What happens when higher education lowers itself?

IMAGE: BY-NC-SA (Wayan Vota)

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., May 12, 2014 – There are a few growing trends in our institutes of higher education, and the trends aren’t good. College campuses are beginning to treat the Constitution as if it were Chairman Mao’s Red Book (although the latter might fare better in today’s academic world), critical thinking has been replaced by conformance, and Civics has been abandoned in favor of political correctness. Is it any wonder our academic standing and global competitiveness have begun to suffer?

In January, two students from the University of Hawaii at Hilo were precluded from handing out copies of the Constitution on campus. They were representing the campus’ chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (“YAL”); a group that welcomes “limited government conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians” into its midst.

According to YAL’s website, the group’s creed supports the following beliefs:

  • “that government is the negation of liberty;
  • “that voluntary action is the only ethical behavior;
  • “that respect for the individual’s property is fundamental to a peaceful society;
  • “that violent action is only warranted in defense of one’s property;
  • “that the individual owns his/her body and is therefore responsible for his/her actions;
  • “that society is a responsibility of the people, not the government.”

It sounds quite subversive; almost as much as the documents from which those thoughts were apparently drawn (i.e., the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States).

The University of Hawaii’s campus policy does not allow members of clubs and organizations to approach fellow students to solicit them. If this rule were drawn in such a manner as to prevent intimidation, harassment, etc., it might have a logical basis (i.e., to maintain order and safety). Unfortunately, it seems to be far more generic than that.

The two students were also informed they could not speak anywhere on campus other than in the “free speech zone” unless they sought permission at least seven business days in advance and received it. There once was a time in this country when a “free speech zone” had a different name: the United States of America.

Were this an isolated incident, it might be easier to dismiss. However, there was an earlier episode in which a student was precluded from distributing copies of the Constitution on another campus. That one occurred on September 17, 2013, at Modesto Junior College. If the date doesn’t ring a bell, it should. It’s Constitution Day; the day that commemorates the adoption of that famous document.

Of all the institutes in America that should represent the ideals that are defined within the First Amendment, one might expect our colleges and universities to rank at or near the top. So, let’s examine that concept.

Freedom of Religion

It’s offered on most campuses through separation rather than inclusion. Groups are often available to students to join but few are interdenominational. Rather than discussing differences and identifying commonalities, religious organizations on campus tend to attract only like-minded individuals and reinforce beliefs that are already held by their members. Does that sound educational to you?

Freedom of Speech

Last September, a Creative Writing professor at Michigan State University was suspended for having threatened students who differed with his socio-political views. He was captured on video saying, “I am a college professor. If I find out you are a closet racist, I am coming after you.”

Of course, this was after having defined Republicans as “a bunch of dead white people, or dying white people” who raped the United States to get “everything out of it they possibly could.” Perhaps, there’s a chance the professor didn’t mean this. Maybe he was only practicing his creative writing skills through a verbal articulation. Then again, you better not voice an opinion that disagrees with his.

Freedom of the Press

In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that “Educators are entitled to exercise greater control over…student expression to assure that participants learn whatever lessons the activity is designed to teach, that readers or listeners are not exposed to material that may be inappropriate for their level of maturity, and that the views of the individual speaker are not erroneously attributed to the school… A school must be able to take into account the emotional maturity of the intended audience in determining whether to disseminate student speech on potentially sensitive topics.”  (Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988).) While the case specifically addressed the issue of a high school newspaper, it has been interpreted to potentially apply to colleges as well.

In this regard, the University of Hawaii made the news again when it was sued last year in Oyama v. University of Hawaiifor dismissing a student from a student-teaching program partially because of out-of-class remarks in which the student expressed unconventional views about a few sensitive subjects. With regard to the remarks, the University asserted its broad censorship authority under Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier to use the politically incorrect comments to remove the student from the program.

Freedom Peaceably to Assemble

This one is easy. Students still can assemble freely on campus if they do so peaceably. They merely have to secure someone’s permission well in advance of assembling. If clear standards do not exist with respect to the approval process, they may assume that their message just has to align with the beliefs of whoever is making the decision.

Freedom to Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances

Universities are “home free” on this one. After all, they aren’t the Government. Their role has simply become one of shaping young minds to conform to a particular school of thought (no pun intended).

Witness what happened this past Constitution Day to a well-respected friend of mine, Pat Benjamin. Pat was scheduled to speak at Columbia University, the Ivy League from which she received her Master’s degree. She had written a book about a historically significant political campaign in which she had participated (The Perot Legacy). It should be noted, Pat is also a former educator, a civil rights activist who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a feminist, and a small business owner in the field of energy conservation. Clearly, she is someone who could significantly expand the thinking of college students who lack any comparable real world experience.

Days before Pat was to deliver her pro bono speech, she was advised that it had been canceled. It seems Columbia had determined her speech to be “inconsistent” with the University’s position.

This is particularly interesting because Columbia, renowned for its School of Journalism, had never inquired about the content of Pat’s speech. Had it taken that first step of journalism (i.e., gathering facts), it would have realized that her intent was to encourage students to become civically engaged, to become informed about issues, and to participate actively with whichever Party they preferred. Apparently, this is “inconsistent” with the University’s goal for its students.

Many of our universities and colleges seem to have forgotten their basic mission, which is to educate their students by exposing them to a myriad of ideas rather than minimum of them. While this may not coincide with our Nation’s preoccupation with assiduously adhering to the narrow bounds of political correctness, it might actually resurrect the lost art of critical thinking.

Instead, many of our institutes of higher education have evolved into a self-perpetuating system of higher costs and lower expectations. They fight to attract “higher quality” students rather than to focus on creating them. They build state-of-the-art class-rooms, incredible athletic facilities, and spa-like student amenities to entice the “better” students to choose their program over the programs of others. As a result, student expectations have soared with regard to their physical surroundings almost on a trajectory that rivals the rising cost of a college education.

If college students were more deeply ingrained with the ability to apply critical thinking to their situation, they might recognize that the investment in assets that enhance their experience does not necessarily contribute in a meaningful way to the knowledge they are there to acquire. However, critical thinking represents one of the greater gaps that exists in our current educational approach.

In grades K through 12, we have defaulted to True/False and multiple choice questions because they are easier to administer and grade. By the time students are exposed to a college curriculum, they often have been cheated of the opportunity to have evolved critical thinking skills (i.e., the ability to objectively analyze and evaluate an issue in order to form a judgment). Otherwise, the next time they’re scaling that rock-climbing wall in the University’s student recreational facility, they might realize why their tuition is rising disproportionately in comparison to the quality of the education they are receiving.

Interestingly enough, one course that has been proven to advance critical thinking is Civics. The instruction of Civics “kills two birds with the same stone” as the saying goes.

It challenges students to think in a non-linear sense because there are no perfectly correct answers to many of our socio-economic and political problems. A discussion of these issues requires an objective analysis and evaluation in order to form a judgment, or in other words, critical thinking.

Civics also provides a fundamental understanding of the basis upon which our Nation was built, what rights we have, why we have them, and what our responsibilities are to preserve and protect them. If our students had a firm understanding of Civics, they would know when their First Amendment rights were being trampled and what to do about it.

Unfortunately, the instruction of Civics has given way to more politically correct courses in recent years. However, there is hope.

Another friend of mine, Richard Dreyfuss, appeared on Huckabee on May 10, 2014 (a show on Fox hosted by Mike Huckabee, the former-Governor of Arkansas and 2008 Republican Presidential candidate). Richard has been working tirelessly for over a decade to revive, elevate and enhance the teaching of Civics in grades K-12 of our public schools (find out more at http://thedreyfussinitiative.org).

Richard said, “…we don’t know enough about our Constitution or our history to know why we should be proud of it.” He eloquently described how “George Washington said the Constitution should be central; the Parties should be peripheral,” and then noted how we have unfortunately pivoted to a position in which, “…the Parties are central and the Constitution is peripheral.”

Unless we return Civics to our schools’ curricula, unless we restore critical thinking to the skill sets of our future generations, and unless we foster a diversity of thought on our college campuses as opposed to a dearth of it, we will continue on the downward slide that emasculates our rights rather than defends them. We will be left wondering what happened to this once great Nation; why it struggles to compete; why the middle class is eroding; why Government dependency is increasing; why the freedoms we once enjoyed and the American Dream seem to be vanishing memories. It doesn’t have to be this way, but please understand, the decision rests with you.


A Civil Assessment has been designed to serve as an Op-Ed forum for you. You are invited to offer your opinion and to discuss your position in the Comment Section. Please be sure that your “assessments” remain “civil” so that they may earn the respect of others.


TJ O’Hara provides nonpartisan political commentary every Tuesday on The Daily Ledger, one of One America News Network’s featured shows (check local cable listings for the channel in your area or watch online at 8:00 and 11:00 PM Eastern / 5:00 and 8:00 PM Pacific. TJ’s segment appears about 35 minutes into the program.

TJ will also be appearing this Thursday, May 15th, on the GraceLand radio show.  GraceLand can be heard live on 365.com (under Heartland Talk Radio) and on TuneIn (on iPhone or Android) at 10:00 PM Eastern / 7:00 PM Pacific.

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TJ OHara
T.J. O'Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States. Along the way, he earned the first Presidential endorsement of the Whig Party since the 1850s, his website was archived by the Library of Congress for its historic significance, and he won the first on-line “virtual” Presidential election (conducted by We Want You) by a commanding 72.1% and 72.7% over Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, respectively. His column explores our Nation’s most pressing issues, challenges conventional thinking, and provides an open forum for civil discussion. Learn more about TJ at his website and connect with him on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter (@tjohara2012). To order his books, go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords or Sony Reader.
  • Eric N Keya Erickson

    I think I have been very fortunate in my educational experiences. I attended a small, rural school in Washington state (~250 students, K-12). We received civics education throughout school, and I specifically remember learning about the Constitution several times. All seniors took a class called Contemporary World Problems, in which we all received a copy of Newsweek each week and discussed the articles in class. The teacher never tried to force us to believe like he did, he just moderated the class discussions, which often overflowed into the next period (some days we didn’t have a chemistry lesson, as the science teacher would hear us talking and jump right in on the conversation). All views were allowed and debated by both teachers.
    I had the same experience at college. I attended a university that is considered to be one of the more conservative institutions, but I had conservative, liberal, and moderate teachers. I graduated with a degree in History, minoring in Geography, which means I also took a lot of International Studies and Political Science classes. The free discussion of ideas was always promoted by the teachers, and even those teachers who were more vocal about their own views always respected the view of the students. They would pounce on a fallacy pretty quick though. :o)
    The fact that most schools do not promote civics, free thought, and critical thinking skills is one of the reasons my wife and I decided to home school our kids. It’s sometimes tough in the face of criticism from friends, family, neighbors, and random strangers, but I just remind them that most, if not all of our founding fathers were schooled at home. They did a pretty good job with civics.

    • Thank you for your comment, Mr. Erickson … and I loved your final comment about the Founding Fathers. (Very clever!)

      I do think the educational system has drifted more in recent years. During the 2012 campaign, I principally chose to speak at universities and high schools. I did that because I think it is important to help young voters realize that they have choices beyond those the Parties are willing to offer.

      There were a number of universities and a few high schools that refused to allow me to speak on their campuses. Their stated reason was that I was an active candidate for political office, and they could not appear to endorse a candidate. However, a few of these same universities allowed the President and/or Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to speak on campus after I was denied the opportunity.

      More recently, talented individuals such as Condoleezza Rice have been forced to “bow out” of speaking engagements on college campuses because of adverse political pressure. In the final analysis, it is the general student population that suffers.

      This challenge isn’t just restricted to the academic world. I recently learned why a television network didn’t air an interview it had done with me during the Presidential campaign. Its rationale for never airing my interview was that my responses to the issues were better than those of the President and former Governor Romney (whose interviews had aired earlier) but that I could not possibly win. As a result, the network was afraid to present me as an alternative because “it would just confuse the audience.”

      So much for free speech… and we wonder why things never seem to change for the better.

      In any event, kudos to you for having the commitment to home school your children. It takes a great deal of time and effort to undertake that endeavor. Let me know if you’ll ever entertain the thought of having a non-traditional former-candidate speak to your “students.” I just may show up at your door. ;o)

      Thank you again for your comment.

      • Eric N Keya Erickson

        We would love to have you come speak to our students. In fact, you could probably speak to most of the students in our home school co-op. Most of the families are very independent-minded, politically. But if not, you are more than welcome to come to our home any time.

        I have noticed a decline in education since I graduated from high school. I graduated in 1996 and went straight to college. I felt that I had a pretty good education, and had done well on the ACT and SAT, but was still unprepared for college. I had very few study skills and no discipline whatsoever, resulting in a 2.7 GPA my first two years. Feeling burned out by school, and running out of money, I joined the Air Force I returned to college in 2007 and earned my AA at a Community College and then went on to University where I earned a BS in History in 2009. I was much more disciplined and earned a 3.9 GPA in my last two years.

        There were two main differences I noticed in the 11 years between my two college experiences. The first was that incoming Freshman were even less prepared than I was, and seemed to know almost nothing about history and civics. Schools are now offering dozens of pre-100 level classes to get students up to the college level. The second thing was the stark difference in social interaction. During my first college experience, we had land-line phones in our apartments, with local-only calling. If we wanted to talk to someone, we would usually walk to their apartment to see if they were home. In between classes, we would walk and talk with friends, and greet others we passed.

        In my latter experience, students walked alone, engrossed in their “smart” phones, often running into each other, but rarely looking up or acknowledging others. It makes me wonder how this and future generations will fulfill their civic obligations if they never learn to socialize in person. But maybe there’s a generation gap that I don’t understand?

        • Tim Moungey

          Re: the smart phone things. It’s partly generational, but mostly technological. On the other hand, the level of technology we’ve achieved has done some very wondrous things in terms of medical advances, access to information, and the breadth and depth of that readily available information. We’re also able to maintain long distance relationships and connections to people far easier than we ever have before because of it.

          But as you point out, it’s also led to a significant erosion in social skills, and, as I often tell my students, situational and sensory awareness. Which is one of the assignments I started giving my college freshman each semester is to spend an hour someplace where they turn off all electronic devices – cell phones, laptops, tablets, mp3 players, etc., and just take that hour to observe with all five of their senses. They are to then write an essay about both the things they observed (saw, heard, smelled, touched, and if applicable, tasted), and what they learned as a result of their observations. The conclusions they reach are sometimes as striking and insightful for me as they are for them.

          • Eric N Keya Erickson

            That’s a great idea. I’m sure they gain a lot from those experiences. I’ve often heard people say that all of us need to spend some time alone, preferably outside, and just listen/pray/meditate and that this will help our long term physical, mental, and spiritual health.

          • That’s an excellent exercise, Mr. Moungey. I wish every educator would challenge their classes to experience it.

            We’re you aware that “Take the Screen-Free Week” just ended (May 5-14)? Its objective was to have people “turn OFF TV, video and mobile games, and other screens they use for entertainment, and turn ON the world around them.”

            It obviously wasn’t highly publicized on television. :o)

            For those who would like to learn more, research: “Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.”

        • Let me know the age range of your students, Mr. Erickson. Perhaps I will be able to interact with your class through a conference call or Skype if I can be there in person.

          Depending on the ages of your students, you might want to use my column as a way of stimulating a weekly discussion. If it is appropriate for them, encourage them to discuss the issues from every perspective; perhaps dividing into teams to argue different points of view in a respectful manner. You may get to witness the rebirth of critical thinking. :o)

          • Eric N Keya Erickson

            I’ll message you on Facebook.

  • Tim Moungey

    Unfortunately, you demonstrate a lack of understanding of how universities work and operate, particularly within this economic climate. To address some of your points:

    1. The FoR – You decry the faith-based organizations as being separatist, but these are student-established and student-run organizations. The universities themselves do not create these clubs – only approve them once students have gone through the necessary requirements to found an organization (usually including X number of current student members and officers, an organizational constitution, etc.) Want to complain about the comparative lack of interfaith groups? Take it up with the students.

    2. FotP – I notice you keep using the University of Hawaii (I’m presuming you mean the flagship campus here). This is a cherry-picking of examples – something you’ve done throughout this essay. I’ve yet to encounter this type of issue on any of the numerous campuses I’ve been on, so this strikes me as a red herring.

    3. FoS – Again, a cherry-picked example. Are there professors and instructors who preach a specific, narrow viewpoint? Yes, that happens, but nowhere near to the Henny Penny sky falling heights you seem to want to paint here. Again, out of the numerous professors and teachers I’ve had across several campuses, I can think of exactly two who used the classroom as a pulpit for their viewpoints. All the rest? Balanced and presenting multiple perspectives, including those they disagreed with. To counter your anecdotal example with one of my own, I once had an English professor say, “Some of the things I’m telling you about this material are things that I personally don’t agree with. But I’m not going to tell you what they are – part of this course is you learning to think critically about the issues and theories, and come to your own determinations.”

    4. FtPA – The standards for getting events, whether a table in the Student Union, or a festival on the campus grounds, have been clear on every campus I’ve been on. At no point has alignment with the college’s ideology (if indeed there is one) ever affected whether or not a student-organized event taken place.

    5. The whole speaker thing – In most cases where speakers have been changed, and in all the ones I’m familiar with, it’s because of the result of overwhelming protest by the campus community. Universities are in part accountable to the student body, staff, and faculty, so when a given university’s constituents are massively opposed to a given course of action or speaker, the schools will listen if they can.

    6. The higher cost of education is due in large part to the massive budget cuts to the university systems in almost every state. While there *are* issues with American universities (administrative bloat in size and salary while simultaneously adjunctifying the faculty and paying them poverty raises being the biggest one), to shrilly accuse universities of being more invested in the physical space as opposed to their mission of education is a false one (except for perhaps in the realm of athletics, but that gets into a longer discussion I won’t go through here).

    7. I do agree with you that college students today are drastically underprepared for the university compared to prior generations. But that isn’t the university’s fault. Rather, the replacement of quality teaching of critical thinking skills is a direct result of George Bush’s asinine No Child Left Behind policy, and the continued, short-sighted focus on high-stakes standardized testing that Common Core is taking up where NCLB left off.

    8. Teaching Civics in the high school isn’t a bad idea by any means, and it’s worth considering. Certainly I’m in whole agreement regarding the need to teach critical thinking skills – It’d be nice not to have to teach freshman composition courses where I instruct the students in the very things they should have learned in high school.

    9. I have to completely disagree that universities as a whole aren’t doing a good job of teaching diversity of thought. The vast majority of them do, and to say they aren’t tells me that you aren’t familiar with the American college system – only a few isolated cases that are outliers rather than the norm.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      Generally speaking, I try not to assume facts not in evidence. However, for the sake of discussion, I will assume that you are an educator (of unknown rank) at a State-supported institution based upon the excellent depth of your response and your comments that reference the financial structure of “the university system” as well as your reference to teaching freshman composition courses and the appropriate pride that you ascribe to the quality of universities in general. Am I close?

      As I mentioned in the article, “critical thinking” requires an “objective analysis and evaluation in order to form a judgment.” That’s why I try to avoid unfounded assumptions. In that regard, allow me to first address my “lack of understanding of how universities work and operate, particularly within this economic climate.”

      I actually have worked in the field of education on more than a few occasions and have spoken on many campuses in recent years. For the past 21 years, I have served on the boards of major universities (including the last 8 at the University from which I received my Bachelors and Doctorate degrees). I am actually quite familiar with the “university system” not only from a State-supported perspective but from a private university perspective as well.

      I raise the later issue because your assumption that “higher cost of education is due in large part to the massive budget cuts to the university systems in almost every state” does not directly pertain to private universities and colleges. However, I do agree with your assertion that the budget cuts have been a major driver of cost. I simply have evidence that other components, like the investment in physical amenities that enhance the experience but do little to serve the core mission of providing a quality education have contributed as well (particularly among the major universities that compete so vigorously to attract the “better” students.

      Similarly, the “strings” that are often attached to State and Federal funding (i.e., those which mandate new administrative positions, etc.) create costs that linger long after the funding disappears.

      Additionally, the tenure system often precludes universities from exercising their better judgment when cost reduction decisions are required. While tenure serves its purpose, it does not necessarily guarantee that the students will receive the highest quality of instruction that might otherwise be available.

      We also share common ground with regard to many of your other comments. For example, at most universities, the students do drive the nature of the religious organizations they may choose to join. However, this does not preclude a university from encouraging interdenominational exchanges.

      For example, when I was accepted to Notre Dame (though I did not ultimately choose to go there), the University required that each student take courses in religion. However, Notre Dame didn’t require that religion to be Catholicism. In fact, I was encouraged to study different religions each year to gain an appreciation of their differences.

      As for your concern that I was using so many examples that involved the University of Hawaii (or “cherry-picking” the other examples I chose to use), it was only because they were recent and relevant. The anecdotal evidence one can discuss in an article is not meant to parallel an exhaustive study. It is only meant to be representative of the issue. IN that regard, I stand by the examples I used.

      I also agree that standards are appropriate for campus events. I simply believe an Administration should craft the standards to address the difference between a large gathering of students protesting or supporting an issue as compared to one or two students handing out literature as unobtrusive as the Constitution.

      Perhaps I’m just old, but when I attended college during the Vietnam era, massive protests didn’t bother to secure permission nor were they limited to a free-speech zone. Yet, somehow I survived.

      With respect to an innocuous piece of literature being distributed, I remember being offered handouts all the time for events that ranged from “keggers” to protests. If memory serves me correctly, I had the opportunity to accept or decline the offer with a simple “Thank you” or “No thank you.” Has our world become so much more complex that those answers are no longer sufficient, and if so, why?

      You and I appear to be in agreement with respect to the reintroduction of Civics into the K-12 curriculum as well as the need for improving the preparation of our future leaders before they even enter college.

      In closing, I didn’t mean to imply that all universities suffer from a complete failure to deliver on their core mission. That would be utterly inappropriate. However, I wish I held your faith that the vast majority of universities fostered open dialogues in an unbiased atmosphere. My experience suggests that there are more than a few outliers, and I would like to see that issue addressed.

      What I am encouraged by is that I know that your students will not suffer in that way. You response was well articulated, complete, and presented in a respectful manner. If your students reflect your approach, they will undoubtedly have a positive impact on our country going forward.

      Thank you for your comment and for what you do.

      • Tim Moungey

        Thank you for your kind words, and for clarifying your own experience and positions re: universities. Yes, you are correct in your deductions concerning my employment. To be more specific, I am an adjunct instructor, currently at the community college level, previously at a public Division I university which is striving for Tier One status. Before that, I was a graduate assistant instructor of record for three years at the latter, and for two years at a major public Division I flagship university.

        You are correct in that there are considerable and numerous differences between publics and privates. I short-handed public universities in my response because it is both the area I am most familiar with, and because it is frankly the type of higher education institution that most of America will associate with.

        Your status as a board member at several major universities means that we are viewing these issues from vastly different perspectives, and perhaps further elaboration and discussion of our vantage points will prove mutually fruitful.

        First, with regards to the capital and infrastructure projects you reference, the main question is, of course, where the money to support such physical improvements comes from – largely the general fund, wholly the general fund, alumni donations? And what percentage of the university’s budget is being taken up by those works? Obviously, this is going to vary from project to project and school to school, but it’s certainly a question that needs to be asked. I suspect we may find some points of agreement here regarding certain universities’ usage of their funds.

        Indeed, to speak to one of my own areas of research and one that I’ve taught courses in – college athletics – as you say, the facilities constructed on campus do not directly serve the main educational core, but rather function to increase the probability of success of revenue sports, primarily men’s basketball and football. Why? Because with success in those two sports, the university’s national profile is raised, which in turn increases the applicant pool and in consequence improves the chances of attracting a stronger freshman and/or transfer class yield. To cite just one example of many, when George Mason University made the men’s basketball Final Four some years ago, their applications for admission shot up 300% the next year as a direct result of that gained national prominence. I believe we would be in agreement that this is the short-term way of raising the university’s profile and brand-name recognition, but for many administrations, it’s the most expedient.

        This is in direct contrast to the slower route of building university reputation – actually investing in the quality of education and the programs themselves. But the slower route also has a higher rate of sustainability and a longer duration – see the University of Virginia and the University of Cincinnati the past 10-15 years as the most obvious examples of schools whose overall reputation and lustre has skyrocketed.

        Which brings me to a point where we’re going to have sharp disagreement. While there are good theoretical reasons for the revocation of tenure, in practice, the decline of tenure-track positions has resulted in en masse adjunctification of American university faculty. Depending on the measurements one is using, somewhere between 60-75% of all courses are taught by contingent instructors. This causes several major problems that have a direct, negative impact on the core education mission:

        1. As part of the cost-reduction measures you allude to, adjunct faculty receive very low pay. Even if an instructor manages to obtain a full 4/4 load at one university (which, by the way, is quite rare), they’re still only going to make $20,000 a year and that’s often without access to benefits such as health insurance. I’m sure you can see where this is clearly not sustainable or a desirable position to be in, even in cities with a low cost of living. As an example, I reside in a city that has a comparatively low cost of living and earn about the amount I specified. The only way I personally have been able to survive is by not having a car and not having a family. Were I to have either of those things, at the very least, I would need to go on government assistance to make it.

        2. The underpaid status I raise in #1 (as a comparison point, although it has a much higher cost of living, Seattle’s new minimum wage of $15/hour would, for a full-time job, be in excess of $10,000 more per year than the overwhelming majority of adjuncts make. Yes, minimum wage. Granted, Seattle is an exception, but still, it’s noteworthy considering the educational requirements to even get an adjunct position) means that a large number of very talented scholars and teachers are leaving academia. More tellingly, I personally know of at least a few university humanities departments (again, humanities being the area I’m most familiar with), who are quietly telling their terminal master’s and doctoral students to pursue professions outside of academia. Echoes of the American Bar Association point-blank telling students not to apply to law school. The costs and ROI simply aren’t worth it.

        3. For those who do stay in the profession, they often do not find out their teaching load until a few days before the semester, and in some cases, they find out the very day classes start that they’re being asked to teach another course (something that happened to me one semester, incidentally). Thus, they are not given the time to adequately prepare for the semester, which negatively impacts the quality of education students receive, even if the professor is an excellent instructor. This lack of support falls into other areas, such as shared office space or no office space at all. This latter status actually occurred to me at the community college level, and when asked where I was supposed to hold office hours, I was informed that office hours weren’t required for adjunct instructors. Lack of support = another negative hit to the quality of education for the students.

        Those are just a few of the examples. I’m sure you’ve heard some of this before, but in case you hadn’t, I thought I would offer my own experiences, which are representative of the experiences of other adjuncts based on conversations with my colleagues across the country.

        And that’s without getting into the fact that these positions are on one semester contracts, so there’s zero job security, which adds to more stress and uncertainty, and consequently impacts the students. That’s one of the major benefits of tenure-track positions – they provide job security at a genuinely livable wage. And they’re growing more and more scarce as university administrations who do face budget cuts decide to go as cheap as possible due to supply and demand of teaching positions, while steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that in this cutting of corners, they’re hurting the fundamental education mission of the university.

        Given those circumstances, I’m certain you can see where there’s anger over the increase in administration (however mandated by federal and state funds they may be), and perhaps more importantly, the numerous reports of administrators receiving hefty salary and perks increases even as the economic underclass of adjuncts continues to grow. This is a troubling mirroring of large businesses who reward CEOs for mediocre or worse performance, while cutting rank and file positions, salaries, and benefits wholesale (But that’s getting into another arena of discussion).

        As for the increased rules and regulations regarding distribution of literature, events, etc. – for that I have no immediate answer, other than perhaps speculation that the increasingly litigious nature and temperament of American society has caused universities to be protective against lawsuits, and so put those guidelines in place. As I said, that’s just speculation, though.

        We likely have some agreement that universities need to be more committed to the educational mission than some of them have become in recent years. Where we disagree, at this point in time at least, is in what the main causes are, and most likely as a consequence of that, what the remedies are for that central issue.

        • Mr. Moungey:

          Thank you for your response. I Hope every member of this audience takes the time to read it. It is thoughtfully composed and contains a unique insight into our education system at the university level. In effect, it represents what this op-ed forum, that has been entrusted to its participants, is meant to represent (i.e., an opportunity to exchange thoughts, civilly assess issues, and learn from each others experiences and perspectives).

          You examples are excellent and reflect what I have observed as well. For clarification: I was not diminishing the importance of the tenure system. However, I do think it merits a review and consideration for amendment (just as the Constitution does from time-to-time).

          While the concept of tenure provides stability and theoretically protects intellectual freedom, tenure tracks vary between institutions. Smaller colleges often weigh teaching ability, peer-reviewed publications, and departmental service (including student advising) in determining whether tenure will be granted. Larger or more-elite universities have a tendency to focus on a professor’s ability to attract funding and publish research. Note the lack of emphasis on teaching ability in the latter.

          As you note, there is a relatively wide disparity between lecturers, adjunct professors, assistant professors, professors and tenured professors, and we need not even discuss how teaching assistants are treated. So, the question becomes: How could the tenure system be amended to maintain is positive benefits while providing a more mission-centric treatment of those individuals who serve as the backbone of our higher education?

          I also share your opinion of the use of athletic facilities as a fast-track to funding. Exceptional athletic performance, particularly in major sports at the Division I level, attracts massive infusions of alumni money and also spikes admissions. However, as you mention, the momentum is not as sustainable as the slower route of building a reputation for consistently delivering an outstanding education. The question becomes: Do institutions have an obligation to at least strike a balance? Correspondingly: While the facilities may be a recruiting tool, do they necessarily contribute to the actual performance of the athletes?

          Again, I think the issue is one of balance. When I see rock-climbing walls being built along with wonderful spas in which students can relax from a massage, I see a “field of dreams” approach to attracting students. Each non-performing amenity creates a new set of expectations among future generations of students. What would happen if the university system decided to focus on its core mission of providing a quality education. Would the rise in college tuition be mitigated to a degree (no pun intended)? In the alternative, could adjunct professors and their brethren be more appropriately paid for their services if the funds for such non-academically-related assets were redirected toward those who provide the education? (Just a little food for thought.)

          Thank you again, Mr. Moungey. I hope you will encourage your students and fellow faculty members to consider participating in the issues posed weekly in this column, “A Civil Assessment.” We would all benefit from their input as we have from yours.

  • Jay Va

    Competition’s benefits are destroyed when groups, such as unions, are organized to interfere with competition by forcing membership.

    • Thank you for your comment. However, I’m not exactly sure how it ties to the article. If you would elaborate on your position, perhaps others in the forum will be interested in supporting or challenging you position.

  • Jonathan Strackman

    Another great piece TJ and one I know you are truly passionate about.

    Somewhere Mario Savio must be rolling over in his grave. The Free Speech Movement on college campuses of the 1960s has fallen by the wayside. Why? I’m convinced many of the people advocating it, didn’t truly mean it.

    Not sure people understand the counterculture of the 1960s. It was not one monolithic group, although Hollywood portrays it like that. Yes, you had your hippies. But in general, they weren’t the ones at protesting. Their big issue is “free to be you and me”…basically the forerunners of libertarians. “You do your thing and I’ll do mine”. The more protest oriented groups like SDS, the Yippies, and Weathermen advocated for free speech. But much like when people say, “The Puritans were for freedom of religion”, they are just as wrong as saying many of these groups were for freedom of speech. The Puritans were in favor of freedom of religion FOR THEMSELVES (not others). And it seems many of these groups were in favor of freedom of speech…if your speech agrees with theirs. Many of those supposed free speech advocates from the 1960s are the ones controlling the message in higher education these days. If you disagree with their viewpoint, you are intolerant, racist, bigoted, or whatever term is used. And those are loaded terms that do nothing but short-circuit honest, open debate to reach consensus.

    This country was created on a bunch of compromises. True compromises cannot occur unless people can be open, honest, and respectful about differences of opinion.

    • Thank you for your comment and kind words, Mr. Strackman.

      Your comments about free speech and religion echo two quotes I have used for years:

      “Have you ever noticed how many people are only willing to defend Freedom of Speech when they agree with what is being said?” … and … “Have you ever noticed how many people are only willing to defend Freedom of Religion when it complies with theirs?”

      As the idiom goes, “Freedom is not free” nor is it meant to be easy. It has an emotional cost when it doesn’t conform with our individual beliefs. However, it is in those difficult times when we are forced to tolerate beliefs that conflict with our own that our own freedom to disagree is affirmed.

      Our human inclination to avoid offending others has led to a society that often prefers to bow to competitive beliefs rather than to confront them. Yet, freedom requires that we challenge the beliefs of others and allow ours to be challenged as well.

      I posted Frederick Douglass’ quote on my Facebook page yesterday. It reads: “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as the speaker.” Many people seem to have lost sight of that truism. It simply is easier to suppress speech than to support it.

      Its important to recognize that supporting speech does not equate to approving of its content or those who would deliver it. However, permitting a forum for truly offensive ideas to be expressed openly protects the freedom of non-offensive speech as well. It also exposes offensive content to a broader audience, and knowledge is the greatest weapon that exists against the expansion such content.

      I think of the famous KKK march in Skokie, Illinois. Surely, the residents of Skokie would be hard pressed to find a more offensive form of “speech.” Yet, the march was permitted. It attracted national attention and underscored just how difficult preserving our freedom of speech can be. The majority of Americans were appalled by even the thought of such a march, but our Nation recognized the importance of allowing this form of “speech” to occur.

      This is why I created this unique forum; a forum in which people of differing views may exchange thoughts in a civil manner, which has become somewhat of a lost art. In my opinion, the concept of free speech is the foundation upon which our other freedoms are based. While it is not without exception, it is as pure a freedom as we have.

      Once again, I thank you for exercising your freedom of speech through your respectful participation in the Comment Section of “A Civil Assessment.”

  • Ignacio Prado

    Good piece, but I would have to say I would disagree with the weight you place on the problems. What I mean to say is that I see your accurate analysis of a decline, but don’t follow on where the huge problem is (Universities making the decision alone to lower themselves). In the current paradigm, schools are boosting their amenities, and tuitions, to astronomical and unnecessary levels. This trend reinforces a different view of education – your article is in the paradigm of increasing human capital, the current system is largely in the paradigm of the sorting mechanism (school itself creates a pyramid of society with the best at the top), except everyone wants to be at the top (naturally). The unchecked inflation created by this Race to the Top in having the ‘best class’ through any mens (ironically named), aided by the US govt. license to make terrible decisions with money in the form of unlimited student loans has created an unstoppable monster with wild inflation.

    Most people today that hope to take part in the American Dream have to get a college education, and for like 97% (totally a guess based on who is rich enough to go to college willy nilly) of them it will cost so dearly that the direct economic value is by far the most important variable. When you think about the fact that the sloppy but essential work of critical thinking, especially in civics and all the social sciences, has generally no *direct* economic value, then you can see how this monster has been having no trouble pushing it aside both in the classroom and out, and why 18-22 year olds worried about their future and the direct economic consequences of those four years of their life, and with little context for the past, are not rising up to fight back.

    The trouble is in what we value as a society. For a long time, off college campuses, there has been a lot more value assigned to things with direct economic benefit by narrow definition, and little for the indirect benefit of a better society with a peaceful plurality of opinions, faiths, etc. For example, a lot of people who decide to be finance majors and stay above the fray on any political debate will ‘make’ money to justify their ‘purchase’ of a degree (as if counting the beans made more beans..) , but if you decide you want to study and teach American history – good luck not being poor, and poorer because your education was outrageously expensive. That ‘invisible hand’ has auxiliary consequences, and to my estimation, that is why colleges are becoming these quiet places to go punch the clock on getting technically educated and some the freedoms we have as a result of the constitution are becoming almost anachronisms and irrelevant to anyone attending.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      Each individual has to determine the weight he or she assigns to the issue. While you state that you disagree with the weight I place on the issue, you seem to reinforce its importance.

      I do think the issue is important because, as you have defined, it’s one of refocusing the university system on the value of human capital as opposed to a more superficial nature of tangible assets to gain rank.

      Where we may differ is in regard to civics and critical thinking. You seem to suggest that they “generally have no *direct* economic value, while I think a direct economic value can be assigned to each. If our political leadership were more deeply steeped in civics, it might represent the People’s interests more responsibly (particularly from a fiscal standpoint). Correspondingly, critical thinking would almost certainly injure to the benefit of innovation and the collateral benefit that innovation inherently delivers.

      In any event, I do appreciate your comment. Thank you for joining the conversation.