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Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Asphalt League of Public Higher Education

By Nicholas Stix

Until I found this manuscript on an old floppy disc, I’d forgotten ever having written, let alone publishing it. I last revised it on Christmas Day, 1997. However, a Web search of a phrase from the ms. turned it up in Chronicles magazine sometime in 1998. [september.]

At the time, I was working on a book on American higher education. I got about halfway through my first draft, when I stopped working in it, sometime circa 2000. I had had a literary agent at one point, but he couldn’t drum up any support. After he told me he was retiring, I tried to find a new agent, and also to peddle the project on my own, to no avail.

I see that I wrote this under my favorite pen name, "Robert Berman." I was still teaching college within the City University of New York (CUNY) system, and since writing about higher ed under my own name would have spelled career suicide, my Chronicles managing editor, Ted Pappas, had agreed to run a previous article on reconquista Hostos Community College under my pseudonym, and likewise with this one.

Several years ago, Chronicles’ Web site was set up, such that you could find the table of contents of every back issue, and thus the title of every published article. In the meantime, the Web site has gotten worse. You can no longer find back issues there. However, I was able, via a Google search, to determine that this ms. appeared in the magazine sometime during 1998. That means that the magazine’s editors commissioned at least 14 articles from me, and published 13 of them between 1993 and 1998.

My relationship to Chronicles ended in 1999, when its editor, Thomas Fleming, killed an approximately 2,400-word ms. he’d commissioned on New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and on which I’d worked approximately 150 hours.

This was apparently a case of revenge by proxy. Unbeknownst to me, Ted Pappas had been my “rabbi” at the magazine. When Ted notified Fleming that he was leaving, to take the reigns at Encyclopaedia Britannica, instead of Fleming congratulating him, and thanking him for 10 years of dutiful service, Fleming responded vindictively. I got caught in the crossfire. Fleming never ran my ms., and never paid me for it. I was able to chop off about one-third of it, and sell it to Doug Burton at Insight on the News, and thereby recoup my $150, but that version had none of the grandeur of the original. Still, $150 and a credit beats the hell out of $0 and no credit.

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Letter from New York:
The Asphalt League
by Robert Berman
Chronicles: A Magazine of America Culture

In his 1942 swansong, The New Leviathan, dying British philosopher-historian R.G. Collingwood (1889-1943) called the life of the mind "a magic journey."

Remarkably free of illusions regarding the life of the university, however, Collingwood argued for "domesticating" professors, rather than being subject to them.

And things have only gotten worse since then. Whether "public" or "private," today's university might more aptly be termed an "antiversity," where reason, science, evidence and debate are held in Thrasymachean contempt, while repression, privilege, pseudoscience and violence are lionized. Public and private schools alike are dominated by massive government subsidy and coercion. Focusing on New York, the story of the ascent and decline of local higher education, particularly the public City University of New York ("CUNY"), is inseparable from the story of the ascent and decline of New York's Jews.

With the departure last September of CUNY's embattled chancellor, W. Anne Reynolds, some observers thought this once great institution might yet be reformed from within. The 20,000 full-time employees who "live large" at the taxpayers' expense in CUNY's two billion-dollar-a-year patronage mill have had a generation to consolidate the culture of failure established in 1970 with the policy of "open admissions." A bread-and-circuses response to fears of black race riots, open admissions guaranteed acceptance at CUNY to every graduate of New York City's public schools.

CUNY's Asphalt League of urban, public higher education will be reformed from without, or not at all. I say that, based on the example of "bilingual" Hostos Community College and its renegade president, Dr. Issaura Santiago Santiago; an official rate, according to which over 75 percent of CUNY's 204,000-212,000 undergraduates receive remediation in English and/or math; additional thousands of "college-level" courses requiring no English fluency, plus hundreds of classes that are given entirely in Spanish; activist professors who seek to abolish grading; alumni with the lowest passing rates on New York State teacher certification exams (yet who comprise over 80 percent of the city's public school teachers, and who continue teaching, despite failing the exam) and law boards in the state; student and staff goons who routinely intimidate faculty, students and administrators; the exploitation and abuse of the adjunct "gypsies" who comprise 58.3 percent of CUNY's faculty; administrators' and professors' assumption of the racial inferiority of the black and Hispanic students who comprise 80 percent of CUNY's student body; and CUNY leaders' vehement opposition to even 20 hours a week of workfare activity for students on welfare. All of the above problems derive from open admissions, and its underlying welfare mentality.

In 1993 in New Jersey, confronted with a tearful, angry white woman who had just flunked a remedial reading final for the second consecutive semester, I realized why such courses are a waste of time and taxpayers' money. Aside from their childish level, they assume that reading is some sort of specialized skill, like say welding, as opposed to being a way of life. Meanwhile, reading courses are geared towards "students" who are indifferent or hostile towards the written word. The most prolific reading textbook writer, John Langan, and the department heads who assign Langan's books, refuse to admit that you cannot even teach welding to people who are anti-welding. CUNY's defenders insist that people who despise the intellect have a "right" to a higher education.

Any slender hopes I still held out for internal reform were dashed, upon encountering neoconservative "reformers" within CUNY's ranks. Just as multiculturalists think that quoting Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire makes them revolutionaries, neoconservatives think that dropping Allan Bloom's name will make them classicists. At an almost empty meeting of the predominantly neoconservative National Association of Scholars, CUNY Vice-Chancellor and CCNY alumnus Herman Badillo's request that reform-minded instructors research their schools' practices inspired only the complaint from a tenured, Brooklyn College professor that the demands of teaching four courses per semester and sitting on the odd committee were giving full-timers "heart conditions." These slackers have lifetime jobs, paying $60,000-110,000 per year, plus ample benefit and pension packages, for perhaps a forty-hour week -- with five months' vacation time!

The professor responded to Badillo, "We have to work here," explaining that some students might not appreciate being criticized by their instructors. CUNY's full-time professoriate is comprised of genteel, OPU (overpriced, private university) educated "aristocrats" of all colors who look upon their students alternately with terror and condescending fascination. Full-timers pander shamelessly to and pass student bullies, sometimes siccing them on colleagues. And yet, seeing their students as genetically inferior punks is essential to maintaining full-timers' fragile self-esteem.

CUNY adjuncts are paid an average of $2,300 per course on a piecework basis (still twice as much as what many New York-based adjuncts make at New Jersey schools), receive no benefits, and must hustle every semester anew for work. (CUNY once commonly hired its own alumni as full-time faculty, but now almost never does.) As elsewhere, ruthless department heads routinely make empty promises of work to some adjuncts, while other adjuncts quit just as a new semester begins, or walk out on ongoing classes. Recently, a full-timer at Bronx Community College quit two weeks before midterms. A late-arriving, 240-pound man who refused to identify himself sought to take over his replacement's first class. The black interloper lectured the white professor, "You got an attitude!" The following morning, a student sobbed to the department's secretary that she had flunked the same course, a graduation requirement, under two separate professors the previous semester. Sure that the new man would turn tail and run (he didn't), she feared she would never graduate. The professor's black female department head then sought to humiliate him in front of his students. Security guards and custodians reported recurring, violent incidents in that department's classes.

Thanks to the nationwide policy of "mismatching" chronicled by Thomas Sowell in Inside American Education, CUNY is at the bottom of a pyramid of black failure. For over thirty years, admissions officials have systematically "mismatched" black applicants, admitting them to schools for which they were unqualified, thus setting them up for failure. As a result, black graduation rates remain at 29 percent, half the white rate, and even mediocre, American-born black students avoid CUNY like the plague. They know that more prestigious schools are sure to admit and generously subsidize them. Their presence, however brief, boosts minority enrollment figures and thus "elite" school officials' self-esteem, while contributing to black student bitterness, and white students,' instructors,' and administrators' privately acknowledged belief in black inferiority.

Prior to 1970, City College of New York (CCNY), the Harlem-based "jewel in CUNY's crown," had tougher standards than Harvard College, and produced more Nobel laureates than any other American undergraduate college. Early in this century, desperately poor Jewish boys pursued profane learning with a religious fervor at CCNY. At the same time, as James Traub reported in City on a Hill: Testing the American Dream at City College, CCNY's neurotic, argumentative Jews utterly lacked the social skills so prized by the Ivy League. They combined intellectual brilliance with a working-class toughness since buried under layers of arriviste (think: Woody Allen) and multicultural revisionism. The same slums that spawned CCNY's first Jews also produced many of the era's dominant boxers (e.g., Al McCoy, Abe "Battling" Levinsky, Benny Leonard) and most vicious gangsters ("Dutch" Schultz, Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, Abe "Kid Twist" Reles). Historian Howard M. Sachar, in A History of the Jews in America, and Daily News columnist Sidney Zion have done yeoman work in recovering this history.

Initially, two merit-blind patronage systems blocked the path of the Eastern European Jews: the Ivy League/Seven Sisters world run by WASP "bluebloods," and New York's shanty Irish Catholic system, run through Tammany Hall's Democratic machine. As Chris McNickle chronicled in To be Mayor of New York, in making hiring and promotions for city jobs incumbent upon passing objective tests, the 1916 Civil Service Law broke the Irish monopoly. CCNY was the path to those merit-tested jobs. And the anti-Semitic admissions and hiring quotas instituted as a defense against the Jews' intellectual superiority during the 1920s at the nation's predominantly Protestant, private colleges ensured that over 90 percent of CCNY's and Hunter College's students were Jews, and caused New York to have the nation's best-educated corps of public school teachers.

As Roger Starr observed in The Rise and Fall of New York City, a series of activist mayors, most notably Robert Wagner, Jr. (1954-1966), squandered the postwar economic boom on massive social programs, and then mollified the middle class by creating entitlements and administrative jobs to inflate its already rising standard of living. New York's Irish and Jews profited most from those emoluments. Moving to the suburbs, they sent their children to overpriced, private universities; the Irish kids to Catholic schools, and the Jews to the Ivy League, which had dropped its anti-Semitic quotas. During the inevitable fiscal crisis in 1974-75, the state put the city in the receivership of the Municipal Assistance Corporation, and CUNY began charging tuition.

Prior to World War II, there was no "CUNY." City and Brooklyn colleges served men, while women attended Hunter College. After the war, returning soldiers received hard-earned educational benefits under the G.I. Bill. But the typical veteran was no rocket scientist. New colleges accommodated him. Riding the national wave of public-college boondoggles, and buoyed by the cult of professionalism, and later by the technocratic "multiversity" (led by sociologist and UC Berkeley president Clark Kerr) and civil rights movements, the city instituted Lehman, Queens, Baruch and John Jay colleges, the College of Staten Island, and the black colleges, York and Medgar Evers. (À la the Social Gospel's secular church, the civil rights/New Left vision foresaw the university as serving a myriad of non-cognitive functions, and ultimately revolutionizing, liberating, and saving society.) Medgar Evers proved so horrendous that it managed to lose its four-year accreditation, and now exists as a two-year school, much to the chagrin of its conspiracy-obsessed, Afrocentric keepers.

The 1950s and 1960s also saw the rise of the community college: NYC Technical College, and Borough of Manhattan, Bronx, LaGuardia, Kingsborough, Queensborough and Hostos community colleges. As a matter of economic survival, community colleges introduced the practice of "open admissions." Each new, second-rate school further eroded the dominance of CCNY and Hunter College. The burgeoning empire was consolidated in 1963 as the centrally administered "City University of New York."

Perhaps the crucial 1960s' ally of open admissions was white labor union leader Harry Van Arsdale. As James Traub has noted, initially the illiterate children of Van Arsdale's Catholic rank-and-file flooded into CCNY during the 1970s, and later filled city agency and teaching jobs.

With close to 60 percent of U.S. residents now attending college, Jews are disproportionately represented in the snobby student bodies and faculties of schools such as NYU, Columbia, and Princeton. If nothing else, today's WASP-imitating, OPU Jews possess the "social skills" their forebears lacked. Some 30 percent of OPU student rolls are composed of second-raters for whom admissions standards were waived: alumni and faculty brats, affirmative action cases, and athletes. Cheating is big business, and has been refined to a science. As a result of the growing irrelevance of intellect in academia, I often encounter OPU-trained, tenured instructors of German literature who can't speak German, and "specialists" in German philosophy who can't even read the language.

In 1994, over 80 percent of Princeton's graduating class received honors. Last October, CUNY Vice-Chancellor Herman Badillo's reaction to the revelation that 50 percent of Brooklyn College's graduating class had received honors was, "They can't all be geniuses!" Like CUNY's OPU-trained full-timers, Badillo had no such qualms about Princeton.

In 1996, I trained as a "rater" on the CUNY Academic Certification Examination (ACE), a future graduation requirement. In the ACE's quantitative section, pie charts showed that fat content in the American diet had risen from an average of 12 percent in 1910 to an average of 42 percent by 1960. Many students responded that the percentage of fat had risen "30 percent." The half-dozen OPU-trained faculty I queried all thought the preceding answer was correct.

Many observers have failed to differentiate between the leveling socialism of a Bill Clinton, whose plan to guarantee that every American spends at least two years confined to an institution of higher education presupposes the open admissions model, and the pre-open admissions CCNY, whose socialism was limited to being tuition-free. CCNY's socialism was undercut by a radical meritocracy that severely limited access, provided no financial aid, had no remedial and disability-ed specialists, and no affirmative action, student social services, and feminist and racial spoils bureaucracies. CUNY's four-year colleges now charge $3,200 tuition per year, yet tens of thousands of their students net $3,000-4,000 in financial aid, under criteria that penalize work.

In the 1970s, the civil rights vision that rationalized "open admissions" was joined with the New Left's "race model" in the powerful hybrid of affirmative action. In making higher education universally "accessible," and its function all-embracing, these movements robbed it of cognitive content, undermining its foundational beliefs in objective knowledge and morality. Meanwhile, the rise of the analytic delusion portraying philosophy as a neutral "science," and the concomitant eviction of biblical and New Testament-based philosophies from mainstream academia left philosophers impotent against the New Left's reduction of all knowledge to the power to oppress, and the nihilistic "irony" of postmodernism, which while also worshiping power, explicitly denies the possibility of objective knowledge or morality. The university was left founded on the bases of privilege, bread and circuses, and naked violence.

Responding to the campus takeover of CCNY that spring by students and "community activists," in 1968 CCNY alumnus and sociology professor Daniel Bell noted the proven ineffectiveness of collegiate remedialism, and presciently predicted the ascendance of the university to the dominant institution in American life. Both states of affairs must be rolled back, and then some. At CUNY, all remedial, English as a second language, and ethnic and gay academic ghettoes must be demolished, non-academic "services" radically curtailed, tenure eliminated, the status of adjuncts improved, and enrollment reduced by 50 to 75 percent.

More recently, socialist historian Russell Jacoby has complained, in Dogmatic Wisdom, of the increasing "vocationalism" of campuses dominated by business majors. The well-intentioned, articulate Jacoby notwithstanding, when "higher education" is not merely an OPU-graduate jobs program, it provides economically inefficient job training. A love for the liberal arts won't be sparked through the "correct" sort of propaganda in mandatory multicultural or neoconservative core courses taught by OPU-trained ignoramuses, but rather through diminishing the role of institutionalized, mass higher education, and its primary and secondary-school counterparts. To paraphrase philosopher Erwin Edmonds' 1940s musings, we have a better chance of inspiring a rebirth of interest in the humanities by banning their teaching outright, than by enforcing it.

In exhorting parents to educate their children at home, as his father had educated him, R.G. Collingwood anticipated the homeschooling movement. Like the love of the liberal (i.e., free) life, the love of the liberal arts will never thrive at the public trough. For such love is nourished at one's mother's breast, or not at all.•

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