Thursday, February 23, 2017

Big donors to university programs: notice what they don't fund

Naomi Schaefer Riley has a piece today at The Weekly Standard in which she says that the country's really big donors to higher-learning insitutions - Nike co-founder Phil Knight, Michael Bloomberg, Larry Ellison, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen - tend to target scientific-research programs within those institutions.


Such largesse isn't necessarily an endorsement of the broader university. Philanthropists may see great potential for academic scientific research, but that doesn't translate into support for undergraduate teaching or liberal arts education.
There are reasons it is more attractive to give to scientific research endeavors, reasons beyond just that they are noble and interesting pursuits. For one, money spent on science and technology is more likely to produce measurable results than money spent on improving undergraduate education.
Consider the fate of philanthropists who try to change college curricula to include a more substantive core or more exposure to free-market economics, efforts that have regularly been met with backlash on campus. Who wants to get grief—as Lee Bass famously did with his grant to Yale—trying to figure out whether one's gift to support education in Western civilization is actually being used the way it was intended? Rare is the donor who is willing to take abuse, as the Koch brothers did in 2014 for giving money to the United Negro College Fund, and then make similar donations directed to historically black colleges, as Charles Koch did this January.
Most donors, even if they believe such efforts are useful, lack the stomach to get mired in university politics and bureaucracy. Giving their money to science-focused research centers, as opposed to a general fund or to nonscience faculty appointments, suggests that they know the rest of the university can be a sinkhole of ideology and mediocrity.
The hard-science laboratories and research centers, by contrast, are hotbeds of meritocracy. The cream rises to the top, and though the rest of the faculty and administration would like to drag them into the world of politics and protests, for the most part these researchers remain above the fray. But the faculty and staff of these research labs at universities are no more connected to the educational experience of undergraduates than are most schools' football teams.
Universities are eager to tout the large gifts they receive; it burnishes their brands. Indeed, when young people apply to college, prestige is often a consideration. The easiest way to measure prestige is often by looking at the success of advanced research in the hard sciences. Some college rankings include factors like the number of Nobel Prize winners a particular school employs. But how many of them are teaching Introduction to Chemistry, let alone French Lit 101?
It's not that most universities are starving when it comes to money for scholarships and general operating expenses. Charles Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and number 7 on the Philanthropy 50, believes that housing is very important to the student experience, and so has pledged a small fortune to the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Michigan for dormitories. Austin Marxe is supporting scholarships to the City University of New York, his alma mater. But very few donors are interested in supporting race and gender studies or in funding social activism on campus.
Most philanthropists would rather say they helped to fund a cure for cancer. And who can blame them? ¨ 
And I suspect that they know that even by supporting disciplines that ostensibly uphold the foundations of  our civilization, such as the study of the English language and the literature crafted therefrom, they wind up supporting the identity-politics poison.

Who wants to think their money went for the likes of this?

The Writing Center at the University of Washington is telling students that expecting Americans to use proper grammar perpetuates racism.
A press release put out by the University of Washington’s Writing Center argues that “there is no inherent ‘standard’ of English,” and that pressure to conform to proper American grammar standards perpetuate systems of racism.
“Linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent ‘standard’ of English,” claims the writing center’s statement. “Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”
The university’s Writing Center Director, Dr. Asoa Inoue, suggests that racism has produced certain unfair standards in education.
“It is a founding assumption that, if believed, one must act differently than we, the institution and its agents, have up to this point,” Inoue claimed. While overt racism is usually easily identified, more elusive are microaggressions, forms of degradation which manifest on a subconscious and casual level. As the statement reads “Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society.”
The university’s Vice Chancellor, Jill Purdy, claimed that the Writing Center’s new statement is a great example of how academia can fight back against racism. “Language is the bridge between ideas and action,” she claimed. “So how we use words has a lot of influence on what we think and do.” 
One could argue that, given their far lower level of funding, and the gradual realization among students that lefty preoccupations don't pave the way to solid career paths, such programs as writing centers and gender-studies departments will wither away. But two things about that:

One, the students who are attracted to such rot are clearly the ones driving administrative policy, as expressed by what goes on at campus student-life centers, such as the imposition of speech codes and sexual-consent training, and

Two, the passing along of the great canon of the works that have made the West what it is becomes a lost enterprise, and our society becomes even more juvenile, brittle, and vulnerable to collapse.


  1. Go hide in your great canon then. It's still great and it will always be a canon. I like the way the curriculum has broadened. Nobody's stopping you from autodidaticism. In fact, it's the Golden Age for it. As for the money, follow the trail, but eschew following it all the way to where?

  2. Yeah, no big deal . . . Milton, Beyonce, Chaucer, Lady Gaga, just name on the relativistic continuum. Something for everybody's tastes out there. But none of it more valuable than any other.

  3. Self-censor what you don't like. Popular culture has always been with us. Send your grandkids to military school on your golden nickel. Who said none of it is of more value than anything else? But Milton and Spenser are a drag and the language has evolved/devolved since those days of Shakeapeare too. Still, worthy of study but we got to STEM it out now, you know.

  4. Force feed Milton to your children!

  5. Well, yes, the likes of Milton, Shakespeare, Sir Philip Sidney, Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope et al used to be the point of an English literature major.