Footnote 31 — William Deresciewicz, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League”

Footnote 31 — William Deresciewicz, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League: A Better Education – and a Better Life – Lies Elsewhere” — The New Republic, August 4, 2014, pp. 24-29

Deresciewicz, who left the Yale University faculty in 2008 to write full-time, has produced a number of provocative articles laying bare the oft-hidden skeletons in the closets of academia. Here are some excerpts from his latest installment, from the current issue of The New Republic. Notice this paragraph in particular:

“Religious colleges—even obscure, regional schools that no one has ever heard of on the coasts—often do a much better job in that respect. What an indictment of the Ivy League and its peers: that colleges four levels down on the academic totem pole, enrolling students whose SAT scores are hundreds of points lower than theirs, deliver a better education, in the highest sense of the word.”

“Super People,” the writer James Atlas has called them—the stereotypical ultra-high-achieving elite college students of today. A double major, a sport, a musical instrument, a couple of foreign languages, service work in distant corners of the globe, a few hobbies thrown in for good measure: They have mastered them all, and with a serene self-assurance that leaves adults and peers alike in awe. A friend who teaches at a top university once asked her class to memorize 30 lines of the eighteenth-century poet Alexander Pope. Nearly every single kid got every single line correct. It was a thing of wonder, she said, like watching thoroughbreds circle a track.

These enviable youngsters appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood. But the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in many of my own students and heard from the hundreds of young people whom I have spoken with on campuses or who have written to me over the last few years. Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.

When I speak of elite education, I mean prestigious institutions like Harvard or Stanford or Williams as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools, but I also mean everything that leads up to and away from them—the private and affluent public high schools; the ever-growing industry of tutors and consultants and test-prep courses; the admissions process itself, squatting like a dragon at the entrance to adulthood; the brand-name graduate schools and employment opportunities that come after the B.A.; and the parents and communities, largely upper-middle class, who push their children into the maw of this machine. In short, our entire system of elite education.

I should say that this subject is very personal for me. Like so many kids today, I went off to college like a sleepwalker. You chose the most prestigious place that let you in; up ahead were vaguely understood objectives: status, wealth—“success.” What it meant to actually get an education and why you might want one—all this was off the table. It was only after 24 years in the Ivy League—college and a Ph.D. at Columbia, ten years on the faculty at Yale—that I started to think about what this system does to kids and how they can escape from it, what it does to our society and how we can dismantle it.
I taught many wonderful young people during my years in the Ivy League—bright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it was a pleasure to talk with and learn from. But most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Very few were passionate about ideas. Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development. Everyone dressed as if they were ready to be interviewed at a moment’s notice.

Look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment, and what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation. A large-scale survey of college freshmen recently found that self-reports of emotional well-being have fallen to their lowest level in the study’s 25-year history.

So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time. I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class. She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion.

There are exceptions, kids who insist, against all odds, on trying to get a real education. But their experience tends to make them feel like freaks. One student told me that a friend of hers had left Yale because she found the school “stifling to the parts of yourself that you’d call a soul.”
The first thing that college is for is to teach you to think. That doesn’t simply mean developing the mental skills particular to individual disciplines. College is an opportunity to stand outside the world for a few years, between the orthodoxy of your family and the exigencies of career, and contemplate things from a distance.

Learning how to think is only the beginning, though. There’s something in particular you need to think about: building a self. The notion may sound strange. “We’ve taught them,” David Foster Wallace once said, “that a self is something you just have.” But it is only through the act of establishing communication between the mind and the heart, the mind and experience, that you become an individual, a unique being—a soul. The job of college is to assist you to begin to do that. Books, ideas, works of art and thought, the pressure of the minds around you that are looking for their own answers in their own ways.

College is not the only chance to learn to think, but it is the best. One thing is certain: If you haven’t started by the time you finish your B.A., there’s little likelihood you’ll do it later. That is why an undergraduate experience devoted exclusively to career preparation is four years largely wasted.

Elite schools like to boast that they teach their students how to think, but all they mean is that they train them in the analytic and rhetorical skills that are necessary for success in business and the professions. Everything is technocratic—the development of expertise—and everything is ultimately justified in technocratic terms.

Religious colleges—even obscure, regional schools that no one has ever heard of on the coasts—often do a much better job in that respect. What an indictment of the Ivy League and its peers: that colleges four levels down on the academic totem pole, enrolling students whose SAT scores are hundreds of points lower than theirs, deliver a better education, in the highest sense of the word.
Visit any elite campus across our great nation, and you can thrill to the heart-warming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. Kids at schools like Stanford think that their environment is diverse if one comes from Missouri and another from Pakistan, or if one plays the cello and the other lacrosse. Never mind that all of their parents are doctors or bankers.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few exceptions, but that is all they are. In fact, the group that is most disadvantaged by our current admissions policies are working-class and rural whites, who are hardly present on selective campuses at all. The only way to think these places are diverse is if that’s all you’ve ever seen.

Let’s not kid ourselves: The college admissions game is not primarily about the lower and middle classes seeking to rise, or even about the upper-middle class attempting to maintain its position. It is about determining the exact hierarchy of status within the upper-middle class itself. In the affluent suburbs and well-heeled urban enclaves where this game is principally played, it is not about whether you go to an elite school.
It’s about which one you go to. It is Penn versus Tufts, not Penn versus Penn State. It doesn’t matter that a bright young person can go to Ohio State, become a doctor, settle in Dayton, and make a very good living. Such an outcome is simply too horrible to contemplate.

This system is exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead. The numbers are undeniable.
The major reason for the trend is clear. Not increasing tuition, though that is a factor, but the ever-growing cost of manufacturing children who are fit to compete in the college admissions game. The more hurdles there are, the more expensive it is to catapult your kid across them. Wealthy families start buying their children’s way into elite colleges almost from the moment they are born: music lessons, sports equipment, foreign travel (“enrichment” programs, to use the all-too-perfect term)—most important, of course, private-school tuition or the costs of living in a place with top-tier public schools. The SAT is supposed to measure aptitude, but what it actually measures is parental income, which it tracks quite closely. Today, fewer than half of high-scoring students from low-income families even enroll at four-year schools.

The problem isn’t that there aren’t more qualified lower-income kids from which to choose. Elite private colleges will never allow their students’ economic profile to mirror that of society as a whole. They can’t afford to—they need a critical mass of full payers and they need to tend to their donor base—and it’s not even clear that they’d want to.

And so it is hardly a coincidence that income inequality is higher than it has been since before the Great Depression, or that social mobility is lower in the United States than in almost every other developed country. Elite colleges are not just powerless to reverse the movement toward a more unequal society; their policies actively promote it.
I used to think that we needed to create a world where every child had an equal chance to get to the Ivy League. I’ve come to see that what we really need is to create one where you don’t have to go to the Ivy League, or any private college, to get a first-rate education.

Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League: The nation’s top colleges are turning our kids into zombies

(Print edition cover subtitle: “A better education – and a better life – lies elsewhere”)

Print edition article title: “I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Destroyed By the Ivy League: Against the Tyranny of Elite Education”


How To Treat the Freshmen — 1495

How To Treat the Freshmen — 1495

From the Blog “Ask the Past: Advice From Old Books”

How to Treat the Freshmen, 1495

See the complete post, and much more, at:

They get smaller every year.
Codex Manesse (c. 1304)

“Statute Forbidding Any One to Annoy or Unduly Injure the Freshmen. Each and every one attached to this university is forbidden to offend with insult, torment, harass, drench with water or urine, throw on or defile with dust or any filth, mock by whistling, cry at them with a terrifying voice, or dare to molest in any way whatsoever physically or severely, any, who are called freshmen, in the market, streets, courts, colleges and living houses, or any place whatsoever, and particularly in the present college, when they have entered in order to matriculate or are leaving after matriculation.”

Leipzig University Statute (1495)


Edited by Elizabeth Archibald, who has a Ph.D. in History with a focus on early medieval education. She teaches at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. Read more at:

Fake “Experts”

Fake “Experts”

While most people might ask, “Who?” – followed quickly by “Who cares?” – regarding the author of yet another pseudo-“scholarly” book about Jesus, evidently the latest installment in the long and undistinguished line of pulp fiction benefited from an virally inept cable-TV interview. As new-media commentator Joe Carter points out, the REAL missed story here is not what is known about Jesus, but that author’s own self-promotional misrepresentation of his credentials.

My, my – where are all the “investigative journalists” when you really need them? And why does the news media – of all stripes and flavors – insist on putting people on air who make fake claims to be “scholars” when they have no real expertise in the areas they write about? Excerpts:

Snickering at FoxNews while getting duped by ‘Zealot’ author

July 29, 2013 By Joe Carter

…  critics are right about the interview — it is a mess. But while New Media journalists were snickering at, they failed to notice that the person being interviewed was pulling one over on them by getting away with misrepresenting his credentials.


The first question by host Lauren Green on why a Muslim would want to write about Jesus isn’t as out of line as the Fox critics seem to think. It’s a fair question — a softball question — that allows the interviewee to explain away any apparent bias. But Green should have moved on after asking it and not made Aslan’s religious background the primary focus of the interview. More importantly, if she had been better prepared she could have called Aslan out for at least one blatant and seemingly undeniable untruth.

After being asked the first question by Green, Aslan responds:

 “…So it’s not that I’m just some Muslim writing about Jesus I am an expert with a PhD in the history of religions.” Later in the video he says it’s his job as a “professor of religion including the New Testament. That’s what I do for a living, actually.” And to make sure we get the point, he later adds, “I am a historian. I am a PhD in the history of religions.

At this point, Green should have stopped him and asked him to clarify since he appears to be misrepresenting his credentials.

For starters, he does not have a PhD in the history of religions. Aslan has four degrees: a Bachelors of Religious Studies from Santa Clara University; a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School; a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa; and a PhD in sociology of religions from the University of California, Santa Barbara (his dissertation was on “Global Jihadism: a transnational social movement”).

Why would Aslan claim he has a PhD in history when his degree is in sociology? Does he not understand the difference between the two fields of study?

Aslan also claims that he has a degree in the New Testament. But is this true? Santa Clara doesn’t offer a degree in the New Testament so he can’t be talking about his Bachelors. Perhaps he is referring to the Master’s of Theological Studies degree he earned from Harvard Divinity School in 1999. That school does offer an “area of focus” in “New Testament and Early Christianity.” Is Aslan claiming this was his degree’s area of focus at Harvard? (If so, this would make his claim about having a “degree in New Testament” misleading, at best.)


When exactly has Aslan taught classes on the New Testament? And as a scholar, has he published peer-reviewed academic articles on Jesus?

Aslan’s book should not be dismissed because it was written by a Muslim. But in making untrue claims about his credentials he raises questions about his credibility. It also raises the question of how often so-called experts and authorities with no real expertise or authority on a subject are presented by New Media outlets as representative “scholars.”

Maybe if these journalists spent less time mocking the gaffes of their competitors and more time vetting the so-called “experts” we wouldn’t have to listen to people snicker about the credibility of online media.




Move to part-time profs provokes possible censure –

Move to part-time profs provokes possible censure –

National Louis’ move to part-time profs provokes possible censure –

By Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune reporter  —  June 13, 2013

Paul Gross shared his love of biology with students at National Louis University for 18 years and, like most academics with tenure, figured he was guaranteed a job for life.

But on April 16, 2012, he was disabused of that notion by an administrator who told him he was out of a job at the end of the semester and could come back only as a part-time teacher. He did, teaching one course a term for $1,440.

Gross’ abrupt tumble down the academic ladder has become an increasingly common story as colleges and universities across the country increasingly rely on less expensive, part-time faculty, said Anita Levy, a senior staff member at the American Association of University Professors. “It’s not a trend, but a fact.”

While adjuncts now do most of the teaching on all campuses, Chicago-based National Louis slashed its full-time staff so severely that an AAUP committee recommended the school’s administration be censured for violating the academic freedom of Gross and 15 other tenured professors.

The professors were among 63 full-time faculty dismissed in 2012 by National Louis, long known as a teachers college although it started as a business college in 1989. Over a two-year period, the university cut its full-time faculty in half.

National Louis President Nivine Megahed said the decision to jettison full-time faculty was necessary because of a nose dive in enrollment that put the school in financial peril. She predicted that other college presidents will confront the same tough choice.

“Either there will be a lot more censures or a lot more universities will close their doors,” said Megahed, who became president in 2010, just as the university was experiencing a steep decline in enrollments and tuition income.

The recommendation for censure is expected to be ratified during the AAUP’s annual meeting Saturday.

There are about 40 schools on AAUP’s censure list, and complaints to the organization based on this shift to adjuncts have been on the rise. Censure by the AAUP carries with it no legal penalty, but is a strike against a university’s reputation: Job applicants might look elsewhere; students could worry that it casts a shadow over their credentials.

Levy said schools often cooperate with her organization by taking measures to get their censure lifted.

Tenure, the other academic issue in this case, is widely seen as a vital protection of freedom of inquiry. Without it, professors might be tempted to pull their scholarly punches for fear of offending administrators or trustees and losing their jobs. Still, even tenured faculty can be fired in a few, specific situations.

Gross was told his discharge was because the biology department was being abolished and, with it, the courses he taught. The AAUP investigators rejected that claim, since science courses continued to be listed in the school’s catalog. Indeed, he was invited to teach one — as an adjunct.

“The replacement of a tenured faculty member with adjunct or nontenured faculty to teach the same or similar courses seems to us to be a clear violation of tenure,” the AAUP reported.

The drastic cuts Megahed said were necessary to balance National Louis’ books cost Gross and the other professors dearly. His salary and benefits as a full-time professor totaled $75,000 a year. In addition to a deep cut in pay, there was a psychological blow to his drop in status.

Biology wasn’t just a way to earn a living for Gross but a passion, as witnessed by his modest suburban home. Inside and out, it reflects the great two divisions of his field: botany and zoology.

The lawn and backyard are planted in tall prairie grass. He and his wife share the family room with a dog named Willie Bear and a parrot named Olive. In the soft-spoken but authoritative voice Gross brought to the classroom, he explains how the bird will “regurgitate into (the dog’s) mouth, just like a mother bird feeding her young.”

Gross’ story can be read as a cautionary tale by families about to send a child off to college. Today, two-thirds of college instructors are not professors, but adjuncts. Add in lecturers and others on year-to-year contracts and the numbers of “contingent,” or nonpermanent, faculty rise to about 75 percent, according to Levy. At Chicago’s DePaul University, part-time instructors make up 64 percent of the faculty, for example.

College days for students used to involve not just listening to lectures but after-class contact with faculty over coffee. That informal dimension of higher education becomes more rare with adjunct teachers, who often hop from campus to campus to cobble together even a modest income.

“We call them Roads Scholars,” said Tom Anderson, an adjunct professor in Michigan who is vice president of two union locals that represent nontenured faculty.

Adjuncts are often assigned a course on the eve of a semester. Courses they teach are attributed to “staff.” The situation was satirically referred to in the title of a 2012 study released by the Center for the Future of Higher Education: “Who is ‘Professor Staff’ and How Can This Person Teach So Many Classes?”

The shift to more part-time teachers comes even as tuition has soared. Debra Humphreys, a vice president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, reports a paradoxical relationship between tuition inflation and the increasing dependence on adjuncts: Even as colleges hire more adjuncts, the savings never seem to catch up to the increasing cost of running a campus.

The average undergraduate student at National Louis, long known for training teachers, pays a full-time tuition rate of $16,000 per year, a figure that takes into account scholarships and discounts, a university spokeswoman said. Average graduate program tuition ranges from $14,000 to $30,000

Megahed sees National Louis’ belt-tightening measures, and the risks she took implementing them, as in the university’s tradition of being an educational innovator.

The school was founded in 1886 to train kindergarten teachers by Elizabeth Harrison, a pioneering advocate for what is now called early childhood education. In 1930, when after several name changes it became the National College of Education, it established the first four-year teacher-training program in Illinois.

In 1990 it was renamed National Louis University in honor of a major donor, Michael Louis, whose generosity had enabled it to add degree programs in the humanities, the social sciences, the fine arts and a business school.

Fully accredited (its accreditation is being renewed during its current crisis), National Louis got a larger footprint on the national scene by establishing satellite campuses in Florida, Wisconsin and various locations in Illinois over the past 25 years. Its original campus in Evanston has been transplanted to Skokie.

In 2011, on the eve of the cutbacks, it had about 10,000 students. Most were part-timers, many who’d had a smattering of courses earlier at other colleges. When the American economy took a hit, so to did National Louis’ enrollment — a major disaster for a school that mostly turns out teachers instead of corporate executives whose donations can grow a university’s endowment.

“We went over a waterfall,” Megahed said. “Enrollment dropped 40 percent in five years.”

By 2012, when the AAUP’s investigation began after an appeal from some of the fired faculty members, Megahed said she and other administrators were working “24-7” trying to keep the university afloat.

She doesn’t dispute the AAUP’s charge that she refused to cooperate with their investigators, saying it wasn’t a priority, given all the problems she confronted. She was willing to roll the dice by declining the university’s best shot at justifying the dismissal of tenured faculty.

According to the AAUP’s guidelines, a university can dismiss tenured professors when confronting a financial exigency — a claim she didn’t make.

“The AAUP’s censure is less damaging than proclaiming a financial exigency,” Megahed explained. “That could cause lenders to call in our loans.”

She said other university presidents have congratulated her for getting the school through its financial crisis, which she takes as a sign that National Louis’ reorganization will be a model for others to follow, notwithstanding the pain it produced.

“2012 was the worst year of my career,” she said.

Yet it also was painful for those whose careers were ended and aren’t likely to find a silver lining. Among them is Ofra Peled, who as the head of biology was Gross’ superior.

When it was announced that cutbacks were in the offing, she figured she’d be the one who would be forced to tell a member of her three-person department they no longer had a job. It was a decision she dreaded.

“I was saved from having to make it,” Peled said. “They fired me, along with the other two.”

 Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC,0,4525416,print.story


Footnote 9 — Twenty-year-old conversation

Footnote 9 – Richard John Neuhaus, ed. Theological Education and Moral Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), pp. 211-213.

Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009) was editor of the conservative journal First Things, as well as the Encounter Series of volumes published by Eerdmans, of which this source is volume 15. Readers of these Foootnotes might also be interested in other volumes in the series, particularly volume 2 (Unsecular America) and volume 5 (The Bible, Politics, and Democracy).Typically, each volume reports a conference in which four to six featured speakers delivered prepared addresses, following which those speakers and perhaps a dozen others join in a panel discussion of the issues raised in the prepared speeches.

This particular volume reports a conference at Duke University and offers some rare insight into the state of the denominational mentality in America, and I offer excerpts from three different sections of the round-table discussion for your amazement.

George Marsden, then Professor of the History of Christianity in America at Duke University Divinity School (later moving to Notre Dame), and author of Fundamentalism in American Culture and Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism in America, speaking of the crisis of authority in many American seminaries today:

George Marsden: “What we need to do,” he said, “is to go back to Christianity. We should start talking about God and the authority of the Bible. We should pray and teach the liturgy. But in most Protestant seminaries, if we went back to that kind of Christianity and came out with it as authoritative, we’d get kicked out. You might be able to get away with it at Duke because of its traditionalist ethos.”

“Is Duke really that different than, say, Union in New York?” Neuhaus asked the group.

Geoffrey Wainwright took up the question: “While teaching at Union in New York, I always felt that the assumption was that Christianity was wrong unless it could be shown to be right. At Duke the assumption is that, on the whole, Christianity is the agreed-upon basic, though there are problems here and there that can be debated.”

“At what point would you get kicked out of the University of Chicago Divinity School for authoritatively teaching orthodox Christianity?” Neuhaus asked.

“When you offended the feminists or the relativists or the gay caucus,” Marsden answered.

“How might you offend the relativists at Chicago?” Neuhaus probed.

Marsden replied, “By implying that Christianity is a religion that has some exclusivism. By implying that relativists weren’t Christians. After all, if you’re talking about traditional Christianity, you’re going to have to isolate and argue against ways of believing that are different from traditional Christianity.”

“George, you’re saying that there is a normative Christianity,” Neuhaus observed. “For example, if someone doesn’t believe in the resurrection of Christ, then he or she isn’t a classical Christian.”

“Yes, and if you say certain people aren’t Christians, you’ll get booted out,” Marsden responded.

“Do you really mean you’d get fired from the faculty?” Richard Hays asked with a note of disbelief.

“Well, you’d get hooted down and eventually called a crank,” guessed Marsden.

“I question that,” said Hays. “I think we’ve allowed ourselves to get buffaloed, to be intimidated into thinking that we could never say anything like that.”

Then Neuhaus continued his line of questioning. “How much could be changed if seminary professors taught more confessionally?”

Marsden attempted an answer. “In today’s seminaries you have pluralistic institutions, and you have to be careful about whom you offend. if you go into a seminary classroom and say, ‘Your problem is that you need to be converted,’ what you’re saying is that some people there aren’t Christians. That might not be an appropriate thing to say in a school that isn’t restricted to one denomination.”

Neuhaus wasn’t so sure. “In a theological faculty,” he said, “it should be inescapable that at some point you’re going to be teaching about the idea of conversion. If you make it clear that your understanding of conversion is that it is constitutive of being a Christian, you’re not browbeating the class. You’re simply making clear what your understanding of the Christian life is. And that includes conversion, in the born-again sense and/or in the baptismal-renewal sense. You wouldn’t be a good teacher of the church if you didn’t teach that.”

From Truth Magazine  XXXVI: 17 (September 3, 1992)