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No Wonder Liberals Like College (Townhall.com) March 25, 2010

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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 If you wonder why political liberals support more aid to higher education, a recent study from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute might answer your question.  The higher students go in American universities, the more liberal their view on many social issues.

For example, 25 percent of those surveyed with a high school education supported same-sex marriage, but 39 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree and 46 percent with a master’s degreee.

Unfortunately surveys by the same group conclude that college doesn’t teach them basic civics and government.  Survey respondents with a bachelor’s degree could answer only 57 percent of basic civics questions correctly, which is 3 percent lower than a passing grade.  In fact, their scores only improve by 1.5 percent after college.

Maybe we need professors who spend less time opinionating and more time educating.

To listen to the audio:  http://townhall.com/TalkRadio/Show.aspx?RadioShowID=11&ContentGuid=f306b931-1a86-484b-89c7-0c090f6ebec2


The Misguided Race to Federalize Education w/Gordon Lloyd (San Francisco Chronicle) February 7, 2010

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays.
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President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan call their 

Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

 $4   billion program of education reform grants the Race to the Top. A more accurate title would be the Race to Washington, because their program culminates a stunning decade in which school policy decisions have been wrested from local and state control to become matters of federal oversight. With the possible exception of Texas – where Gov. Rick Perry is resisting federal education grants with all their strings – no state has been left behind in the race to federalize education.

It’s easy to miss this important power shift because few of us notice, much less worry about, constitutional processes during a crisis. But, as presidential Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” because, he continued, it’s an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before. And that’s precisely what is happening in education as we complete a transfer of money and power to Washington to oversee our schools, in violation of the 10th Amendment, a couple of hundred years of history and common sense.

There is a disturbing pattern of Washington using crises to consolidate power.  First we declare war on a problem, which shifts things into crisis mode. Remember the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on illiteracy, the war on terror? Now we have a war on underperforming schools, so naturally Washington needs to step in and nationalize standards and tests.

It started when two former “education governors,” Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, took some of their education ideas to the White House and now, in the name of spending stimulus money and curing the ailing economy, we spend billions in federal grants on schools, all with policy strings attached.

You could call it bribery, offering cash-starved states extra billions if only they would follow federal curricular standards and testing regimes. You could definitely call it unconstitutional, because nothing in the Constitution gives the federal government a role in education, and the 10th Amendment says powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the people and the states. Even the highly elastic commerce clause doesn’t stretch far enough to cover education. To make matters worse, these federal grants are permitted to go directly to school districts, further eroding the role of states.

But beyond the constitutional question, why would we object to shifting educational control from local and state governments to Washington? For one thing, most of the promising experiments in K-12 educational reform – charter schools, parent councils or the creation of regional sub districts – shift power down toward local principals and parents, not up toward a more distant bureaucracy. For another, needing to win over local and state leaders one at a time slows the embrace of policy fads. For example, after the celebration when Sen. Edward Kennedy and Bush joined hands to “leave no child behind,” we were left instead with a problematic testing regime now desperately in need of repair. Further, education experts who have examined federal education standards say they are more lax than the ones most states now employ.

One of the problems with education, health care, federal regulation of banks and executive compensation: It’s an enormous expansion of the federal enterprise. And, like the New Deal enacted in the crisis of the Great Depression, it will never be turned back. The era of big government isn’t over; it’s just beginning.

David Davenport is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Gordon Lloyd is professor of public policy at Pepperdine University.

(C) San Francisco Chronicle 2010

Value Added Education (Townhall.com) December 17, 2009

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If the Obama administration has one good idea, it belongs to Education 

Courtesy of Townhall.com

 Secretary Arne Duncan who is promoting value-added education. Rather than just viewing education as a process—as educators have done for years—or turning it into a series of national tests, as No Child Left Behind has done, value-added education asks how much each student has learned each year in school.

The problem is that it would also give policy makers the ability to see which teachers and schools really make a positive difference in actual student learning. Needless to say, this scares teachers’ unions—who are more concerned about their members’ pay and job security than student learning. 

But Duncan is rewarding states who adopt this approach with some of the millions in stimulus money that goes to education, which will make it difficult for teachers’ unions to throw a good idea under the school bus.

To listen to the audio:  http://townhall.com/TalkRadio/Show.aspx?RadioShowID=11&ContentGuid=2f7a872c-ea48-4900-b649-6752722ad4bf

The AP arms race (San Francisco Chronicle) March 24, 2006

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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While we worry about nuclear proliferation in Iran and the extensive deployment of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Iraq, there is another arms race in America’s high schools. Educators have dubbed it “the AP arms race.”

AP, or Advanced Placement, testing has exploded in recent years. It began 50 years ago as a small program to challenge a limited number of top high-school students to test out of introductory college courses into a more challenging curriculum. Today, it has mushroomed into a comprehensive scheme that drives decisions about both high-school curriculum and college admissions, while delivering a daily stress test to hundreds of thousands of high school students and their families.

President Bush recently elevated AP testing to the national policy stage, not only giving it a plug in his annual State of the Union address, but also proposing to spend more federal funds so that more teachers will teach, and more students will take, AP courses. Indeed, one of the linchpins of the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative is a fourfold increase in AP course enrollment in math and science over the next five years. Now the AP arms race is a federal priority.

At a time when America’s students seem to be underperforming their international peers, what could possibly be wrong with an educational program that is “advanced?” Well, a handful of educators finally are starting to ask that very question about Advanced Placement. Is a testing scheme designed to place top students in more challenging college courses really an appropriate tool to ratchet up the education of large numbers of high school kids? Is preparing students for largely multiple-choice tests the best way to design an advanced curriculum? Is taking a course earlier, in high school rather than in the freshman year of college, necessarily better? The AP arms race assumes that more is better.

More high-school students taking more AP tests makes principals happy, because their schools look better and it satisfies Baby Boomer parents whose kids seek admission to selective colleges. As a result, one-third of high-school graduates now take at least one AP course, twice as many as 10 years ago. The number of tests taken has tripled in the last decade, with a 59 percent increase in the number of students taking the tests in the last five years, according to the College Board.

In the headlong race for more, as a recent study for the National Center for Educational Accountability noted, AP courses are enrolling too many students who simply aren’t prepared. Even as public high schools seek to add more AP classes, a growing number of top private schools are dropping theirs. Why?

Because the standardized tests force teachers and students into a track race to memorize huge chunks of facts to pass the tests, rather than explore important topics in greater depth. As Rachel Stettler, formerly the principal of one school that dropped AP classes, put it, “They emphasize breadth over depth, and they’re content driven rather than focusing on developing skills like critical inquiry, discourse, or ways of approaching a text.”

Finally, colleges are also asking whether acceleration — taking a class earlier, in high school — is really better than enrichment. Another recent study, by two college professors, reports that science students who took AP courses were not significantly better prepared to handle introductory college classes than their non-AP peers. Colleges that used to hand out as much as a full year of college credit for these high-school courses and tests are wisely rethinking their policies.

The College Board, which produces the AP testing and curriculum, has its hands full right now with SAT tests that were scored incorrectly right on the eve of college-admission decisions. Once that crisis is past, I would urge these testing experts to do a little testing of their own AP program. I have a sense that, on its 50th birthday, AP has a midlife crisis that demands further study.

This article appeared on Page B-11.

Diversity of everything but ideas (San Francisco Chronicle) December 26, 2005

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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Mark 2005 as the year that the dirty little secret of higher education became part of the public conversation. Most of us on college campuses have long known that there is little intellectual diversity in higher education, especially when it comes to political ideas. But we learned to live with it as part of the artificial bubble that characterizes much of campus life.

Consider these recent challenges to the leftward lean of thinking on college campuses:

— Moderate U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander — a former university president and one-time Secretary of Education — told the Commission on the Future of Higher Education that the greatest threat to broader public support and increased funding for higher education is a “growing political one-sidedness which has infected most campuses.”

— The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, in its recent report “Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action,” said “the most serious challenge for higher education today is the lack of intellectual diversity.”

— earlier this year, the broad-based American Council on Education issued a statement, supported by 30 higher education organizations, acknowledging the growing concern about “intellectual pluralism” and the “free exchange of ideas” on campuses.

Yes, people are now standing up to say that higher education, which has pioneered in every other kind of diversity — ethnic, gender, same-sex benefits — lacks diversity in the very heart of its mission: the development and transmission of ideas.

A liberal arts education has become politically liberal. The evidence of political one-sidedness on campus is strong, but not really new. Critics point to a survey by three scholars published earlier this year in The Forum showing that 72 percent of professors consider themselves liberal while only 15 percent say they are conservative. In the liberal arts, as opposed to hard sciences, the numbers are even more imbalanced. Studies of political party affiliations of Stanford and UC Berkeley faculty show registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 8 or 10 to 1. While disturbing, this kind of data isn’t really new.

What seems to be new is a perception by students that professorial political opinions are now very much a part of the classroom, even in a course on Chaucer or biology. Professors once took pride in disguising their own views and making the classroom an objective laboratory of ideas. Now, some argue, in a postmodern world where everything is political, how can politics not be engaged in the classroom? As a result, a survey of students at 50 top universities showed that nearly half the students feel faculty use the classroom to present their personal political views, and that political discussions seem “totally one-sided.”

The academy should take such concerns seriously because a lack of intellectual diversity undercuts the fundamental purpose of liberal arts education: to stretch and grow students through exposure to a wide range of disciplines and ideas. Marketing one political ideology to students throughout their four years of study, as happens on many campuses, not only leads to less intellectual creativity and policy innovation, but it continues to isolate an academic class in its “ivory tower.” No wonder, then, that Sen. Alexander warns that Congress will be less and less interested in supporting a venture that leads to greater political divisiveness in the name of higher education.

So what is to be done to promote greater intellectual diversity on campuses? It won’t be easy, given that tenure protects professors’ jobs and academic freedom is used to defend almost whatever they choose to say. Still, there is plenty that can be done to broaden the range of ideas on campus.

Trustees and administrators should undertake a study of the diversity of thought on their own campuses. One way to balance what is presented in the classroom is to invite a greater diversity of outside speakers, or part-time adjunct faculty. Deans should look at the syllabus for courses to see if a range of ideas is presented in the readings and engage faculty on the issue. It doesn’t violate academic freedom to have a conversation about a professor’s reading list. As one of my bosses correctly said to me, “You have academic freedom to write what you want and I have freedom to say what I want about what you write.” Intellectual diversity should be part of student course evaluations, and should be reviewed at the highest levels.

On the seal of my alma mater are the words, “Let the winds of freedom blow.” We should remember the winds of freedom blow right and center, as well as left, and that, in the academic world of ideas, diversity of thought may be the most important kind of diversity of all.

This op/ed appeared on Page B-5.

Truly higher education (Scripps Howard News Service) February 19, 2004

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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For more than 100 years, America’s colleges and universities have steadily pushed religion and spirituality off the campus. Recent evidence suggests, however, that U.S. college students are deeply interested in such matters and universities that emphasize faith in learning are growing by leaps and bounds.

Though one would hardly know it today, most of America’s great private universities, and even many of its state-supported institutions, began as church-related colleges. From Harvard and Yale right on across the country, colleges were founded with religious missions right alongside their academic curriculum.

Over time the spiritual mission was pushed aside in favor of greater academic freedom. The seal of Harvard University tells the story graphically, at first containing the Latin terms for “Christ and the church” right in the center. Eventually the seal was revised to move those words to the edge and to introduce “truth” in the center. Finally the spiritual terms disappeared altogether, as has that emphasis on most college campuses.

But have we thrown out the baby with the bathwater? Research commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation and performed by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA suggests that students are very much interested in spiritual development during their college years and that universities are doing a poor job overall of meeting those needs.

The UCLA study surprised many in higher education with these findings among college students surveyed:

– 77 percent of students believe “we are all spiritual beings.”

– 77 percent of students pray regularly and 78 percent discuss religion/spirituality with friends.

– 71 percent of students find religion to be personally helpful and 71 percent gain spiritual strength by trusting in a higher power.

At the same time, students expressed that their college has note provided helpful resources in their spiritual quest and that their spirituality has declined from their freshman to junior years (the period surveyed). Of students surveyed, 62 percent said their professors never encourage discussion of spiritual or religious matters and 56 percent responded that faculty never provide opportunities to discuss the purpose or meaning of life.

The disconnect between students’ spiritual needs and aspirations on one hand and campus resources on the other is striking indeed. It is as though a whole generation of spirituality minded students has sneaked up on campus administrators and faculty who were raised in a more secular tradition. Or perhaps the spiritual interest has always been there but has not been discovered until these recent studies began to appear.

Addressing spiritual needs will not be an easy task for our universities. Many of them long ago closed down their departments of religious studies and removed any relics of religious symbolism. And the wall of separation that has grown between church and state seems to find its way even into private college campuses where a faculty culture finds discussion of spiritual or religious matters inappropriate. But with religious overtones to war and foreign policy, and spiritual questions abounding in people’s lives, these are matters colleges may no longer be able to ignore.

Not surprisingly, many students are voting with their feet. Unable to find spiritual resources on secular campuses, larger numbers of students are choosing colleges and universities where faith is still part of the mission. Recent figures show, for example, that the 104 colleges that are part of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities have experienced a 27 percent growth rate since 1997, more than three times greater than the 8 percent growth in all degree-granting institutions during that same period.

Set against so many discouraging trends, the notion that college students are interested in spiritual and religious things comes as a pleasant surprise. Let’s hope that faith-based organizations of all kinds, along with wise mentors on college campuses, will be alert to meeting such needs. Helping its future leaders think through the meaning of life and build a core of strong values can only strengthen the future of our society.

How not to judge a college (Scripps Howard News Service) September 9, 2003

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Just in time for the start of school comes a new round of college ratings. Sadly, many students will arrive at their chosen campus to find that relying on these sources of information ranks as a big mistake.

Rating universities has become a profitable way to sell books and magazines. One guide to the 328 “most interesting colleges” will give you such vital information as which schools are “hot and trendy” and which are “hidden treasures.” Several guidebooks compete to name the biggest “party schools.” To keep it interesting, these things supposedly change from year to year, so you’d better buy the latest edition. Suddenly Yale might be better than Princeton, at least for a year.

But the granddaddy of them all is the fall U.S. News and World Report rankings, which purport to tell us which universities stand at the top of the academic class. These are the most dangerous rankings of all since they purport to provide objective and measurable comparisons upon which parents and prospective students have come to rely.

But don’t be fooled. Academic quality is not measurable in the way that Consumer Reports compares toasters and DVD players. And the U.S. News survey is hardly objective, with 25 percent of their measurements coming from the subjective opinions of college presidents and deans. Perhaps worst of all, several important questions consumers should ask about a college are not even raised.

Take faculty resources, for example, the second largest factor in the U.S. News formula. Would you say that your best classroom experiences come as a result of how much the college spent on faculty salaries and benefits, or what proportion of the professors were full-time? As one savvy parent put it, even though her daughter’s Ivy League college ranks high in faculty resources, her student hasn’t had more than 50 percent of her classes taught by those professors. Instead, graduate teaching assistants cover about half the class sessions. Yet this critical question of access to the faculty is not even considered.

Take a closer look at the largest single factor in the survey, overall reputation. When I served as a college president, I was sent questionnaires asking me to rank 248 different universities all over the nation in various categories of quality. I had never set foot on more than a dozen of the campuses, and as a graduate of two of the schools and president of another, I certainly had biases. I finally quit filling them out altogether, my silent protest to a process that I felt lacked quality and integrity.

Yet the impact of these ratings seems to grow out of all proportion to their quality. Parents and students consistently report that they use such rankings in deciding which colleges to visit. Many universities shamelessly game the system, changing their admissions policies, and entering into bidding wars for both star faculty and students. There are reports that some colleges offer bonuses to administrators who help the college move up in these rankings.

Enough already! Let’s admit that 3,500 colleges and universities in America, each with its own distinctive mission, culture and location, cannot be simply lined up in some kind of rank order. Instead, students should be searching for a college that matches their own education needs and goals. Do they want a smaller or a larger college? Is geography important to them? Will they have access to a high quality faculty that cares about them as students and makes their learning a higher priority than writing more journal articles? Does the college offer international programs and strong majors of potential interest? Are scholarships available?

I am proud of one of my own children who made a difficult college decision this summer. Despite being admitted to one or two colleges that would rank higher in the academic beauty contest, he chose a school that he felt better met his own needs and interests. At first I questioned him, knowing he had choices the rankings say are better. But he gave good answers to why this college was a good fit for him and, in the end, he made the best decision.

Do not choose a college by the numbers. Most of those numbers are about resources and reputation and not actual quality or performance. Base your choice on your own needs and aspirations and which colleges can best meet them. As Albert Einstein reminded us, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Court settles for affirimative inaction (Scripps Howard News Service) June 24, 2003

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Spin doctors on both sides are claiming victory, but the mixed U.S. Supreme Court decisions about racial preferences in college admissions disappointed conservatives.

Ironically this is not because conservative opponents of affirmative action lost any ground – since the court decisions essentially retain the status quo – but because they did not score a complete knockout of racial preferences.

In the most closely watched cases of this term, the high court held that the University of Michigan’s law school could continue to consider race as one factor in admissions decisions, but that the university’s undergraduate policy automatically assigning a numerical preference for underrepresented minority applicants is unconstitutional. A university may have a “compelling state interest” in racial preferences to create a diverse student body, but each student must be considered individually and not as a part of racial quota or formula.

Court watchers were not surprised by the middle ground, 5-4 court verdict. The Michigan admissions policy had already received mixed results on narrow votes in the lower federal courts. Given the makeup of the present Supreme Court, most experts correctly predicted a close decision, with moderate justice Sandra Day O’Connor casting the key vote. In the end, 6 of the 9 justices wrote their own opinions, reflecting deep divisions on this crucial issue.

The split on the Supreme Court reflects widely varying public views about racial preferences. Americans of all races tell pollsters they believe college admissions decisions should be based purely on merit. Yet colleges of all kinds filed briefs with the Supreme Court urging the continuation of racial preferences. Even the U.S. military weighed in, telling the court that is could not continue to staff an excellent and diverse fighting force without some use of racial preferences.

What practical impact will the Michigan decisions have? It depends on the position in which you stand.

– If you stand in the shoes of underrepresented minority students and their families you are generally pleased. Even though the Michigan decisions do little more than affirm what the Supreme Court said the last time it reviewed these issues 25 years ago, a series of lower court decisions, and even ballot propositions, have been limiting the use of racial preferences. A decision that racial preferences in college admissions are unconstitutional was a frightening possibility.

– If you are an applicant who is not part of an underrepresented minority, this decision may be frustrating. It says that a college admissions will continue to be unpredictable, and influenced by a number of factors that may work to your disadvantage. Families are understandably frustrated when students apply with a 4.0 high school grade point average (or higher) and are still not admitted to their state university.

– Most colleges and universities will be pleased with the decision since, with some adjustments, they can continue their policies of racial preference. Private colleges and smaller campuses will be able to meet the court’s requirement of individual admissions decisions that consider race as simply one factor. Larger, public universities will find that more difficult, since they often use now-forbidden formulas simply to handle the huge volume of admissions files.

– Liberals and other political leaders who favor affirmative action can breathe a sigh of relief. The political momentum running against racial preferences has been slowed. With colleges generally favoring such polities, and the court declaring them constitutional, the matter seems to be settled in their favor for a time.

– Conservatives and others who oppose racial preferences did not achieve the big win they hoped for. In an interesting note, however, the court clearly stated that racial preferences to created a diverse student body are a temporary measure. Justice O’Connor, writing for the majority, said, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” For the first time, the clock is officially running out on racial preferences in college admissions.

Perhaps now it will be possible to take admissions decisions out of the federal courts and return them to campus officials – at least for 25 years.

Congressional price fixing (Scripps Howard News Service) April 2, 2003

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Washington has spawned a new breed of politician that deserves careful watching: the Big Government Republican. Elected on a free market platform, this dangerous species catches Potomac fever and proceeds to regulate and tax to fix society’s ills.

The latest Republican leader to contract the disease is Congressman Buck McKeon from California. As chair of the Higher Education Subcommittee, the influential McKeon has proposed government price controls for America’s colleges and universities, announcing he will introduce a bill to limit increases in tuition to two times the rise of the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Curiously the last political leader to implement widespread government price controls was another Republican, Richard Nixon. It did not work well for Nixon in 1971 – he later admitted, “it wasn’t one of our better ideas” – and will not work in higher education today. We can only hope that Congress will listen closely to several voices of reason before using this blunt instrument on such an important driver of the American economy.

One group Congress should listen to is antitrust economists. These experts teach that price fixing – which is what the law calls price controls – has two economic consequences: It increases demand and reduces supply. You spell that “shortage,” which is the last thing we want in higher education with a tidal wave of baby boomer children already filling up limited college spaces. Fixing a maximum price also becomes a target, so that campuses will shoot for the new government-approved tuition hike.

Another voice Congress should hear is that of higher education economists. They will explain that while college tuition has gone up significantly in recent years, so have the costs colleges must pay. Higher education has always been labor-intensive, with two-thirds of university budgets going to its people. With technology they now must become capital-intensive also and staying on that leading edge is expensive. In fact, the Higher Education Price Index, which reflects the special goods and services colleges must pay for, would be a far more relevant index than the Consumer Price Index. Otherwise, capping prices will likely lead to an erosion of quality in a market where American clearly leads.

Educators and campus administrators should also be in line to speak to Congress. They will remind the regulators that, as David Warren of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities pointed out: “Colleges and universities are already dealing with significant cuts in state budgets, endowments, corporate philanthropy and alumni gifts.” At private colleges, 84 percent of students receive financial aid and, while high-priced colleges get the headlines, most students at 4-year colleges pay only $4000 per year in tuition and fees. And how will the legislation address schools with special needs, like the California community colleges that, in difficult budget times, are asked to raise tuition 100 percent, but will still be well below the national average?

Finally, Congress would do well to listen to broader voices that are not inside the system. The world market, for example, says that American higher education is of high quality and well priced, since it sends far more students to study here than any other country. Or maybe they should ask health care consumers what they think about government intervention to fix costs in that industry. The consensus is that health care prices have not been controlled and quality has declined.

Price controls are seductive but they do not work. As a free market conservative, Congressman McKeon should know better. But, as the noted economist Milton Friedman said, one of the greatest enemies of free markets is the businessman who wants free enterprise for everyone else, but seeks a special tariff or government regulation in his own market. The chair of Higher Education Subcommittee would doubtless oppose price controls elsewhere, and he should not be allowed to have them in the industry he most closely oversees. Let’s hope his bill prompts discussion of an important issue, but no price fixing.

Commencements reveal campus values (Scripps Howard News Service) June 19, 2002

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The commencement season is upon us and, on more than 3,000 college and university campuses, shorts and baseball caps are giving way to gowns and mortarboards. It is a moment of personal accomplishment and family pride, but graduation also provides a rare public look behind the gates of campus life. When the commencement platform is built and the curtains drawn back, we can see something of the value system that has influenced the next generation during the formative years of college.

For 15 years as a university president, I presided over this rite of passage. In fact, friends noted the irony that, having skipped my own college and law school ceremonies, I was resigned to attending nearly 100 of them in my career. The phrase “poetic justice” comes to mind. In any event, I know the drill, and find interesting clues about campus values and the direction of education from snapshots of this year’s commencements.

Commencement should be a happy time, but the radical politics that pervade the campus year-round cannot be banned from the ceremony. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney both faces protestors at commencement addresses at Ohio State and Michigan State respectively. National security advisor Condoleezza Rice, ironically the former provost of Stanford and the most powerful African-American woman in the world, saw similar protests at her Stanford speech. At UCLA, students felt that first lady Laura Bush was not qualified to speak at the Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences and protested her invitation. U.C. Berkeley, with its radical reputation, could not attract a top-name speaker this year.

The 2002 award for distasteful politics at commencement surely goes to Professor Bell Hooks of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, who condemned many in her audience for “life-threatening conservatism…and the powerful forces of everyday fascism which use the politics of exclusion and ostracism to maintain the status quo.” Whereas most commencement speakers include some optimistic reference about the future, Professor Hooks found that distasteful, noting that “every imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal nation on the planet teaches its citizens to care more for tomorrow than today.”

The growing role of technology in education is also reflected at commencement time. Mexican President Vicente Fox, whose ban on travel outside the country prevented him from delivering one address, nevertheless made another graduation speech via the Internet. Jones International University held its commencement online, inviting students to view Fox’s address over the Internet, and to mingle afterwards for a reception in a chat room. Students at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of New Mexico used new technologies to display personal messages on a screen when they received their diploma, introducing a potential replacement for those masking tape messages on the top of mortarboards.

Sheer persistence in pursuing education and completing the degree is a valuable message at graduation. That director Stephen Spielberg, for example, could have had dozens of honorary degrees, but went back to Long Beach State to complete his bachelor’s degree, is a wonderful example. Less well-known, but equally inspiring, were the single mother of four who finished her 12-year quest for a liberal arts degree at Santa Clara, or the Radcliffe woman who was denied her degree 63 years ago for not passing the requisite swimming test, but collected it this year.

Of course, commencement also reminds us that college is fun, even wacky. They tried, with only limited success, to limit the tortilla throwing at the University of Arizona this year, and beach balls are common fare at outdoor ceremonies. Although it never rains at Harvard’s commencement, it poured this year, prompting new president Lawrence Summers to forego some of this remarks on “veritas” on account of the “humidatis, not to mention frigiditas.” Sandals, flip flops, umbrellas and plastic garbage bags were part of this season’s Harvard commencement regalia.

Unfortunately this is not an easy year for students to leave campus, with a difficult job market awaiting them. Years ago, comedian Bob Hope gave perhaps the best advice of all to graduates: “Don’t go.”