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