I had a great visit to Yale yesterday, although I do have one pointer for aspiring lecturers: try not to give your talk at the exact same time as a much-publicized lecture by New York Times columnist David Brooks. Nonetheless, thanks to all those people who came to the Branford College master’s tea and to the Yale Bookstore for some terrific conversation. And much appreciation to Branford master Steven Smith and writing tutor Fred Strebeigh for setting up the event. It’s always nice to make a return visit to Yale, and New Haven certainly looks much spiffier than when I was a student….
Archive for March, 2005
A group of students at Columbia is circulating a petition calling for the resignation of Lee Bollinger because his speech the other day was, apparently, an insufficiently strong defense of free speech for them.
I’m off to Yale to speak, but more later…
âand why wouldn’t you be?âI’ll be speaking at the Yale Bookstore at 6:30 PM tonight…and would love to see you there.
Shocking news: Larry Summers is becoming a transvestite. You read it here first. Or maybe second.
Three political scientists have surveyed 1, 800 university professors and concluded thatâyesâacademics really are more liberal than the general population.
According to the Washington Post‘s Howie Kurtz, “
By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative.”
There are some hints that this study should be taken with a grain of salt: the data is six years old, the study was funded by a conservative group called the Randolph Foundation, and the political characterizations are self-descriptions by the academics surveyed.
I’m sure that this report will have conservatives such as David Horowitz, author of the Academic Bill of Rights, hollering that campuses need affirmative action for conservative professors.
But should anyone really be surprised by these numbers? To the extent that being liberal in today’s United States means being open-minded, non-moralistic, and non-judgmental, then of course you’re going to find that academics tend to be liberal.
The real problem for conservatives is the deep strain of anti-intellectualism inherent in much of modern conservativism. (See, for example, the conservative fight against the teaching of evolution.) How, for example, could you go into science when you don’t believe in the scientific method? How could you become, say, an anthropologist when you’re more interested in judging other people’s behavior than understanding it?
It’s also possible that this story misses the larger point: that while university faculties may be liberal, universities themselves are notâand at universities across the country, faculties have a smaller and smaller role in governance and decision-making. The number-crunchers rule. And guess what? They’re conservative.
Thanks so much to the good people at Hue-Man bookstore in Harlem for hosting the event with Cornel West and me last nightâand thanks to everyone who braved an absolutely miserable night of cold and pelting rain to come hear us. Sometimes book-writing can seem like a good way to play a cruel joke on oneself. In Boston, my reading at the Old South Meeting House took place on the coldest March 9th in the city’s recorded history. Last night, the reading began after it had been pouring rain for around 17 consecutive hours, until New York looked like something out of Blade Runner.
But then you get a warm and welcoming group of people in a fantastic and important bookstore like Hue-Man, and people who ask smart and thoughtful questions, and welcome you into their community, and writing books for a living suddenly seems like not such a crazy idea after all.
If you weren’t able to make it, C-SPAN recorded the event for posterity, or at least for “Book Notes.” I’ll keep you posted on the airtime as soon as they tell me….
According to an internal Harvard memo reported by Marcella Bombardieri of the Boston Globe, Harvard students have such low levels of satisfaction with their college experience, Harvard ranks 27th out of a group of 31 elite universities, including the entire Ivy League.
Key quote: <<''Harvard students are less satisfied with their undergraduate educations than the students at almost all of the other COFHE schools," according to the memo, dated Oct. 2004 and marked ''confidential." ''Harvard student satisfaction compares even less favorably to satisfaction at our closest peer institutions.">>
That’s basically a fancy way of saying that Harvard students don’t like their university.
Orâforgive me while I toot my own hornâas I write in Harvard Rules, “A startling number of Harvard students will tell you that they don’t like their school. They appreciate it. They respect it. They are thankful for the opportunities it provides them. But they don’t like Harvard.”
The question is why. I think it has something to do with the established culture of the institution: hurried, competitive, over-achieving, and individualistic. This is not a warm and nurturing place. It’s not a fun place.
But it’s not just the institution’s fault. So many kids at Harvard have worked since kindergarten to get into the university, you’d sometimes think that they wouldn’t know fun if it hit them on the head. They’ve put the university on such a pedestal, they don’t realize that once you’re there, it’s all right sometimes just to play. College may be the last time in life when you can have fun without guilt…but at Harvard, some kids feel guilty whenever they’re not doing the same things that helped them get in in the first place: over-achieving like mad.
Cartoonist Sage Stossel has this entertaining take on a women in science panel discussion held at the Radcliffe Institute on March 21st…
Perhaps the most interesting part: Nancy Hopkins, the MIT biologist who walked out of Summers’ NBER talk, got a standing ovation. She said that she regretted having walked out, though. Who could blame her? She’s been pilloried as a hysterical woman for having done so…and called a feminist by Harvey Mansfield. Perhaps sometimes it takes an overreaction to draw attention to something that merits greater scrutiny.
My theory: “It is seen as a way station to the American dream in the same way that Ellis Island is,” Bradley says. “The idea that any kid can grow up in the United States and go to Harvard and become successful is as ingrained in the American imagination as the idea that any kid can grow up to be president.”
Despite a few snarky lines, this review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review is smart and thoughtful.
A few people have mentioned that the piece is sort of an odd hybrid of book review and essay. That’s something new to the Times Book Review under new editor Sam Tanenhaus, and I have to say that I like it. The NYTSBR used to be dry as dust; Tanenhaus is livening it up immensely.