The college ratings racket exposes the deep problems in the higher education

In the US, colleges compete to get students. The colleges that are not prestigious do so often by means of lower price and not being too selective in whom they admit. The more prestigious and selective colleges do so by means of reputation, and one of the measures by which reputation is measured is by the rankings issued by various bodies. The one that is most looked at is the annual one issued by the publication US News & World Report. It uses measures such as the faculty-to-student ratio, the percentage of classes taught by full-time faculty, the admission scores of the students, the reputation among its peers, graduation rates, and other items. Many of the data are submitted by the institutions themselves and one can see how that can lead to temptation by administrators to fudge the data in order to increase the ranking.

Now a whistleblower at Colombia University, a mathematics professor there, has said that some of the data submitted by his university were incorrect. As a result, the ranking of the university plummeted from 3rd to 18th.
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See Yale and die?

Colleges and Universities are beginning their new academic year. When I was still teaching, I used to enjoy the week before classes began when you saw new students excitedly arriving on campus with their families to move into the dorms. It was a feeling of new beginnings and possibilities. My university had a whole slew of programs during orientation week for new students that were a mixture of information providing and socializing. At the end of it just before classes began, we had a big culminating event for all the new students in the huge Severance Hall, home of the famed Cleveland Orchestra. I would be one of the speakers at this event and each year, I would try to get students excited about what I felt was the chief attraction of being at a university.
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How I learned to stop worrying and love the singular ‘they’

The problem of what pronoun to use to describe the third person singular has been around for a long time because in English this pronoun has been a gendered one. It used to be that people used the male form of he/him as the default that was tacitly supposed to include both genders but that assumption has long been rejected as sexist. People who are grammatical purists tried to find various ways around it. Resorting to switching everything in a sentence to just the plural form was not always possible and even when it could be done, tended to make sentences less specific and more bland. The more awkward circumlocution ‘he or she’ or ‘his or her’ tends to get really tedious after a while.
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‘Just deserts’ or ‘Just desserts’?

I do not believe that I have ever used the phrase ‘just desserts’ myself but I have been familiar with it from adolescence. I had always believed that the word was spelled as ‘desserts’ and, as all of us tend to do with beliefs, had created a theory to justify it. My theory was that ‘dessert’ referred to the treat one gets at the end of one’s meal, that parents often used to reward children for good behavior, such as eating all their vegetables. So ‘just desserts’ meant that one got a treat that was appropriate for what one did: a minor good act got a small treat while a major good act got a big treat.
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The challenges of suddenly teaching online

Now that classes in schools and colleges are being shut down, faculty have been asked to shift to teaching online. In my former life heading a teaching center at a research university, I know that teaching online is not easy and to do it well requires a lot of preparation and help from online course designers. Many faculty are reluctant to try online teaching for a variety of reason. Some feel that there is positive dynamic in face-to-face interactions that gets lost when mediated by technology. Others are simply technophobes who worry that they will mess things up and not know how to recover. Some faculty at research universities like mine are unwilling to expend the time because research takes priority and there is simply no great benefit to it. And finally some faculty simply don’t care. They long ago stopped putting any effort into improving their teaching and see no reason to start now.
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When size matters

There has been a spate of teacher strikes across the country recently and just last week the teachers in the Chicago schools, one of the largest in the country, ended their 11-day strike. Like other teachers who went on strike, they were demanding better salaries, extra resources, and better working conditions but also calling for smaller class sizes. And they won a lot of their demands.

In addition to guaranteeing all CTU members a 16% raise over the life of the five-year contract, the offer invests $35 million in reducing class sizes – up $10 million from the city’s previous offer.

On staffing, the city’s offer guarantees that every school will have a nurse and social worker by 2023. The offer includes 120 new “equity positions” for highest-need schools – such as counselors, restorative justice coordinators and librarians – and additional staffing in bilingual and special education.

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Warren joins Sanders in fighting the undermining of public schools

Rachel M. Cohen writes that the two most progressive candidates in the Democratic primary race have both called for reining in the charter school movement and the relentless undermining of the public school system

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN RELEASED a wide-ranging education plan Monday, pledging to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into public schools if she wins the presidency, paid in part through her proposed two-cent tax on wealth over $50 million. Warren’s plan is infused with her broader campaign themes of reducing corruption and fraud; she backs measures like new taxes on education lobbying, limiting the profiteering of tech companies that sell digital products to schools, and curbing self-dealing within charter schools.
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The implications of the Canadian elections

The Canadian elections took place yesterday. Prime minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, hammered by its leader’s political and personal scandals, lost 20 seats and its majority but still managed to remain the single largest party. It won 157 of the 338 seats with 33% of the popular vote and will have to cobble together a coalition with other parties to get a parliamentary majority and form a government. The opposition Conservatives gained 26 seats and now have 121. They also won a narrow plurality of the popular vote with 34.4%. The Bloc Quebecois won 32 seats and the New Democratic Party won 24.

Cory Doctorow analyzes the result and says that Trudeau deserved his comeuppance because for the longest time he has managed to project a progressive image while tacking towards neoliberal policies.
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The people who benefit most from Harvard’s admissions policies

A federal judge ruled this week that the admissions policy of Harvard University is constitutional.

In a closely watched lawsuit that had raised fears about the future of affirmative action, a group called Students for Fair Admissions accused the Ivy League college of deliberately — and illegally — holding down the number of Asian Americans accepted in order to preserve a certain racial balance on campus.

U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs, however, ruled that Harvard’s admissions process is “not perfect” but passes constitutional muster. She said there is “no evidence of any racial animus whatsoever” and no evidence that any admission decision was “negatively affected by Asian American identity.”

“Race conscious admissions will always penalize to some extent the groups that are not being advantaged by the process,” Burroughs wrote, “but this is justified by the compelling interest in diversity and all the benefits that flow from a diverse college population.”

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Wealthy people never realize how much luck played in their ‘success’

Jason England, former admissions dean at Carnegie Mellon University, has drawn from his own experiences to add to what the recent college admissions scandal tells us about the attitudes of the elites. He provides the other bookend of the view provided by Caitlin Flanagan, a counselor at an elite prep school, where the process begins. He points out what should be obvious to everyone about the ways in which the system operates to provide an immense advantage to the already privileged. It is an are excellent article that is well worth reading in full because it exposes from the inside how the system is so heavily rigged in favor of wealthy white males from private schools. The true genius of the system is that the levers of privilege operate so smoothly and invisibly that they seem natural and neutral in their application.
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