Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What is Liberal Education?

According to the Renaissance humanist Petrus Paulus Vergerius:
We call those studies liberal which are worthy of a free man; those studies by which we attain and practise virtue and wisdom; that education which calls forth, trains and develops those highest gifts of body and of mind which ennoble men, and which are rightly judged to rank next in dignity to virtue only. For to a vulgar temper gain and pleasure are the one aim of existence, to a lofty nature, moral worth and fame. It is, then, of the highest importance that even from infancy this aim, this effort, should constantly be kept alive in growing minds. For I may affirm with fullest conviction that we shall not have attained wisdom in our later years unless in our earliest we have sincerely entered on its search.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Liberal Education and Freedom

In chapter 4 of his recent book, Conscience and its Enemies, Robert P. George makes a useful statement on freedom and the liberal arts.  Some people think that the purpose of liberal education is to liberate one from conventional opinions so that one can be perfectly free to construct one’s “self” in accordance with one’s inner desires and passions. Against that view, and appealing to the soul rather than to the self, George argues that we enter into the conversation with the great minds (Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, etc.) to appropriate truths that can “liberate us from what is merely vulgar, coarse, or base.”  The kind of Intellectual knowledge made available through the study of these thinkers, he argues, has “a role to play in making self-transcendence possible. It can help us to understand what is good and to love the good above whatever it is we happen to desire; it can teach us to desire what is good because it is good, thus making us truly masters of ourselves.” He concludes in this way:  
The stronger and deeper reason (for respecting academic freedom) is that freedom is the condition of our fuller appropriation of the truth.  I use the term appropriation because knowledge and truth have their value for human beings precisely as fulfillment of capacities for understanding and judgment. The liberal arts liberate the human spirit because knowledge of truth – attainted by the exercise of our rational faculties – is intrinsically and not merely instrumentally valuable.  “Useful knowledge” is, of course, all to the good. It is wonderful when human knowledge can serve other human goods, such as health, as in the biomedical sciences, or economic efficiency and growth, or the construction of great buildings and bridges, or any of a million other worthy purposes.  But even “useful knowledge” is often more than instrumentally valuable, and a great deal of knowledge that wouldn’t qualify as “useful” in the instrumental sense is intrinsically and profoundly enriching and liberating. This is why we honor – and should honor even more highly than we currently do in our institutions of higher learning – excellence in the humanities and pure science (social and natural).
Knowledge that elevates and enriches – knowledge that liberates the human spirit – cannot be merely notional.  It must be appropriated.  It is not – it cannot be – a matter of affirming or even believing correct proposition. The knowledge that elevates and liberates is knowledge not only that something is the case but also why and how it is the case. Typically such knowledge does more than settle something in one’s mind; it opens new avenues of exploration. Its payoff includes new sets of questions, new lines of inquiry.  ... [F]reedom – freedom to inquire, freedom to assent or withhold assent as one’s best judgment dictates - is a condition of the personal appropriation of the truth by the human subject....

Many History and Political Science courses are seminars or conversations in which we read the kinds of works George mentions and examine and respond to one another’s opinions and arguments. George's statement is one way of understanding our approach.  That kind of conversation is the best way to understand the reasons for an opinion or theory - in George’s language, to “appropriate” it or make it your own.  And making the evidence and reasoning that supports an opinion your own is the only way to grasp the real meaning of an opinion and the only way it can truly benefit you. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Great Summer Study Opportunities (with stipends)

The Hertog Foundation is asking professors at AU to nominate students for its Political Studies Program in Washington, DC.  These are some great opportunities to study during the summer with good professors from other institutions, and all the programs come with stipends for participates or (in the case of the Political Studies Program) for some participants.  If you are interested, please talk to Dr. Foster.

The first program is the Political Studies Program, which will take place from June 21 – August 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. This program is geared to current undergraduates and very recent graduates. Many of the same outstanding faculty will be teaching in the program this year, including Bryan Garsten (Yale), James W. Ceaser (University of Virginia), Diana Schaub (Loyola), and Robert Kagan (Brookings Institution), to name just a few. Selected students will receive a $3,000 fellowship stipend for their participation and be provided with dormitory accommodations.

In addition, there is a second set of more specialized programs -- War Studies and Economic Policy Studies. These are intensive two-week summer seminars sponsored in conjunction with the Institute for the Study of War and National Affairs, respectively. They will be held in Washington, DC. Each carries its own stipend of $1,500 as well as dormitory accommodations.

Finally, Hertog has two weeklong offerings -- Advanced Institutes -- which are geared toward undergraduates, recent graduates, and graduate students. These programs come with a $750 stipend, plus room and board.

  • The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln with Allen C. Guelzo
    • August 2–7, 2015, in partnership with the New-York Historical Society

  • The Lessons of the Iraq War with Vance Serchuk
    • August 9–15, Washington, DC

The deadline for applications for all programs is February 9, 2015. Further information can be found the Hertog Foundation's website (  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Remembrance Day at Gettysburg

Last weekend, a group of AU students, most of them in Dr. Paddags' course on Democracy & War, descended on Gettysburg to study the most pivotal and most famous battle of the Civil War. While temperatures were chilly and the wind blustery, everyone gave presentations on the participants of the Civil War - from Robert E. Lee and Henry Halleck, to Elizabeth Thorn and Abraham Lincoln. Through the eyes of their characters, the history of the battle unfolded for the students. Moreover, by walking the battlefield everyone got a sense of the dimensions of the battlefield, the terrain, and an appreciation for the valor of the men who fought that battle 151 years ago. As last weekend was also Remembrance Day at Gettysburg, hundreds of reenactors paraded through town, waving civil war flags, marching in formation, and playing civil war era songs. At night, the national cemetery was illuminated by a candle on every soldier's grave, making for a solemn reminder of the sacrifice  which was made on those three days in July, 1863.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Latin Should be Required

If even half the arguments in this article in the New Criterion are correct, the best thing we could do for our students is require that they all study Latin: 
Specifically, it trains these: the ability to concentrate and focus; the use of the memory; the capacity to analyse, deduce and problem-solve; the powers of attention to detail, of diligence and perseverance, of observation, of imagination, of judgement, of taste. In fact, it trains the mind and character to the utmost extent in everything human that is valuable. It does all this as no other academic subject (other than classical Greek), or other activity of any kind at all, can come remotely close to doing.
There is much more in the article, including replies to some of the main contemporary objections: 

Later in this issue, the Yale classicist Donald Kagan writes about Sir James Headlam-Morley, the man who occupied the position of Historical Adviser to the British Foreign Office in the 1920s. Headlam-Morley was a fount of good advice about all manner of strategic issues, not least the threat of German militarism. Headlam-Morley’s deep acquaintance with the past allowed him to predict the future with a gimlet-eyed clarity that, unfortunately for the world, most of those charged with steering the ship of state in the post-World War I years lacked. Headlam-Morley, Professor Kagan observes, was “a man with the only proper training for an expert in almost any field of human endeavor, but especially for the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy: I mean, of course, Classical Studies.”
We smiled when we read that, too. The “of course” was especially nice. A more charming example of disciplinary chauvinism would be hard to find. Except that it is more than disciplinary chauvinism. It is also the simple, pragmatic truth.
It is a truth whose practicality the industrialist and oil man Jean Paul Getty appreciated. Getty, widely reckoned to be the richest man in the world until his death in 1976, employed only classicists to run his worldwide business empire. He understood that mastery of (say) the passive periphrastic was a more important business qualification than an MBA. (Pecunia obtinenda est!) It wasn’t romance but competitiveness that underlay his decision. Asked why he insisted on employing classicists in key positions, he answered bluntly: “They sell more oil.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

AU in Germany Information Meetings

It is easy to spend part of your summer taking Core courses and experiencing modern Europe by participating in the AU in Germany program.  Learn how at meetings on November 11th and 12th.  Here are the details:

Friday, October 31, 2014

Mariah Halleck - Intern of the Month

Congratulations to Political Science major and History minor Mariah Helleck, who is AU's Intern of the Month for October.  Mariah completed her internship this summer serving with U.S. Senator Rob Portman in Washington D.C. Mariah offers this advice to students considering internships: "Even if it is something you are unsure of, just do it. Being on your own in the real world is a lot different than being alone at college. I think it's a growing and learning experience that every student should take advantage of." 

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Nice Case for Civic Literacy

Joseph Knippenberg of Oglethorpe University makes a good case at the Library of Law and Liberty website for civic literacy based on the idea that if you don't know how to do something, you can't do the thing. The issue is what knowledge is needed to be a self-governing citizen. Surveys suggest that the more people know about their government, how it works, its history, the arguments for and against it, the more likely they are to be engaged and active citizens. And it makes sense, because if you don't understand how our polity works, how can you participate in it?

After discussing one of the surveys which asked various questions about American history and government, Knippenberg writes that "one could question the “relevance” of these factual details for contemporary American civic life. Students might defend themselves by saying that they’ll never “use” this information. Perhaps not. In any case, if they don’t know it, they surely won’t use it, even if they need it. There’s a good argument for their needing it, and it’s this: In general, the more you know, the more active as a citizen you’re likely to be. In other words, the more you know, the more you’re likely to use what you know."

"I often contend that a liberal education is an education befitting a free human being, one who can think for himself or herself and who is as unlikely as possible to be, in effect, a “slave” to an ideology or a gull for a charlatan’s argument. Thinking for oneself, a prerequisite for this kind of human freedom, is no mere technical skill. It isn’t just about having a sharp, logical mind. It requires some content, some familiarity with the kinds of arguments people make and with the facts and narratives on the basis of which they make them. In other words, a liberal education that has as its goal self-government (in our case, “republican self-government”) requires some knowledge of the republic in which our self-governing takes place."

Highest Paying Majors?

Here is a summary of an interesting analysis of Census Bureau data done to find out which college majors earned the most and the least. The result? Median lifetime earnings of bachelor's degree graduates are higher across all majors than median earnings of high school graduates. But of course different degrees earn varying amounts, with engineering, finance, and science at the top end and art, music, and language at the bottom. But what is even more interesting is that "the range of earnings within each major is wide — about as wide as the spread ... in different majors. Put another way, a person at the 90th percentile for childhood education majors (where average earnings are on the low end) will quite handily outearn someone at the 10th percentile of computer engineering majors (where average earnings are at the high end). In fact, at the 90th percentile, people with only a high school degree outearn any college majors at the 10th percentile."

So, the article concludes, the "real message in these data is your college major is not your destiny. It takes some amount of grit to make it anywhere. Smart choices about which skills to acquire will get you some, but not all, of the way there." The article has some nifty charts and graphs. Political science apparently does better than history, and when graduate degrees are taken into account, the median earnings of people with political science degrees is higher than the median earnings of those with architecture or nursing degrees, which puts them just below the top earners comprised of engineers, scientists, construction services, and economists.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Career in City Management or Urban Planning?

The Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University is hosting a visit weekend on October 4-5 for students interested in careers in city management, urban planning, sacred & historic landmarks, non-profit organizations, etc. The Levin College has a #2 ranking from U.S. News and World Report for its Master's degree in City Management/Urban Policy and there are a lot of good careers in this area.   For more information, see the invitation below:

Levin College Graduate Visit Weekend

Saturday, October 4th from 1-5pm
Sunday, October 5th from 1-3:30pm
Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University
1717 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115

We welcome all prospective graduate students, faculty, alumni, family, and friends. This event will include:
  • Welcome and comments by Dean Edward (Ned) Hill
  • Opportunities to meet Levin faculty, staff, alumni, and students, including Program Directors, Graduate Advisor, Admissions Recruiter, and members of the CSU-APA student organization
  • Information on degree programs, graduate assistantships, and scholarships
  • Networking with Levin college faculty and alumni
  • Levin College and CSU campus tour
  • Restaurant and entertainment recommendations following the event (experience Cleveland nightlife!)
The Levin College is among the top schools of Urban Affairs in the nation and has a #2 ranking from U.S. News and World Report for its graduate specialty in City Management and  Urban Policy out of over 250 schools of public affairs. Our graduate students interact with nationally known faculty and research staff recognized for their scholarship and intellectual leadership . The College offers graduate assistantshipsinternships, and opportunities for applied research with our faculty and research centers. We are a small college that gives personal attention to each of our students. Read more about the college on our website:

Our graduates work in public, nonprofit, and business organizations in the fields of urban planning, public administration and management, community development, environmental advocacy and policy, social services, health care administration, and real estate development. Levin faculty members and research staff have strong connections to the community and professional organizations, facilitating student engagement and transition to professional practice.

Please contact Lindsey Hobson, College Admissions Recruiter, at 216-687-4506 or email with any questions or to obtain more information about this event. All are welcome!
Please RSVP for

We look forward to seeing you in October!

Careers in Arts and Culture

On November 17, the Cleveland Museum of Art is presenting a special one day event on career opportunities in the world of art and culture. Last year, participating organizations included: The Cleveland Orchestra,The Children’s Museum of Cleveland, Center for Arts-Inspired Learning, Shaker Historical Society, Prelude2Cinema, International Women’s Air & Space Museum, Gray’s Auctioneers, Community Partnership for Arts & Culture (CPAC), Esperanza, Inc., James A. Garfield National Historic Site, CBC Magazine/Contempo Communications, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Museum of Contemporary Art – MOCA,Dru Christine Fabrics & Design, Lake Erie Ink, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Salem Communications – Cleveland, Great Lakes Science Center, Brecksville Center for the Arts, Rebecca Adele PR & Events, Wizard of Ahs and Porthouse Theatre.

There are lots of possibilities in these organizations for history and political science majors.  This event is free, but it does require reservations and space is limited.  Contact if you want more information or if you would like be part of an AU group that attended.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Economic Price of Colleges' Failure

This column by Kevin Carey in the New York Times (9/2/2014) is a good report on the new book, Aspiring Adults Adrift, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa (authors of the bombshell Academically Adrift from a few years back). Aspiring Adults is a study of what happens to college graduates after they leave college.  One important paragraph on the Collegiate Learning Assessment test of various basic intellectual skills says this:
Even after statistically controlling for students’ sociodemographic characteristics, college majors and college selectivity, those who finished school with high C.L.A. scores were significantly less likely to be unemployed than those who had low C.L.A. scores. The difference was even larger when it came to success in the workplace. Low-C.L.A. graduates were twice as likely as high-C.L.A. graduates to lose their jobs between 2010 and 2011, suggesting that employers can tell who got a good college education and who didn’t. Low-C.L.A. graduates were also 50 percent more likely to end up in an unskilled occupation, and were less likely to be satisfied with their jobs.
That C.L.A. scores are a significant measure of employment success - both getting jobs and keeping them - is very important for Ashland University, since our graduates do extremely well on the C.L.A. test.  And it is the liberal arts subjects, taught through the AU Core and great departments like History and Political Science that convey the skills C.L.A tests for.   

Here is the whole article: 

Four years ago, the sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa dropped a bomb on American higher education. Their groundbreaking book, “Academically Adrift,” found that many students experience “limited or no learning” in college. Today, they released a follow-up study, tracking the same students for two years after graduation, into the workplace, adult relationships and civic life. The results suggest that recent college graduates who are struggling to start careers are being hamstrung by their lack of learning.

“Academically Adrift” studied a sample of students who enrolled at four-year colleges and universities in 2005. As freshmen, they took a test of critical thinking, analytic reasoning and communications skills called the Collegiate Learning Assessment (C.L.A.). Colleges promise to teach these broad intellectual skills to all students, regardless of major. The students took the C.L.A. again at the end of their senior year. On average, they improved less than half of one standard deviation. For many, the results were much worse. One-third improved by less than a single point on a 100-point scale during four years of college.

This wasn’t because some colleges simply enrolled smarter students. The nature of the collegiate academic experience mattered, too. Students who spent more time studying alone learned more, even after controlling for their sociodemographic background, high school grades and entrance exam scores. So did students whose teachers enforced high academic expectations. People who studied the traditional liberal arts and sciences learned more than business, education and communications majors.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Trustees Encouraged to Take More Active Role in Guiding Universities

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has issued a report that looks like it will be very interesting reading.  According to this story from, the report refers to a "failure of higher education governance" and argues that trustees should play a much more active role in correcting some of the problems now facing higher education. The story suggests that the report contains a good summary of those problems. One example of interest to this department: there is (says the report) "evidence that self-interest and personal ideologies can drive departmental directions rather than the interest of the students and preparation of citizens. And studies show that there are fields -- such as military history, constitutional history, and diplomatic history -- that are fast disappearing from college curricula." The report calls on trustees to educate themselves and ask questions like this: "Does the history department ... have expertise and offer coursework on the Founders, the American Revolution, and the Constitution?"  Well, we at least could answer that question with a loud "yes!" If , as James Madison suggests, "all governments rest on opinion," the disappearance of courses on the Constitution and related issues does not bode well for republican self-government.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why Liberal Education is Relevant Even for Professionals

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that some MBA programs are trying to tack on a smattering of liberal education.  Here's an article that explains the idea and why the "tack on" approach can't work.  There is a better way.   Here is Peter Lawler writing on the website, MindingTheCampus.

A Simple Fix For the M.B.A.

By Peter Augustine Lawler

Employers tend to complain that the graduates of American universities are skilled in solving particular problems but "often miss the big picture." This complaint rings true for colleges graduates in general these days, but it's an even larger issue for M.B.A. students, who hope to ultimately ascend to leadership positions in a wide array of businesses. Accordingly, the Wall Street Journal reported last week, M.B.A. programs are beginning to introduce philosophy into their curricula.

One example:  A course in "Nobel Thinking," which exposes students to world-changing ideas generated by members of our cognitive elite.  The course is taught by a professor of economics and discusses transformative economic ideas like "adverse selection." It seems, however, that only an economist could think that an insight into "what happens when buyers and sellers have access to different information" changed the world.   Nobel-winning economists do, in fact, have big-picture abstract thoughts.  But they shouldn't be confused with the thoughts of political or corporate leaders.  Adam Smith and Karl Marx--less technical than political economists--did have thoughts that changed the world.  But they didn't win Nobel Prizes and so don't show up in the course.

A liberally educated person thinks here of Socrates's criticism of the sophists, who thought of all education as technical, as ways of acquiring wealth and power.  Socrates argues that no one in a real position of leadership can succeed if he or she thinks that low.  The "utility maximizer" of the sophists and today's economists is really an abstraction.  There's no real person who consistently thinks and acts that way.  Real persons are families, friends, citizens, creatures, and responsible leaders, in addition to being productive individuals.

So the Socratic injunction to know yourself is really about thinking less abstractly and more concretely or personally.  One management professor, seemingly in this spirit, gave her students "a nonstop, 14-day discovery of yourself."  The take-away for the students, however, was the irreducible variety of interpretations and "palpable anxiety" in the face of ambiguity.  They appeared not to have made the progress described by Plato in Socratic dialogues toward discovering "who I am and what I'm supposed to do."  Without such personal progress, the best way to take out the anxiety of ambiguity is to lose oneself in merely technical goals.

It may well take more than 14 days to discover oneself.  And a whirlwind tour of art, fiction, and meditation can't make up for deep deficiencies in one's upbringing and education. That tour seems to leave the impression that we're all detached tourists in a multicultural world that offers no solid moral or intellectual guidance.
Big ideas and self-knowledge can't really be effective add-ons to M.B.A. programs.  But who can deny that leaders who hope to be more than "specialists without spirit" need them?
There's an obvious solution. M.B.A. programs should only accept students who have flourished in excellent and relatively traditional "humanities" majors such as literature, philosophy, or political science.  They should not require that their students have taken any business courses at all.  That technical training is what the M.B.A. is for.

Not only that, M.B.A. programs should do what they can to encourage undergraduate programs to focus on "the leadership virtues" such as generosity, magnanimity, and prudence, as well as "the service virtues" such as charity and compassion.  There is, of course, no substitute for actually doing the leisurely reading in philosophical, religious, and literary masterpieces required to pick up the habits of genuine reflection.

The last presidential campaign was graced by two candidates who spoke eloquently and had an admirable sense of personal responsibility of a leader.  Mitt Romney had an undergraduate literature major, which was an indispensable prelude to his acquisition of the professional M.B.A. and law degrees.  Barack Obama had excellent undergraduate instruction in political philosophy and literature (he knows all about T.S. Eliot!) at Occidental and Columbia as an indispensable prelude to his law degree.

Undergraduate business degrees devote too much time to PowerPoint presentations, collaborative projects, and narrowly technical problem solving. They seem to do everything they can to divert the student from thinking about himself or herself as a particular person.  They're not about cultivating the souls of leaders.  And that lack of cultivation, it's pretty darn clear, can't be remedied "at the M.B.A. level."

There's a simple remedy for the struggle M.B.A. programs have in getting students to think big yet personally and beyond "the bottom line":  a rather old-fashioned undergraduate liberal arts education.  And recovering the proper relationship between liberal and technical education for emerging leaders is one way among many of thinking clearly again about what undergraduate education is for.

Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and International Studies at Berry College.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Opportunity to Learn (Really Learn) Latin and Greek

For the 2014-2015 academic year, the Academy Vivarium Novum in Rome is offering ten full tuition scholarships  for University students (18-24 years old) of any part of the world. The scholarships will cover all of the costs of room, board, teaching and didactic materials for courses to be held from October 6, 2014 until June 13, 2015 on the grounds of the Academy’s campus at Rome.  The goal of the Academy is to achieve a perfect command of both Latin and Greek through a total immersion in the two languages in order to master without any hindrances the texts and concepts which have been handed down from the ancient times, middle ages, the Renaissance period and modern era, and to cultivate the humanities in a manner similar to the  Renaissance humanists.  All the classes will be conducted in Latin, except for Greek classes which will be conducted in ancient Greek.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Reminder of what Liberal Education is For (and for Whom)

See "Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers" by Scott Samuelson, published in the Atlantic Magazine:

Once, when I told a guy on a plane that I taught philosophy at a community college, he responded, “So you teach Plato to plumbers?” Yes, indeed. But I also teach Plato to nurses’ aides, soldiers, ex-cons, preschool music teachers, janitors, Sudanese refugees, prospective wind-turbine technicians, and any number of other students who feel like they need a diploma as an entry ticket to our economic carnival. As a result of my work, I’m in a unique position to reflect on the current discussion about the value of the humanities, one that seems to me to have lost its way.
As usual, there’s plenty to be worried about: the steady evaporation of full-time teaching positions, the overuse and abuse of adjunct professors, the slashing of public funding, the shrinkage of course offerings and majors in humanities disciplines, the increase of student debt, the peddling of technologies as magic bullets, the ubiquitous description of students as consumers. Moreover, I fear in my bones that the supremacy of a certain kind of economic-bureaucratic logic—one of “outcomes,” “assessment,” and “the bottom-line”—is eroding the values that undergird not just our society’s commitment to the humanities, but to democracy itself.
The problem facing the humanities, in my view, isn’t just about the humanities. It’s about the liberal arts generally, including math, science, and economics. These form half of the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects, but if the goal of an education is simply economic advancement and technological power, those disciplines, just like the humanities, will be—and to some degree already are—subordinated to future employment and technological progress. Why shouldn’t educational institutions predominately offer classes like Business Calculus and Algebra for Nurses? Why should anyone but hobbyists and the occasional specialist take courses in astronomy, human evolution, or economic history? So, what good, if any, is the study of the liberal arts, particularly subjects like philosophy?  Why, in short, should plumbers study Plato?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Distribution of BA Degrees by Field of Study

Some big changes in the fields that undergraduates study occurred between 1970 and 2012:

For a discussion of this chart, see this article by Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Wendy Ruderman on Police Corruption in Philadelphia

Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, Wendy Ruderman, will be giving a talk on her new book (co-authored with Barbara Laker), Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love.  The talk is on Thursday, April 24 at 7pm in the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, and is free and open to the public.  Copies of the book will be on sale at the talk.

Wendy Ruderman has a master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked at several media organizations, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY-TV and 91FM, the Trenton Times, the Associated Press, and the Bergen Record,before joining the Philadelphia Daily News in 2007. In 2010 she, along with Daily News colleague Barbara Laker, won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism for their series "Tainted Justice," on police corruption in Philadelphia. Two years later she became Police Bureau chief for the New York Times before returning to the Daily News in June 2013. Wendy and Barbara Laker teamed up once again to write Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love, based on their award-winning series. The book was published by HarperCollins earlier this year.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

URCA symposium

Quite a few history and political science majors gave presentations in the College of Arts and Sciences 2014 Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Symposium this week: Lindsey Richey (on James Madison and British Commercial Policy in the Making of the U.S. Constitution, 1783-89), Kelsey Golec (The History and Development of the Ohio Juvenile Justice System), Zachary Hoffman (Frederick Douglass and the Ideals of Manhood),  Joseph Griffith (the 'Almost Chosen People': Lincoln's Use of Scripture and Biblical Allusions in the Gettysburg Address & the Second Inaugural), and Johanna Mateo (Latin America: The Impact of Spanish Colonial Rule). That gives a pretty good idea of the variety of interests that students pursue in the department.  Congratulations to all you participants and the organizers of the symposium.  For more information and even some photos, see here.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Would You Hire Socrates?

This op-ed by Scott Samuelson in the Wall Street Journal gets it right on the value of studying the liberal arts.  Studying the humanities does pay, but "thinking of the value of the humanities predominately in terms of earnings and employment is to miss the point. America should strive to be a society of free people deeply engaged in "the pursuit of happiness," not simply one of decently compensated and well-behaved employees."

Here is the whole article: 

The myth that studying the humanities doesn't pay was recently exploded by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

Their study, released in January, analyzed Census Bureau data on the education and occupation of about three million U.S. residents. It found that "at peak earnings ages (56-60 years) workers who majored as undergraduates in the humanities or social sciences earn annually on average about $2,000 more than those who majored as undergraduates in professional or pre-professional fields."

Their study showed that the overwhelming majority of employers are desperate to hire graduates who have "a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems." These are the very skills that we associate with the study of the humanities

As someone who teaches philosophy at a community college, I'm grateful for such efforts to defend the liberal arts from the current assaults against them. But I have my doubts that selling philosophy as a path to future riches is going to be effective. How many parents are going to pay for their kids to take Ethical Theory so that they can perform better at Goldman Sachs? I've yet to have a student read Aristotle's "Metaphysics" and exclaim, "This is really going to pay dividends at IBM!"

Friday, March 28, 2014

The New Edition of Forum is Out

The 2014 edition of "The Forum Book Review" is out.  Edited by Tommy Pochedly and Zac Hoffman, it has reviews of ten books, all written by AU students.  Lots of good stuff.  Among the books reviewed: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell, Quo Vadis, by Henryk Sienkiewicz, The Law: The Classic Blueprint for a Free Society, by Frederic Bastiat, Coolidge, by Amity Shlaes, and We Got Him! A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein, by Lt. Col. Steven Russell.   Here is the nice cover (though the picture doesn't do it justice):

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


That's how long it took history major Drew Windle to win the DII national indoor title in the 800 meter run last weekend in Winston-Salem, NC (he was also part of the distance medley that won a national championship for AU).  His best time for the year, 1:46:52, makes him #2 in the NCAA rankings for the 800, the fastest American runner and the only DII athlete among the fastest 19 men in the country. Pretty darn fast for an historian; actually, could we say that Drew is the fastest history major in history?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Event: How Should the United States Act Towards Iran?

On March 20, 2014, Dr. Michael Rubin from the America Enterprise Institute will debate the question, How Should the United States Act Towards Iran?, with Dr. Rene Paddags from the department of history & political science. The event will take place at 7:00pm in the Ashbrook Center.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

As You Like It

Last semester some faculty and students went to see Shakespeare's play Richard III at the Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland. It was such a good performance that we thought we'd try it again this semester. This time around the play is Shakespeare's As You Like It.  We have reserved tickets on Saturday, April 12, at 1:30 PM.  There is also a half hour pre-play talk at 12:30 we can attend if we want to.
Students who want to go must contact Dr. Edith Foster by next Thursday (March 20) with $13 for their tickets; professors should do the same, but their cost is $20 per ticket. 
The deadline is firm, since Dr. Foster will have to confirm and pay for the tickets on the 21st.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Learning Italian in Florence

Jackie Horn (History & Political Science, 2015) and John Case (History & Political Science, 2015) are studying Italian this semester in Florence, Italy. It is all Italian all the time in a small class made up of three Guatemalans, four Americans, a Colombian, and four Catholic priests, one from India and the others from the Philippines. They say their teachers are great and that they are learning a lot of Italian as well as a lot about countries other than Italy from their classmates.

John, learning at the feet of the dark lord.

In case you haven't had a chance to visit Florence, the sculpture below is the "Rape of the Sabine Women" by the Renaissance artist, Giambologna (the sculpture in the right background, also by Giambologna, is called "Hercules Fighting the Centaur Nessus").

"A" is the New Average?

In "Where A Is Ordinary: The Evolution of American College and University Grading, 1940–2009," Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy, examine data on the awarding of A–F letter grades at over 200 four-year colleges and universities over the past 70 years. The findings:
Contemporary data indicate that, on average across a wide range of schools, A’s represent 43% of all letter grades, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. D’s and F’s total typically less than 10% of all letter grades. Private colleges and universities give, on average, significantly more A’s and B’s combined than public institutions with equal student selectivity. Southern schools grade more harshly than those in other regions, and science and engineering-focused schools grade more stringently than those emphasizing the liberal arts. At schools with modest selectivity, grading is as generous as it was in the mid-1980s at highly selective schools. These prestigious schools have, in turn, continued to ramp up their grades. It is likely that at many selective and highly selective schools, undergraduate GPAs are now so saturated at the high end that they have little use as a motivator of students and as an evaluation tool for graduate and professional schools and employers.
The authors conclude that "A has become the most common grade on American college campuses. Without regulation, or at least strong grading guidelines, grades at American institutions of higher learning likely will continue to have less and less meaning."

Figure 1, "Distribution of grades at American colleges and universities as a function of time," gives a nice overview of what has happened:

The number of Bs, Ds, and Fs have changed a little, but are generally in the same range. The number of Cs awarded, on the other hand, dropped as dramatically as the number of As awarded rose.  Many students who used to get Cs must now be getting As.

One big question is what caused this change? The article discusses various possibilities at some length and concludes, humiliatingly for us professors, that we have lowered our standards. If that is true, the question of grade inflation  may be tied to the assessment regime we all now live under and mostly loathe.  Lower standards would of course mean that students will learn less, and the fact that so many students are being graduated without the skills employers need is an important driver of assessment.

Job Fair in Worthington Ohio

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Now That's Accent on the Individual!

In a time when there are tremendous pressures on all sides for financial efficiencies, it is uplifting to hear that the idea of liberal education is still alive here and there:  
Sarah Lawrence prides itself on individualized education. Ninety percent of courses are seminars (maximum enrollment of 15), and if that's not personal enough, each seminar is built around biweekly one-on-one "conferences" at which each student in the course meets privately with the instructor to discuss progress, develop projects and so forth. Faculty members don't offer just grades, but a narrative evaluation for each student in each course.
This is from a story about how Sarah Lawrence College is developing a unique approach to student learning assessment. The approach is built on the premise that “It’s impossible for standardize testing to actually evaluate the real dynamic intelligence of students."  Some interesting ideas here at