Emily Yoffe is a Slate contributor who has written the magazine’s Dear Prudence advice column since 2006. She also writes for Slate about culture, health, politics, and science. Emily’s writing has appeared in many publications, including Esquire, The Los Angeles Times, the New Republic, the New York Times, O the Oprah Magazine, and The Washington Post. She is the author of the book What the Dog Did: Tales from a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner. She was a National Magazine Award finalist this year for her Slate story, “The College Rape Overcorrection.” She was a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. She is a graduate of Wellesley College.
Published on the Valley News (http://www.vnews.com)
Editorial: At Dartmouth, Talking About Sexual Assault
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
(Published in print: Wednesday, October 14, 2015)
Writer Emily Yoffe, best known for her “Dear Prudence” advice column in Slate, was on the Dartmouth campus the other day to offer guidance on a difficult subject — sexual assault at colleges and universities. The information wasn’t what some wanted to hear.
Victims of sexual assault and their advocates, including a group of placard-carrying students who staged a pointed but respectful protest during Yoffe’s remarks last Thursday, reject her argument that policies adopted by colleges to protect victims have gone too far.
The argument started last December, when Slate published Yoffe’s 12,000-word article, “The Campus Rape Overcorrection.” The headline was unfortunate, in that Yoffe does not deny that sexual assault is a serious problem too long dismissed by colleges and universities. She asserts, however, that higher education institutions, under federal pressure to prevent sexual violence and punish offenders, often abrogate the civil rights of those accused of sexual assault, denying them justice.
Moreover, Yoffe dares to challenge common assumptions, including that rape is alarmingly prevalent on U.S. campuses. She also wonders whether policies requiring women to consent to every step of a sexual encounter, like the one adopted by Dartmouth, were formulated by people who’ve ever had sex.
These are fighting words to feminists and others who regard the “affirmative consent” standard — “yes means yes” — as empowering, a safeguard against unwanted sexual advances.
Whatever your perspective on sexual politics, Yoffe makes some valid points. First, she is skeptical of the methodology behind surveys that suggest sexual assault is an “epidemic” on U.S. campuses. For example, an oft-cited survey commissioned in 2000 by the U.S. Department of Justice, and the basis of President Obama’s campaign to protect students against sexual violence, concluded that sexual assault affects as many as one in four undergraduates. But in a footnote the authors of that survey acknowledge making assumptions that increase the presumed risk. They warn that the one-in-four figure is merely “suggestive.” Other surveys are based on small sample sizes, which distort the numbers.
Sexual assault figures collected by colleges to comply with the federal Clery Act, which requires institutions to annually report crime data, suggest that the rate of sexual assault is lower than 25 percent. Reported assaults represent about 0.03 percent of the total 12 million female college student population, according to Clery data. Even accounting for the fact that sexual assault is a disturbingly underreported crime, it’s hard to square the Clery numbers with the one-in-four figure.
Statistics commonly cited by the media imply that “American college women are raped at a rate similar to women in Congo, where rape has been used as a weapon of war,” Yoffe writes.
Second, the debate over what to do about “sexual assault” is muddled by the fact that the term can in some contexts mean anything from forcible rape to unwanted touching. This is not to dismiss any aspect of sexual harassment or violence against women. It’s to suggest that the problem itself isn’t adequately defined, and that some data on sexual assault reflect blurred distinctions.
It’s too bad that Yoffe has been accused of insensitivity, of attacking victims and women generally. We commend Yoffe for challenging the facts and standing up for the rights of the accused. That doesn’t take away from the seriousness of sexual assault, which colleges and universities must continue to combat forcefully but fairly.
A key measure of the benefits of a degree is the college graduate’s earning potential—and on this score, their advantage over high-school graduates is deteriorating. Since 2006, the gap between what the median college graduate earned compared with the median high-school graduate has narrowed by $1,387 for men over 25 working full time, a 5% fall. Women in the same category have fared worse, losing 7% of their income advantage ($1,496).
A college degree’s declining value is even more pronounced for younger Americans. According to data collected by the College Board, for those in the 25-34 age range the differential between college graduate and high school graduate earnings fell 11% for men, to $18,303 from $20,623. The decline for women was an extraordinary 19.7%, to $14,868 from $18,525.
Meanwhile, the cost of college has increased 16.5% in 2012 dollars since 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ higher education tuition-fee index. Aggressive tuition discounting from universities has mitigated the hike, but not enough to offset the clear inflation-adjusted increase. Even worse, the lousy economy has caused household income levels to fall, limiting a family’s ability to finance a degree.
This phenomenon leads to underemployment. A study I conducted with my colleague Jonathan Robe, the 2013 Center for College Affordability and Productivity report, found explosive growth in the number of college graduates taking relatively unskilled jobs. We now have more college graduates working in retail than soldiers in the U.S. Army, and more janitors with bachelor’s degrees than chemists. In 1970, less than 1% of taxi drivers had college degrees. Four decades later, more than 15% do.
This is only partly the result of the Great Recession and botched public policies that have failed to produce employment growth. It’s also the result of an academic arms race in which universities have spent exorbitant sums on luxury dormitories, climbing walls, athletic subsidies and bureaucratic bloat. More significantly, it’s the result of sending more high-school graduates to college than professional fields can accommodate.
In 1970, when 11% of adult Americans had bachelor’s degrees or more, degree holders were viewed as the nation’s best and brightest. Today, with over 30% with degrees, a significant portion of college graduates are similar to the average American—not demonstrably smarter or more disciplined. Declining academic standards and grade inflation add to employers’ perceptions that college degrees say little about job readiness.
There are exceptions. Applications to top universities are booming, as employers recognize these graduates will become our society’s future innovators and leaders. The earnings differential between bachelor’s and master’s degree holders has grown in recent years, as those holding graduate degrees are perceived to be sharper and more responsible.
But unless colleges plan to offer master’s degrees in janitorial studies, they will have to change. They currently have little incentive to do so, as they are often strangled by tenure rules, spoiled by subsides from government and rich alumni, and more interested in trivial things—second-rate research by third-rate scholars; ball-throwing contests—than imparting knowledge. Yet dire financial straits from falling demand for their product will force two types of changes within the next five years.
First, colleges will have to constrain costs. Traditional residential college education will not die because the collegiate years are fun and offer an easy transition from adolescence to adulthood. But institutions must take a haircut. Excessive spending on administrative staffs, professorial tenure, and other expensive accouterments must be put on the chopping block.
Second, colleges must bow to new benchmarks assessing their worth. With the advent of electronic learning—including low-cost computer courses and online courses that can reach thousands of students around the world—there is more market competition than ever. New tests are being devised to assure employers that individual students are vocationally prepared, helping recruiters discern which institutions deliver superior academic training. Purdue University, for example, has joined with the Gallup Organization to create an index to survey alumni, providing universities and employers with detailed information, including earnings data.
This educational entrepreneurship offers hope that creative destruction is coming to higher education. Many poorly endowed and undistinguished schools may bite the dust, but America flourished when buggy manufacturers went bankrupt thanks to the automobile. The cleansing would be good for a higher education system still tied to its medieval origins—and for the students it’s robbing.
Mr. Vedder, an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the director of Center for College Affordability and Productivity and a teacher at Ohio University, where Mr. Denhart is a student.
Despite having taught a course about Great Books — a series of books widely considered to represent the pinnacle of Western literature — for four years, Harvard University English professor Louis Menand said this canon of literature should not be the hallmark of a liberal education. In the annual William Jewett Tucker lecture and latest installment of the “Leading Voices in Higher Education” strategic planning speaker series, held Thursday afternoon in Filene Auditorium, Menand answered the title question of his speech — “Are the Great Books the Moral Heart of Liberal Education?” — with a decisive “no.”
Menand, the recipient of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in history and a contributor to The New Yorker, examined the structure of higher education by telling the stories of curriculum creation and progression at Columbia University, the University of Chicago and Harvard.
General education requirements at Harvard originally included a Great Books course in order to give students a common ground for discussion, he said.
“In the Harvard model, Great Books are not read because they articulate timeless truths,” Menand said. “Great Books are read because they have been read.”
Harvard later forfeited the Great Books requirement as the concept of academic majors became more clearly defined, though Menand said “belief in knowledge for its own sake does survive,” despite changes in curricula over the years.
Menand also discussed the history of “Contemporary Civilization” and “Literature Humanities,” mandatory Great Books courses at Columbia. They were originally developed by professors to teach students a collective culture and became part of the college’s core curriculum in 1947, he said.
Dartmouth English professor Aden Evens said that the popularity of the lecture — which drew an audience of approximately 200 guests — may have been influenced by Menand’s own star power.
“He represents a certain ultimate possible achievement for academic workers,” Evens said. “He’s at the top of the humanities among professors all over North America.”
Evens said he was interested in Menand’s opinions on higher education in light of Dartmouth’s own curriculum restructuring, as well as in potential changes to the understanding of a liberal arts eduction.
“With Dartmouth undertaking a wholesale reevaluation of their institutional goals for the medium-to-long term, my understanding is that his lecture was part of this reevaluation,” Evens said. “That process is extremely important to me. I worry that Dartmouth is heading in a direction that’s not the one I want it to.”
Parth Kaul ’14 attended the lecture at the recommendation of government professor James Murphy, who teaches Great Books in his theory-based classes. Kaul said he left the lecture with some unanswered questions.
“It would have been really nice if he could have broken down the way the D-Plan follows into the entire philosophy of the system controlling the fate of the students,” Kaul said.
Enfield, N.H. resident Jeffrey Hinman ’68 said he also left the lecture unsure of certain issues.
“I’d never really known what all the Great Books were, and he still didn’t answer that question,” Hinman said.
In response to a question from an audience member, Menand said he continues to teach a course on Great Books despite the fact that they are not essential to a liberal education because students “just love the stuff, and they love to talk about it.” Murphy said Menand’s answer to this question was the highlight of the hour-long lecture.
“At the end, he did give the most powerful defense of the Great Books,” he said. “Everything else he said with skepticism and contempt about the Great Books faded into insignificance. The deeper truth is that what people do is more revealing than what they say.”
by Kira Witkin
Published on Friday, February 17,2012