In this selected collection of his syndicated newspaper columns, Walter Williams offers his sometimes controversial views on education, health, the environment, government, law and society, race, and a range of other topics. Although many of these essays focus on the growth of government and our loss of liberty, many others demonstrate how the tools of freemarket economics can be used to improve our lives in ways ordinary people can understand.
About the Author
Walter E. Williams is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University and a nationally syndicated columnist. He is the author of several books and more than sixty articles that have appeared in such scholarly journals such as Economic Inquiry, American Economic Review, and Social Science Quarterly and popular publications such as Reader's Digest, Regulation, Policy Review, and Newsweek.
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Liberty Versus the Tyranny of Socialism
By Walter E. Williams
Hoover Institution PressCopyright © 2008 Walter E. Williams
All rights reserved.
Without question American primary and secondary education is in shambles. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2006, American students ranked 33rd among industrialized countries in math literacy; in science literacy, they ranked 27th. Dramatic evidence of poor-quality high school education is the fact that, at many colleges, more than 50 percent of incoming freshmen require some sort of remedial education, costing billions of dollars. All of this is in the face of rising high school grade point averages that increasingly tell little about the student's academic proficiency.
The education that white students receive is nothing to write home about, but that received by black students is nothing short of gross fraud. Washington, D.C., is typical of many cities. At twelve of its nineteen high schools, more than 50 percent of the students test below basic in reading; at some of those schools the percentages approach 80 percent. At fifteen schools, more than 50 percent test below basic in math; in twelve of them 70 to 99 percent did so. (Below basic is the category the National Assessment of Education Progress uses for students unable to display even partial mastery of the knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at their grade level.) In the face of these deficiencies, each year more than 80 percent, and up to 96 percent, of high school students are fraudulently promoted to the next grade.
Politicians and those in the public education establishment argue that more money is needed to improve education. Minnesota and Iowa rank first and second in terms of student academic achievement; yet their per student education expenditures in 2004 were $8,000 and $8,600, respectively, whereas Washington, D.C., spent $13,000 per student.
In 2002, a Zogby poll found that contemporary college seniors scored on average little or no higher in literature, music, science, geography and history than the high school graduates of a half-century ago. A 1990 Gallup survey for the National Endowment of the Humanities, given to a representative sample of seven hundred college seniors, found that 25 percent did not know that Columbus landed in the Western Hemisphere before the year 1500; 42 percent could not place the Civil War in the correct half century; and 31 percent thought Reconstruction came after World War II. A 1993 Department of Education survey found that, among college graduates, 50 percent of whites and more than 80 percent of blacks couldn't state in writing the argument made in a newspaper column, use a bus schedule to get on the right bus, that 56 percent could not calculate the right tip, that 57 percent could not figure out how much change they should get back after putting down $3.00 to pay for a 60-cent bowl of soup and a $1.95 sandwich, and that more than 90 percent could not use a calculator to find the cost of carpeting a room. But a 1999 survey taken by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni of seniors at the nation's top 55 liberal arts colleges and universities found that 98 percent could identify rap artist Snoop Doggy Dogg and Beavis and Butt-Head but that only 34 percent knew George Washington was the general at the Battle of Yorktown.
Diversity, instead of academics, has become the concern. Our institutions of higher learning not only take diversity seriously but make it a multimillion-dollar operation. Juilliard School has a director of diversity and inclusion; Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a manager of diversity recruitment; Toledo University, an associate dean for diversity; the universities of Harvard, Texas A&M, California at Berkeley, Virginia, and many others boast of officers, deans, vice-presidents, and perhaps ministers of diversity. Diversity wasn't the buzzword back in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. Diversity is the response by universities, as well as corporations, to various court decisions holding racial quotas, goals, and timetables unconstitutional. Offices of diversity and inclusion are simply substitutes for yesterday's offices of equity or affirmative action. It's simply a matter of old wine in new bottles, but it is racial discrimination just the same. Diversity is based on the proposition, without any evidence whatsoever, that having some sort of statistical racial representation is a necessary ingredient to a good education.
Out of the diversity movement has come speech codes. Martin Gross, in his bookThe End of Sanity,reported that up to 383 colleges had some form of speech code. Under the ruse of ending harassment, some universities created speech codes, such as Bowdoin College's ban on jokes and stories "experienced by others as harassing." Brown University has banned "verbal behavior" that "produces feelings of impotence, anger or disenfranchisement" whether "unintentional or intentional." The University of Connecticut has outlawed "inappropriately directed laughter." Colby College has banned any speech that could lead to a loss of self-esteem. "Suggestive looks" are banned at Bryn Mawr College and "unwelcomed flirtations" at Haverford College. Fortunately for students, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has waged a successful war against such speech codes.
Then there's proselytizing of students. An ethnic studies professor at Cal State Northridge and Pasadena City College teaches that "the role of students and teachers in ethnic studies is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." UC Santa Barbara's School of Education e-mailed its faculty asking them to consider classroom options concerning the Iraq war, suggesting they excuse students from class to attend antiwar events and give them extra credit to write about it. An English professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey tells his students, "Conservatism champions racism, exploitation, and imperialist war." A Massachusetts School of Art professor explains that his concern is to do away with whiteness "because whiteness is a form of racial oppression." He adds, "There cannot be a white race without the phenomenon of white supremacy." A Bucknell professor agrees saying, "A lot of our students, I think, are unconsciously racist."
If undergraduate education is not to assume the quality of primary and secondary education, immediate action must be taken. A good start might be for generous donors to withhold funds to colleges and universities who have forsaken their academic mission. The columns in this section focus on these and other education issues.
A Donor with Backbone
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
James W. McGlothlin, chairman and CEO of The United Company of Bristol, Va., and a former member of The College of William & Mary's Board of Visitors and a longtime donor, withheld his pledge of $12 million to the college. He made his decision because of the actions taken by Gene Nichol, the college president, who ordered the removal of the cross from Wren Chapel. The cross had been displayed on the chapel altar since around 1940. Nichol's justification was that he wanted to make the chapel welcoming to non-Christians.
That's a lie. President Nichol was a chapter president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for North Florida, and an ACLU board member in North Carolina and Colorado. The ACLU has maintained an attack on religious symbols for decades, but usually through the courts. President Nichol's actions simply spared them a costly court battle to remove the religious symbol from William & Mary's Wren Chapel.
Nichol's actions caused a storm of controversy that he probably didn't anticipate. Caving in to the pressure, on March 6th, he agreed to return the cross to Wren Chapel. The ACLU has enjoyed phenomenal success in attacking our religious values. Unless they are stopped, I guarantee you they won't be satisfied until they get some judge to order the removal of crosses from the graves at Arlington and other military cemeteries.
The College of William & Mary's Wren Chapel cross issue is simply the tip of a much larger problem. For decades, college administrators and professors have sanctioned or participated in an attack on traditional American values. They've denied campus access to military recruiters, promoted socialism and attacked capitalism, and instituted race and sex quotas in admissions and in the awarding of scholarships. They've used their positions of trust to indoctrinate students with anti-Americanism. Despite this attack, taxpayers and private donors have been extremely generous, pouring billions upon billions of dollars into institutions that often hold a generalized contempt for their values.
Mr. McGlothlin is to be congratulated for his courage in taking a stand against this liberal attack on American values. Other wealthy donors ought to emulate Mr. McGlothlin's courage by withholding their donations to colleges that foster or sanction attacks on traditional American values and decency. While it's a bit more difficult, since their money is taken from them, taxpayers ought to rebel as well by pressuring their legislators.
Many college benefactors fondly recall their experiences at their alma maters some 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Often, what they remember bears little or no resemblance to what goes on at campuses today. With relatively little effort, benefactors can become more informed simply by visits to the college's website to discover whether there are activities offensive to their values. If there's an office of diversity, it strongly suggests the college is practicing some form of race or sex discrimination.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) provides information about colleges that have "politically correct" speech codes that suppress debate. The Young America's Foundation (YAF) publishes information about inane courses at some of our colleges, such as UCLA's "Queer Musicology" or Johns Hopkins' "Mail Order Brides."
Some colleges have brazenly violated donor intent. Princeton University has been taken to court by the Robertson family for misuse of $207 million of a gift estimated at $700 million in today's prices. Because they violated donor intent, Boston College, USC, UCLA, Harvard and Yale have been forced to return multimillion-dollar gifts. It's high time that donors large and small summon some of Mr. McGlothlin's courage and hold colleges accountable to standards of decency and honesty.
The Shame of Higher Education
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Many of our nation's colleges and universities have become cesspools of indoctrination, intolerance, academic dishonesty and the new racism. In a March 1991 speech, Yale President Benno Schmidt warned, "The most serious problems of freedom of expression in our society today exist on our campuses. ... The assumption seems to be that the purpose of education is to induce correct opinion rather than to search for wisdom and to liberate the mind."
Writing in the fall 2006 issue of Academic Questions, Luann Wright, in her article titled "Pernicious Politicization in Academe," documents academic dishonesty and indoctrination all too common today. Here are some of her findings:
* An ethnic studies professor, at Cal State Northridge and Pasadena City College, teaches that "the role of students and teachers in ethnic studies is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
* UC Santa Barbara's School of Education e-mailed its faculty asking them to consider classroom options concerning the Iraq War, suggesting they excuse students from class to attend anti-war events and give them extra credit to write about it.
* An English professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey tells his students, "Conservatism champions racism, exploitation and imperialist war."
Other instances of academic dishonesty include professors having their students write letters to state representatives protesting budget cuts. Students enrolled in cell biology, math and art classes must sit through lectures listening to professorial rants about unrelated topics such as globalism, U.S. exploitation of the Middle East and President Bush.
Wright is also the founder of NoIndoctrination.org, a website containing hundreds of reports of similar academic bias and dishonesty.
Anne D. Neal, president of The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, wrote a companion article titled "Advocacy in the College Classroom." She says that campuses across the nation have cultivated an atmosphere that permits the disinviting of politically incorrect speakers; politicized instruction; reprisals against or intimidation of students who speak their mind; political discrimination in college hiring and retention; and campus speech codes.
On most college campuses, there's the worship of diversity. The universities of Harvard, Texas A&M, UC Berkeley, Virginia and many others boast of officers, deans and vice presidents of diversity. Many academics make the mindless argument, with absolutely no evidence to back it up, that racial representation is necessary for academic excellence. For them, getting the right racial mix requires racial discrimination.
Diversity wasn't the buzzword back in the 1970s, '80s and '90s. Diversity is the response by universities, as well as corporations, to various court decisions holding racial quotas, goals and timetables unconstitutional. Offices of diversity and inclusion are simply substitutes for yesterday's offices of equity or affirmative action. It's simply a matter of old wine in new bottles, but it's racism just the same.
In an open letter titled "To the President of My University," Carl Cohen, professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, summarizes, "Diversity is a good thing — but the claim that the need for diversity is so compelling that it overrides the constitutional guarantee of civic equality is one we swallow only because, by holding our nose and gulping it down, we can go on doing what our feeling of guilt demands."
Until parents, donors and taxpayers shed their unwillingness to investigate what's sold to them as higher education, what we see today will continue and get worse. Just as important is the recognition of the fact that boards of trustees at our colleges and universities bear the ultimate responsibility, and it is they who've been grossly derelict in their duty.
Murder at VPI
April 25, 2007
The 32 murders at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI) shocked the nation, but what are some of the steps that can be taken to reduce the probability that such a massacre will happen again? A large portion of the blame can be laid at the feet of the VPI administration and its campus security personnel, who failed to warn students, faculty and staff.
Long before the massacre, VPI administration, security and some faculty knew Cho Seung-Hui, the murderer, had mental problems. According to The New York Times, "Campus authorities were aware 17 months ago of the troubled mental state of the student...." More than one professor reported his bizarre behavior. Campus security tried to have him committed involuntarily to a mental institution. There were complaints that Cho Seung-Hui made unwelcome phone calls and stalked students. Given the university's experiences with Cho, at the minimum they should have expelled him, and their failure or inability to do so is the direct cause of last week's massacre.
But there is something else we might want to look at. There's a federal law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). As VPI's registrar reports, "Third Party Disclosures are prohibited by FERPA without the written consent of the student. Any persons other than the student are defined as Third Party, including parents, spouses, and employers." College officials are required to secure written permission from the student prior to the release of any academic record information.
That means a mother, father or spouse who might have intimate historical knowledge of a student's mental, physical or academic problems, who might be in a position to render assistance in a crisis, is prohibited from being notified of new information. Alternatively, should the family member wish to initiate an inquiry as to whether there have been any reports of mental, physical or academic problems, they are prohibited from access by FERPA. Of course, the student can give his parent written permission to have access to such information, but how likely is it that a highly disturbed student will do so?
FERPA is part of a much broader trend in our society where parental authority is being usurped. Earlier this year, San Francisco Bay Area Assemblywoman Sally Lieber introduced a bill that would prosecute parents for spanking their children. Because of widespread opposition, the assemblywoman withdrew her bill. Schools teach children sex material that many parents would deem offensive. Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order mandating that every 11- and 12-year-old girl be given Gardisil HPV vaccination as a guard against a sexually transmitted disease that can cause genital warts and even cervical cancer.
Excerpted from Liberty Versus the Tyranny of Socialism by Walter E. Williams. Copyright © 2008 Walter E. Williams. Excerpted by permission of Hoover Institution Press.
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Environment and Health,
Law and Society,
Economics for the Citizen,