in Education at the Graduate Center, CUNY. From 2008 to 2014, she served as executive vice chancellor and university provost of the CUNY system. She is the author of The Psychology of Eating and Drinking and Self-Control: Waiting Until Tomorrow for What You Want Today.

All net royalties received by the author from sales of Pathways to Reform will be donated to The City University of New York to support undergraduate student financial aid.

Alexandra Logue: Not All Excess Credits Are The Students’ Fault

This post was originally published on Alexandra Logue’s blog

A recent article in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis reported on an investigation of policies punishing students for graduating with excess credits.  Excess credit hours are the credits that a student obtains in excess of what is required for a degree, and many students graduate having taken several courses more than what was needed.

To the extent that tuition does not cover the cost of instruction, and/or that financial aid is paying for these excess credits, someone other than the student—the college or the government—is paying for these excess credits.  Graduating with excess credits also means that a student is occupying possibly scarce classroom seats longer than s/he needs to and is not entering the work force with a degree and paying more taxes as soon as s/he could.  Thus there are many reasons why colleges and/or governments might seek to decrease excess credits.  The article considers cases in which states have imposed sanctions on students who graduate with excess credits, charging more for credits taken significantly above the number required for a degree.  The article shows that such policies, instead of resulting in students graduating sooner, have instead resulted in greater student debt.  But the article does not identify the reasons why this may be the case.  Perhaps one reason is because students do not have control over those excess credits.

For example, as described in my forthcoming book, Pathways to Reform: Credits and Conflict at The City University of New York, students may accumulate excess credits because of difficulties they have transferring their credits.  When students transfer, there can be significant delays in having the credits that they obtained at their old institution evaluated by their new institution.  At least at CUNY colleges, the evaluation process can take many months.  During that period, a student either has to stop out of college or take a risk and enroll in courses that may or may not be needed for the student’s degree.  Even when appropriate courses are taken, all too often credits that a student took at the old college as satisfying general education (core) requirements or major requirements become elective credits, or do not transfer at all. A student then has to repeat courses or take extra courses in order to satisfy all of the requirements at the new college.  Given that a huge proportion of students now transfer, or try to transfer, their credits (49% of bachelor’s degree recipients have some credits from a community college, and over one-third of students in the US? transfer within six years of starting college), a great number of credits are being lost.

Nevertheless, a 2010 study at CUNY found that a small proportion of the excess credits of its bachelor’s degree recipients was due to transfer—students who never transferred graduated with only one or two fewer excess credits, on average, than did students who did transfer.  Some transfer students may have taken fewer electives at their new colleges in order to have room in their programs to make up nontransferring credits from their old colleges, without adding many excess credits.

But does this mean that we should blame students for those excess credits and make them pay more for them?  Certainly some of the excess credits are due to students changing their majors late and/or to not paying attention to requirements and so taking courses that don’t allow them to finish their degrees, and there may even be some students who would rather keep taking courses than graduate.

But there are still other reasons that students may accumulate extra credits, reasons for which the locus of control is not the student.  Especially in financially strapped institutions, students may have been given bad or no guidance by an advisor.  In addition, students may have been required to take traditional remedial courses, which can result in a student acquiring many of what CUNY calls equated credits, on top of the required college-level credits (despite the fact that there are more effective ways to deliver remediation without the extra credits). Or a student may have taken extra courses that s/he didn’t need to graduate in order to continue to enroll full-time, so that the student could continue to be eligible for some types of financial aid and/or (in the past) health insurance. Students may also have made course-choice errors early in their college careers, when they were unaware of excess-credit tuition policies that would only have an effect years later.

The fact that the imposition of excess-credit tuition policies did not affect the number of excess credits accumulated but instead increased student debt by itself suggests that, to at least some degree, the excess credits are not something that students can easily avoid, and/or that there are counter-incentives operating that are even stronger than the excess tuition.

Before punishing students, or trying to control their behavior, we need to have a good deal of information about all of the different contingencies to which students are subject.  Students should complete their college’s requirements as efficiently as possible.  However, just because some students demonstrate delayed graduation behavior does not mean that they are the ones who are controlling that behavior.  Decreasing excess credits needs to be a more nuanced process, with contingencies and consequences tailored appropriately to those students who are abusing the system, and those who are not.

LogueAlexandra W. Logue is a research professor at the Center for Advanced Study in Education at the Graduate Center, CUNY. From 2008 to 2014, she served as executive vice chancellor and university provost of the CUNY system. She is the author of Pathways to Reform: Credits and Conflict at The City University of New York.

Alexandra Logue: Are Faculty Missing in Action?

This post was originally published on the blog of Alexandra Logue

Last fall, an article in Inside Higher Ed authored by Judith Shapiro, President of the Teagle Foundation and former President of Barnard College, made the following statement:

“For the most part, however, faculty members have simply been missing in action when it comes to dealing with campus upheavals around race and racism.”

I agree with this statement, but I would expand it to say that faculty members have frequently been missing in action with regard to all kinds of controversial issues.  At many (most?) institutions, faculty are rewarded with promotions, raises, and tenure first for their research (largely based on their individual efforts), second for their teaching (again, largely based on their individual efforts), and only third for their service, which would include working together with others to make their colleges congenial and productive places for the colleges’ diverse inhabitants.  The faculty who produce the most work of direct benefit to themselves are largely those faculty who keep to themselves, focus on their own work, and stay out of the way of college conflagrations.  Consistent with this statement, research has shown that faculty do not feel safe expressing views with which others may disagree until they have had the final promotion to full professor (not, as some people think, until they have tenure).

An example of these tendencies concerns credit transfer among the 19 undergraduate colleges of The City University of New York, at which approximately 10,000 students transfer each fall alone.  Credit transfer is a controversial subject, just one reason being that whether the receiving college counts the credits or not can directly affect the college’s, as well as a department’s, funds, and whether faculty members have sufficient enrollment to teach certain courses.  Although ensuring that credits transfer can benefit students, it can also mean depriving faculty and/or a college of something desirable to them.  Thus it is no surprise that, although for over 40 years problems with credit transfer were seen as the worst problems for CUNY students, and although the faculty issued some statements about those problems, the faculty took no actions to solve the problems.  When the central administration finally instituted a system (known as Pathways) that guaranteed credit transfer for some courses, and thus directly affecting some faculty’s courses, only then did some faculty spend significant amounts of time on the credit transfer issue, with most of those faculty objecting to Pathways, including filing law suits against it.  This prompted one CUNY Distinguished Professor, in his testimony at a public hearing on Pathways, to say to the faculty in the audience: “Where have you been?  Where have you been for 40 years?”

Although there is nothing wrong with working hard to benefit oneself, we also need to provide clear incentives for faculty to work together for the benefit of students, as well as for the rest of the higher education community.

There is more about these issues in my forthcoming book Pathways to Reform:  Credits and Conflict at The City University of New York.

LogueAlexandra W. Logue is a research professor at the Center for Advanced Study in Education at the Graduate Center, CUNY. From 2008 to 2014, she served as executive vice chancellor and university provost of the CUNY system. She is the author of The Psychology of Eating and Drinking and Self-Control: Waiting Until Tomorrow for What You Want Today. She lives in New York City.

Game of Loans: 10 facts about student debt in the United States

LoansThere is considerable concern about the student loan crisis in the United States, where stories in the media have frequently emphasized the increasing cost of college, and the inability of many students to shoulder their debt. In Game of Loans, Beth Akers and Matthew Chingos argue that the problem is much more nuanced than has previously been thought—in fact, they claim, there is not one student loan crisis so much as a series of smaller issues that all require their own solutions. Akers and Chingos flesh out the imperfections in the student borrowing system and make recommendations for change. We’ve put together 10 points from the book that shed some light on the state of student debt in the U.S.


 

1. The prevailing public narrative surrounding student loan debt, that is a crisis that needs to be addressed immediately, is not new. A 1986 report commissioned by the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress reported increasing alarm over the increasing rate of student debt and its implications for the national economy.

2. In the mid-1980s, student debt was at about $22 billion in today’s dollars, or $4,200 per student. Today, the amount is closer to $100 billion, or $7,000 per student.

3. Public attention paid to student debt has surged in recent years. In the New York Times, coverage of this topic reached an all-time high in 2014.

4. A 2014 analysis of 100 recent news stories about student debt found that the borrowers profiled had an average debt in excess of $85,000, nearly three times the average borrowing of college graduates with debt.

5. The key feature of federal student loans is that, unlike loans made in the private sector, they are made to anyone regardless of their anticipated ability to repay.

6. The best places to find facts and figures on student debt in the United States is the U.S. Department of Education’s National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), the only publicly available source of detailed information on borrowing at the student level, and the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), the only dataset that links information on outstanding debt and income and is administered on a regular basis.

7. On average, independent, undergraduate student graduates owe about $22,000 in federal debt, compared to $13,000 for dependent students.

8. Over the last 20 years, the share of Americans in their late twenties who had attended college increased from 53% to 63%; the share with at least a bachelor’s degree increased from 24% to 34%. Over the same period, the share of undergraduate students taking out loans more than doubled, from 19% to 43%. Increased enrollment explains only part of the picture as far as the rising amount of money owed for student loans. Other factors include increased net price to attend college.

9. By the time Lyndon B. Johnson graduated from Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College in 1930, he owed $220 to the college’s loan fund, or about $3,100 in today’s dollars. As president, he created the Guaranteed Student Loan (GSL) program, later renamed the Stafford program.

10. States vary widely in how large of a subsidy they provide to public colleges. The state with the highest list price (New Hampshire) has the lowest funding level, and the state with the lowest list price (Wyoming) has one of the highest funding levels.

Hopefully these facts lend some clarity to and inspire deeper thinking about the issues surrounding student debt in the United States. For a fuller picture, and for the authors’ recommendations for ways to address the problems related to student debt, pick up a copy of Game of Loans by Beth Akers and Matthew Chingos.

Princeton University Press to Name Its Higher Education List in Honor of William G. Bowen

William G. Bowen, President Emeritus, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Photo credit: David Lubarsky

Princeton University Press has lost one of its greatest authors and closest friends and supporters. William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton University and of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, died last Thursday night at age eighty-three. While President Bowen will be best remembered, and appropriately so, as a university leader, he raised the study of higher education and its institutions to a new level as an author, coauthor, and editor of books. In addition to the many Princeton University Press titles that bear his name, Bill recruited a score of authors to PUP and, through the impact of our list on the scholarship of higher education, attracted even more. To mark this singular contribution to our publishing endeavor, the Press has chosen to make the unprecedented gesture of naming our higher education list in his honor: henceforth, The William G. Bowen Memorial Series in Higher Education.

William Bowen began his decades-long association with Princeton University Press as an author in 1969 with the publication of his monograph (with T. Aldrich Finegan), The Economics of Labor Force Participation. Then, beginning in 1972, as president of Princeton, he served on the Press’s board of trustees. He resumed his role as a PUP author in 1988—the final year of his presidency—with the publication of Ever the Teacher, a collection of his official writings and remarks. Yet it was as president of the Mellon Foundation, rather than of the University, that Bill made his most lasting, significant mark on the Press, beginning with the 1989 publication (with Julie Ann Sosa) of Prospects for Faculty in the Arts and Sciences. Though, nearly thirty years on, he is more closely identified with other, later works, it was this book that initiated the parade of publications that defines not only our publishing in the field of higher education, but, indeed, the scholarly arc of analysis of higher education in America and in the world.

Bill’s engagement with PUP expressed itself in two ways. He was, first and foremost, author, coauthor, or coeditor of twelve books on higher education under the Princeton University Press imprint, the subject matter of which spanned the gamut of issues from admissions to diversity, sports, the market for scholars, digital technology, cost containment, degree completion, governance, leadership, and more.

Bowen_Shape of RiverHis greatest achievement as an author, indisputably, was his 1998 collaboration with Derek Bok, The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions, which—in a research study unprecedented in scale and comprehensiveness—made the evidence-based case for affirmative action and influenced higher education policy nationwide. Beyond the extensive acclaim it gathered across the political spectrum, and the awards it garnered, The Shape of the River enjoyed the rare distinction of being cited by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in the 2003 US Supreme Court case upholding affirmative action, Grutter v. Bollinger.

In addition to his prodigious work as an author, Bill was an informal PUP advisory editor, attracting to the Princeton list authors from his network of fellow researchers, thereby bringing a chorus of informed voices to the higher education conversation under the PUP imprint. Largely through Bill’s tireless work and enthusiastic editorial recruitment efforts, PUP can now boast as authors such distinguished scholars and higher education leaders as Harold T. Shapiro, Bill’s successor in the Princeton presidency; Derek Bok and Neil L. Rudenstine, presidents emeritus of Harvard University; Michael S. McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation and former president of Macalester College; Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University; and Nancy Weiss Malkiel, Princeton’s former dean of the college—to name just a few.

Seen from a wider perspective, Bill was in effect the architect of a scholarly agenda that, translated into a publishing program, has raised and addressed many of the most relevant, urgent questions besetting higher education. The books he brought to the Princeton list constitute a whole far greater than the sum of its parts: emanating from Bill’s own field of economics outward through the work of historians, legal scholars, scholars of religion, sociologists, and others, the list both encompasses and defines the intellectual terrain of modern higher education while framing the big issues for future scholars to explore.

Lesson PlanBill Bowen’s last book, published by us earlier this year, eloquently embodies his PUP publishing legacy. Cowritten with his close colleague and frequent collaborator Michael McPherson, Lesson Plan: An Agenda for Change in American Higher Education offers a blueprint for addressing the central issues now facing colleges and universities, and touches upon all the relevant areas on which Bill and his co-researchers have shed light: educational attainment, completion rates, socioeconomic and racial disparities, affordability, student aid, efficiency, sports, teaching, technology, and leadership. In outlining their “agenda for change,” Bowen and McPherson display a characteristic purposefulness mixed with optimism:

There is much that can be accomplished. Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous Democracy in America (1835), observed: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” However true this may have been in the early part of the nineteenth century, we fervently hope that it is true today.

William G. Bowen—author, editor, collaborator, adviser, supporter of the Press, and true friend—brought this combination of purpose and optimism to the Press as he worked with us to publish books, define our ongoing editorial agenda, and repair not a few of our faults as we strove to be better. In formally dedicating our higher education list in his name, his grateful associates at Princeton University Press hereby make a partial payment on the Bowen legacy, which will live on in the books he has inspired.

Peter J. Dougherty, Director
October 24, 2016

An interview with Nancy Malkiel on the struggle for coeducation

MalkielAt the end of the 1960s, a change swept elite institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom: In a remarkably brief span of time, a large number of traditional, conservative, highly prestigious colleges and universities began admitting women. In her new book, Keep the Damned Women Out”: The Struggle for Coeducation, Princeton University professor Nancy Weiss Malkiel examines the historic shift, revealing that contrary to popular belief, the decision was less a moral response to female activists than a strategic one made largely by powerful men. Recently, Malkiel took the time to answer questions about her new book.

What led you to write a book about coeducation?

NM: It’s partly autobiographical. I had been a graduate student at Harvard in the mid-/late 1960s, when the relationship between Harvard and Radcliffe was beginning to be addressed. I joined the Princeton faculty in 1969 as one of the first three women in the professorial ranks; 1969 also happened to be the year when the first women undergraduates arrived. I served as dean of the college, with responsibility for undergraduate education at Princeton, for 24 years. At the same time, I graduated from and served as a trustee of Smith, a women’s college that decided not to go coed. I was very interested in how coeducation came to be embraced at Princeton and so many other elite men’s schools, in why Smith decided against coeducation, and in how women’s education worked in the institutions I knew best.

I was also very interested in processes of institutional change. How did very old, very traditional, very elite institutions decide to go coed? What factors influenced their decision-making? Who provided leadership? Who supported change? Who resisted change? How were competing interests adjudicated?

What made coeducation such a struggle?

NM: There was intense opposition to coeducation, mainly on the part of alumni who treasured their undergraduate experience and thought that admitting women would ruin the camaraderie, the special ambiance that had made all-male institutions so successful. The title of this book comes from a letter from one Ivy League alumnus who wrote, in opposing coeducation, “For God’s sake, for everyone’s sake, keep the damned women out.” Very often, coeducation was instituted over the very strong objections of these alumni. Many of these men later came to change their views when their daughters and granddaughters sought admission to their now-coeducational alma maters.

Your book focuses on decisions for coeducation in a very brief period of time – essentially, 1969-74. Why?

NM: There was a flood of decisions for coeducation in these years, both in the United States and in the United Kingdom. That’s when coeducation came to be instantiated at most of the very traditional, very conservative, very elite single-sex institutions on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The decade of the 1960s bore on the timing: with the civil rights movement, the student movement, the antiwar movement, and the women’s movement, it was no wonder that colleges and universities began reconsidering many aspects of the educational arrangements that had served them for centuries.

What was the most surprising thing that you learned in the course of your research?

NM: Coeducation was not the product of organized efforts by women activists. Decisions for coeducation were made by powerful men (Mary Ingraham Bunting, the president of Radcliffe, is the sole exception here). And they were acting not on some moral imperative, not on a high-minded commitment to the education of women, but on straightforward self-interest: Coeducation was embraced as a means of shoring up applicant pools that were declining because many students no longer wanted to go to single-sex institutions.

How did you decide which colleges and universities to write about?

NM: In the United States, I focused on the men’s schools that were generally regarded as the influencers, the agenda-setters, the institutions that others looked to, modeled themselves on, and emulated – in other words, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and Dartmouth. As for women’s colleges, Vassar was clearly the most prestigious women’s college that chose to admit men; I included Smith and Wellesley for comparative purposes because both of them had high-level reports in this same period that recommended coeducation, and both of them backed away from admitting men. In the United Kingdom, I wrote about the first three men’s colleges at Cambridge to admit women (in 1972) – Churchill, Clare, and King’s – and the first five at Oxford (in 1974) – Brasenose, Hertford, Jesus, St. Catherine’s, and Wadham.

It’s important to note that lots of other American institutions went coed in this period – men’s schools as well as women’s schools, colleges as well as universities. But the others were less influential, less precedent-making, than the elite institutions I focused on.

What were the biggest differences between coeducation in men’s colleges and coeducation in women’s colleges?

NM: When a men’s college coeducated, there was no question that it would attract a large number of highly qualified women applicants. When a women’s college coeducated, it was much less clear that there would be a sufficient pool of highly qualified male applicants.

Why did you want to compare American and British universities and colleges?

NM: A very similar phenomenon – the advent of coeducation at very old, very traditional, very elite institutions – was occurring on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The movements of the 1960s affected colleges and universities in both countries. Colleges at Oxford and Cambridge were fully aware of what was happening in the United States, and there were some explicit connections between some of them and institutions like Princeton and Yale. There were also similarities in alumni resistance to coeducation. Heads of colleges at Oxford and Cambridge sought to assuage the concerns of their alumni by reminding them of the decision taken many decades earlier to remove the requirement of celibacy for fellows (faculty members) of the colleges – suggesting that coeducation, like married fellows, would soon come to be seen as perfectly normal.

Nancy Weiss Malkiel is a professor of history at Princeton University. From 1987 to 2011, she served as Dean of the College, overseeing the University’s undergraduate academic program, making her the longest serving dean. Malkiel’s current research centers on the decisions for coeducation at elite colleges and universities in the Unites States, as well as the United Kingdom, from 1969 to the mid 1970s. She is the author of  Whitney M. Young, Jr., and the Struggle for Civil Rights and Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the Age of FDR (both Princeton). Her most recent book is “Keep the Damned Women Out”: The Struggle for Coeducation.