Blundering Blurbers

Philosophical ruminations.
May 25 1999 3:30 AM

Blundering Blurbers

(Continued from Page 1)

Affirmative action is good for you, supporters told the New York Times. The University of Michigan, for one, cites statistical evidence to argue that affirmative action benefits not only minority students but all students. White students who attend a "diverse" college campus are more likely to work in integrated settings and to display ambition, confidence, and other worthy traits, the school attests. "Diversity enhances learning," says university President Lee Bollinger. Meanwhile, the New York Times Magazine offers a rosy portrait of California after the abolition of affirmative action. Minority students who once might have been admitted to the system's best schools are now finding places at lower-tier schools. More important, the new dispensation has encouraged state universities to step up their efforts to recruit students from low-performing high schools, often with positive results.

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businesschool.com

Junk bond king Michael Milken and the University of Chicago are partnering in an online business school venture. The University of Chicago has just announced a deal with UNEXT.com, an online education company partly funded by Milken and headed by a Chicago trustee. University officials anticipate $20 million in revenues just in the next five years. But faculty members are concerned about conflicts of interest, not only on the part of the trustee, Andrew Rosenfield, but also because UNEXT's investors include two University of Chicago economics professors, Gary Becker and Merton Miller, as well as the university's law school dean, Daniel Fischel. Fischel is also the author of Payback: The Conspiracy To Destroy Michael Milken and His Financial Revolution. Administrators protest that they are only keeping pace with their competitors: UNEXT has already signed on with Columbia, while Harvard, Stanford, and Cornell are considering commercial partners for their own online programs.

UC-Berkeley Folds ...

A monthlong protest by students in Berkeley's ethnic studies department, marked by a hunger strike and 129 arrests, ended in near complete capitulation by the administration, which promised more tenure-track faculty and a research center. The "Third World Liberation Front" demonstrators argued that over the last decade Berkeley had neglected its ethnic studies department, failing to fill positions in fields such as Chicano and Native American studies. The agreement calls for a committee of students and faculty members to design a five-year plan to guide the department's hiring strategy.

... And So Does Anna Quindlen

Protests by anti-abortion activists at Villanova University convinced former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen to bow out as a commencement speaker. The best-selling novelist would have been the third member of her family to receive an honorary degree from the Catholic university near Philadelphia. Quindlen, a board member of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, had no plans to discuss abortion in her address--"I would have talked about the sheer pleasure of living," she told the Philadelphia Inquirer. She added that she didn't want to divert attention from the students on their graduation day. The protesters were only half-mollified by Quindlen's gesture: The president of American Collegians for Life regrets that the university did not revoke the invitation first.

Yo Queerio, Taco Bell

Under a "Missionary Positions" theme, the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies met in San Antonio, Texas, to focus on sexuality, a topic long considered taboo in the Latino community. As the Los Angeles Times reports, about 1,000 scholars gathered to hear papers on subjects that ranged from "Latina rage" to "joto" (queer) scholarship to Chicano rap music and machismo. Alicia Gaspar de Alba, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles, declared that Chicano studies has "finally been won by feminists and people in gender studies." But Juan Rodriguez, a professor at Texas Lutheran University and a member of the association since 1974, predicted a "backlash" in a few years: "Academics are no more enlightened than anyone else."

Atlas Shrugs at No. 1

At the end of April, Random House posted two lists of the top 100 nonfiction titles of the 20th century--one as judged by the Modern Library's "board" (Caleb Carr, Elaine Pagels, Stephen Jay Gould, Jon Krakauer, and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., among others) and the other as judged by the "readers," or basically anyone who voted for his or her favorite book on the Modern Library Web site. Topping the "board" list is The Education of Henry Adams, by Henry Adams. The "readers" gave Ayn Rand four titles in the top 10, including the top slot. In response, the feisty journal Philosophy and Literature has inaugurated a different kind of discussion on its listserv. Its members are posting their votes for the worst books. Rand has proved to be a listserv favorite, though John Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Martin Amis' The Information have also garnered mentions.