liberal arts

College is back in session! As such, many college-themed movies are getting a lot of play on the tube and streaming outlets. Allow yours truly to now offer up a list of my favorite college-themed films … and why College Fixers should dig ‘em:

12. One On One (1977). Kind of dated, feel-good coming of age story starring Robby Benson (remember him?). Benson is a small-town basketball star who has no idea what’s in store for him at a big-time college b-ball program. He has to overcome bigger and better players, a sadistic coach (played by G.D. Spradlin, along the same lines as his role in North Dallas Forty), and his own lack of reading skills.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: The film doesn’t portray Benson as entirely sympathetic; he not only has to overcome the obstacles noted above, but also his own conceit and ego.

11. Rudy (1993). Rudy Ruettiger is determined to play Notre Dame football, period. And he’ll stop at nothing to do just that! Sean Aston plays the title character with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader on twenty cups of coffee.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: No special treatment for Ruettiger … just pure heart, hard work and determination. And it ultimately pays off.

10. Soul Man (1986). Mark Watson (C. Thomas Howell) wants to maintain his pampered lifestyle, but his dad has other plans for spending money (i.e. not on his son). Hence, going to Harvard is out the window unless … Mark comes up with a plan. And that he does: He takes “tanning pills” and applies for a scholarship reserved for African-Americans. Naturally, this creates its own set of problems …
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Despite some heavy-handed stereotypes, there’s a lot to like: the hilarious rich female “progressive” who needs to “validate” her creds by dating a black guy, the no-nonsense/doesn’t-take-any-crap black law professor (played perfectly by James Earl Jones), and the sympathetic Rae Dawn Chong as the straight-A student from whom Watson took that coveted scholarship.

9. Real Genius (1985). Mitch Taylor is a 15 year-old genius who heads off to a college for brainiacs. There, he meets the “legendary” Chris Knight (Val Kilmer in one of his best roles) who shows Mitch that having a super-IQ doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Hard work and drive are great things, but you gotta maintain a sense of humor and loosen up … or you’ll go nuts! Not to mention, the great William Atherton plays the snooty professor. You also know him as the scummy reporter from Die Hard, and as Walter Peck in Ghostbusters.

8. Liberal Arts (2012). An underrated gem of a film, Josh Radnor plays a 30-something college admissions officer who’s down in the dumps after being, well, dumped by his girlfriend. While at a party at his alma mater, he meets 19 year-old student Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) and, well, a relationship begins, albeit one you might not expect.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Radnor and Olsen are superb in demonstrating the clash of generational perspectives. Perhaps best of all, Radnor doesn’t succumb to his (obvious) passions, realizing those perspectives are just too disparate.

7. A Beautiful Mind (2001). John Nash (Russell Crowe) is the genius mathematician who can solve problems no one else can … but eventually realizes he suffers from schizophrenia. Crowe shows he has true acting chops as his performance of Nash is one for the ages.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Schizophrenia remains an incurable and baffling disease. As the film depicts, Nash not only managed his disease but, one could say, defeated it; he won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1994.

6. The Great Debaters (2007). Professor Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) helps several African-American students from small Wiley College to become top-notch debaters. The team eventually goes on to take on the powerful Harvard squad … and wins.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Classic David vs. Goliath tale set in the era of legal segregation. Don’t let Tolson’s politics distract you; the success of the film’s subjects doesn’t take away from the constant undercurrent of the culture in which they live. The scene where Forest Whitaker buckles (in front of son) before the racist whims of a white man remains as powerful as ever.

5. Good Will Hunting (1997). Will (Matt Damon) is a modern-day Einstein but doesn’t care a whit. He’s a janitor at MIT where he occasionally befuddles the math department by clandestinely solving problems on a hallway chalkboard that no one else can. He’s got a chip on his shoulder a mile-wide due to a brutal childhood, and psychologist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) assists him in using his God-given talents to their potential.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Despite Damon’s and Williams’ gratuitious injection of progressive heroes Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky in their initial meeting, and the former’s subsequent smack down of NSA types, overall the story is an excellent coming of age/getting-your-act-together offering. And who doesn’t tune in just to watch the bar scene (below) where Damon puts that pony-tailed, quasi-know-it-all Harvard douche in his (smug) place?

4. The Social Network (2010). The story of Mark Zuckerberg’s ascension as the god of social media. Sure, he’s a jerk; however, what successful gazillionaire hasn’t ruffled a lot of feathers along the way to the business zenith? Zuckerberg owns the claim as the youngest of all of them.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: It’s an American success story, and a young college genius is the subject. Star Jesse Eisenberg is sensational as Zuckerberg, with Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) likewise as former best pal Eduardo Saverin.

3. Oleanna (1994). A film that could be taken from contemporary college headlines, it details what happens when a female student, who visits a prof during office hours to discuss her failing grade, misconstrues certain statements and then slaps said prof with a “sexual harassment” suit. William Macy (Boogie Nights, The Cooler) stars as the prof brought the brink of despair by the turn of events.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: The student, Carol (Debra Eisenstadt), personifies radical feminism to the Nth degree, and any prof in the contemporary academy could, sadly, easily face what Macy does in this flick.

2. Revenge of the Nerds (1984). One of the best college comedies of all-time, the perpetually picked-on-by-the-jocks nerds at Adam’s College get fed up … and decide to fight back — as only they can. John Goodman is hilarious as the amoral football coach, and who doesn’t love the nerds’ talent show performance (below)?
—> Why College Fixers should like it: Brains and savvy overcome conceit and popularity. And don’t forget the barely-veiled comparison to the black American experience in the form of African-American fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda. Bernie Casey is perfect as frat president U.N. Jefferson.

1. Back to School (1986). Thornton Mellon (Rodney Dangerfield at his best), mega-successful businessman, decides to do college alongside his son Jason. Though Professor Turner (Sally Kellerman) and Dean Martin (Ned Beatty) easily take to Mellon, the snooty Professor Barbay can’t stand him, deeming him “unqualified” to be at the school.
—> Why College Fixers should like it: The conflict between Mellon and Barbay is what really makes the film. Mellon, a blue collar guy who turned a small clothing store into an empire, is supposed to “learn” business from an Ivory Tower type like Barbay? Not only does Thornton beat Barbay at his own game, he steals his girlfriend (Kellerman) in the process.

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Dave Huber is an assistant editor of  The College Fix. You can follow him on Twitter @ColossusRhodey.

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A racially motivated prank against white male students is ignored. Conservative professors are vilified. White male students are labeled oppressors, perpetrators of rape, or willing bystanders.

That’s part of a shocking list of examples of extreme leftist bias at Amherst College detailed recently by a student in an opinion column published in the school’s student newspaper.

“Though it may not be the worst amongst its peers, Amherst College is notorious for putting the liberal in liberal arts education,” junior Katrin Marquez, a Cuban-American studying political science at the small, liberal arts college in Massachusetts, wrote in her Amherst Student campus newspaper op-ed.

“From anonymous attacks on The Student website after Andrew Kaake’s pro-life article last year, to gleeful comments concerning the retirement of conservative professors and distinguished scholars Hadley Arkes and Walter Nicholson, to private ridicules of the Amherst College Republicans regardless of their impressive work in the last few months, hostility against conservative ideals is rampant on our campus,” Marquez wrote in the piece, published last month.

Marquez’s column was titled “Social Justice,” and its main thrust was to argue against talk on campus of hiring someone with a social justice background to head up the school’s Multicultural Resource Center. She argued that would only make the divisive atmosphere on campus worse.

“Already the campus promotes liberal ideas in the way in presents certain issues to its students, but to continue this pattern with the one person whose primary purpose is to promote inclusivity on campus is going much too far,” Marquez wrote. “This move will serve as the College’s way of saying that conservative values and ideologies are not really welcome here, that notions of inclusivity go only as far as race, ethnicity and socio-economic status will allow.”

In her piece, she also cited several recent examples of how white male students are targeted and vilified.

For one:

Everyone at Amherst has been excluded at some point or another, even those within groups that are generally thought of as privileged. This past weekend, a presumably racially-motivated prank occurred on campus. At approximately four in the morning on Saturday, a student discovered that piles of white powder were left in front of the doors of the white male students living in the second floor of Moore dormitory. Because the resident counselor responded quickly to the incident, the police wrote a report and the powder was cleaned up before many knew anything had happened. That was it. No campus-wide email. No discussion. Having spoken to a student that actually witnessed this event, I know they were deeply troubled, but no one else seemed to care. Last semester, there was a huge backlash when the n-word was found written in snow, and rightfully so. Why is it, however, that attacks against students that are generally labeled as privileged do not garner such attention?

She also noted:

Last semester, as one of the discussion leaders for the Day of Dialogue, I saw how calls to dismantle privilege put certain peoples on the defensive. The group I co-led was composed primarily of white, affluent male athletes and it was easy to see that they felt attacked by Professor Cobham-Sander’s presentation on privilege; even the white male facilities staff member in our group seemed uncomfortable. At first all discussion was stifled because these men felt labeled as oppressors, as perpetrators of rape or willing bystanders. As soon as the conversation moved away from the accusatory tone of privilege, these students opened up and had insightful recommendations for needed changes. As a community, we need to make sure that our campus promotes inclusive dialogue, not the blaming and awkward floor-staring that results from the politically-motivated perspective of social justice.

To back up her point that a diversity of ideologies is not welcome at Amherst, Marquez also wrote about reactions to a piece she penned in which she criticized affirmative action:

When I wrote an article last semester criticizing affirmative action, I received emails from students and professors alike that felt as I did, but could not articulate those feelings because they feared being publically attacked as people who could not understand the struggles of minority students. One alum wrote a caustic blog post about me in which he argued my ideas were wrong simply because I looked too white to actually understand what it means to be a person of color in America; he had never seen me in person or spoken with me. When it comes to issues of diversity and inclusivity at Amherst, we need to move beyond what we know will only perpetuate the divisions on campus. We need to do this because it matters, because it is of dire importance that we create one community, not many disparate ones.

Click here to read Marquez’s entire piece.

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Since September 2011 The National Association of Scholars (NAS) has been researching and compiling a report on liberal arts education in America, using Bowdoin college as a case study, and the results aren’t pretty.

The report reveals that Bowdoin’s curriculum not only lacks a semblance of core requirements to teach students fundamental subjects, but is also filled with “incoherent and trivial courses” such as a class entitled “Queer Gardens” (dropped due to a lack of student interest) which surveyed the horticultural achievements of gay and lesbian gardeners.

In their report entitled “What Does Bowdoin Teach?,” Peter Wood and Michael Toscano of NAS say they wanted to study Bowdoin College’s “curriculum, student activities, and campus values… to learn what a contemporary liberal arts college education consists of.”

What they found was a college that had pledged itself to open-mindedness and critical thinking, but which instead features a curriculum that fails to teach and suffers from a culture devoid of values.

NAS began their project recognizing that a college teaches much more than what can be found in a course catalog and thus broadened their study to, among other subjects, university policies, extra-curricular activities, and campus culture and community. With the goal to “build a well-rounded portrait of contemporary elite liberal arts education,” NAS chose to focus on only one school and chose Bowdoin as an exemplar of the modern American liberal arts education.

The educational philosophy at Bowdoin is animated by the notion that students receive a coherent education not by following a prescribed path but rather by being liberated to study nearly whatever they desire. This notion, coupled with the marked lack of intellectual diversity and skewed academic focus, creates a student body that is, as the report describes, extremely well versed in racial grievance, anti-capitalism, multiculturalism, and social justice. Yet students know little, if anything, about the plays of Shakespeare, the Civil War, or Aristotle

The NAS study found that Bowdoin lacks political diversity. With an estimated four or five politically conservative faculty members out of approximately 182 total faculty members, Bowdoin College is a predominantly liberal community that lacks diversity of thought.

In the 2012 presidential election 100% of faculty donations went to Obama. The President of the College, Barry Mills, has acknowledged this lopsided political bias. But he and the faculty at large see this as no hindrance to Bowdoin’s goals of open-mindedness and critical thinking. Mills argued that liberal professors aptly and sufficiently present conservative views on campus.

Beyond the classroom, the report adds that Bowdoin has long given up on cultivating students’ moral life, yet by virtue of teaching such young and malleable minds, cannot refrain from shaping students’ character. As such, the college definitively promotes sexual promiscuity, disdain for America, and a haughty sense among the students of being “know-it-alls” flattered by their own brilliance.

Ashley Thorne, the director of the Study of the Curriculum at NAS, says she hopes people will “recognize that a college shapes its students beyond the classroom and that in what it funds, cheers for, punishes, holds sacred, deems profane, alters over time, and takes pride in—it is still teaching.” In the future, Thorne says, the NAS hopes to expand this project to study other liberal arts institutions and learn more about larger trends in higher education.

“What Does Bowdoin Teach,” sheds a critical light on the state of higher education in America. The study reveals a campus plagued by close-mindedness, a lack of political diversity, aimless curriculum, and a harmful sexual culture—problems that aren’t unique to Bowdoin college.

According to Thorne, the NAS hopes this report will “spark a national conversation on what the liberal arts is and what it should be.”

Fix contributor Alec Torres is a senior at Yale University.

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A political science professor at Butler University asks students to disregard their “American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status” when writing and speaking in the classroom – a practice the school’s arts and sciences dean defended as a way to negate students’ inherent prejudices.

The syllabus of the course at Butler, a small Midwestern liberal arts institution in Indianapolis, spells out that students should use “inclusive language” because it’s “a fundamental issue of social justice.”

“Language that is truly inclusive affirms sexuality, racial and ethnic backgrounds, stages of maturity, and degrees of limiting conditions,” the syllabus states, referencing a definition created by the United Church of Christ.

The syllabus of the class, called Political Science 201: Research and Analysis, goes on to ask students “to write and speak in a way that does not assume American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status, etc. to be the norm.” It is taught by a black, female professor.

In an interview with The College Fix, Jay Howard, dean of Butler’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, denied this practice essentially presumes every student who walks through the door is a racist or misogynist.

He said students must be told not to assume such prejudices because such assumptions are ingrained into the culture and remain there until questioned. With that, a liberal arts education questions these assumptions, and such questions can make for uncomfortable situations, he said.

“Sometimes in order to broaden the conversation and broaden the understandings you’ve got to risk making people uncomfortable,” Howard said. “There’s nothing about a college education that guarantees you won’t be made uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, if you’re never made uncomfortable in your college education, you’re not really getting a college education.”

Howard said the college he oversees does not want students to continue to harbor such assumptions without question, “but neither do we want to exclude the dominant group in society in our attempts to make sure that we’re leveling hierarchies.”

In twenty years, white people will no longer be the majority, but they will still be the largest ethnic group, Howard said. He said using inclusive language would help students prepare for a changing world as America becomes more diverse.

He added that American culture makes speaking inclusively difficult, and the English language is partly to blame.

“Our language doesn’t make it easy to write in ways that are inclusive,” Howard said. “We don’t have a generic singular, I mean we have he and she. There is no pronoun that is gender-neutral there.”

However, not all writing- and language-intensive classes at Butler University mandate students use such “inclusive” language.

Nancy Whitmore, director of the journalism school in the College of Communication, said in an interview with The College Fix that students in her department are encouraged to use diverse sources with a wide variety of opinions, but are not mandated to use so-called inclusive language.

Whitmore said she is unsure what educators in Butler’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences mean when they ask students to write without assuming certain things to be the norm.

“I don’t think I could ever write from a black woman’s point of view because I’ve never been a black woman,” Whitmore said.

Indeed.

My name is Ryan Lovelace, and I dropped that politically correct political science class.

Clearly, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University believes its students were raised as racist and misogynist homophobes who have grown to harbor many prejudices, a stance that is both offensive and hostile to any student’s ability to learn.

As a student at an institution predominantly focused on the liberal arts, I expected to hear professors express opinions different from my own. I did not expect to be judged before I ever walked through the door, and did not think I would be forced to agree with my teachers’ worldviews or suffer the consequences.

Being judged and forced to act a certain way is antithetical to how any institution of higher education should conduct itself.

As a journalism major, I will now strive to avoid the liberal arts college as much as possible, not because the college fails to provide its students with any practical knowledge, but because the college seeks to indoctrinate its students with a hostile paradigm that views people like me—an American, white, heterosexual male from a middle-class background—as evil; whitey-righty need not attend.

Many consider higher education to be in turbulent waters because of rising tuition costs and student loan debt, but students who actually graduate may struggle even more if they view the world as Butler’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences does.

The liberal arts college seeks to include people, but someone will always be excluded, as it is impossible to always include everyone. Furthermore, I’m not sure how to write assuming any other persona but my own. Any attempts to do so would only be offensive to people different from myself.

Lastly, the idea that people have different views from mine is not what makes me uncomfortable. The idea that I must walk, talk and act as the liberal arts college pleases does. I’ll speak as I always have and conduct myself in the way I deem fit. I think paying $40,000 a year should give me that basic right.

Fix contributor Ryan Lovelace is a student at Butler University.

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My colleague Danny Crichton has an excellent article in the Stanford Review print edition (the first part of a three-part series, which you can find here) tracing the historical development and decline of the humanities in American universities (and Stanford in particular). The emphasis, unfortunately, is on “decline.” And Danny isn’t the only one worrying: recent cutbacks at State University of New York (SUNY) campuses which forced the closure of several language and humanities departments ignited a short-lived firestorm of agonized rhetoric about the fate of the humanities (here and here, for example).

To public universities across the nation, under pressure from drastic reductions in state education budgets, the humanities appear to be a field ripe for cost-cutting. And even private universities aren’t pushing the humanities like they used to; as Danny notes, federal dollars for the humanities are quite scarce, especially compared to the abundant outflow of public money for research in the natural and social sciences.

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