Posted by: clholoman | March 15, 2016

A Potpourri

I know, right? Long time. I’ve decided to post every six months whether it’s justified or not. Anyway, several pieces have crossed my desk in recent days that seem worth highlighting. They’re in rough order of more general to more specific, which means that the ones on higher ed, which might be of most interest to my reader(s) will be at the end.

As I noted a couple of posts ago (i.e. last year), I have added Vox to my daily reads.I still find them a little click-baity, esp. the headlines, but I guess that’s the nature of journalism today. But they do run a lot of things that are unique. I love articles like this one (even though the author’s from Duke). It serves as a nice review/primer on Fukuyama’s The End of History and places it in both its own historical context and the current environment, so that we learn something new, too. It’s easy to make a simplified version of Fukuyama into a straw man, and the author avoids that. As an excerpt, here’s a great paragraph towards the end:

Fascism is the feverish nightmare of liberal democracy: the worship of power and mobilization for their own sake, contempt for facts and procedures, the wish to remake the world by will. Democratic socialism is liberal democracy’s perennial ethical shadow. It has always begun from doubts that point toward radical aims. What is the value of equal freedom to spend a hundred million dollars on the candidate of your choice, or equal freedom to camp beneath a bridge? What is the value of elections when the economy’s vicissitudes toss aside jobs, towns, and industries with the implacable force of natural disaster? How much are equal civil rights worth when you can be humiliated at work, or when economic inequality is both acute and inherited?

On a related note (although you might not see the relationship unless you read the article above) here’s a thought provoking article from today’s NYTimes on free trade. I think I’ve made it clear in the past that I’m a pretty staunch free trader; the basic economics are (were?) persuasive that, on balance, free trade made societies better off. Yes, the costs are concentrated and the benefits are diffused, but the math still works (worked?) Now, though, as the article points out, it’s getting harder to brush aside the costs of adjustment and economists are taking note.

In domestic politics, Ron Fournier, who likes to be provocative, has this gloom-and-doomer on the meaning of Trumpism.

Third, I didn’t realize just how urgently people want to see the evisceration of the political status quo. They witnessed massive disruption in the retail, entertainment, and financial industries—in virtually every institution except for politics and government—and they can’t understand why Washington doesn’t change.

They want change in the worst way. Trump is the worst, but he’s a way to change.

I don’t have a lot to add, but think he’s likely more right that wrong. There are larger implications to be teased out on the nature of institutions and the ability of political systems to change

Finally, the new issue of Liberal Education from the AAC&U is out (Hilbert folks should be able to find a copy in the CEL, or can borrow mine.) The theme is “What Happens to Quality in an Age of Disruption?” It’s an important question (and disruption is also a theme in Fournier’s piece above, so here’s to linkages.) Disruption is a trendy concept and a lot of people have written about its applicability to higher ed (see C. Christensen’s book and subsequent debate) As I have written about before (here, for example, but really almost any entry tagged “Education) the trick is knowing what needs changing but not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There are several important articles. Here are three, but you can work back to the entire table of contents.

An introduction from the AAC&U president distinguishing between the things we know that work and being cautious about the ones we don’t have data on yet (e.g. unbundling and competency based education, both of which have been covered in this blog.) This continues to support, I’ll note, the paths we at Hilbert are going down.

We also have a compelling new body of evidence—drawn from over two decades of experimentation with better ways to educate today’s diverse students—about what works to help students achieve expected learning. This research shows educators how they can significantly increase persistence and degree completion. It also provides guidelines on how to help underserved students—including those who are low income, minority, working, or adult—achieve the kinds of learning that educators and employers consider essential, and which democracy needs as well.

Evidence drawn from hundreds of thousands of student reports shows the educational effectiveness of a set of “high-impact practices,” which include both experiential and applied learning—internships, service learning, diversity initiatives—and rigorous course-based practices such as extensive writing, undergraduate research, peer projects, and capstone work.

And two that are particularly timely for Hilbert as they address the role of accreditors and accreditation.

Policy Priorities for Accreditation Put Quality College Learning at Risk

Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Challenging Times: Examining Priorities and Proposed Reforms

These might strike you (esp. the second one) as a little self serving on the AAC&U’s part, as they emphasize the LEAP program and rubrics which they began (and Hilbert uses), but I think they are right.

This is so important. If we can’t get the system of peer accreditation right, we will have something worse forced upon us. As Ben Franklin said (and I’m sure I have quoted before “We must  indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”



  1. […] — Provost Christopher Holoman: recently updated his blog – What’s So Liberal about Liberal Arts? – A Potpourri […]

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