Sunday, April 13, 2008

Deafening Silence: Grade Inflation in Higher Ed, Part VIII

By Nicholas Stix
July 21, 2001
Toogood Reports

“What do you call a black man with a Ph.D.?” Malcolm X famously asked, forty years ago. He answered, “A nigger!” What was once true of an educated black man, is today true in academia of an educated white man with the outcast status of adjunct professor. For in academia, caste rules.

Following the publication in the spring, 1998 issue of Academic Questions (AQ) of my exposé on grade inflation, there was no response. It was odd that silence should reign regarding a major scholarly study of a topic supposedly near to the hearts of conservative academics. The closest I got to a response was a letter that appeared in AQ fifteen months later:

“The excellent article of Terence J. Pell (Fall 1998) led me to the following reflections.

“It is widely agreed that one ill effect of preferential admissions is the high dropout rates of the supposed beneficiaries. At the same time, little is said about the phenomenon of ‘affirmative’ or preferential grading without which drop-out rates would probably be substantially higher.

“Preferential grading doesn’t stop with admissions; it continues with special tutoring, special academic programs ... and -- more difficult to document -- preferential or ‘race sensitive’ grading.

“That such grading exists can hardly be doubted from personal experience and anecdotal evidence, but establishing its exact dimensions is another matter -- as difficult as it used to be to prove the old-style racist discrimination....

“While the high drop-out rate of black students is indeed a serious problem, a form of ‘social promotion’ (by now widely institutionalized in high schools) may also exist in colleges and universities that allows many unqualified students to graduate and possess dubious credentials. It is a phenomenon that also deserves some serious thought and research.”


The letter, which was chock-full of references (“affirmative” grading, collegiate “social promotion”) to my AQ article, was from Paul Hollander, a tenured sociology instructor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Hollander’s letter is a textbook example of academic dishonesty. The article by Terence Pell, a high-powered attorney, didn’t lead Hollander to any “reflections”; Hollander STOLE them all from my article, which had explicitly addressed all of the issues he mentioned. Pell’s article, while very good, addressed none of those issues.

In case you’re wondering, ‘Maybe Hollander never read Stix’ article’?, as a member of AQ’s Editorial Advisory Board, Hollander had had to read, confer on, and “green light” my article, BEFORE it could be published. Had Hollander had any concerns about my scholarship, he could have “killed” my article, or demanded I rewrite parts of it. Neither he nor his colleagues so much as made a peep (AQ editor Sandy Pinsker was likewise silent), and remarkably, only one brief paragraph, on the dumbing down of college professors (which I worked into Part V of this series), was excised from the long draft I submitted. Hollander’s board colleagues were former Brandeis president Morris Abram; historian Gertrude Himmelfarb; sociologist Irving Louis Horowitz; “godfather of neo-conservatism” (and Himmelfarb’s husband), Irving Kristol; Leo Raditsa of St. John’s College, Annapolis; Smith College’s Stanley Rothman; and Harvard polymath, Edward O. Wilson.

Consider, that Academic Questions is probably academia’s most respected, conservative journal; my 5,500-word article was the longest of seven published in that issue; no one ever discredited my research; and one year after my article appeared, the National Association of Scholars (NAS, whose organ AQ is) engaged me as an all-expenses-paid, featured speaker for its conference on remedial education at Assumption College, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

What was the editor of a respected journal doing, publishing such an obviously dishonest letter? Note that Paul Hollander considers himself a soldier in the battle for academic integrity. A fifth columnist, is more like it.

Hollander apparently meant his little performance as an effete snob insult, in effect telling me, “You are invisible, and so is your scholarship.” (In What’s College For? The Struggle to Define American Higher Education, Harvard history instructor Zachary Karabell remarks on the contempt that tenured, university instructors feel for the views of adjunct and community college professors—see Part VII). I didn’t respond at the time, because I had just read my paper at the NAS’ remediation conference, which NAS third-in-command, Gary Crosby Brasor, had promised in writing to publish in AQ.

But the NAS welshed. It did, however, publish a conference paper by Charles “Jim” Landesman, a CUNY philosophy instructor and co-founder of the CUNY Association of Scholars. A competent teacher and scholar in philosophy (he was an old instructor of mine), Landesman had never taught a remedial course, or done any research on the subject. But he was tenured.

In an essay distributed to members last winter, NAS President Steve Balch wrote that only tenured instructors—who are a minority of faculty nationwide—have a right to academic freedom. Can’t you just see the stampede of adjunct professors to research academic corruption, in the service of “reform” groups like the NAS? (As I know of a number of upstanding academics through it, and the organization has sponsored some excellent research, my feelings about the NAS are mixed.)

Much like a knuckle-scraping white supremacist’s attitude toward a black scholar under Jim Crow, today’s typical tenured faculty member—left or right—feels that his opinions on topics of which he is ignorant carry more weight than the seasoned judgments of an adjunct professor who has devoted years of study to the same topic.
If it sounds like I’m talking moral equivalence ... I am! But I am no relativist. Rather, objective moral standards have led me to conclude that in academia, as in politics, we are dealing with what left-libertarian New York Post columnist, Sidney Zion, calls “the two parties against the people.” The “conservative” instructors leading calls for reform seek to oust the “progressives,” in order to seize control of academia’s patronage machine.

In my series, “The Horowitz Maneuver,” I asked how an outsider like David Horowitz could accomplish so much, when academic insiders had for thirty-odd years accomplished so little. For the answer, multiply Paul Hollander and Sandy Pinsker times fifty thousand.

Thousands of professors are capable of documenting, as I have, the reality of collegiate grade inflation. However, they are almost all adjunct professors and/or community college faculty, i.e., the people who do the work in academia. Were they to undertake the additional labor of researching forms of academic corruption, not only would they be fired and professionally whitelisted by racial socialists, but to add insult to injury, the Sandy Pinskers and Paul Hollanders of the world would ignore their scholarship, while celebrating the unscholarly pronouncements of tenured, university instructors.

I wouldn’t hold my breath, waiting for tenured academics to reform themselves. However, such reform may not even be necessary. One does not attend college, at a cost of as much as $30,000 [2008: that figure is now over $40,000] per year, in order to get an education. An education may be had for free, through the public library, through various web sites (e.g., the Gutenberg Project), which provide free downloads of the Great Books, and through a full scholarship to the School of Hard Knocks. One attends college, rather—whether at the University of California-Berkeley, Harvard, or lowly, Chicago State University—for the same reason one’s instructors did: To gain a credential, in order to get the best possible job.

Students cannot afford to waste the best years of their lives, and a small fortune, on professorial posturing and platitudes. And so, a billion-dollar industry has arisen, which provides information on which undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools set the highest admissions standards for Asians and whites, and which prepares applicants to master the tests (SAT I, GRE, MCAT, etc.) that are the keys to gaining admission to those schools. Such admissions tools are the closest thing we have to an objective measure of academia, in the only currency academics understand: Dollars and cents.

Reality has a way of weighing in, ultimately, with its own grades.

This was the last installment of the series, “Grade Inflation in Higher Ed.”

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