In 1902, journalist Lincoln Steffens wrote a book called "The Shame of the Cities." At the time, Americans took pride in big cities, with their towering skyscrapers, productive factories and prominent cultural institutions.
Steffens showed there were some rotten things underneath the gleaming
veneers -- corrupt local governments and political machines, aided and
abetted by business leaders.
In recent weeks, two books have appeared about another of America's
gleaming institutions, our colleges and universities, either of which
could be subtitled "The Shame of the Universities."
In "Mismatch," law professor Richard Sander and journalist Stuart
Taylor expose, in the words of their subtitle, "How Affirmative Action
Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit
It." In "Unlearning Liberty," Greg Lukianoff, president of the
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, describes how university
speech codes create, as his subtitle puts it, "Campus Censorship and the
End of American Debate."
"Mismatch" is a story of good intentions gone terribly awry. Sander
and Taylor document beyond disagreement how university admissions
offices' racial quotas and preferences systematically put black and
Hispanic students in schools where they are far less well prepared than
As a result, they tend to get low grades, withdraw from science and
math courses, and drop out without graduating. The effect is
particularly notable in law schools, where large numbers of blacks and
Hispanics either drop out or fail to pass the bar exam.
This happens, Sander and Taylor argue, not because these students
lack ability but because they've been thrown in with students of
exceptional ability -- the mismatch of the authors' title. At schools
where everyone has similar levels of test scores and preparation, these
students do much better. And they don't suffer the heartache of failure.
That was shown when California's state universities temporarily
obeyed a 1996 referendum banning racial quotas and preferences. UCLA law
school had fewer black students but just as many black graduates. The
university system as a whole produced more black and Hispanic graduates.
Similarly, black students interested in math and science tend to get
degrees in those subjects in historically black colleges, while those in
schools with a mismatch switch to easier majors because math
instruction is pitched to classmates with better preparation.
University admissions officers nevertheless maintain what Taylor
calls "an enormous, pervasive and carefully concealed system of racial
preferences," even while claiming they aren't actually doing so. The
willingness to lie systematically seems to be a requirement for such
The willingness to lie systematically is also a requirement for
administrators who profess a love of free speech while imposing speech
codes and penalizing students for violations.
All of which provides plenty of business for Lukianoff's FIRE, which
opposes speech codes and brings lawsuits on behalf of students --
usually, but not always, conservatives -- who are penalized.
Those who graduated from college before the late 1980s may not
realize that speech codes have become, in Lukianoff's words, "the rule
rather than the exception" on American campuses.
They are typically vague and all-encompassing. One school prohibits
"actions or attitudes that threaten the welfare" of others. Another bans
emails that "harass, annoy or otherwise inconvenience others." Others
ban "insensitive" communication, "inappropriate jokes" and "patronizing
"Speech codes can only survive," Lukianoff writes, "through selective
enforcement." Conservatives and religious students are typically
targeted. But so are critics of administrators, like the student
expelled for a Facebook posting critical of a proposed $30 million
Students get the message: Keep your mouth shut. An Association of
American Colleges and Universities survey of 24,000 students found that
only 40 percent of freshmen thought it was "safe to hold unpopular views
on campus." An even lower 30 percent of seniors agreed.
So institutions that once prided themselves as arenas for free
exchange of ideas -- and still advertise themselves as such -- have
become the least free part of our society.
How? One answer is that university personnel almost all share the
same liberal-left beliefs. Many feel that contrary views and criticism
are evil and should be stamped out.
It also helps to follow the money. Government student loan programs
have pumped huge sums into colleges and universities that have been
raising tuition and fees far faster than inflation.
The result is administrative bloat. Since 2005, universities have employed more administrators than teachers.
There are signs that what instapundit.com's Glenn Reynolds calls the
higher education bubble is about to burst. And perhaps people are waking
up to the rottenness beneath the universities' gleaming veneer.
Read the full story here.