Nelson’s Baccalaureate Speech

May 18, 2015

“I hope you will take at least three lessons from what I’ve said today. First, affirm yourself and feel the goodness in your heart. Second, respect and love others, especially those you think do not deserve it. And third, draw upon your imagination and your education to actualize the spirit of Kahlil Gibran’s poem and be ‘living arrows’ sent forth to create a future that will fulfill your own dreams and improve the world.”

Nelson Bingham

Professor Nelson Bingham

These wise words are the concluding sentences of the Baccalaureate address that Professor of Psychology Nelson Bingham delivered to Earlham College’s graduating seniors, their families and friends. The speech is vintage Nelson: deep, mellow and loving.  You can read his entire address, “Are We There, Yet?” here.

I had the great good fortune to have the regular benefit of Nelson’s wisdom when he served as Earlham’s Provost from 2006-14.

Each year Earlham does something different from most colleges. There is no Commencement speaker invited from outside the college. The major address on Commencement day is delivered at the Baccalaureate service in the morning. The speaker is a member of the faculty chosen by the seniors. Over the years they have been consistently wonderful. In every one of them you can hear the personal connections between the speaker and those being spoken to. That’s rare on Commencement Day.

Here are links to the speeches from the past dozen years:

2014:  Associate Professor of Religion James Logan, A World Yearning for Your (Sometimes Funky) Love

2013: Professor of Psychology Bob Rosenberg, Conformational Change.

2012: Professor of Anthropology JoAnn Martin, The Art of Falling Into the Future

2011:  Assistant Professor of Geology Andrew Moore, The Tao of the Ant Guy

2010: Assistant Professor of Peace and Global Studies Joanna Swanger, The Tyranny of Certainty

2009: Professor of History Chuck Yates, Chuck’s Top Ten Secrets to a Long, Happy, Useful, Productive and Meaningful Life

2008: Assistant Professor of Religion James Logan, A (Not So Simple) Word of (Audacious) Hope

2007: Professor of History and PAGS Caroline Higgins, The Monster and the Riddle

2006: Professor of Classics Steve Heiny, Was It Good for You?

2005: Professor of Psychology Vince Punzo, Just Isn’t So

2004: Professor of Politics Robert Johnstone, What Does It Matter To Me?

2003: Professor of English Gordon Thompson, If I Forget You…

Posted in Mission | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Myth of Exploding College Costs

March 10, 2015

“And, of course, there is the cost,” writes Joe Nocera in a New York Times column in which he extols Kevin Carey’s new book, The University of Everywhere, an imagining of how college could be in the future.  Carey, Nocera tells us, presents “both a stinging indictment of the university business model ands a prediction about how technology is likely to change it.”

The technology part of the argument is interesting enough, and there is lots to criticize about business models in higher education. But Nocera tells a whopper (and it seems Carey, too) when he says it is the “out of control cost of college [Carey] believes will cause people to search for a different way of educating students.” To see what’s wrong with that, let’s focus first on “cost of college” and then on the “out of control” claim.

Anyone serious about higher education has learned to distinguish between “cost” and “price.” “Cost” is what the institution spends to provide the education. “Price” is what an institution charges for that education.  And with “price” we need to distinguish “sticker price,” the published charges for tuition and fees, and “net price,” what students and their parents actually pay. There’s a big difference between sticker and net price because of financial aid and other subsidies to institutions.  Mostly people talk about sticker price, and that’s misleading. Few students actually pay that.

Nocera (and perhaps Carey) points to rapidly rising student debt (“now tops $1 trillion”) as an indication of “out of control college costs.” Indeed, student indebtedness has been exploding. That’s because students are being asked to pay more and more in “net price.” But it isn’t the “cost” that’s gone up to push up “net price,” it’s the decline in financial aid and subsidies.  More and more of the expense of college has been pushed onto individual students and their families.  Governments, especially state governments, are providing less and less of a subsidy.

The College Board provides the most comprehensive, accurate annual look at what is happening to cost and price in higher education.  Sensibly, it disaggregates the data it provides by kind of institution, because there is a world of difference in both cost and price between a research university and a community college, and important differences, too, between public and independent institutions.

Look at the data in the Table below, which has data from the past decade for which it has been compiled. Yes, net price has been going up quickly, especially at public institutions where the withdrawal of subsidies from state governments has hit particularly hard. The increase at private, non-profit institutions is more modest, but since wages and salaries have been flat for all but the wealthiest for more than two decades, any increase is hard to bear.

But is the cost going up? Hardly at all, unless you are looking at the private doctoral institutions (think Harvard and Yale, Stanford and NYU).  At public two-year (community) colleges, the educational expenditures have actually gone down. At private non profit bachelor’s colleges (think Earlham) the cost increase is just 3% spread over a decade.

Table 1:  Change in Educational Expenditures and Net Tuition Revenue, 2001-02 to 2011-12
Price Cost
Net Tuition Revenue Educational Expenditures
Public Doctoral 66% 6%
Public Master’s 66% 3%
Public Bachelor’s 60% 9%
Public Two-Year 54% -7%
Private Nonprofit Doctoral 18% 21%
Private Nonprofit Master’s 19% 10%
Private Nonprofit Bachelor’s 11% 3%

Source: College Board, Trends in College Pricing, Figures 19A and 19B

This isn’t a story of exploding college costs, it’s a story of exploding college prices for students and families.  In the not-so-distant past, we helped families pay for college. Now we don’t so much. That’s the crisis.  Instead of education, we are using our tax dollars to pay for war and prisons.

And bear this in mind. The educational costs at public two-year, bachelor’s and master’s institutions is $12,000 per year or below. These are where the majority of students attend. $12,000 is about how much we expend, per student, in public k-12 schools per year. Do we really expect a college education to cost less per year?

 Table 2: Cost
Average Educational Expenditures/year
Public Doctoral $16,600
Public Master’s $12,040
Public Bachelor’s $11,920
Public Two-Year $8,130
Private Nonprofit Doctoral $40,320
Private Nonprofit Master’s $16,090
Private Nonprofit Bachelor’s $21,080

Source: College Board, Trends in College Pricing, Figures 19A and 19B

Posted in Money Matters | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Duke University Sexual Assault Case

March 3, 2015

Just coming into public view is a sexual assault case at Duke University. The student newspaper at Duke reports that two students made separate allegations of sexual assault against Rasheed Sulaimon during the 2013-14 academic year.

The first student made the allegation in October 2013 at a diversity retreat called Common Ground, and the second made her allegation following another Common Ground retreat in the spring. But, says the paper, neither filed a complaint through the Office of Student Conduct or took legal action through the Durham Police Department. Various news sources report that the alleged victims chose not to file charges or come forward to the Office of Student Conduct because they were afraid of backlash from Duke basketball fans.

Sulaimon, speaking through an attorney, has declared he did nothing wrong.

This makes national news because Rasheed Sulaimon, until recently, was a member of the Duke men’s basketball team. At the end of January, Sulaimon was released from the team by coach Mike Krzyzewski who said that Sulaimon “has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program.” Krzyzewski declined to say anything further, then or subsequently.

The ABC-TV affiliate in Raleigh reports that an ‘affiliate of the program’ came forward after talking to both women. The whistleblower told the paper that in March 2014 the allegations were brought to a team psychologist, head coach Mike Krzyzewski, assistant coaches Jon Scheyer and Nate James, and associate head coach Jeff Capel.

So who should have done what when? And what should someone do now? (Full disclosure: though a critic of Division 1 NCAA Athletics, I am fan of Duke basketball and of Coach K.)

First, no one employed by Duke should be talking about the case to the media, and no one should fault them for declining comment. Students have rights to confidentiality, both moral and legal, and university officials should be respecting those rights. (Krzyzewski was also right to say as little as he did about Sulaimon’s dismissal from the team.)

Second, it would have been better if the two students had reported the incidents either to university officials or to the Durham police—if they wanted to say anything at all in public. Of course both had a right to keep whatever happened to themselves, but it puts everyone, especially the accused and the university, in a bind if the allegation is made in public without making a formal report of the incident. Under such circumstances, we get trial by rumor.

Third, if the students had any fear of reprisals from reporting the incidents, Duke had an obligation to see that there would be none.

Fourth, once anyone in the employ of the university learned of the allegations, the university should have done two things. It should have gone to the student making the allegation and asked if she now wanted to report it. Whether or not she said yes to that question, the university should have undertaken to investigate the allegation. If it found credible evidence of criminal wrong-doing, it should have brought the matter to the attention of the Durham Police.

This is the one question I have given the reporting to date: last spring when the matter first (apparently) came to the attention of Duke employees, was any investigation started? That’s what I’ll be looking to learn.  Regarding what Krzyzewski did or did not do over the last few months, the Duke Athletic Director has already stood up for Coach K, though no details were given.)

Mike Bianchi, a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, has written a piece with the headline Duke basketball is entering Jameis Winston territory regarding rape allegations. That is overreach, not to use a blunter word. In the Jameis Winston case, the young woman did report the incident and the university did nothing to pursue it.

P.S.: My hackles go up when someone is referred to as ‘an affiliate of the program.’ Is this person a Duke employee, with all the responsibilities that come with that? Why the shadowy cloak?

Posted in Leadership, Responsibility and Ethics, Student Life | Tagged | Leave a comment

What Is the Purpose of a College Education?

March 3, 2015

An arresting sentence in David Brooks’s column this in the NYT this morning on Leaving and Cleaving:

…to be around college students these days is to observe how many parents have failed to successfully start their their child’s transition into adulthood.

Strong words, but accurate, I think. It brought to mind something I found myself saying from time to time in conversations with professors. The occasion was usually their complaining that such-and-such was not their job. Their role was to teach their subject matter and to do their research. Mayhem in the dorms or crises in students’ relationships were none of their business, they’d say.

And I’d ask, why do you suppose parents are willing to pay us $30,000 (or $40,000 or $10,000) a year for their child’s education? Do you suppose it is to learn Shakespeare or organic chemistry or even critical thinking?  Perhaps, a few have such motivations, I’d say, but deep down I think most parents have a deeper motivation. They want us to perform a stupendous trick.

They want us to remove their child from their household, keep the child for four (or so) years, and then insert that child into adult roles: a paying job and a relationship that will lead to marriage and grandchildren. Deep down, those parents aren’t too interested in how we perform this trick so long as we do it. They are a bit frightened that their child hasn’t grown up yet, and frightened that they are significantly to blame for that failure to raise their child toward adulthood. Now they are willing to pay us significant money to do it for them.

I’d want the professor I was speaking with to see her/his role more broadly than s/he was inclined.

By and large residential liberal arts colleges do perform that trick and fairly reliably. We invite students to live in community, to bear an increasing share of responsibility for their learning and their living, and we provide a watchful eye and coaching to see that the transition to adulthood goes well.

I see the promise of on-line education for some narrow purposes of education, but I have my doubts that MOOCs can perform this trick.

Posted in Mission | Tagged | Leave a comment

Our Far-Flung Alumni: Kathleen Mulloy

March 2, 2015

Grew up in Indiana (Peru, Indiana, no less), works in Kampala, Uganda for UNICEF, and was recently married at Copenhagen City Hall in Denmark. Sounds like an Earlhamite to me. And she is: Kathleen Mulloy.

Kathleen MalloyWe don’t often see Earlham graduates in the marriages section of the Sunday New York Times Style section, but there she was yesterday with new husband Evan Wheeler. He didn’t go to Earlham, but at least he went to college in Maine and also works for UNICEF in Uganda.

Best wishes!

Posted in Our Far-Flung Alumni | Leave a comment

Meanings: Dessert”

March 2, 2015

The mnemonic I learned in school–and perhaps you, too–was that “dessert” had two s’s because it was sweet stuff, but “desert” had only one because it was just sand. Today there’s probably as much desert as ever (they cover about a fifth of the earth’s surface), but desserts are in decline.

Dessert decline“Only 12 percent of dinners eaten at home in the United States ended with something sweet last year,” significant decline over the past few decades, according to data from market research firm NPD group, and many restaurants don’t really want you to order dessert because their margins are smaller on desserts.

I’m happy to say dessert is alive and well at our house, though some of us eat fruit and some of us eat cookies. But where did that word come from? Here’s what says:

dessert (n.)Look up dessert at Dictionary.comc.1600, from Middle French dessert (mid-16c.) “last course,” literally “removal of what has been served,” from desservir “clear the table,” literally “un-serve,” from des- “remove, undo” (see dis-) + Old French servir “to serve” (see serve (v.)).

But now it looks like it’s the main course that’s clearing the table, not the dessert.

Posted in Meanings | Tagged , | Leave a comment

How to Know What to Do

February 12, 2015

You don't know what to do?Our son, Robbie, is now a sixth grader at Mount Ararat Middle School in Topsham, Maine. He has the great good fortune to have Mrs. Latti as his principal teacher. She teaches the class science and math while Ms. Hopkins teaches them language arts and social studies. They are a team (the Magalloway 6th Grade Team), but when we have parent-teacher conferences we meet with Mrs. Latti.

We had such a conference on Tuesday, and I couldn’t help but notice this poster on the classroom wall. It’s Mrs. Latti’s standing directions to her class about what they should do when they aren’t sure what they should be doing. 6th graders are prone to such moments of uncertainty, but then aren’t all of us?  I’m glad Mrs. Latti is teaching them how to work through such moments.  (I don’t think that was any part of my 6th grade experience.)

I think the poster says it all — almost. That last direction takes some explaining.

“Reread the directions.” That often helps. “Take a deep breath:” don’t get frustrated; believe in yourself; you can do this.  If those don’t work, “ask a neighbor.” You’ve got friends: ask them for help, and be ready to help your friends when they get confused. “Ask another neighbor.” If the first friend can’t help you, ask someone else.

Mrs. Latti is teaching them confidence and self-reliance, and she is teaching them to work as a group, helping each other, even on projects where each person has to do his own work.

So what about that last instruction, “Get a Latti lamp”?  She wants them to know that she stands ready to help if they need her. They should turn to her only when they’ve tried to work themselves out of confusion themselves and sought the aid of friends if they are still confused. But if none of that works, they can turn to her. Across the classroom, on a shelf, are a dozen or so little electric lanterns she bought at the Dollar Store.  You go get one and turn it on at your desk. The light tells her you need her help, and it does so in a way that doesn’t distract others.

We all need a Latti lamp in our lives. But we shouldn’t use it until we’ve reread the directions, taken a deep breath, asked a friend, and asked another friend. What a great approach to learning.

Posted in Learning | Leave a comment