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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The ’60s Begin to Fade as Liberal Professors Retire

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

Andy Manis for The New York Times
Sara Goldrick-Rab and Michael Olneck, both at the University of Wisconsin, represent contrasting generations of professors, as younger faculty members tend to be more politically moderate.
When he won tenure at the University of Wisconsin here in 1980, she was 3. And in January, when he retires at 62, Ms. Goldrick-Rab will be just across the hall, working to earn a permanent spot on the same faculty from which he is departing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Accountability for Colleges

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Your Aug. 16 editorial “An Industry in Need of Accountability” misses the mark.  Improved accountability in higher education is critical for every institution, not just the for-profit sector.

Every school needs to be held accountable to the same high standard regardless of tax structure.  For more than three decades the University of Phoenix has been the greatest source of innovation in higher education and has dramatically improved the educational experience for students across the United States.  Our focus on technology and adaptive learning as well as a student-teacher ratio of 15 to 1 make this possible.

Sixty-five percent of all jobs require some form of enhanced skills, and 55 percent of the nation’s work force doesn’t have a college degree.   The New York Times should be seeking solutions to the issues of quality and access.  It is the only way for America to once again lead the world in college graduation.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Legislature in California Set to Pass a Dream Act

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LOS ANGELES — The California Legislature is poised to pass a law that would allow illegal immigrants to receive state-financed aid for college. Known as the California Dream Act, the bill underscores the ways states are navigating their own way through controversial immigration issues, as the Obama administration has been unable to make headway on plans for an overhaul of immigration laws.
In July, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that gave illegal immigrants access to privately financed scholarships and other aid.

Blogs

While the state law would do nothing to provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, it would provide them with more education benefits than they have in any other state. Advocates of the legislation say it would also send a powerful message to President Obama and Congress, forcing them to reconcile a patchwork of state laws that contradict one another.

Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said during his campaign last fall that he would support such a law and signed legislation this summer that gave illegal immigrants access to privately financed state scholarships and other aid. While he has not publicly said that he would sign this second measure, Mr. Brown’s staff members have been working with legislators to amend the bill in order to trim some costs.

The Democratic-controlled Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill on Wednesday along a party-line vote. The amended bill is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled State Assembly in the next week.
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo of Los Angeles, the lead author of the bill, has persistently made an economic argument to convince his colleagues.

“We will soon have to replace one million workers who leave the work force,” Mr. Cedillo said. “Why would we cut ourselves off from students who have demonstrated since they got here that they have tremendous talent and resilience? This is a very smart decision for the state. It’s not necessarily popular or without controversy, but we have to get these students fully educated.”

The bill is particularly controversial at a time when the state is facing major budget problems and drastically cutting spending on higher education.

The legislation is expected to cost about $40 million, according to an analysis by the State Senate, about 1 percent of the state’s total $3.5 billion budget for college financial aid.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican who represents San Bernardino, said that he would try to organize a ballot referendum to overturn the legislation.

“The governor is coming to the folks and saying they need to pay more, and then he’s going to turn around and say we still have money to hand over to people who are in the country illegally,” Mr. Donnelly said. “That is absolutely wrong. We are saying to the world: ‘If you haven’t come to California yet illegally, come as soon you can.’ And we’re saying to the people who came legally: ‘You guys are idiots.’ ”
The law would allow illegal immigrants and out-of-state students who attended California high schools for three years or more to apply for the financial aid.

In 2001, the state passed a law allowing those same students to be eligible for in-state tuition. The University of California, California State University and community college systems now enroll roughly 40,000 such students, about 1 percent of the total enrollment.

Because they lack work visas, many of those students are still unable to secure jobs for which they may be qualified. Opponents of the state Dream Act argue that such legislation would only increase the number of college graduates without jobs.

But supporters contend that many students may get legal status while they are in school, because they have already applied for legal residency or citizenship, a process that can take decades. And they are holding out hope that the Obama administration and Congress will approve the federal Dream Act, which would give students who have graduated from college or served in the military a path to citizenship.

Ana Gomez, whose parents brought her from Mexico to the United States when she was 7 years old, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2009 and said she was among the few in her group of friends who did not have to spend semesters away from campus to make more money to pay for tuition. Most of them relied on odd jobs that paid cash because they did not have work permits.
“People are really struggling to stay and make it through,” Ms. Gomez said. “Being able to attend and get in-state tuition is one thing, but then you have to find a way to pay for it, and it’s next to impossible. A lot of kids just get stuck in community college. This changes all of that.”

The legislation that Mr. Brown signed in July allowed illegal immigrants to apply for a pool of $80 million in state scholarships that are financed through private sources. The bill that passed Wednesday would allow them to also gain access to $40 million in grants and scholarships that are paid for by the state.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which sued the state to overturn the law granting illegal immigrants in-state tuition, called the bill “a really stupid allocation of limited resources.”

“It certainly ranks up there as one of the most dramatic moves, but I leave it up the California Legislature to outdo themselves,” Mr. Mehlman said.

He added, “In every way possible the state is catering to illegal aliens even if it comes at the cost of other legal citizens.”

Although there has been vocal opposition to the bill, it has benefited from widespread support; the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, university presidents and agricultural leaders have all backed the legislation.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation three times while he was in office.
Public opinion on illegal immigrants has shifted sharply in the state over the last several years, said Dan Schnur, the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.
“Five years ago, this was politically risky,” Mr. Schnur said. “Fifteen or 20 years ago, it would have been political suicide. But today, it is hard to see it having much of a political impact one way or another here.”