Tu­ition pays for this

The Covington News - - OPINION - WAL­TER E. WIL­LIAMS COLUM­NIST Wal­ter E. Wil­liams is a pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity. To find out more about Wal­ter E. Wil­liams and read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit the Cre­ators Syn­di­cate Web pag

Ac­cord­ing to Col­lege Board, av­er­age tu­ition and fees for the 2013-14 school year to­taled $30,094 at pri­vate col­leges, $8,893 for in-state res­i­dents at public col­leges and $22,203 for out-of-state res­i­dents. Many schools, such as Columbia Univer­sity and Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, charge yearly tu­ition and fees close to $50,000. Faced with the in­creas­ing costs of higher ed­u­ca­tion, par­ents and tax­pay­ers might like to know what they’re get­ting for their money.

Cam­pus Re­form doc­u­ments out­ra­geous be­hav­ior at some col­leges. Mark Lan­dis, a for­mer ac­count­ing pro­fes­sor at San Fran­cisco State Univer­sity, fre­quently en­ter­tained stu­dents at his home. He now faces 15 charges of in­va­sion of pri­vacy. Po­lice say he was dis­cov­ered with dozens of graphic videos he had made of stu­dents us­ing his bath­room.

Mireille Miller-Young — pro­fes­sor of fem­i­nist stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Santa Bar­bara — re­cently pleaded no con­test to charges of theft of ban­ners and as­sault on a pro-life pro­tester last March.

Ev­ery so of­ten, col­leges get it right, as the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Ur­bana-Cham­paign did when it with­drew its teach­ing of­fer to Steven G. Salaita. He had used his Twit­ter ac­count to tell fol­low­ers they are aw­ful hu­man be­ings if they sup­port Is­rael, say­ing he sup­ports the com­plete de­struc­tion of Is­rael, as well as call­ing for the de­col­o­niza­tion of North Amer­ica.

Then there are some strange col­lege cour­ses. At Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, there’s a course called Phi­los­o­phy and Star Trek, where pro­fes­sor Linda Wet­zel ex­plores ques­tions such as “Can per­sons sur­vive death?” and “Is time travel pos­si­ble? Could we go back and kill our grand­moth­ers?”

At Columbia Col­lege Chicago, there’s a class called Zom­bies in Pop­u­lar Me­dia. The course de­scrip­tion reads, “Daily as­sign­ments fo­cus on re­flec­tion and com­men­tary, while fi­nal pro­jects fos­ter thought­ful con­nec­tions between stu­dent dis­ci­plines and the fig­ure of the zom­bie.”

West Coast col­leges refuse to be left be­hind the times. Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Irvine physics pro­fes­sor Michael Den­nin teaches The Sci­ence of Su­per­heroes, in which he ex­plores ques­tions such as “Have you ever won- dered if Su­per­man could re­ally bend steel bars?” and “Would a ‘gamma ray’ accident turn you into the Hulk?” and “What is a ‘spidey-sense’?”

The av­er­age per­son would think that the ma­jor task of col­leges is to ed­u­cate and ad­vance hu­man knowl­edge. The best way to do that is to have com­pe­ti­tion in the mar­ket­place of ideas. But Michael Yaki, head of the U.S. Com­mis­sion on Civil Rights, dis­agrees. Dur­ing a July 5 briefing on sex­ual ha­rass­ment law in ed­u­ca­tion, Yaki ex­plained that col­lege free speech re­stric­tions are nec­es­sary be­cause ado­les­cent and young adult brains process in­for­ma­tion dif­fer­ently than adult brains.

For­tu­nately, the Foun­da­tion for In­di­vid­ual Rights in Ed­u­ca­tion has waged a suc­cess­ful campaign against col­lege re­stric­tions on free speech. Some of its past vic­to­ries in­clude elim­i­nat­ing re­stric­tions such as Bow­doin Col­lege’s ban on jokes and sto­ries “ex­pe­ri­enced by oth­ers as ha­rass­ing”; Brown Univer­sity’s ban on “ver­bal be­hav­ior” that pro­duced “feel­ings of im­po­tence, anger or dis­en­fran­chise­ment,” whether “un­in­ten­tional or in­ten­tional”; the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut’s ab­surd ban of “in­ap­pro­pri­ately di­rected laugh­ter”; and Colby Col­lege’s ban on any speech that could lead to a loss of self-es­teem. Some col­leges sought to pro­tect fe­male stu- dents. Bryn Mawr Col­lege banned “sug­ges­tive looks,” and “un­wel­come flir­ta­tions” were not al­lowed at Haver­ford Col­lege.

Greg Lukianoff, pres­i­dent of FIRE and au­thor of “Un­learn­ing Liberty,” ar­gues that cam­pus cen­sor­ship is con­tribut­ing to an at­mos­phere of sti­fled dis­course. In 2010, an As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­i­can Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties study found that only 17 per­cent of pro­fes­sors strongly agreed with the state­ment that it is “safe to hold un­pop­u­lar po­si­tions on cam­pus.” Only 30 per­cent of col­lege se­niors strongly agreed with that state­ment. The First Amend­ment Cen­ter’s an­nual sur­vey found that a star­tling 47 per­cent of young peo­ple be­lieve that the First Amend­ment “goes too far.”

The bot­tom line is that many col­leges have lost sight of their ba­sic ed­u­ca­tional mis­sion of teach­ing young peo­ple crit­i­cal think­ing skills, and they’re fail­ing at that mis­sion at higher and higher costs to par­ents and tax­pay­ers.

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