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Pro-Hamas Rallies Highlight Depressing Reality of American Academia

Posted on Thursday, December 14, 2023
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by David Lewis Schaefer
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AMAC Exclusive – By David Lewis Schaefer

American education reflected with pride in flag, academic books, and graduation cap

The recent spate of pro-Hamas rallies and anti-Semitic outbursts on college campuses is but the latest shocking example of the culture of ignorance and moral decay which now dominates American academia.

A recent survey from Berkeley political scientist Ron Hassner, outlined in a Wall Street Journal column entitled “From Which River to Which Sea?” last week, is instructive on just how little radicalized college students know about the cause for which they are demonstrating. According to Hassner’s findings, just 47 percent of respondents could even identify the bodies of water that the “river to the sea” chant – a slogan meaning that the state of Israel and its people must be obliterated – referred to.

Some hopelessly wrong answers included the Caribbean, the Atlantic, and the Nile River. Fewer than a quarter of those Hassner surveyed knew who PLO founder Yasser Arafat was, with more than 10 percent thinking he was the first prime minister of Israel.

Perhaps most tellingly, after being shown a map illustrating how a Palestinian state from the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea would require the entire elimination of Israel, almost one-third of respondents changed their minds about favoring it.

But Hassner’s report is only one of several recent illustrations of the intellectual decline that continues to accelerate in American academia. As The New York Times recently reported, 80 percent of all grades given to students at Yale during the 2022-23 academic year were either A’s or A-minuses, continuing a sharp increase (according to the story) that began during the COVID-19 pandemic and appears to have stuck.

As the Times reports, the trend of grade inflation is “not unique to Yale,” with a similar figure reached at its traditional rival Harvard. More generally, as Stuart Rojstaczer, a retired Duke professor who tracks the subject, relayed, grade point averages at colleges around the country have been rising by an average of 0.1 points per decade since the early 1980s, thus cheapening the overall value of each “A” handed out.

I can report from my own personal observation that this trend likely began even earlier; namely, in the late 1960’s when college instructors, as Harvard government professor Harvey Mansfield once pointed out, felt obliged to raise their students’ grades to save them from flunking out and becoming subject to the draft.

Most interesting were the reactions of professors, administrators, and students to the report on Yale’s grade inflation. Yale philosophy professor Shelley Kagan, “known for being a tough grader,” straightforwardly observed, “When we act as though virtually everything that gets turned in is some kind of A where A is supposedly meaning ‘excellent work’ – we are simply being dishonest with our students.”

But as Professor Rojstaczer explained, apropos of the fact that grade averages tend to be higher at private than at public colleges, instructors at “elite” colleges are trying thereby to give their students “a competitive edge” in the world – not necessarily by teaching them more effectively than faculty at public schools, it would appear, but simply by making it seem that their graduates had received a superior education and emerged more intelligent because of it, hence justifying the enormous tuitions they paid.

Administrators’ reactions to the report were more mixed. Pericles Lewis, undergraduate dean at Yale, dismissed the problem, worrying that students “could be overly concerned about their GPAs,” and maintaining that not many people care “10 years out, what kind of grades you got at Yale,” but “mostly care that you, you know, studied at Yale.”

But as the Times reporter observes, not only students, but those who determine admission to graduate programs, “do care about undergraduate grades.” In turn, Harvard’s dean of undergraduate education worries that grade inflation could “hurt students’ mental health” by compelling them to engage strenuously in extracurricular activities, rather than pursuing them for enjoyment, just as a way of “distinguish[ing] themselves outside the classroom because they are essentially indistinguishable inside” it.

The vice president of Yale’s student body urged “caution” in any attempt to imitate the move that Princeton once adopted of limiting the number of A’s that could be rewarded, since Yale students “work very hard and are, oftentimes, very deserving of their grades.” But other students worried more explicitly about Yale’s grade inflation “becoming public knowledge,” fearing that “it could cheapen their degrees – or obscure their hard work to skeptical employers.”

On the basis of my own 63-year career as both student and instructor in Ivy League institutions, distinguished private liberal arts colleges, and a public university, along with familial connections in Ivy and public institutions, I seriously doubt that Harvard and Yale students necessarily work harder than their peers at less renowned (or expensive) schools.

What is really going on, as the student last quoted implies, is a kind of con game, with professors refusing to give most students lower than top grades, whether out of sympathy for their hard work (no harder, I can assure readers, than what students typically endured 60 years ago) or out of the knowledge that a key to academic advancement – tenure, promotion, salary increases – is popularity as measured by student course evaluations, which studies have repeatedly shown correlates highly with the allocation of high grades. This simply makes it harder for graduate schools and employers to assess a student’s real qualifications.

But speaking of Princeton, a column in the Daily Princetonian earlier this year by an undergraduate “prospectively” majoring in physics while also pursuing a certificate in “gender and sexuality studies” called for the abolition of its celebrated, longstanding honor code, first established in 1893, which dictates that exams be unproctored but obliges students to report any instances they observe of academic dishonesty (plagiarism, sneaking notes or, nowadays, a cell phone into an exam room, etc.). Students found guilty of violating the code are typically punished by such sanctions as reprimands placed on their records, or in more serious cases, academic suspensions.

But this system, we are told, while nominally fair to all, in fact, “unfairly targets and disproportionately oppresses” “first-generation low-income [FLI] students,” who “also often belong to racial minorities,” just as America’s criminal-justice system disproportionately punishes minority members. This is so because while the “severe punishments … meted out to students” found guilty of Honor Code violations … negatively affect all students,” they “are especially harmful to FLI students,” who are ineligible for financial aid during a semester in which they are suspended from classes. And besides, “a lack of community support in these situations also puts FLI students at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier peers, whose communities often include people who are college-educated and have been exposed to academic integrity systems similar to Princeton’s Honor Code, and may understand the process better.”

It should go without saying that violations of academic integrity at most colleges that lack Princeton’s honor code would be subject to similar punishments when they are discovered – ranging from a failing course grade to a suspension in more egregious cases, or even expulsion in the case of repeated offenses.

I’ve never actually heard of a student claiming immunity from these sanctions on the grounds of race, poverty, or being a first-generation college student – though doubtless there must be such instances. But once such claims are accepted, what student cannot find an excuse to avoid punishment for dishonesty – feeling sick, girlfriend or boyfriend problems, being on an athletic team, and so on?

Having served on committees dealing with plagiarism cases, I have witnessed some doozies – such as an obviously well-off student whose instructor had generously allowed him to rewrite a partly plagiarized paper, only for him to make few changes and defend his conduct by explaining that he had been about to leave on a week-long trip to Paris with his parents and would be darned if he’d interrupt the trip by working on fixing his paper. In such cases, I fear much less for the intellectual weakness of the student in question than for the effect of his apparent moral deficiencies; is this a future Bernie Madoff or Sam Bankman-Fried in the making? Maybe a bit of academic punishment might do him some good.

The reader will by now have noticed some parallels between the dishonest character of grade inflation and the effort to excuse students from punishment for violations of academic integrity and now abhorrent demonstrations in support of violence against Israel.

A final illustration of a related problem that connects with the Berkeley survey: the College Board has just announced the final iteration of its new Advanced Placement exam in African-American Studies. According to the New York Times, it covers “many topics that are typically absent in the American high school curriculum,” including not only “the achievements of ancient African civilizations” and “black women’s resistance to sexual violence under slavery” but also the supposed heroism of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who gained celebrity by kneeling during the national anthem “to protest police killings of Black Americans,” along with the doctrines of “systematic oppression” and “systematic marginalization,” alluding to the supposed fact that racism is embedded in America’s educational, legal, and other systems.

Is the College Board really doing black students, or their peers, a favor by steering them away from more conventional courses in U.S., European, or world history in favor of a curriculum so heavily doused with ideology? Or is it simply preparing them to join the ranks of those thoroughly uneducated college youth demonstrating on behalf of causes like Hamas when they literally don’t know what they are talking about?

This is, I maintain, the most thoroughly harmful sort of academic dishonesty. It is the very opposite of the Socratic dictum that wisdom consists of awareness of one’s ignorance (and hence of one’s need to pursue knowledge), replacing it with the confidence that students are already “A” pupils, so there is nothing more for them to learn.

David Lewis Schaefer is  Professor Emeritus of Political Science at College of the Holy Cross.

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A Voter
A Voter
7 months ago

If you want to stop the liberal infiltration of all levels of education, from K thru the universities, you have to eliminate the department of education and all government funding in any forms including loans and grants. When uncle sam is footing the bill, uncle sam dictates what is to be taught and the education systems are teaching to the money.

Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
7 months ago

Surprised they haven’t replaced the torn down statues of Washington and Jefferson with ones of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Hitler yet… defund elite universities!

Stephen Russell
Stephen Russell
7 months ago

Whole academic system is Corrupt day 1 Bust it up

John Riley
John Riley
7 months ago

What these idiots do not realize is that if Hamas had it’s way, they would be the first to be eliminated.

PapaYEC
PapaYEC
7 months ago

Expatriate and deport every single one of them to an Islamic hellhole.

sdg
sdg
7 months ago

All these schools should be closed down as enemies of the State. The students and faculty should be put in concentration camps for a minimum of 20 years!!
The teachers union should also be closed down and the senior union reps imprisoned for being traitors.
The deep state bureaucrats should also be placed in concentration camps and the entire Biden staff with Obama lined up and shot as traitors!!!

GTPatriot
GTPatriot
7 months ago

You can’t save those who do not want to be saved.

GTPatriot
GTPatriot
7 months ago

I can’t imagine a more silly concept than ” pro Hamas” Pro devil ? Pro evil ?What has Hamas earned ? nothing. The world needs to understand that dictatorships ( and Hamas is one) exist only because they preside over populations that are not willing to fight against them. Ukraine and Syria have a population that is willing to fight and die to obtain freedom. We know now that the Afgans and the palestinians will not. They choose to be subjugated. Simple as that. Why should the US provide weapons to fight the enemies of those who do not care. They may prefer being subugated and the US needs to accept that. If there are happy being controlled, thats okay with me.

David Millikan
David Millikan
7 months ago

You have the Fascist liberal controlled Dept. of DUHMACATION to thank for the trash that has brainwashed and indoctrinated our children to support Socialism, Communism, Fascism, Loser WOKE, Terrorism, and to hate God and America. All with YOUR Tax dollars and the help of the Teachers (Communist) Union.
The faster the Dept. of DUHMACATION is DEFUNDED and ELIMINATED the faster our kids will have a chance.
Cause the Whole World is laughing at us while other countries pass us up in education. It’s the only way the democrats can have their Slaves that don’t question anything and only obey without question.
It’s their goal for total Power and Control of YOUR LIFE. Only a fool would believe otherwise.

Casey C Matt
Casey C Matt
7 months ago

Let everyone vent against those they oppose whether a third party believes their opinions just or even evil. That is the nature of the First Amendment.
Now, if physical actions are taken against any group or individual there are already laws in place to deal with such and some Dean of whatever overpriced teach nothing academy has nothing to do with those protections. If say some mirror opposite of Ben Shapiro punches some actual Ben Shapiro acolyte…..that is a crime. If that same mirror opposite of Ben Shapiro merely yelled at the actual Ben Shapiro even perhaps calling Ben Shapiro names, that is not a crime or at least not in a democratic republic America used to claim to be.
Let both sides scream and yell. As for the heads of these overpriced colleges the question that should be put to them should be along the lines of “how do all these students have enough time to be out in the streets yelling their opinions, whether agreed on or not, at buildings”? One would think that at the cost of admission to these colleges that the amount of learning involved would keep these students otherwise occupied no matter what their viewpoint.

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