‘To miss it you’d have to be either a heavily biased partisan or a dimwit’
Data from a recent study of San Francisco State University’s Ethnic Studies program purports to show that passing one Ethnic Studies course at that school improves a student’s overall performance.
The study also proposes that students who take at least one Ethnic Studies course graduate at a higher rate than those who take none, and that Ethnic Studies majors’ graduation rate is 20 percent higher than students majoring in other subjects.
Two professors at the University of California are pushing back against this claim, however, with one, John Ellis, stating flatly that the analysis of the graduation rates is “not a serious study.”
Ellis, professor emeritus of German Literature at University of California, Santa Cruz, and a chair of the California Association of Scholars, sharply criticized the study for its methodology.
“It completely lacks any interest in or exploration of alternative interpretations of the data, even when those alternatives are glaringly obvious,” Ellis told The College Fix via email.
“For example, the fact that Ethnic Studies majors graduate at a higher rate than students in other majors can mean either 1) they are better students, or b) this is an easier major. The need for a choice between these two is so obvious, and the need to do further research that would show which of the two is true is so clear, that to miss it you’d have to be either a heavily biased partisan or a dimwit.”
Ellis also pointed out that, within the study, there was no control for the caliber of student, or the relation of a major’s difficulty to those who take Ethnic Studies courses.
“So: if those who take an Ethnic Studies course are overrepresented in easier majors and underrepresented in difficult majors like Physics, then the explanation of the study’s alleged fact about higher graduation rates could simply be that those who take easier majors also tend to take Ethnic Studies courses.”
Matt Malkan, a professor of physics and astronomy at University of California, Los Angeles, and a member of the California Association of Scholars, also questions the study and its findings.
Speaking to Inside Higher Ed recently, Malkan pointed out that “students can satisfy U.S. history requirements for graduation by passing one of a number of courses offered from within the College of Ethnic Studies.”
“Students who complete that requirement are also showing themselves more likely to finish college, and in a shorter time, compared with those who have still not yet managed to get around to getting that requirement done successfully,” Malkan told Higher Ed.
The data from the College of Ethnic Studies purports to show that “Ethnic Studies Majors in general graduate at approximately 20 percent higher rates than non-Ethnic Studies Majors,” that majors in the program “graduate at a rate higher than majors from any of the other colleges at the university,” and that “Students in majors other than Ethnic Studies (e.g. arts, business, humanities, health, or sciences) who took Ethnic Studies classes graduate at a much higher rate than their peers in their major who did not take Ethnic Studies classes.”
San Francisco State University’s School of Ethnic Studies did not respond to requests for comment from The College Fix regarding Malkan’s and Ellis’s analyses.
Ellis said the study’s lack of inquiry into alternate explanations ultimately renders it deeply flawed.
“[A] serious study would have to make sure that it can exclude these possibilities before it jumped to the conclusions that it draws,” he said.
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